Stay Safe, Minnesota

Dear Bet Shalom,

In just a few hours, the Stay Home order in Minnesota becomes the Stay Safe order and our state will start to reopen.  We urge you to take caution and stay safe.  There are so many opinions about how to behave.  Some of those opinions are scientific and based in real medical fact, and others are not.  And of course what the doctors and scientists know grows and evolves each day.  So please stay informed and be careful.  Wear a mask when you are around others and maintain proper physical distancing.  Stay At Home is ending, but the danger of the virus continues.  

There is a story in the Talmud about Rabbi Shimon bar Yochi who was a rabbinic sage with a temper.  He once was sentenced to death by Rome for angrily speaking out against them and he was forced to hide in a cave sustaining himself, in isolation, from the fruit of a carob tree and a water spring.  After 12 years, he emerged from hiding, but his anger raged when he saw how the world had changed.  As the story goes, God sent him back into the cave for another year in order to calm down and reflect.  And he was transformed.  When he finally re-emerged, the first person he saw was preparing for Shabbat and Rabbi Shimon bar Yochi was content.  Perhaps in that final year of isolation, he focused on what was most important to him and he came out looking to find that in the world.     

Many of us will come out of our caves nervous, happy, stressed out, anxious, hopeful, judgemental of behavior we see in others, angry, motivated and the list goes on.  The reality is that most of us will experience a great range of internal responses.  Our hope and prayer is that we all come back into the world a bit more focused on what is important, albeit that won’t be the same for everyone.  What is the same for everyone is that each of us is going through this pandemic at the same time.   As a member of the Bet Shalom staff reflected last week, we aren’t all in the same boat, but we are all in the same storm.  Our range of experiences is vast, but the Covid-19 Pandemic, no matter how long it lasts, is our shared story and we will be a stronger community when we get to the other side of it. 

Since we ceased in-person gatherings at Bet Shalom in March, our highest priority has been to reopen the Bet Shalom Yeladim Child Care Center when we knew we could do so safely.  As of last Monday, we are now providing care for children in our community whose parents are healthcare professionals or essential workers, and others who are working from home or are being called back into the workplace.  We are proud that we can contribute to society in this early phase of reopening and we are doing so thoughtfully and carefully.   

Almost everything else we do as a community has moved somewhat seamlessly into virtual space.  It isn’t perfect, but we now know we can “gather” for Shabbat and holiday services, funerals, baby naming ceremonies, B’nai Mitzvah, Confirmation, Religious School and Adult Education even when we cannot physically come together.  Until we are certain we can provide a safe gathering space for everyone who calls Bet Shalom their synagogue home, we will continue to congregate in virtual space for everything except the Child Care Center.

There is so much which we can look forward to with optimism.  And we optimistically look forward to the day when we can come back to our beautiful synagogue home.  In the meantime, we continue, as a community, to be Bet Shalom.  We are here for you, as you are here for each other as well.

We hope to see you this coming Saturday night at 6:00 pm for our Bet Shalom Celebration.

Rabbi David Locketz                   

Rabbi Jill Crimmings                   

Steve Barberio, Executive Director

Phil Ecker, President

Shalom From Rabbi Locketz and Updates

Dear Bet Shalom Family,

As Shabbat approaches this week, it is hard to believe we have been physically distant for close to two months. We have learned a lot about ourselves and our community during this time. We are physically distant, but we remain close in so many ways. There have been some tiny, tiny silver linings that have buoyed us.  Most people had not heard the word “zoom” in the context of video conferencing two months ago, and now, most of us understand it as the lifeline that has kept us connected across great distance.

As Minnesota begins to slowly reopen, I am grateful for the leadership in our state who are being creative, sensitive and supportive while modeling a thoughtful approach which takes a 1000 factors into consideration all at once. A complicated balance is needed for each decision and we at Bet Shalom continue to look to our Governor and local authorities as to when and how we can return to our beautiful building and campus. Our approach to these decisions will be at least as conservative as the guidelines coming from the Minnesota Department of Health.  

At this time, our goal is to first open our Early Childhood Center, Bet Shalom Yeladim, as soon as we can in order to support the families in our community who need childcare so they can return to work as they are called to do. Opening other parts of Bet Shalom will follow in due time. 

