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Friday, December 23, 2011

An Op-Ed about Anat Hoffman and Women in Judaism

Op-Ed – “The Leadership of a Jewish Woman in Israel”

Throughout Jewish history, women have had prominent roles varying from strong mothers and wives to leaders of the Jewish people. We can trace the role of women in Judaism all the way back to Biblical times and move forward to present times. Looking back to Sarah, the first of the very strong Jewish women in the Bible, we find a woman who was as much a part of the story in Genesis as Abraham. The Bible presents many more great examples of very strong Jewish women who played great roles in the Jewish story, including Yocheved, Miriam, Deborah, Naomi, Ruth (a Jew by Choice), and Esther. In post-Biblical times, in the time of the Talmud, there were few women named, but those who were named were considered to be of great influence: Bruriah, the wife of Rabbi Meir, Rachel, the wife of Rabbi Akiva, and Yalta, the wife of Rabbi Nachman.

If we fast forward to contemporary times, we find even more examples of strong Jewish women. Examples of these strong Jewish women include Golda Meir, the first female Prime Minister of Israel, Ruth Bader Ginsburg, the first Jewish female justice of the Supreme Court, Ruth Messinger, the founder of American Jewish World Service, and Anat Hoffman, the director of the Israel Religious Action Center and Women of the Wall. Anat Hoffman, a strong and inspirational leader in Israel has been the source of many newspaper, magazine and journal articles in the past 15 years or so. Why? Hoffman fights for her belief that Jewish women should have the same rights as Jewish men, including holding and carrying the Torah, the sacred text of the Jewish people. This strong brave woman has been arrested numerous times for attempts to participate in the Jewish tradition to which she feels so strongly connected.

When the 10 Commandments were given to the Children of Israel in Exodus 20, they were given to the entire people – men, women and children. Every member of this group was given the opportunity to accept them and every member responded in the affirmative. While it is true that much of the Bible is written in gendered language, in this section the reference to the Children of Israel is presented as “the people,” not all men or all women. However, in Israel, the far right wing of the Orthodox movement has a vice-like grasp on all religious decisions. As such, women are not allowed to even participate in even the most basic religious practice of carrying the Torah. This is a travesty and Anat Hoffman has been working diligently to change these unfortunate laws.

While attending the Union for Reform Judaism Biennial in Washington, DC this past weekend (December 14-18), I had the honor and privilege of meeting Anat Hoffman. She was extremely gracious and kind. On Saturday morning during Shabbat services, I watched as she ran from her seat in the back of the hall to those who were carrying the Torah. She remarked, “Look there are no police…may I carry the Torah?” Watching Anat take the Torah and carry it around freely and openly made me extremely proud as an American Reform Jewish man. After all, in the United States of America, in the progressive Jewish world, women are allowed – encouraged!- to carry the Torah and participate in Jewish practices. She had a smile that was heart warming and showed how proud she was to be able to carry the Torah amongst 6,000 other Jews who celebrated her for doing so.

Anat Hoffman continues to be an inspiration to Jews throughout the world for her undying devotion to all Jews – making sure that all Jews are accepted, no matter their gender or sect of Judaism. For Hoffman, being Jewish is something more than the labels applied to a person from others. Anat Hoffman believes in equality for all Jews…and I would argue for all peoples around the world.

Sunday, November 20, 2011

Thanksgiving...Thanks, but what about the Giving?

Greetings friends and family!

I have (as you probably already know) become one of the biggest supporters/recruiters/etc. for the American Jewish World Service (AJWS). This is an amazing organization that is led by a truly wonderfully inspiring and righteous woman - Ruth Messinger. Through her efforts and the countless hours of work by the AJWS staff in NY and DC, we are beginning to really see differences made in the world. Countries in the Global South are really starting to benefit from the knowledge and support they are gaining from grass roots organizations that are supported (with small grants) by AJWS.

When you sit around your Thanksgiving table on Thursday, take a moment and think about those who are "table-less," who are homeless and who would like to be able to sit at a table and eat with their friends and families. Take some of your leftovers and donate it to a local soup kitchen or even invite someone who is in need into your home to join with you. On Passover, we are told to open our doors so that everyone has the opportunity to eat...why not do the same on Thanksgiving? After all, on Passover we are thanking God for our deliverance from slavery in Egypt. On Thanksgiving, we are thanking God for all of the wonders in the world - including our freedom. Seems to me that this link is enough to cause us to want to throw our doors open to those who are hungry.

