He Bent the Arc

He Bent the Arc

Reflections on Representative John Lewis

The Israelite rebellion in response to the Spies’ report regarding the Land of Israel, found in the Book of Numbers, sealed the fate of the generation of the Exodus. Other than Caleb and Joshua, all over twenty years of age would perish during a forty-year trek in the desert; the children and grandchildren would cross the Jordan into Canaan. Forty years later, Moses, prior to his own departure from the scene, recounts, with admiration, Caleb’s bravery in confronting the mob and assuring them that, with God’s help, they would prevail.

For Moses, Caleb was a profile in courage. His faith in God and in the destiny of the people fired his courage.

I first met John Lewis in 1986 when he was the underdog candidate for Congress. We met for a morning cup of coffee, and I was impressed by his candor and humility. His leadership role in the civil rights movement was well-known, and he was widely respected as a champion for human rights issues.

He narrowly won that election and served in Congress for over 30 years until his recent death. He quickly became the conscience of the Congress and was not only a voice for justice for the African-American community. He spoke up on behalf of Soviet jury and for the State of Israel.

Some years ago, the congregation had a one-day mission to visit the National Holocaust Museum in DC. I contacted John Lewis and invited him to meet with us in the Museum’s rotunda. He graciously accepted and spoke with great sensitivity about the Holocaust and the challenge of quashing evil before it takes permanent root. He ended with the affirmation of “Never Again.” We sensed that, had there been individuals with John’s passion for justice and with his courage to speak truth to power, the Third Reich might not have taken root in Germany.

I had the honor of introducing John at a Rabbinical Assembly convention in Atlanta. He was enthusiastically received by my colleagues for his unyielding opposition to prejudice based on religion, color, or ethnicity.

I was present at the Governor’s mansion to celebrate the publication of John’s biography, Walking with The Wind. In his talk, John reflected on the time that he applied for a library card in Alabama and was turned down. When he grew up, the government was all too often an enemy of people of color. His presence at the mansion of the Governor of a historic Southern State was significant, but there was still a long road ahead in the ongoing challenge of bending the arc of history toward justice.

It’s an American story. This son of a sharecropper in rural Alabama rose to be a leader in national and state government. Yet he never backed away from his deep-seated commitment to speak truth to power. He was rightly called the conscience of the Congress; more appropriately, he was the conscience of so many of us. This modern-day Caleb awakened every morning to continue his life work of “bending the arc of history toward justice.”

Completing this task is more than a forty-year trek. It’s an ongoing mission to arrive at the day when justice shall well up as waters and righteousness as a mighty stream (Amos 5:24). May he rest in peace.

Rabbi Arnold M. Goodman
Rabbinic Scholar

Now the man Moses was very humble, more than all the men that were upon the face of the earth (Num. 12:3).

Perhaps the Torah is correct in its description of Moses in the Book of Numbers. From numerous personal experiences, I know those words accurately describe our friend and brother, John Lewis, of blessed memory.

I saw Representative Lewis speak before large audiences. I interacted with him in large groups and in small settings. Always the same John Lewis. Always the same countenance. Humility that, ironically, was overpowering.

In meetings, Representative Lewis gave his full attention. “Perfunctory” and “automatic pilot” were not words or expressions in his lexicon. Mr. Lewis focused on people, especially on young people. I recall a meeting in his office with about twenty people. Representative Lewis invited everyone to introduce herself or himself. When he reached the youngest member of the delegation, a teenager, John stopped the flow of introductions. He asked questions of the young man. He probed. He was interested in him, and he appreciated that this teenager had taken the time to visit him in Washington, DC. And, as always, he encouraged the young man to learn and to “get into good trouble.” A civil rights icon and a man admired by many people treated a young man in his office as if he were the guest of honor in this gathering! What humility!

