Saturday, March 24, 2018

Praying With Our Feet at the March For Our Lives in Washington, DC

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Dear Friends,

I write this while on a plane en route from our nation’s capital after having shared in a remarkable and life-changing Shabbat experience. On Friday night, I was honored to be asked by my dear friend, Rabbi Bruce Lustig, to participate in an Erev Shabbat service at Washington Hebrew Congregation along with other musicians including Dan Nichols, Stacy Beyer, Noah Aronson and Alan Goodis. Our Director of Youth Engagement, Megan Garrett, and two parent chaperones also accompanied a delegation of several of our teens.  They spent the night in the Synagogue along with over 450 young people from across the country. During the service,we were joined on the Bema by several young people who spoke - many who were students at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Florida.  Others were leaders of their NFTY regions.  After the service, my musical colleagues and I led a short concert and song-session during which I sang the protest anthem that Steve Brodsky and I co-wrote, “Praying With Our Feet.”  While the music was an important part of the evening, the primary focus was on the teenagers. The poise, pain and incredible leadership that these young people displayed while sharing their stories was both moving and inspiring. 

On Shabbat morning, the entire NFTY delegation and many other adults prayed together in a pre-rally Shabbat service.  We were joined by many dignitaries - including Debbie Wasserman Shultz – the US Congresswoman who represents Parkland, Florida, and Rabbi Rick Jacobs who addressed the congregation via video feed. But once again, the major focus of the service were the young people who led us in prayer and song.  There was one incredibly moving moment towards the end of the service when my friend and colleague, Rabbi Brad Boxman, who serves a congregation in Parkland, FL, shared how, on the first Shabbat following the shootings, he asked all of the adults in his packed sanctuary to turn to the children who sat with and near them and bless them.  He then asked all of us who were present to do the same.  As we placed our hands on the heads of these beautiful teenagers and said the words of the Priestly blessing together, tears flowed freely down our faces. You see, we knew that we had come to DC to protest. We knew that change had to come. We were charged and ready. But there was something about praying for God’s protective blessing on these precious, beautiful souls that shifted our focus and made everything very real. We were not about to march for a cause: we were marching for our children’s lives.  And then we started our journey to the rally.

We carried signs and banners with sacred texts: 
   “If not now, when?”
   ‘It is not up to you to finish the task, but neither are you free to desist from carrying it out.”
   “Do not stand idly by while your neighbor bleeds”

We chanted, we sang, we enjoyed a beautiful sunny day. But our march soon came to a halt when we realized that there were so many people filling the streets that we could only go a few blocks. Every space in the street surrounding the Capital was filled.  But it didn’t matter. We watched on video screens, heard from loudspeakers and felt the determination in the million other marchers who were with us. We came from all walks of life - all colors and creeds - but we shared in our determination to speak up and say enough:
   Enough killing;
   Enough pretending that the issue is not guns, but people;
   Enough ignoring the plight of people of color;
   Enough manipulation from the gun lobby;
   Enough silence from legislators who are afraid to address the issue of easy access to weapons of mass destruction.
This was not a political rally - although, after today’s events, many politicians will be worried about keeping their seats - and they should be. We marched for moral, not partisan reasons. This was not, as some have charged, a volley of Left Wing talking points - it was a rising up of a generation raised in the shadows of Columbine, Sandy Hook, Aurora, Las Vegas, Parkland and too many other tragedies that have been lost in the endless cycle of shootings that have become yesterday’s news.

The rock stars and celebrities who were on stage were not the focus of the rally either. No, it was the children- the survivors who have taken on the mantle of leadership - who stirred our souls and compelled us to action. We heard about the toll that daily violence on the streets of Chicago, Los Angeles and Washington DC has taken. We wept along with speakers who had lost brothers and sisters to bullets. We heard the passion of the newly-energized victims of school shootings who have watched as the adults in their lives relinquished the responsibility of protecting them and, as a result, have taken it upon themselves to give notice to their elected officials that silence is complicity, and that they refuse to remain silent.

