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3 months ago • Mar 31, 2024
IKAR’s 5784 Haggadah Supplement
We Know Why This Night is Different. The Question is What to Do About It. — Rabbi Sharon Brous At Passover Seder, we retell a story so central to our Jewish tradition that it has informed who we are, and how we live in the world, for literally thousands of years. Ours is a story of a people that after hundreds of years of harm and humiliation, were ultimately able to walk toward liberation. From degradation to dignity, from darkness to light. But how are we to approach Seder this year? Many of us come to the table holding grief, anguish, and fear. We are so raw. Words that for decades have given us comfort may tonight strike us as simplistic, cacophonous, or just empty. And for many, the Seder table will situate us in proximity to people we love, but whose perspectives may have created an emotional distance over the past six months that seems impossible to bridge. Every word is a potential landmine. (Oppression… whose oppression? Liberation… from whom? For whom? Justice…? Don’t get me started.) There’s so much at stake around the table tonight… we may be tempted to skip the conversation altogether and get right to the meal. And yet this Seder ritual has been at the very heart of our people for generations. And ours is not the first generation to struggle—both within and beyond our Jewish family. So let us begin this evening by affirming that our homes and our hearts are spacious enough to hold all of us—our beauty and our brokenness, our heartache and our hope. Let us remember, on this holiday of questions, that that our goal is not to change one another—it is to sit together. To get curious about one another, and our shared story. To ask questions of each other, to explore and learn and engage together. To weep, to learn and to grow—in our connec- tion to one another, in our understanding of our Jewish story, in our commitment to building a fair and just and loving world. We invite you to begin your Seder with the following kavannah: I come to the table tonight with a grateful, tender, and open heart. I am committed to turning to you, my loved ones, with compassion, curiosity, and care. In addition to many wonderful supplements written by friends and colleagues to help us navigate Passover this year, we are please to share a few supplementary offerings for your seder that might help spark conversations of meaning. Our hope is that you will find not only inspiration, but con- nection, breath, and hope… for this holiday of Passover is at its heart a ritual transmission of hope, one generation to the next. That is a blessing we cannot afford to sidestep this year. We bless you with a meaningful and inspiring Passover.   Yahatz: The Fourth Matzah -Rabbi Deborah Silver This year, we need a fourth matzah at our Seder. Before breaking the middle matzah for Yahatz, this year, let us add another matzah to the plate. And then we crumble it, as a tangible reminder of all the brokenness around us this year. Here is a ritual which can be recited by the Seder leader or passed around the table: [Lift the fourth matzah] I lift this matzah, bread of affliction, to remind us of what is broken in our world. [Break the matzah in half] I break this matzah to remind us of the four corners of the earth where human greed and gratification have wrought destruction. [Break the matzah in four] I break this matzah once more to remind us of the children whose futures are fractured and whose eyes are empty of hope. [Break the matzah again] I break this matzah in pieces to remind us of the rubble of lives ruined by war and hearts broken by hatred. [Crumble the matzah] Tonight we relive the story of our own brokenness and redemption – May it remind us to work for the redemption of the world.   Two Open Doors Make Your Seder Transformative, Not P erformative — Rabbi Sharon Brous Let’s talk about opening doors. After dinner and before Hallel, we rise to open the front door of our homes, and we recite: shfokh Hamatkha– Pour out Your fury against the nations who do not know You… Pour out Your wrath on them and may Your blazing anger overtake them. The message is tough—I’ve always found it dissonant both with the spirit of the celebration, and with my core understanding of our Jewish tradition. Certainly, there are strains of the tradition that lift up a harsh and vengeful God, but that image has never resonated for me. Actually, much of my spiritual and religious life is a counter-testimony to that rage-fueled reactivity. But this year, we come to the table shattered. The pain of the past six months—the shock, horror and anguish over the atrocities committed against our family, the sense of abandonment and existential loneliness, the fear of a future uncertain… it’s too much. I met a young woman last month, the same age as my daughter, who survived the massacres of October 7th. I asked her if she had a name of a loved one to share for Mourner’s Kaddish… she said she had forty-two names. Forty-two of her dearest friends died before her eyes. She was lucky to be alive, though she felt anything but lucky. She wept as she spoke to me, her voice quivering but clear. What did she want? She whispered: I want revenge. Without that tender, devastating encounter, maybe I would approach shfokh Hamatkha this year with the same discomfort and dismissiveness as I have in years past. But this year, I can, a little bit, relate to the vulnerability and desperation that must have led the author of that prayer—back in the 9th century—to write it in the first place. I still don’t share the sentiment, but I do understand it. Maybe you, too, see it differently this year than in years past. Shfokh Hamatkha is a dark story—a story drenched in pain, and we are living through an era drenched in pain. Perhaps I’ve been so distracted, in years past, by the dissonance of this prayer that I never realized the deeper problem with this dark story—it’s not just the sacralization of vengeance, the argument for retribution in religious language in the heart of a religious ceremony. It’s the placement of those words, of that fever dream—a prayer for revenge spoken belly-full, couched between words of gratitude and praise. Here’s the problem. Every Jew in every generation is called to see ourselves as though we, personally, left Mitzrayim, that narrow place, and began the long walk to freedom, to a place of possibility and expansiveness. The Seder is structured to mimic that journey. We traverse sacred time following the trajectory of our ancestors: we begin in degradation, and we end in praise (Mishnah Pesahim 10:4). Our story moves from pain to promise, not the other way around. In other words: there is no place for a revenge fantasy at the end of our Seder, the celebration of our freedom. But there is another door opening, one that occurs hours earlier in our Seder, long before we eat, just before we begin telling our story. We rise, this first time with the table set and hearts full of anticipation, to open the front door. But this time we say: kol dikhfin yeitei v’yekhol — All who are hungry, come and eat. Think of it! Seder is an exercise in memory and