In May 2013, I was with Representative Lewis in his office on a Tuesday. In a rather offhanded manner, he mentioned he would be at the Seminary two days later. John was excited to go to the institution he associated with a man he greatly admired, Dr. Abraham Joshua Heschel, of blessed memory. But Representative Lewis didn’t tell me why he would be going to JTS. Only later that day did I learn he would be receiving an honorary degree and serving as Commencement speaker! He was too modest to tell me exactly why he was going to the Seminary. Two days later, I beamed as I sat in the audience and listened to Representative Lewis. His humility, shaped by the gratitude he felt in being honored by the institution he associated with the man he called “Rabbi Herschel,” was evident to all who were present.

Rabbi Arnold Goodman and I were among the members of the Rabbinical Assembly to have been fortunate to share a personal relationship with Representative John Lewis, of blessed memory. But his humble nature is an example to all of us. May the memory of his many good works be for a blessing and provide us with reassuring direction in these challenging times.

Rabbi Neil Sandler

Devarim (Shabbat Hazon) 5780

Devarim (Shabbat Hazon) 5780

He Bent the Arc

In the first chapter of Deuteronomy, the fifth of the Five Books of Moses that we begin reading this Shabbat, Moses praises Caleb for his courage and his faith. Forty years earlier he was one of the twelve men dispatched by Moses to scout out the Promised Land. Ten of the twelve lauded the beauty and fertility of the land but bemoaned that the imposing Canaanite cities and its well-trained warriors would be impossible to overcome. The report sparked a rebellion against Moses and God.

Caleb undaunted by the mass hysteria silenced the people with the assurance, “Have no fear of the people of the country for the Lord is with us.” The agitated community would have pelted him with stones had not the presence of the Lord made itself felt.

The rebellion sealed the fate of the generation of the Exodus. Other than Caleb and Joshua all over twenty years of age would perish during a forty-year trek in the desert; the children and grandchildren would cross the Jordan into Canaan. Forty years had passed, and Moses, prior to his own departure from the scene, recounts with admiration Caleb’s bravery in confronting the mob and assuring them that with God’s help they would prevail.

For Moses, Caleb was a profile in courage. His faith in God and in the destiny of the people fired his courage. Regrettably, his peers were not so blessed.

I first met John Lewis in 1986 when he was the underdog candidate for Congress. We met for a morning cup of coffee, and I was impressed by his candor and humility. His leadership role in the civil rights movement was well known, and he was widely respected as a champion for human rights issues.

He narrowly won that election and served in Congress for over 30 years until his recent death. He quickly became the conscience of the Congress and was well not only a voice for justice for the African-American community. He spoke up on behalf of Soviet jury and for the State of Israel.

Some years ago, the Congregation had a one day mission to visit the National Holocaust Museum in DC. I contacted John Lewis and invited him to meet with us in the Museum’s rotunda. He graciously accepted and spoke with great sensitivity about the Holocaust and the challenge of quashing evil before it takes permanent root. He ended with the affirmation of “Never Again.” We sensed had there been individuals with John’s passion for justice and with his courage to speak truth to power the Third Reich might not have taken root in Germany.

I had the honor introducing him at a Rabbinical Assembly convention in Atlanta. He was enthusiastically received by my colleagues for his unyielding opposition to prejudice based on religion, color, or ethnicity.

I was present at the Governor’s mansion to celebrate the publication of his biography, Walking With The Wind. In his talk, John reflected on the time that he applied for a library card in Alabama was turned down When he grew up the government was all too often an enemy of the people of color. His presence at the mansion of the Governor of a historic Southern State was significant, but there was still a long road ahead in the ongoing challenge of bending the arc of history toward justice.

It’s an American story. This son of a sharecropper in rural Alabama rose to be a leader in national and state government. Yet he never backed away from his deep-seated commitment to speak truth to power. He was rightly called the conscience of the Congress; more appropriately, he was the conscience of so many of us. This modern-day Caleb awakened every morning to begin a new day to continue his life work of “bending the arc of history toward justice.”

Completing this task is more than a forty-year trek. It’s an ongoing mission to arrive at the day when “Justice shall well up as waters and righteousness as a mighty stream.” (Amos 5:24) May he rest in peace.

From the holy city of Jerusalem my best wishes for a Shabbat Shalom u’Mevorach, a Shabbat of peace and of blessing.