As I contemplate this remarkable 24 hours, I am in awe. The vision, poise, leadership and power that these young activists have discovered gives me hope that not all is lost, and that the future will be in good hands. I also am more determined than ever to both speak out against and call out the hypocrisy and callous disregard for human life that the gun lobby and its enablers have fostered in our society. 

Let me be very clear:  I am not opposed to guns per se. I am, however, opposed to the idolatry that gun worship has spawned in our nation. We owe it to our children to speak out as loud and proud as they do. They have taken on the mantle of leadership. I am compelled to follow. Will you join with me?

We can do no less.

Sunday, March 18, 2018

Annual Report to the Congregation - March 16, 2018

Annual Report to the Congregation
Rabbi Joseph R. Black
Senior Rabbi
Temple Emanuel – Denver, CO
March 16, 2018
Dear Friends,
For the past 22 years that I have been writing annual reports, I have utilized the ancient Kabbalistic art of Gematria – finding meaning in the connection between numbers and words – and applied it to the number of years our congregation has been in existence.  In previous years, I must confess, I have had to stretch a little bit to find the perfect word to encapsulate the year that has passed.  This year, however, I had no such problem.  Since this is the 143rd annual meeting of Temple Emanuel, I looked for words or phrases that add up to the number 143.  One word immediately jumped to the top: הצליח  Hitzliach – “succeeded.”  The word הצלחה-Hatzlachah (success - plural – הצלחוֹת Hatzlachot) is a perfect encapsulation of this past year.
Looking back over the last 12 months, I am proud to share that we have succeeded in building on our strengths and commitments to our members and community at large since last we came together.  We have created new programs, strengthened our growing congregation, and taken steps to explore and examine our values, priorities and funding.  We have instituted new modalities of worship and education, forged community partnerships, improved and streamlined our communications, and opened new portals of entry into Temple life.
But, of course, Temple Emanuel is more than simply the programs that we offer, the lay leaders who are entrusted with governance and the professional teams who work together on a daily basis.  What makes our Kehilla Kedosha  - our holy community - so special are the people we encounter and the relationships we forge together as we worship, study, celebrate joyous occasions and find solace in times of difficulty and transition.  This is the lifeblood of who we are and what we stand for.  Budgets, programs, bricks and mortar have little value if they do not serve to enhance our ability to achieve our mission of …inspir(ing) individuals to maximize their Jewish identity and to participate actively in our religious community.  
While tonight is about celebrating our successes, we cannot allow ourselves to become sanguine.  We still have many opportunities to grow and improve.  Over the past 12 months we have also faced challenges and disappointments along the way.  This is to be expected.  So long as we learn from our failures, we will continue to move along a path of meaning, purpose and values.
As such, here are some key highlights of this past year:
Staff Transitions
If I were to give this year a title, it might be: “The Year of The Babies.”  Three key members of our professional team have added to their families:
·         Our Director of Learning and Engagement, Zach Rolf and his wife Hadley welcomed their daughter, Lulu in September;
·         Rabbi Immerman and his wife, Jenny welcomed their daughter, Maggie Wren in October;
·         And Our Senior Cantor, Elizabeth Sacks and her husband, Eli and son, Charlie welcomed their daughter and brother, Tova Rose in November.
We are all thrilled to share in their joy (and send our encouragement during their sleepless nights) and could not be happier for all of them.
Of course, as we all know, Rabbi Immerman will be leaving Denver in June to accept his new position as Senior Rabbi of Congregation Mishkan Israel in Hamden, CT.  As sad as we are to see him go, we are also very proud of and excited for him, Jenny and Maggie as they begin this new chapter of their lives.  We will be honoring the Immermans at our Friday night, Erev Shabbat services on May 18th.  I hope to see all of you there as we wish them well.  I also am looking forward to the honor of installing him in his pulpit in Hamden next year.
We are still actively engaged in our Rabbinic Search for a new Assistant/Associate Rabbi and we look forward to sharing our results very soon.

