Monday, April 24, 2017

Trans Jews Belong Here - May/June Bulletin Article




Dear Friends,

In Song of Songs  2:10-12 we read the following: 

“Rise up, my love, my fair one and come away. For lo, the winter is past, the rain is over and gone. The flowers appear on earth; the time of singing has come, and the voice of the turtledove is heard in our land.”

This beautiful passage reminds us of how love, rebirth and the beauty of springtime are all intertwined.  After a long winter, we are filled with hope.  We marvel at the incredible diversity of God’s creation.  We revel in the freedoms and possibilities that lie before us as the earth shows off its grandeur and mystery.

And yet, even during this time of infinite possibility, we need to recognize that there are those for whom the ability to celebrate their uniqueness is stifled.  Try to imagine, if you will, how it must feel for someone to be unable to fully express themselves for fear of being excluded, ridiculed, bullied or even physically threatened because of who they are and how they were created.

Society can be cruel.  It was not all that long ago that laws were on the books in parts of our country that forbade whites and people of color from getting married.  We like to think that we have progressed beyond those dark times – and in many ways we have –yet there are still members of our community who are persecuted on a daily basis because of the way that they were created by God.

In particular, I want to call our attention to the treacherous path that non-gender-conforming men and women must walk on a daily basis.  Transgender youth are particularly vulnerable.  Studies have shown that transgendered adolescents are nine times more likely to attempt suicide then their cis-gendered classmates (someone whose gender corresponds to their assigned sex).  These vulnerable and holy children face discrimination and abuse at home, in school, in public and even in sacred places like synagogues.

Temple Emanuel is committed to being a safe place for all people - regardless of gender identity, who they love, or how they love.  As such, we are proud to be a partner with Keshet – a national organization that works for full LGBTQ equality and inclusion in Jewish life.  We open our doors to all who wish to be a part of our sacred community.  You may have noticed signs around the Temple with the words:  “Trans Jews Belong Here.”  It is on the door of my office and on many other public spaces in our building.  This is more than a hashtag or a slogan.  It is part and parcel of our moral and spiritual fiber.  We welcome and embrace all of our children and adults who are part of the vast and mysterious tapestry of God’s creation.  This means that we will continuously strive to be a safe and open place for all – especially for our young people who struggle on a daily basis to find their place in an increasingly complex and all too often unfriendly world.  I addition, in the coming months we look forward to offering programs and resources that will help us to be a more welcoming place.  We will not tolerate discrimination or oppression of any kind. Our religious school, youth group, Shwayder Camp and every place where students come together will be a safe space for all people – created in God’s image

In the Yotzer Or prayer we find the following:
  מָה רַבּוּ מַעֲשֶֽׂיךָ יְיָ, כֻּלָּם בְּחָכְמָה עָשִֽׂיתָ
Ma rabu ma’asecha Adonai, kulam b’hochma asita
How great are Your works, O, God, You made them all in wisdom

At this wonderful time of year, as we embrace the beauty of spring, let us also strive to find the beauty in all of God’s creation.

Ken Yehi Ratzon – may it be God’s will.
AMEN

Wednesday, April 19, 2017

Opening Prayer for the CO State House - Seeing Godliness in the Midst of Debate

Opening Prayer for the Colorado House of Representatives
April 20, 2017
Rabbi Joseph R. Black – Temple Emanuel, Denver, CO

Our God and God of all Humanity:
God of the rich and God of the poor;
God of the young and God of the Old;
God of the haves and God of the have-nots
God of those who have no God.

We come together this morning in this sacred chamber to acknowledge a sense of urgency.  This legislative session will soon be over.  In less than three weeks, the messy business of crafting, fine tuning and negotiating the laws that will govern our state will come to an end and these legislators will return home to take advantage of some well-deserved rest.

Tensions run high when deadlines loom.  Passions are inflamed – here in this place and outside these walls.

In the heat of debate words have been said, aspersions have been cast and alliances have been both forged and broken.

And yet, despite differences that pit men and women on either side of the political divide, the awareness of the fact that what happens in this building is unique and unlike any other endeavor in our great State of Colorado cannot help but forge a bond between the legislators, clerks, bailiffs, lobbyists, aides and all the men and women who labor to ensure that the tasks for which our representatives are elected are completed in accordance with our State Constitution. I’ve seen it – so have you.

That all of us have been privileged to participate in this process links us together in a bond that surpasses politics and propaganda and forces us to see one another through the unique lenses of shared experience.

Our faith traditions all teach that we are created in the image of a beneficent Creator with whom we partner as we go about our lives.

In these last waning days of debate, let us look at one another cognizant of the holiness implanted within our souls.  Help us, O God to see the faces of the Men, Women and Children in our communities who will be affected by the outcomes of the deliberations within these walls.

And when we return home – let us do so with a feeling that every argument and disagreement that occurred was for the sake of heaven.  Then and only then will we be worthy of the great responsibilities bestowed upon us.


AMEN

Sunday, April 16, 2017

Matzah Crunches - April16, 2017



Here's a new ditty about matzah. Enjoy!
Matzah Crunches
April16, 2017
Rabbi Joe Black.

Open up a box, tear away the cellophane
Set it on the table, tell the story once again
Take out a piece of matzah, break it up and then divide it
Watch it very closely, 'cause someone's gonna hide it

You gotta crunch it when you munch it
With the herbs that are so bitter
Then you mix it with Charoset to taste and then consider
How our ancestors built bricks and were slaves to mean pharaoh
We remember it like yesterday though it was long ago.
(Mitzrayim is a Hebrew word that means a place that's narrow)

Four questions
Four sons
Four cups of wine we drink
For something's very special when we take the time to think
About the many ways we celebrate the freedom that God gave us
And all the times we needed a new miracle to save us.