Rabbi Arnold M. Goodman
Senior Rabbinic Scholar

*The haftara or prophetic selection on the Shabbat before Tisha b’Av is the first chapter of Isaiah that begins with the words Hazon Yeshayahu, the vision of Isaiah.(Hence the designated name of Shabbat Hazon.) In this chapter the prophet mourns that the faithful city (Jerusalem) that once was ”filled with justice and where righteousness dwelt… they (now) do not judge he case of the orphan and the widow’s cause never reaches them.” This powerful chapter is a fitting the segue into the annual Black Fast that this year begins on Wednesday night.

Pinchas 5780

Pinchas 5780

"Men"

We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness.

On July 4, 1826, the 50th anniversary of the proclamation of the Declaration of Independence, Thomas Jefferson died. I suspect that he regarded the Declaration with its immortal words he crafted as the most significant monument to his life and labors, far more than monuments of stone or bronze.

Did Jefferson a Virginia patrician and slaveholder really believe that all men are created? Could he have been totally unaware of the overt contradiction between enslaved Africans and their white masters and oppressors? Did he not realize that “men” excluded women and that gender inequality was the norm? Was Jefferson a hypocrite whose way all life contradicted his inspiring rhetoric? My sense is that for him and his peer’s “men” was a generic term that excluded people of color and women.

Was the story to end here that efforts to stamp out his memory by destroying appropriate monuments and statues are not only understandable but even defensible. Yet what Jefferson bequeathed to us in the Declaration’s preamble is a canvas upon which later generations have continued to expand our understanding of “men.” It’s been a painful and all too slow process, but ultimately the slaves were freed and given the dignity of being regarded as “men.” It took well over a century for the suffragettes to him achieve their goal of gender equality.

George Washington was also a slaveholder, yet our first president refused a third term, thereby affirming that in electing a President the nation was not crowning a king. Jefferson, Washington and virtually the entire generation created the basic structure of the United States and set us out upon the task to fashion a social order that continually expands our perception of “men.”

We are regrettably not yet a perfect society that is totally inclusive to all. The mantra Black Lives Matter is a reminder that we have yet to fully expand “men” to embrace every one of us.

Following the French Revolution an empowered citizenry resorted to the guillotine to behead former oppressors in those suspected of opposing the new regime. The current frenzy to behead statues and destroyed monuments that memorialize proponents of racism and exclusion. Yet there is an important distinction between the founders and defenders of the Confederacy that in its defense of slavery sought to abort the union and the generation of the founders.

Despite their obvious limitations and perspectives, with their affirmation of the equality of all “men” they set us on the journey to create a more perfect union. The glorious history of our nation is in its determination to continually redefine and broaden “men” to include us all. Obviously and regrettably we are not there yet, but the arc of history continues to bend and to expand to attain total inclusiveness.

From the holy city of Jerusalem my best wishes for a Shabbat Shalom u’Mevorach, a Shabbat of peace and blessing.

Rabbi Arnold M Goodman
Senior Rabbinic Scholar

New Beginnings Begin by Perspective

New Beginnings Begin by Perspective

What are new beginnings, really? Are they events, happenings that we step into, or are they something else entirely? Today marks some profound beginnings. Rabbi Sandler begins a new chapter in his professional career, after 37 years of full time service to the Jewish community, he is beginning a new adventure, stepping into a new role with our congregation and planning his exciting and vibrant future, which will, God-willing, include a grandbaby! (B’Sha’ah Tovah to Neil, Susan, Ariel, and Jamie). If only baseball was happening, Neil would then be able to say he had arrived in Gan Eden (The Garden of Eden). Today is Rabbi Sam’s first day as the Associate Rabbi of our congregation. More than his new beginning, this is a wonderful beginning for us which I pray we will capture by making him feel welcomed and part of the Ahavath Achim family. Many of us are still acclimating to the new, virtual world. Although there is still a sting when we think about our new reality, I am hearing about people leaning in and adapting, embracing, and exploring a world without the restrictions of distance. People taking online classes from major universities they never visited, they are connecting with old friends, far away. Others are learning about different cultures and connecting with people in far off countries. It’s amazing… it’s a new beginning.