New Additions and Programs At Temple Emanuel
This has been a year of tremendous הצלחוֹת Hatzlachot – successes – for Temple Emanuel.  Our membership is growing and with it our determination to provide multiple portals of entry into our congregation.  Despite the fact that three key members of our Professional teams, Zach Rolf, Rabbi Immerman and Cantor Sacks, were on parental leave for several months, we nonetheless were able to offer many new programs. Sarah Brown, our energetic, creative and talented Director of Adult Engagement, in partnership with our Adult Education Task Force worked tirelessly to ensure their success.
Some key הצלחוֹת Hatzlachot – successes:
·         We introduced a new prayerbook for Selichot worship over the High Holidays:  Mishkan Ha Lev
·         We continued the very popular and enlightening iEngage Israel course – level 3:  “Jewish Values and the Israeli/Palestinian Conflict.” – created by the Hartman Institute in Jerusalem;
·         We offered several Israel-focused lectures and presentations that ranged from Bourbon to Baseball;
·         We had two lectures series: 
o   Ageless Adversity and
o   The World in 2018 -a Jewish Perspective.
·         We introduced the very popular “Bubbe’s Kitchen” cooking classes;
·         We entered into several new community partnerships through which we were able to offer opportunities for study and engagement.  These included:
o   Rose Medical Center (more on this below)
o   The Chevrah Kadisha (Jewish Burial Society) of Denver
o   The Colorado Israel American Council
o   Moishe House Denver
o   Temple Sinai and the Isaac Mayer Wise Award
o   We joined with Temple Micah, Rodef Shalom and B’nai Chavurah for our Shavuot Service and study session
·         Several New Chavurot have been formed during this past year – including a new “Empty Nester’s Group”
·         Our ongoing Chavurot continue to thrive
·         We introduced Kehila 1874, our new initiative to sustain and grow our congregation through increased financial commitment.  This is a radically new approach to funding the vital work that we do as a sacred community (Kehila) that recognizes both the need to support and celebrate everyone’s capacity to give while moving away from a traditional “Dues” structure. 1874 refers to the year that we were founded as a congregation as well as the amount of yearly contribution it would take from every member to sustain our community at a level of excellence.
·         We changed the structure of our Shabbat evening worship at Temple.  We eliminated the 5:30 and 7:30 service times and replaced them with a 5:30 “pre-Oneg,” followed by a 6:00-7:15 service.  Although these changes were concerning to many, the number of attendees at Friday night services has markedly increased.  We also instituted a weekly 5:30 service on Tuesday night that proved to be very unpopular and so we cancelled it.  We also have restructured our family services so that they occur at the same time as our Adult services.  Called “Shabbat B’Yachad” (Shabbat Together) we all begin and end together – thereby creating a more unified Shabbat experience for our congregation.
·         We are working in Partnership with the Union for Reform Judaism on their “Benchmarking” Initiative.  Thank you to everyone who filled out the congregational online survey.  Your responses will help us to identify key issues, successes and growth areas in our Congregation.  We look forward to sharing what we have learned once all the data has been both collected and analyzed
We welcomed many artists, musicians and teachers over the course of the year.  A few highlights:
·         Peter Himmelman was the star of our Annual Fundraiser – the most successful yet.
·         Rabbi Aaron Pankin, President of the Hebrew Union College-Jewish Institute of Religion was our scholar in Residence
·         Mayor Michael Hancock spoke at our Yom Kippur Study session
·         Rabbi Richard Address spoke on “Sacred Aging”
·         Guitar Virtuoso Tim Sparks wowed us with his brilliance
·         “Sababa” – featuring our own Musical Director, Steve Brodsky as well as Robbi Sherwin and Scott Leader performed at Temple
·         We partnered with Sinai in presenting to Rabbi Dr. Mark Washovsky the Isaac Meyer Wise Award
·         Dr. Aroop Mangalik of UNM School of Medicine spoke on Medical Ethics
·         Ryan Lavarnway shared his experiences of being named MVP of team Israel at the World Baseball Classic
·         Frank Goldman spoke about "President Truman, My Grandfather, and a Bottle of Bourbon"
Task Forces
Over the course of the past year, we convened many task forces that worked in partnership with our professional team to implement changes and explore issues in our community.  These included:
·         The Rabbinic Search Task Force continues the vitally important work of hosting and interviewing candidates for the position of Assistant/Associate Rabbi
·         The Kehila 1874 Task Force implemented and set up policies for our new financial giving initiative
·         The Sacred Space Task Force was convened to address the issues surrounding the increasing number of b’nai mitzvah students that will necessitate the use of our large sanctuary.  The goal is to find ways to make this large space adaptable for smaller and more intimate services.
·         The Office/Adult Ed Space Task Force was convened to help design and implement and refurbish our current Adult Education classrooms and office spaces.  This was made possible by a generous donation from an anonymous donor who wanted to improve these spaces.
Ongoing Programs and Partnerships
·         We continue to work closely with Kavod on the Road – our community-wide Senior Adult program initiative. 
·         We also offer our monthly grief group – ably facilitated by Lorie Picus.
·         Our weekly Torah and Talmud classes continue to grow in popularity.
·         Our Shabbat Meditation group, under the leadership of Jim and Ruth Sharon and Eileen Yeager continues to be an important part of the spiritual life of our community.
·         Our Annual Shavuot Celebration in partnership with sister congregations is always a highlight of the year.
·         Last Year’s Mitzvah Day grew to over 550 participants and we anticipate continued growth this year.  Thank you to our Mitzvah Day Co-Chairs, Alison Gillis, Sarah Goldblatt, and Trina Reisch.
·         Family Promise, Under the Capable leadership of our Volunteers of the Year, Deb Herman, Lori Kalata, Susie Moss and Sherry Stark continues to inspire all those who are fortunate enough to participate.  Over 300 members of our community have participated in this vitally important mitzvah of housing, feeding and caring for families who find themselves in transition.  It’s hard to tell who benefits more from this program – our guests or our volunteers.  We are very grateful to the Melvin and Elaine Wolf Foundation for a special donation that allowed us to build a shower in the building for our Family Promise guests. 
·         Our Annual Fundraiser/concert was an unqualified success.  Co-chairs Susie Sigman and Amy Gart-Pell – along with their entire committee in partnership with our Development Director, Francie Miran did an amazing job of putting everything together. Special recognition also goes out to Steve Brodsky for coordinating the technical details of the evening.
Max Frankel Religious School
Following the work of last year’s Religious School 20/20 Vision Task Force, we implemented major changes in the structure of our Educational programming.  Under the inspired leadership of Zach Rolf, our Director of Learning and Engagement, we have invigorated our school and worked diligently to offer programs that fit into the schedules of our students and families.  Our Curriculum focuses on Literacy, Community and Identity.  We initiated a new structure that offers increased flexibility with innovations such as Wednesday evening class times, an optional Winter session that focuses on electives, and an increased emphasis on building community.
Rita Dahlke, our Librarian and Assistant Principle, created many special library programs as well.  These included: Book clubs, special films showings, cooking classes, Arts and Crafts programs, a Murder Mystery and many more wonderful experiences.
Shwayder Camp
Our Shwayder Camp Campaign is well on the way to completion. We have raised over $4.7 Million of our $5.3 million-dollar goal. We just need a few more gifts to close the gap.  Special thanks to Campaign Chair David Foster, our Development Manager, Francie Miran and everyone who worked tirelessly to ensure that the “Shwayder Magic” will continue to inspire our young people well into the future.
Camp construction is almost completed.  We have all new camper and SIT cabins.  We hope to finish construction by next summer.  We had an amazing 2017 summer season with the highest enrollment in decades. Our camper numbers are the best they have ever been.  Jodie Abrams, our amazing Shwayder Camp Director continues to inspire us all with her energy, creativity and professionalism.  We are also thrilled to welcome Assistant Director, Zahava Davis who has been a superb addition to our team.
The Rabbi Steven Foster Early Learning Center (FELC)
Our Early Learning Center, under the leadership of our Director, Susan Wartchow and her executive Staff:  Emily Serota, Sara Martin and Emily Dunn – as well as the amazing group of dedicated teachers – has been flourishing.  Our classrooms are overflowing and there continues to be a waiting list for admission.  Some key highlights of the past year include:

  • Gardening Program Each spring, the FELC teachers and students plant gardens.  They grow flowers, vegetables and herbs.  This year, in partnership with HAZON  - a national organization dedicated to sustainability – they are building a new green house that will help us to extend our Judaic Lenses on Tikkun Olam.  They also held their 2nd annual Farmers market.
  • The FELC is also developing and expanding their Outdoor Experience to create a teaching team to enhance their Tikkun Olam Focus.
  • Classrooms received a makeover with new flooring.
  • Susan is constantly working with her teachers and staff to improve their skills and self-awareness to create a safe, nurturing and educationally inspiring environment.

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 at weddings 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.
In addition to weekly Torah and Talmud study, all members of the clergy team participate in Confirmation, Meals and Mitzvah, Religious School and FELC 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:

  • Steve Brodsky and I were honored to be one of eight artists whose original song was chosen to be on a new recording of protest music – produced by the Religious Action Center of Reform Judaism
  • I was a featured artist and performed our original song, “Praying With Our Feet” at the Biennial Convention of the Union For Reform Judaism this past December in Boston, MA
  • RMRC (Rocky Mountain Rabbinical Council).  I continue to 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.
  • I serve on the Board of Jewish Colorado as representative of the RMRC
  • I serve on Governor Hickenlooper’s Clergy Advisory Council
  • I serve of Mayor Hancock’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 will once again perform a benefit concert for Habitat For Humanity Interfaith Alliance
  • I sit on the AIPAC National Council
  • I served on the Advisory Board for the Dead Sea Scrolls Exhibit at the Denver Museum of Science and History
  • I serve on the Advisory Board for the Holocaust Genocide Contemporary Bioethics program at Anschutz Medical Center
  • I served as Artist in Residence for the National Association of Retired Reform Rabbis where Rabbi Foster and I presented a workshop on Rabbinic Transition.  Rabbi Foster was also installed as President. (More on this below)
Lay Leadership Partners
Our President, Mark Idelberg, is a wonderful partner to me and our Executive Director, Steve Stark.  He cares deeply about our congregation and is very involved in every aspect of congregational life.  His attention to detail and keen sense of intuition and experience have been invaluable to me personally and professionally.  He has been a leader in multiple organizations in the Denver Jewish community and his insights and support have been a true blessing.  I look forward to two more years of working and visioning together.

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

Professional Team
I feel truly blessed to be able to work daily with an incredible team of clergy and Jewish professionals.  All the הצלחוֹת Hatzlachot (successes) that we have experienced this year are the result of the synergy we create together.

Rabbi Steven Foster – Rabbi Emeritus
As I indicated earlier, I was asked this past January to participate in the annual Convention of NAORRR – the National Organization of Retired Reform Rabbis, where Rabbi Foster was installed as President.  During the convention, Rabbi Foster and I presented a workshop on “Relationships Between Successors and Emeritus Rabbis.”  When I first came to Temple Emanuel, almost eight years ago, Rabbi Foster told me that one of his goals was to be able to teach other rabbis how successful transitions could work.  We fulfilled that goal at the NAORRR convention and I could not be happier.  Rabbi Foster is a wonderful mentor, resource and friend.  I am truly blessed to have him as my Emeritus.