I want to thank the 73 volunteers and staff members who have served as Network Captains and have kept our community even more connected than we were before. They will continue to connect with you to make sure you have what you need and to remind you that Bet Shalom is here for all of us as a vital support system and community. In addition to the captains, I want to thank the sizable group who have been at the ready to grocery shop and take care of other needs in our membership as they have arisen. 

 If you find that now you are able to make regular calls to members, or shop for others, please let me know. This has been a time of greater anxiety and need for support for so many of us. 

If you feel you would benefit from participation in our Bet Shalom Anxiety Support Group or in our Alzheimer’s Caregiver Support Group, please contact Amy Yoelin for details. These monthly groups are truly jewels in our crown and have been so helpful as points of support in our community.

We have so much to look forward to at Bet Shalom. The plants are popping out of the ground on Orchard Road and we know that even if we will not be able to gather for awhile in our sanctuary, we can soon start coming together in community to take care of our property (at an appropriate distance…we’ve received assurances from the City of Minnetonka that this will be allowed…contact Steve.Barberio@BetShalom.org for details).  

Watch for a new Member Spotlight section in HaEtone where we will share stories about you and your families (as you submit them.) 

Cantor Havilio will be joining us soon and we are so excited to welcome her family into our community.

And there is so much more to come.  In the meantime, we will of course continue to gather virtually until the time comes when we can return together in person.  Please know that Rabbi Crimmings, Steve Barberio, our staff and the Board of Trustees continue to be here to support you in this challenging time.  Do not hesitate to call on us at any time.  

I wish you each a Shabbat Shalom.  
Rabbi David Locketz

Vote Reform!

Dear Bet Shalom,

If you only read one paragraph, read this one and follow the link to voteThe next World Zionist Congress convenes this coming October in Jerusalem. Our job now is to ensure that our Reform Jewish values are represented by voting for delegates who represent ARZA. Voting for delegates is open to those over age 18 (by June 30, 2020) who self-identify as Jewish and agree to the Jerusalem Program. Voting runs from January 21 through March 11. The website for voting is https://azm.org/elections. The cost of $7.50 covers administration of the voting.

In 1897, Theodor Herzl founded the Zionist Organization, today called the World Zionist Organization (WZO). More than 120 years later, the WZO remains the best way for Jews living outside Israel to have a real impact in Israel. Every five years, the WZO calls together a congress comprised of delegates from across the Jewish world. These delegates vote to determine how major funding will be distributed to organizations in the Land of Israel. A helpful article about the WZO was just published in the Forward.  

As Reform Jews, our movement, the Union for Reform Judaism (URJ) is represented by the Association of Reform Zionist of America (ARZA). For more information about ARZA, read the platform and slate.

More votes for ARZA equal more support for issues and values supported by Reform Jewry:

* Religious freedom and equality

* Personal status issues (marriage/divorce, conversion)

* Access to holy places (the Kotel)

* Commitment to a two-state solution

* Gender rights

* Combating racism

* Women’s leadership

* Support for Reform synagogues and education in israel

* Transparency in government funding

Over the next six weeks, let Bet Shalom’s voice be heard! We will have a table in our lobby with computers set up for voting and stickers for all who vote. Beginning on Sunday, January 26 there will a computer or ipad available in the Religious School lobby for voting. You can also vote from your phone! We will have a voting station available before services and at other synagogue meetings and programs.  

In 2015, ARZA received 39% of the votes and 56 of 145 US delegates. That ultimately meant that $4 million a year ($20 million over five years) funded the Reform Movement in Israel.

To make that sacred mission a reality, we’re calling on each of you to speak out and have your voice heard – to Vote Reform in the World Zionist Congress elections. Your vote will support the Reform Movement in Israel, helping it grow and ensure Reform values. Your vote will help determine the leadership of important national Institutions, create partnerships with Israeli political parties and enabling us to have a voice in Israeli society.

Voting takes only 60 to 90 seconds.  If you prefer, we will have paper copies of the ballot, and you can write a check to cover the voting cost.  Please join me in this sacred task.

Rabbi David Locketz

Rabbi Locketz Invites You to Scholar-in-Residence Weekend With Rabbi Norman Cohen

Rabbi Cohen

I am excited to invite you to come and learn with our teacher and Bet Shalom Founding Rabbi Emeritus, Rabbi Norman Cohen as he serves as our scholar in residence during the weekend of November 8-10. Rabbi Cohen is one of the great students of Judaism, having never stopped studying and researching even during the busiest moments when he was Bet Shalom’s Senior Rabbi. He is a gifted teacher, and orator, and our weekend dedicated to learning with him is going to be both enlightening and fun.