spiritual mobility. We taste the maror to remember the bitterness of life under Pharoah; the haroset reminds us both of the bricks and mortar of our enslavement, and the sweet possibility of freedom, even emerging in the depths of our suffering. This story, this journey, is at once collective and deeply personal. Yet we do not begin to tell our story, let alone eat our meal, without recognizing that for others, even in our place and in our time, enslavement is no metaphor or abstraction. And for those who have been blessed to traverse the darkness and make our way toward the light, the only responsible thing, the only human thing to do is open our doors and invite in those who are still now where we once were. All who are hungry, come and eat! This generous invitation is drawn from the example of Rav Huna, the Rosh Yeshiva of Sura. He was not only learned, but also full of grace. In Masekhet Taanit (20b), we read a series of extraordinary actions Rav Huna was known for in his time, culminating in the practice, before each meal, of opening his door and declaring: let all who are hungry come and eat! It’s clear in the gemara how extra-ordinary—out of ordinary—Rav Huna’s behavior was. He was a giant of his generation. Even the great Rava admits: he’d never go that far. But when this tradition is incorporated into the Haggadah, it is not only those who are extraordinarily resourced, or extremely righteous or wise who say it, but every single one of us. Now many commentators go to great length to explain that. Don’t worry! This is not meant to be taken literally—we’re not really inviting hungry people into our homes. But we must know that there have been times in Jewish history when this directive was taken very seri- ously. Elie Wiesel writes (in his Haggadah) that in his small town, before the war, the Jews used to wander through town searching for strangers—the poor, the uprooted, the unhappy, the hungry—to come and sit at their table as treasured guests. Without them, they could not begin their meals. This door opening sends a clear message: the great dream of Passover is not individual liberation, but col- lective liberation. Until all of us are free, none of us will truly be free. So all who are hungry, come and eat! Now what would happen if we were to actually open our doors and bring a hungry person to the table? Or even if we take seriously the call to open our hearts to bring true awareness of the reality of their suffering to the table? Does that not change us? Does it not bring new significance to our own story? Does it not awaken a kind of gratitude for what we have, an awareness of the fragility of it all? A commitment to use our freedom to bring love, comfort, dignity to those who remain in the narrow straits? This year, this question strikes me as more urgent than in years past. Even as we sit this year, with our hearts broken, maybe even with empty chairs at the table to symbolically hold our captives, and their dear, shattered families, we cannot ignore another terrible reality: Gaza is on the verge of famine. More than a million people living there are on the brink of starvation, and that is a moral catastrophe. It’s so hard to open our door to another person—or another people’s—heartache, especially when you, too, are holding fresh sorrow. I wonder how Rav Huna did it. How was he able to put aside his own desires and needs, his own grief, and open his door so graciously, again and again? In Megillah (27b), we are given a hint. This great sage was born into poverty. In fact, he was so poor that he once sold his belt to afford wine for kiddush on shabbat, and was forced to hold his pants up with a rope. I have to believe that it was because he knew the ache of hunger, the humiliation of hunger, that he cultivated a heart so deeply generous toward others who were hungry. Is the Seder not designed to do to our hearts precisely what that childhood hunger did to Rav Huna’s? Thir- ty-six times in the Torah we are reminded to treat the stranger fairly, generously, even lovingly… because we were strangers in the land of Egypt. The whole point of the Seder, arguably, is to remind us that we know the heart of the stranger. The stranger’s story is our story—built into the Jewish collective conscious- ness over thousands of years. Open your doors, the tradition calls out to us. Open your hearts! All who are hungry, come and eat. The careful construction of the Seder takes us on a narrative journey from narrowness to expansiveness. If we take seriously that first opening, of our doors and our hearts, if we allow the Seder to be not performa- tive but transformative, then by the time we open the door that second time, we will have changed. What, then, are we to do with the revenge fantasy of shfokh hamatkha—pour out your wrath? Haggadot today increasingly offer an alternative, in the form of a liturgical piece called shfokh ahavatkha —don’t pour out your rage, pour out your love. Pour out your love on the nations who have known You and on the kingdoms who call upon Your name. For they show loving-kindness to the seed of Jacob and they shield your people Israel from those who would devour them. May they see the good of your chosen ones and rejoice in the gladness of your nation. (Psalms 106:5) Some argue this text offers a legitimate alternative, given that it, too, is quite old. It appears, they claim, in a 16th century manuscript from Worms, Germany. But others argue that the poem is actually a forgery, that it was really written only one hundred years ago, by a rabbi who fled Galizia and then Vienna, ultimately escaping the Nazis by coming here, to the United States. I find the impulse to address the need for another narrative, another end to this story, equally meaning-ful whether it emerged 500 years ago or 100, or even yesterday. This text reminds us that we can, we must choose love. This year, we must choose to open our doors in righteousness. When we say, all who are hungry, come and eat, let’s mean it. If we do, then by the time we open our doors again, now with bellies full, we will not be able to pour out our wrath, but instead our hearts will be open to the power of love to heal us all.   Maggid/ Avadim Hayyinu: Who Were They and Who Are We? — Rabbi Hannah Jensen One of our chief obligations of Passover is to see ourselves as though we were slaves in Egypt. As though we were there. And then we were also part of the Exodus. We made our way toward redemption. We are asked to imagine our ancestors in a way that is visceral in us, not just an abstract understanding of people who came before. This is an invitation – how did they spend their days? What did they care about? Who were they? What made them laugh the hardest? What made them cry? What difference did they make? Without them – none of us would be here. And in this connection to our ancestors is an urgent reminder that one day we will be the ancestors. Generations from now people will sit around a table and they will be imagining us. What kind of ancestors will we be? Who will they say we were? What kind of ancestor do you want to be? What will make you proud? What makes you laugh the hardest? What makes you cry? What does this moment and this Passover story compel you to do or to be? Start now and imagine where you, and many generations after you, may end up.   