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Saturday, December 15, 2012

Great American Hero?!?

Shabbat Shalom....well, it isn't really.  We are, all of us, in deep sorrow and mourning over the loss of so many children.  People ask me, "When is enough?"  1 death - that is more than enough.  Throughout the last 16 hours, I have read many blog posts, articles, editorials comparing yesterday's tragedy to Aurora, Columbine, and other mass killings.  I believe, for the sake of the integrity of those who have died and for the sake of their families, it is important NOT to compare any of these.  1 death = 1 death, regardles of who it is that dies.  Want to argue about gun control?  Go for it - but you know what, arguing over the government's role in gun control will do nothing but lead to more arguing.  What we need to do instead is sit down and really discuss so many things.  Because, you know what?  Gun Control is not the problem.  Mental health is not the problem.  The root of the problem is our inability as human beings to V'ahavtah Lereiacha Kamocha, "Love your neighbor as yourself."

We are ALL created equal.  This is absolutely true.  However, what we are not able to recognize, realize and understand is that while we are all created equal, we are not all the same.  Each of us have strengths and weaknesses.  Each of us have "things we need to work on."  And, it is our realization of this that will eventually lead us to developing the abilities to work with all humans equally.  That is it - we are not all the same; however, we all have the right to live in equality - justice for all!  I am not saying that these horrible events will completely be eradicated from our world.  However, if we learn to love each other and treat each other with respect, we could, just maybe get to a place where these catastrophes end.

Finally, let me end with a prayer for all of those who have lost loved ones in any of the tragedies that have occurred here in the US, in the rest of the world, and/or in any act that was a result of the over abuse of power of some:

Adonai - Our God, please help us to understand the pain of others.
Enable us to share in the burden of all of those who are in pain.
Help us to learn to live the lives you would have us to live.
Teach us to be "God-like"  in our relations with our neighbors.

Adonai - Our God, lead us to peace for all people.
Enable us to join together as one people.
Help us to see beyond race, color and creed.
Teach us what we need to know - even when we are unaware.

Adonai, Elohim, El Shaddai, Jesus, Allah, Earth - help us live together.

Friday, December 7, 2012

Making a difference in our world


To be or not to be?  That is the question...No, no, no.  How about to do or not to do?  Or as Yoda said, "Do or do not..."

I would like to begin this blog with a biblical citation, from Genesis 12:

"Genesis 12: The Lord said to Abram, “Go forth from your native land and from your father’s house to the land that I will show you.   2I will make of you a great nation, And I will bless you; I will make your name great, And you shall be a blessing. 3I will bless those who bless you, and curse him that curses you; And all the families of the earth shall bless themselves by you.”

When we read these words from Genesis 12, we are automatically drawn to God's promise to make of Abraham a blessing.  God will bless those who bless Abraham and curse those who curse Abraham.  We all know that...we have been taught that year after year after year.  This is what we call "particularism."  God is singling Abraham and his descendants out from every other peoples of the Earth.

Ok, so what, right?  Well, the last part of verse 3 is, in my opinion, the real message.  It takes us from being the ones who are singled out and makes it universal: "All the families of the Earth shall bless themselves by you."  It is as if God expects Abraham to become a blessing and then to spread the blessing out to the rest of those in the world.  This takes it from "particularism" to "universalism."  

This past weekend, I was blessed to spend 3 days with a wonderful group of scholars, rabbis, cantors and educators.  Each of us are alumni of one of the American Jewish World Service rabbinical/Jewish professional missions to a variety of countries in the Global South.  We were engaged, challenged and for many of us (myself included), we found ourselves re-energized.  One of the scholars, Rabbi Ed Feinstein, taught us that although God promises Abraham to make his name great and blessed throughout the world, Abraham had a job as well.  Abraham was to spread the blessing to all peoples.  It is Abraham's responsibility to ensure that all people of the Earth are blessed.  This is a huge responsibility - and one that Abraham does not take lightly.  

I am drawn to words I wrote a couple of years ago prior to my trip to Senegal with AJWS:

Judaism cares very deeply in social justice and social action.  The phrase “Tikkun Olam” has been embedded in my brain since my very first religious school class in preschool.  Going out and helping others has been a part of my life and the life of my family for as long as I could remember.  As a matter of fact, one of the reasons I am in rabbinical school is to be able to teach others – especially the younger generations – what it means to really live the ideal we find in our Torah: V’ahvtah L’reiacha Kamocha – “Love your neighbor as yourself.”  It is this one phrase we find in our beloved Torah that has lead me on my life journey to always seeking to help others in any way I can, especially those in need.

I do intend to write more and discuss more the amazing trip I experienced last weekend as well as the trip to Senegal.  However, I wanted to invite you to watch my good friend and colleague Rabbi Menachem Creditor's reflection on our trip and this week's Torah Portion: Vayesheiv:


Shabbat Shalom and Happy Hanukah!

Rabbi Erin Boxt










Saturday, November 17, 2012

Letter to the Editor

Thank you so much to Janice Weinman and Hadassah - not only for the amazing work they do, but also with the formulating of this letter to the Editor:


Dear Editor,

On November 14th - in response to an escalation of rocket attacks from Gaza - the Israeli Defense Forces initiated Operation Pillar of Defense. Since the launch, and the killing of Hamas Commander and Chief-of-Staff Ahmed Jabari, Hamas has launched both a military and public relations campaign to destabilize and delegitimize the State of Israel.

Hadassah, The Women’s Zionist Organization of America, one of many organizations, has worked tirelessly over 100 years to ensure the delivery of quality health and education services to the people of Israel. In doing so they have created a bridge to peace between all communities of different origins and backgrounds.  

It is our hope - all of us in the Jewish community - for the truth on both sides to be presented accurately and not distorted.  We pray for and hope for a time of peace when all of our brothers and sisters of all religions will get along peacefully, ensuring all of our children the right to a life of safety and freedom.

It is essential that the world community understand the facts on the ground.

Prior to Operation Pillar of Defense, Israel used enormous restraint amidst a barrage of attacks.
However, with the attacks intensifying, it became necessary to address Hamas’ terror campaign and reestablish greater security for the Israeli people.

4.5 Million Israelis, over half of the Israeli population, is under attack.
2,500 rockets have been launched from Gaza since Operation Cast Lead in 2009.
Over 1,000 rockets have been launched this year.
360 rockets have been launched in the last 48 hours.
2 adult fatalities have occurred and 150 have been wounded, including two infants in serious condition since the start of Operation Pillar of Defense.
Hamas uses civilian shields, including children.

The United States government has committed its support for Israel’s right for self defense.We look to the world community for its understanding and its support of peace for the people of Israel.

Sincerely,

Rabbi Erin Boxt
Temple Kol Emeth
Marietta, GA 30062

Thursday, November 15, 2012

How Do We Respond?

This morning, I received an email from a congregant expressing anger and frustration.  He had just heard CBS News explain that the "situation in Israel and Gaza began yesterday with the killing of a high ranking Hamas leader."  His frustration is shared by me and many, many others.  What was really behind his anger was a request for what to do next.  How should he respond?  Well, I recommend writing letters, emails, tweeting on Twitter, sending Facebook messages/links.  We need to respond in as many ways as is possible - as long as we are also being fair in our responses.  When we feel that others are being inappropriately unfair, we need to take a step back, breathe, and make sure our responses are fair and clear.

I was just on a conference call with the Atlanta Israeli Consul General.  Here are some FACTS:

1) Since 2009, 2500 rockets have been fired on the South of Israel (from Gaza).

2) In 2012 alone, 750 rockets have been fired on the South of Israel (from Gaza).