Crunch some matzah:  we were slaves but now we're free
Crunch some matzah: it's quite a simple recipe
Just take some flour and water - make a simple batter
Bake it quick before it rises, keep it flat- then make it flatter

Some people eat it for 7 days or 8
No matter how you break it there'll be crumbs left on your plate
It reminds us of our freedom, but there's a contradiction
Cause the Torah teaches us that it's the bread of our affliction.

Open up a box, tear away the cellophane
Set it on the table, tell the story once again
Take out a piece of matzah, break it up and then divide it
Watch it very closely, 'cause someone's gonna hide it


Wednesday, April 5, 2017

Opening Prayer for the Colorado State House Before Passover

Opening Prayer For the Colorado House of Representatives
April 6, 2017
Rabbi Joseph R. Black – Temple Emanuel.  Denver, CO

In just a few days, Jews around the world will be celebrating the festival of Passover.  On the first and second nights, we will gather around festive tables and retell the ancient story of our redemption at a special meal called a seder.  With song, prayers, special foods and ancient symbols we will heed the call to relive the experience of liberation from Egyptian bondage. 

For seven days we will refrain from eating foods that are leavened - no bread, no pastries, nothing that contains yeast - in order to remember the haste with which our ancestors had to flee Egypt.

Passover is a joyous festival.  As we tell and retell our ancient story of deliverance, we literally taste the bitterness of slavery and the sweetness of freedom.  We drink 4 cups of wine to remember the 4 divine promises of salvation.

And yet, as we look around the world today, we see that there are many people for whom the Passover message of freedom and redemption is out of reach.  In too many dark corners of our world,  violence and desolation reign supreme. Slavery still casts a dark shadow.  Freedom is stifled.  Repression is rampant. 

Even in our beautiful state of Colorado, there are those outside these walls who are enslaved to lives of violence, poverty, drugs, alcohol, homelessness and abuse. Immigrants live in fear of deportation. The suffering in our streets and the cries of the downtrodden call upon us to build bridges of hope and understanding while tearing down walls of separation and degradation.

But we need not look outside of ourselves to find the urgent message of Passover.  It echoes within us all.  How many of us are enslaved to enmity and strife?  How often – in this very chamber - do we refrain from reaching out in compromise and retreat to partisanship?

On this day of hope and promise, O God, we ask Your blessing on this august body.  May these legislators, officials, clerks and dedicated public servants find new hope in the process of governing.  May any arguments that arise in the course of deliberation and debate be catalysts for communion with You and one another. 

O God – You have bequeathed to us a world filled with beauty and endless possibility.  Help us to find the eternal messages of liberation and self-determination that echo within this sacred chamber and in our hearts.  May the message of Passover stir within us all a burning desire to bring hope and freedom to all.  And Let us say, AMEN

Sunday, April 2, 2017

Annual Report to the Congregation - March 31, 2017

Rabbi Joseph R. Black
Annual Report to the Congregation
Temple Emanuel, Denver CO
March 31, 2017

Dear Friends,

In the Jewish mystical tradition, numbers have important significance.  The ancient practice of Gematria involves taking the numerical value of words and phrases and finding hidden meaning in these numbers.  For the past 21 years I have utilized Gematria as I have compiled my report to the congregation at our annual meeting – finding meaning in the numerical value of the number of years we have been in existence. Since tonight is the 142st annual meeting of Temple Emanuel, I thought I would try to find some significance in the number 142.  Looking into the Torah, I discovered that the Hebrew word, נִצָּב (Nitzav) adds up to 142.  נִצָּב   means standing at attention. The plural of נִצָּב is נִצָּבִים (Nitzavim). On Yom Kippur morning, in the Reform tradition, we read from the book of Deuteronomy, Chapter 29, verse 9:

אַתֶּם נִצָּבִים הַיּוֹם כֻּלְּכֶם לִפְנֵי יְהוָֹה אֱלֹֽהֵיכֶם
Ahtem Nitzavim, kulchem, lifnei Adonai Eloheychem
You are standing this day, all of you, before Adonai, Your God

This text reflects on a seminal moment in our ancient history when we, as a people united, gathered together to remember and affirm the sacred covenant between God and the People of Israel.  But נִצָּב  does not merely mean “Stand.”  It means to stand at attention:  prepared to act; anticipating a momentous and life-changing event that will impact everything we do and how we see the world.

  • When we are about to embark on a new adventure – we stand – נִצָּבִים(Nitzavim)
  • When we anticipate a major change in our lives – we stand נִצָּבִים
  • When we become aware of God’s presence – we stand נִצָּבִים
The act of standing at attention does not mean that we refrain from moving ahead – it implies a willingness to look at ourselves and explore not only where we are going, but also taking stock in ourselves and measuring how far we have come along on our collective journey.
During the High Holy Days and throughout the course of the past year, we have stood together and focused on a key principle – that of
Honoring our past and celebrating our future.
We have had many opportunities these past 12 months to both look back and ahead as we build upon the solid foundations of those who have come before us while simultaneously planning for our future.  What follows are some key highlights of a year of growth and renewal.

Staff Transition and Reorganization

While I will address each member of our professional team individually below, I want to begin with the acknowledgement of the fact that every member of our Senior Team has come on board during my tenure at Temple. This is an important statement because it means that the vision that I brought to Temple Emanuel when I was hired to be your new Sr. Rabbi is now being implemented by individuals who were all hired under the auspices of that vision. Everyone is on board and enthusiastic about the direction we are taking. While we all understand, cherish and celebrate the pathways that were forged that have allowed us to get where we are, we also are not beholden to them.  We are free to evaluate and, when appropriate, to make changes to the ways things have been in the past.  The phrase:  “But we’ve always done it that way….” which can sometimes lead to stagnation and lack of growth, is no longer an impediment to cautious, visionary and serious reflective thinking and implementation.

In addition, the format that we implemented last year of reorganizing into three distinct Staff Teams:  Clergy, Learning and Engagement and Operations has been very powerful and effective.  We have increased both our efficiency and accountability while opening new avenues for communication and cooperation.