The Plague of Disconnection — Rabbi Sharon Brous, adapted from the Amen Effect After hundreds of years of enslavement in Egypt, the moment had come for the Israelites to be redeemed, to begin to journey from oppression to liberation, from narrowness to expansiveness. Ten plagues descended upon the land, culminating in the one that ultim¬ately broke Pharaoh’s iron will—the death of the firstborn children. Just before that came the plague of darkness. Given that the plagues were designed to grow progressively more severe, the choice of darkness as the penultimate plague is perplexing. Darkness can be inconvenient, frightening, even dangerous. But is it really worse than the Nile River—the life force—turning to blood? More unbearable than boils and burning hail? More treacherous than infestations of frogs and lice? The Bible describes three full days of impenetrable dark¬ness, so thick and dense that “no person could see another, or even rise from their places” (Exodus 10:23). It is this detail that hints at the real terror of the ninth plague. More than physical discomfort, it brought spiritual anguish. “The deep¬est darkness,” wrote one nineteenth-century Polish rabbi, “is when one cannot even see his neighbor, and therefore can’t join him in his suffering and pain. Once a person no longer feels his neighbor’s pain, it renders him completely impotent.” When we are unable to support each other in our suffering, our lives are stripped of meaning. Surely, that is among the most devastating of plagues: the terror of total disconnection. Years ago, I called a member of our community just to check in and see how she was holding up. She told me that she feared that if she were to disappear tomorrow no one in this world would even notice. I’d heard this line of thinking a few times before. One woman once described her post-divorce reality, alienated and estranged from her community, her friends, even her children: “It’s like I vanished, but so quietly I didn’t even get a eulogy.” Some people’s loneliness is situational, the product of a personal crisis. For others, it’s triggered by a global and existential event—the pandemic. War. Climate catastrophe. One thing is clear: loneliness and social disconnection are now dangerous and prevalent enough to be considered a public health crisis. We now know that loneliness doesn’t only break our hearts— it jeopardizes our cognitive, emotional, spiritual, and even physical health. And pervasive loneliness doesn’t only hurt us individually, but it threatens our society. The great 20th century political philosopher, Hannah Arendt, warned that widespread social alien-ation is a precondition for the flourishing of violent political extremism: Terror can rule absolutely only over men who are isolated against each other . . . therefore, one of the primary concerns of all tyrannical governments is to bring this isolation about. Isolation …is [terror’s] most fertile ground. For Arendt, isolation is impotence. The more limited our meaningful contact with each another, the harder it is to act together toward the common good, let alone to respond effectively to the grave dangers we face. And worse, people who don’t know each other are more likely to demonize and even dehumanize one other. Alone and apart, we are vulnerable, and we are powerless. Fortunately, there is something that we can do about it. The antidote to social alienation is togetherness. We are—biologically and spiritually—relational beings. We now know that seeing one another and being seen by each other enhances our emotional health and deepens our sense of connectedness. This doesn’t only help us as individuals—it alters the physical and psychological landscape of a community and even a society. It lays the groundwork for a kind of scaled molecular remodeling, with the potential of nothing less than the mending of the connective tissue of our society. This matters profoundly, especially in this time of so much fear and anguish, when so many of us feel like we are drowning in a sea of sorrow and helplessness. The thing is: we are not powerless. We may feel like we’re living through the plague of darkness, but as Viktor Frankl reminded us: even in the cruelest and narrowest of circumstances, human beings do have a choice of action. We can, he wrote, preserve a vestige of spiritual freedom, of independence of mind, even in terrible conditions of psychic and physical stress… There are always choices to make. The choice that I hope we’ll make today is to find our way to one another. To see one another. In our pain and in our fear, in our joy and in our yearning. In our humanity. This is what I call the amen effect—a kind of spiritual rewiring that trains our hearts to recognize that we’re all bound up in one another. That we cannot make the darkness go away, but we can assure one another that we’re not alone as we navigate life’s greatest challenges. Showing up for one another with compassion and curiosity not only helps us endure times of great challenge, but may be the only way we can begin, in our time, to journey toward collective liberation.   Hallel: Putting It Into Words — Hazzan Hillel Tigay Victor Hugo said: “Music expresses that which cannot be put into words and cannot remain silent.” Hallel is typically the most spirited musical segment of the Jewish holiday liturgy. It is comprised of a series of Psalms, which were originally composed not as poems, but as songs. These Psalms were part of the Temple prayer service, and meant to be put to music. Just as the Mourner’s Kaddish is, counterintuitively, a prayer of divine affirmation and gratitude recited when we are at a spiritual low, after the death of a loved one, so too Hallel—words of gratitude and praise—are still sung even in times like ours, when we are challenged in body and soul. Our tradition calls us to focus on gratitude, to muster hope for peace and redemption. It strikes me as particularly resonant that we are invited into grateful song even as we face profound moral dilemmas and challenges. We are reminded that our people have endured—and overcome—great challenges for centuries. So sing like your life depends on it, because some of what’s on our hearts cannot be put into words, and even still, we cannot remain silent.
By: IKAR
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To understand the full significance of the Festival of Sukkot, we have to go back and see how it develops, over the course of the Torah’s narrative.
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9 months ago • Oct 13, 2023
A rabbi and imam on how they’re counseling their communities
NPR’s Ari Shapiro speaks with Imam Mohamed Herbert in Kansas and Rabbi Sharon Brous in Los Angeles about how they’re counseling their congregations during the conflict in Israel and Gaza. Hear the interview or read the full transcript here.
Israel-Gaza
9 months ago • Oct 12, 2023
How to morally, ethically navigate the war in Gaza
Hamas’ mass slaughter of civilians in Gaza didn’t happen in a vacuum. There’s a long and complicated history in this conflict.
