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Friday, December 13, 2013

Biennial Day 1

Shalom y'all!

Here are the names of the sessions I attended today:

1) More than Just Preschool!  An Opportunity to Transform Parents of Young Children into Synagogue Leaders.
- I took some great notes and I am excited to bring them back to TKE.  This was an inspiring and educational session!

2) Thinking Outside the Blocks: Why It's Critical for Your Congregation to Focus Beyond Its Early Childhood Center
- This session was held in an extremely LOUD location.  While it was pretty hard to hear a lot of what was being said...I was able to take down some great notes from the Powerpoint presentation.  Some of the ideas seem pretty basic - but we were given some ways to effectively approach and accomplish these ideas.

I started out the day with breakfast with Rabbi Lebow and followed that with a "quick" walk around the convention center.  This is probably the largest convention center I have ever seen.  Although there are over 5,000 participants here...because the center is so big, you really are not able to tell the size of the congregation unless we are all together.

I did attend a third session in the late afternoon.  This session was with Ruth Messinger, the President of AJWS, Rabbi Elyse Frishman of Barnert Temple in Franklin Lakes, NJ, Rabbi Sydney Mintz of Congregation Emanu-El in San Francisco, Ca, and Rabbi Lisa Edwards of Beth Chayim Chadashim in LA, California.  This session was exploring the Jewish commitment to LGBT rights worldwide.  As you may or may not know, equality is kind of important to me...so, anytime I get to attend a session on this, I am THERE!  It was really great to hear the stories of these four impressive women.  And, to top the experience off, Ruth invited me up to speak about the rabbinical delegation to Washington, DC.

After my sessions, I attended a cocktail hour with Ruth Messinger and other AJWS supporters.  It was great to hear Ruth address our small group.  From there, I went to have a nice dinner with many of our TKE delegation - good food and conversation!

The evening ended with an inspiring address from Rabbi Rick Jacobs - the President of the URJ.  As with every one of his speeches, Rabbi Jacobs gave a clear message, outlining his vision for the URJ in the upcoming years.  I am excited to be a part of this amazing Union!!!

Ok - it has been a long day and I am exhausted.  Time to get some rest to prepare myself for another great day at the URJ Biennial!!!

Shalom,
Rabbi Erin Boxt

Thursday, December 12, 2013

Rabbis at the White House...Biennial Day 1

Shalom from Sunny San Diego!!!

It was certainly a shock when I walked out of the airport last night to temps in the 60's as opposed to the 30's.  Once I checked into the hotel, I laid down for a much needed night of sleep.  After a nice morning breakfast with Rabbi Steven Lebow, I am now able to write some of my reflections from the American Jewish World Service Alumni Institute.  Learning with a group of very committed and engaging rabbis from across the spectrum was enlightening, educational and amazing!

Ever since I became involved with AJWS, I have been in awe at the mission not only of Ruth Messinger, the President of AJWS, but also of my many colleagues and friends I have made along the way who share a common passion - that is equality for all humankind.  In my experiences so far as a rabbinical student and rabbi, I have learned that there are a variety of ways that one can define or discuss the word "equality."  As far as I am concerned, and for the purposes of this blog, I am referring to every human being on Earth having the ability to feed their families, have quality drinking water, and to live a life free from strife and violence.

Jewish tradition and Jewish texts are filled with the idea V'ahavtah L'reiacha Camocha, "Love your neighbor as yourself."  Justice or equality for all is NOT a politically based agenda.  Justice or equality for all is a Jewish value...after all, part of living Or Lagoyim, "a light unto the nations" means exemplifying what it is to treat others with kindness, love and respect.  It is NOT necessary for any of us to agree with every decision one makes.  It IS necessary, however, for each of us to respect the right that others have to make their own decisions that make sense for them in their lives - even if we do not understand.

When my rabbinical delegation traveled to the Eisenhower Executive Office Branch (EEOB) of the White House, we were able to meet with several important members of the White House Staff.  During these lobbying sessions, we were focusing on the support for LGBT rights worldwide as well as fighting against Gender Based Violence worldwide.  These issues ARE important to our government...and I hope my assumption that these are important issues for all Jews is correct.  I am sure no one would support violence against other human beings, even if they do not understand or agree with a person's lifestyle.

What I learned from our trip to the White House was that these issues are important to our government and I stand side by side many colleagues - men and women - who believe it is of utmost importance to bring these issues to our community.  Although we focused on international problems, this is certainly extremely valuable and important for us in our own individual communities here in the States.

AJWS has now embarked on the "We Believe" Campaign.  I encourage every one of us to visit the www.ajws.org website to learn about this new campaign, all of the important pieces and also to support it.  There are a variety of ways to do so...just go to the website and check it out!

****************************
I am sitting now, in a session at the Biennial focused on "How to Make our Preschool Parents Leaders in our Congregations."  I have learned quite a bit so far - some great ideas...and I will bring some of these ideas back to Temple Kol Emeth for sure!!!  I hope to blog later this evening - or maybe even a video blog (a vlog as my good friend Adina M. Konikoff says) tonight!

Rabbi Boxt1.com

Wednesday, November 27, 2013

When will WE learn?

Shalom Y'All!

Just over 50 years ago, Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. stood in front of the Lincoln Memorial in Washington, D.C. and gave one of the most remembered speeches of all time.  In this public address, Dr. King reminded every American of the "momentous decree...a great beacon of light of hope to millions...."  President Abraham Lincoln (just 100 years prior) signed the Emancipation Proclamation.  This was to ensure that millions of slaves would be given their freedom - a GREAT day in American history.  However, the point Dr. King was making was that 100 years after President Lincoln signed his decree, there still existed racism, hatred and segregation.  The point of Dr. King's march on Washington was to renew this hope - to remind Americans of our responsibility to each other - every one of us. 

"In a sense we've come to our nation's capital to cash a check.  When the architects of our Republic wrote the magnificent words of the Constitution and the Declaration of Independence, they were signing a promissory note to which every American was to fall heir."

In this part of his speech - the key word is EVERY.  Every American has the right to freedom, to be able to pursue happiness.  Today, this speech reminds us that although we have made many positive strides, we still have a long way to go to fulfill the promise our nation's founders gave.

Dr. King continues:

"I say to you today, my friends, though, even though we face the difficulties of today and tomorrow, I still have a dream.  It is a dream deeply rooted in the American dream.  I have a dream that one day this nation will rise up, live out the true meaning of its creed: 'We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal.'"

Although Dr. King was speaking to a specific group of people - African Americans - I believe his message is one that crosses many cultural boundaries and lines.  There are many political statements I could make about different "groups" in America.  However, this blog post is not meant to lean one way or another.  The message is to be clear for all of us - we have made many strides...but our country has a long way to go before the creed Dr. King quotes is attained.

Let me make my point in another way:

This week's Parashat HaShavuah - the weekly Torah Portion - is Parashat MiKeitz, from the book of Genesis.  In this week's portion, the Pharaoh has 2 dreams that Joseph interprets to mean there will be 7 years of harvest and 7 years of famine.  The Egyptian people are to collect as much harvest as they are able so that when the 7 years of famine strike, they will have enough food in storage to survive.

I believe this part of the Parasha sends a very similar as Dr. King's speech.  The Egyptian people kept food in storage so that ALL people will be able to be sustained...not just any one particular sect of the people. Dr. King's message is one that speaks to all Americans.  Each and every one of us should be seen and treated as equals - with regards to freedom, democracy, rights, etc.  And, of course, this includes our ability to put food and water on our tables and maintain a healthy life for ourselves and our children.  However - this is NOT the case.

Sometimes, Carlie - my 7 year old - will tell me she is starving.  I always remind her that she is just hungry. I explain to her that she will never know starvation.  I teach her that there are millions upon millions of people in the world that are starving.  And, these people are not just in lands thousands of miles away!  No!  There are many, many, many people in our own communities that are starving.  It is indeed our responsibility as human beings to help.  Each of us has the right to living a dignified life in which we can feed our families without worrying where the next meal will come from.

This brings me to my last point.  I have been a supporter and traveler with the American Jewish World Service (www.ajws.org) for many years now.  I have also been a supporter of the One and Red Campaign (www.one.org).  Through my educational experiences and on the ground experiences with AJWS, I have learned some very staggering numbers.  According to the following website: 
http://worldcentric.org/conscious-living/social-and-economic-injustice

"A minority of the world's population (17%) consume most of the world's resources (80%), leaving almost 5 billion people to live on the remaining 20%. As a result, billions of people are living without the very basic necessities of life - food, water, housing and sanitation."