In the congregation where I serve as rabbinic intern, I teach the 5th and 6th grade. This morning, we had Grandparents Day. We invited as many family members who were able to join us for a special program in which we learned about the Hodaah prayer and its link to Thanksgiving. Afterwards, the family members joined us in our classrooms. In the 6th grade, we spoke for a bit about the Mitzvah projects the students would be doing as they prepared for their Bar or Bat Mitzvah ceremony in the upcoming year. In the last few minutes of the class, I charged the students to not stop when their ceremony comes around. I encouraged them to continue working to make life better and more fulfilling for all of us - especially those in our community who are less fortunate.

I encourage you to read this blog by Ilan Caplan of AJWS: Ilan Caplan's AJWS Blog

In his blog, Ilan speaks about many of the things that are so vital and yet so forgotten in our own celebrations surrounding Thanksgiving. When you give thanks this year on Thanksgiving - and every day of your life - take some time to give others something to be thankful for. When we join together and work together, we will be able to create a world in which everyone is able to be thankful for their own bounties. We produce enough food globally to feed everyone...yet, we have millions and millions of people who are starving...this just does NOT make sense! And, can and should do something about it. First step - Say "YES, I will do something....," Second step - Learn how you can, Third Step - DO IT....ACTION!

Here are a couple of websites to begin your education:

Every bit helps...