3) In the last 24 hours, 250 rockets have been fired on the South of Israel AND Metro Tel Aviv (from Gaza).

These are facts, not opinions.  If we, as Americans (Jews and anyone of any faith) could imagine what would happen if the United States was bombarded with this kind of rocket barrage, could we also imagine what our response would be?  Would we be encouraged by World Leaders to just sit back and do nothing?  Of course not...we would act.  Israel has been under fire for quite some time...and now she is responding - with the support of our U.S. Leaders, as it should be.

If you feel the journalists are not presenting a fair assessment of what is going on - write down specific times/dates of the unfair reporting.  Write letters, send emails - outlining exactly when it occurred.  Follow the news from a variety of sources (online and offline).  NEVER depend on one source - because all of the news sources out there carry a bias.

Friends, may each of us continue to hope and pray for a day when all civilians (Israeli and neighbors) will live in a time of peace.  Let us encourage our government leaders to support ALL innocent civilians.  Remember, a human being is a human being - and each of us has the right to live in an environment which is safe and in which we may live our lives as we choose.

Pay attention - look, observe and have patience...all of us need this.

Rabbi Erin Boxt

Wednesday, November 14, 2012

"I, Israel: Insights, Experiences, and Lessons Learned from One Student's Year Abroad"

I have been sitting at my desk for the past few hours - attempting to clear out some of the huge pile of work - and thinking about how to respond to what I have been following in the news.  As usual, I find myself glued to a variety of news sources: Haaretz.com, Jpost.com, CNN.com, Ynet News, etc.  No matter who you speak with; no matter who you ask; no matter which news source you seek out for answers.  Every person, no matter where they are from, has an opinion.  Israel - the country, the people, the land - is one of the most debated topics.  Often times, the discussion on Israel can be divisive.  Why?  That is meant to be rhetorical.  I do understand the sides, the arguments.  Everyone is right and everyone is wrong.  I often write blogs about issues that I believe to be important to everyone and which should bring people together.  We all have a responsibility to help others.  I realize that this blog could very well be seen as picking a side.  I will try my best to not do so.  However, as a rabbi, I cannot divorce myself from my connection and support of Israel.  I can, however, see that on each side (however you classify these sides) there are innocent civilians trying to make their lives better.  Let us all NOT forget that.

In early July, I had the great privilege of meeting a very nice and well educated young man, Ariel Doestareh.  As an Atlanta raised Jewish young man, he experienced quite an interesting life.  However, upon graduation from high school, he sought to explore himself, Jewishly, spiritually, etc.  So, he embarked on a year long study program at a Yeshiva in Jerusalem.  The title of this blog - his book - really explains the focus of his book.  It is very well written and in it, Ariel attempts (and succeeds) at bringing our sacred Jewish texts to us through his very real experiences in Israel.  No matter what your connection to Israel is...this is a great book for all Jews.  I highly recommend it.  It is a page turner and one that is very interesting.  Written with a focus on the Parashat HaShavuah (Torah portion of the week), Ariel brilliantly weaves the Biblical stories into his own contemporary experiences.

The truest wisdom in his book - "It's one student's humble quest to find inspiration in the everyday scenes, residents and lessons of one country."  Israel is a country of many cultures, religions, experiences, etc.  It is impossible to completely capture the wonder of Israel in one book - but Ariel comes close!  Kol Ha Kavod!

One more point - It is within each of us to make a difference in the world.  Each of us can recognize and celebrate the beauty and wonder of everyone else we come in contact with.  All we need to do is open our eyes and see it.  Temple Kol Emeth proudly supports and encourages the welcoming of all people.  As a matter of fact, on Thursday, November 15 @ 7 pm, we will be hosting the 9th annual Ecumenical Thanksgiving service.  We will be welcoming clergy from a variety of churches, mosques, and temples to help lead us in prayer.  We will also experience the wonder and beauty of a combined choir.  If you are unable to join us, please check out our live stream: http://tinyurl.com/ecumenicalstream.

My dear friends - let us approach quickly the day when we all are able to see the beauty and how much we have in common.  Our commonalities completely outweigh our differences.

Rabbi Erin Boxt

Monday, November 5, 2012

This has to STOP!!!

To Whom it May Concern (which really is EVERYONE!):

My name is Rabbi Erin C. Boxt.  I am one of the rabbis at Temple Kol Emeth in Marietta, Georgia.  I grew up in Columbia, South Carolina, attended the University of Georgia and then was ordained a rabbi by Rabbi David Ellenson of Hebrew Union College-Jewish Institute of Religion.  Having been raised in the south, my values and ethical ideals have been shaped by so many types of people from different faiths, cultures, etc.  However, there is one issue that I believe should be addressed - and SHOULD be important to everyone: Human Trafficking.

Yesterday, Sunday, November 4th, I attended a Human Trafficking Summit at The Temple in downtown Atlanta.  I was extremely satisfied to see so many people present.  However, I was also mortified that there were empty chairs.  Truth is - no one building should have been able to house us.  This is an issue that is of utmost importance and needs to be talked about - no matter how uncomfortable it is to talk about.  Here are some harrowing statistics: Worldwide 600,000 - 800,000 victims each year; 14,500 in the USA alone; 240 under-aged children EACH HOUR in Georgia.  These numbers represent the number of people who are trafficked - for sex and other purposes each hour/year.

Granted: not all of those trafficked are for sexual purposes.  Some are just modern day "slaves."  Here is another fact - the Hebrew word eved meaning slave is found in the Bible.  However, the word is used to describe someone who works off a debt or is responsible for paying back a debt after breaking a law.  He is not the property of the person he is working for.  And, in many cases, the person is to provide housing and food for the eved.  Now, if we look at the way we use the word slave today, it has a totally different connotation.  One is sold into slavery...becomes the property of his/her owner...and is often tied to that person for their lives (or until they are no longer of any use and are often times murdered).

You know what?  It really does NOT matter.  Human trafficking is a problem whether it is for work purposes or for sexual purposes.  A research study conducted by the "Juvenile Justice Fund" of Atlanta produced these research highlights:

1) 7200 men account for 8700 paid sex acts with adolescent females each month in Georgia (about 300 each day)
2) 42% of these "Johns" are found in the north metro Atlanta area (outside I-285)
3) 28000 men pay for sex with adolescent females each year in Georgia.  Nearly 10,000 of these men purchase sex with adolescent females multiple times per year.

Many of these victims are runaways who see no hope in their future.  They are often looking for a way to "better their lives," only to find themselves caught in a trap of lies, despair and ultimately death.  The average age of a girl lured into the sex trade in the United States is 13.  This life of prostitution usually is a death sentence as the average lifespan of a girl exploited in this say is only 7 years.  So...do you find yourself disgusted?  Are you trying to figure out what to do?  Is your stomach turning inside and out?  Good...read on for ways to get involved.

#1 - Contact your state reps and senators.  Tell them how this is important to you.  After all, the more of us that are affected, the more our leaders will focus on this issue.

#2 - Contact any number of organizations to volunteer: Out of Darkness: www.outofdarkness.org, the Juvenile Justice Fund: www.afuturenotapast.org, Youth Spark www.youth-spark.org, Tapestri www.tapestri.org, Open Jewish Project www.trafficking.openjewishproject.com

#3 - Talk, learn, teach, educate, look.  Get involved.

So, really, we have two major issues/problems/challenges here in Georgia (as well as in the United States and in the world): 1) Human trafficking in general and 2) more specifically, the sex trafficking of adolescents. Both of these problems are horrific and disgusting.  I urge every one of us to get as involved as we are able.  This is a problem that we can only get rid of by talking, learning and getting involved.