The question I want to ask is not about when beginnings happen but what allows them to happen. Beginnings are more than just points in time; when one thing ends, so another thing begins. There are plenty of people who arrive at such moments and nothing changes for them. Our Torah shares with us a subtle truth about beginnings – they are often about perspective.

In Parshat Balak, we learn the story of the sorcerer/prophet Bilam, who was sent to curse the Jewish people only to change his words into a blessing and a statement of admiration. Bilam’s words are found in our prayer book each morning – Mah Tovu O’halecha, Ya’akov – How beautiful are your tents. Jacob; your dwelling places, Israel. We not only say these words each morning to start our morning prayers, it is arguably the most learned piece of liturgy/scripture introduced to our children in song. Although the words are beautiful and the end result of the story is one of blessing, it is a bit strange that we start each morning and we teach our children the words of somebody whose intention originally was one of cursedness.

Our Torah is sharing with us an important truth about beginnings – they are all about perspective. No doubt, life happens: jobs end, opportunities arise and fall, moments come and go. However, our emotional, spiritual, and mental posture will dictate so much about how those moments are perceived, confronted, and experienced. Just as in the case of Bilam, perspective can change in a heartbeat. You could feel one way one minute and another way the next. We recite Mah Tovu each morning because today doesn’t need to be tied to our experience from yesterday. Children learn how to sing these words because each moment must be approached with a freshness and openness turning something ordinary into something extraordinary. A new world is beginning! It begins the minute we decide to seek its blessings rather than its curses.

Korach 5780

Korach 5780

The Desert's Populist

Vayikach Korach (and Korach took…) are the opening words of this week’s Torah portion without any reference to what was taken. An insightful Midrash suggests that he took “himself.”

Korach, Moses’ first cousin, was talented, articulate and ambitious. It was toward the end of the 40-year trek in the desert, and the Israelites were restive, fatigued and unsure of their future. Most of the adult generation that had witnessed the Exodus was now gone. The sameness of life in the desert was terribly burdensome, and the stated goal of conquest and settlement of the Promised Land was still an unrealized dream.

Korach, sensing the increasing disillusionment with Moses, openly challenged him. With the support of a cadre of elders he took himself (i.e. he raised himself up as the champion of the people). He was the classic prototype of the populist, thundering, “All of the people are holy, and why have you raised yourself over us all?” He pictured Moses as an elitist, while describing himself as a true man of the people.

Korach made his move shortly after Moses was challenged by his two older siblings, Aaron and Miriam, who insisted that they too were worthy of directly hearing God’s words. The Divine response was that Moses had two sterling qualifications: he was the most upright of God’s people and yet the most humble.

Korach’s attempt ultimately failed. His true character came to light when he spurned Moses’ offer to meet and hopefully reach a compromise possibly creating a new status quo in which he might have a significant role. He perceived Moses’ humility as a weakness, paying scant attention to his basic and admirable integrity. It was this hubris that led to Korach’s downfall. In the Bible’s words, “the earth swallowed him up.” The force of this description is that he disappeared from the scene as if consumed by the very environment he sought to dominate.

The Bible’s magic is in its grasp of human nature. It tells us of Cain’s envy of Abel that led to the terrible act of fratricide, the ongoing reality of sibling rivalry and family disharmony, the excessive appetite of kings and leaders, the corruption of the cult by venal priests and the stranglehold of the “haves” over the “have-nots.”

Korach’s burning ambition to court popular support to achieve his personal goal is obviously not a solitary incident in human history. This manipulation has been replicated to this very day, all too often with disastrous consequences for the targeted community, society or nation.

Excessive ego is an accepted characteristic of a leader. He/she must be confident in the ability to assure the populace’s welfare. Moses’ total humility, while one-of-a-kind, and his total integrity are ongoing challenges before every aspiring leader. These two divine criteria of unflinching honesty and a healthy dose of humility are a challenge for each of us, and certainly for the men and women who aspire to leadership.

The leader who insists he can do no wrong, who over and again demonstrates that it’s all about me is tragically an anti-Moses and as a contemporary disciple of Korach deserves to be replaced.

