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Wednesday, December 31, 2014

Here's to a Successful 2015

Yesterday, when I was heading home after a meeting at TKE, I was asked if we celebrate the secular new year as we had celebrated Rosh Hashanah several months before.  My response was, "yes."  You see, while the Jewish New Year marks the turning of the Jewish calendar, we also celebrate the secular calendar.  In the United States (and in most countries worldwide), Jews follow 2 calendars - the Jewish calendar and the secular one.  So, yes, it is ok and I encourage everyone to celebrate as we "ring in 2015."

2014 was a very successful year for my family for many reasons.  Of course, the highlights include the birth of a new daughter and a renewing of my TKE contract.  However, as my family celebrated this year, there is so much more to do in the upcoming year and in future years.  You see, we still live in a world with millions of children going to bed hungry or starving every night.  We still live in a world in which people can be killed for the color of their skin or their sexual preference.  We still live in a world in which human sex trafficking (especially children) is one of the most profitable industries.

I would be remiss if I did not mention the problems in the Middle East.  Of course, all peoples in the world want to live peacefully.  However, what we find in the Middle East are people fighting over religion and land...and, I must say that although I support Israel as a Jewish country, I also hope and pray for peace for all people in the Middle East.  There is a way for this to happen - and I pray that the solution will come soon.  Organizations like Kids4Peace (K4p.org) are really trying to pave the way for this to happen.

As we ring in 2015 this evening, let us hope and pray for all people in the world to live in peace, where there religion, race, culture or creed do not determine their rights as human beings.

Rabbi Erin Boxt

Tuesday, December 9, 2014

Legends that Stay With us...ALWAYS!

This may in fact be one of the hardest blogs I will ever write.  You see, I have always believed that there are people that come in and out of your life.  Sometimes these people are great influences on you...and sometimes they just seem to be passing through.  I have had the privilege and honor to have many, many wonderful influential people in my life.  And, I have even had some "passer-by's."

However, this blog is about someone who came into my life when I was very young and remained in my life for almost 30 years.  Malka Altman - a name synonymous with Camp Coleman - a spirit unlike any I have ever known.  She was Mom, Counselor, Aerobics instructor, Dairy Queen Blizzard provider, friend, rock, and in so many other ways just a huge help in my life and in the lives of thousands of Colemanites.  She truly was a sun - shining brightly during the day so all of us could learn and enjoy the warmth of her smile, her hug and her friendship.  She truly was a star - shining brightly at night providing the comfort and strength needed to make it through even the darkest of times.  She was Malka - and no other word is needed.

In 1995, I remember being called into the office of Bobby Harris - the director of Camp Coleman.  I knew I was in trouble when I looked over and saw Malka.  She was not angry with me.  No, it was much worse. Malka Altman was disappointed in me.  Never in my life have I felt as low as I did that day.  Malka was never upset, never angry - she loved everyone and treated everyone with kindness and respect.  But, on that day, I had disappointed Malka.  Years later, when I still remembered that moment and approached Malka to apologize, she told me one simple thing - "Erin, we all make mistakes.  It is how you learn from it that matters."  Even years later, she was still teaching me how to be better.  And, let me tell you, I never disappointed Malka again.

When I introduced Malka to my daughter (Carlie) and Batya, she was so incredibly happy for me.  She even promised to love Carlie as she loved me when she came back to camp.  While Carlie did come to camp for the first time as a camper in 2014, Malka worked first session.  Carlie did get to meet and enjoy a Malka hug, but never as Malka the Head Counselor or Mom!  However, now, Malka will be watching all of us at Camp Coleman - each and every day.  Every time a child smiles at Camp Coleman, Malka will be there...guiding us as we teach, grow and learn.

Malka - you will be remembered every day.  You are C-O-L-E-M-A-N...and what will Announcements be without you?  Well, I guess we will have to rhyme on our own....  

Monday, November 24, 2014

Life's Reality Checks

Shalom!