Writing
9 months ago • Oct 11, 2023
Talking to teens about Israel
Dear Parents, Our hearts are shattered by Hamas’s brutal coordinated terror attacks, including the slaughter and kidnapping of hundreds of Israelis.  Click here to read Rabbi Brous’ Reflections. As parents, it can be difficult to know how to speak with our teens about what is happening especially as we ourselves are trying to make sense of the continuing tragedy. We recommend reading Dr. Sivan Zakai’s article, How to Talk to Kids about What’s Happening in Israel Right Now, for suggested language for talking to children of all ages, including teens. You might also check out this fact sheet. Here are some additional suggestions for how to engage in conversation. Talk to your teens  Ask your teens what they know. Ask them what else they want to know.  Some teens won’t want to know more; others will. Talk to them about how they’re feeling. Share your feelings too, but be mindful of how much you are sharing so as not to increase your child’s distress.  Remember that your teen is encountering a range of opinions and terms on social media and in social groups that they may need help making sense of. Invite open and honest conversation. Help your teen understand that we are capable of holding multiple truths at once. Prioritize teens’ mental and physical health   As much as possible, preserve normalcy and routine, while also giving your teens space to feel and express their feelings.  Teens are still learning how to cope with big feelings. Here are some tools that will help them recognize when they need support or a break from social media: Check in with your body. Does your body feel tense? Do you feel a tightness in your chest? Are you hunched over? Check in with your mental and emotional state. Am I feeling angry? Anxious? Sad? If so, it might be time to take a break. Help teens consume media intentionally  Help teens navigate the world of social media.  Especially at this moment, videos are being shared on social media that can be traumatizing and are impossible to “unsee.” The ADL has shared that Hamas will likely release videos containing disturbing content. Parents may want to take extra care with their children’s media consumption, especially on YouTube, Instagram, and TikTok, in the coming days. Validate your teen’s need to know about what is happening and help them set limits to prioritize their well-being. If you are able to limit your child’s exposure to social media, do so. If not, be sure to check in regularly about what they are seeing and reading. Show your kids where you go to get reliable information. Remind teens that it is okay not to watch. You might say something like, “Of course we care about what’s happening in Israel and we have a need to witnesses. But we don’t need to show our support by watching videos that have been created just to terrorize us.” Instead, encourage teens to reach out to their family and friends in Israel to show their love and support. Help teens identify how they can help  Ask your teens what they want to do to help and share what you are doing as a family. Rabbi Brous suggests these tzedakah organizations: The New Israel Fund, engaging in critical emergency efforts to meet the moment, providing basic services, including mental health and trauma counseling for those left most vulnerable from these attacks, and preventing flare ups of inter-communal violence in mixed cities by supporting the social infrastructure. United Hatzalah, which offers emergency medical treatment across the country. And Zion, one of many local community efforts to get resources directly into the hands of those in most dire need, including clothing, food and diapers for those who fled the kibbutzim at the border that were attacked. Support for teens at IKAR  On Saturday, October 14th we’ll gather with teens and Rabbi Jensen in room 308 during Shabbat lunch (12:30) for an opportunity to process together. We are grateful to be in community with you.   May the one who brings peace on high bring peace to our people and all people. With love, Rabbi Tsadok, Tamara and Rebecca
By: Rabbi Ronit Tsadok, Tamara Joseph and Rebecca Berger
Writing
9 months ago • Oct 9, 2023
Talking to kids about Israel
Dear Families, Our hearts are shattered by Hamas’s brutal coordinated terror attacks, including the slaughter and kidnapping of hundreds of Israelis.  Click here to listen to Rabbi Brous’ reflections on this past Shabbat. As parents, it can be difficult to know how to speak with our children about what is happening especially as we ourselves are trying to make sense of the continuing tragedy. The following are resources and suggestions for family conversations. We plan to take time in Limudim tomorrow to talk about Israel. Please see below for what those conversations will look like in each class. We also want to assure you that our highly skilled security team is in direct conversation with the Community Security Initiative (CSI) of the Jewish Federation. We have full confidence in their ability to keep us safe. Talk to your kids.  Some of us might worry that bringing up difficult topics with our children can be scary or even traumatizing. Dr. Sivan Zakai, a thought leader in Israel education, writes: “Research has shown that watching traumatizing events on repeat can be very unhealthy for children, but talking to children about troubling current events doesn’t make kids more traumatized. It actually helps them cope with living in a world in which troubling current events occur. Help your children learn to navigate the shards of our broken world; the first step is a conversation.” Read her article, How to Talk to Kids about What’s Happening in Israel Right Now, for suggested language for kids of all ages. How to Start a Conversation.  Kids pick up on our emotions and it can feel disconcerting to them if they don’t understand why their parents are sad/anxious/afraid. In her book “Good Inside: A Guide to Becoming the Parent You Want to Be,” Dr. Becky Kennedy offers this advice for how to talk about hard truths: “I often say something like, ‘I want to talk about something that we’ll all have big feelings about.’ Say this slowly and with eye contact. Afterward, take a deep breath—this will ground your body and also give your child an opportunity to ‘borrow’ this regulation from you in a tough moment. Next, use real words to describe what is happening…After you’ve delivered a hard truth, pause. Before giving more information, check in with your child. You might ask, ‘How does it feel to talk about this?’ or say, ‘It’s okay to be sad about this. I feel sad too.’” What to Say to Young Kids.  Tell the truth, but keep it brief. You might say something like, “On Saturday, fighting started in Israel. There are a lot of people in Israel and in America who are working hard to end the fighting and keep everyone safe.” Answer kids’ questions honestly, but they don’t need to know a lot of details. As much as possible, keep them away from news, social media, and podcasts that might scare them. Assure them that they are safe. What to say to Elementary and Middle School Kids.  Our kids have likely picked up that something is going on (whether we tell them or not). Students who were in the IKAR service on Shabbat morning might have heard our rabbis speak about the situation. Ask your child what they know, and answer their specific questions with basic facts. Try to speak with nuance. For example, explain that Hamas – a terrorist group – does not represent all Palestinians. Assure kids that they are safe. Speak honestly about what is happening with your friends and family in Israel.  Try to keep kids away from the news and social media. Encourage kids to come to you or other trusted adults with questions or for information. Limudim tomorrow  We want to create a supportive space for your children to share their feelings during this time and will take a few minutes at the beginning of Limudim for each class to have a brief discussion. After establishing guidelines for courageous conversations, here is how our teachers will approach the conversation tomorrow: K-2nd: Teachers will let kids know that this weekend fighting started in Israel. Many people are thinking about Israel and there are a lot of adults in Israel and in America who are working hard to keep everyone safe. Teachers will assure kids that they are safe. Teachers will invite kids to share their feelings and offer blessings or hopes for Israel. 3rd-5th:  Teachers will share that on Saturday, Hamas, a Palestinian terrorist organization, attacked Israel. Many Israelis and Palestinians have died. People are still fighting. They will invite kids to ask questions and share their feelings. Teachers will assure kids that they are safe and invite kids to share hopes or blessings for Israel. 6th-7th:  Teachers will share that on Saturday, Hamas, a Palestinian terrorist organization, attacked Israel. Many Israelis and Palestinians have died. People are still fighting. They will invite kids to ask questions and share their feelings. Teachers will assure kids that they are safe. They will end with blessings for Israel. We know that middle school students have greater access to social media and the internet and many have likely seen graphic and horrifying photos and videos circulating. We will speak about the importance of turning to parents and teachers for information and to ask questions. We will also gather as a school from 4:45-5:00 on the rooftop to sing Hatikvah and offer blessings for Israel. Parents are welcome to join us. We look forward to seeing your children tomorrow and being in community together. May the one who brings peace on high bring peace to our people and all people. Amen. With love, Rabbi Tsadok and Rebecca
By: Rabbi Ronit Tsadok and Rebecca Berger
Writing
9 months ago • Oct 9, 2023
Holding This Impossible Moment
Many of us are struggling to hold the weight of Hamas’s coordinated terror attacks on Israel over the weekend.