Steven Stark – Executive Director
Steve and I work very closely together as we serve as co-CEO’s of this sacred community.  I savor our partnership.  We share in the joy and difficulties of steering the ship of State and are truly in sync with one another.  He is a consummate professional who gives his heart and soul to his tasks. 

Cantor Elizabeth Sacks -Senior Cantor
Cantor Sacks brings a wealth of skills to her position. In addition to her beautiful and stirring voice, she is a master teacher, administrator, organizer and visionary.  I am truly blessed to be her clergy partner.  It was a thrill to welcome Tova Rose into our Temple Emanuel Family as well.

Rabbi Brian Immerman – Associate Rabbi
As I indicated above, saying farewell to Rabbi Immerman will be bittersweet.  We all have watched him grow as a Rabbi (and now as a new father.)  I am so proud of all that he has accomplished during his 6 years at Temple Emanuel.  We are sad to see him go but we know that he will do great things - both for his new congregation, Mishkan Israel of Hamden Connecticut and the Jewish People.  We wish him, Jenny and Maggie Wren only the best as they move on to this exciting new stage of their lives.

Steve Brodsky – Music Director/Cantoral Soloist
Steve continues to grow musically and professionally as a key member of our Clergy team.  During Cantor Sacks’ maternity leave, he had to take on new roles on the pulpit and in the classroom.  The relationships he has forged with fellow team members, b’nai mitzvah students and members of the congregation have been sacred.  Steve is a consummate musician.  I have enjoyed partnering with him on several projects – especially co-writing our new song, “Praying With Our Feet” that was part of a special compilation of new Social Justice Anthems produced by the Religious Action Center of Reform Judaism. 

Zachary Rolf – Director of Learning and Engagement
Zach continues to amaze all of us with his creativity, energy, work ethic and charisma.  He is a true “Pied Piper” who draws people into his orbit with his genuine friendship.  Our Religious School has never been more dynamic.  The multiple Kudos from all corners:  co-workers and parents, students and teachers – testify to the powerful impact he has had on this community in only 2 years.  It is also a joy to watch him and his wife, Hadley embrace parenthood with the birth of their daughter, Lulu. 

Jodie Abrams – Shwayder Camp Director
Jodie took on several challenges this past year as we continued with the Shwayder Campaign.  Dealing with building permits, missed deadlines, construction equipment and other unforeseen issues might have caused another person to panic – but not Jodie.  She took everything in stride and continued to lead with professionalism, compassion, vision and humor.  She has discovered new strengths and continues to grow and amaze all of us.

Susan Wartchow – Foster Early Learning Center (FELC) Director
As indicated above, Susan has been an inspiration to all of us.  Her creativity and passion for learning – coupled with her absolute dedication to create a safe, enriching and stimulating environment for the families in our FELC has been outstanding.  She is a teacher’s teacher, a reassuring shoulder on which parents can share their burdens and a consummate cheerleader for her team.  We are so fortunate to have her as part of our community.

Francie Miran – Development Manager
Francie works tirelessly to ensure that our fundraising efforts are both successful and meaningful.  Each year, our annual fundraising concert is increasingly successful.  Francie successfully negotiated a partnership with Rose Medical Center entitled “The Healing Power of Music.”  Rose has guaranteed at least 2 years of underwriting our annual concert.  In addition, we will be partnering together to create programming around Healing and Health.  It is a testament to Francie’s vision and perseverance that this partnership came to fruition. Her commitment to the Shwayder campaign, Live On, Kehila 1874 and many other projects has been first rate.