It has been quite some time since my last post, but I have been a bit busy!  October and into November brought the last few weeks/days of the Boxt household being 3.  On November 4, at 11:50 PM, Danika Tzippora was born.  And, even though she came on her own time (a few days early), she was not quite ready for the "big world."  So, Batya and I had to spend the first few days of young Danika's life commuting between our home and the hospital.  Of course, the hardest part of the whole situation was trying to explain to her big sis, Carlie, why she had not come home yet.  You see, as the daughter of a rabbi, Carlie is much more aware of life than a lot of kids her own age.  Many, many times (unfortunately) over the past few years of her life, Carlie has watched as her Aba went to visit people in the hospital (or in hospice). Of course, death is inevitable...so, when I told her that her little sister was sick and had to remain in the hospital for a few days to get better, her immediate response, "She isn't going to die, is she?  I really want a little sis," definitely pulled at my heart strings.  Thank God we brought Danika home after only 6 days.  For our little family of 4, things have turned out beautifully.  And, for that, I am blessed and eternally thankful.  Yes, Danika has quite a set of lungs on her, but as we were told in the hospital, "When she cries, it means she is breathing and everything is ok!"

Throughout those 6 days in the NICU at Northside Hospital (more on them later), Batya and I were faced with test after test after test.  You see, Danika had stopped breathing 2 times while in the nursery for more than 20 seconds...and the doctors/nurses could not figure out why.  So, mostly for precautionary reasons, every possible test was run.  After all was said and done, nothing came back abnormal.  So, Batya and I are monitoring Danika closely on a Apnea monitor for at least a month.  Again, this is one of those things that we must do just to make sure.

Every time Batya and I spoke with the staff in the NICU at Northside Hospital (and really ALL of the doctors and nurses at Northside), we were truly amazed not only at their knowledge, but also with the level of care they showed to every baby present.  And, while we were thankful that Danika was progressing, we were also very aware of the other babies...and the uncertainty present.  My heart goes out to every one of those babies and their families.  When your baby is sick (and it does not matter how old they are) - there is no worse pain.  And, let me tell you, although I appeared very strong during the whole process, I was torn up inside.  I really did not know what would happen next...and I just prayed a lot that all would be ok, not just with Danika, but with all of those little ones.  I must say...there is no better of a staff than the staff in the NICU at Northside Hospital.  Thank God for every one of them!

Over the past couple of weeks, as I have been at home on paternity leave, I have had many opportunities to marvel at the beauty and perfection of little Danika.  Yes, she is loud...but you know what?  She is a Boxt...so there is no surprise there.  The strongest woman that I have ever known is her mother, after all.  I am so blessed to be sitting next to Batya Boxt on life's roller coaster.  She keeps it real...and grounded.  I could not imagine my life without Batya...and now without Carlie and Danika as well!

Sometimes, life happens - and most of the time it is a reminder to take a step back, refocus and start again. Those little breaks, those reality checks - perhaps it is what we need when it happens; on the other hand, perhaps it isn't.  It is up to you to decide...

Rabbi Boxt

Monday, September 29, 2014

Perception vs. Reality - a Rosh Hashanah Sermon

Imagine the following conversation on the corner of Peachtree Street and Spring Street:
Man 1: You know, I am so sick and tired of hearing about Israel.  All the Israeli army does is go in the Gaza Strip and start killing Palestinians.  They really have no way of defending themselves. 

Man 2: What are you talking about?

Man 1: Well, I saw on the news that Israel has been bombing Palestinians towns and destroying their buildings and infrastructure.

Man 2: Have you not seen on the news that the Palestinians have been shooting rockets into Israel since 2006 and probably even before that?

Man 1: Yeah, well, those rockets barely cause any damage…don’t they usually land in the middle of the desert where no one can get hurt?

Man 2: Ok, so what if Canada starting sending rockets into the forest areas of the Northern United States?

Man 1: Well, Canada would become the 51st state…the US army would go in and take over Canada.

Man 2: So, doesn’t Israel have the right to destroy anything that targets its land and people?