By: Rabbi Sharon Brous
Writing
11 months ago • Aug 17, 2023
Maui Relief
We arrived on Maui Sunday morning, not knowing what we were coming home to. Here are a few moments that moved us to tears. I (Allen) was deeply touched seeing boxes of aid on the carrousel with our arriving luggage. I (Aviva) saw a truck from the World Central Kitchen parked in front of Costco. Tears welled up in my eyes as I bowed to the driver with all my gratitude. I told him, “We have supported the World Central Kitchen for many years. Now you are here! I am so grateful to know you will be feeding people on Maui!” We then went to the War Memorial Complex to drop-off our CVS and Costco donations. It is a massive distribution center, well-organized by countless volunteers. We drove up to the drop-off site and our vehicle was immediately surrounded with the loving open arms of adults and teenagers, ready to receive our donations. We looked around and were in awe with the sheer volume of water, food and household goods that had been donated. More tears for acts of kindness and generosity. We are grateful to be part of our loving, spirited and thriving IKAR community. Thank you for your support and your donations to help restore the lives of our neighbors affected by this tragedy. With love and aloha, Aviva Feintech and Allen Greenfield Organizations Supporting the Fire Relief Efforts on Maui Congregation collecting donations for Maui Shul. Email [email protected] for more information. Rabbi David Kosak Congregation Neveh Shalom 2900 SW Peaceful Lane Portland, Oregon 97239 We highly recommend donating to the newly launched Maui Strong Fund at the Hawaii Community Foundation. Maui Strong Fund is invested in immediate and long-term relief efforts.  The Fund has raised over $34M since the fires erupted on Maui.  Hawaii Community Foundation is assessing the needs daily and have already dispersed $4.3M in grants to local organizations on the ground.  They have an established initiative for affordable housing on Maui, which will now become a major part of their recovery efforts.  For further information, contact Inger Tully at [email protected]. The Council for Native Hawaiian Advancement has established Koko’o Maui, a donation matching fund for fire relief.  The Council is a new organization to us, but comes well-recommended.  Their focus on social justice and equality reads like a Hawaiian version of IKAR.  The following two organizations are providing meals to residents displaced by the fires:  Maui Food Bank  World Central Kitchen  Maui Nui Strong is an excellent website listing many of the major organizations supporting fire relief and recovery, for those who are interested in further research.  The Jewish Community has both national and local efforts:  Jewish Federation of North America has launched a Hawaii Wildfire Fund.  Jewish Congregation of Maui, the local congregation in Kihei, immediately responded to the local needs as the fires threatened their neighborhood.    Maui Kosher Farm, located in Wailuku, opened its doors to feed and house locals and tourists affected by the fires. 
By: IKAR
Writing
11 months ago • Jul 24, 2023
IKAR on Israel’s Right Wing Government
We are outraged and dismayed by Israel’s right wing government’s action today to advance the judicial coup, another dangerous step toward transforming Israel into a fundamentalist, theocratic nation.
Writing
1 year ago • Jun 29, 2023
Response To The Supreme Court’s Affirmative Action Ruling
The Supreme Court’s twin decisions, today—which overturn decades of precedent and render consideration of race unconstitutional in university admissions– deny the reality of systemic racism in our society and deprive us of one of our strongest tools to respond to the ongoing legacy of slavery, segregation, and systemic discrimination against people of color. This not only violates nearly half a century of American jurisprudence, but it undermines our core Jewish values, as a community rooted in a commitment to tzedek—building a just society—and teshuvah—the possibility of healing though a rigorous process of accountability. What we need is not racial blindness. We need racial justice. Our nation yearns for a teshuvah that addresses not only the tangible impact of generations of systemic injustice, but that dares to reckon honestly with our history, and in so doing, to reimagine our entire society. This fight is not over. As Justice Sonia Sotomayor wrote in her dissent: “Equal educational opportunity is a prerequisite to achieving racial equality in our Nation…” Even as this Court races to undermine the rights and dignities previously protected by the law, we will never give up the fight for America to becomes a truly just, equitable society. Listen to Rabbi Sharon Brous’s sermon on Affirmative Action and Racial Reckoning from earlier this month: https://ikar.org/events/the-terrible-cost-of-zero-sum-thinking-rabbi-sharon-brous/.
By: Rabbi Sharon Brous
Writing
1 year ago • Jun 1, 2023
Seven Sukkah Guests
During Sukkot, it is traditional to invite seven exalted guests into our Sukkah: Abraham, Isaac, Jacob, Moses, Aaron, Joseph, and David. These seven guests represent the leaders of the Jewish people.