Sarah Brown – Director of Adult Engagement
Sarah is a never stopping force of energy and enthusiasm.  From shepherding new members into our community, to creating new programs, to teaching in our 9th Grade Confirmation program, Sarah is a  source of creativity and organizational magic.  She is often the first contact that new members have at Temple and she leaves a lasting and wonderful impression. 

Megan Garrett – Director of Youth Engagement
Although Megan has only been a part of our team for this past year, she has easily integrated herself into the life-blood of our congregation and community.  She has forged wonderful relationships with our youth and worked in partnership with Rabbi Immerman in sustaining and growing our young adult Hineyni Project.  Megan spent last summer at Shwayder Camp and travels with our Friedman Club Youth Groupers to conclaves around the region.  She works hard and has shown a desire to grow and develop all our programs.  We are so happy to have her with us.

Julie Lucas – Bookkeeper
Julie is one of the longest tenured members of our professional team.  Her love for Temple and her absolute dedication to ensuring that we are in excellent financial shape are truly a blessing.  Her laughter and good humor (except maybe during the audit…) are yet another reason why our office is such a joyous place in which to work.

Rita Dahlke – Librarian and Assistant Religious School Principal
Rita wears many hats at Temple. She keeps our library humming with books and programs.  She makes sure that all the teachers have what they need to inspire our children and impart Jewish Values. She works closely with Zach and is a constant source of creativity and innovation.

Laura Knaster – Communications Director
Laura has quickly made herself an invaluable member of our team.  Her communications instincts and Social Media wizardry have transformed the way that we communicate to our congregation.  She makes sure that our messaging is on track and consistent. She works closely with all of us to make us look good.

Patricia Lackner – Clergy Administrative Assistant
Patricia is an essential part of any הצלחוֹת Hatzlachot (successes) that I have.  She keeps me on schedule, manages my calendar, schedules appointments, types my correspondence and manages my phone calls.  She also sees her position as a sacred calling and truly has an important pastoral role in the congregation. She is often the first contact that congregants in crisis encounter when they need to speak to a member of the clergy.  Her calming and compassionate presence are a blessing.

Rayna Wandel – Educational Assistant
Rayna keeps the religious school humming.  She also is our Bulletin Editor – an often-thankless task that involves chasing down errant rabbis (no one in particular…) to hand in their articles on time. Her energy, enthusiasm and joy are wonderful.

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.

Frances Goodfriend- Executive Director Assistant
Frances is the newest member of our team.  She works closely with Steve Stark – helping with Cemetery plots, membership issues and any other of the myriad tasks that Steve gives her.  She always has a smile on her face and is a pleasure to have around the office.

As we conclude this year of הצלחוֹת Hatzlachot (Successes), I want to state how fortunate I feel to be able to share all of this with my family.  My wife, Sue, continues to inspire me with her support, confidence and gentle nudges when she sees me veering into dangerous territory.  This has been a difficult year for both of us as we continue our journey of mourning the losses of my mother, Sophie and her father, Amos. I am blessed to have her by my side as we travel together. Our children, Elana and Ethan continue to give us a sense of pride in the kind of adults they are becoming.

Thank you all for giving me the gift of being your Senior Rabbi.  I do not take your trust and confidence for granted.  I look forward to many more years of הצלחה -hatzlacha (success) as we continue to celebrate our sacred community together.

L’shalom (in peace),

Rabbi Joseph R. Black

Friday, March 2, 2018

The Golden Calf of Emptiness

Rabbi Joe Black
March 2, 2018
Temple Emanuel, Denver, CO

Our torah portion for this Shabbat, Ki Tissa:  sets up a powerful paradigm – a “split screen” of action which shows us, on the one hand, Moses and God engaged in an intense dialogue on the top of Mt Sinai. Moses begs to see God’s face  - to understand and commune with the Divine.  And all of this happens at the same moment that the Israelites are building the Golden Calf and violating the very intimacy and connectivity that Moses so desperately seeks.