On Friday night, November 8th, we will gather at 5:30pm for our weekly kabbalat Panim (reception and nosh) followed by our 6pm Kabbalat Shabbat service during which Rabbi Cohen will give a D’var Torah on the topic of, “Judaism & Christianity: Two Different Paths to the Same God.” After services all are invited to stay for an evening of kehilah kedosha – sacred community with friends and good food as well as Talmud Torah as we continue learning with Rabbi Cohen. During dessert there will be an interactive study of “The Stereotypes & Misconceptions Christians and Jews Have About Each Other.” If you’d like to attend dinner, be sure to register by clicking here. Join us for the dessert and study portion of the program without registering at about 7:45pm. Free child-care and dinner for children is available throughout the evening.  

Our learning continues on Shabbat Morning during our 10am Shabbat morning service, when Rabbi Cohen will answer the question, “What Are Nice Jewish Boys Like Abraham and Moses Doing in a Book Like the New Testament?” After services, we will enjoy a Shabbat brunch with a text study on “A Jewish Approach to the New Testament.” 

Our youngest members will have the chance to learn with Rabbi Cohen on Sunday, November 10th at 9am during our Religious School Assembly.

When Rabbi Cohen became Bet Shalom’s Emeritus Rabbi, he authored the book, “Sacred Architecture: The Building of Bet Shalom,” and has gifted a signed copy to every member of Bet Shalom. There will be opportunities at the end of each program throughout the weekend to have a copy signed if you have not received yours yet. Having your copy signed is also a great opportunity to catch up and connect with Rabbi Cohen and you are invited to sign up for a brief appointment with him on Sunday morning by clicking here.

Let me also take this opportunity to wish Mazal Tov to Rabbi Cohen who recently was awarded the Hoc Signo Award from his alma mater, the College of the Holy Cross. Our Scholar in Residence weekend with Rabbi Cohen promises to be a meaningful opportunity for learning and community and I hope you’ll join us.

I look forward to seeing you soon,

Rabbi David Locketz

Kol Nidre Sermon – Where is God?

Hineinu.  Here we are.  We have joined together in perhaps one of the most important events of the Jewish communal year.  We’re here in our sacred space…we’ve taken the Torahs out…the heart of the Jewish people and perhaps in this moment…God’s stand-in…and we’ve begged for mercy.  We’ve asked forgiveness for our sins which we have atoned. 

I think that says something about us.  I think it says that we have faith in forgiveness.  It says we have faith in ourselves and that we hear that call to do better.  We didn’t come here to ask God to fix us.  Or to fix our world.  We come here to fill our tanks and rebuild our reserves in order to right ourselves.  So that we may fix the world. 

Since we last came together on Kol Nidre, 385 days ago, many things in our lives and in our world have gone the wrong direction.  The situation with the environment is worse than we realized.  The political environment is unprecedentedly negative.  We stare at our phones more, we talk to each other less.  The gun violence plague grows daily.  Addiction is rampant.  Poverty, food and housing insecurity continues for too many.  Our collective level of happiness feels lower.  There is less kavod – respect for each other, respect for ourselves.  The list is almost endless.           

One of my favorite children’s stories is about the Aron Kodesh, the ark in which synagogues keep the sacred Torah.  The story is a true one of Rabbi Lawrence Kushner giving a tour to the preschool of the sanctuary.  He had saved the ark for last, but then got called away right as he was about to pull back the curtain to reveal the Torah scrolls.  He told the kids that unfortunately he’d have to show them another time.   Later the teacher of the classroom told him that the little ones had a great debate after he left about what was behind that curtain.  One kid argued it was empty.  Another suggested there’d be a brand new car.  One did guess correctly that it held the Torah scrolls.  But another insisted they were all wrong.  That when the rabbi opens the curtain, there will just be a big mirror.[1] 

There might as well be a mirror in there because the Torah is like a mirror in so many ways.  We read it over and over and over again.  Every year we roll it all the way back to the beginning and read the same words again.  The words stay the same, but we change.  And the world changes.  Sometimes for the better and sometimes not.    

It’s as if the past presidents of this congregation just held those Torahs up to our faces, but not because God is literally in them judging us and granting us atonement.  They held them up so that in those reflections we can remember who we are.  And they don’t just reflect us…they reflect the whole world.  The Torah, the story of our people from thousands of years ago, held up to recount and reflect and remind us of the story of our world over the last year…and right now. 

