Divre Harav/Words from the Rabbi – September, 2014

My apologies – I forgot to post this at the beginning of September!

“Is it hard to be Jewish in Grand Rapids?” was one of the questions that one of our Israeli Scout guests asked as we were eating breakfast. Yes, it can be difficult. Acquiring kosher food can be a challenge, especially meat. One or two days, 2.5 – 4.5 hours, a week of Jewish education for children is barely enough to scratch the surface, much less teach serious Hebrew and the richness of Jewish literature, calendar, prayer, and other daily practice. There is a growing disconnect between the American Jewish community and Israel, as supporters of Israel find themselves having to work hard to overcome apathy at best, and to justify even the existence of the State of Israel at worst.

On the other hand, for those who want to support and/or participate in a serious Jewish community, Jewish behavior is as natural as breathing. Rarely do I feel that it is an effort or a burden to be Jewish – celebrating Shabbat in the Ahavas Israel community, being aware of how I give my Tzedakah dollars and what food I put into my body, helping staff our Family Promise shelter dates, and learning and teaching Torah, this is what sustains me.

As we approach the fall of the year and our High Holidays once again, I encourage you to use the time of teshuvah to consider how you might enliven your Jewish souls. Our Scholar in Residence weekend this month, featuring Dr. Yael Aronoff of MSU, will answer many of your questions (or the questions your friends or co-workers might throw at you) on Israel. Let the return of our religious school students to class be a reminder that Judaism is not (just) for children – you, too, can find ways to learn Torah and Rabbinic literature both locally and online. You can find my weekly reflections on Psalms at embodiedtorah.wordpress.com – read Psalms along with me and add your own reflections in the comments.

May your new year be sweet and give you many opportunities to nourish your soul.

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Divre Harav/Words from the Rabbi – March/2011

My colleague Rabbi Brad Artson gave a talk to rabbis recently in which he said that rabbis need to get over their traditional aversion to dealing with congregational financial issues.  Fundraising and other financial issues in an institution of Torah are as sacred as the study of Torah itself. Therefore, for the second month in a row, I find myself writing about how we make decisions about giving.

These thoughts were sparked by an article in the Jerusalem Post about the Chronicle of Philanthropy’s list of the top 50 givers in 2010.  Five of the top six are Jewish, and at least 19 of the top 53 (there were three ties) are Jewish.

While Jews have reason to be proud of the accomplishments of some of our fellow members of the tribe, we also have cause for concern.  George Soros and Michael Bloomberg, numbers 1 and 2 on the list who gave a combined total of about $600 million, less than $2 million of that went to Jewish causes.  Overall, Jews give only about 25% of their charitable gifts to Jewish causes.

While I am not arguing that 100% of our giving should go to Jewish causes, I pose a question:  If Jews do not give to UJC, the Synagogue, JNF, the Jewish Braille Institute, Israel Guide Dogs for the Blind, Hadassah Hospital, and other worthy Jewish causes, who will?  Doesn’t it make more sense for 75% of our giving to stay within the “family” rather than only 25%?  When we give to relief efforts, such as the Haitian earthquake, the 2004 Tsunami in East Asia, Hurricane Katrina, we like to channel our money through Jewish organizations.

As you are doing your taxes for 2010, take a careful look at your charitable giving.  Ask yourself whether it reflects the religious and communal priorities of your life to which you aspire.  Ask yourself whether you have paid enough attention to the institutions which nurtured and continue to nurture your Jewish identity, which take care of Jews in need all around the world.  Imagine how different our Jewish world would be if even half that the $3.3 billion given by the top 50 had gone to Jewish causes.