Sunday, November 6, 2011

My 5th Year Sermon - on Social Justice

I learned many lessons from my parents. Chew with your mouth closed; raise your hand if you have a question; turn the lights off when you leave the room; and, the hardest one for me to learn: not to interrupt people. I am still working on that one! However, the one lesson that has always seemed to be the most important, the lesson that I can trace all the way back to Seven Oaks Elementary back in 1981, in Mrs. Peterson’s kindergarten class, was the Golden Rule: “Do unto others as you would have them do unto you.” I have always wondered how one sentence is so hard to learn, then to understand, and finally to enact. When we attempt and are able to understand these words we will then be able to live these words.
Close your eyes for a moment and try to picture a little African child sitting with his family and eating dinner. Try to imagine a little village school in a small African village. I am sure the images you have in your mind and the reality on the ground would not be so different. However, when we ponder these things, it is difficult to visualize the wonderful and beautiful images that are also present, until we are face to face with these images.
Yes, African nations have poverty and other challenges, but in those same nations are human beings attempting to live their lives to the best of their ability. And, for too long now, those of us who live in the Developed World, the Global North, have been telling these developing countries, the Global South, how to succeed. While there are success stories in the Global South, families who are able to make a better life for themselves, more importantly we are also left with a large percentage of the world’s population facing famine, disease and certain death.
In June, as I was traveling with the American Jewish World Service as part of a rabbinical student delegation to Senegal, I thought I knew what to expect. When the plane descended into Dakar, Senegal’s capital city, I began to visualize the images I had in my head of the little African children I had first seen on the cover of the album “We are the World” many years ago. I remembered the first time I thought I understood what Bono of the band U2 was writing about when he wrote “Where the Streets Have No Name.”
I began to worry about how I would respond to what I would see. After all, maybe for the first time in my life, I was going to be faced with a degree of poverty that I had only read about in the news. Sure, I worked in soup kitchens and homeless shelters in the States. I had participated in many hunger walks and food drives. But, this was going to be different. And, from the moment I arrived at the Baggage Claim in the airport, it was different – far different from anything I could have possibly imagined.
As we were waiting for our bags, we met the men who were going to help carry our luggage to the bus. One of the men, a very nice man who spoke English very well, saw that I had some garbage in my hand. He said, “This is Africa, man, just drop it on the ground.” When I responded that I would rather take care of it myself, he said, “Why, this is Africa?” I am not sure even today if he was joking or not. Yes, there was a lot of garbage in many places we went. My first impression of Senegal was not so different than what I had expected. Over the next 11 days, however, my impressions, my feelings, my heart strings and my entire being changed and in many different ways.
“V’Ahavtah Lereiacha Kamocha,” Love your neighbor as yourself, what does this really mean? When we read these words or any words from the Torah, the onus is on us to examine the rabbinic commentaries and dialogue to open up doors to new meanings and understandings of what the words mean. Sifting through these commentaries allows us to continue to learn, examine and even disagree with our texts – but with a greater depth of knowledge to support our thoughts.
The Rashbam, Rabbi Shmuel ben Meir, a French rabbi from the 11th and 12th centuries, presents a commentary on these three words. Rashbam suggests that we should only love our neighbors if they are good and deserving of love. He continues to state that if they are evil, we should not be kind to them. Rashbam relies on Proverbs 9:13, “To fear the Lord is to hate evildoers” to make his point.
In other words, Rashbam’s argument is if someone is acting unfairly to you or your family, we DO NOT automatically love them. Rashbam goes even further in his interpretation not to vilify the neighbors, referencing the neighbors as good people deserving of good treatment. The point is that in order for us to love our neighbors, we must ensure that they are good people who deserve to be loved. If they are evil doers, we are to hate them, and not be kind to them.
Along with the examination of “V’ahavtah”, and you shall love, Rashbam also ponders the meaning of “Reiacha,” “Your Neighbors.” In Hebrew, “Ra” means bad or evil; “Rei” means neighbor. In this wordplay, it appears that Rashbam suggests that the evil, the “ra” refers to our non-Jewish neighbors and the love belongs only to our “reiacha.” The suffix “cha” translates to your, which reflects our Jewish neighbors.
My question this morning is – who are our neighbors? When we say neighbor, are we referring to those who live next door, those that live in our city, our state or our country? What about those that live in other countries around the world? What is our responsibility to those neighbors? If this word play causes you to feel discomfort or does not seem right, GREAT because we then have the opportunity to look to another commentator for another possible conclusion.
Rabbi Akiva, as we are told in the Talmud, believed V’ahavtah Lereiacha Kamocha to be “a great principle of the Torah.” Rabbi David Silverberg, a contemporary Orthodox rabbi, comments that although this principle is key, it does not encapsulate the essence of Torah. After all, we have to consider how we define the word love. When we make mistakes in our lives, we often get upset at ourselves. And, in that moment, I would argue that we do not truly love ourselves. It is vital to learn and discover how to love ourselves and understand what that means before we are able to love our neighbors the same. “When God created man, he was created in the image of God.” When we love ourselves, when we are truly able to love ourselves, we love God. All of this we find in the Torah –The history of humanity – a manual of how to proceed in our lives without dwelling on our past mistakes.
Ramban – Rabbi Moses ben Nachman, Nachmanides – one of our great teachers, who lived in the 12th and 13th centuries, teaches that these three words, “V’Ahavtah Lereiacha Kamocha” are a great overstatement. In fact, he uses another of Rabbi Akiva’s teachings, “Your life takes precedence over the life of your neighbor,” to prove his point. Nachmanides is not telling us not to love our neighbors. He is making a point that I mentioned earlier – we must truly be able to love ourselves – in order to begin loving anyone or anything else. For Nachmanides, there is no distinction between Jews, proselytes, those that leave Judaism and gerim, Jews by choice. We should love each other, everyone, equally. However, if we do not understand how to love ourselves, then it does not matter.
It seems that Rabbi Silverberg and Nachmanides agree with each other in that we must first love ourselves in order to truly love the other, our neighbors. Ramban uses the example of the love from the Book of Samuel, the love that Jonathan had for David. If you recall, David became King Saul’s favorite, even more than his own son Jonathan, which certainly could have led to some jealousy. However, Jonathan had removed all forms of jealousy out of his heart and truly loved David as he loved himself. It is the love Jonathan had for David which is the purest example of loving oneself as one would love God. And if we were all created “B’tzelem Elohim,” in the image of God, than when we love each other, we also love God, and vice versa.
Friends and family, the challenge that we are presented with is clear. Although we may have preconceived notions or stereotypes of the “other” in the world, it is imperative that we step outside of our safe circles and create a world in which every man woman and child is seen as equal. The catch phrase “love your neighbor as yourself” gets tossed around very often, especially in liberal Jewish communities. We say that we want to help all of those who are in need and we even have great programs such as food drives, fundraising campaigns, etc. But, are we really helping? Yes, I believe every effort, no matter how large or small is beneficial for those in need.
I am not suggesting that each of us should drop everything we are doing and jump on a plane and fly to Senegal or any country in the Global South – the developing world.
What I am challenging each of us is this – do not just do a Mitzvah project. We make the biggest difference when we pay attention. We must look, read and study about how we can make the biggest difference. Although we may think we are helping those who are in need, often times we are doing more harm in the process.
When the catastrophe hit Haiti, one of the first actions our government took was to send rice, tons and tons of rice to Haiti. On paper, this act seemed to be extremely helpful. After all, the Haitians needed food, among other things. However, in Haiti, the rice crop had just begun to be harvested. So, the Haitian farmers were not able to sell what they had grown for their own citizens. In effect, the United States put many farmers out of work in our attempt to help.
Throughout my experiences in Senegal, 3 words from our Torah kept appearing and reappearing in my mind. “V’Ahavtah Lereiacha Kamocha,” You shall love your neighbor as yourself. When we first visited our village, Ker Douda Cisse, I began to understand what it meant to live those words. The people we encountered in the village were so kind and grateful to visit with us; they welcomed us into their homes with open arms. And, truthfully, after only a few hours, we were no longer guests; we were villagers. In our attempts to communicate with them in English and in their native tongue, Wolof, we bonded in such a way that erased all of our differences and the many boundaries that seemed to exist when we first arrived.
I intend to make this ideal a huge part of my rabbinate and the very essence of my being – Treat everyone you meet with the same respect as you want to be treated.
My hope is that each of us will challenge ourselves and those whom we have elected to make the right decisions in the future with regards to aid to those who need it. May we enjoy our Sabbath of rest and peace today, realizing that when Shabbat is over, we have tremendous amounts of work to do to finally accomplish “V’Ahavtah Reiacha Kamocha.” After all, when we do, we will live in the world of Isaiah’s prophecy, “And they shall beat their swords into plowshares, and their spears into pruning-hooks. Nation shall not lift up sword against nation; neither shall they learn war any more.”