Man 1: It’s not the same thing…
            Good evening and L’Shanah Tovah!  As I have looked out into the congregation this evening, I have done my best to make eye contact with as many of you as possible.  As the High Holy Days continue, I will do my best to continue this task.  It is my goal that by the end of Yom Kippur, I will have smiled or exchanged a quick glance with every one of you.  After all, it is you, every one of you here tonight who have given me the amazing opportunities and blessings I have received over the past 2 and a half years.  It truly is my pleasure to walk through the doors of TKE every day to find a new challenge, a new blessing and many, many new smiles.  TKE is my home and I speak for all 3 and a half of the Boxts when I say how lucky and blessed we feel to be here.
          When I sat down to write my Erev Rosh Hashanah sermon this year, I decided very early on I would need to speak about Israel.  After all, the situation in the Middle East is in the center of everyone’s world focus right now.  Last year, I spoke about Israel on Erev Rosh Hashanah as well.  I knew I would be leading a trip to Israel in June, 2014, and I wanted to build up some interest and excitement about the trip.  This year, however, my sermon has a very different intention.  While I believe it is always important to be excited and passionate for and about Israel, this year my sermon will focus on perception. 
In the Jewish camping world years ago, I learned a very valuable motto – “Perception is reality.”  Even if someone has the best of intentions, when others perceive them in one particular light, that perception is their reality.  Over the past few months, I have had to face a few very important perceptions about myself…and these perceptions have given me the opportunity to recreate myself in ways that ultimately will help me grow into the rabbi I want to be and the rabbi TKE needs me to be.
So, you may be asking yourself at this point what this has to do with Israel.  Well, in one of my many conversations in the past year, I was challenged on a particular viewpoint.  My friend and I were having lunch, and while we were eating, we were keenly aware of the news on the televisions around us which were discussing the latest news coming out of Israel.  While my friend and I could agree on many things, we certainly did not agree on what we were observing in the news.  To say that the conversation became a little heated would be an understatement.  I actually was worried someone from the restaurant would kick us out as our voices were quite raised.  We were able, eventually, to calm our voices and have an adult conversation about our differences.  Truth be told, I learned quite a bit that day and I believe my friend did as well.
You see, my friend and I are both intelligent adults.  Both of us educated and have spent large amounts of time dedicating ourselves to learning about not only Israel but the entire Middle East.  And, yet, our perceptions of the people and the situation in the Middle East are so very different.  This is not because either one of us is right or wrong.  We are both right and we are both wrong.  The key to any conversation regarding any issue is knowledge.  Whenever we hold conversations, it is vital that we be educated in the topic.  Every one of us in the world has an opinion…there is no one that can argue that.  What becomes problematic is when those opinions are not based in knowledge or factual information.
During my sermon last year, I told a story regarding my neighbor and his views of the “other” in Israel.  The situation in Israel is so volatile and really goes very deep for those who live there.  After all, those citizens of Israel and the surrounding countries live through what we read about or hear about in the news every day.  The reality they live in is a reality that many or all of us here tonight may never have to experience.  It is easy to speak about their reality based on our perceptions…but this can be very dangerous as well.  What is much safer is that we learn about the situation in the Middle East from a varied group of sources – whether they be books, news reports, websites, or any other kind of source you might find.
          About a year or so ago, I was approached by Kids 4 Peace, an organization with the following mission: …to build interfaith communities that embody a culture of peace and empower a movement for change.  I have always been committed to the idea that when we all learn V’ahavtah L’reiacha Kamocha, “Love your neighbor as yourself,” we will be able to live in a world of peace.  So, with my heart in my hand, I jumped right into the Kids 4 Peace world.  What I have learned during my time with Kids 4 Peace is that there are people out there (from all sides of the political, cultural and religious spectrum) who have dedicated themselves to a reality of peace – not just a perception of peace. 
          As Jews, we should support Israel as a Jewish state.  After all, Israel needs us as much as we need Israel.  This seems like a very easy or obvious comment.  However, perception gets in the way sometimes.  When two people with different perspectives speak about what is going on, you might find two very different perceptions. 
          Remember the conversation that Rabbi Lebow and I had at the beginning of my sermon - the two speakers on the corner of Peachtree and Spring Street – discussing the situation in the Middle East?  Well, those two speakers could be any two people in Atlanta.  And, both of them could be educated folks.  Or, neither one of them could be educated.  After all, both of the speakers could have heard what they thought was true by any of the news sources that are out there.  I posit though that most of us in this room would react very differently if both or either of the two speakers was not Jewish.  Why is that?  Is it because as Jews we are required to agree with everything that Israel does?  Or, is it because we want to keep our disagreements “in the family”?  
          I have always believed that it is perfectly normal and ok for us to criticize Israel when it is necessary.  In my lifetime, I have not always agreed with what Israel does.  I have, however, always believed Israel has the right to defend herself as any other country.  When a double standard is applied to Israel, it is not right nor is it fair.  And, yet, a double standard continues to be applied to Israel by non-Jews AND Jews.  My friends, it is easy to criticize Israel…it is harder to sit back and not say anything. 
          Why is that?  Why is it so hard for us to just sit back and let Israel have the same benefit of the doubt as every other country in the world?  I would argue it is because there is a very wrong perception of what Israel should or should not be.  It is as if Israel should be required to act “better” or more “humane” than other countries.  And, this boggles my mind.  What is it about ha’aretz, The Land that requires such a strong double standard?  Is it because Israel is of vital importance to 3 of the world’s main religions?  This little piece of land is so debated, so desired…and yet, what does that have to do with Israel being any “better” than any other country?