Something is wrong with this.  This is not the dream I have....the dream I have is simple - All people on Earth will have enough food and water to live normal lives devoid of poverty.  My friends, as a world, we produce more than enough food for everyone...the disparity is in who controls the resources.  A simple example will make my point.  When the earthquake hit Haiti in 2010, there was an outpouring of support from all over the Earth.  What did the United States do first?  Well, officially we sent pounds upon pounds of rice to Haiti so the Haitian population could eat.  At first, we thought this was great.  You know what?  It was NOT a great thing though.  You see, the #1 cash crop of Haitian farmers is rice.  Just when the Haitian farmers were trying to get back on their feet, we (the United States) were sending FREE rice...basically putting the Haitian farmers out of work.

See this site: http://www.nbcnews.com/id/35608836/#.UpYdFtIqhY4

The point is this - it is GREAT to help others.  We should all do more of this.  However, what we need to do first is speak to those we are trying to help.  Find out what they need.  Find out how they can help themselves..."If you give a man a fish, he can eat for a day.  If you teach a man to fish, he can eat for a lifetime."  Let us find ways to educate ourselves and other cultures...we can learn from them just as they can learn from us.  

After all, it took a Hebrew slave to teach the Egyptian Pharaoh how to save his people...maybe we can all learn something from this simple Biblical tale!

Rabbi Boxt

Wednesday, October 30, 2013

What is it about being a parent in 2013?

Have you ever wondered what makes a great parent?  Have you ever wondered if YOU were a great parent?  These are questions that I often think about.  As a rabbi, I spend a lot of time away from my daughter.  I am encouraged and advised by Rabbi Lebow to never take my family for granted.  Even when I explain I do what I do because I want to provide for my family, sometimes I have to remind myself – go home, hug your daughter, be the Aba you want to be.

While meeting with a Bar Mitzvah student today, I began to ponder once again these questions…my commentary on Tim McGraw’s “My Little Girl” will tell my story:

Gotta hold on easy as I let you go
Gonna tell you how much I love you
Though you think you already know
-       Dear Carlie – never forget that I love you more than you will ever be able to understand!

I remember I thought you looked like an angel
Wrapped in pink, so soft and warm
You've had me wrapped around your finger
Since the day you were born
-       Dear Carlie – no matter what you do, my love for you will never decline!

You beautiful baby from the outside in
Chase your dreams but always know the road
That'll lead you home again
Go on, take on this whole world
But to me you know you'll always be, my little girl
-       Dear Carlie – go out there, discover who you are, the skies are the limit.  But, never forget I am here waiting to pick you up should you fall or fail.

When you were in trouble that crooked little smile
Could melt my heart of stone
Now look at you, I've turned around
And you've almost grown
-       Dear Carlie – do not grow up too fast…I want to hold on to that smile, that laugh and that giggle…

Sometimes you're asleep I whisper 'I love you'
In the moonlight at your door
As I walk away, I hear you say
"Daddy, love you more"
-       Dear Carlie – when I come in to your room at night to say “Goodnight, I love you,” I wonder how I am so lucky to have you in my life…I am truly blessed to be YOUR Aba!

You beautiful baby from the outside in
Chase your dreams but always know the road
That'll lead you home again
Go on, take on this whole world
But to me you know you'll always be, my little girl
-       Dear Carlie – go out there, discover who you are, the skies are the limit.  But, never forget I am here waiting to pick you up should you fall or fail.

Someday, some boy will come
And ask me for your hand
But I won't say yes to him unless I know
He's the half that makes you whole
He has a poet's soul, and the heart of a man's man
I know he'll say that he's in love
But between you and me
He won't be good enough
-       Dear Carlie – no one will ever be good enough for you, C.  Do not settle for second best…go out there and find your true love, but know I will always be there to protect you!

You beautiful baby from the outside in
Chase your dreams but always know the road
That'll lead you home again
Go on, take on this whole world
But to me you know you'll always be, my little girl
-       Dear Carlie – go out there, discover who you are, the skies are the limit.  But, never forget I am here waiting to pick you up should you fall or fail.


Remember, take it from Rabbi Boxt: it is not about money, fame or fortune.  It is about being the kind of parent you want your children to be to your grandchildren.  

Wednesday, September 18, 2013

Yom Kippur Day Sermon 2013

Dear God,
I am sure you might be wondering why it has been so long since I wrote last.  Well, to be honest, I have been pretty angry at you. You see, I have been in this position for only a short amount of time and I have seen so many negatives.  Too many people have been punished for things they should not have been punished for.  Good people, really righteous people have left us, Lord.  I have been really confused.  I guess you could say I have lost my belief in You.  After all, why should I believe when my prayers go unanswered?

Just a short time ago, I was visiting with a very sick individual. This very brave man explained that he was ready to die.  He was no longer afraid…he was no longer angry or confused.  He told me it would be ok because his family would no longer suffer.  I felt so small.  After all, I was the one who was supposed to be strong. Instead, I was torn up inside and this brave man was being strong – he was comforting me.  It was supposed to be the other way around.

You see, God, he died…just like so many others.  Why?  That is the question I keep asking.  I live a good life.  I do all the things I am supposed to do.  Truly.  And, yet, my prayers just do not get answered. How do you explain the loss of life of a child?  How do you explain the loss of life of any young person? What about sudden deaths?  I just don’t get it God…can you help me out?

Oh, one other thing.  You have asked me to do some pretty interesting things.  You have asked me to warn people of the bad things that will happen if they do not listen and follow your rules.  I just do not know how you expect me to give this message.  After all, bad things happen anyway, and I have no explanation. Tell you what, you show me a sign…anything.  Make a rose bush grow outside of my home.  Help me to become a rich man, anything that will prove to me you are there.  If you do this, I will be reassured you exist and I promise that I will continue to spread the message.  Otherwise, I just do not feel like I am qualified any longer to do this.

***PAUSE***

***Look out to the congregation and make eye contact***

Raise your hand if you have ever felt anything expressed in the letter I just read.  Have you ever just felt, “Dayeinu?”  Well, I am here to tell you that none of us in this room can ever truly understand God’s plans. Yes, this may be frustrating – I can assure you it frustrates me.  After all, as humans, we have a desire to do what it takes to be successful in life.  We expect doctors to be able to cure disease.  We expect lawyers to be able to get justice for their clients.  We expect rabbis to be spiritually uplifting and help us with our life struggles. Do we expect too much of ourselves?  Or, what about the opposite: are we too dependent on God?

As a clarinet player, I was always instructed to practice like I wanted to perform.  That way when it was time to perform it would feel as if I was just practicing.  Or, if we practice like we want to perform we might be able to actually hit that note perfectly every single time we play.  What about that football kicker that practices the same 35 yard field goal over and over…hitting it every time?  Then, he gets to the game and misses the 25 yard field goal.  How do you explain that?  Is it only up to us?  Is there luck involved?  Is it God’s design that we have some limited control on our outcomes?

Rabbi Lebow has brilliantly expressed to us over the past 10 days that sometimes we just have what we have.  Other times we must remember how lucky we are to have what we have.  And, there are other times when we are not able to realize what we have.  If good things happen, we often say, “Baruch HaShem,” or “Thank God.”  However, what about when bad things happen?  Do we dare say, “How dare you God?” “God, why did YOU let this happen?”  Rest assured my family, I think it is extremely important to thank God for the blessings we have in our lives and even to thank God for the opportunities to learn and grow when we make mistakes or bad things happen.  It is also ok to be angry at God…after all, being angry at God is still being in communication with God.

However, the point is that WE are also a part of this.  Remember the Brit between God and Abraham?  God created the world and has always expected us to play an equal part.  If we assume God is the only player – what is our purpose?  Are we to just sit back and let things happen without any input or without having an impact?  I think not.  I believe it is vital for us to realize our own impact on the world around us.  I also believe it is possible to believe in B’sheret, “fate,” while at the same time believing in free will.

Yes, as humans we make mistakes.  We fail.  WE fail.  Let me repeat that again – WE FAIL.  I know…if we are in partnership with God, than what part does God play in our failings?  Where is God when bad things happen?  When a doctor loses a patient…is it only the doctor’s fault?  Or does God have a part in that?  What about when that same field goal kicker hits a record breaking field goal?  He points to the heavens and thanks God.  Did God kick the field goal?  What part did the kicker play?