On July 27, 1656, Rabbi Baruch Spinoza was put in cherem by the Amsterdam Jewish Community, which means excommunicated.  We don’t really have anything like it in non-Orthodox Jewish culture today.  But back then it was like death.  If you were put in cherem, not only were you completely removed from the community, but anyone who maintained contact with you was in danger of also being put in cherem. 

Spinoza was cast out not because he killed someone or coveted his neighbor’s wife.  He didn’t desecrate the Sabbath or ignore some significant Torah law. 

He did what rabbis have done since the days of the Torah.  He was making sure the right questions were being asked.  In a sense, the question he asked was, “Does Anochi Adonai Elohechem…I am Adonai your God…mean what you think it means?”  Spinoza was guilty of suggesting that the reality of God in the world wasn’t like the Creator God in the Bible.  That God and nature could not be separated.  In a period of great misery and despair for our people, his thinking suggested that perhaps God couldn’t directly change the course of historical reality.  God couldn’t stop the misery.  Or at least wouldn’t.  Because if God created the world, and there was bad stuff going on in the world, and God didn’t fix it…then God either didn’t want to…or couldn’t.  Maybe Spinoza was not so different than the average member of the Jewish community of his time.  Maybe he wasn’t so different from Jews in any age trying to understand what life means and how to cope with difficult and uncertain times.  Spinoza was asking the right question at the wrong time.

There was a theological war afoot during the 16th and 17th Centuries in Europe, which led to real wars, between those who held different ideas about how God interacted in the world and what that meant for human behavior.  These theocracies made life particularly difficult for the Jewish community in the big cities. 

Jews had been exiled from England in 1290.  In the 1600’s a few were allowed return…but true English Jewish emancipation didn’t happen until the 1800s.  And there were different versions of this same history and experience throughout Europe including inquisitions in Spain, Portugal and Rome.  Jewish existence was tough.  Anti-Semitism was rampant.  Jews were not citizens of the lands they lived in.  They had few civil rights or property rights.  Only a few attained any semblance of wealth. 

Jewish extremism was influenced by Christian extremism.  In his letter to Oliver Cromwell asking for Jews to be allowed back into England in the 1600s, Rabbi Manasseh ben Israel mentioned the coming of the Messiah.  Messianism swept the Jewish community…life was so bad…it had to be a test.  And if they could just pass that test, God would have to send a reward by way of the redeemer and Messiah to perfect the world.    

On Rosh Hashanah in 1665, Shabbatai Tzvi was declared the Jewish Messiah.  Though he managed to convince a surprising number in the Jewish community that he was God’s chosen one, he was false.  A false messiah because here we sit and the world is far from perfected.  I wonder what Spinoza was thinking looking on from the world outside just ten years after his own excommunication.  This was the exact thing he had been teaching against. 

Was he surprised?  We’ll never know.  But I imagine him shaking his head in sadness that the community was still looking in the wrong place for answers to the wrong questions.  How and when will God fix the world instead of how and when will we fix it?      

The recent novel “The Weight of Ink,” by Rachel Kadish, is based in this same time frame, and masterfully weaves aspects of history and the Jewish experience.  The book tells the story of Baruch Spinoza, but Kadish tells it through the eyes of a fictitious 17th century female scribe name Esther whose life was full of existential difficulty.  The narrative alternates between Esther and a graduate student named Adam Levy in the early 2000s who was trying to save Esther from historical obscurity.  Hundreds of years apart, their worlds were different, but their desire for meaning and strength and to understand the world was no different.  In Adam’s own despair, he went to synagogue for the first time in many years and while there, observing the service goers, he had the following realization, “It seemed to him that the god these people had just prayed to was the present:  A world in which they felt compelled to act, stepping into the history flowing right in front of their feet; making choices in the knowledge that they might fail.”[2]     

This work of fiction is full of truth.  That for time immemorial, people…our people…have wondered how an all-powerful God could let the world be so full of suffering and despair.

I think it is the wrong question.  We should not be asking how God allows such suffering in the world.  The question really should be; how do we allow such suffering to exist in the world?