As a Jew, I will support Israel and her right to exist and take care of her people as long as there is a breath in my body.  Imagine for a moment the conversation between those two speakers was being held at the corner of Jaffa Street and King George Street in downtown Jerusalem.  I do not know about you, but I cannot imagine that conversation.  After all, those two men speaking on Peachtree Street live a very different reality than those same two men would live if they lived in Israel.  Earlier, I mentioned that perception sometimes gets in the way.  Well, let’s look at some facts about the situation in Israel and the different perceptions that exist out there.
          Since Hamas was elected in charge of the Gaza Strip in 2006 – yes, Hamas was chosen by the people to lead them, over 12,000 rockets have been fired out of the Gaza Strip into Israel.  And, by the way, that includes over 1,000 rockets since “Operation Protective Edge” began this summer.  Yes, since the beginning of July, over 1,000 rockets have been fired into Israel.  Can you even imagine what would happen if that occurred here in the US?  Our army would be activated to take over. 
          Let us take a short trip back to 2005 in Israel and the Gaza Strip.  It was in 2005 that Prime Minister Ariel Sharon of Israel enacted the Disengagement Plan Implementation Law.  After years of fighting and loss of life (on both the Palestinian and Israeli side), Israel unilaterally withdrew all of her troops from the Gaza Strip, leaving behind a lot of infrastructure that could be used by the newly elected Hamas government to rebuild the Gaza Strip.  Infrastructure – yes, Israel left behind over 3,000 greenhouses to be used by those residents of the Gaza Strip.  Why?  Well, Israel hoped that the residents of the Gaza Strip would turn the Gaza Strip into a fertile ground…into a great new beacon of hope for the Palestinians.  Well, that did not happen.  Instead, Hamas destroyed all of the greenhouses.
You might be asking yourself, “Why in the world would anyone believe that a terrorist organization such as Hamas would do anything to help rebuild the Gaza Strip?”          That is a good question…and the truth is that during the democratic vote in the Gaza Strip (in 2005), Hamas set up many social programs with the intention to give food, resources, health care and other important needs to the people in the Gaza Strip.  The people in the Gaza Strip were tired of the disorganization and corruption present in the Fatah government.  So, when Hamas appeared to be a better alternative, the citizens of the Gaza Strip voted Hamas in.  This is another example of how perception can be dangerous.
          When Israel withdrew from the Gaza Strip, what infrastructure they left was crumbled, burned and destroyed.  Why?  I am not sure as I do not live in the Gaza Strip…but my guess is that the Hamas government did not want their people to have any resources other than what they promised to provide.  And, then what happened?  Well, the millions upon millions of dollars supplied to the Hamas government were used to purchase weaponry, bombs, guns, etc.  And, those resources that were intended for the people of the Gaza Strip?  Those were given to the leaders of Hamas…which is one explanation why the leaders of Hamas live in palace type homes while the “regular” residents of the Gaza Strip live in poverty.
And, yet, with all of this maltreatment of her own people, Hamas has still remained the governing body of the Gaza Strip – with all of the resources and funds being funneled to these corrupt Hamas leaders.  Do you know why the leaders of Hamas have retained all of their power?  Well, I was having a discussion with a Muslim friend recently at a Muslim/Jewish wedding I officiated.  He told me the following,
          “Rabbi, those that live outside of Israel in the Middle East are uneducated.  Their governments retain their support because they are desperate to get out of poverty and while their governments hold the purse strings, they have no other choice but to follow these leaders.”  My dear TKE family – education is so vital.  When we are educated, we have the ability to think critically and make decisions for ourselves.  These governments – Hamas included – keep their people in poverty because that is how they are able to control them.  My friend also suggested to me that the solution to the problems in the Middle East – specifically the problems outside of Israel – would come from educated Muslims in the United States.
          My dear TKE family – I stand here this evening a rabbi who supports Israel with all of my heart and soul.  Every day I long to be able to return to Ha-aretz, to the land which my forefathers lived.  If it were possible, I would travel to Israel every year…if nothing else to enjoy the food!  And, as I support Israel with every essence of my being, I also realize that Israel is a country full of people who live their lives every day just to provide food and sustenance for their families.  And, as human beings, they are bound to make mistakes.  The same is true of those that live in the Gaza Strip.  There are people in the Gaza Strip who really do wake up every day with the intention of providing a better life for their families.
          So, let me end this sermon tonight with a challenge to everyone of us here.  Not only do we need to support Israel as a Jewish state.  We also need to support the efforts of the Liberal Movement or the Reform Movement in Israel.  How do we do this?  Well, I will tell you.  In October, 2015, the 37th World Zionist Congress will meet in Israel.  Beginning in January, 2015, all Jews in the world have the right, the responsibility to vote in the WZO elections.  It is imperative we cast our votes in support of the Association of Reform Zionists of America (ARZA).  With our support, we will ensure that our movement and the leaders of our movement in Israel will continue to receive financial support from Israel.  As American Jews, we must show our support for Israel and most importantly for the values and interests of all Jews, regardless of gender, sexual preference or nationality.  As Reform Jews, we must show our commitment to all Jews.
Tonight, when you leave, please take one of the ARZA/WZO Pledge Cards.  These pledges are pledges to vote – to cast your vote in support of the Reform Jewish movement in Israel and in the whole Jewish world.  Every one of us must pledge to vote – not only for us today, but for our children and their children in the future.
It is my hope that in 5775 will bring every one of us here tonight peace, love and hope.  I pray we wake up one day with the peace we seek here, in the Middle East, and everywhere.  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!