I urge ALL of our elected officials to take these challenges seriously and help to truthfully make an end to this disgusting and downright awful behavior.

Rabbi Erin Boxt


Wednesday, October 17, 2012

Are YOU a Good Jew?

Shalom y'all!

While studying with a conversion student today, I was asked, "What makes someone a good Jew?"  The question was asked because recently this student had been told by someone - "I am Jewish, but I am not a good Jew."  So, my student asked me how that can be determined.  Think about the question for a second.  You can probably answer similar questions pretty easily such as: What makes someone a good baseball player, or what makes someone a good guitar player?  Defining one's ability to be a good Jew is totally different.  After all, how do we decide?  Who has the right (on Earth) to make that decision?

Ok, ok...so I hear my more traditionally leaning colleagues and friends saying, "That's easy.  Do they follow the commandments?  Do they keep Shabbat?"  Well, I do not believe the answer to be that easy.  If we were living in Biblical times, it would be easy to define ourselves as good or not good Jews.  We would follow the Law as it is laid out in the Bible.  No one knew any different.  You either did or you didn't.  Period.  Being Jewish was a matter of biology - if your mother was Jewish, you were Jewish. PERIOD.

If we were living in Talmudic times, defining ourselves as good Jews would imply a much more developed answer as we would not just be applying the Written Torah to our lives, but also the Oral Torah (the Mishnah, Talmud, etc.)  We would need to observe a larger amount of laws.  However, once again being Jewish was biological - if your mother was Jewish, you were Jewish.  Even if you were a bad Jew, you were still a Jew.

Now, we fast forward to modern times...we have many more Jewish books to consider.  We have many more Laws, commentaries, etc. that can help us determine if we are a good Jew or not.  But, wait...really?  What about Liberal Judaism which views the Torah as a living document, constantly in an evolving state.  It is not as if we are changing or ignoring the laws.  Rather, we are learning the laws, considering them, and then, using our contemporary minds, deciding for ourselves (yes, as individuals) what constitutes being Jewish.  Now, I am not suggesting that our Sacred Texts should be ignored or forgotten.  Not at all.  After all, these texts have taken us to today and have allowed us to thrive even in the most dreadful of times.

Today, when someone tells me they are a bad Jew, I reply, "Who is a good Jew?"  God CHOSE the Jews not to be better than other peoples.  Rather, we are expected to live our lives by the Biblical Directive: V'ahavtah L'reiacha Kamocha, "Love your neighbor as yourself."  This may be hard for some of us to swallow.  After all, we are the People of the Book.  Yes, THE Book, The Torah.  And being the People of the Book requires us to live our lives as an example.  So, do not worry if someone accuses you of being a bad Jew.  You are the one that has to look in the mirror and appreciate who you are.  Just be the best Jew you know how to be.

Rabbi Erin Boxt

Monday, October 8, 2012

First Impressions DO Make a Difference

Shalom Y'All!

Every once in a while, I am reminded that first impressions do make a difference.  Let me give you an example of something I experienced today and then explain why I believe first impressions really do matter.  I was notified that a donation was made to an organization in honor of my ordination.  The donation was made to a fantastic organization.  However, because my first name is Erin, the organization assumed my gender based on my name alone.  At 36 years old, this is not something that is new to me.  When I joined the University of Georgia Redcoat Marching Band in 1994, I was fitted for a female uniform, even though on my registration card, I had checked the "Male" box.  When I asked them about that, the response was, "We thought you had made a mistake."

So, rest assured, this organization is not the first to make this error. However, this error was my first real experience with this organization.  Now, I still believe this is a fantastic organization, and I hold no ill will toward it.  As a matter of fact, I am sort of thankful in a way because now I am able to write this blog with a message that I believe is important for us all to think about.  First impressions...do they mean anything?  What about giving people, organizations, etc. a second chance or the benefit of the doubt?

It was brought to my attention just recently that a congregant was a little frustrated with Reform Judaism because he did not feel as if we (the we refers here to RJ as a whole) do not do a good enough job helping to guide our congregants in the everyday functions of life.  We do not necessarily do a good job of using the messages of our Sacred Texts to talk about issues such as financial stability, equality in regards to human rights, how to address the over sexualization of our children by the media, etc.  It as if Reform Judaism has lost the spiritual relevancy some of our congregants seem to need or want.

So, getting back to first impressions.  I am a newly ordained rabbi - June 2, 2012.  The impression I give to my congregation right now about my work ethic, my dedication to the lives of our congregants, my desire to teach and live a life full of social justice, etc. means everything right now.  I could very easily take this congregant out for coffee or a meal and speak to him directly regarding these issues, reassuring him of the relevance of Judaism in his life and in the lives of all of my congregants.  However, that is not the point.  I believe his message to me is that I (and of course I mean all of us - clergy and lay leaders) need to challenge myself and my congregation to find deeper meaning in the words of our Sacred Texts.  We should not be afraid of those issues that might cause controversy.  Rather, we should embrace these issues and allow for people to discuss, talk and listen in a safe environment where everyone has an equal chance.

I do know that this could also prove to be disastrous.  Ideologues on both sides of these issues could take over and turn a safe environment into a huge and uncontrollable debate.  But, are we to shy away from everything that comes in front of us for fear of "pissing someone off?"  No, we need to provide opportunities for people to speak, grow, learn, reflect, etc.

I could have very easily responded to the organization that mistakenly referred to me as a female by ignoring it and giving up my support of their organization.  Or, I could do what I did - send an email thanking the organization for the honor of receiving a donation.  Of course, I did make sure to let them know I was a male - but in a way that lets them know I am not angry, frustrated or have any ill will toward them.  Rather, I want them to know, just to know - with no hidden motive.

Dear friends and family - let us recognize that first impressions DO make a difference.  They do matter...but so does our ability to give people the benefit of the doubt.  After all, we are giving them their first impression of us in the manner in which we respond.  Let us all learn to think, reflect, and learn from first impressions and the responses to those first impressions.

Rabbi Erin Boxt

Monday, October 1, 2012

Focusing on Jewish Motorcyclists....



Shalom Y'all!


Yes, you read the title correctly. No, it was not a mistake. Believe it or not, there is a group of Jewish Motorcycle riders, and not just here in Georgia....but all over! The Jewish Motorcyclists Alliance (JMA- http://jewishbikersworldwide.com/) is an organization that brings Jewish motorcycle riders together.

And, here in Georgia, we have our very own gang of riders - the Sabra Riders of Atlanta, Ga.  Truth be told, they are from all over Georgia. You should really check out their website to find out more information about them: http://www.sabrariders.com/. They have rides every week...from short rides (90 miles) to full day rides (300 miles). 

Why, you may ask, am I focusing this blog on this outstanding group of individuals? Well, if you know me at all, you know that I live by the following line/motto from the Torah: V'ahavtah L'reiacha Kamocha, "You shall love your neighbor as yourself."  Too many times in our lives, we see people who appear to be different from us and we make assumptions about them...more often wrong than right. This past Sunday, during my 8th/9th grade class at TKE, I was teaching the students that all kinds of hatred begin with simple mis-judgments or prejudgments about others.

So, let me make this perfectly clear: These wonderful men and women are people who enjoy being Jewish and spending time with other Jews. Riding their bikes is just one way they are able to come together and enjoy each other's company! Having spent some time with many of them, I can tell you that they are the "salt of the earth." Whenever I see motorcycle riders now, I have to admit that there is a bit of jealousy that creeps up inside of me. The Sabra Riders just seem to have so much fun with each other....we should all have that!