We live in a time with incredible access and freedom to speak our truth.  Spinoza lived in a different time and he spoke his truth and paid the price with his identity.  It we look honestly into the mirror of Torah, we can see that our identity is on the line too if we don’t speak our truth.  This moment in history feels heavy and difficult and unsure.  In difficult times like these people turn to God for help.  So let’s restore our souls together.  We join together in prayer for spiritual sustenance.  But not in the hope for a messiah.  Fixing the world is our job.     

Rabbi Menachem Menedel Schneerson was the most recent Lubavitcher Hasidic Rebbe and he died at 92 years of age in 1994.  But the Hasids have not selected a new rebbe because many people believe that Schneerson was the messiah.  And that he will return.  I don’t believe he was the Messiah…I don’t believe in that kind of messiah…but I think he was a brilliant rabbi and scholar.  In our Rosh Hashanah Machzor you’ll find his words.  He once said, 

“If you see what needs to be repaired and how to repair it, then you have found a piece of the world that God has left for you to complete. But if you only see what is wrong and what is ugly in the world, then it is you yourself that needs repair.”[3]

He didn’t say God will come to fix the errors and incompletes in our world.  He taught that we are born with the ability to discern between holy and mundane…between wrong and right…and that it is we who need to do the work. 

We live in tough times, and as I said before, the to do list just feels so big and insurmountable.  And speaking for myself, I feel so small at times…like there is so little I myself can actually do.   

If you’ve read Tuesdays with Morrie, you’ll remember the story of the two waves in the Sea.  “There was a little wave, bobbing along in the ocean, having a grand old time. He’s enjoying the wind and the fresh air — until he notices the other waves in front of him, crashing against the shore.”

“‘My God, this is terrible,’ the wave said ‘Look what’s going to happen to me!’”

“Then along comes another wave. It sees the first wave, looking grim, and it says to him, ‘Why do you look so sad?’ “

“The first wave says, ‘You don’t understand! We’re all going to crash! All of us waves are going to be nothing! Isn’t it terrible?’ “

“The second wave says, ‘No, you don’t understand. You’re not a wave, you’re part of the ocean.’”

“Part of the ocean,” he says. “Part of the ocean.”[4]

Whatever it is that keeps you up at night, I am sure it does feel at times like we are just waves crashing against the shores of history. 

But I am not a wave, I am part of the Ocean.  You each are part of the Ocean too. 

We are part of something bigger than ourselves.  And when the world seems so dark, the responsibility seems so great.  Maybe too great.  But as Rabbi Bradley Shavit Artson writes, you can “Become what you worship here today…become hope and faith and love and justice.”

God is how we are becoming.  God is in how we are coming together.  God is how we live.  God can be a verb or an adjective, not just a noun.

May we in the year ahead, in whatever way we each can…in every way we each can…bring God’s adjectives into the world…comfort, sustenance, warmth, security, acceptance and so many other descriptors that increase both humanity and holiness. 

If you see part of the world that needs repair…let’s together get to work on repairing it.  And that will be the true beginning of the perfection of our world…perfection that we have prayed for since the first prayer was ever uttered.

G’mar Chatimah Tovah – May you speedily inscribe yourself in our collective and sacred Book of Life.   


[1] Paraphrased from “The Mirror in the Ark” By Rabbi Laurence Kushner in, “God was in this Place”

[2] Rachel Kadish, “The Weight of Ink,” page 547

[3] Menachem Mendel Schneerson, quoted in Mishkan HaNefesh for Rosh Hashanah

[4] Tuesdays with Morrie, page 179

Rosh Hashanah Sermon: The New Age of Anti-Semitism

By now you may have noticed that our cabinet here in front where we usually keep our Holocaust Torah Scroll is empty.  That Sefer Torah was saved from the ashes of the Klatovy Jewish community in today’s Czech Republic…a Jewish community decimated in the Holocaust.  Every Torah is a symbol of the Jewish people…but that Torah is a different kind of symbol.  That Torah saw the very worst of the Jewish Experience…the darkest days in our collective history…and it survived those horrors to sit here with us for all of these years and to be witness to the beauty and richness of Jewish life in these times.  The mirror in that cabinet lets us see what it sees. 

But that Torah never forgets those dark times…it remembers them for us.  And it serves as that crossover point in our collective memories…the crossover from bad to good.  From destruction to re-construction.

The cabinet is empty, but the Torah isn’t missing.  It is being restored.