Tuesday, September 9, 2014

Bless and be blessed...

I am constantly reminded...day after day, hour after hour of the many, many blessings in my life.  During my "normal" day, I am given many opportunities to be blessed by the ideas, thoughts and examples of others. Sometimes, though, I am actually asked to give a blessing to others. When I visit with congregants in hospitals or in their homes, I find myself being blessed - after all, it truly is my honor to be with people during their most vulnerable AND happy times.  I am often thanked when I visit with people...what they often do not recognize or understand is that I am just as thankful of them as they may be of me.

As we approach the High Holy Days, many of us will turn to self reflection.  We will begin to think about all of those moments in the previous year when we were challenged and/or given opportunities to do things differently - not better, but different.  Of course, we have had our successes as well...which often are overshadowed by our failures and challenges.  Let me remind you - without failures, we would never be able to understand what it means to succeed - and vice versa.  When we reflect this month, let us dig deep down in our memories for those moments we may have forgotten or chosen to bury.  After all, those moments also help to determine who we are.

This year - may we all be blessed...and may we all bless.  May we find ourselves entering 5775 with a renewed sense of determination...determination for any number of goals or successes.  May 5775 bring us answers to some questions we still have.  May 5775 bring us blessings and the opportunities to bless.  When you meet with someone, bless them...and through that blessing, allow yourself also to be blessed. Reciprocity - that is the key.  When we seek answers, let us also give answers.  When we ask questions, let us also answer the questions of others.

My wish for this new year is that each of us has the opportunity to bless...and to be blessed.  On behalf of Batya, Carlie and myself, I wish for each of you to have a healthy and happy new year.  May we all be blessed together as we bless each other.

Wednesday, August 20, 2014

Red is the color of humility...

For those of you who have ever seen me, you know you will always find a Red and Black kippah on my head.  As a graduate of the University of Georgia, I often wear the colors red and black – after all, they are my favorite colors.  I purchased this kippah in Jerusalem in 2007, and I have worn it ever since (Yes – I have washed it many, many times!).

During the summer between my 3rd and 4th year of rabbinical school, one of my classmates challenged me by asking me the following question, “Erin, do you wear your kippah all the time when you visit people in the hospital?”  My answer was that I wore my kippah when I visited Jewish patients.  Her response surprised me, “Do you not feel authentic when you pray with non-Jewish patients?” 

I really had to give some thought as to why I wear my kippah.  I spent the next few days giving this a lot of thought.  I decided the reason I wore my kippah was because I always wanted to be reminded that no matter how good of a person I was, no matter how good of a life I tried to live, I would never reach Godliness.  My kippah is a reminder of humility – or so I thought.

