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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