Kein Yehi Ratzon! May this be God’s will!

Thursday, October 13, 2011

My shortest and possibly most important blog!

Ok, I have stayed quiet for too long. I am so sick of the politics...I am so sick of the mud slinging and the angry and VERY disrespectful banter going back and forth. Democrats, Republicans, Tea Party people, Independents, all of you. Stop it already! The truth is: Our country cannot succeed, CANNOT move forward the way we are currently moving. Something, MANY things are broke. Stop dragging your feet - all of you - and make a change, make many changes. Tax the rich, tax the poor...what difference does it make? All of us are hurting....and enough is enough!

Put on your big people pants and do your darn jobs. Seriously....


Ok - I may not have the answers, but there has to be something we can do. The first thing is to shut up, stop the mud slinging and work together. Treat everyone with kindness, work together or get out of the darn sandbox!

Sunday, October 9, 2011

V'Achshav, Mah La'asot?

If you are unable to figure it out - the title of this blog is "And now what do I do?" The Jewish Holy Days of Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur and the 10 days in between give Jews the opportunity to look back and reflect on the previous year(s). Truth is that many Jews believe that if they make it through to the Break Fast on Yom Kippur, they have been sealed in the Book of Life and all is good. Well....

It's not so easy. Just because we have made it from one Yom Kippur to the next does not mean we are "in the clear." As a matter of fact, there is so much we can do to not only improve our own lives but also those around the world. Ok, so I will stop being so vague and get to the point. Leviticus 19:18 tells us to love your neighbor as yourself. How do we enact this? Do we go out and start giving money willy nilly to the homeless on the street? Do we donate food to a food bank? Do we sponsor a starving child in the Global South? There are so many is often hardest to figure out how we can help and what exactly we are to do.

We must think, we must learn, we must do everything we can to help those who are in need, wherever they live. Loving your neighbor as yourself does not imply only the neighbors that are in your immediate area. This includes all of our neighbors. As we are becoming more of a global society, it is imperative that we take care of all of those who are in need. Here are some staggering facts:

(1) The food crisis in the Horn of Africa - 12,000,000 people in Somalia and in neighboring Kenya, Ethiopia and Djibouti are suffering from acute food shortages and malnutrition. Tens of thousands have already died.

(2) There is an ongoing worldwide food crisis as prices for basic staple foods are close to or as high as they were during the 2008 crisis.

So, what to do? Well, the first thing to do is to learn, get the facts, pay attention. It is not enough to just read or watch the news. Contact your congressman and senators and find out what we as a country are doing to help those in need - at home and abroad. Write your senators and congressmen. Truth is that these men and women are in place to make a difference based on our voices. If you see a way that you and others can help those in need, make a difference.