I have always been the person that spoke his mind…not always realizing the consequences until it was too late.  My mom used to tell me, “Don’t speak before you think about what you are going to say first!”  I remember hating being told that.  And, when this continued to be a theme in my life, I finally realized (probably sometime after graduating from UGA) that all of those who had once told me to think before I speak were right.  I tried…I really tried to change my behavior.  I have continued to try to change this behavior for so many years. 

Once again, my mom’s words come to the forefront.  I can hear the words being spoken to me as if my mom was saying them, “Erin, do not get mad when people confront you.  Let the red in your kippah be the only red they see – not the redness of anger in your face.  Remember, Erin, you need to understand first…and then respond.”

No truer words could be spoken right now.  My goal in the coming year and in future years is to be that person – the one who really listens and understands. 

I am a rabbi because I want to help others.  I am a rabbi because I love the Jewish people.  I am a rabbi because I want to teach and learn from others about being Jewish.  I am a rabbi because I truly do love waking up in the morning and being given the opportunity to do all of the above.  I love being one of the rabbis at Temple Kol Emeth in Marietta, Georgia.


However, sometimes, and this is one of those times, I need your help.  I want to be a better rabbi…and I want my congregants to be a part of that – actually the biggest part.  If I can better serve you as your rabbi, please tell me.  Come talk to me, call me, reach out – I really want to know.  When you think of Erin Boxt, don’t just think of the Red Kippah.  I want you to think of Erin Boxt as your rabbi - one who loves you, the Jewish people and the opportunity to be better, to do better.

Friday, July 4, 2014

Reflections on Israel

I have been thinking, reflecting, thinking, reflecting for almost 2 weeks now.  I have wanted so badly to speak about how amazing the TKE Israel 2014 trip was (and believe me, it WAS!), and yet, it is hard to speak about our trip when my emotions are running wild.  While I think today of the great independence we celebrate in the United States, I also think of those in Israel and around the world who live their lives in fear. Every day is an adventure and not always with the greatest of outcomes.

On Tuesday evening, July 1, Temple Kol Emeth hosted a memorial service for the 3 Israeli teens - Gil-Ad Shaer, Eyal Yifrah, and Naftali Fraenkel - who were kidnapped and brutally murdered.  It was a very touching service and the words of the Israeli Deputy Consul General, Ron Brummer, touched my heart and the hearts of everyone in attendance.  He spoke of Israel's need to defend her citizens while at the same time wishing for peace for everyone living in the Middle East.  When Rabbi Lebow spoke, I felt chills as he stated over and over again that revenge was not the answer.  The truth is that as Jews (anywhere in the world) we hold ourselves to a higher standard.

It is true that the world holds Israel to a higher standard (especially the United Nations).  I do not want to argue that point.  What I do want to say is that not that we should hold ourselves to a higher standard; we do.  It is as simple as that.  The government of Israel does not act quickly.  They act with the intention of achieving peace - not just for Israelis, but for Palestinians, Syrians, etc.  Some may disagree and they have the right.  But, the numbers do not lie.  Israel is the ONLY country in that region (and maybe in the world) that goes out of her way to look out for the innocent civilians.  Do not believe the very tainted "journalism" you see in the world.  Often times the pictures are doctored and the stories are very one sided.

Look - I get it.  People disagree, people argue.  I am sure many will disagree and argue with some of the valid points in this blog.  However, let me make one thing clear.  If you want to have a real discussion - one that is guided in reality and acceptance for both sides of the argument - then, please, let's have that discussion.  If someone chooses to just argue for the sake of arguing or for any other reason, what's the point?  As a rabbi, I want everyone to live as if they love their neighbors.  Unfortunately, though, sometimes it gets harder and harder to believe this reality will ever exist.  And, by the way, I am not just speaking of the three Israeli teens that were killed.  I do not support (nor will I ever) the killing of innocent Palestinians either. I would love it if our brothers and sisters (from both sides of the lines) could live in peace.  I am afraid, though, that the current situation dictates that reality as never happening.

When my congregation and I were in Israel, we were inspired by so much beauty and so many wonderful things.  From the B'nai Mitzvah ceremony on Massada to the magic of Kabbalah in Tzfat, so many amazing opportunities to celebrate being Jewish were to be had.  And, we did...we ate our way through Israel and took so many pictures!  Our trip also opened our eyes to the magnificence of Israel - so much technology and so many discoveries.  In a little over 60 years, Israelis have turned a barren desert (and swamp land) into an amazing center of technology, life and wonderment.  Yes, Israel has its own problems...but what nation doesn't?