These are some difficult questions my friends.  No one ever said religion was easy.  Heck - there is not much in life that is easy. What is essential is that we realize and recognize how important we are AND how central God is in our lives.  I can hear it now – Rabbi, what about those who do not believe in God?  Where do the Atheists fit in this equation?  What about someone who believes in something, maybe God, but is not sure – you know the Agnostics? Let me take a small break from my sermon to address this:

Here is my opinion – I believe Agnostics are not so different from me.  After all, I am, even today on my own religious and ideological journey.  I am certainly not in the same place I was a year ago, and I am sure I will not be in the same place next year.  There have been times in my life in which I was not sure of what God is or was.  But, I did believe in something.  I guess you might say that sometimes I would call myself a Jewish agnostic!

As far as the Atheists go – well, I have said this before and I will say it again.  Atheists do believe in something.  Nothing is by definition something – the lack of something.  Therefore, I can say that even those of us who are more agnostic or those of us who are less agnostic…there may have been times when we also were Atheists…maybe confused Atheists, but Atheists none the less.  I am sure there are some of you out there who disagree with me…after all, this is a Synagogue.  However, nothing that I write or say is meant to judge. I believe the TKE tent is big enough for all of us – no matter where we stand in our beliefs.

Ok, back to the crux of my sermon.  Throughout the Jewish year, we are constantly hearing about and studying a variety of stories and topics.  What I can say for sure is that every class I have taught at some point brings us back to a few realizations: 1) The Bible and all Jewish sacred texts have different meanings for every one of us; 2) Everyone has the right to be a part of the conversation, regardless of their individual beliefs; and 3) Whenever we find THE answer to anything, we will find it extremely difficult proving ourselves or getting others to agree!  That’s the nature of being Jewish in the 21st century!

In the beginning of this sermon, I read a letter written to God.  Well, you know what?  That letter was written by someone other than me. You might be surprised to know who wrote the letter.  Jonah.  Yep, that’s right. The same Jonah that traditional synagogues read and study on Yom Kippur…the same Jonah we will be studying later today. The same Jonah that every young person knows: the story of the whale swallowing Jonah after he is cast into the ocean. You see, Jonah was a prophet who was sent to prophesy in the name of God, and not just the one time in the Book of Jonah we all know and love. Actually, Jonah, according to one Midrash, was sent 3 times to prophesy in the name of God.  It was in the Book of Jonah, the third time, in which he struggled with his required prophetic responsibility. When he first was asked to do so – prior to this story, back in the book of 2 Kings – he did so without any question.

According to Pirkei de-Rabbi Eliezer, an aggadic-midrashic work on the TaNaKh, Jonah’s arrogance and fear of being regarded negatively caused him to run away from God’s command:

Why did he run away?  The first time, God sent him to restore the territory of Israel and His word was fulfilled, as it is stated: ‘He [Jeroboam II] restored the territory of Israel from Lebo-hamath [in accordance with the promise that the Lord…made through His servant,…Jonah son of Ammitai]’ (2 Kings 14:25).  The second time, He sent him to Jerusalem to destroy it.  Because [its people] repented, the Holy One Blessed be He acted in accordance with His great mercy and repented of His fatal intention and did not destroy it. Thus Israel called him a ‘false prophet.’  The third time, He sent him to Nineveh.  Jonah reasoned with himself, saying, “I know that this nation is quick to repent. Now they will repent, and the Holy One Blessed be He will dispatch His anger against Israel.  Is it not enough that Israel calls me a false prophet, but idol-worshippers will do so as well!  I shall run away instead…” (Pirkei de-Rabbi Eliezer 10)

The mystery of the story of Jonah is not so different from the mysteries and struggles we face every day. When we find ourselves in troubled times, it is easy to curl up on our beds, cover our heads with our blankets and hide from what might be the inevitable.  Other times, we may find ourselves embracing what will be…and still other times we rise up to make change.  Sometimes we succeed…and other times we do not. What does this all mean?  Well, I believe the message Jonah finally understands from God applies to us as well. And, although the message is not always easy to hear or accept, it is right in front of us:  Sometimes all we can do is enough and sometimes it is not.  It is during those times when we feel it is not enough that we must work even harder to try to understand – maybe not the outcome or the result.  What we must try to understand is how we can and will continue our lives from that point.

The end of 5772 to the beginning of 5774 has brought a lot of great moments…and many challenges for us. It is my hope that we can learn from this that just when we think we know all the answers, it is time to take a deep breath and relax.  Shabbat comes every week – are we doing enough to appreciate the Sabbath?  Do we find ourselves overworking or just doing enough to get by?  My friends, when you find yourselves in your darkest moments, find someone to share the burdens.  When you find yourselves in your highest moments, share with someone else…we have to do this together. After all, as a family we love, cry, celebrate and mourn together.

5774 brings to us so much possibility: may we move forward with every intention to improve upon ourselves, sharing our successes, our happy moments, and even our darkest moment with each other, and let us always remember God’s presence even if we do not appreciate it.  We may not always appreciate or even admit that God is there with us, but it is important nonetheless to have a relationship with God…regardless of whether it is a “good” or “bad” relationship.

My dear TKE family – my wish for each of us is that we are able to find our own personal Dayenu this year. May we be inspired by something greater this year…and may this inspiration be contagious, affecting every one of us here today.  G’mar Hatima Tovah – May each of you be inscribed in the Book of Life for a wonderful and healthy 5774!

Erev Rosh Hashanah Sermon 2013

Good evening and L’Shanah Tovah!  It is so wonderful to see so many of you here this evening.  I hope that every one of you has had the chance to reflect over the past year.  Where did we make mistakes?  What were our successes?  I always find one of the most difficult tasks is to recognize and admit our mistakes. However, the difficult task of doing so brings with it a reward – the chance to learn from our mistakes and move forward.  In the past 12 months (or less as Rosh Hashanah is soooo early this year!), we have grown in many ways as a congregation.  We have cried, laughed, argued and agreed. At the end of the day, we are a family here and that means that we appreciate each other – even with our disagreements and differences!

As a part of the family, I bring to the table my own ideas, values, etc.  One of the most important issues to me is my relationship with Israel.  I am a Jew…the Land of Israel is my homeland.  I learned this at a very early age, even though I had never been to Israel.  As a kid, I supported Israel blindly because it is what I thought I was supposed to do.  As I have aged, my thoughts regarding Israel have changed.  I have been frustrated by Israel at times…I certainly have not agreed with every experience I have had with Israel. However, one thing that has never changed is my deep loving relationship with Israel and my desire for Israel to continue to be a place for the Jews – a homeland.

In December, 1999, I journeyed for the first time to Israel.  I was a staff member for a Birthright Israel trip. Having led several trips since 1999, I can tell you they do not let 1st timers lead these trips anymore for obvious reasons!  I was so enamored with Israel during that short 12 day trip.  When we returned to the States, I quit my job and immediately moved back to Israel to work as a Madrich (counselor) for a High School in Israel program.  It was during that 4 month period in which my love for and relationship with Israel really began to mold into what it is today.

Although I yearned to return to Israel, life happened and my next return trip to Israel was for my first year in Rabbinic School, summer of 2007.  This trip was different – I was moving to Jerusalem with my wife and daughter…and we would live in Jerusalem for a year.  As a quasi citizen of Israel, we had to learn how to pay bills, shop for groceries and everything else that one does in their daily life (many of which we take for granted)!  The major difference was that we were learning Hebrew and companies’ “customer service reps” really do not like talking to non-native Hebrew speakers!

Shortly after we arrived in Jerusalem, I heard about a program called Encounter.  Encounter is an organization with the following mission: Dedi¬cated to strength¬ening the capacity of the Jewish people to be construc¬tive agents of change in trans¬forming the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.  I really did not know anything about Encounter, but one of my closest friends (Rabbi David Spinrad of The Temple Downtown) convinced me to look into it.  What I found was a group of rabbinic students from all of the streams of Judaism who were interested in learning together about the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. These willing participants had the same philosophy – peace was possible and we had to learn about each other to attain this peace.

After a few orientation meetings in which we learned about effective listening, we were given time to reflect with our fellow students of our fears, pre-conceived notions, etc.  The next part of the experience was the one that at first gave me the most fear – we would be venturing into Bethlehem and spending the night.  We were given the choice of either staying at a hotel or with a Palestinian family.  Well, David convinced me to stay with him at the home of a Palestinian Christian family.  This was one of the best decisions I made that year as I learned so much from this family!