Ask the hard questions. Here is an example: What is more efficient and better globally - Paying farmers in the US to grow food and then paying shipping companies to ship them to countries in need (or) Investing our money in the farmers in these countries enabling them to be more self sufficient and saving money all the way around? If you answered (b), you answered correctly. However, currently our country does the opposite. This is ONE way that we can make a difference - by letting our legislators know what we think is important. After all, WE elected them to serve US!

Ok, one last point...I just wanted to give a few places to start. These websites are great places to start for learning what else we can do:

That's right - do not just sit there and wait for another High Holy Days to come by so you can reflect on this year. Get out and make a difference. That way, when you reflect, you'll be able to see the difference you did make.

B'Shalom for now!

Friday, September 16, 2011

Lobbying in Washington, D.C.

Friends and family - I am writing once again about an issue that is of vital importance to each of us: Global Hunger. When I have discussed this issue with some, I often hear the following: "We have our own problems, our own hungry." I am not denying that. It is awfully true that there are many, many Americans who live in poverty. We need to do everything we can as humans to help them out. But, recognizing that the United States has limited funds - especially in our current financial situation - we CANNOT ignore the rest of the world. If you are wondering why it is our responsibility to help, that's simple. As the richest (or one of at least) the nation in the world, we are charged with helping out those who are in need, here on our own soil, and everywhere.

Last night, I attended a Cincinnati Reds game. It also happened to be "Hispanic Heritage Night." What this meant was that there were Spanish songs played in the stadium and some of the announcements were made in Spanish. Why am I telling you this? Well, there was a man a few rows in front of me that brought several American flags to the game, and each time the Hispanic announcer would speak or when a song was played in Spanish, the man would stand up, raise his American flag and either scream "God Bless America" or some derogatory comment about the cultures we were celebrating. One of his comments, "Go back across the border" really upset me. After all, the United States is a melting pot. EVERY person that lives in this country (with the exception of Native Americans of course) came from a different country.

I have also heard the following from people - "When my ancestors came to America, we were forced to learn the language and get jobs to survive." That is true, when my family came to this country, they had to learn English to survive. But, the America today is VERY different from the America back then. It is important that we recognize that those who come to the United States are looking for better lives - the same reasons our ancestors came here. If you want to make a difference, speak to those we have elected to make laws!

Last weekend, I traveled with AJWS to Washington, DC to lobby both of the Ohio Senators not to cut the food aid that the US supplies to those in the world who are starving. Tens of thousands of people who live in Northeast Africa, in the Horn of Africa, have already died. As a Jewish person, as an American, and as a human, I realize that I am charged/challenged by God to help those in need. It is not just about money. If that man I observed last night took some time to actually learn about what is going on in the world, he would (I hope) recognize how lucky we are to live in the United States. But, it is more than just luck. We have a responsibility to all humans, not just Americans.

On November 4-5, I will be hosting a "Global Hunger Shabbat" dinner at my home. During this dinner, I hope to share stories of my experiences in Senegal as well as my trip to Washington. I hope to be able to hear thoughts and stories of those who will be in attendance. The most important thing we can do is simple - DO NOT DO NOTHING, DO SOMETHING. Learn, read, seek out information. Polls show that most Americans believe the US spends 25% of its budget on foreign aid. These same Americans want to lower this number to 10%. TRUTH - The United States spends less than 1% of its budget on foreign aid. Can you imagine how much of a difference the United States would make if we spent 10% of our budget on foreign aid?

I am not asking or even suggesting that the US should increase its foreign aid to 10%. What I am asking is that a)the US does not cut any of its aid and b)when the 2012 Farm Bill comes up, that Congress and the Senate work together to reform the current ways we give aid. For example, rather than paying an American company/farmer to grow extra food to be sent as aid, let's invest the money in foreign countries and allow them to become more self sufficient. We would save tremendous amount of money - we would not have to pay the shipping costs to get the aid from us to them. This is only one way.

Here it is - do something, get out there and learn. If you want to learn more about AJWS or about the Global Hunger Shabbat, please check out one of these sites:

Also, to read about the trip to Washington, DC:

Until next time...

Saturday, September 10, 2011

September 11 - 10 years ago

"Erin, Get need to see this."
"Batya, it's 6:45 on my day off, come on, let me sleep."
"Erin, GET UP - Come Here NOW!!"

