Thursday, January 26, 2017

The US Embassy and moving it to Jerusalem

       We seem to live in a world where up is down, inside is out, and truth is variable.  Our new President, in his latest directive, has announced that the US will be moving its embassy from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem.  This is controversial because the United Nations Security Council has declared that Israel's declaration that Jerusalem was its eternal capital was a violation of international law and has advised all member nations to withdraw their diplomats from the city.  Israel named Jerusalem its capital in 1949, at the conclusion of the War of Independence.  In 1967, the area of Jerusalem expanded at the conclusion of the Six-Day War to include eastern Jerusalem.  The controversy hinges on both international acceptance of Israeli sovereignty over all of Jerusalem and how these final details should only be decided in a negotiated agreement with the Palestinian people.
     Much has been written defending the status quo and not moving the embassy.  I have the utmost respect for my colleagues (and my father) who believe that moving the US embassy to Jerusalem would be a catastrophic and arrogant mistake.  I am no longer a member of that line of thinking.  Here's why.
1) Israel declared Jerusalem its capital from the moment of its independence.  Independence that it won in spite of the rest of the world.  What real right does the rest of the world have to designate another sovereign state's own capital.   Remember the last time that happened?  That's because there isn't.  When the nations of the world decided to divide a capital because of war, it didn't work out too well for Berlin for many decades!  Israel considers Jerusalem its capital, a belief that is reflected in the consciousness of the people.
2) The rational that it is premature to move the embassy to Jerusalem without a final agreement in place begins with the faulty notion that the Jerusalem under Israeli sovereignty is somehow illegally occupied.  Eastern Jerusalem may be disputed internationally, but this does not reflect the whole of the city.  Pandering to this narrative reinforces the more insidious and defective notion that all of Israel is occupied territory.
3) You don't begin a negotiation where you expect to end it.  Anyone who has spent time in the Arab market in the Old City knows that you don't accept the first price given.  Negotiation is fluid.  The pre-conditions that have been tried again and again have all failed gloriously.  It's time for a new and bold tack.  More violence may occur, but then again it hasn't stopped either; there are still knife attacks and car rammings plaguing Israel.  Maybe a fresh perspective, a fresh approach challenging the status quo will more readily bring both sides to the table.  Appeasement has not worked for almost fifty years.  It's time for the US to recognize Jerusalem as the capital of Israel, especially in a time when people and nations have tried to rewrite history to fit their narrative, their alternative truth.  We must be vigilant against this type of tyranny and moving the US embassy to Jerusalem is one step in protecting and preserving that truth.

Thursday, May 30, 2013

A Havdallah Twist

     Havdallah is one of those ceremonies that I have found enriching, fun and in little need of change.  It's a quick ceremony marking the end of Shabbat with all of the hallmarks and symbols of a ritual embodying a full sensual experience, allowing the sacredness of Shabbat to flow into the regular week.  The wine, the spice box, and the twisted candle bring the tastes of Shabbat to all of the senses.  So, when a congregant of mine asked me to participate at her son's bar mitzvah party by leading the Havdallah ceremony, I was grateful for the opportunity to bring this sacred ritual to the bar mitzvah party as the capstone to a powerful day. 
     As is often the case, after I was asked to participate, she then tentatively asked if I minded if they changed a few things.  After I passed the "uh oh" moment, she allayed my fears when she suggested that everyone participate in the Havdallah ceremony by having sparklers.  We had the wonderful idea that our bar mitzvah boy, with Havdallah candle in hand would go around lighting each sparkler.  Well, when the time came, it took much longer to light the sparklers and, boy, were we happy that everyone took the initiative to light their own sparklers using the tiki torches.  Amazingly, it had a wonderful effect. 
     After we talked about including the sparklers, she then broached the spices dilemma; how to allow everyone to participate in the spices part of the ceremony.  We tossed in the idea of having little spice bags for everyone, but quickly nixed it.  Then my congregant in all her creativity came up with the idea of a candied orange peel for everyone to enjoy a piece.  Far from traditional, this isn't your mama's spice box, it became an extraordinarily inventive twist on spices, both sweet and savory to the nose and mouth. 

Below is the link to the recipe for the candied orange peel:

     When navigating between the sacred and the joyous, the prayers and the parties, we must encourage, support and leave space for those sparks of creativity and ingenuity to spill over and mix with each other while not subsuming the gravitas of these milestone events.
     In an age where the bar mitzvah ceremony and party are often relegated to two different universes, it was really amazing, awe-inspiring and humbling to see that chasm bridged by a family willing to engage in the narrative of Jewish life and make it their own.