During the second day of our stay in Bethlehem, we met with a prominent member of the Fatah party of the Palestinian Authority.  I was prepared to hear him speak negatively about the Israelis.  I was prepared to hear him tell all of these future leaders of the Jewish community how terrible life was for the Palestinian people and how Israel was responsible for it.  I was ready to hear a tremendous amount of negativity about Jews and Judaism.  What I did hear, however, was a man who spoke about peace efforts and about his desire to live side by side with the Israelis in harmony.  To say I was confused would have been an understatement!

When we returned back to our homes on the other side of the wall, I was immediately in a state of deep thought.  I wrote several blogs and articles about my feelings and confusion.  A few days after I returned, I was speaking with one of my neighbors about the challenges of living in the Middle East.  This neighbor spoke about his time in the army and all of the terrorists he had killed.  When I remarked I had spent a night in Bethlehem, he literally spit on the ground in front of me and threw me out of his apartment.  To say I was confused then would have been an even larger understatement.

Here is the question I faced: How should I respond to my neighbor?  I had another 6 months of living in the apartment building and I knew that eventually I needed to face him.  When I sat down to think about it, I came up with 3 possible solutions:

1) I could approach him in anger and frustration explaining to him the other side of the picture.  I could try to relate to him the stories of those with whom I had come in contact while in Bethlehem.

2) I could ignore him and hope that he eventually calmed down and we could return to whatever relationship we had prior to the argument.

3) I could allow him to cool down and then try to have a conversation with him regarding his anger…really listening to what he has to say and attempt to understand his plight just as I had listened to the Palestinians I encountered in Bethlehem.

Think for a moment how you would have responded.  Before I tell you how I reacted to my neighbor, let me ask just a couple of simple questions.  Which of the above solutions is most supportive of Israel?  Which solution makes you seem more like a Zionist and which solution makes you seem like less of a Zionist?  (***PAUSE***)

Continue to think about these questions as I read a few quotes:

“The relationship of the Jewish people to the land of Israel is itself living history.  Just as ardent love between human beings can be real and powerful even though they don’t dwell together on one spot in space, the love of the Jewish people for the land is an ongoing, powerful being together even when living at a distance, a real link, a being at home spiritually, an embrace that never tires, a hope that never ceases.”  

“While American Jews across the political spectrum can vigorously debate Israeli policies, Natan Sharansky (Chairman of the Executive of the Jewish Agency, and former K’Nesset Member) has identified three “D’s” that distinguish constructive criticism from the destructive criticism that has become the new anti-Semitism. The three “D’s” are: delegitimization, including denial of Israel’s right to exist as a Jewish state; double standards, so that Israel is accused and judged by a standard expected of no other nation; and demonization through lies and half-truths that ignore or minimize Israel’s achievements and the context for Israel’s actions.”

“Democracy in the United States means that we needn’t agree with every single action taken by President Barack Obama, or by President George W. Bush before him.  Yet, when it comes to Israel, we are asked, sometimes instructed, to put aside all critical thinking and simply support any and all actions taken by the government – any government.”

“Ours was a unique light shining in antiquity.  The first Jewish Commonwealth was not unlike other nation-states of the time; it knew political intrigue, it knew corruption.  Yet the spirit of the consecrated people could not be broken.  Rooted in the soil of the Promised Land, Israel and Judah discovered a prophetic zeal. With sublime passion the Jewish prophets challenged their strife-ridden people with demands yet unheard in the annals of man.”

The previous 4 quotes presented different views and ideas regarding what it means to support Israel.  On one hand, the Jews remain connected to the Biblical Land of Israel as one is connected to a loved family member.  Even when we are apart physically, we yearn for each other.  For those who have never had the opportunity to visit and experience Israel up close have just as deep a connection to Israel as those who have been to Israel multiple times.

On the other hand, we should also constructively criticize Israel when needed – as long as the criticism does not hold Israel to a higher standard.  Some may actually say we should hold Israel to a higher standard – that is a different sermon for a different time!  Basically, when we do discuss Israel, even in disagreement, we should hold Israel as we hold our brothers and sisters – with love and support, even while we argue with Israel.

Now – back to the solution I chose: It may surprise some of you to know that I chose to ignore my neighbor.  After all, he spit at me.  It was not that I was angry with him (I was, though)…it was I was frustrated that he would not even have a conversation with me or possibly acknowledge the plight of the Palestinians.  Several weeks passed by and finally I arrived one Friday afternoon to my apartment with a note inviting my family to his home for Shabbat dinner.  I was a little unsure of what to do.  Eventually, however, Batya and I decided to join his family for Shabbat dinner.

What happened at dinner was and continues to truly be one of the most amazing memories of my life.  When we entered through his front door, we were met by his wife and friend.  What was interesting about this friend was (as we found out later during dinner) that he was an Arab Israeli who was born in Bethlehem.  His family had moved to Israel when he was 4 years old.  This man still had many family members who lived in the West Bank.  It was truly a wonderful dinner and the conversation was enlightening, to say the least.

Let me now tell you what happened to my neighbor that brought on this drastic change.  As it turns out, my neighbor was really taken aback by my attempts at avoiding him.  He and his wife had many conversations about what had happened between the two of us.  So, at some point, she introduced him to the husband of her Israeli Jewish friend – this new friend we had been acquainted with at Shabbat dinner.  Their story was truly amazing – this friend’s wife had actually met him while working for an Israeli/Palestinian Peace program.

They had fallen in love at first sight…and it took them almost 3 years to convince their families of their desire to be together as man and wife.  Their story is rare to say the least…however, in the Middle East (especially in Israel), you can never be too sure that up is up or down is down!  As a matter of fact, so many things about Israel are too hard to explain unless you have had the chance to experience it: some things as simple as the true meaning of the word “S’licha,” (loosely meaning Excuse me) and some things much more difficult – like trying to understand a point of view from anyone in Israel.

In June, 2014, the Boxts will be traveling to Israel, leading a TKE congregational trip to Israel.  While we will be celebrating the B’nai Mitzvah of several of our congregants, we are truly traveling to Israel to reconnect.  If you have never had the opportunity to visit Israel, please consider very strongly joining us…if you have been to Israel before, you know the importance of returning and renewing our strong connection to the people, the culture, the religion and the Land.  Israel is more than just a culture and religion – it is a Land where we can all be Jews.

At the beginning of this sermon, I mentioned that we were a family here at TKE.  Each of us has our own ideas, loves, passions and dislikes.  However, one thing we should agree on is that Israel is vital to the continuation of the Jewish people.  One look at history will remind us of the significance of having a “Jewish” homeland.  We may disagree politically (even about Israel), but we must agree that Israel is vital and of immense importance for every one of us.

To quote my dear friend and colleague, Rabbi Lebow, “Israel exists in order to defend all Jews.  The Jews exist in order to defend Israel.”

Dear TKE family, it is up to us to support and love Israel – the people AND the Land.  Temple Kol Emeth is a vibrant, growing and loving community of people who are more than just neighbors and congregants. We are a family and families look out for each other.  It is of the utmost importance that we take the amazing wonders of our congregation and extend it out to all of our brothers and sisters in Israel and everywhere in the world.

It is my hope that in this New Year, we will not only continue to work together to make our family the greatest Jewish family in Atlanta. Let us strive to welcome in many, many, many more family members in the next year.  And, if you are looking for a way to connect or reconnect to Israel, please consider joining us next year as we travel to Israel.  May God bless each and every soul that sits here this evening and spread God’s warmth and loving embrace outward to all of those in our world who are in need of it.

L’Shanah Tovah!

Wednesday, August 28, 2013

The Week before Erev Rosh Hashanah - Sermons written?

I am sitting at my desk in my office, Maroon 5 playing on Pandora, anxiously perusing a variety of news websites: Jerusalempost.com; CNN.com; Haaretz.com; and yes, even Foxnews.com.  Sure, my Erev Rosh Hashanah sermon is already written...but as I pore through these articles, I realize that things could change any moment.  The sermon I have prepared could very well not be the one I deliver - we live in an ever changing world, so therefore our best plans sometimes get left behind.  After all - How did God respond when man said, "I had plans...?"  God laughed.

So, this is not anything new.  The only way I can be totally sure that the sermon I give on any given night is to write it 5 minutes before services begin.  And, while I believe I do a fairly good job with writing sermons (and sometimes quickly), I am sure that I could not accomplish that feat!  The message - write, write, write and prepare to rewrite.  After all, you never know when certain events that occur will require a response from the rabbi.  It has been suggested to me by several congregants that sometimes they really desire to hear our thoughts (and rest assured, sometimes they do not!).