My only hope for the Middle East can be summed up in a short prayer I have written in honor of the many Israelis and Palestinians that have lost their lives:

Almighty God, pay attention to your children of Abraham.
Do not lose sight of the wonder of their children;
The beautiful faces of all of the little ones; 
The sounds, the smells and the beauty - it's there.

Almighty God, peace is a possibility, right?
We strive for this and yet we seem to be stuck at square one;
Maybe it is time to send a helping hand as in days of old;
The desire, the want, the need - it's there.

Almighty God, I do love my brother, does he love me?
Only you know the answer - please, tell me...
From Eilat to Qiryat Shemona, from Tel Aviv to the Jordan River;
From Sea to River; from Mt. Hermon to the Red Sea - the love is there.

Almighty God, we need your help and attention.
We seek peace, we really do - but we need your help;
As humans, we make mistake after mistake - we are trying to learn;
Jews, Muslims, Christians, Israelis, Palestinians alike - we need you.

Rabbi Erin Boxt

Saturday, June 14, 2014

Shabbat in Jerusalem

Wow - what an amazing 36 hours!!!  We arrived in Jerusalem after an awesome camel ride.  We stopped at Mt. Scopus to get an overview of the city of Jerusalem.  While at the overlook, we celebrated the 25th Wedding Anniversary of Maxine and George Hess...and what an amazing toast that was!  We made our way to our hotel and had a couple of hours of rest and relaxation before we went to Jaffa Gate for an intro tour to the Old City.

We walked into the Old City and were then guided onto the rooftops of the Old City - what a view!!!  From there, we walked to the Egalitarian section of the Western Wall.  I led a short service in which we sang a few songs, said a special Mi Shebeirach for all those in our lives who needed healing.  Afterward, we made our way to the traditional section of the Western Wall (the Kotel).  Everyone was allowed to spend about 30 minutes or so observing and participating in the many Kabbalat Shabbat services and activities at the Kotel.  Kobi, our guide, danced with all 3 of our boys in the men section!

From the Kotel, we walked back to our hotel for dinner and bedtime.  This morning, we woke up for breakfast and then went to Kehillat Har El, one of the Reform synagogues in Jerusalem.  I was invited up for an Aliyah and then Rabbi Ada and Cantor Evan blessed our congregation with a wonderful blessing.  Tim Roberts was also invited to do Hagbah!  After walking back to the hotel for lunch, we then walked to the Israel Museum to see a gigantic model of the 2nd Temple Old City and the Dead Sea Scrolls.

In the afternoon, we had several hours of rest time (thank you God for Shabbat!) and then we ended Shabbat with a moving Havdalah ceremony overlooking the Old City.  Afterward, we ventured for dinner and shopping at Jerusalem's prime outdoor shopping mall - Ben Yehudah street.  I had a tasty schwarma sandwich at New Deli followed by delicious ice cream.  I was able to spend some time with my friend Jan at his store - Ora Israel - before I returned to the hotel for some well needed sleep.  Tomorrow will be a full day - and I will blog about it tomorrow night.

L'hitraot for now!
Rabbi Boxt

Friday, June 13, 2014

An Amazing Inspiration for Us All

Shalom y'all!

I needed to write one short blog about an experience that Kobi our tour guide arranged for us.  After our exhilarating jeep ride, we were driven a short way to meet up with some Israeli soldiers and their tank unit.  They were preparing for a large "practice run" in which they "recaptured" the Golan Heights.

To be able to look into the eyes of these young soldiers who are so incredibly excited and dedicated to keeping the citizens of Israel safe, it was actually pretty inspirational to listen to them explain how they understand what they are doing and why they are there.  Although these young men (18-21) are making a huge sacrifice for their country, they feel their contribution is only a small piece in the history of Israel...these heroes just seem their service part of their identity.

Today, we make our way out of the Golan and although we are traveling south, we are ascending to Jerusalem....I will write another blog after Shabbat.

Rabbi Boxt

Thursday, June 12, 2014

TKE in Israel Days 3 and 4

Shalom l'kulam! (Hello everyone!)