The Sabra Riders are just like everyone of us. Actually, if I was not so incredibly terrified of riding
motorcycles, I might join the gang! Ok, here's the point: At Temple Kol Emeth in Marietta, Ga, we welcome all kinds of Jews, non-Jews, etc. Anyone who wants to find a spiritual connection may come in our doors, and if they feel welcome and find something they can connect with...great! They are then part of our family. 

Come to our services. You will see all types of people - from the Sabra Riders to the non-Jewish spouses of many of our members to those that were raised in a more "traditional" Jewish home. Each of these members of our congregation have found something at TKE that they can connect with and for that we are so
happy and blessed.

Remember - keep it real!

Rabbi Boxt

Friday, September 28, 2012

It's Summertime...Do you know where your kids are?

I hope you are saying to yourself - summertime?  Umm...the High Holy Days just ended.  Well, it's true.  Yes, it is September 28.  However, it is time to begin thinking about the plans for your children.  It is NEVER too early!

***Disclaimer - I attended URJ Camp Coleman as a kid....and worked there for 5 years.  However, I have also worked at 6 other camps.***

So, now that the disclaimer is out of the way, here is the truth:  We have a problem (not just in the Jewish community).  Our kids are being "forced" to attend religious school...they are going through the motions with B'nai Mitzvah preparation.  Once they finish, they may or may not come back for confirmation.  And, if they do, once they get to the "freedom" of college, we lose them (sometimes completely).

Now - I will admit that I am not speaking for every single Jewish child out there.  We do see many success stories of kids that have continued their Jewish education beyond college and have become very active members of their Jewish communities.  Ok, are you ready for the secret?

Here it is - JEWISH CAMPING! Now, as I wrote in my disclaimer, I am a graduate of URJ camping.  I attended and worked at URJ Camp Coleman.  I worked for 2 summers at Goldman Union Camp Institute in Zionsville, Indiana (another URJ camp).  I have lots and lots of friends that have attended all of the other URJ camps.

I have also worked for JCC Camp Barney Medintz, Camp Judaea, High Meadows Day Camp, JCC Capital Camps, and JCC Camp Livingston.  Having worked in a variety of Jewish camps from the JCC camps to the URJ camps, I can tell you that Jewish camping is completely invaluable.  There is not anything in this world that has greater value for Jewish children.  Now, my children will attend URJ Camp Coleman - that is where I grew up - but if you do not or not able to send your kids to Camp Coleman, fine, send them to a different Jewish summer camp.  If you are unsure which camp to send your children to, contact me...I would be happy to discuss with you the questions you should be asking and the variety of programs that are out there.

There is not one single reason that should keep your kids from going to camp.  My parents were in the bottom rungs of lower middle class.  Yet, my brother, sister and I all attended Camp Coleman.  And, Jewish camping has had an indelible effect on all of our lives.  There are many programs out there that can help with all kinds of challenges you might have, including financial worries/concerns.  Please, take this blog seriously!  Jewish camping is so, so, so valuable for our children!

Be in touch...

Rabbi Boxt

Tuesday, September 11, 2012

September 11, 11 years later...

Shalom friends and family,

11 years ago today, I was woken up very early in the morning by Batya.  "Get up, Erin, you need to see this..."  What I was about to spend the next 5 hours watching (really glued to the TV) was something that seriously affected my life then and continues to affect my life every day.  You see, I had a sister who was supposed to be campaigning about a block or so away from the Twin Towers.  And my brother?  He was supposed to be in NY (with my sister) for a meeting and some campaigning.  "Oh my God," I thought.  "What about Bekki and Jason?"

Clearly, every single person in the United States (and outside as well) who knew someone in the NY area was trying to call or make contact with someone/anyone to check and make sure they were ok.  Well, this assured that no one would get through.  Telephone lines were jammed for hours, days, or what seemed like forever.  Fortunately, I was able to get through to my Mom in Columbia, SC.  She told me she had spoken to Bekki and Jason.  She described for me in great detail the story Bekki had told her of running as fast as she could away from the Twin Towers.  She relayed a story of New Yorkers uniting and walking together for miles and miles to get to their homes or away from the destruction.  What about Jason?  For some reason, Jason never made it on the train to NY - so he missed being in harm's way.

For Americans, this was the first time or first realization that no one was completely safe from the effects of terrorism.  11 years later, we have increased our security - anywhere and everywhere.  And, while we certainly live in a "safer" world...it is truly not possible for us to know if we really are safe.  We hear and read of stories every week of new acts of terrorism or destruction on our soil and around the world.  One major effect of the September 11 attacks was that Americans finally were able to know what it felt like to be in a state of desperation.  Americans united together eventually...but many of us felt helpless, maybe even hopeless.  Truth is - we did unite together.  We did come together as a community and we did support each other.  I thank God every day that I live in a country that was able to respond the way we did...we had the resources.  We had the community to do so...we had the infrastructure...

As we remember those that perished in these attacks...as we continue to support those families who still feel the effects today, let us also continue to work toward a world in which every one of us can be an equal partner in this world wide community.  A prayer for the 11th Anniversary of those terrible attacks:

Eloheinu v'lohei Avoteinu v'Imoteinu,
God of mothers and fathers,
Help us in our attempts at understanding,
Help us in our coming together as one community of brothers and sisters.

Beloved God, 
God of our brothers and sisters,
Help us in our support of each other,
Help us in our working toward a better world.

Our Father,
God of our friends and acquaintances,
Teach us what we need to know,
Teach us how to accomplish Your will on Earth.

Baruch Atah Adonai,
Blessed are You God,
Blessed are the people on this Earth,
and Blessed are those that have come before us.

May each of us be blessed in our comings and our goings.

Rabbi Erin Boxt

 

Monday, September 3, 2012

Another Victory for Progressive Judaism!

Shalom Y'all!

I have been trying to figure out a way to advertise an amazing an important event which will occur at The Temple in Atlanta on Tuesday, October 16.  Rabbi Miri Gold, the first non-Orthodox rabbi to receive a salary and recognition from the Israeli government, will be speaking about her experiences.  This is such an amazing event for our community as we will get to hear first hand of the strides and successes of the Israel Religious Action Center (www.irac.org) and of Progressive Judaism in Israel.

Well, this morning, I received an email from the IRAC which contained a letter written about a brave 15 year old girl in Beit Shemesh who fought for her rights and won!

Please read the article and then support the IRAC and Progressive Judaism in Israel:

http://salsa3.salsalabs.com/o/50494/t/0/blastContent.jsp?email_blast_KEY=1225374

To sign up to receive emails from IRAC and/or to check out what they do:

http://irac.org/

Rabbi Boxt

Tuesday, August 28, 2012

Camp Coleman Meditation

The following meditation was written by Rabbi Gayle Pomerantz.  If you love Camp Coleman or any other camp for that matter, you will certainly appreciate her words!!!


THROUGHOUT MY LIFE, WHENEVER I’VE BEEN ASKED
TO RETREAT IN MY MIND TO A PLACE OF SAFETY,
COMFORT AND BEAUTY,
THE PLACE I HAVE GONE IS CAMP COLEMAN,
IT’S ACTUALLY THE HILLMAN CHAPEL.

THIS IS TRULY A SACRED PLACE FOR ME,
AS I KNOW IT IS FOR SO MANY OF YOU.

SO THIS MORNING, AS WE ENTER A QUIET MOMENT IN OUR SERVICE,
I WANT TO TAKE YOU TO A PLACE WITH MY WORDS AND YOUR MIND.