This past summer we held a retreat for all the members of our staff teams.  We analyzed our Strengths, Weaknesses, Opportunities and Threats (SWOT) and set forth ambitious but manageable goals for this year.  I am happy to report that not only is each team well on the way to meeting these goals, but the process of accomplishing them has been very healthy and inspiring.

New Additions and Programs At Temple Emanuel

Mishkan Ha Nefesh High Holy Day Prayerbooks
These past High Holy Days we successfully introduced our new Machzor (High Holy Day Prayerbook), Mishkan Ha Nefesh.  Prior to its introduction, we spent several months working with a lay and professional task force where we explored the book together and experimented with different modalities of prayer.  From all accounts received, the roll out of our new book went very well.

B’nai Mitzvah
We have been blessed with a significant increase in the number of B’nai Mitzvah that will be celebrated in the very near future.  Our numbers are rising so quickly that we will very soon be in the position of having more B’nai Mitzvah to celebrate than Shabbat mornings that can accommodate them.  As such, we put together a task force to explore options for service timing.  We came up with the decision to have two services on Shabbat mornings – one at 9:00 AM and the other at 11:30.   In addition, we also decided to offer a community Israel Trip that is primarily (but not exclusively) aimed at B’nai mitzvah families.  This summer, during the first two weeks of August, Cantor Sacks, Sue and I will be co-leading our first of what we expect will be a biennial Israel pilgrimage.  We have 41 individuals signed up for the trip – during which we will celebrate 5 children who are becoming B’nai Mitzvah.

Family Promise
During the High Holy Days last Fall, I introduced Family Promise – a program where our congregation actively partners with other religious institutions in the community and the Family Promise staff to house and feed a small group of homeless families who are in transition from homelessness to stability.  Under the capable leadership of Suzie Moss, Deb Herman and Sherry Stark, we gathered over 300 volunteers who wanted to help with the program.  Our first group of guests arrived the week of February 12-19.  By all accounts, it was a smashing success.  Suzie, Deb and Sherry led an amazing corps of volunteers who did everything from helping to transform classrooms into bedrooms, schlepping beds and cooking meals, to sleeping overnight at Temple with our guests.  I am very excited about the many possibilities for engagement, social justice and Tikkun Olam that this national program affords us.  Special Kudos go out to our volunteers and leaders – Suzie, Deb and Sherry.  Thank you for making my dream a reality!

Racial Justice Programming
Rabbi Immerman has been leading a group of congregants as they discuss issues of racial justice in our community.  In the wake of his Rosh Hashanah sermon, we gathered together on Yom Kippur afternoon for a special program on the important topic of racial inequality.  The South Social Hall was overflowing with people who wanted to learn more about this topic and continue a dialogue with the African American Community.  Following this program, a Racial Justice Task-force was formed. This group continues to meet and we look forward to exciting new developments on this in the near future.

Shwayder Campaign
We are very excited about the progress that is being made at Shwayder Camp.  Last summer, we installed two new cabins and we look forward to all of the camper’s cabins being in place before the beginning of this year’s camp season.  Fundraising for all of our new facilities continues apace and we will soon unveil the final portion of this important campaign to maintain Shwayder Camp and ensure that the “Shwayder Magic” will live on for many more years to come.
Rabbi Steven Foster Early Learning Center
Foster Early Learning Center
After a long period of visioning and planning for the future, we are re-imagining our Early Childhood Center.  Under the capable leadership of Susan Wartchow and her team, there are many exciting changes in the works.  In addition to looking at curricula and program offerings, we also have changed the name of our program to the Rabbi Steven Foster Early Learning Center.   This is a fitting tribute to the vision of Rabbi Foster who understood how important it was for our congregation to meet the needs of families with young children and the vital importance of Earl;y Childhood Education in creating a sense of connection to the Jewish People.   We have created a new logo with the tagline:  “Where Discovery Meets Community.”  In addition to our remodeled foyer that was designed to be a place where ECC parents can gather together and celebrate community (see below), we also have added programming for students as young as 12 months old.  There are many more exciting changes in the works.

New Lobby Decor
Our president, Ellen Abrams, and Board member, Kelly Pfaff worked with Steve Stark, the ECC Leadership team and a design firm to spruce up our Forest Street Lobby.  They wanted it to be brighter, family friendly and more conducive to gathering and schmoozing.  New couches, tables and chairs were installed – as well as installing a welcome window for the Foster Early Learning Center.  We also built a new welcome area for the front desk of the Temple Office.

Hospitality and Security
As part of our ongoing effort to create an atmosphere of “Audacious Hospitality,” a task force was created to explore signage and security at Temple.  Many visible (and some not so visible) changes were made and more are in the works.  We re-striped the parking lot and installed security cameras around the building.  We also engaged the services of a security firm and we will have security guards in place this spring.

Hineini Project
Rabbi Immerman continues to work closely with this important group of young adults in our community.  In addition to monthly “Brews and Jews” programs that take place in local taverns around the city, Hineini Project members have become involved in many important areas of congregational life including Mitzvah Day, Family Promise, Shabbat and holiday worship and other educational and social events.  They have engaged over 300 individuals over the course of the year.

Nashir Songleader Training
Working closely with the URJ and NFTY, Cantor Sacks and Steve Brodsky have been meeting with 7 Junior High and High School students to train them to be songleaders in our religious school and throughout the community.  This is an exciting new program that we strongly believe will be an important part of building leadership and musical resources for years to come.

Programming for Multiple Demographics
A key goal that was identified over the course of this past summer at our team retreat was trying to create opportunities for multiple Demographics to become engaged at Temple.  One example of this was our programming for Purim.  We created opportunities for every age-group and demographic to become involved – from the youngest Early Learning Center students to adults who participated in a raucous cabaret featuring Temple members.