During the past year, we had so many deaths in our congregation.  At one point, I decided to write a sermon entitled "How We Speak to our Children about Death."  Here is the link I posted:
http://rabbierinboxt.blogspot.com/2013/01/how-we-speak-to-our-children-about-death.html.  I believed that (and I still do) some of our parents were challenged with regards to how to speak to their children about death.  There is no one right answer - so my sermon presented several options.  From the response of those that approached me afterward, I know this was a sermon that proved to be helpful in some regards.  There are issues I have chosen to not address from the Bimah.  Maybe my thoughts will change as the years go..we shall see.

So, what happens if the US/Great Britain address the "situation" in Syria with force?  Will we find ourselves in another World War?  What are the goals that we are trying to accomplish?  Will these goals be presented before a response occurs?  I know for a fact I cannot answer these questions...so, the truth is we will all have to wait to find out what happens next.  There is no need (at this point) to become frantic or panic. What we can and should do is to pay attention to a variety of news sources...follow what is going on.  Do your best to read as much as you can and when and if the US/GB respond, we will react as we should.

Will I give the sermon next Wednesday evening I have already written?  My hope is yes...for that means that whatever happens between now and then would have been swift and NOT problematic.  Or, maybe there will be no response.  During this time of reflection, during the month of Elul, let us approach each day with love for our family and friends; let us approach each day with a calm demeanor and live our lives as normal as any other day.

Dear friends - my hope is that we will bring the New Year in with sweetness, hope and joy!

Baruch Atah Adonai, Asher B'Yado Nefesh Kol Chai v'Ruach Kol Basar Ish.
"Praised are You, Adonai, in whose Hand is every living soul and the breath of humankind."

Rabbi Erin Boxt 


Wednesday, August 7, 2013

A new school year, no more summer, and Elul!

Greetings Y'all!

As I walked back with Batya from the bus stop today - Carlie is now a 2nd grader - I began to contemplate all that was new or awesome in our lives.  Of course, I would take me way too long to describe everything that is new and awesome in our lives.  So, let me focus on just a few things:

1) Carlie is now a 2nd grader.
2) I finished my first year as faculty at URJ Camp Coleman.
3) Summer has officially (at least in my eyes) ended.
4) The month of Elul has begun.

Yes, you read that correctly - Carlie is a 2nd grader.  I still remember very vividly her response to our great friend Rabbi Jen Gubitz in Israel back in 2007 - "dep."  For Carlie that meant thank you.  I also remember her telling Batya, "Not table, Ima, SHULCHAN."  Wow has the time flown.  She is turning into a true diva (or maybe she already was and I have been in denial).  She is a beautiful little girl with so much potential and I am so proud and blessed to be her Aba!  It truly is amazing how smart she is and how interested she is in so many things.  Although she frustrates us sometimes (Okay a lot of the time), both Batya and I are so excited every day at the unbelievable and awesome new things she learns and tries.  Soon, she will be heading off to college and we will look back wondering where all the time went....which brings me to point #2 and 3...

With the start of school for Cobb County, summer is over.  I am now back to work on a somewhat normal schedule (as normal as a rabbi's schedule can be).  This, of course, means that my time at Camp Coleman as a rabbi has come and gone.  What an experience it was.  It truly was special to return to my old stomping grounds no longer as staff, but as a rabbi.  It was so inspiring to see the kids and their counselors working together to create what is and always will be such an amazing Jewish community.  So many great experiences: learning about Chiune Sugihara and the thousands of Jews he saved by writing them visas to get out of Nazi Europe and travel to Japan (even against the wishes of his government), skyping with one of the children of the Sugihara survivors, presenting a gift to the Japanese Consul, meeting and working with "Chocolate Thunder," aka Daryl Dawkins, hanging out with Beth Schafer and other colleagues, reacquainting with old friends (Jules Wolfberg and her family), seeing Carlie have the time of her life...and, oh yes - being with the campers and staff and truly being a part of their community.  Bobby Harris really has done amazing things at Camp Coleman - including the 2nd session kids skyping with Natan Sharansky, a prominent Israeli politician.  So much has happened this year...which leads me to point #4...

The Month of Elul - a time for reflection as we prepare for the High Holy Days.  During the month of Elul, we spend time examining the previous year and thinking of ways for us to improve ourselves in the next year. It is not just about asking forgiveness to those whom we have wronged (although that is a big part of it). We should also work extremely hard to figure out ways to improve in the areas in which we need to.  For example, I plan on working extremely hard this month on the following: reflecting on my relationships with people and how I can approach these relationships in the future, working to foster my professional relationships with my friends/colleagues in Atlanta (and outside of Atlanta), and working extremely hard to improve myself physically (getting better in shape, etc.)  There are so many ways to stay focused this month. One way is to go to Craig Taubman's website and sign up to receive "Jewels of Elul:" http://www.letmypeoplesing.com/jewels/.

My dear friends - take some time this month also for yourself.

Shalom,
Rabbi Erin Boxt

Wednesday, July 10, 2013

Camp Coleman - the place I learned to be me!

Shalom Y'all!

I have now been a rabbi for just over 13 months.  What a year it has been!  The community that I serve is amazing, wonderful, and welcoming; my family and I could not be any  happier.  Well, I would prefer a few more baby namings and no more Shiva minyanim!  Anyway, one of the GREAT benefits to being a rabbi at Temple Kol Emeth is the opportunity to return to Camp Coleman every summer and serve as a member of the faculty.  AND, Carlie gets to go with me...this summer as a "day camper," and next summer as a first year camper in Bonim - the youngest group at Camp Coleman.

It seems that every time I get ready to go to camp, I get butterflies.  I have worked at so many summer camps that I almost need 3 hands to count them!  However, there has always been and will always be a special connection to Camp Coleman.  After all, I attended camp as a camper there.  I spent several years attending SEFTY events at Coleman, and I worked for 5 summers on staff at Camp Coleman.  I do not know how many of you remember that jingle (from Showbiz Pizza originally...now Chuck E. Cheese): "...where a kid can be a kid."  I have always thought that should be the motto for Camp Coleman.

Camp Coleman is so much more than that.  At Camp Coleman, one learns who he really is and that nothing is unattainable.  This is not to say that kids never make mistakes or fail at Camp Coleman.  But, what is really special about Camp Coleman is that when you do fail or make a mistake, you are in a safe environment where you can learn from the mistakes.  Counselors, Unit Heads and all of the staff (all the way up to Bobby Harris) spend most of their day taking care of you and spending hour upon hour trying to figure out how to make your summer the greatest experience of your life.

I have so many memories from Camp Coleman.  As Carlie gets older, I will share many of my memories with her.  However, I want her to be able (and I am so excited for this) to form her own awesome memories.  I look forward to the day when Carlie says to me, "Aba, when will it be time for Camp Coleman again?"  Truth is - many of us "spend time getting by" from late August to early June...just to get to those 2 months of summer when we can return to Camp Coleman.

As I get ready to head back home this evening, I carry with me all of those memories and great times!  And, I am looking forward to making many, many more memories!

Rabbi Erin Boxt

Monday, July 1, 2013

Summer is here...slowing down????

Shalom y'all!

So much going on in the news...that's quite an understatement.  However, although I am sure everyone is interested in my opinions on these things (just check FB), I would like to dwell on something different for a change.  Today is July 1, which means that in just about 2 months, we will be faced with the High Holy Day period.  And, it is substantially early this year: right after Labor Day!!!

While I was in Israel, everyone referred to the period Acharei HaChagim, "After the Holidays," as they would push things off until we could get over the "hump," so to speak.  When the HHD period is so early, it does complicate things.  The summer time, which is usually slower and less busy (which of course is not saying much if you are a rabbi), is time spent on visiting summer camps, preparing HHD sermons and "catching up" from the previous year.  Well, this year - summer will be over way too fast and the High Holy Days will be here too soon.

Ok - so it is not all bad.  With Rosh Hashanah coming so early, that means our education and programming schedule will get started earlier.  And, while this means preparations had to start earlier as well, we are given more time for programs which leads to more programs and more opportunities to get together with our temple community.  Here at Temple Kol Emeth, we are embarking on the 2nd Semester of the Suzette Felsberg Cohen Adult Education Initiative with classes in Mussar, Jews in America, Judaism and the afterlife, Hebrew, etc.  We are continuing our "TKE Out on the Town" events which we hope to bring in more members and more families!  Also, we are preparing for our TKE trip to Israel in June, 2014.