By: IKAR
Writing
1 year ago • Apr 5, 2023
This Pesah: You Love Something? Fight For It
Pharoah consulted with three chief advisors on his plan to defeat the Israelites: Balaam, Job and Yitro. Balaam matched Pharaoh’s cruelty with his own, conceiving of the plan to kill the Israelite baby boys. Job and Yitro, on the other hand, were disgusted by this plan, but both determined that they couldn’t convince Pharaoh to shift course. Job stayed silent, but Yitro, unwilling to be complicit in Pharaoh’s crimes, fled, in protest. The Rabbis suggest that all three were paid back for their consult years later: Balaam and Job were punished (one was killed, the other suffered mightily), and Yitro was rewarded with descendants who sat on the High Court, the Sanhedrin. (Sotah 11a) There are a few critical lessons for us to learn from this. Evil does not penetrate a system at the hands of one bad actor. Every tyrant has legions of advisors, funders, supporters, enablers who make it possible for him to conceive of and enact his designs. History deems them all responsible. Some will match the tyrant’s cruelty with our own, some will succumb to the pressure and stay silent (anticipatory obedience), and others will opt out in protest. Each of us must make a choice in the face of tyranny. Our actions have real implications—not only in our own lifetime, but also in the future. Our decisions to act or our failure to do so will reverberate for generations to come. The Exodus story is not just a recording of events that occurred long ago. It is an eternal reminder that God stands on the side of the vulnerable and a promise that redemption is possible, in every generation. It is also a timeless warning of the dangers of unbridled power, and a plea that we resist tyranny, each of us with whatever power we possess. There’s one remarkable detail in this story that I’m drawn to this year, especially as we consider the roles Balaam, Job and Yitro are said to have played. Twice in our narrative, Pharaoh declares that every baby boy must die, but the girls can live. (See Ex 1:16 and 1:22.) What’s going on here? It’s clear: Pharaoh saw only the men as a threat. He couldn’t fathom that women could amass the power to expose his cruelty and bring down his regime. But remember, even the most morally courageous of Pharaoh’s three advisors—Yitro—packs his bags and heads out of town, rather than stay and fight. That’s a striking contrast to the behavior of the women of Exodus chapters 1 and 2: Shifra and Puah, Miriam and Yochevet, Batya. They neither concede to the tyrant, nor do they stay silent. And they don’t skip town either. Instead, each of them rises up in protest against a violent and oppressive regime threatening them and their future. With courage, persistence, and ingenuity, they penetrate and ultimately overturn the power structure, confronting the machinery of death by choosing life, love and holy defiance: Shifra and Puah drive a spike through the wheels of injustice, resisting Pharaoh’s orders and allowing Israelite baby boys to flourish. Miriam and her mother Yochevet invest in the future, even when no future seems possible. Pharaoh’s own daughter, Batya, subverts her father’s decree from within his own house. What an outstanding irony! The very people Pharaoh dismisses become the cornerstone of the rebellion. It is they who plant the seeds to topple the empire and pave the way to true liberation. This may, in fact, be the only way that social change happens: when each of us, in our own way, and all of us, together—especially those dismissed, disregarded, marginalized, or ignored by the people in power—use what we have to confound, undermine and ultimately dismantle the systems that oppress, degrade and deny. That is how we defeat tyranny, then and now. I am just back from a week in Israel, on a small emergency delegation with the New Israel Fund. It was a spiritual whiplash from euphoria to devastation and back again—feeling the spirit of the nation rising up against injustice, and then seeing with clear eyes the religious fundamentalism, messianic extremism, racism, fundamentalism, and geopolitical entrenchment that stand as obstacles to the just society we dream of. One image I bring to the seder table this year: Sunday night, March 26, 2023: After a long day at the Knesset in Jerusalem, I checked into my hotel in Tel Aviv and pulled out my computer to start to work. A few minutes later, at around 11 PM, my brother (who lives in the outskirts of Tel Aviv) called to say that the Prime Minister had just fired the Defense Minister, and people were calling for a mass protest in the street. “You have to go,” he said. “This is history.” I left the hotel and started to walk, as throngs of people poured into the streets chanting: Get off your balcony… the country is collapsing! (It rhymes in Hebrew: צאו מהמרפסת– המדינה קורסת!.) I arrived to the heart of the protests on Kaplan Street where there were hundreds of thousands of people out at midnight, singing, dancing, drumming and declaring that they would not allow their country to be turned into a dictatorship. I saw young and old, Ashkenazi and Mizrahi, religious and secular, swept up in a spirit of transformation. It felt less like the country was collapsing and more that the country was being reborn! A massive, spontaneous awakening, a beautiful, diverse, and unified voice of protest. All told, 800,000 people took to the streets across the country that night. Israel is a small nation built on a great dream: a dream born of our history of anguish and agony, of yearning and praying and promising—a dream enshrined in the Declaration of the Establishment of the State and not yet achieved—to build a Jewish nation based on freedom, justice and peace as envisaged by the prophets of Israel, a state ensuring complete equality of social and political rights to all its inhabitants. The dream is great, and the challenges are also great. Chief among them: the dream of democracy, now under such serious threat, has never been a reality for millions of Palestinians living under a 55-year occupation. This remains the unresolved moral crisis of the nation. But/ and… what was clear to me on March 26, and in the days since, is that the people are making a choice: while many will be complicit in the fanatical, messianic dreams of the regime, while some will stay silent, and others will flee the scene altogether, many, many people—hundreds of thousands, will stay and fight. They will use their collective power to fight tyranny, whether the threat stems from external or internal forces. And together, they will lift up a vision of a true democracy: with justice, equality and liberation for all. And what’s so brilliant and beautiful and surprising about it all is that, like our ancestors in Egypt, the ones collectively planting the seeds of peaceful revolution are precisely those who were underestimated by the power structure. And they are only just getting started. I wish that was the final word here. But last night, the night before Passover, in the midst of Ramadan, Israeli security forces entered al Aqsa, that sacred tinderbox, to evacuate Muslim worshipers who had barricaded themselves in. The videos are horrific: hundreds were beaten and 400 arrested. Itamar Ben Gvir, Israel’s far right Minister of National Security, has called for masses of Jews to ascend the Temple Mount during the week of Passover, a flagrant violation of the status quo agreements at the site and a dangerous provocation. Some extremists are already preparing to come with goats and lambs to offer as sacrifices, something the Minister, himself, was arrested for attempting 17 years ago. This, just a few days after the tragic killing of Mohammed al-Asibi, a young Palestinian medical student, by Israeli security forces at the gate to the complex. We are terrifyingly close to a new violent conflagration. In this season of our collective liberation, it will take all of our voices, our power, our presence to fight for an end to violence and oppression, for our people and for all people. I pray that we muster the strength and the will— With blessings, R’ Sharon Brous Some resources for you: The leaders of the protests put together this incredible Haggadah—bring it to your seder for some timely inspiration. Contribute to the New Israel Fund—to support the people working every day to preserve democracy and civil society. While I was there, I was invited to speak at the protests in Kfar Saba, a town just outside of Tel Aviv, where 25,000 people have packed into a massive outside courtyard to protest every Saturday night for the past 13 weeks. You can watch my speech here.