Artists and Scholars in Residence
We hosted many artists and scholars in residence this past year.  Some highlights were:
·         Penina Schram
·         Billy Jonas
·         Josh Feigelson
·         David Broza
·         Alan Goodis
·         Joanie Leeds
·         Admiral Herman Shelanski

Task Forces and Listening Campaigns
 In order to discover best practices in engagement and program, we instituted multiple task forces to explore ways that we might improve our offerings to the community.  These included:
·         High Holiday Prayerbook Task Force
·         Security and Hospitality Task Force
·         B’nai Mitzvah Task Force
·         Erev Shabbat Task Force
·         Dues and Financial Sustainability Task Force
·         Racial Justice Task Force
·         Religious School 20/20 Vision Task Force
The work that these dedicated volunteers have invested and will continue to invest in our congregation will be seen in the months and years to come as we continually strive to achieve excellence.


Ongoing Clergy Responsibilities
Life Cycle
As your Rabbi – I, along with my clergy partners, am privileged and sometimes burdened with the task of helping facilitate important transitions in the life of our congregation.  We have celebrated new life and helped families cope with the loss of loved ones.  We have stood under the Chuppah together and celebrated B’nai Mitzvah.  We have worked with many eager students of Judaism who wanted to become Jews by Choice and celebrated conversion ceremonies together.  The opportunity to share with you in these moments of transition continues to be one of the greatest joys of my rabbinate.

Learning:
In addition to weekly torah and Talmud study, all member of the clergy team participate in Confirmation, Meals and Mitzvah, Religious School and ECC programming. We have taught about Israel and a myriad of topics throughout the course of the year.  We work with every b’nai mitzvah family:  with Cantor Sacks and Steve Brodsky working closely to prepare our students to lead the congregation in prayer and chant torah, while Rabbi Immerman and I work with students on preparing their Divrei Torah (Torah Interpretations) for the service.  We also work extensively with Conversion Candidates.

Pastoral Counseling:
We have met with many members of the community who are struggling with issues of spiritual growth.  We work with couples preparing to get married.  We provide a sounding board for adults and children who need help dealing with difficult situations and crises – guiding them to get the help that they need.

National and Regional Communal Involvement:
I was involved in the community in the following areas:
·         RMRC (Rocky Mountain Rabbinical Council).  I am now the immediate Past President and serve on the Vaad (Executive Committee).
·         House Chaplain – I continue to serve in the Colorado State House of Representatives – delivering a prayer every Thursday morning during the legislative session.
·         Faith Spokesperson – I work with the Colorado Interfaith Alliance as a spokesperson for social justice.
·         I serve on the Board of Jewish Colorado
·         I serve on Governor Hickenlooper’s Clergy Advisory Council
·         I serve on the ADL Board
·         I continue to Teach for RMRC’s community-wide Introduction to Judaism program.
·         Both Steve Brodsky and I continue to participate in the annual “Jews Do Jews” concert at Swallow Hill
·         I participated in a Religious Pluralism Panel at Iliff Theological Seminary
·         I performed a benefit concert for Habitat For Humanity Interfaith Alliance
·         I continue to serve on Governor’s Hickenlooper’s Interfaith Clergy Advisory Panel
·         I sit on the AIPAC National Council
·         I served as scholar and artist in resident for the Woman of Reform Judaism’s Southwest Conference
·         Two of my children’s books:  Boker Tov and The Afikoman Mambo (both based on my original music and lyrics) continue to be part of the PJ Library rotation.  This coming year, Boker Tov will be my first international PJ Library book as they expand into Britain and other English speaking countries around the world.
Lay Leadership Partners:
Ellen Abrams, our outgoing president has finishes her three year term next month.  Ellen has been a true partner to me and the rest of our team.  She cares deeply about Temple Emanuel and was very involved in many areas of our congregation.  She oversaw and co-coordinated the badly-needed renewal of our Forest street foyer – working closely with Steve, Stark, Kelly Pfaff and the design team to create a warm and welcoming reception area.  She was very involved in our annual fundraising concert and Shwayder campaign.  Her attention to detail and ability to see the “big picture” have been invaluable traits that have enhanced our congregation and the greater Denver Jewish community.  Ellen’s passionate dedication to our congregation has truly been a blessing.

I look forward to working with Mark Idelberg, our incoming president over the next 3 years.  Mark is not only a dear friend, but he brings a tremendous amount of experience as past president of Hillel, our Temple Brotherhood and a keen insight into organizational dynamics that is coupled with a deep love of Judaism.

Our Board of Trustees continues to impress me with their overall dedication to our congregation.  Their willingness to learn, grow and champion new and innovation initiatives – all the while celebrating the important traditions of Temple Emanuel – is a vital part of our continued growth and success.

Professional Team
As I mentioned above, the vast majority of our professional team have come on board during my tenure at Temple.  I truly feel blessed to be able to partner with them on a daily basis.  Together, we stand, נִצָּבִים – poised and ready to move ahead to even greater heights in the future.

Rabbi Steven Foster is a gift to me and our congregation.  As Rabbi Emeritus, he is a constant source of support and encouragement.  I appreciate his friendship, encouragement and partnership.

Steve Stark, my co-CEO and our Executive Director – brings a wealth of experience and dedication to his position.  He shares our vision for a congregation that is not satisfied with being “ordinary” – he wants us all to rise up and find new avenues of excellence.  He makes sure that all of us have the tools we need to serve our community while also ensuring that we are fiscally responsible.  Steve’s warmth and mentshlichkeit are genuine and a wonderful reflection of our congregation’s values. 

Sr. Cantor Elizabeth Sacks brings so many invaluable skills to Temple Emanuel that I am not able to enumerate them all due to lack of space and time.  Not only does she possess and beautiful voice, but her overall knowledge of Torah, Rabbinics, Liturgy, Educational Philosophy and corporate management is invaluable to me and our entire team.  Liz is a thoughtful and comprehensive teacher, a visionary in every aspect of our congregation and a true partner.  We are so very fortunate to have her as an integral part of our team.