From the holy city of Jerusalem my best wishes for a Shabbat Shalom u’Mevorach, a Shabbat of peace and blessing.

Rabbi Arnold M Goodman
Senior Rabbinic Scholar

Always Becoming, Always Evolving, Always Arriving

Always Becoming, Always Evolving, Always Arriving

“Lech Lecha may’artzecha…” These are the first words with which the Holy One turned to our spiritual patriarch, Abraham. God knew exactly what Abraham’s mission would be… to go to the place where the Holy One would lead him, the Land of Israel.

Later in the Torah, Abraham’s personal journey would be mirrored in the lives of our Israelite ancestors in Egypt. Their points of departure were different, but the destination was the same. There was, however, one significant difference between these journeys. Abraham arrived in the destination. However, when the Torah reaches its conclusion the Israelites remain just outside the Land, poised to enter it.

In a recent class, Rabbi Brad Artson, Dean of the Ziegler Rabbinical School of the American Jewish University, remarked on the ironic nature of the Torah in this regard. So much of the Torah is devoted to the journey, but the journey’s end isn’t reached. Similarly, in their own lives, people are never really “there” or fully settled.

Journeys… never quite complete.

Over thirty-eight years ago, I was ordained a “Rabbi, Teacher and Preacher in Israel.” I completed a master’s degree in social work the next year and then set out on a great adventure. Like Abraham, I had no idea where I was heading! I didn’t know, even after ordination, if I wanted to be a pulpit rabbi! My first experience in a congregation convinced me. I gained a sense of calling and mission. I knew this was what I was meant to do. Then, in that proverbial “blink of an eye,” thirty-seven years flew by. While I haven’t reached the end of my pulpit career, I have reached the end of my tenure as a full-time rabbi. For the next year, I will serve our congregation on a part-time basis and support the efforts of our excellent and engaging rabbis, Laurence Rosenthal and Sam Blustin.

Unlike Abraham, as I began my pulpit career, I felt no “guiding hand.” But I did eventually feel God’s presence. That was sufficient and reassuring enough for me. As the years went by, I discerned more about the “destination” and what I sought to accomplish in the rabbinate.

Now it is time for a significant transition in my life…

Back in that recent class, Rabbi Artson drew out the metaphorical significance of the Israelites temporarily ending their journey in the Torah while encamped on the east bank of the Jordan River, just across from their ultimate destination. “Like the Israelites, we are,” Rabbi Artson suggested, “always becoming, always evolving, always arriving.”

That’s an apt metaphor today for my life as a congregational rabbi and spiritual leader. My full-time career is coming to an end. Yet, as a rabbi, a human being, a husband, a father, and a grandfather (God-willing, later this fall!), I am still becoming… and so are you.

What a blessing…

“Baruch Atta Adonai Eloheinu melech haolam shehechianee…” Praised are You, Sovereign of the world, who has kept me in life, sustained me and enabled me to reach this wondrous moment!

Rabbi Neil Sandler

This Is a Big Moment, Don’t Let It Go Unnoticed! Reflections of My 12 Years With Neil and Susan Sandler

This Is a Big Moment, Don't Let It Go Unnoticed!

Reflections of My 12 Years With Neil and Susan Sandler

This Shabbat will mark another important shift in the life of our community but more importantly, in the life of the rabbinate of our beloved Rabbi Neil and Susan Sandler. Next week, Rabbi Sandler transitions from full time to part time membership on our team. This transition has been a long one and, frankly, unlike many that are experienced in congregations. Although Rabbi and Susan will still be around, and you will still have opportunities to learn from, study with, consult with Rabbi Sandler for the coming year, I need to acknowledge this moment because it’s a big one. If left alone, I imagine many of us might not even notice. But it’s big. After 37 years as a full-time rabbi, 16 of those years serving our own community, Rabbi and Susan are taking this major step back. When I reflect on my 12 years at Ahavath Achim Synagogue, I cannot do so without an incredible sense of gratitude for Neil and Susan; for what they have meant to me, for what they have meant to this community, and for what they have meant to Ahavath Achim Synagogue. Of course, I can’t capture everything in this letter. However, I hope that my words here will help each of us conjure our own gratitude for Neil and Susan; gratitude which I pray that you might share with others, especially with them directly.

