On Wednesday of this week, in Philadelphia, I was saddened but honored to be a co-officiant at the funeral service for Rabbi Aaron Landes, a prominent rabbi in Elkins Park, Pennsylvania for many years. Both as President of the Rabbinical Assembly and as a long-time friend of the family – his in-laws had been members of my congregation for over fifty years – it was a deeply meaningful experience for me.
When we think of the challenges of hosting a seder, the physical – the cleaning and cooking – immediately spring to mind. Another challenge is negotiating the tension between the meal’s ritual requirements and the obligation to make the story actually speak to the participants who are there.
It is hardly a secret that the Jewish world that we inhabit, particularly here in New York, is plagued by deep divisions. Interdenominational friction makes it at best extremely difficult for rabbis and laypeople to work together across those lines for the betterment of the Jewish community as a whole, and there is little reason to hope that the situation will be changing any time soon. There are pulls to the right and to the left. Unless Israel is threatened, we find it hard to talk to each other both literally and figuratively.
Hazamir, the International Jewish High School Choir, has figured out how to solve that problem: Transcend the spoken word and the ideologies behind it, and replace it with the harmony of beautifully sung music. That's exactly what happened this past Sunday at Carnegie Hall, when the choir performed.
As you might imagine, I spend a lot of time talking about my synagogue with other rabbis and laypeople. It is a natural thing for professionals and lay leaders to share “war stories” about the institutions that play such important roles in their lives, and often times, the insights gained are invaluable. Usually there are more than a few laughs that accompany this sharing, as we inevitably discover how universal certain synagogue characteristics are, both for better and for less good.
Just about a year ago, I had the opportunity to visit the SodaStream factory in Israel. Actually, how do define exactly where the factory is located has led to one of the more explosive and high profile manifestations of the so-called BDS (boycott-civestment-sanction) dispute.
I left London this past Tuesday morning after a long weekend and wonderful Shabbat there, and landed in Madrid this afternoon, preparing to meet up with the Conference of Presidents mission here. If anyone asks you what London and Madrid have in common besides both being in Europe, the answer is that, right at this moment, they're both cold and wet!