Shabbat Service Memorial Day Speech

Shabbat Service Memorial Day Speech

By Colonel Donald Gilner

A tiny island in the pacific dominated by a volcanic mountain and pockmarked with caves, Iwo Jima was the setting for a five-week. Nonstop battle between 70,000 American marines and an unknown number of deeply entrenched Japanese defenders. The courage and gallantry of the American forces was climaxed by the dramatic raising of the American flag over Mount Suribachi. Less remembered, however, is that the battle occasioned an eloquent eulogy by a marine corps rabbi that has become an American classic.

Rabbi Roland b. Gittelsohn (1910-1995), assigned to the fifth marine division, was the first Jewish chaplain the marine corps ever appointed. The American invading force at Iwo Jima included approximately 1,500 Jewish marines. Rabbi Gittelsohn was in the thick of the battle, ministering to marines of all faiths in the combat zone. He shared the fear, horror, and despair of the fighting men, each of whom knew that each day might be his last. Rabbi Gittelsohn’s tireless efforts to comfort the wounded and encourage the fearful won him three service ribbons.

When the fighting was over, division chaplain warren Cuthriell, a protestant minister, asked rabbi Gittelsohn to deliver the memorial sermon at the combined religious service dedicating the marine cemetery. As the division chaplain, he was superior in rank above all the chaplains. Cuthriell wanted all the fallen marines – black and white, protestant, catholic, and Jewish – honored in a single, nondenominational ceremony. Unfortunately, racial and religious prejudice was strong in the marine corps, as it as throughout America. According to Rabbi Gittelsohn, most Christian chaplains objected to having a rabbi preach over predominantly Christian graves.

The rabbi and minister were close friends. To his credit, Cuthriell, the division ranking chaplain, refused to alter his plans. Gittelsohn, on the other hand, wanted to save his friend Cuthriell further embarrassment and so he decided it was best not to deliver his sermon. Instead, three separate religious services were held. At the Jewish service, rabbi Gittelsohn delivered the powerful eulogy he originally wrote for the combined service.

Here lie men who loved America because their ancestors’ generations ago helped in her founding, and other men who loved her with equal passion because they themselves or their own fathers escaped from oppression to her blessed shores. Here lie officers and men, negroes and whites, rich men and poor…together. Here are protestants, Catholics, and Jews together. Here no man prefers another because of his faith or despises him because of his color. Here there are no quotas of how many from each group are admitted or allowed. Among these men, there is no discrimination. No prejudices. No hatred. Theirs is the highest and purest democracy. Whosoever of us lifts his hand in hate against a brother, or who thinks himself superior to those who happen to be in the minority, makes of this ceremony and the bloody sacrifice it commemorates, an empty, hollow mockery. To this, then, as our solemn duty, sacred duty to we the living now dedicate ourselves: to the right of protestants, Catholics, and Jews, of white men and negroes alike, to enjoy the democracy for which all of them have here paid the price…. We here solemnly swear that this shall not be in vain. Out of this and from the suffering and sorrow of those who mourn this will come, we promise, the birth of a new freedom for the sons of men everywhere.

Among Gittelsohn’s listeners were three protestant chaplains so incensed by the prejudice voiced by their colleagues that they boycotted their own service to attend Gittelsohn’s. One of them borrowed the manuscript and, unknown to Gittelsohn, circulated several thousand copies to his regiment. Some marines enclosed the copies in letters to their families. An avalanche of coverage resulted. Time magazine published excerpts, which wire services spread even further. The entire sermon was inserted into the congressional record. Radio commentator Robert St. John read it on his program and on many succeeding Memorial Days.

A Message from Sally and Bebe Kaplan and Alan Wexler

A Message from Sally and Bebe Kaplan and Alan Wexler

Todah Rabah!

It is with deep appreciation and great humility that we thank each and every one of you for your passion and support of the annual Hunger Walk Run through our synagogue team, Sally’s Friends. Without your dedication and generosity, we could never have accomplished our exemplary presence among the entire faith-based population. Thank you to Rabbi Sandler, Rabbi Listfield and Rabbi Rosenthal for guiding our synagogue family by your endorsement, actions and deeds which highlight the plight of hunger insecurity.

