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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

Sunday, July 1, 2012

Amazing Volunteers

Morning Y'all!

Congregations throughout the world advertise their shuls as welcoming, inviting and open to anyone and everyone.  Clearly, this is one of the most challenging aspects of any synagogue community, regardless of size.  All of us work very hard to make sure that our communities thrive and grow - and welcoming/inviting new members is a great task that every one of us, Jewish professionals and lay leaders, must, MUST focus on.

Temple Kol Emeth in Marietta, Georgia - my new home - has been very successful over the years with this.  The clergy and lay leaders has always kept in mind the words from our Torah - "for you were strangers in the land of Egypt."  Decisions made have focused on this idea of welcoming the stranger.  As I have told several prospective new members, TKE does not know any strangers...everyone is welcome!

There is, however, one group of people in our shul that often gets overlooked.  And, I am sure that TKE is not the only congregation in which this happens.  Our volunteers - those that work in our office, our board, etc. - are an essential part of our success.  They work extra hard to ensure that visitors to our shul understand our ideals and are always welcomed.  Without their hard work and dedication, I am sure that TKE would not be as strong and vibrant as it is today.

Next time you visit TKE, whether it is the 1,000 time or the 2nd time, please make sure to greet and thank all of our volunteers - not just the ones that wear name tags.  After all, these wonderful people are the face of our congregation, and I will never be able to thank them enough.  These amazing people are a perfect example of who we are and who we strive to be as a congregation!

Kol Ha Kavod!
Rabbi Boxt