Rabbi Brian Immerman has continued to grow and flourish this past year.  He continues to “tweak” our 10th grade Confirmation Curriculum – combining issues of Jewish Values and current events in a way that continues to challenge our students while providing them with a strong basis for making Jewish decisions in the future.  As noted above, the Hineini project continues to grow and become more and more integral to our congregation.  He has facilitated many listening projects – especially in our Religious School where we are now poised to move ahead with plans.  His work for social justice – here in the congregation and out in the community is an important part of our overall vision for Tikkun Olam – repairing the world.

Steve Brodsky, our Cantoral Soloist and Music Director, has had a steep learning curve this past year.  While he is no stranger to Temple (He has been a part of our congregation for the better part of the last 30+ years in various capacities), the experience of serving as a full time member of our clergy team has been new for him.  I’m so thankful that he has not only taken his new role so seriously, but he has grown tremendously in the process.  Together with Cantor Sacks, Steve has brought incredible energy into our worship and educational programs.  The B’nai Mitzvah classes that the two of them teach are joyous, intense and filled to the brim. Our Nashir songleading training for youth will be a vital resource – not only for our congregation, but the community at large.  Of course, Shabbat Unplugged, Rosh Hashanah Unplugged and Shema Koleynu are a testimony to Steve’s musical vision, but he works tireless behind the scenes making sure that every event has the equipment, sound and staging that we need. Steve’s genuine warmth and incredible work ethic enhance every part of our congregational life.

Zachary Rolf – Our Director of Learning and Engagement, is completing his first year at Temple.  It’s hard to believe that he arrived last summer.  He has become an integral part of our Sr. Staff Team.  His warmth, charisma, hard work and energy have been a blessing to all of us.  He has transformed our Religious School into a caring and exciting center of Educational Excellence.  I am so excited about seeing what comes next!

Jodie Abrams – our Director of Shwayder Camp – continues to impress everyone she meets.  Her ability to juggle managing camp while, at the same time, overseeing the installation of new cabins and facilities at Shwayder is truly spectacular. She has built a national reputation for herself and for Shwayder that is second to none.  Her ability both hire and retain a superb camp staff is yet another example of her love to Shwayder and Temple Emanuel and her overall excellence.

Susan Wartchow – our ECC Director continues to weave her magic.  The Rabbi Steven Foster Early Learning Center is an incredible place – full of energy and caring, learning and development.  Her absolute dedication to the healthy growth of every child – along with parents and siblings – while earning the respect and devotion of her staff, families and the greater Denver ECC community is a blessing.  In addition, Susan has shared her expertise in human development and educational philosophy with many other programs at Temple.  She and her amazing team did an incredible job with the role-out and rededication of the ELC and we look forward to many exciting new developments in the near future.

Francie Miran, our Development Manager, continues to raise the bar for our fundraising efforts.  With our Shwayder Campaign well under way, she and her committee of committed volunteers broke all records with our annual fundraising concert with Israeli superstar David Broza.  She also coordinates our “Live On” Endowment campaign and many other projects.  She is a loyal and long-time member of our congregation who gives of her time to lead our 5:30 service, chant Torah and lead in many other areas.

Sarah Brown, our Director of Adult Engagement, has more energy than anyone I’ve ever met!  She works closely with many members of our professional team and lay leadership – helping to ensure that every program and event that involves membership is successful.  Sarah was an integral part of the success of our first week of Family Promise hosting.  She helped smooth out the rough edges as we learned the ins and outs of a new program and its implications on our facilities.  She greets every new member with a smile and is a wonderful ambassador of our congregation to the community.  Sarah also continues to teach in our 9th grade Confirmation program and has forged wonderful relationships with our students.

Julie Lucas, our bookkeeper, keeps us all in line with her laughter and enthusiasm.  Her love for Temple and everyone involved in our congregation is a blessing for us all – and we love her in return.

Rita Dahlke, our religious school Assistant Principal and Librarian does a wonderful job making sure that everything is in place in our school programs.  She and Zach have developed a wonderful working relationship and are busy planning for the future of our Religious School.  Stay tuned!

Patricia Lackner, my administrative assistant has the unenviable task of managing my crazy schedule – as well as that of Rabbi Immerman and other members of the Senior Team - and keeping me organized.  Her patience, persistence, professionalism and sense of humor mean the world to me.

Rayna Wandel, our Educational Assistant, keeps the religious school humming.  She also is our Bulletin Editor – an often thankless task that involves chasing down errant clergy to hand in their articles on time….Her energy, enthusiasm and joy are truly a blessing.

Kathleen Holt serves as Steve Stark’s personal assistant and is a wonderful addition to our team.  She works very hard and, in just a short time has become an integral part of everything we do.

Sura Veta, our receptionist, is the voice of Temple Emanuel – her warm welcome makes everyone feel at home the minute they call or step through our doors.

Cairo Lopez and the rest of the maintenance staff do an incredible job of keeping our building spotless and making sure that every service and program is set up.



Fond Farewells
Simi Adler, Assistant Director of Shwayder Camp, is moving on this summer.  We will miss his hard work, integrity, love of Judaism, devotion to Shwayder and the Jewish people and strange sense of humor.  We wish Simi only the best in all of his future endeavors.

Robyn Kaplan, Director of Youth Engagement, is also leaving us at the end of the year.  Robyn has developed wonderful relationships with our young people.  Her approachability, compassion, professionalism and joy have been an important part of our team.  We will miss her and we wish her well as she moves on to new opportunities.

As we continue to Celebrate our Past and Move Into the Future, I am thankful for the opportunity to serve this holy community.  Sue and I are truly blessed to be able to partner with all of you.  Tonight we all stand – נִצָּבִים

- poised to enter into new opportunities for growth and renewal.  Thank you for the opportunity to be a part of something so remarkable.  Shabbat Shalom.