We also have our Friday night services at 8 pm (as usual), our upcoming Barbecue and Ice Cream Social and so much more!  There is always something going on at TKE and we are waiting for you to come over and join us!

With the hiring of a brand new (although she has worked here before so she is not really new - but she brings a new excitement back to TKE) Religious School principal in Becca Tullman, we have new energy and new ideas in our religious school program.  We have so much to be thankful for here at Temple Kol Emeth in Marietta, Georgia.  Want to keep up with what we are doing?  Great!  Check out our website:

www.kolemeth.net

There you will find links to all of our events, our calendar, my blog and weekly rabbi message, and so much more.  TKE is a happening place - the place for you, your family and 1000 of your friends.

As the summer goes along and you begin to think about where to go...give us a try.  We would love to welcome you here; we would love to have you be a part of our program.  Truth - we need you and once you get here, you'll realize you need us too!!!

B'Shalom,
Rabbi Erin Boxt

Wednesday, June 5, 2013

Bringing Shabbat to you.....

Shalom y'all!

It is the summer, which would normally mean that life kind of slows down a bit here at TKE.  However, since the High Holy Days are so early this year, this summer will be spent writing sermons, getting ready for the Jewish New Year and focusing on programming for next year.  It is true - I was hired to be part of the TKE team many reasons.  There is ONE primary reason, though - to attract young families!  Now that I have had a great year getting to know so many of you, it is time for me to refocus on that primary goal!

I have a lot of ideas...we have TKE Night Out on the Town - next week we will be going to Red Sky.  We have these monthly events to not only bring us together to celebrate what IS TKE, but also to give your friends a chance to learn about us.  There is also going to be a Mommy and Me playgroup started very soon - more info on that later.  I do have one idea that I would like to get started on...asap!

Do you have young kids?  Do you feel that coming to TKE for services on Friday night sounds like an impossibility?  I am sure you are not alone.  So, here is what I propose.  I would like to begin a program that focuses on bringing Shabbat to you in your homes!  What I am asking for right now is a group of 5-10 families who would host these dinners/programs.  The first event will be at my home...and we will then venture out into the homes of others.  Hosting is easy - and I will help!

We will have these events once a month and eventually I hope that this will lead to many "smaller" groups of gatherings.  Of course, we will begin with dinner...and then follow with some sort of program - whether it be a Shabbat discussion or a short educational program.  These events will be crafted to meet the needs of those who participate.  Questions - shoot me an email: rabbiboxt@kolemeth.net.

Keep your eyes and ears open for more to come!!!

Tuesday, May 21, 2013

Temple Kol Emeth - Big Enough for me, you and 1000 of your friends!!!

Shalom y'all!

This blog is different.  Yes, there are many things I could write about...certainly the catastrophe that has hit Oklahoma this week is important to address.  My thoughts and prayers are with all of those that were affected...I wish for you a speedy return to "normalcy."

However, this blog is about Temple Kol Emeth and my dedication and renewed focus on growing, growing, growing!!!  Look - the numbers tell me that there is a VERY large % of unaffiliated families in the Atlanta area.  Maybe some of you are looking for the right place.  Maybe some of you are looking for a place where you will meet people your own age.  Maybe you have young children and you want your kids to meet other Jewish kids.  Or, maybe you are in an interfaith relationship and you are unsure of what to do.  Well, I will make this easy for you - come see me!  That's right...Temple Kol Emeth is a very unique and special place.  We welcome all kinds of people...all shapes and sizes!

Temple Kol Emeth is kind of like that "one size fits all" item.  Yep...for 30 years, we have been building a community of inclusion and togetherness.  And, when I tell you that you would feel welcome here...I am 100% serious.  We have a culture of "yes" here at Temple Kol Emeth - in our life cycle events, our services, our classes, etc.  Is there something you want to learn about?  Let us know...want to do an unusual or awesomely new kind of service...let us know!

Family, family, family...that is what we are here at TKE.  This is NOT lip service, it's the real deal.  Ask any of our members/owners and they will tell you.

SERIOUSLY, are you still not convinced?  Ok - do this...come out and check us out.  Check our website for all of our upcoming activities: www.kolemeth.net.  Join us at Yogli Mogli on Johnson Ferry Road Thursday night...celebrate the end of school from 6-8 pm.  Have a great time with your TKE friends and family.  You will NOT regret it.

Questions, comments, thoughts - come see me or you can email me: rabbiboxt@kolemeth.net.

I look forward to welcoming you into the Temple Kol Emeth family!!!

Rabbi Erin Boxt

Tuesday, April 30, 2013

Another STEP in the Right Direction....

Shalom y'all!

So, I am sure everyone has read about/heard/seen the news regarding the first American Major Sports athlete to "come out" publicly.  My initial reaction to this announcement was:

"I do applaud Jason's courage. However, we must also recognize the bravery and sacrifices of the multitudes of people around the world who find themselves in a very difficult situation every day just because of who they are...let Jason's example lead us to a place where everyone can be who they are in freedom and without being challenged for being themselves."

I was and still am proud of Jason's courage and his decision to publicly announce what he has had to hide for most of his life.  I was left, though, with a feeling of - "What about the others, those who are not professional athletes?  What about those who are not celebrities?  What about those who have suffered and continue to suffer for being who they are?"  

I spent most of yesterday thinking about this blog.  What did I want to say?  Sure - I wanted to show support for Jason Collins and for all of my brothers and sisters in the world who are gay/lesbian/bi-sexual/trans/etc.  Living in Atlanta, Georgia (or just outside of it), I see too often negativity from those who do not feel the way I do.  I also am not one to throw out negativity toward those who disagree with me.  What I do wonder about, what I spend a lot of time thinking about...what will it take for equality to really/truly mean equality for all people?

So there it is.  My intentions are clear (at least to me).  Let me explain.  While I was thinking yesterday, I contacted my good friend Bruce Silverman.  Bruce and I have known each other for a LONG time (about 30 years).  He was a counselor and unit head at Camp Coleman when I was a camper.  He gave me a lot of crap over the years...and we have really grown to be good friends.  So, when he contacts me and asks me to come on his show as "his Rabbi," or "his Padre," of course I do so.  When I have a question about anything related to sports - Bruce is my first line of defense!  

Before I write about our conversation - let me give Bruce his due respect.  You see, Bruce wrote a blog back in February entitled, "Homosexuality in Sports: Who will be the Gay Jackie Robinson?"  Bruce could see the message so clear - someone would come out publicly...and it would be soon.  Here is a link to his blog:

That's right, my good friend the Prophet - Bruce Silverman!

Now, onto the heart of our discussion.  I asked Bruce a lot of questions...focused on one key idea.  Why now?  Why so public?  Why not just wait until the Sports Illustrated article arrived on our doorsteps next week?  And, why, if Jason intended on not making this a "bigger deal," would he be so public?

Bruce's answers were pretty well thought out and made a lot of sense.  If Jason had waited until next week, the article would have been leaked and it would have been a lot messier than just making it public himself.  Apparently, this "secret" has been held by Sports Illustrated for a few weeks - so you have to give credit to them for keeping it secret as long as they did.  Jason Collins - who is that?  Well, he is a journeyman player who has played for a lot of teams and with a lot of players.  Therefore, he is someone well known in the NBA world, but not a superstar.  After all, if a superstar had come out, the news would have been about the SUPERSTAR, rather than the courage of the act of coming out to the public.

So, I guess the question now is: Will this really make a difference?  Yes, there have been many people who have responded in support of Jason: Kobe Bryant, David Stern, Wade Davis (NFL), Grant Hill, President Obama, etc.  This is a great response.  But, will it matter?

Here is part of an article from the LA Times:


"Now that Collins has come out, gay rights activists are hoping athletes will no longer need to choose between truth and a career.


"This is the first domino," said Patrick Burke, a scout with hockey's Philadelphia Flyers and the founder of You Can Play, a group advocating equality for athletes regardless of sexual orientation. "The floodgates are about to open here."


National political leaders, gay rights groups and entertainment icons also spoke in support of Collins.

"Major league sports has remained one of the last bastions of homophobia, but that has slowly been changing,” said L.A. Gay & Lesbian Center spokesman Jim Key in an email. "This announcement has been a long time coming. We're incredibly grateful and proud of Jason Collins for being open about his sexual orientation and for the role he'll play in inspiring [lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender] youth.”