Friday, May 3, 2013

Looking to the 41st century

     As a sci-fi junkie, I enjoy many of the new dystopian movies and books out there.  Each author, producer, etc. is looking for new and interesting ways for humanity to be destroyed, while like the Phoenix, a remnant rises from those ashes.  It's an easy slippery slope to glide down and this type of thinking we have engendered from millennia. 
     In preparation for tonight's sermon I was reading Rabbi Prouser's take on this weeks portion (b'har & b'hukkotai) through the online publication of Torah Sparks put out by the United Synagogues of Conservative Judaism ( and the writings found on, as well.  The common theme for much of the portion was the environment as the seven year sabbatical of the land is mentioned as is the Jubilee.  I was also reading in the paper two opposing articles on the environment; one that highlighted a town's negative reaction to the possibility of more gas wells being dug there and another that was excited about America's emergence as an energy leader for the next hundred years or so, with the idea that fossil fuels were reemerging as a not so limited resource. 
     The oft quoted phrase reminding us that we may inherit the earth from our parents, but what we bequeath to our children and grandchildren is up to us, made me wonder what was going to happen 1,000 years from now, one millennium.  Yet, maybe that's not enough to convince people of the need to find alternative resources for power, maybe we need to take it to the next millennium, the forty-first century, 2,000 years from now.  Though I don't think it's possible for our limited resources to power us for another thousand years, what is the generation of the 41st century going to do for power? 
     What an absurd question!  So many people continue to think that we are going to destroy ourselves over and again, year after year.  They prophecy our doom, an Armageddon that would make this discussion moot.  They give us a glimpse into the power and greed that could turn the earth into a wasteland.  Their concerns are valid, but I believe that a change of perspective is imperative.  As important as it is to learn from the past and live in the present, we must start preparing for this distant future.  Indeed so many people are boarding the technological fast train and making leaps and bounds in our technical, medical, energy abilities, but sometimes we get shortsighted.  I read earlier in the year that one of the most abundant elements in the universe, helium, is becoming rare on earth.  In fact, scientists have determined that we will lose helium as a resource in about 100 years. Helium is not only used for fun birthday parties, making funny voices, but also in critical medical equipment (it can also be mixed with oxygen to create heliox which makes breathing easier and can help save new-born babies).  Helium is mined from the earth as a byproduct of the radioactive decay of elements such as uranium or thorium.  When helium is released into the air, it is then lost forever. (
     This is then my prescription.  It is the 41st century we must start looking toward.  Dare I make the analogy that we are none too different than the ivory hunters of Africa, killing the elephants for their tusks without concern for the repercussions.  We lay waste to our wetlands, rainforests and natural resources with little concern.  We have firmly accepted the fact we may do as we wish without consequences.  It is a conquerors' mentality that has continued to pervade all aspects of society.  In general, the Native American understanding of their relationship to the land should instruct us.  When they would hunt, they would harvest and use every part of the animal, not just the meat and hide but also the bone, sinew, stomach, etc. for tools and the like.  In a recent conversation with a funeral director, I was informed about the extent that hospitals will utilize an organ donor's body.  He said, that the cadavers are coming in without most of their skin, for skin grafts!  Though, I admit my first reaction was quite visceral, being a little disgusted by the image and when and where I was being informed.  However, in retrospect, as an organ donor myself, I'm glad that my body parts won't go to waste.  What better way to do a good deed than to help the living when I'm no longer alive to do so.     
      We need to make this kind of conservation an integral part of every aspect of our lives.   Whether its transportation, food, wrapping, music, etc. the status of recycling needs to be elevated to critical.  Two thousand years ago when the Second Temple was destroyed our ancient rabbis transformed Judaism away from the sacrificial cult it was into the praying, studying, social action oriented religion it is today.  We now need to start looking 2,000 years ahead to that 41st century, imagining what we might become and setting the foundation for that, today.