It was September 11, 2001 and I was supposed to celebrate my 1 year anniversary with Enterprise Rent-A-Car by sleeping in, going for lunch with Batya after school and just relaxing. But, at 6:46 am (Arizona Time - 8:46 EST), I was woken up by Batya and immediately glued to the television. When the second plane struck the second tower 17 minutes later, I was a ball of tears. So many thoughts were going through my mind.

"Oh my God, Jason is supposed to be in NYC for an interview. How close is he to the Twin Towers?"

"Bekki - where is she and why can't I get through to her on the phone?"

"I have to call Mom and see if she has heard anything..."

I remember my Dad telling me that he knew exactly where he was when JFK was shot. I remember exactly where I was when the Challenger blew up. But, this was different. There were terrorist attacks happening on our soil, in the United States - the place that was a safe haven on Earth for anyone who sought it. That day and the several days that followed - I can remember every detail, where I was, what I was doing.

Working for the airport location of Enterprise Rent-A-Car was very challenging. We were immediately instructed to rent vehicles one way (something that ERAC did NOT do at the time) for anyone who needed to get home. There was a sense of real family that week. We were all Americans...and we were all hurting. We still hurt today as we remember the men and women who lost their lives; and the children....the children.

"Where were you when the world stop turning on that September day..." Alan Jackson's words were so apropos and so, so heartfelt. Remember, remember, do NOT forget. That day - did anything else matter? Pictures of the towers falling to the ground, the video....seeing NY'ers running for their lives from the debris. The heroes - the firemen, policemen, etc. all of those that helped that joined in to rescue or find bodies.

"Where is my sister, where is my brother? Why can't I get through? My God, what if something has happened to them?" The thoughts stayed with me until I finally spoke to Mom around 10:30 am - almost 4 hours after I began to worry and wonder. I just could not take my eyes away from the images on the television. To this day, the sounds I heard haunt me...

It has been 10 years since that horrible day. The United States of America is still recovering, but we are STILL HERE. No matter if you are a Packer from Green Bay or a Peach from Georgia - we are still here. To quote one of my favorite bands:

"...And you never did think that
it ever would happen again
In America, did you?
You never did think that
we'd ever get together again
Well we damn sure fooled you

We're walking real proud and
we're talking real loud again in America
You never did think that
it ever would happen again

From the sound up in Long Island
out to San Francisco Bay
And every thing that's
in between them is our home
And we may have done a little
bit of fighting amongst ourselves
but you outside people best leave us alone

Cause we'll all stick together
and you can take that to the bank
That's the cowboys and the hippies
and the rebels and the yanks
You just go and lay your head
on a Pittsburgh Steeler fan
and I think you're gonna finally understand..."

When you wake up on September 11, 2011...take a few moments to think about the freedom we have. Appreciate what it means to be an American. Say hello to a stranger, tell someone you love them, and most importantly - Remember.

"Cause I'm proud to be an American...where at least I know I'm free. And I won't forget the men who died, who gave that right to me..."

God Bless America!

Friday, September 9, 2011

Famine in the Horn of Africa

Greetings friends and family!

My experiences in Senegal this summer have continued to have a tremendous effect on me as a Jew and as a human. I am constantly reminded of Leviticus 19:18: V'ahvatah Lereiacha Kamocha - "You shall love your neighbor as yourself." What does that mean? I think that one of the most difficult concepts for humans to grasp is to understand and really know what love means. Nachmanides, a medieval Jewish rabbi, taught that in order for a person to truly love his neighbor, he had to understand how to love himself first. That's it. We must learn and develop ways of understanding how we are to love ourselves.

This may seem like such an easy idea...but it is not. If you take a minute to think about all of the things you do in your daily life, you might be surprised at how many of these things harm you. I am constantly reminded by the organizations I pay attention to and by the news agencies of the millions of people around the world who have no idea what it means to love themselves. All you have to do is look at the food crisis, the famine that is going on in Africa today. The United States government (and many other Global North governments) are struggling to figure out how to offset this famine - by money, food, resources, etc.

Where do we start? The first thing is to be aware. Pay attention; read the news; watch the news; read a blog. Whatever it takes. Get out there and just read and watch. It is impossible to miss - we find this "food crisis" in our own back yards. The answer, to quote Bob Dylan is "blowing in the wind." It's out there...and we need to work together to make it happen. Throwing money at the problem is not the answer. Ignoring the problem is not the answer. And, COMPLETELY CUTTING FUNDING AND RESOURCES is NOT the answer.