My first memory of Rabbi Sandler was from interview week at the Jewish Theological Seminary in New York. All graduating rabbinical students were provided the opportunity to interview with congregations of their choosing, in a round-robin style process (one hour, each interview). After reading a few synagogue profiles, Brooke and I agreed that we couldn’t tell the difference between any of them. They all said they were welcoming, dynamic, engaging, [you fill in the positive attribute]. We finally decided to interview only with congregations that were nestled in areas, according to Google Maps, with a lot of tree coverage. I ended up sitting through 11 interviews in three days. I remember very little about any specific interview. The questions were generic (Good but the same) and after the third interview, the faces all started to blend together. I mainly interviewed with congregations seeking an assistant rabbi so the majority of these one-hour conversations included a senior colleague as part of the search committee. I don’t remember any of them. Except one. Rabbi Neil Sandler. After my interview with Ahavath Achim Synagogue of Atlanta, GA, the senior rabbi walked me out of the room, thanked me for my time, handed me his card and said that if there was anything I needed or wanted to discuss, about the AA Synagogue or the job search in general, that I could call him. What a mensch! No other rabbi did this. No other interview ended in such a way. It was the one interview after which I was able to turn to Brooke and say that I wanted to work with somebody like that. Upon reflecting over the twelve years since, I can say that nothing has changed. Neil’s best trait is that he is a mensch through and through, filled with love, compassion, kindness, and wisdom. Immediately upon arriving in Atlanta to begin our tenure with Ahavath Achim, we met Susan Sandler – she was even better! A dynamic duo if there ever was one.

When I came to Ahavath Achim fresh out of school, I had no idea how to officiate at a funeral, a bris or baby naming, a wedding. I had never led services before. I participated in services but never created and held a sacred space from beginning to end. I had CPE (Clinical Pastoral Education) but those hospital visits were with strangers whom I would never see again, never with congregants and their families with whom I would be living together in community. It’s a much different dynamic. Neil taught me how to do all of that. His door was always open when I needed to vent (I had a lot of venting to do), and eventually, my door became a place for him to walk in and vent. The Rabbi I am today is in large part because of the love, patience, and guidance that Rabbi Sandler shared with me. For that I am eternally grateful.

However, my gratitude extends beyond our professional relationship. Susan and Neil have acted as surrogate aunt and uncle for my family. Susan was on call for our kids when we were making midnight runs to the hospital to have more children. Countless Shabbat afternoons bringing over their dog and taking our kids out for a walk around the neighborhood. Shabbat and holiday meals together, baseball & basketball games, birthday parties, the list goes on and on. When we moved to Atlanta, we didn’t think we had family here…we were wrong. We simply needed to learn what family really meant.

About four years ago, Rabbi Sandler returned from a sabbatical with a new clarity of the Jewish world, the trajectory of Jewish life in America and the direction a congregation like Ahavath Achim Synagogue was needing to take to be relevant in the new spiritual landscape. It was at that time that he began talking with me about a new role with the congregation. The role of senior rabbi. Soon, Neil discussed his ideas with leadership and started the ball rolling towards this transition process. Neil and Susan put their own financial, spiritual, emotional, and professional well-being aside for the betterment of the AA community. I don’t know many people who would do such things. Once again – what a mensch!

I am the rabbi I am today because of Rabbi Sandler. I am the father and family man I am today because of the care and love of both Neil and Susan. I am grateful for my 12 years professionally, spiritually and in family with Rabbi and Susan Sandler. This moment is a big one and I am grateful that our moments together aren’t done yet. I pray that we will be able to celebrate the achievements, growth, and life that Susan and Rabbi Sandler had given to our spiritual family.

With gratitude,

Rabbi Laurence Rosenthal

A Message From Rabbi Sandler

I Am Part of the Problem. Are You?

As I have watched reactions and events unfold since the unspeakable killing of George Floyd in my hometown of Minneapolis more than two weeks ago, I have reflected on the causes which have led so many people to respond in largely peaceful protest. It is easy to describe some of the problems that have sparked these protests and attribute them to “inequality.” It is obvious to see the place of “police brutality” in the killing of George Floyd and other African Americans that rightfully deserves our attention.