I INVITE YOU TO SIT COMFORTABLY,
CLOSE YOUR EYES IF YOU’RE COMFORTABLE WITH THAT,
TAKE A DEEP BREATH IN AND DEEP BREATH OUT,
BREATHE IN, BREATHE OUT,
PAYING ATTENTION TO THE RHYTHM OF YOUR BREATH. 

SEE IF YOU CAN BRING INTO YOUR MIND’S EYE SHABBAT AT CAMP COLEMAN WHEN YOU FIRST CAME ALL THOSE YEARS AGO.

YOU SEE WHITE ALL AROUND YOU AS YOU WALK OUT OF THE DINING HALL FOR SHABBAT TEFILA.

YOU FEEL FULL AND HAPPY AS YOU MAKE YOUR WAY TO THE HILLMAN CHAPEL, SURROUNDED BY FRIENDS.

YOU WALK UP THE SLIGHT HILL, LEADING TO THE CHAPEL
AND SIT DOWN ON THE HARD, COOL BENCH.

YOU ARE IMMEDIATELY DRAWN IN BY THE VOICES ALL AROUND YOU,
SINGING IN SHABBAT.

YOU LOOK AROUND YOU AND SEE THE SUNSET REFLECTING OFF THE LAKE, THE SMILES OF YOUR FRIENDS’ FACES
THE BEAUTY OF THE MOUNTAINS AND HILLS
THE RED CLAY ON YOUR SHOES, WHICH WILL NEVER BE WHITE AGAIN.

YOU HEAR THE CRUNCH OF GRAVEL UNDER FEET,
THE TINKLING OF LAUGHTER,
THE HUSH OF WHISPERS,
AND THE BUZZING OF BEES.

YOU FEEL THE HARDNESS OF THE BENCH UNDER YOU,
THE BREEZE ON YOUR SKIN,
THE TOUCH OF THE BODY NEXT TO YOU AS YOU SWAY TO THE MUSIC,
AND THE FEELING OF FREEDOM AND RELEASE.

YOU SMELL THE TREES, DIRT AND CLAY,
THE FRESHNESS OF EVERYONE AROUND YOU WHO HAS CLEANED UP
FOR THIS SACRED DAY,
AND THE FAINT SWEETNESS OF APPLE BROWN BETTY
STILL LINGERING IN THE AIR.

YOU TASTE THE TASTE OF CHILDHOOD,
OF LOVE, OF SHALOM – WHOLENESS AND PEACE.

OPEN TO THE WONDER OF THIS MOMENT!
REMEMBER THAT CHILD,
THAT PURE SOUL,
REMEMBER YOUR CARES, YOUR WORRIES, YOUR HOPES AND YOUR DREAMS. 

REMEMBER HOW THIS PLACE MADE YOU COME ALIVE
IN WAYS THAT WERE BRAND NEW –
-         THAT MADE YOU SPARKLE,
-         THAT HELPED TO CENTER AND GUIDE YOU.

NOW OPEN YOUR EYES AND LOOK ALL AROUND YOU.
SEE THE TREEES,
SMELL THE AIR,
FEEL SURROUNDED BY FRIENDS AND LOVE
AND KNOW THAT A PART OF YOU HAS NEVER LEFT.

IT HAS BEEN HERE ALL ALONG,
INSIDE OF YOU,
THAT PLACE OF SAFETY, LOVE, FULLNESS AND JOY.
THAT PLACE WE CALL CAMP COLEMAN.

Monday, August 27, 2012

Drum roll please....Miss Emily Celebrates ROCKS!

Shalom Y'all!

I have been kevelling to anyone and everyone that will listen about the amazing and wonderful congregants of TKE.  But, it is so much more than that.  We have the best volunteer staff, the most amazing Board, incredible teachers and educators, talent, talent, talent!  And, our family is devoted to our success, devoted to each other.  If the old adage "a chain is only as strong as it's weakest link" is true, than Temple Kol Emeth in Marietta, Georgia is a pretty strong chain!

I must share with you a very personal experience from the Camp Coleman 50th Anniversary/Reunion.  It is no secret that one of the reasons Batya and I are delighted to be back in Atlanta is that we will be able to send Carlie to Camp Coleman.  Camp Coleman has been a part of my family since 1985 - 27 years!  It was so amazing spending time and celebrating with so many more amazing people.  There are, however, two very special people I want to send a very special shout out to: Malka Altman (the Mom of Camp Coleman) and Emily Aronoff Teck (my daughter's new favorite person!).

Malka Altman has been and continues to be a very special and important person in my life.  Seeing her and spending time with her this past weekend just reconfirmed what I have always known: I love Malka Altman...and I am so delighted that Carlie was able to meet her (and hopefully spend more time with her in the future).  L'dor V'dor as we say - from generation to generation.  As Malka was Mom, friend, supporter, etc. to me for the last 27 years, I look forward to Carlie being able to say the same thing.  Passing Camp Coleman on to Carlie is so special and when I think about the memories she will make, I am just thrilled.

Emily Aronoff Teck - I remember her from when she was a 10 year old little girl running around Camp Coleman.  Now, not only am I so blessed to be the rabbi at her home congregation, I get to spend time with her watching her do what she does best - make kids smile, sing, and just have fun.  If you haven't seen the production and performance of the song she helped our kids write this past weekend at Camp Coleman, please click on this link: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=VPvScAkkMRA.  Let me tell you - Emily is amazing.  To see my daughter smile and tell me that she loves Miss Emily...tears came to my eyes.  With so many wonderful Jewish song leaders out there, it may be hard sometimes to decide which one to bring to your community.  I have worked with and sang with many, many of the Jewish rockers out there.  Miss Emily is new, exciting and just a fantastic influence on our kids.

Check out her website: www.missemilycelebrates.com.  You will not regret it - and I promise you that you will have fun!

As we continue this time of reflection in the month of Elul, as we approach the High Holy Days, let us express our appreciation and gratitude to all of those in our lives that have had special significance.  Today, I am thankful for: Malka Altman, all of the many wonderful rabbis that have helped make Camp Coleman a spiritual and religious place for myself and thousands upon thousands of Jewish kids (and adults), Miss Emily, Allan Solomon, David Israel, Andy Hodes, Adam Tabachnikoff, Susan Linder, Sandy Sherman, Grace Sherman, Fred and Mara Menachem, Theron Thomas, Bobby Harris, Momma and Poppa Dref, Joui Hessel, Bruce Silverman, Ari and Susan Halpern, Sunny Goldin Freeman, Jo Ellen Unger, Steve Zielonka, Mike Russo, Mark and Saul Kaiserman, Susie Silverman Fages, Jason Boxt, and so many, many others!

Rabbi Boxt

Friday, August 17, 2012

Stop posting on FB already!

Shalom friends!

I love checking out the news from a variety of sources.  One of my favorites (CNN.com) often has some pretty interesting news items.  Of course, as with any other news source, I often find myself wondering, "Did they really print that?"  This afternoon, as I was looking around for interesting and unusual stories, I came across the following headline: "Restaurant offers a 5% discount to eat without your phone."  The first thought that came to mind was a conversation that I have often found myself having with my wife when we are out.  Do we leave our phone in the car?  Or, do we spend the entire evening checking scores, looking at our friends' posts on Facebook, or reading through our email?

I was sure that we were not the only ones who had this conversation (sometimes even a heated discussion!). I look around in stores, restaurants, and even in movie theaters and see people texting away or playing on Facebook.  I have a very hard time using my phone for Facebook because I get easily annoyed at the speed (I know, at least I am able to connect, right?) or the fact that my eyes don't see as well as they used to.  I prefer to use my IPAD or computer for Facebook.  It is much easier to see and "play" on.  But, really, who has time to play?