Aaron McQuade, head of the Gay and Lesbian Alliance Against Defamation sports program, called Collins an "exceptionally courageous man" and quipped that the NBA star was also "honestly, a really great defender."


McQuade and others described Collins as a trailblazer -- the only active player in the five major men's professional sports leagues to come out -- and that others would see his example and the support he gets and likely follow in kind. He said he hoped to see a cascade of professional athletes in the five major sports to follow suit."


I share the same hope for the future. I hope that the goodwill being shown to Jason Collins continues for him. I hope that other professional athletes will see the example of Jason Collins as the opportunity to be who they truly are, not just privately, but also publicly.


But, do you know what I hope for more than anything else? I hope that this will lead each of us to recognize that we are all equal, regardless of sex, color, culture, religion or sexual preference.


That is my ultimate message. May we all see the day when equality = equality.


As it says in Leviticus: Ve’ahavta Lere’acha Kamocha (Leviticus 19:18) "And you shall love your neighbor as yourself."


Kein Yehi Ratzon - May this be God's will!


Rabbi Erin Boxt

Wednesday, April 24, 2013

What are YOU doing these days?

Greetings friends and family!  Or, should I say How y'all doing?

Anyway, it is the end of April and I am wondering what you are doing - not just this week, but this month, next month, this summer.  Well, let me tell you what I am doing:

Friday, April 26 - Friday Night Live @ TKE
Saturday, April 27 - Celebrating with Adam Singer and Evy Eckber
Sunday, April 28 - Cutting my hair (It's Lag Ba'Omer)
Monday, April 29 - Out on the Town with TKE @ Paper Mill Village

Sunday, May 5 - Last Day of Religious School & TKE Annual Meeting
May 10-12 - Camp Coleman Retreat
June/July - Spending some time at Camp Coleman to visit our TKE kids
MUCH, MUCH MORE!!!

There is so much going on this week, this month and next.  While your kids are at camp this summer, how about taking a class with Sandy Andron and myself?  Or, maybe you can take a Saturday morning or Wednesday morning Torah Study class.  Here in TKE land, we are always looking for more ways to get out there and stay in touch with our people and meet new ones.  Have an idea?  Shoot me an email, call me or send me a text.

Keep your eyes open for some new and amazing programs that will start to be advertised asap!  We are getting ready for a great year.  If you have friends who are looking for a Jewish home...send them our way!

Until next time, B'Shalom,
Rabbi Erin Boxt

Monday, April 8, 2013

When "going home" becomes harder...

I won't lie.  I was not exactly the easiest kid to love.  I was a talker (and I still am), I was a "know-it-all," and I did not really understand many things I was expected to.  What I can say, for certain, though, is that I was surrounded by an extended family that really truly loved me.  Growing up in Columbia, SC, I was surrounded by aunts and uncles, cousins and so many more.  However, some of my fondest memories were spending time with my Nana at her home on Wheat Street.  She was a very important presence in the lives of myself, my brother and sister, my parents, my aunts, uncles, cousins, etc.  Nana was always seen as the strongest.  After all, she was a teacher, a principal and so much more.  Not only did she graduate from college, she pursued and finished post graduate work.  She was rare - and so, so special.

Now that I am the parent of a wonderful 7 year old, I find myself reflecting often of those memories I had.  It is not so normal these days for a child's grandparents to live in the same town.  Sure, grandparents make many, many visits...but for me, it meant so much to have my Nana a 20 minute drive away.  And, when I was a kid, long distance calls really did cost a lot of money.  So, it was awesome to be able to pick up the phone and call Nana without worrying the call would cost an arm and a leg.  We traveled to Myrtle Beach together many, many times.  Nana even purchased a mobile home in N. Myrtle Beach so all of her family would have a free place to stay if we wanted to go to the beach.  So many memories...

A few weeks ago, Batya reminded me that Nana's birthday was coming up.  Immediately I began to think about how I wanted Carlie to know and have a relationship with my Nana, her BoNana!  So, we began to plan for a visit to Columbia.  Well, ever since my Mom died in 2004, whenever we visit Columbia, we always go to the cemetery to visit my Mom, Carlie's Nana.  It truly is a blessing to live so close to Columbia...Ok, we'd leave Saturday morning, drive straight to visit Nana and then go visit Mom.  We always try to work in at least one meal with friends and family (again a blessing to be so close).  Candy, my mom's youngest sibling, emailed me prior to our visit to remind me that Nana was suffering from Dementia ..and she wanted me to be prepared (and also to prepare Carlie).

We told Carlie that BoNana might ask her the same question a few times...and Carlie was a true champ.  She certainly did not mind giving Nana 8 hugs in the 45 minutes we visited with her!    

"One way to conceive of dementia is as a midbar, a wilderness.  For the Israelites, the forty years of sojourning in the midbar after their liberation from slavery were mysterious and difficult: They wandered with few markers toward an unknown destination; they could not sustain themselves without divine help; they were vulnerable to unsympathetic people they met along the way and to the harsh realities of nature; they could not return to the place of their memories, Egypt; and they could not truly imagine what lay ahead." (Jewish Pastoral Care: A Practical Handbook from Traditional and Contemporary Sources, Rabbi Dayle Friedman, pg. 78)

It was truly a wonderful experience to see Nana and to allow Batya and Carlie to hug her and show her how much she is loved.  It really does not matter to me if Nana remembers today that we visited.  It does not even matter if she forgot right after we left.  What Nana is experiencing is much scarier for her than any of us could possibly imagine.  She joked about the fact that she really does not matter much.  It did not even appear that she was bothered by not remembering.  But, how can we know?  How could I possibly understand what she is experiencing?  It is not for me to understand.  What I (and everyone else that loves her) can do is to visit with her, to love her and make sure that she is comfortable.  

Now, I do not for a moment believe that it is any easier for her family to experience this.  After all, we are also experiencing a difficult time.  It may be confusing for Nana...but it is heart wrenching for those of us that love her.  And, it is important that we remember the good times and celebrate with her - even if she does not remember.  She remembers who we are...and by celebrating with her, she is happy then...and that is what matters.  Of course, each of us deals with the realities of our family members in our own way.  And while there are many "right" ways of experiencing these moments with our loved ones, there is a wrong way: We cannot forget.  We must remember for them...we must be their memories and help them.  And, if they are frustrated or angered because they do not remember, we need to be sensitive and remind them how much we care for them NOW.

I had every intention of writing this blog Saturday night - we visited with Nana Saturday afternoon.  However, I was and am still dealing with my own feelings regarding those experiences with Nana.  What I know for sure is that every time I am able, I will take Carlie to visit Nana...so that that connection can be remembered.  Pictures, words, memories...

Rabbi Erin Boxt


Wednesday, April 3, 2013

An Invocation

Shalom y'all!

I was invited to give the invocation at Cobb County Community Relations Council's "Creating Community Awards Dinner" on Thursday, March 21.  I considered this to be an immense honor for a variety of reasons: 1) I have always tried to live my life by treating all people with the same love and respect I would expect,
2) The most important aspect of my rabbinate is my commitment to social justice,
3) I am still pretty new to the community.

However, there was one more reason.  Henry Hene, one of Temple Kol Emeth's Senior Vice Presidents, was in attendance.  Henry, Chairman of the Board of the Interfaith Habitat for Humanity Coalition in Cobb County, along with many other members of the Board of the Interfaith Habitat for Humanity Coalition, were nominees for one of the Cobb County Community Awards.  Not only have I been blessed to participate with this group, I was even more honored and excited when they were awarded the award for District 2.  Henry, along with everyone else who has been involved with this group, has really gone out of his way to devote his life to seeking understanding and peace among all people.  

Whenever I am asked to give an invocation or a benediction, I think about how I might inspire those who have already inspired me in so many ways.  Truthfully, at least in my opinion, being a rabbi in a community comes with so many honors and blessings (not the least of which is being able to meet and befriend so many people).  For this blog, I decided to include the invocation I gave.  May it inspire you as I have been inspired by the acts and words of so many others!


Invocation – Creating Community Awards Dinner
Cobb County Relations Council
Thursday, March 21, 2013

        Beloved God, tonight, like many nights, is a night to count our blessings.  Tonight we come together to recognize and thank those individuals in our community who have gone above and beyond in promoting a community of peace and friendship.  While we congratulate these individuals and thank them for their good deeds, we are also mindful of those in our community who are still in need, recognizing we still have much to do.
         