If you want to learn more about the food crisis and really are interested in helping, check out the following sites:

Take this as a challenge to get out there and so something. Donate money to AJWS, either through my fundraising efforts ( or directly through their website. Let's stop ignoring the problem and make a difference together.

I know, I know, we have problems of our own in our country. It's true...but that does NOT mean we can ignore everyone else.

Thursday, August 25, 2011

R + A + B + B +....

There you have it. Four years of rabbinical school completed, four letters earned (7 if you include my MHL - Masters in Hebrew Letters), and one thesis and a couple of classes left to go. Reality is beginning to set in and it is kind of overwhelming. This semester - my last full academic semester - looks like this:

Monday - 9:20 - 10:35 - Senior Seminar (where we learn all of the practical things we have not yet learned about being a rabbi and clergy)

Tuesday - 9:20 - 10:35 - Adult Education class

Wednesday - 9:20 - 10:35 - Senior Seminar
11:35 - 12:50 - Intro to Guitar

Thursday - 9:20 - 10:35 - Adult Education class

Of course, I am also writing my thesis and driving to The Temple in Louisville on Wednesdays and Sundays for teaching/internship responsibilities. This year will fly by, I am sure. I have already begun to look through various Jewish job websites, looking to see what is out there. I believe that as long as I keep my options fairly open, I should be able to find a job that will make me happy while maintaining Shalom Bayit - Peace in my home!

As the year goes along, with every blog, I would like to share one memory I have had that has shaped who I am today. I would like to turn back the hands of time to my first night as a rabbinic student - in June, 2008. One of my classmates had flown with Batya, Carlie and me from Atlanta to Tel Aviv. We immediately took a cab to our apartment in Jerusalem. My classmate was staying with us for a week while he found his own apartment. Batya and I put Carlie to bed as best we could - she was pretty exhausted.

My classmate and I decided to roam around a bit and I was going to try to see what I could remember from my previous visit to Israel - 7 years prior. Well, as could be expected I did not remember much, and we were lost almost immediately. We did see some pretty interesting things and I did find a couple of shops that I had frequented in Israel 7 years before. I remember thinking, "This year is going to be full of challenges, great memories, and tremendous learning." I could not have been more right. Although it was only one year, I learned more about myself and my family than I could have if we had stayed in the States for that year. Looking back and reading through my old blog posts reminds me how much I learned and how those memories really helped to shape who I am today.

The last 4 + years at HUC have not always been full of sunshine, but I have learned so much and am so grateful to HUC and those who have come into my life for helping me get to today. Of course, the two most important people in this group are Batya and Carlie - my girls, my lights. Without them and their support, who knows where I would be today!

Until next time,

Tuesday, August 9, 2011

Summer in Louisville

Hello family and friends! What a long time it has been since I blogged. I know, no apologies. Well, let me begin by saying that this summer has brought so many wonderful experiences and opportunities for growth. It may be hard to believe, especially after my work last summer in Clinical Pastoral Education, but I believe I have grown the most this summer as a rabbinic intern at The Temple in Louisville than any summer before! I have had the tremendous opportunity to work with 3 amazing rabbis and a wonderful support and administrative staff. I have helped with life cycle events, taught adult education classes and Torah study, tutored Bar and Bat Mitzvah students, stayed in the homes of congregants and really had the chance to get to know this fantastic Jewish community. One of the aspects of the internship that I am the most proud of was my work with the local rabbis and Lisa Rothstein - the new director of the High School of Jewish Studies. This is a program that targets all Jewish high school students in Louisville. While there are core classes for each grade level, the students are also allowed to choose electives - the opportunity to learn about a variety of Jewish subjects including Jews in sports, the Holocaust, Jewish issues, etc. I am looking forward to seeing just how successful this program will be.

Well, as this summer is ending, that means that my final year in seminary is beginning. It is hard to believe how quickly the last four years flew by. I have truly enjoyed every day at HUC-JIR, and I am looking forward to all of the new experiences and knowledge I will gain in my 5th and final year of study. Of course, I will never really be finished with my studies, but at least in a year or so, I will finally be able to work full time doing what I love to do! As the year rolls along, I will be working on my thesis, learning guitar and trying to figure out a way to find myself in the best job placement for my family! It will be a very fast year, I am sure, and I hope to be able to enjoy it as it happens.