Thursday, March 16, 2017

Opening Prayer for the Half Way Point of the CO State House of Representatives


Rabbi Joseph R. Black
Temple Emanuel – Denver, CO
March 16, 2017

There are times in our lives when we are confronted with a realization that our goals, hopes, dreams and visions no longer lie in some fuzzy future, but rather they become suddenly sharply focused in front of us.  They taunt us with the unwelcome awareness of urgency – as though the lengthy upward path on which we have travelled suddenly seems to be growing increasingly rocky – our ascent grows steeper as the summit draws near. And when we retrace our steps to see how far we have come; when we comprehend how little time and space lies in front of us, we realize that the end is now closer than the beginning.  We marvel both at how fast time is passing and how we have dragged our feet to avoid the completion of our sacred tasks.

This morning, we come together in this holy place at the half-way point of our legislative session.  We marvel at the passage of time while simultaneously feeling the anxiety of unfinished business that looms over us.  In a world that demands unyielding perfection from its leaders, human frailty and physical limitations are all too often dismissed as unwelcome weakness.  Words of condemnation come easy in moments of high pressure and passion.  But as hard as we are on our colleagues, we are even harder on ourselves.  Those who have chosen or who have been chosen to serve feel the burden of answering the clarion call of the people:  to make a difference; to change the unchangeable; to fix the flaws in our laws, the fate of our state and the holes in our souls.  And yet, the realities of time and space force us to acknowledge that we cannot complete every task. And so we pray:

Dear God who created us with imperfections.  Watch over all who serve in this chamber:  the legislators and the lawyers, the captains and clerks; the interns and the innovators.  Give them both the strength to pursue the task of governance, and the patience to accept that there is always more to accomplish than is humanly possible.  Protect the souls of your servants who are exposed to the harshness to human expectation.  Help them to support one another –even in the heat of debate and disagreement.  Let any conflict that arises be for the sake of our Great State of Colorado and teach us to quickly forgive the hurts and pains that arise in the midst of the messy process of legislation.   As the end of this session looms ever larger in the forefront of our consciousness, may every person here become reconciled to the necessity for compromise and communion.

We thank You for the ability to make a difference.  We see You in the passion of our colleagues.  We seek Your presence in our daily lives.  AMEN

Thursday, February 23, 2017

President's Day - Opening Prayer for the Colorado State House February 23, 2017

Our God and the God of all people
God of the strong and God of the weak
God of the distraught and God of the complacent
God of the patriots and God of the dissidents
God of those who have no God

Yesterday was my mother’s 91st birthday.  It also happened to have been the birthday of our nation’s 1st president, George Washington.  This past Monday, our country celebrated President’s Day where we commemorated the leadership, dignity and Vision inspired by both Presidents Washington and Lincoln.

Our First President understood the necessity for us to come together against a common enemy.  He led the fight for our Independence and blazed a trail of Democracy that continues to be an inspiration around the world 241 years later.

Lincoln came to power in the midst of a terrible period of national divisiveness.  He stood up to injustice and bigotry and forced our nation to come to a bloody self-reckoning that almost destroyed our Union. He paid the Ultimate Price for his steadfast belief in Humanity’s embodiment of Divine aspiration. 

My mother was born in Leipzig, Germany – just before Hitler came to power.  She and her parents narrowly escaped the horrors of the Final Solution and came to our country as refugees – I stand here today as a testament to God’s grace and the high ideals for which Washington, Lincoln and so many others fought and died.

On this week when we remember our greatest Presidents we pray that might continue to strive to emulate them and all that they stood for.

We pray for our leaders of the Great State of Colorado that they might work together to legislate and forge new bonds of connectivity with our highest national values.

Guide them as they work, O God – not as partisans, but as partners – transcending pettiness and finding holiness in this august chamber.

Bless all who come to this place:  elected officials, advisors, administrators, those who keep order and those come simply to observe the magic and the messiness of creating laws.

We thank you for the opportunity to make a difference.
We thank you for extraordinary leadership.


AMEN

Wednesday, February 15, 2017

Testimony at the State Legislature on Behalf of Abolishing the Death Penalty - February 15, 2017

This afternoon, I will be testifying, along with other clergy and concerned community leaders on behalf of Senate Bill SB17-95 which Abolishes the death penalty in Colorado.  Here is what I will be saying:  

Statement on Capital In Support of 
Abolishing the Death Penalty in Colorado
Rabbi Joseph R. Black
Temple Emanuel- Denver, CO
February 15, 2017

As a Rabbi, as a Jew, as a person of faith, I am taught to see the holy in every human being.  I believe, with all my heart and soul that God has placed all of us here for a reason – and that reason is to make the world a better place. 

There is evil in this world.  We have seen it – many of us here today have experienced it first hand.  There are bad people in this world.  They commit horrible crimes.  For me, the central issue is surrounding the death penalty revolves not around how we see the most evil elements of society - but how we perceive ourselves. Are we going to allow our fear of crime, our desire for vengeance, our bottom line mentality to govern how we conduct ourselves?  Capital punishment is a quick fix - it may be popular with voters – it may make some people feel that “something is being done” - but ultimately, I believe that it lessens our own humanity when we take the life of another person.

Today you will hear about moral, economic, psychological and legal reasons why the death penalty should be abolished.  These are all valid and important.  But my reasons for opposing it are based on my understanding of myself and all of us as spiritual beings.

Those who have committed atrocities need to be punished.  There are some men and women who, as a result of their crimes, cannot be a part of a civilized society.  But, I firmly believe, one of the prices of being “civilized” is taking on a responsibility to act in a way that is consistent with our own internal holiness.

All religious traditions teach that one day humanity will be judged.  I believe that our judgment will not merely revolve around how we treated the best elements of our society – but how we treated the worst elements of our society.  The price we pay for living in a civilized, moral community is living with the fact that we cannot totally eliminate evil.  But we can assert that we will not allow ourselves to stoop to the level of those who wreak havoc, fear and despair in our lives.  We should not allow ourselves to become like them.

While the Bible certainly makes provisions for Capital punishment, over the centuries, the ancient and modern Rabbis of my tradition have nullified these laws and made it virtually impossible to implement the Death Penalty. 
The only time that the Israeli court system ever instituted the death penalty was in 1962 – when Adolph Eichman  – the architect of the Nazi Final solution – was put to death - and even his execution was highly controversial and is being debated to this day.


