My son-in-law Yoni Warren, a Navy chaplain in Okinawa, Japan posted to a Marine battalion, has spent the better part of the past week discovering just how difficult and painful a rabbi’s life can be, in uniform or out. A note to help understand this story… In the military, regardless of what corps you’re in as a chaplain, you minister to all military personnel regardless of faith, corps, or any other determinant.
Since assuming the presidency of the Rabbinical Assembly almost two weeks ago, and for some weeks before then, people have been asking me exactly what it is that the Rabbinical Assembly does, and by extension, what the president does.
Re-entry from Israel to New York is always a surreal experience for me. Where I live in central Queens is one of the most densely populated Jewish areas in the United States. There is little Jewish that is lacking here. Outside of Israel, there are very few, if any, places in the United States where you can get quite as many Israeli products as my greater neighborhood, But after spending ten days in Jerusalem, I am reminded of just how much New York is not Israel.
When I finished last year’s Seder with the words L’Shanah Haba’ah Bi’Yrushalayim Habnuyah- Next Year in a Rebuilt Jerusalem- I never allowed myself to imagine that I might actually be spending Passover, 5772 in anywhere other than Forest Hills. Of course, were the Messiah to arrive, I would be ready to relocate, but absent that miraculous intervention in history, I didn’t see myself going anywhere for the holiday.
No matter how one chooses to parse the still sketchy details, the recent death by gunfire of African-American teenager Trayvon Martin in Sanford, Florida is a great tragedy. A young life was violently taken because of an all-too-easily arrived at suspicion based on stereotype. See a black teen wearing a “hoodie” in a white, gated community and, as the shooter George Zimmerman, the neighborhood watch volunteer, himself said to police, one must assume that he’s “up to no good.”
In my years as a camper at Camp Massad Bet in the 1960’s, each and every camper bunk had to select a name for itself based on the name of a real place in the State of Israel. It then had to produce a plaque -– a shelet, in Hebrew-–that would represent the place/name it had chosen. When all the plaques were completed, there would be a competition to decide which was the best. All the bunks would gather together, and a representative from each bunk would have to explain -- in Hebrew, of course -- the symbolism of what appeared on the plaque.
The extended family of the Zamir Chorale, and its parent organization, the Zamir Choral Foundation, suffered a painful loss last week. Chuck Kleinhaus, one of the original founding members of the choir that would eventually become Zamir, died in Jerusalem after a difficult, courageous battle with cancer. Slowly and painfully, the man who had been the epitome of good cheer, optimism and ageless, easy, gracious charm was humbled and ultimately claimed by a brutal and unrelenting disease.