My intention (and I know I have said this before) is to write at least twice a month in this blog over the next 10 months or so. I hope to share with all of you not only the experiences of this year, but I also hope to share some reflections on how my life has changed and how I have changed over the past 4 + years. I would be lying if I said that every day during the past 4 years has been full of rainbows! However, it is true that even during the not so great days, I would still be able to return home to the embrace of my loving wife and loving daughter. I thank God every day for the ability to continue seeking my life's dream while also being able to share it with the most important people in my life!

Until next time...

Friday, August 5, 2011

A request for help for AJWS and Tostan

Greetings Friends and Family,

I am writing this email to you after one of the most amazing and eye opening experiences in my life. I had the opportunity to spend 11 days in Senegal, in West Africa, working with an organization named Tostan. Tostan is one of many West African non-government organizations that the American Jewish World Service supports, financially and in many other ways. Tostan works with villages and communities in West Africa to educate and bring about positive change. To learn more about Tostan, please visit their website: . Tostan really does so much with these villages, including helping to end Female Genital Cutting and Young Marriages.

While in Senegal, we visited a village - Keur Douda Cisse - and helped them to build a school and begin construction on a garden. We spent a week getting to know the members of the village, spending time with them in their homes and playing with the children. While it was a lot of fun, these experiences were also meant to open my eyes to the lives and situations of those living in the Global South - the developing world. There are so many stories to tell, and I really hope to be able to share them with as many of my friends and family as possible.

There is a lot of possibility in these communities and it is vital that we begin to learn about the history of these countries and how we can, as one Globe, come together to eradicate poverty and everything else that negates the basic human rights that everyone in our world should be able to enjoy.

It is so important that we support AJWS and these other organizations. It does NOT matter how much one is able to donate...every dollar helps and every dollar counts. Please feel free to check out the AJWS website: for more information. And, please join me in supporting the programs of AJWS.

Thank you in advance for your consideration,
Erin Boxt

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My Experiences in Senegal!

One of the first text messages I received when I arrived back in the United States asked me “how was your trip to Senegal?” Rather than respond over text, I called my friend and suggested we go out for coffee and talk about it. The truth is that although I am supposed to come up with an “elevator response” to that question, I am pretty sure that it would be too difficult for me right now. I have so many thoughts and feelings that I am constantly thinking about – and so many reflections to work through. Yes, the trip to Senegal was an amazing, eye opening and in many ways a spiritual experience. With a group of 17 other rabbinical students and Jewish professionals, I was able spend about four to five hours a day for a little over a week in a small village outside of Thies, Senegal: Keur Douda Cisse. When we arrived on the first day, we were welcomed with song, dance and one of the warmest welcomes I have ever experienced. Any feelings of reluctance I had were immediately swept away with the overwhelming feeling of “home.” After this wonderful welcoming ceremony, we were all given names. From that point on, I became Assan Torrei. I even began introducing myself as such – and the members of the village only knew me as Assan Torrei…something that just felt natural.

In the afternoons, we studied many texts, including Talmudic and Midrashic texts. We spent quite a lot of time learning about how the Global North (formerly the 1st World developed countries) and the Global South (formerly the 3rd World developing countries) were alike and different. We studied Jewish texts that related to the Jewish responsibility to other Jews and non-Jews. I learned so much about the roots and causes of poverty and I really began to think about the responsibilities that each of us have to these impoverished nations. What really began to stick out in my mind (and stays with me even today) were the images and stereotypes I brought with me to Senegal, and how different they were from many of the images I experienced and tried to capture with my camera. I am totally aware that it would be impossible for me to be able to explain everything I experienced and saw…but I hope to have conversations with people that will at least give me the opportunity to learn and teach…and grow with my community.

On the last day of our trip, we went to Goree Island, one of the last stops of the slave trade in Africa. When slaves left Goree Island, they boarded the ships that brought them to those countries that were involved in the 500 + years of the slave trade. Many thoughts rushed through my head as we explored the museum and the slave house. What responsibilities do those of us that live in the Global North have to the Developing World? What have we done to make the matters of life worse for these countries? Should we ask them how we can help or just assume that we know the answers? Clearly, I left Goree Island more confused than I was when I went…and I think that it is important for me to recognize and admit this. Now, I must figure out how I can use these thoughts and images to teach and learn.

American Jewish World Service is an amazing organization that works with grass roots organizations like Tostan in West Africa to bring change to these communities. This change comes from these communities…they decide for themselves what their needs are. Please check out and to learn more about the amazing programs that are so very successful in the Global South.