In the book of Genesis we learn that we are all created in the Image of God.  There is a spark of holiness inside every human being. All life is holy - even that of the most damaged and evil members of our society. When we take a life - whether that life has committed murder or not - we are diminishing the image of God.  Yes, the murderer has done the same - but the fact that we claim to be a moral society calls us to rise above our desire for vengeance and understand that one act of murder does not make up for another.

Killing human beings can never be justified as a just punishment for who are we to act in God’s stead?



Thank you for your consideration.

Thursday, February 9, 2017

"Love and Legislation:" Invocation for the Colorado State House. February 9, 2017

As a nation and as a State, we’ve been experiencing a great deal of anger and division of late. Demonstrations – here at the Capital and in the streets of our cities have unleashed powerful emotions. It’s been difficult, sometimes, to see how we might find the ability to come together in support of what we hold most dear. Maybe it’s time to look for love in the midst of the anger, frustration and hatred.
Today is February 9th. In case any of us here this morning forgot, in just 5 days it will be Valentine’s day. You still have time to buy a card for that special someone in your life…..but the clock is ticking.
Some here today – the more cynical among us - might think that a day set aside to focus on love is a ploy to sell chocolate and flowers. And they may be right. After all, shouldn’t we show our love every day? Shouldn’t we be grateful for the laughter and the tears, the kisses and caresses, the support and the joy, the passion and the playfulness we share that makes each day seem brighter than the one before? The love that we give and receive makes us better human beings…….
But we aren’t always aware, are we? We are forgetful. We are creatures of habit. We take the people around us for granted and we expect them to love us nonetheless. And the crazy thing about it is that they do. Most of the time….
Let us pray.
Dear God,
Our diverse traditions teach us that Your essence is love. You love us –otherwise why would you tolerate us?
If You did not love us, how would you be able to stand idly by while we diminish Your image by despoiling your beautiful world with toxicity and waste?
If You did not love us, how could You let us live when we ignore the suffering of the innocents in our streets or the violence that is daily fare for women and children; for those targeted for hate because of the color of their skin, their birthplace, who they love or how they love?
If You did not love us, you would not have given us a conscience that wakes us from our slumber and forces us to realize our weakness, our frailty, our greed and our hubris.
Help us to love You - O God of Love. Help us to love one another – so much so that we might rise above the pettiness and partisanship that all too often places stumbling blocks in the path of social change.
Help us to live so that we see that our very ability to love is a gift.
Bless these legislators O God. Help them to love one another. Help them to love their compassion and their quarrels. Help then to love the differences and the moments of clarity that occur when they do Your sacred work and help to perfect our world.
On this Valentines day – may we all find ways to rejoice in the love that makes our lives complete.
It takes time to love – it takes patience. Sometime it even takes chocolate and flowers.
But sometimes, our love makes Your love a reality.
May it be so today.
AMEN

Saturday, February 4, 2017

Speaking Truth to Power: Moses, Pharaoh and Executive Orders. February 3, 2017 – Parashat Bo

This week’s Parasha, Bo, contains the last 3 of the ten plagues: Locusts, Darkness, Slaying of the 1st Born.  But the plagues themselves, as powerful as they are, take a back seat to the dramatic confrontation between Moses and Pharaoh.  With each successive plague, Moses speaks truth to power and becomes more insistent that Pharaoh free the Israelites. Pharaoh, in turn becomes more intransigent.
Now there are some sticky theological issues in our parasha:  particularly the fact that God “hardens Pharaoh’s heart” so that the deck is stacked against him.  It is very clear that, although the dialogue takes place between Moses and Pharaoh, it is really a standoff between God and the King of Egypt who was perceived to be a god.  The fight that takes place therefore, is as much a cautionary tale against idolatry as it is a story about good triumphing over evil.

One of the key questions that must be pondered when looking at the story of Moses is why he feels compelled to leave a life of comfort in Pharaoh’s court and set out on the path of leadership.  We read in the beginning chapters of Exodus how Moses’ consciousness was awakened when he witnessed an Egyptian taskmaster beating a Hebrew slave.  The text reads (Exodus 2:11-12)

“It happened in those days that Moses grew up and went out among his kinfolk and observed their burdens; and he saw and Egyptian man striking a Hebrew man – one of his brothers.  He looked all around him, and when he saw that there was no man, he struck the Egyptian and buried him in the sand.”

There is a commentary on the words: “He looked all around him and saw that there was no man…”.  The rabbis asked what this means.  Was he making sure that there were no witnesses so he could get away with his act?  Or was something else going on?  One school of thought teaches that Moses realized that, if he didn’t act to prevent this act of brutality, no one else would.  He was called by circumstances to stand up and act – he had no choice.

Throughout his life, a key aspect of Moses’ character is that he speaks out when he sees injustice.  He challenges God on several occasions when God is so angry with the Israelites that God wants to destroy them all and start over again.  Moses convinces God not to do so.  There are also times when Moses confronts his people with anger and chastisement. 

Our prophets received the mantle of leadership from Moses.  Our prophetic texts are filled with recrimination.  The role of the prophet is to call out inequities, falsehoods and corruption whenever they appear.  The prophets were independent of political affiliation.  They were God’s voice in a world that was increasingly corrupt and they spoke out when leaders abused their power and their people.

Of course, we no longer live in a prophetic age.  And yet, the Torah teaches us that, just as the prophets received the mantle of leadership from Moses, we, too are called - when we see injustice- that we have no choice but to speak out.  In particular, the commandment “You shall not oppress the stranger, for you know the heart of the stranger, for you were strangers in the land of Egypt” appears no less than 36 times in the Torah.  Judaism has both inherited and passed along to each successive generation the call to take action against injustice.  We have a long tradition of activism.  In our nation, Jews have been on the front lines of the battles for Civil and Voting Rights, worker’s rights, the Women’s Movement, anti- War Protests, Environmentalism and many, many other movements for social change.