A family in our Bet Shalom community felt that our Klatovy Torah should be more than just a symbol…it should be used by us, the living and breathing Jewish community, so they are sponsoring its restoration.  We will welcome it back with great ceremony when it is completed…probably in February.  You’ll hear more about that soon. 

Yet even as a restored “living” Torah…it will always be a symbol and reminder of those dark days which most of us can’t remember.  In our own day, when arguably we have the freest most developed Jewish community in history, we remember the darkness through which this Torah came to us. 

And for many of us…that darkness has a triggering affect.  We can imagine what it saw and experienced.  And when we see images like what we imagine…we are triggered.

Images like burning synagogues.  This month we saw those horrific images on the news from Duluth. Adas Israel Synagogue, the 3rd Str. Shul, combusted and burned in the dark morning hours of a September Monday and was totally destroyed.  If you trace your roots through Duluth, then I am certain that you have at least one memory wound up in that building.  Even more-so if you grew up at the feet of your grandparents there. To our Duluth families in the Bet Shalom community, we are all so sorry for your loss.  My hope and prayer is that your children and grandchildren and great grandchildren, who come after you, have the same kind of positive memories of you and Bet Shalom wound together, just as you do of your families and Adas Israel.

And while the news of the fire was breaking…so many of us couldn’t help but wonder about the cause.  The image of a burning synagogue tears our hearts.  Hearts that remember what we haven’t personally seen…memories the Torah carries for us.  There was a collective sigh of relief when it turned out to have been an accident…a poor soul trying to keep warm and his fire got out of control.  We were bracing for it to be antisemitism…and he was bracing against the cold.  In this era…both have become systemic problems.  Anti-Jewish sentiment AND people on the streets with nowhere to turn for warmth and security. 

-PAUSE-

Duluth is close to home…Minnetonka High School is closer.  Last winter an image surfaced of a teen asking her boyfriend to a school dance using various Hitleresc puns and symbols on a poster board.  And it went viral.  The Jewish community was rightfully up in arms. 

The next day I received a phone call requesting that I meet with the teens in the photo to help them understand why what they had done was so wrong.  Reluctantly, I agreed to meet with them before Shabbat services that Saturday morning.  I explained to them that the photo of them was like ripping off a bandage for our community that was covering a wound that would never heal.  I stood with them here in the sanctuary, in front of that cabinet with the Holocaust Scroll and while we stood there and talked, and I found them open to its truth. 

Some might disagree with how I responded to this situation.  But in that moment, I decided to forgive them…to offer them my love instead of my anger.  I decided to help them see that they had a higher purpose and that they could take their mistake and try to do right by it.  What they did perpetuated anti-Semitism no doubt…every such act opens the lid on Pandora’s box just a little more.  But they are not anti-Semites…they are teenagers who did a dumb thing.

Over the next several months, I met regularly with them and I taught them about Judaism, about our history, and about the wound into which they dumped salt.  Thanks to the Jewish Community Relations Council (JCRC) who supported my efforts, I was able to travel with them to Washington DC to accompany them to the Holocaust Museum.  I watched them change.  Perhaps the most memorable moment we shared in DC was standing at a table in the lobby of the museum where survivors sit and talk with museum guests.  At the table that day was a woman in her 90’s from the same town as Anne Frank…she had been friends with Anne Frank…It was like looking at and speaking with Anne Frank if she had survived.  It was then I believe they truly connected the dots from what they had done to the real world.  To our world.  And I know they repented their actions. 

I am not naïve.  Every member of the Jewish community alive today is still directly, or indirectly, affected by the Holocaust.  I’d like to think I honor those who died, and all of us who still live, by leaning into love instead of hate.  The anger and venom from our own community toward these kids was perhaps justified in the moment…who can blame an angry emotional reaction?  But vengeance is different than anger.  And as Rabbi Crimmings taught us last night, anger can be good when it moves us forward. 

But it seems like it just keeps coming.  Only days, there was another rash of vandalism against synagogues around the country…one of which is in Racine, Wisconsin.  That synagogue was spray painted with swastikas and other Nazi symbols. That wasn’t ignorance or an accident.  That was blatant antisemitism.  The result is the same though…it triggers our disgust and our fear. 