“You have not lived today until you have done something for someone who can never repay you.”

We are extremely proud of our Jewish community and the beautiful Mitzvot of your donations and participation.

We experienced an incredible day last Sunday at Mercedes Benz Stadium, Home Depot Backyard Green Space as we joined 10,000 women, men and children from different churches, temples and synagogues. A diverse collection of backgrounds, we walked together as one, united by our dream of ridding hunger in our community. Because of each of you, AA Synagogue has excelled in the embrace of Tikkun Olam and inspired many other congregations to assume this civic responsibility.

“Hunger is not an issue of charity; rather, hunger is an issue of justice.”

We would also like to extend a very special Todah Rabah to Gary Alembik and Stephen Graves for our new, beautiful Synagogue banner that is used solely for Hunger Walk and will be on display each year in the lobby before the event. Your kindness and generosity know no bounds, and we are deeply grateful.

We look forward to your continued loyalty and wish everyone a happy and healthy summer.


Alan Wexler, Social Action Committee Chair
Sally Kaplan, Sally’s Friends Captain
Bebe Kaplan, Jewish Federation Hunger Walk Committee Chair

Arnovitz Leadership Institute – Call for Nominations!

Arnovitz Leadership Institute - Call for Nominations!

We are currently accepting nominations for the Arnovitz Leadership Institute and invite you to please submit the names of individuals you think might be interested in this exciting educational opportunity. This program was developed to shape and train the future leaders of our Synagogue. The theme for the 2019-2020 Arnovitz program will be “Finding the Leader Within Ourselves.” Our curriculum will provide unique training in the areas of leadership skills, ritual, marketing, branding, and relational Judaism. Our training will also offer insight into the inner workings of every aspect of our Synagogue. Classes will take place once a month over a 10 month period, and will begin in August 2019.

Please submit your nominations to Lindsay Borenstein at, and feel free to nominate yourself. Nominations are due by June 1.

Best of Jewish Atlanta: 2019 Readers’ Choice Awards – Vote for AA!

Ahavath Achim has been nominated for Best Simcha/Celebration Venue as part of Best of Jewish Atlanta: 2019 Readers’ Choice Awards (brought to you by the Atlanta Jewish Times)! Vote for your Jewish Atlanta favorites for the next 3 weeks, and you’ll be entered to win one of several prizes through a random drawing on March 30! We hope you’ll keep AA in mind when casting your vote, but hurry! Voting closes on March 15.

MaNishma – Tetzaveh 5779



FEBRUARY 14, 2019

9 Adar 1, 5779

God spoke to the Israelites through Moses; the Israelites spoke to God through Aaron.

These propositions are a prism through which to view the relationship between the previous week’s Torah reading and this week’s. The theme last Shabbat was God’s detailed instruction to Moses to build the mishkan (sanctuary) in which He would “reside” among the people. God was very specific regarding the size of the structure, material to be used and its various units: the special candelabrum, the table for the showbread, and the ark in which the tablets of the Ten Commandments were to be placed. God’s willingness to vest His presence in the mishkan and hence among the people was clearly dependent upon their fulfilling the commandments that He revealed through Moses. It was a one-way conversation; God spoke and ordained; the Israelites were to hear and to obey.

The clear implication was that there would be consequences if and when the commandments were neglected. Sin would be punished. Yet God, following the great flood, had already despaired that the inclination to sin had been embedded within us at an early age. (Genesis 8: 21)  It is the possibility of repentance and divine forgiveness that transitions us to this week’s Torah portion. It is here that we are first introduced to the kohanim (priests) who ministered to the community and were integral to the process of turning to God for forgiveness. Aaron, Mosesolder brother, the designated first kohen gadol (high priest) was vested with the capacity and responsibility to be the People’s spokesman before God.

The Torah portion describes Aaron’s unique vestments, adorned with precious stones  upon which the names of the tribes were engraved. It concludes with instructions regarding the construction of the sacrificial altar upon which the priest could bring the people’s offerings to expiate sins, to implore Divine intervention when faced with crises and to give thanks for blessings in their lives. It was through Aaron and his descendents that the people communicated with God, as the Psalmist assured us in a later era: “God is close to all who call upon Him in truth” (Psalm 145: 18).