So, I decided to read this article...and I highly recommend it: http://money.cnn.com/2012/08/16/technology/restaurant-cell-phone-discount/index.html.  The articles reports of a restaurant in California that actually gives customers a 5% discount on their bill if they check their cellphones at the door.  Really?  Have we gotten to that point?  Do we need to be bribed to put our phones down and actually have a conversation with the people we are dining with?  What about conversation that has become so mundane that we must always be on our phones?  As the father of a 6 year old who seems to always have to be playing with or working on some sort of technology, I ask the question - Do you remember the days before computers, IPODs, Androids, IPADs, DSIs, etc?  I do...and I wonder how we made it this far?

The truth is that technology has opened up many, many doors for us in the world.  We are able to really connect on a global level in so many ways.  No longer must we wait weeks for communication from our loved ones who have moved away.  With a click, we are connected.  You know what?  Technology has also opened our eyes to the many, many, many challenges present in our world.  We can see first hand now the problems that exist not only in our neighborhoods, but also in neighboring states, countries...and even countries that are thousands of miles away.  When I traveled with the American Jewish World Service to Senegal in the summer of 2011, I remember being asked to turn off my cell phone.  My first thought scared me - how will I be able to communicate with my family?

As a world, we survived for a long time without technology.  Now that technology is advancing at a rapid, rapid rate, we find ourselves wondering how we could continue without it?  I would challenge people to try it.  Turn off your phone, power down your other gadgets and spend some time with the ones you love - without technology.  You know what?  Shabbat begins in a few hours...why not try now?  This is not an exercise in "how we observe Shabbat."  Rather, it is an exercise in "how we can survive without gadgets."  Maybe we can use this gadget-free time to think about how we can become a global society that takes care of each other.  Maybe we can use this time to learn, discuss and get to know each other on a higher level.  Who knows - maybe we will realize we simply cannot survive without our technology.

Since we are not able to just jump into a time machine and go back to the "pre-technology" good ole days...we will not know until we try it.  Go ahead...turn it off....

Shabbat Shalom,
Rabbi Erin Boxt

Monday, August 6, 2012

Searching for God in the darkest places...

Shalom y'all, Attending funerals is not something anyone really enjoys. This is certainly true for me as well. However, an unfortunate truth to being clergy is that I will attend, officiate and co-officiate at many funerals in my life. I have heard that it never gets easier...certainly not for the families of the deceased, no matter how many of their dear ones they have experienced the loss of. So, where is God during these moments in our lives? In our darkest, most desperate moments, where do we find God? Or, more importantly, are we even interested in seeking God? For many, anger and frustration directed at God seems easiest. After all, God is not able to respond and explain to us the why and why not.

A shooting in Colorado, a shooting in Wisconsin...death in Bulgaria, Africa and in so many more places. Where is God? What is going on? Haven't we learned anything from our history? Are we doomed to constantly repeat history, especially our mistakes? When will we learn? These are all very appropriate questions to ask. After all, how do we learn if we do not ask the hard questions? Truth....we need to do MORE than ask questions.

We need to teach love, not hatred. We need to teach understanding and compassion instead of the opposite. What I find interesting is that with all of the anger, hatred and bloodshed present in the world, there are also MANY people who preach understanding and love. Facebook, Twitter, you name it..it is all out there. Organizations exist that have as their number one goal to help those who are in need worldwide. How many of us look outside of our local communities to see those around us who are in need? It is ok to be nervous and afraid. Heck, if it was easy we would all do it, right? Truth...the more difficult it is to get out there and speak to those who are different for us, the more rewarding it will be once we make those connections. Really, it is true....I promise.

Let us stop trying to outdo each other. Let us spend more time focusing on how we are alike and seek to spread understanding of our differences. Friends, it is our responsibility to ensure we teach,
understand, love and accept. After all, the other option will certainly lead us to the darkest hour for
our world...and then who will be left to search for God?

Let me end with a prayer:

Each of us possesses the power to do good. 
Each of us possesses the power to do evil. 
May God give us patience and the ability to choose good. 
May each of us take what God has given us and do good. 

Heavenly Father, show us the wisdom and guidance,
Return to us and help us return to you. 
May we live in a time of peace and prosperity. 
May EVERY nation seek to learn and to teach: 
Peace, Love, Understanding... 

Rabbi Boxt

Tuesday, July 31, 2012

Parashat Va-et'chanan, Deuteronomy 3:23-7:11

"From there you will seek Adonai, your God, and you will find Him, if you search for Him with all your heart and all your soul.  When you are in distress and all these things have befallen you, at the end of your days, you will return to Adonai, your God and listen to His voice." [Deuteronomy 4:29-30]

My dear friends, we often find ourselves asking: Why?  Why do bad things happen to good people?  Why is there so much hatred and animosity in the world?  Why does God allow these things to happen?

While I certainly understand the significance and the reasons why we ask these questions, I think it is better (at least at times) to ask different questions: What have I done to prevent darkness in the world?  How can I improve and make our world a better place to live?  Why am I not doing more?

In Parashat Va-et'chanan, we find the Shema, the "calling card" of the Jewish people.  It is our declaration that Adonai, our God, is one.  When Moses is standing on the top of the mountain and giving his last declarations to the Israelites, he tells them they will sin.  "When you beget children and grandchildren and you will have been long in the land, you will grow corrupt and make a carved image of the likeness of any thing, and you will do evil in the eyes of Adonai, your God, to anger him." [Deuteronomy 4:25]  Moses expects, Moses knows that the Israelites will not be able to fulfill all of the Laws and Statutes.  And the result: the Israelites will eventually seek God, find God and listen to God's voice.

When bad things happen in our world, we look for blame.  We want to know the how and why.  We seek answers.  Sometimes, the answers we find are too difficult to deal with or understand.  So, we turn our gaze upwards and ask God.  Some will try to explain that it is our negligence with regards to the Law that has ultimately led to our problems and challenges in life.  That just does not sit well with me.  I cannot believe that God is up there punishing us and watching us suffer.  Rather, I tend to find God in the response and the aftermath.  To quote Harold Kushner:

I don't believe that an earthquake that kills thousands of innocent
victims without reason is an act of God.  It is an act of nature.  Nature
is morally blind, without values.  It churns along, following its own laws,
not caring who or what gets in the way.  But God is not morally blind.
I could not worship Him if I thought He was.  God stands for justice, for fairness
for compassion.  For me, the earthquake is not an "act of God."  The act of God
is the courage of people to rebuild their lives after the earthquake,
and the ruse of others to help them in whatever way they can. 
[When Bad Things Happen to Good People, 59-60

I believe the message in Parashat Va-et'chanan is that we will act badly.  We will sin; we will commit errors against ourselves and others.  We must not blame God.  We must find a way to allow God to show us how and what we can do to make ourselves better, to make our lives better.  Recently, a friend of mine told the following story:

He was in conversation with another friend of his.  The other friend answered a question
with what turned out to be a "lie."  The other friend felt so badly for lying, he actually
expressed guilt and frustration with himself to my friend the next day.

God did not cause my friend's friend to lie.  However, his relationship with his friend and with himself was so important, that he needed to tell the truth and apologize for the "lie."  I believe God was there...in his need to tell the truth and "fix" what he believed to be broken in his friendship.

As we open up our eyes and look all around us, let us focus on finding God in the moments of splendor and less in our moments of frailty.  Of course, God is always there...but the God I choose to have faith in feels pain when I feel pain and seeks to help me find answers when I am in need.  May we all live in a world in which we seek and find answers, rather than look to find blame.