The first thing that many of us think about when we talk about anti-Jewish sentiment is safety. Some in our congregation worry about coming to Bet Shalom in our country’s current atmostphere.  The security of our community is something I take very seriously.  And so does the other clergy, our staff and our Board of Trustees.  We are secure here.  For years, our staff have regularly reviewed our safety policies and coordinated directly with the Jewish Community Relations Council which is the central organizer of security for the Jewish community.  With the JCRC’s help, Steve Barberio, our Executive Director has secured a $100k grant from the Department of Homeland Security to upgrade our systems and procedures for the building.  None of it is in your face because it doesn’t need to be.  Bet Shalom is secure and remains a haven from the darkness in the world.  This building is an extension of your home and it is a secure place to be.   

I am not here to say in any way that anti-Semitism isn’t a problem.  In fact, I believe the opposite is true.  The recent rise in anti-Jewish acts of hatred is a scary problem.  Our children who ensure the future of our tradition have seen more images of burning synagogues and Nazi Propaganda than most of us could have imagined outside of history class.  And they are far more likely to experience anti-Jewish sentiment in school than any adult is at their place of work.

Antisemitism is an affront to the democratic ideals on which our country was founded.  Maybe that is why we don’t like to think it can happen here.  That America, for all our issues, is too enlightened for a blight such as baseless hatred to take hold.

This is a societal problem, not just a Jewish problem.  A human problem.  And it comes from every direction…from the right and from the left.  It comes from the ignorant and from the educated…We see it in politicians of every persuasion and we have to call it out even when it is coming from “our side”.  No one gets a free pass.

We see it in the intersectionality of social activists who say our love for Israel cancels out our passion for social justice.  That a love for Israel means we are somehow less loyal to this country…or that we disregard human rights. 

We see it in the white supremacists and white nationalists who consider our concern for the immigrant treason against our country. 

We are not living in Germany in the 1930s…or France during the Dreyfus Affair in the 1890s before that…or during the Cossack Uprisings in Poland, Lithuania and Russia during the Middle Ages before that…or the Inquisitions that reached from London to Amsterdam and beyond during the centuries before that…It may be hard sometimes to ignore parallels, but we are living in the 21st Century…in the United States of America…during the freest time our people have ever known in the modern world.  Yet we can see ourselves, at least our ancestors, in the experiences that the Holocaust Torah symbolizes, not just in the mirror behind it.

Last year after the tragedy at the Tree of Life Synagogue in Pittsburgh, we gathered here for Shabbat, and our sanctuary was filled with Bet Shalomians AND our friends in the community.  If only we could bottle that spirit and let a little out each day into the world.  Think of what we can accomplish when we join together with others who share common values…people with different religions, culture…people from different socio-economic levels…different races…people born here or elsewhere…united under the shared goals of a safe and peaceful existence.

Every single time there is an act against the Jewish community we hear from those who won’t stand for it.  My inbox fills with messages from local Christian and Muslim leaders.  Just as Antisemitism paints the entire Jewish world with one exaggerated and dishonest brush stroke…we have to be careful not to do the same to others.  When our right to be who we are is threatened, their right to be who they are is threatened too.  Those who do hateful things DO NOT represent the whole…they are the minority.

Celebrating the values of Torah that have survived trough so many thousands of years to be in our midst, we can join arm in arm with those who hold up the Christian Bible or the Koran as their own source for illuminating the human spirit… and not only to stand against threats that injure our nation, but we can stand together for something.  From the ends of our driveways talking to neighbors, to interactions with our co-workers…in our city halls, in op-eds, on our Social Media feeds…we can stand for the kind of democratic pluralism that makes our country so different from all the other places in which our ancestors have been oppressed.

And maybe the world is finally starting to wake up to it.  Just this week the United Nations finally…finally…released a report on combatting anti-Semitism defining it as an international problem and it describes the activities of the BDS movement as fundamentally rooted in anti-Semitism, the movement advocating for Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions against Israel.  It isn’t enough…but it is rare for the United Nations to stand up for Israel or the Jewish people and it is a good thing.

I don’t want to be up here on this bima talking about anti-Semitism.  I’d rather be here talking about some finer point of Jewish liturgy or Jewish practice that brightens our lives and the world…not this issue which makes it darker…this issue that affects our children…and every member of our community. 

I’d rather be celebrating the work our congregation does as a sponsor of the Beacon Interfaith collaborative fighting for those who need housing and job support.  I’d rather be celebrating the good that comes from our support of the ICA…the Inter Congregation Association that provides food and resources for people in need here in our neighborhood.