By: Rabbi Sharon Brous
Writing
1 year ago • Feb 27, 2023
We Condemn the Violence
We are heartsick and disgusted by the violence being perpetrated in the West Bank. Two Israeli brothers, Hallel and Yagel Yaniv, were murdered yesterday by a Palestinian gunman in a brutal act of terror. We grieve with their family, and pray they find consolation after this devastating double loss. And we strongly and vehemently condemn the violence that followed, as Jewish settlers launched a retaliatory pogrom against the residents of the Palestinian town of Huwara. Settlers torched Palestinian homes and cars and terrorized families, murdering Sameh Al-Aqtash, a Palestinian man who had just returned from offering humanitarian aid to earthquake survivors in Turkey. Many others were wounded or left homeless.
By: Rabbi Sharon Brous
Writing
1 year ago • Feb 17, 2023
Anti-Semitic Incidents
Many of you have now heard about the two shootings on Wednesday and Thursday targeting Jews walking out of morning minyan in the Pico-Robertson neighborhood. The two victims are recovering, and we pray for their refuah shleimah, their full recovery, and for the restoration of peace in our streets. As of today, the shootings seem to be connected. The shooter, a man with known animus toward the Jewish community, has been arrested, and the incidents are being treated as hate crimes.  A few thoughts for our community: These incidents — combined with the Nazi flag at LACMA, a block from Shalhevet, earlier in the week — have rattled us. They remind us of the continued rise of violent antisemitism, in a society of festering hatred and easy access to guns in which anti-Black racism, anti-Asian and anti-immigrant sentiment, anti-trans legislation and violence, and so many more expressions of hatred are spiking.  What’s next…There will be a communal town hall gathering next week in the neighborhood (probably at Shalhevet) with the mayor and city council members. We’ll share info about it as we learn more. Our local Jewish community has a strong security initiative, and has been communicating with shuls and schools on efforts to keep us and our communities safe and informed of any ongoing threats (there are none right now).  Reminding ourselves that feeling safe is relative. Law enforcement has promised to increase patrols at Jewish sites this weekend. While increased security will help many in our community feel safer, it will make some of our community members feel less safe. We will remind our security team that all of our people do not share the same reaction to increased police and security presence, and that even as we increase vigilance, we will also take care to ensure all are treated with compassion and respect.  Consider leaning into Jewish participation. Some Jews — who are feeling worried and more vulnerable than they did previously — may plan to avoid synagogue for a few Shabbatot. We must always protect ourselves and one another against those who wish us harm, and also recognize that the greatest response to hatred and violence are Jewish vitality and joy. Whether you decide to stay home from shul this week or lean even more strongly into public affirmations of your Jewish identity, let this also motivate us to increase our commitment to preventing gun violence and building a safe, just, and loving society for everyone. Take care of each other. Unfortunately I will be out of town this Shabbat on a planned trip, but for those who are here, please treat each other with extra measures of care. And if any of you want to connect privately with one of the rabbis for a check in, please do not hesitate to reach out. (I’m in the office this morning.)  Here’s an article about the arrest with the most updated information. https://forward.com/news/536382/jewish-man-shot-pico-robertson-morning-services-los-angeles/ With blessings, R’ Sharon
By: Rabbi Sharon Brous
Writing
2 years ago • May 25, 2022
We Are Heartbroken and Outraged
Once again we are confronted by the horror of the massacre of elementary school children. Once again we bear witness to the parents, siblings, and grandparents whose lives are irrevocably decimated. Once again we hear the hollow calls for thoughts and prayers by those with the power to eradicate this cancer that is killing our children and destroying the very moral fiber of this nation. Once again we see that our idolatry of guns grossly exceeds our commitment to the sanctity of life. Once again we see a nation so cravenly divided that we cannot even end the now routine brutal murder of elementary school children. We grieve and we are outraged. This is the 27th school shooting in 2022, a year that has already seen over 200 mass shootings, including last week’s tragic shooting in a Laguna Woods church and racist murders in Buffalo. Ten years ago, we believed that the tragedy at Sandy Hook Elementary School would finally be a turning point on gun legislation in our country, but we have done literally nothing to combat this scourge. Indeed, since Sandy Hook many of our elected officials have pushed to make it easier to purchase guns and have opposed all sensible gun legislation. Our fetishization of guns apparently exceeds our love for our children. How many lives will be cut short and families’ lives irreversibly shattered before we see meaningful change? Our country has a gun problem, and we must do everything in our power to create change. SUPPORT organizations working on gun violence prevention including Everytown, Moms Demand Action, Brady Campaign, Giffords, March For Our Lives, and Sandy Hook Promise. VOTE and encourage others to vote.READ R’ Brous’s powerful Twitter thread.MARCH and encourage others to march. Where Do We Go From Here?Monday, May 30, 10am-12pm, 200 N. Spring S. 90012 (City Hall West)Join the Clergy & Laity United for Economic Justice (CLUE), SCLC, BEND THE ARC, Clergy 4 Black Lives, NAACP-SFV, and Black Jewish Justice Alliance (BJJA) for an Ecumenical and Interfaith community vigil to Honor the Lives of the souls lost and to unequivocally denounce white supremacist ideology and violence, and to work hand in hand together with us to build our beloved community in honor of those whose lives were stolen.