Rabbi Erin Boxt


Friday, July 27, 2012

40th Anniversary of the Munich Massacre

Shalom Ya'll!

This Shabbat, Shabbat Devarim, rolls right into Tisha B'Av, the 9th of Av, a day in which we mourn over the destruction of the Temple (both times occurring on the same Hebrew date) as well as other Jewish tragedies that have occurred.  It is a sad day in which Jews from all over the world mark this day and remember.

This Tisha B'Av has even more meaning for us today.  With the 2012 Olympics beginning in England, we must also remember the Munich Massacre in which 11 Israeli Olympians and coaches were tortured and killed 40 years ago.  At Temple Kol Emeth, we will observe a minute of silence prior to our welcoming Shabbat.  We will take a minute to remember those 11 Israelis and all of those who have died because of senseless violence throughout the world.  As we get ourselves ready for Shabbat and we think of those in our lives and in our communities that may have been forgotten, let us also remember the fallen 11:

Dear God, how could we forget?
So many times in our history, we have moments we must remember.
As we are moving on in our lives from one tragedy, we witness another.
How shall we prepare our children for their future?  How can we know?


Dear God, shall we try to forget?
So many lives lost, so many souls that yearn for their lost loved one.
As we open our eyes to the possibilities of tomorrow, we still dwell on yesterday.
How will our children respond to future tragedies?  How will they know?


Dear God, will they forget?
So many moments to ponder, so many broken dreams and ideas.
As we take one step, one day at a time, we look to a future of peace.
How will we know how to live without war?  What shall we learn from peace?


Dear God, We will NEVER forget....
All of the death, all of the anger, all of the frustration.
All of the life, all of the happiness, all of the wonderment.
All of it is a part of our lives and we will strive to live our lives as best as we can.


Dear God, Do not forget us and we will not forget you.  We shall remember the brit.
We shall remember the covenant.  We shall reach out our hands and embrace each
other in love, in peace and in solidarity.


--- Rabbi Boxt

Tuesday, July 24, 2012

My Commitment to TKE and TKE's Commitment to the Community

Shalom friends!

If you have attended a Friday evening service at TKE this summer, you have no doubt heard me speak about some of the challenges of being a new rabbi.  These challenges are not really that challenging.  Let me explain - when you love the life you live and the work you do, challenges are just a part of the "learning curve."  New rabbis find themselves in new situations all of the time...and while we do our best to "do everything right," sometimes it is genuinely hard to decipher if we are doing the "right thing."  Thank God I have a great support group here - Rabbi Steven Lebow, Sherri Parman, Denise Jacobs, Evy Eckber, Jane Aronoff, and of course my first line of support - Batya!  Of course, there are many others that have stepped up to make me feel welcome and help guide me through this new adventure.

One of the areas I find most challenging as a new rabbi is: Deciding what to write, blog, or "Facebook" about.  There are so many current events and so many "controversial" things going on.  Now, I know there are certain areas I do not venture into: Politics being the biggest one.  However, one of the greatest challenges (as well as a blessing) is the adventure of getting to know as many of my TKE congregants as quickly as possible.  I want to learn about who they are and what makes them tick.  I am interested in learning what is important to my congregants and engaging them where they are.  Truth be told, I do not really expect to get a lot of "work" done at Yogli Mogli on Mondays...I just hope to meet congregants and get to know them.  After a while, once I have had the opportunity to listen and observe, I will be able to know what subjects/topics interest my congregation...and which topics they are most challenged by.

Anyone who knows me knows that human rights and social justice are of utmost importance to me.  You can see that in my blog, on my Facebook page, in the bumper stickers on my car, etc.  However, what is most important to me is just not as important as what is most important to those I serve and who are in my community.  So, let this be a request: find me, engage with me, teach me, allow me to get to know you.  I am VERY interested in who you are and what makes you excited, scared, angry, etc.  Let us learn together about each other...and then go from there!

As I was having lunch with Sherri Parman, the President of TKE today, we were discussing all of the wonderful and amazing programs our congregation and congregants are involved with.  Do not just go to our website for the heck of it.  Go to www.kolemeth.net and learn about these programs.  Play around, explore and get to know us.  Here are just a few examples of the amazing work the  members of TKE are involved in:

1) Outreach to Interfaith & Jews by Choice: We have an amazing atmosphere here in which everyone is welcome.  Just speak to any of our "newer" members about why they chose to join our community.

2) Habitat for Humanity: We are involved with an interfaith network that builds homes for those who are in need.  It is an amazing opportunity to take care of those in need in OUR community.

3) We are an LGBTQI inclusive community: Everyone is welcome, period!

4) MUST Ministries: Our congregants are very active with this organization, making food during the summer for those kids who depend on school lunch programs during the school year, and many other projects.

5) EVERY B'nai Mitzvah student develops their own Mitzvah project in which they find a way to give back to their community.

6) TKE participates in an Ecumenical service every year with our local churches, synagogues and mosques.

There are so many more.  Really, the members of TKE lead by example.  Their mission of giving back to the community can be seen in their programs, their welcoming atmosphere and most importantly in their desire to share, share, share.

Kol HaKavod!  And, Baruch HaShem that I have been blessed to be a part of this community!

Rabbi Boxt

Wednesday, July 18, 2012

System Overload: Too much blood, too much pain...



A little while ago, while I was sitting at my desk listening to U2 on my Pandora station, I decided to open up my web browser to CNN. The first two stories, the first two headlines really got to me: A drought is hitting 39 more US counties and the deadly bus blast in Bulgaria, killing at least 6 Israelis and wounding many, many more. Have we not had enough? As a loyal American Jew who feels a very strong Zionist connection, I am overwhelmed, shocked and saddened. When will we learn? Problems exist all over the world...and will we ever find peace? Many people question God during times like this. They want to blame someone or something and it may seem easy to blame God. But, you know what? Guess where the problem lies...look in the mirror. Every one of us is responsible for what goes on in our world - the good AND the bad. How many have to die for us to learn? How many people have to die of starvation?

I have been accused of "proselytizing" AJWS and the One Campaign. Of course, those who have said this were "joking" with me. Yes, I do support AJWS and the One Campaign, in many ways. Here's a truth though - we have people starving in our own country, in our own backyards. To quote the article on CNN.com:
"The USDA has designated 39 additional counties in eight states as primary natural disaster areas due to damage and losses caused by drought and excessive heat, CNN's Brianna Keilar reports.

During the 2012 crop year, the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) has designated 1,297 counties across 29 states as disaster areas, making all qualified farm operators in the areas eligible for low-interest emergency loans."

This is being called the worst drought in 50 years and one that will affect all of us. The problems that we see all over the world are now hitting us and we find those who are starving on our own soil. But, you know what, this drought is not the first...and there are millions of Americans who die every year from starvation. So, this drought is just another reminder. It is time for all of us to put our hands out there (not money, but action) and get to work. We can "fix" the problem...we just need to do it.

As I finished one thought about the drought and starvation problems we face, I read the article about the bus explosion in Bulgaria. I read about the anger, the threats from one side to another, the blame being placed upon Iran and Israel's promise to "...respond with force to Iranian terror." As a strong supporter of Israel and Jews all over the world, I certainly understand the anger and frustration Prime Minister Netanyahu is displaying.

Right now, with the anger and frustrations at a possible all time high, on the 18th anniversary of the awful attack on an Argentinian Jewish community in Buenos Aires, I find the best way to respond is to follow the lead of the Great Conservative Rabbi: Menachem Creditor. Therefore, I offer a prayer in response to the events of today, to the great moments of tension, terror and misery.

A Prayer for All of those in Pain Today
Almighty God, we come to you, eyes full of tears, hands raised in the air.
What must we do? Will we recover? Will the anger ever end?