Friday, April 26, 2013

The Gardening Bug

               My patience has been sorely lacking of late and if I have offended you in any way please know that if you give me the opportunity to apologize I will.  This impatience found its way into a social gathering I attended recently.  I received an email about a group that gets together once a month for people who are more than casually interested in advocating for the environment.  Someone noticed my blog which has the very optimistic and amusing title, the Recyclable Rechargeable Rabbi Roger.  Much of my impatience stemmed from wanting a better forum for meeting people , it was loud and echoey and after 45 minutes I was done.  I met some nice people, I may go back, but we’ll see. 
                One person I didn’t meet there but whose name came up was Jerry Connor.  He is hosting a website called that has the audacious goal of helping plant 1,000 gardens in the Wyoming Valley.  I met him in the waiting area where our girls go to ballet at Arts Youniverse with Gina.  He’s quite a character with a heart of gold.  His passion reignited my own interest in gardening and I hope to be able to plant one in my own backyard.   To be truthful, I have always been interested in gardening, but have never worked one, so this will be a very new endeavor.   I am hopeful that I will be successful but I know next to nothing about it.  As a result, I purchased The Idiot’s Guide to Vegetable Gardening which is proving to be a wealth of information.  After about 50 pages or so, I think I might need the super dummies guide to get it right.  That being said, our Torah portion this week, Emor, reiterates the command for farmers to leave the corners of the field and the gleanings for the poor and the stranger. 
                So many of us aren’t farmers these days that we have often interpreted this verse metaphorically, leaving the corners and gleanings of our harvest came to mean taking a percentage of our salaries as tzedakah or charity for the less fortunate.  I am all for these types of interpretations as long as they motivate us to action.  As our times and circumstances shift, I am of the belief that our Scriptures can offer us a renewed interpretation for our times.  
               What if we take this verse in Leviticus, When you harvest your field, to be an injunction for us, a command.  Allow our Torah to offer us some advice on how we might begin this spring with a garden of our own?!  
              I’ll tell you right now, I’m not convinced about how easy it is to start a garden, but I’m going to give it a shot and I’ll make the additional promise that if you are going to start your own garden and you have some doubts about starting it, let’s do it together; call me, and I’ll come and help and so will Ziva.  Or if you want someone with a whole lot more experience, than check out Jerry’s website, he offers to help with a modest sized garden which is a great way to begin. 
                As environmentally conscious as I might be, I have never gotten very much into the concept of Earth Day.  The idea that we would celebrate our connection to the land once a year seems preposterous to me.  In our psalms we read that, “The Earth is the Lord’s and the fullness thereof.”   Everyone, everywhere should have daily reminders of our connection to the land and the fact that “we are but squatters in God’s humble abode.” 
                A garden, big or small, can be that welcome daily reminder.   A reminder of our connection to the land, a reminder of the fragile balance between land, sun, water and harvest and that knowledge is one of the most important substances to strengthen that fragility.  A reminder to leave off the corners  and gleanings of your harvest to the poor and the stranger so that they too may benefit from your bounty and share in your peace of Paradise.

Wednesday, November 21, 2012

The Coal

When I have things on my mind, I like to share.  In general, I'm not much of a talker.  I prefer to listen, but I also like to free associate and go with it.  Yet, today, I wanted to share my thoughts but thought better of it.  Not because what I was going to share was deeply personal or revelatory, but because it was an idea; an idea that needed time to percolate.  Most times I like to share my ideas with my friends and family, seeking input and the like.  This time was different.
I knew it was different and the image of the coal came to mind; not the one mined for and used as a fossil fuel, worthy of a later discussion.  The coal that came to mind was the one that every primitive skills survivalist who has worked on making their own fires without a match or lighter knows intimately.  You see, when you need a fire out in the woods and there is no match or lighter to be found, you have one of a multitude of ways to get a fire going; a bow drill, hand drill, hand saw, etc.  Each of these methods uses friction to produce a coal.  It is this coal, this glowing ember that will create the fire; and without the coal, there will be no fire.  When the coal is made, your job is only part way done; that coal has to be fanned into a flame with the help of a tinder bundle (something that will catch fire) and then this "match" has to now light your fire. 
Our ideas are often like that coal.  If you blow on it too hard, it will go out.  If you don't blow on it hard enough, it will also go out.  If you are careless with it, it will go out.  If you do not prepare the tinder bundle correctly, it can go out.  And so on.  Our ideas need to be treated like this coal; it needs to be given the right conditions, the right energy, and the right circumstances in order for it to be fanned into a flame and then a fire.