By: IKAR
Writing
2 years ago • May 17, 2022
We Stand For Reproductive Justice
Access to abortion is a human right and a Jewish value. For almost 50 years, it has been settled law that the U.S. Constitution includes a right to privacy. The draft opinion leaked from the U.S. Supreme Court this week indicating that a majority of the court is ready to overturn both federal protection for abortion rights and the right to privacy is the realization of many of our fears. This assault on human rights is only one part of a campaign to undo the gains that have been made in this country toward fuller equality for all. This ruling would disproportionately impact poor people, people of color, and people who are experiencing sexual violence and other forms of coercion In addition, Jewish tradition specifically permits abortion in certain cases, and even mandates it in some. The notion that state governments will now make those decisions is an egregious violation of the right to free exercise of religion provided by our Constitution. We will continue to share information with the community on ways to support people seeking abortion access and ways to advocate for abortion rights. Jewish abortion rights organizing: – Jewish Rally for Abortion Justice – National Council of Jewish Women (Jewish Values and Abortion Toolkit) Support people who need abortion access: – State By State – The Pink House Fund (the only abortion provider in Mississippi)
By: IKAR
Writing
2 years ago • Apr 18, 2022
Reflections on Ukraine from Rabbinic Intern, Sammy Kanter
This Pesah, I am thinking of Shirat Hayam, the progressive Jewish community in Odesa, Ukraine.
By: Rabbinic Intern
Writing
2 years ago • Mar 30, 2022
We call for an end to violence and pray for peace
As so many major world events continue to keep the entire globe in tension, it is sadly too easy to overlook one crisis or another. And yet, amidst everything else that is happening, we in the Jewish community cannot help but note with horror that this past week we witnessed the deadliest series of terrorist attacks on Israeli citizens in many years. In a spree of five attacks, eleven Israelis have been killed, the last five just yesterday in a shooting in Bnei Brak.IKAR always mourns the loss of life in the Holy Land, but it is especially tragic when we see violence targeting non-combatants, people murdered as they are just going through their day trying to live their lives, work their jobs and take care of their families.We are heartened by the condemnation of these attacks by Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas. We are also encouraged by the summit of foreign ministers which also took place this week in the Negev, with representatives from the US, Israel, the UAE, Bahrain, Egypt, and Morocco, in an attempt at “building a new regional architecture based on progress, technology, religious tolerance, security, and intelligence cooperation.” With the spirit of the Negev Summit in mind and Passover, Ramadan, and Easter on the horizon, we pray for the kind of universal peace that is idealized by all people of faith.Indeed, we Jews pray for peace in the land of Israel and throughout the world three times a day in our prayers. It is heartbreaking when we must add to those prayers an urgent plea for the cessation of extremist violence. But that is the prayer on our hearts this week. May the coming week bring strength and healing to those who have been close to the violence, and safety and sanity to all the peoples of the region.– Rabbi David Kasher, Rabbi Morris Panitz, and Rabbi Ronit Tsadok
By: IKAR Clergy
Writing
2 years ago • Feb 24, 2022
IKAR Stands With The Ukrainian People
We watch with anguish and dismay as Russia has begun a full-fledged war against the people of Ukraine. We are gravely concerned for all of the people of Ukraine.  In addition, Ukraine is a country with over 200,000 Jewish citizens, one of the largest Jewish populations in the world, including thousands of survivors of the Holocaust. Before World War II, it was home to many of our ancestors and families, so we feel a particular sense of connection of kinship and shared history with the people who are now facing this terrifying assault. We call on our government and the United Nations to leverage every tool we have to pressure the Russian leadership into withdrawing from this attack on their neighbor. And we encourage members of our community to give in whatever way you are able to support the Jewish community and all the people of Ukraine. Here are some organizations we recommend: The American Joint Distribution Committee (JDC), HIAS, and UNICEF. We also encourage you to listen to 2 timely sermons. “A Prayer For Ukraine – R’ David Kasher & Rabbinic Intern Sammy Kanter” on Apple Podcast and  Spotify. And “All Life is Sacred – R’ Morris Panitz“on Apple Podcast, Spotify, and watch it on YouTube. We have seen authoritarian governments rise in Europe and around the world before. We know that we must act collectively to uphold the value of human life and the right to self-governance. We pray for the safety of all the people of Ukraine as they face the terror of war and for the wisdom of our own leaders to guide our country to a response rooted in justice. May we quickly see a day when nation does not lift up sword against nation and we no longer experience war.
By: IKAR
Writing
3 years ago • May 10, 2021
For All These Things, I Weep: On the Violence in Jerusalem
We will continue to amplify the voices of the many Israelis and Palestinians who are working together to end the violence and terror, and to lay the foundation for a just and sustainable resolution to this conflict.
By: Rabbi Sharon Brous
Writing
3 years ago • May 8, 2021
Supporting transgender, non-binary, and gender non-conforming community
We affirm our support for trans and non-binary people, created in God’s own image. And we are committed to ensuring a sense of love, safety and community both inside IKAR and in the broader world.
By: IKAR
BOOK
3 years ago • May 8, 2021
IKAR’s Vegan Cookbook
Our favorite vegan recipes in response to Green Action’s Earth Challenge 5780.
By: IKAR
Writing
3 years ago • Apr 21, 2021
Accountable
We greet the news of the guilty verdicts in Derek Chauvin’s trial for the murder of George Floyd with relief. This is a moment of great significance for our country.
By: Rabbi Sharon Brous,  Melissa Balaban, CEO and Brooke Wirtschafter, Director of Community Organizing