I have thought about all these things quite a bit in recent days and have decided there is one problem I have not been sufficiently aware until now: me.

I am committed to the equality of people. I have often publicly written and spoken out when I believe our Jewish tradition beckons me to do so when that equality is challenged or denied.

But I have reflected on the subtlety of my thoughts and actions sometimes and what they reveal. I am hardly a racist. But do I harbor some stereotypes about people who look different than me… stereotypes that lead me to act in seemingly benign, yet less than proud, ways. I am part of the problem.

Despite my public statements on the urgency of equality, there have been times when I have, in retrospect, mistakenly remained silent. Yes, I am part of the problem.

In a recent column that appeared on the Times of Israel website, Peter Geffen (my much-admired boss when I taught Hebrew high school while I was in rabbinical school), wrote a challenging piece, “Declare a State of Moral Emergency.” Here is an excerpt from it:

Dr. (Martin Luther) King was once asked about endangering the lives of ‘innocent bystanders’ when he led a march that he knew would encounter violence, as in Selma. His answer was quite simple and direct: ‘the term is an oxymoron, for if you are a bystander, you cannot be innocent.’

Rabbi (Abraham Joshua) Heschel, King’s friend and close associate in the leadership of the movement against the War in Vietnam, understood the insidious nature of evil. ‘There is an evil which most of us condone and are even guilty of: indifference to evil. We remain neutral, impartial, and not easily moved by the wrongs done unto other people. Indifference to evil is more insidious than evil itself; it is more universal, more contagious, more dangerous.’”

 I think silence like mine at times is prevalent. I think innocently turning aside and not paying attention to what ought to insert itself into our “oblivious world” is prevalent.

What do you think? Have you reflected on such things in recent days? Are you, too, part of the problem?

Dr. King shared sentiments with us that have been echoed by others more recently – “the fierce urgency of now.” Rabbi Tarfon in the Mishna (Pirkei Avot 2:16) put it in this fashion: “You are not obliged to complete the work, but neither are you free to neglect it.”

I am part of the problem. May I humbly suggest that many of you reading this column are also part of the problem? If so, it is NOW time for us to join with many others, inside our Jewish community and outside it, to start the sacred work of tikkun, mending this brokenness in our world.

(POST) Shavuot 5780

(Post) Shavuot 5780

From Prologue to Epilogue

The Book of Ruth, read in the synagogue during Shavuot, is at first glance a simple and heartwarming story of two widows, Naomi and her daughter-in-law, Ruth. The opening verse sets it “when the judges judged” (Ruth 1:1). The Book of Judges describes a fractured Israel with each tribe fending for itself, and suffering from inadequate and, often irresponsible, leadership. When Naomi decided to return to Judea, Ruth insisted upon accompanying her. She opted to leave her native land, Moab, to settle in Judea.

Mired in poverty, Ruth set forth to join others in gleaning from crops that were not harvested. She is noticed and befriended by Boaz a kinsman and successful landowner. In short order they decide to marry, but not before he follows the accepted procedure that gave a closer kinsman the responsibility and the right to marry her first. She ultimately conceives and gives birth to a son. The book concludes with the genealogy that her grandson, Yishai (Jesse) begot David (ibid 4:22). This is the David who as king unified the tribes and established its capital in Jerusalem. The book can be viewed as a manual on how to move from the “prologue” of the fractured nation to the “epilogue” of David’s birth foretelling its unification.

While not a complete blueprint it highlights two vital steps. The first is that Ruth a Moabite woman was welcomed into the community, as the Torah commands, “be kind to the stranger for we were strangers in the land of Egypt.” It’s a challenge to be empathetic to the newcomer and emphasizes the value of a united community.

Abraham Lincoln in his plea for unity at Gettysburg proclaimed that a nation cannot exist half slave and half free. At this very moment we are reminded that peace eludes us as long as race and skin color divide us. It is a plague with the inevitable potential for violence that our nation experienced all too often in the past and that tragically confronts us at this very moment.