Saturday, November 17, 2012

Letter sent to Citizen's Voice and others

Dear Wyoming Valley,
Ever since I came to the Wyoming Valley over four years ago, I have been working with my synagogue, Temple B’nai B’rith, on a variety of social action projects to help our community; like helping the Domestic Violence Service Center, working with the Dinners 4 Kids program, community-wide winter clothes drives, school supply drives, winter gift drives and more.  All of these were local projects with a modest scope and dependent on the generosity of the members of our congregation and, once in a while, other local organizations.   We have been working to fulfill the Jewish mandate of “repairing the world,” a religious obligation to continue making the world a better place.
When disasters like Superstorm Sandy come through wreaking havoc, it’s easy to succumb to despair, wishing we could do something to help all of those who have been affected and afflicted.  Wishing it could have happened differently, wishing it never happened at all.  But wishing doesn’t change the circumstances, acting does.  Following the tradition of my ancestors, and working with some very motivated people, we decided to help the people of Coney Island USA, (a non-profit) and the people of the region.  Sonny Myslak, an independent truck driver, who has time and again shown his incredible generosity, responded to the call to help by offering his trailer and his time.  When the word was put out to the Wyoming Valley, the response was overwhelming; truly living up to the name, the Valley with a heart.  And your heart was big and full of compassion forthe victims.  The Wyoming Valley knows all too well the enormous destruction that nature can wreak and how important the generosity of strangers was when rebuilding all that was lost.  
In less than a week we filled a 48 foot trailer and brought it down to Coney Island.  When we arrived, you could see the devastation all around the community.  The water had taken over the first floors and didn’t go away for some time; people lost so much and it was obvious that the toll it took was enormous.  We were able to deliver three quarters of our load to two different organizations in the area.   However, when we tried to deliver the rest of the clothes to FEMA and the Red Cross, they had been so inundated with people’s generosity that they were unable to accept any more.  We searched for other organizations that might be able to take the rest but were unsuccessful.  In the end, the time was getting late, we were exhausted and it was time to comehome.   Our mission was extremely successful even though we did not deliver all of the clothes.
I have since learned that neither FEMA nor the Red Cross in NJ, Coney Island or Staten Island are taking any clothing.  They don’t have the capacity to store or sort it.  Having had some experience with clothing drivesand knowing how much effort it takes looking after just a modest amount of clothing, which includes sorting and delivering, I can’t imagine how overwhelmed these organizations must be.  Sounds not unlike the biblical story of when the Israelites were building the portable Tabernacle and had asked for donations.  Moses, too, had to ask them to stop when their generosity exceeded their need.  Today, however, our generosity has not exceeded their need, just their ability to manage it.  This isn’t failure or mismanagement; it’s simply the situation at hand.  Understanding this doesn’t solve the problem with what to do with the leftover bags of winter clothing and gear.  Certainly we could have brought the bags to local organizations like the Salvation Army and they would have been happy to accept such a generous donation.  However, this wouldn’t have fulfilled the original mandate, helping the victims of Superstorm Sandy.
In conjunction with a few committed members of Temple B’nai B’rith we decided that we could transform the gear into money by having a Rummage Sale.  So, on Sunday, November 25th, Temple B’nai B’rith is hosting a Rummage Sale with all proceeds going to help the victims of Superstorm Sandy.  Your generosity has already helped so many people, now, come by on the Sunday of Thanksgiving weekend, buy some clothing, knowing that your purchase will go directly to helping those tormented communities in Staten Island, Coney Island, Hoboken and so on.  Thank you for continuing to be the Valley with a heart.
Roger Lerner
Rabbi, Temple B’nai B’rith

Wednesday, May 2, 2012

A Satchel Like No Other

So, I love hand-me-downs.  As the youngest of four, I not only received many of my brother's clothing (and hoping upon hoping that I didn't get too many of my sister's) but also had many of their teachers.  As an adult, I am still very hesitant to throw things away, and love garage sales.  So, I had this pair of jeans that about four years ago became too used to wear but couln't bear to throw them away.  I had originally thought that I might break them down and make paper out of them.  I just never acquired the screen mesh that would have made that happen.  Recently, I was given an ipad as a hand-me-down and didn't like the idea of taking it from place to place without having something to carry it in.  Of course, I could have bought something but I had a very clear idea of what I wanted and was pretty sure there wasn't anything out there that would meet those requirements.   So I went to work, cut some styrofoam to the right size, then cut the jeans, trimmed and sewed.  Bought a zipper and attached it.   I so wanted to use the jean zipper as the main zipper for the bag, but it just wasn't long enough.  Decided that it would definitely need some type of strap and thought about buying one but realized I could make that too.  All I would need would be the clips to attach it to the bag.  The belt loops would work perfectly as the attachment point to the bag.  For the straps, I cut the jeans into four long straps and weaved them together sewing the clips on both ends.
I've since used more scraps from the jeans for bracelets and to make a handle for a walking staff. 
Every time I talk about it, the only way to describe it is as purse.  Though, since I carry it, I like to call it a satchel.  Yeah, it's a man purse and I think I take a little too much pride in it.