        In a world in which there exists so much hatred, so much pain, we often forget to think about all of the greatness also present in our world.  Here in Cobb County, we are able to celebrate the hard working men and women who work to promote a sense of real inclusion.  It is these positive relationships among our different groups that bring us together this evening.
 
One of the most energizing facets of our community is the many opportunities present for people to join together, to pray, to learn together, and so many other ways.  It is in those moments that the differences between our groups are blurred.  Those moments of communal togetherness can help to bring clarity and comfort to even the most confused or hurting.  As we pray together this evening, let us take some time to really listen to the sounds of those around us, satisfying our own needs while fulfilling our obligations to God and to our community.

As we break bread together this evening, I ask God to continue to bless us with good health, friendship, love and blessings. 

I end this evening with a verse from Proverbs:
Proverbs 21:21 - He that follows after righteousness and mercy finds life, righteousness, and honor.

Amen.

 

Tuesday, March 5, 2013

Rabbis Coming Together to "Shift"

Shalom Y'all!

When I decided to travel to Long Beach, California for the Central Conference of American Rabbis (CCAR) conference, I was full of a lot of emotion.  I was excited, nervous, inspired, intimidated and a little frightened.  This was going to be the first time in my life in which I was going to be in a room full of 500 rabbis...500 colleagues...500 new friends.  Looking over the conference program schedule, I began to become even more excited as I was preparing myself for what would be an amazing learning experience.

Here we are, almost finished with Day 2 of the conference...and I find myself inspired, energized and ready to apply what I have learned in my daily life.  And, yet, we have 2 more full days left...so much more to soak in, so much more to reflect upon.  I do realize that one of the most important aspects of my job/life as a rabbi is the powerful responsibility I have with regards to applying my experiences and knowledge with my congregants.  After all, my experiences will be worth so much more to me if I am able to pass on these experiences and life changing events to those I serve.

And, yet, there is a little bit of this grand conference experience that I claim for my own.  I need to be able to reflect upon this convention...reflect upon the many conversations and ideas that have been presented to me.  I need to be able to think about and decide for myself what I want to teach and share with my community.  The theme of our convention is "Rabbis Leading the Shift: Jewish Possibility in a Rapidly Changing World."  Therefore, it is incredibly important that I AM able and WILLING to share these ideas, thoughts, etc. with my community.  I need to make these decisions, and I know my community trusts me and will allow me to do so.

So, what have I learned or thought about so far?  We have spent a lot of time today speaking about the Jewish responsibility to those in our world - and more specifically to those in our beloved United States who are living in situations less equal to others.  And, yet, I find myself torn between my desire to work with those in our Atlanta community and those in the larger US community and even further to the Global community.  And, thus, these questions make up the bulk of what I am required and what I need to consider and reflect upon.  

Where does that leave me (us)?  Well, the conversation, the shift has begun.  It is up to us as a community to come together and work together.  The first step, however, is my reflecting upon and sharing with my community these thoughts and experiences.  However, I cannot do these reflections alone.  I need members of my community to come together with me to discuss and decipher these thoughts and experiences.

That is where we are - let's continue the shift that has begun!

Kein Yehi Ratzon....may this be God's Will.

Rabbi Erin Boxt

Tuesday, February 12, 2013

Focusing on Something Good for a Change!

Shalom Y'all!

Too often I find people spend an inordinate amount of time stressing or focusing on the negative.  Unfortunately, there are never enough optimists around...however, I am not sure that being a continual optimist is great either.  It does seem that what is best for everyone is that we all have a sense of or a grasp of reality.  Sometimes we have to focus more on what is actually going on and less on what was going on or what used to happen.  I have read several articles this week pointing out the fact that Antisemitism is on the rise all over the world.  As a young Jewish kid growing up in Columbia, S.C., I certainly experienced my fair share of acts of this kind.  Truthfully, though, the root of these acts is ignorance.  I am not saying that those who perform these kinds of acts are ignorant people.  What I am saying is that these people do not have experience with these kinds of people that are different from them.  And, unfortunately, for many people, all they are able to rely on is the misinformation fed to them by others who are just as inexperienced.

Guess what?  Each of us has things/ideas/thoughts/etc. that make us ignorant of something.  No matter how open minded you think you are (and this goes for everyone), there was something you said once or thought once that could be understood by someone as ignorant.  When I speak to youth or teach classes to adults, I base my classes on the fundamental belief that each one of us is equal - in every definition of the word.  However, I have also said and done things that have shocked others (including my wife).  Maybe it was meant as a joke...or one of those famous "I am just kidding" statements.  Regardless of your intention, these statements are often heard and misunderstood by someone.  So, the reality is that we should all do a better job of treating others as we would want to be treated - you know, the Golden Rule (originally from Leviticus 19:18).
 ואהבת לרעך כמוך:

You shall not take vengeance or bear a grudge against your kinsfolk. Love your neighbor as yourself : I am the LORD.

What is often missed is the GOOD that happens, especially when we dwell on the BAD.  Just about a week ago, I tweeted an article I read (from the JTA - The Global News Service for the Jews): http://m.jta.org/news/article/2013/02/04/6/3118701/100-imams-to-commemorate-holocaust-near-paris-memorial-site

There were a few responses and a few likes on Facebook.  However, this article went mostly unnoticed by the majority of people that I am connected to.  Now, I do not mean to target those that may have missed the post.  I do post a lot of things on Twitter and Facebook.  But, in a world that spends too much time looking at the bad, I was hopeful this was an article that would get MORE attention.  After all, when people act in ways different from how we expect - it is worth noticing, especially if it is for the GOOD!  So, a few days passed and it sort of was forgotten or just not remembered.  However, yesterday afternoon, I received an email from a congregant that outlined the same actions in the above site.

This article comes from the Foundation for Ethnic Understanding...an article written by Rabbi Marc Schneier. http://campaign.r20.constantcontact.com/render?llr=yxgtylcab&v=001C8QXJYUMj5dcQ4dDSveBDM-6emvjIMLBi8bVlAmGLzL6kcjWLU_2Ea6GTM5zlPYPXtQ6XqVn7OHYQdoar-jI4JBVp7NjMl_HwJZk9pGd4Gbup-lEntlIUQ%3D%3D

Entitled "Willingness of Muslim Leaders to Denounce Antisemitism," this article begins by telling us about a study that should be of no surprise - the increasing number of attacks on Jews and Jewish institutions worldwide.  There is the mention of the trend of violent attacks on Jews by Muslims in Europe.  Yada, yada, yada, right?  We have seen this time and time again throughout history...someone beats up on the Jews.  What Rabbi Schneier focuses on next, however, is of much more significant importance.

"In an ever-increasing number of countries, especially in Europe and North America, Muslim leaders have been speaking out against anti-Semitic attacks by Muslims and vowing to stand together with their Jewish counterparts in opposing anti-Semitism and Islamophobia.  The willingness of European Muslim leaders to speak out publicly against violent anti-Semitic attacks carried out by their co-religionists began in the United Kingdom in January 2009..."

"Last March, in the wake of the killings in Toulouse, large numbers of French Muslims took part in interfaith demonstrations and candlelight vigils in Paris, Marseilles, Nice, Lyon, Strasbourg, Grenoble, Bordeaux, Dijon, Lille and other cities to denounce Merah's evil act."

WHY ARE WE NOT SPENDING MORE TIME FOCUSING ON THIS???  DOES IT NOT SEEM IMPORTANT TO TEACH ABOUT THIS???  WHAT AM I MISSING?

Ok, enough of the caps.  Truth is - this is the kind of news that no one sees.  Why?  Because, our expectations, no matter how wrong or right, make it hard for us to accept these as nothing more than publicity tricks.  Guess What?  These acts are not for publicity.  These actions are coming from those who really want to sit down, live in peace and embrace each other.  This is not something we should take lightly - we should be thankful and celebrate these happenings!

Ya know what?  I am a rabbi at a suburban synagogue in Atlanta.  Yes, Atlanta, Georgia.  Ya know what else?  We have a congregation of people who are committed to making the above news reality.  We work together with our religious brethren from all walks of life - from our Protestant neighbors across the street to our Muslim neighbors from the next city over.  Is this easy?  No.  Sometimes, it is quite hard...but if we all come to the table with a REAL desire for change, we can make it happen.  That's it - WE CAN AND WILL MAKE IT HAPPEN!

When you sit down to dinner this evening, start talking about what is going on - the bad and the GOOD!!!!

May we all live in a day when the news above IS reality!!!