The second value is respect for and acceptance of the law. Before Boaz and Ruth could marry, he had to defer to a kinsman closer to the family. Boaz convenes the required quorum of ten to witness that he had fulfilled all requirements and taken the necessary steps prior to marrying Ruth. The book affirms that Boaz conformed to “such that was the practice in Israel” (ibid 4: 7).

It’s incumbent upon all to comply with the law with no one being above it. Boaz had wealth and status and yet he was prepared to sublimate his personal agenda to the established practices of his time. A basic American value demands accountability not only from citizens who have the right to assemble peacefully, but also from those in power: the police and the political leadership.

Ruth is obviously not a complete treatise of transitioning from “prologue to epilogue.” It clearly affirms, however, the vital challenge to create a social order that embraces respect and the acceptance of the humanity of the “other” with the caveat that without mutual respect for the law, peace will elude us.

May our tragically divided nation succeed in completing the process from “prologue to epilogue” thereby enabling peace and harmony in our midst to become a blessed reality.

From Jerusalem my fervent prayer that we will soon see the dawn of the better tomorrow.

Rabbi Arnold M. Goodman
Senior Rabbinic Scholar

A Message From Rabbi Sandler

A Message From Rabbi Sandler

A rainbow… few natural phenomena are more beautiful than a rainbow. However, for the Torah-attuned among us, rainbows evoke an association to the unparalleled and utterly destructive waters of the Flood in Noah’s time:

“God further said, ‘This is the sign that I set for the covenant between Me and you… I have set My bow in the clouds, and it shall serve as a sign of the covenant… between Me and you… so that the waters shall never again… destroy all flesh'” (Genesis 9).

Last week, in a session with Dr. David Kraemer, Professor of Talmud and Rabbinics at the Jewish Theological Seminary, I learned that the Book of Jubilees, a second century CE text, connects Noah’s Flood with the holiday we will celebrate beginning Thursday evening, Shavuot.

Nowhere does the Torah itself link Shavuot with the event we have come to associate it with…receiving Torah at Sinai. The Book of Jubilees provides that connection. It informs us that on Shavuot (which means “weeks,” but which also can mean “oaths”), the Noah/God covenantal oath in Genesis was to be annually renewed at Mt. Sinai. In other words, the Book of Jubilees created a link between Noah/subsequent Jewish generations/God and reminds us to renew our commitment to each other (taking a “shevuah,” an oath) on Shavuot.

If so, perhaps we can understand rainbows in a larger, symbolic sense than what the Book of Genesis projects. The rainbow is not only a sign of divine devotion; it can also be a sign of OUR commitment to desist from contributing to overwhelming disaster and destruction.

I believe a compelling image for today emerges.

As thinkers reflect on some of the lessons of this Coronavirus pandemic, one strand of thought is to focus on the power of Mother Nature and our relationship with her. For too long, too many of us have competed with Mother Nature and attempted to bend her will to our own. Today, we ought to recognize the folly of our ways. Wishing the Coronavirus away by ignoring the power of Mother Nature has only led to untold deaths. The only reasonable and life-affirming way to move forward is to recognize how the natural world responds not only amidst a pandemic, but at other times when we abuse Mother Nature by seeking to assert our power over her.

As we celebrate Shavuot this year, with the insights of the Book of Jubilees in mind, can we reaffirm our covenant with God and join with the Holy One in metaphorically setting a new, beautiful, and healing rainbow in the heavens?

Join the Atlanta Rabbinical Association Jewish community as we gather for a special Tikkun Leil Shavuot, a virtual night of learning on Thursday, May 28, at 6 pm to recreate receiving Torah at Mt. Sinai in celebration and observance of Shavuot. The program will feature an esteemed slate of presenters and Jewish thought leaders, including: 2018 James Beard Award Winner Michael Twitty, Rabbi Bradley Shavit Artson (American Jewish University)Rabbi Judith Hauptman (Jewish Theological Seminary)Rabbi Josh WarshawskyDr. Paul Root Wolpe (Emory University) and Atlanta’s own religious leaders. To register and learn more, click here.