And while we work to achieve that world, we have to continue to address anti-Jewish sentiment and anti-Semitism.  We have to recognize it and call it out when we see it.  If you experience some sort of anti-Jewish bias, we are here to support you.  We want to help you process it and we want to make sure the JCRC and proper authorities know about it. 

Being in community helps.  Our teens create safe space to discuss these things because they are with each other every week and have built trust.  Adults can create that space here at Bet Shalom too.  Our love of Judaism and our relationship with Israel are holy parts of who we are.  We should celebrate them…not be treated differently because of them.  And neither should we have to be scared to express them.         

Bari Weiss is an opinion writer for the New York times who writes convincingly about Jewish identity and recently wrote, “In these trying times, our best strategy is to build, without shame, a Judaism and a Jewish people and a Jewish state that are not only safe and resilient but also generative, humane, joyful and life-affirming.”

It may not be so simple, but it is a great goal…in a sense she is saying that in order to fight those that hate us…we need to be more US.  We need to rebuke those that need to be rebuked…but turning from anger to love when we find we can teach teenagers who make mistakes.  Being US means immediately turning our anger to love when we find out the man who burned down a synagogue did so by accident trying to stay warm and then making sure he, and others like him, have shelter.

But being us also means that we have to constructively use the full force of our anger when we find that it wasn’t a mistake when someone makes anti-Semitic comments. or jokes, with hate in their heart…or when a gang defaces our holy spaces…then we need to act.  As Eli Wiesel taught…the opposite or love is not hate…it is indifference.  We cannot be indifferent, but hate isn’t the right response either.

In just a few minutes we’ll hear the words of the Akedah, the story in the Torah that describes Abraham attempting to sacrifice his son Isaac.  When God calls it off, Abraham sees a ram thrashing in the thicket.  Our sages teach us that in that moment, God told Abraham, “Thus are your children destined to be caught in iniquities and entangled in misfortunes.” Abraham turned to God and implored, “Master of the World! Will it be like this forever?” God replied, “In the end, they will be redeemed by the horns of this very ram.”       

This coming April will be the 75th anniversary of the liberation of Auschwitz.  There is indeed more light in the world today than the darkness of those days.  And even though we may at times still feel like we are stuck in the thicket, the sound of the Shofar comes to remind us that redemption is in reach…but we must use our own hands to push back that thicket that entangles the world. 

May the year 5780 be bright.  May we honor the memories that the Holocaust scroll holds for us and may we reflect, as that mirror does, all the good in the world…may that mirror be a prism that magnifies the light of Torah as we, together…a community filled with joy and light…work to close pandora’s box and to make this world the better place we know it can be. 

Ken Yehi Razon – May this truly be God’s will. 

Shabbat Message from Rabbi Locketz

Dear Bet Shalom,

We are taught in the Talmud, in tractate Shevuot, that kol yisrael arevim zeh bazeh – the whole House of Israel is responsible for one another. Functionally, in Jewish law, this became the basis that we must keep each other from misdeeds when we see another member of the community faltering toward unacceptable behavior. Practically, this same principle has come to mean that when a member of the community experiences something in life, from celebration to bereavement, we all experience it together. 

This week, our Jewish brothers and sisters and their families on the North Shore have experienced bereavement, and we, the whole House of Israel share in their pain. Many of our Bet Shalom members hail from Duluth. Or their parents did. Or even their grandparents or great-grandparents did. 
As many of you have likely heard already, this week the historic Adas Israel Synagogue burned to the ground early Monday morning. The building is destroyed, but by a stroke of luck, many of the synagogue records and ritual items including eight of their 14 Torah scrolls were kept in the basement which was a stone foundation built into the side of a Hill and these items were recovered by the firefighters.

The community is very small and still determining what their needs are and how the many concerned members of the greater Jewish community of Minnesota and beyond might help. But in the meantime, they need our condolences for their loss.

To those members of Bet Shalom who trace their roots through Duluth, please know that all of us are here for you. We’d love to know who you are and we would like to hear your stories of the place the “3rd Street Shul” holds in your hearts. I hope you’ll share those stories with us in celebration of the more than 100 year history of that congregation as its current members determine its future. 

As we enter Shabbat this week we are reminded that kol yisrael arevim zeh bazeh – the whole House of Israel is responsible for one another and we share your pain even if indirectly.   

I wish you each a Shabbat Shalom – a restful Shabbat full of peace.

Rabbi David Locketz