In our text, as Moses and Joshua are coming down the mountain to hear the people reveling after the creation of the Golden Calf we read the following: 

Exodus 32:  17-18                                       

When Joshua heard the sound of the people in their celebrations, he said to Moses:  “There is the sound of songs of war in the camp!”  And Moses said:  “This is not the sound of songs of bravery; this is not the sound of songs of weakness, this is the sound of  (just) songs ….. that I hear.”

It’s a strange passage – there seems to be something missing in Moses’ reply. It’s not a complete sentence.  Joshua hears the sound of the revelers celebrating the Golden Calf – he hears the intensity of their voices – and yet, he can’t quite pinpoint exactly what they are singing about.  Moses seems to be teaching Joshua that it is not the message of the song that they are hearing that is disturbing – rather, the sound of the singers is chilling to his ear because instead of glorifying God, its purpose was to amplify the sin that was being committed.  It was not a song of bravery or weakness – it was merely the people reveling in the sound of their own voices.

To set the scene – Moses has just returned from an intense communion with God just moments before he and Joshua hear the commotion in the camp below.  He is still glowing from the experience of talking with God and receiving the Torah – the blueprint for life’s meaning and purpose.  To be transported from this level of intensity, spiritual depth and communion with all that is holy to an encounter with the most base, profane and idolatrous sounds of the Israelites must have been incredibly difficult for Moses.  And yet, he not only immediately comprehends what is going on, he also had the presence of mind to argue with God who wanted to destroy the His people.  Moses challenges God saying (and I paraphrase…): 

“Why, O God, should Your anger flare up against Your people whom You have taken out of the land of Egypt, with great power and a strong hand?  Why should the Egyptians say that You removed them from bondage so that You could destroy them in the wilderness?  ….Step back from Your wrath and reconsider Your anger against Your people!” (Genesis 32:11-13)

God relents and Moses’ logic prevails, but the contrast between the revelatory experience of Moses and the baseness and meaningless display of ID in which the Israelites are engaged is both profound and telling.

Today, we, all too often, can find ourselves caught up in this gap between the holy and the empty, the sacred and the profane.  How often do we – as individuals and as a nation, engage in pointless sniping and griping? We delight in empty news that is tailored to our own predilections.  In a world of instant messaging, the search for “gotcha” moments is increasingly becoming a compulsion. 

I am as guilty as anyone.  I regularly check my Twitter feed to see what new morsels of outrage those with whom I am ideologically opposed have committed.  The need to feed our hunger for juicy tidbits of scandal is paramount, exhausting and all consuming.

Yes – much of this comes from a White House and Congress that thrives on chaos, name calling and confusion, but it is wrong to place the entire blame on our leadership. To do so is to deflect us from the real problem at hand. Our elected officials represent our values – as individuals and as a nation.  After all, Aaron built the Golden Calf in response to the people’s call – not out of any desire to rule.

The anger and emptiness our mindless sniping inspires can also be tragic and deadly.  I am convinced that one of the reasons that we are seeing so many acts of violence occurring around us – such as the Parkland tragedy of last week and that of Central Michigan University that took place today – is because we have allowed ourselves to be seduced by the soul-draining emptiness of our national discourse.

If you, like me, are tired of the sound of empty singing – of mindless criticism and sniping, then we all must not allow ourselves to be drawn into the trap of appeasing our basest selves.  One of the most important antidotes to emptiness is in the communal search for holiness that we, as a kehillah kedosha – a sacred congregation – are engaged.  The more we shun  the temptation to give in to our own weakness and move towards creating and celebrating the holy and good in our lives, the better we will be.

This is not an easy task.  I do not have an answer to the multiplicity of problems that we face.  I do, believe, however, that if we come together as a sacred community, we have a better chance of drowning out the noise of mindlessness and finding meaning and purpose in our traditions.  Let our singing bring us closer, our prayers make us stronger, and our values shine a light on the path on which we need to walk.

Ken Yehi Ratzon.