As a society we are currently grappling with the appropriate response to prior racially insensitive acts. Are we to regard current acceptable behavior as a form of repentance? This complex question is at the heart of the controversy swirling around Virginia Gov. Ralph Northam. He insists that he has scrubbed the blackface paint from his face; others insist that there are still traces of it testifying to lingering racist attitudes. It’s obvious that despite the great strides to expunge racism from our society, more than traces of it remain in our midst. The existential question with which we must all grapple is whether our own behavior has sufficiently changed and we can honestly claim that we have truly and fully repented?

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

Rabbi Arnold M Goodman

In Case You Missed It

Nearly 200 people helped AAACTS at SOAP UP Super Bowl Atlanta at Ahavath Achim Synagogue on Sunday, January 27. Volunteers participated in DMST (Domestic Minor Sex Trafficking) awareness training by survivor, author and advocate Theresa Flores, founder of SOAP. After labeling soap and makeup remover wipes teams of four delivered them to local hotels and motels. Over 91% of the hotels took the soap and agreed to post materials including a missing children’s poster and materials on how to recognize and report child sex trafficking victims. Almost immediately we saw favorable results, three children were recognized by hotel staff and law enforcement is following up. In addition a missing 16 year old local girl was identified and rescued.

AAACTS has additional exciting plans for the future. Again this year we will provide backpacks and school supplies for Georgia DMST survivors. In the fall we will host a program, Keeping Kids Safe in the Digital Age. This event is for middle school and high school students and their parents.

AA Synagogue is happy to announce the establishment of the Linda Bressler AAACTS Fund through a generous donation from her family. This fund is now available for donations which will enable us to continue and grow our awareness, advocacy and action to abolish child sex trafficking in our community.

If you would like to join AAACTS in this important work please contact the Co-Chairs: Linda Bressler (; Margie Eden (

MaNishma – Terumah 5779


February 7, 2019
2 Adar I, 5779

The Lord spoke to Moses, saying tell the Israelite people to bring Me gifts … And let them make me a mishkan (sanctuary) that I may dwell in their midst (Exodus 25:1, 2, 8).

This week’s Torah portion focuses upon holy space. It opens with God’s command that the people are to bring gifts for the creation of the mishkan “that I may dwell in their midst.” The Israelites were charged to create this special space where God would reside in their midst. For this to happen it would require God who has neither body nor form but who nevertheless fills the entire universe with His glory, to constrict Himself to fit into this large earthly structure created in His honor.

The people did bring their gifts and God, in return, did constrict himself to reside in the mishkan. Ultimately the mishkan morphed into the majestic Temple constructed by Solomon and with the destruction of holy temples into synagogues where to this day we, the descendants of the Israelites, strive to experience God’s presence. God’s withdrawal into Himself enables us to become more acutely aware of His presence in our midst.

Three verses cited in a midrashic teaching describes how His focus on the vulnerable and the needy impacts on the divine human relationship.

In the Torah: “For the Lord your God is God of gods and Lord of lords… He executes justice for the fatherless and the widow” (Deuteronomy 10: 17, 18).

In Isaiah, “For thus says God I dwell in the high and holy place but also with the contrite and humble spirit” (Isaiah 57:15).

In the Psalms: “God rides upon the skies but is also Father of the fatherless and Protector of widows” (Psalms 68:6).

The thrust of this teaching is that God makes His presence known when we, through our actions, affect His concern for those in need. God is perceived as descending from on high and by virtue of our good deeds we enable Him to be a positive force in our midst. God is thus at our side whenever we extend ourselves to visit the sick, comfort the mourners, and engage in acts of tzedakah or righteousness.

Partnering with humanity may be viewed as God’s way of demonstrating, “It’s not all about Me.” His plans and hopes for humanity are best realized as He channels within us that modicum of divine energy thereby enabling us to be there for one another. God thus dwells in our midst when we create venues where through various social justice programs we are inspired and enabled to share in this holy work.

Parenthetically, God’s willingness to trim the divine ego is an obvious challenge to the human tendency of aggrandizement whether in the political sphere, in our families or in the workplace.

May we continue to build contemporary mishkans where we partner with God and come to truly sense His presence in our midst.

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

Rabbi Arnold M Goodman