It is for this reason that so many national Jewish organizations including all branches of the Reform Movement, The Anti-Defamation League, The Movement for Conservative Judaism, American Jewish World Service, HIAS, the National Council of Jewish Women, the Orthodox Union and Rabbinical Council of America; as well the Jewish Community Relations Council here in Denver, and many congregations including the lay and professional leadership of Temple Emanuel have spoken out against the recent Presidential Executive Order on Refugees and Immigration that was enacted this past week.  In the document that we circulated within our community yesterday we wrote the following:

We, the lay and professional leadership of Temple Emanuel in Denver, CO, believe that it is imperative that our nation be secure and that all our citizens live without fear and in peace. We also acknowledge that the sad reality of terrorism and brutality experienced over the past two and a half decades has taught us that we must be ever-vigilant as we protect our nation.

At the same time, we also believe in human dignity and basic values. Our Torah teaches that all people are created in the Divine image (Genesis 1:26-27). Real dangers arise when entire groups of people are set apart and identified as potential threats simply because of their religious beliefs and countries of origin. It is for this reason that we join with the leadership of the Union for Reform Judaism (URJ) and many other national Jewish organizations, as well as the Colorado Jewish Community Relations Council, in condemning the recent Presidential Executive Order that that bans citizens from seven predominantly Muslim countries from entering the United States.”

After the letter was sent I received many responses from members of the congregation.  The overwhelming majority were supportive, yet a number of responses were critical of the idea of the congregation and its leadership making a statement about something that was perceived to be “political.”  Most people who wrote were concerned that we were getting involved in an area that had nothing to do with the Synagogue.  The purpose of the congregation is to provide spiritual guidance and Jewish tradition, they wrote.  We should stay out of politics and stop attacking the president.  Others felt that our statement was misguided because President Trump is doing what he feels is correct in keeping our country safe.  If it takes 90 days to review policies to make sure that no terrorists enter our country, and, during those 90 days, some people might be inconvenienced, it’s a small price to pay for protecting our nation.

In regards to so-called “politics” from the Bema, I fully agree that political language should not be heard in the sanctuary.  But this is not political, it is moral.  To single out 7 Muslim countries while ignoring others sends a dangerous message to both the world and to ourselves.  As I understand it, of the millions of refugees who are fleeing the absolute hell of Syria, Iraq and North Africa, less than 10,000 a year were permitted into the United States under recent policy.  Every single refugee who was admitted underwent a rigorous and thorough vetting process by the Department of Homeland Security and the Immigration and Naturalization Services.  Furthermore, while we, as a nation, have had to deal with incidents of terror on our soil – many of which were committed by men and women who came under the sway of Islamic Fundamentalism - not one act of terror was successfully committed by a Syrian refugee.  Most were radicalized here in the United States.  In addition, of the Muslim terrorists who were successful in carrying out the attacks on September 11, 2001, most of them came from Saudi Arabia – one of the countries excluded from this Executive order.

As Jews, we know all too well the consequences of policies that ban refugees from the shores of our nation.  On May 13, 1939, the German transatlantic liner St. Louis sailed from Hamburg, Germany, for Havana, Cuba. On the voyage were 937 passengers. Almost all were Jews fleeing from the Third Reich. Most were German citizens, some were from Eastern Europe, and a few were officially "stateless."  These refugees were fleeing certain death and they were refused entry into Cuba and the United States.  Eventually, they were forced to return to Germany where they all perished in the Nazi death machine.

For me, it’s also personal.  My mother was born in Leipzig Germany.  She and my grandparents lived through Krystalnacht the “Night of Broken Glass” – November 9th, 1938 – when Hitler’s armed thugs marched through the streets of Germany and Austria, burning synagogues, looting stores and arresting thousands of Jewish men.  My mother and Grandparents were among the lucky few who were able to flee in the weeks following that fateful night that marked the beginning of Hitler’s Final Solution.  They only reason that they were able to obtain a visa to our country was because they had Russian, not German passports and the Russian quota for immigrants still had room since no one was able to leave the Soviet Union at that time.

Our nation has a proud history of welcoming those fleeing oppression and persecution.  When we turn our back on those in need we are not only denying their request for help, we are also denying the highest values upon which our nation was built.

Another troubling aspect of this ban is that, for the first time in a long time, our nation is on record singling out one particular religious tradition- Islam – from entering our shores.  To paint all of Islam with a single brush is not only immoral, it is dangerous.  It feeds the fires of extremism here and abroad.

Those of us who oppose this ban are speaking out – not as a political tactic, but in response to a moral imperative that is essential to our essence as Jews.  Like Moses, we are called to speak truth to power when we see our values being trampled.  Silence is complicity.  If we do not speak out now, then when CAN we speak out?


As such, I will be participating tomorrow afternoon – on Shabbat – in a rally at Civic Plaza – alongside colleagues from the Interfaith Alliance of Denver.  As a rule, I usually refrain from participating in public events on Shabbat, but this cause is too important for me to remain silent.  Like Frederick Douglas and Abraham Joshua Heschel, I will be praying with my feet on Civic Plaza tomorrow afternoon.  I urge you to join with me in solidarity with our Muslim brothers and sisters.

For those who may be uncomfortable with the thought of their rabbi participating in a public demonstration that may be perceived as hostile to our President, I understand.  But I am not participating for partisan or political reasons.  I will march and I will let my voice be heard when my Jewish values are being attacked.  I would be happy to sit down and talk with anyone of you who feel that I am misguided.  We can agree to disagree.

My Dear Friends, so much of our nation is divided along political lines.  It is becoming increasingly difficult to live together when politics become personal.  We need to move beyond the election and find ways of seeing the human and the holy in one another.  On this Shabbat when we tell the story of our liberation as a people, let us also work to liberate ourselves from the polarization that has gripped our nation.


Shabbat Shalom.