Category Archives: Divrei Torah

A Sermon on the Inauguration of Barack Obama

On Tuesday morning, Barack Obama will become the forty-fourth President of the United States of America. In a peaceful transition of power, he will assume the presidency and begin to govern.  Whatever one’s philosophy of government, whatever one’s feeling about the outcome of November’s election, the orderly democratic process is something to celebrate.  For Jews, who’ve spent so much of their history disempowered, marginalized, persecuted and disenfranchized, every Election Day and every Inauguration Day ought to be very nearly yuntef. Continue reading

The Antidote to Forgetfulness

It’s about five years ago, and I am sitting in a gathering space in my synagogue with a diverse group of leaders from our broad-based community organization, Border Interfaith. We are training in the art of the relational meeting, the “one-to-one” which is the heart of community organizing, and we’re doing it through a “fishbowl” exercise in which a couple of people practice while everyone else watches. Our organizer is in the fishbowl with a man, demonstrating the sort of curiosity that draws people out and gets them to tell their stories. Continue reading

Will the new year bring change, or more of the same?

Shanah is an interesting word. It means “year” in Hebrew, and is related to two ideas that seem not only divergent, but even contradictory. On the one hand, we can relate “shanah” to the verb l’shanot, which means “to change.” Or, with no less authenticity we can see in the word shanah the verb l’shanen, which means “to repeat.”

So which is it? Do we call the year “shanah” because one follows the next in endless repetition, or do we call the year “shanah” because each year is new and different from the one that preceded it? Or, to borrow language from the political season, does the new year represent change, or more of the same?

As is so often the case, the answer is “yes.” The delicious ambiguity behind a simple word like “year” points us toward important lessons. In truth, the new year that will arrive in just a few days presents us with an opportunity for change and growth, and also with the chance to embrace those aspects of our lives which are timeless and unchanging. The secret, of course, is knowing which is which.

Alanna, Rabbi Ken and Sue, and the entire Temple staff and leadership join me in wishing you a shanah tovah.

Rabbi Bach

(I am grateful to Pini Kachel for sharing this lovely teaching with our Religious School faculty at our opening workshop in August. Todah Rabbah, Pini!)

“This Machine Buries Fascists”

When you visit the “Bob Dylan’s American Journey” exhibit, now at the Skirball Museum in Los Angeles, the very first thing you see is a 1940s-era Martin Guitar. It’s a 000-18, narrow at the waist, with a lovely mahogany back and sides, and a spruce top mellowed and burnished by the passage of time. In pristine condition, such a guitar would be quite valuable, perhaps $15,000-20,000. This poor instrument, however, is not in pristine condition. It is weathered, banged up all over, cracked here and there, probably not even in fair condition. And, it has actually been carved on – words have been etched right into the wood!

But on closer examination, it becomes clear that the fact of these defects — the dings on the face, the belt-buckle scratches, the writing — would drag the value of the guitar down less than their source would lift the value up. For scratched into the back of that beat-up 000-18 are the words, “This machine kills fascists. Woody.” Continue reading

Three things there are together in my eye…and one of them is a cell phone tower!

It’s budget time at Temple, and our finance committee is hard at work, crunching the numbers and creating the roadmap that will – with our discipline, generosity, and a little bit of good fortune – make Fiscal Year 2008 our eighth consecutive year with an operating surplus. It’s often noted that budgets are our real “moral documents.” That is to say, if you want to know what a house of worship, an organization, or a nation, really cares about, don’t read their high-minded mission statements: follow the money! Continue reading

Welcoming our newest joint proprietors.

A coalition was born on Sunday afternoon in Washington DC. It wasn’t a new alliance of Republicans or Democrats, nor was it a gathering of interests seeking to influence domestic policy. It was a group of Jews – rabbis, cantors, other professionals, and laypeople – coming together in common cause. “Big Tent Judaism” is what it’s called. Continue reading

Mishkan T’filah: No Poison Here

So here we are, praying from a new siddur. And there are those who would say that a new prayer book – or any prayer book – in 2007, might not be such a good idea. After all, prayer books encourage people to be stupid, and immoral, and violent. They, and the religions they represent, are the source of all the evil in the world. They, and the buildings that hold them, and the people who stand up front and read from them, would be better off put to different purposes. Just ask Christopher Hitchens. Continue reading