Almighty God, we pray to you, hearts full of fear and angst, our eyes closed.
Where oh where shall we go?  What shall we do next?  Will we ever learn?

Almighty God, we cry out to you, some pulling at our hair, not knowing what will happen next.
Please God, help us.  Please God, show us the way.  Please God, send us healing.

Almighty God, our mouths go silent as we turn inward to our innermost thoughts.
We meditate on the good in the world.  We focus on the children.  We focus on their smiles.

Almighty God, we bow our heads in reverence, get down on our knees and bring our hands together.
We return to a prostrated position, begging for your mercy and seeking your guidance.

Almighty God, we realize we have much to do, much to do to bring about Heaven on Earth.
Right now, we need  your help.  We are overloaded with emotion.  We fight because we do not know...

Almighty God, Almighty God, Elohim, Jesus, Allah, Brahma, Ek Onkar, Abaluyia...
You take on so many forms.  However, we pray together, we pray for the same reasons.

Almighty God, look to us, help us and guide us in your ways.

Wednesday, July 11, 2012

The Circle of Life

Greetings friends and family,

In just under a month as the rabbi of Temple Kol Emeth in Marietta, Georgia, I have been reminded of several very important aspects of life: the fragility of life, the energy of the youth, and the challenges and desperation that exists when a person in your life is ill (or even if you are ill yourself).  This morning, I officiated my first funeral for a Temple Kol Emeth family.  While I tried my very best to be a comfort and support for the family, I certainly felt the emotion present from the initial meeting with the family all the way to the funeral this morning.  When a person dies, we often say Baruch Dayan Ha-Emet, "Blessed be the Judge of Truth."  While we understand that every person sins and has imperfections, we focus on the works and accomplishments of the deceased, praying that God will grant the deceased everlasting life in the presence of God.

Several of the family members approached me after the service and complimented me on a "job well done."  While I usually do not take compliments very well - I believe the things I do are just as important for me to do as they are to those I help - I realized that for these family members, I might have made this very difficult time just a bit easier with the words I used or the emotion that was present in my actions and words.  I must say that I was extremely nervous, so I was cautious to come with a service printed out, to prevent me from forgetting my place or taking away from the importance and significance of this ceremony for the family.  As we left the cemetery, and I was washing my hands with the ritual water present, I felt that the tension of the moment was somewhat eased.  I certainly do not mean to imply that it was easier for anyone present...but there is something to be said about the "finalization" of the funeral.  The last action of the family is to use a shovel to place earth on the casket which has been lowered into the ground.  Although it is one of the hardest actions for a human being to do - to place earth on their beloved deceased - there is a sense of finality that can be comforting.

This afternoon, I will be visiting our Temple Kol Emeth kids at URJ Camp Coleman.  I have a lot to think about as I drive the 70 miles to Cleveland, Georgia.  Having just officiated at a funeral, I am now going to be talking with, playing with and hanging out with a group of our kids.  It will be a VERY different experience, and yet it will be just as important and significant.  When we think of the "circle of life," we think of Birth - Childhood - Young Adulthood - Adulthood - Senior Adulthood - Death.  It is a sequence that we are all too familiar with.  As we grow up from childhood into adulthood, we often say "from strength to greater strength, " chazak, chazak v'nitchazek when we reach certain key moments: Bar/Bat Mitzvah, Sweet 16, High School graduation, College graduation, Marriage, birth of first child, etc.  However, when a person dies, this is also a key moment (not only in his/her life, but also in the lives of those that knew him/her).

When we send our kids off to summer camp, we expect for them to learn, grow and mature in many ways.  It is not too often that death enters into the equation of our camp experiences - although, sometimes it does.  At camp, we expect our children to have fun, meet new friends, learn about Judaism, and find themselves in a safe Jewish environment.  Having never officiated a funeral and then immediately gone to camp, I recognize that I need to be able to push aside my feelings of sadness in order to fully experience camp through the eyes of our youth.  I know this will be hard, but it is vital in order for our kids to stay focused on accomplishing all they choose and want to accomplish while at camp.

This day has been a bit of a reversal for me - going from death (a funeral) to birth (perhaps the first camp experience for some of our kids).  It is an opportunity for me to go from sadness and mourning to gladness and joy.  As a rabbi, I know that I will find myself in these kinds of reversals of life many, many times as I grow in my career.  However, for now, I can go home, hug my wife and recognize that I have 70 miles to "clear my head" and remember that Camp Coleman was/is (for me at least) a home away from home, a place I often went to when I was overwhelmed with life and unable or unwilling to see what was coming next.

Chazak, Chazak, V'nitchazek!


Rabbi Erin Boxt

Tuesday, July 3, 2012

Freedom for All?

Greetings friends,

Tomorrow, July 4, is one of the most recognized and celebrated holidays in the United States.  If you drive down any street in the US, you can find rows and rows of American Flags flying proudly.  Drivers honk their horns to show their appreciation, and organizations such as the Atlanta Braves go out of their way to make sure to show their gratitude to the soldiers who are fighting for our freedom.  We also make sure to remember those who died defending this same freedom.  Yes, I am red-blooded American, and I will celebrate our independence tomorrow as I do every day of my life.  In many communities, the firework celebrations actually began several days ago (if not before then!).

However, as Batya and I were watching "Drop Dead Diva" on Sunday evening, I was reminded of a very important challenge and problem the world faces...and we certainly face it here in the US as well.  When I speak of human rights to various groups, there is always someone who says we have a responsibility to take care of our own problems here on American soil before we worry about international concerns.  Ok, so, here is an issue that faces us today: Human trafficking.  Yes, human slavery - not just outside of the US.  Although we fought a war that eventually led to the abolishing of slavery here in the US, we still are challenged by this same problem today.

Here is a quote that I found on the US Department of Homeland Security (http://www.ice.gov/human-trafficking/):

"Human trafficking is one of the most heinous crimes that ICE investigates. In its worst manifestation, human trafficking is akin to modern-day slavery. Victims pay to be illegally transported into the United States only to find themselves in the thrall of traffickers. They are forced into prostitution, involuntary labor and other forms of servitude to repay debts – often entry in the United States. In certain cases, the victims are mere children. They find themselves surrounded by an unfamiliar culture and language without identification documents, fearing for their lives and the lives of their families."

----- ICE - US Immigration and Customs Enforcement


Yes, it is a problem we face today.  And, in order for us to be able to fight against this awful human rights violation, we must first learn about it.  We MUST learn the signs and be able to contact law enforcement.

Again, from the US Department of Homeland Security:

"ICE relies on tips from the public to dismantle these organizations. I encourage you to keep your eyes and ears open to suspicious activity. Trafficking victims are often hidden in plain sight, voiceless and scared. If you notice suspicious activity in your community, call ICE’s Tip Line at 1-866-DHS-2-ICE or report tips online: http://www.ice.gov/exec/forms/hsi-tips/tips.asp."

On the ICE website, you can find very important information, including: human trafficking indicators, human trafficking investigation reports, and more.  If you are not sure, contact ICE or another law enforcement agency in your community.

The Torah teaches us, Ve'ahavtah Lereiacha Kamocha, "Love your neighbor as yourself."  While we celebrate our freedom tomorrow and every day, let us not forget about those in the world (and in our own communities) who still suffer from slavery, human smuggling, forced prostitution, and so many other violations of basic human rights.  May each of us enjoy our time with our families tomorrow - never losing sight of the importance of recognizing life's challenges and working to make the world a better place for everyone!

B'Shalom,
Rabbi Erin Boxt