Today is Thursday, June 12...and I am writing at 12 pm Israel Time (5 am EST).  On Wednesday, we did a lot of traveling.  We left Tel Aviv early in the morning and traveled to one of the most important cities for Christianity - Ceasaria, Herod's Kingdom by the Sea.  Herod built this city/port as a thank you to Augustus Ceasar in order to show his allegiance!

While in Ceasaria, we visited the theater (where many plays and perfomances were seen 2000 years ago and where concerts are still seen today), the Hippodrome (or Coliseum where horse races, gladiator fights and other competitions were held), and spent some time playing around and reenacting the Gladiators!  (You can see those videos on Facebook - there are about 8 of them).  After Ceasaria, we traveled North to Haifa for a gorgeous view over the Bay looking directly down on the B'hai Gardens (a truly beautiful place).

From Haifa, we traveled to Tzfat - the ancient Holy City of the Kabbalah.  There we met with Avram,  a very talented Mystical artist, were allowed to purchase some of his artwork...and then we ventured on to a couple of beautiful synagogues in Tzfat.  At the end, after some time to peruse the art galleries, we went to the famous Tzfat Candle Factory.  While some were shopping, some of the men/boys went with Kobi to the Mikveh (the very famous ritual bath from years and years ago!).

From Tzfat, we traveled to our hotel/residence for the next two days - Kibbutz Gonen.  This is a faboulous Kibbutz in the North of Israel very close to the Golan Heights.  Today, we have had many options to have some fun - going to the Teva Naot factory (GREAT shoes), going rafting or resting back at the Kibbutz, traveling to Katzrin and Har Ben-Tal (a famous mountain army base overlooking Syria), an Olive Oil factory and Chocolate factory, a wine tasting at the Golan Winery for the adults (an apply juice tasting for the kids), concluding with the choice of either a water hike with Kobi or a Jeep Ride through the area with me!  Make sure to check out the pictures from all of our adventures - you can get the link from my FB page!

Stay tuned for the next blog which will be after Shabbat in Jerusalem!!!

That's all for now!

Rabbi Boxt

Tuesday, June 10, 2014

TKE in Israel Days 1a and 1b

Shalom y'all!

Today is Tuesday, June 10.  Although this blog is being written at 11:36 PM Israel time, it is 4:36 PM in Atlanta!  This is a short blog today because I just received my SIM card for my phone so I haven't been able to take any pictures yet!  So, tomorrow there will be another short"ish" blog with a link to pictures.

Here is what we have done so far: We arrived, went to our hotel (Alexander Suites - BEAUTIFUL!!!), left our bags and went straight to our first Israeli meal - a buffet at the Tal Hotel which is right around the corner from our hotel.  After a somewhat normal night of sleep - many of us were still getting rid of jet lag - we woke up this morning to a gorgeous Tel Aviv morning.  The sun was shining brightly, a nice breeze was blowing and our hotel breakfast was outstanding!

After breakfast, we traveled to a large apple orchard that is managed by the LEKET program.  These fields were donated by a very generous man with one condition - that the LEKET Israel organization find volunteer groups to collect the food to be donated to the poor.  So, we spent about 90 minutes out in the strong Israeli sun and picked about 1700 pounds of apples - enough to serve approximately 200 families!  What a wonderful moment to do a mitzvah for those who are in need in Israel. This was truly a wonderful start to our program.

Next we traveled to the Carmel Market - a wonderful art and food fair that is open on Tuesdays and Fridays.  We had some free time to shop, people watch and eat!  After a couple of hours in the market, we traveled to the Palmach Museum - a wonderful interactive museum that takes us back to 1941 to explore the journey of a young group of Israelis who learn to fight and defend the Jewish homeland prior to the State of Israel being born.  The Palmach fighters became the Elite fighters in the IDF once the State of Israel was born.

After the Palmach museum, we traveled to the oldest seaport in the world, Jaffa (going all the way back to Jonah!).  Kobi, our outstanding tour guide took us around to show us some great shops and art as well as teaching the story of Jaffa, going all the way back to Biblical times.  After an exhausting day in which the TKE family members learned and experienced quite a lot, the day ended with a beautiful sunset over the Mediterranean Sea, followed by dinner and then sleep....

L'hitraot (so long) until tomorrow!!!
Rabbi Boxt

Monday, June 2, 2014

Camp Jenny - Making 2 Worlds 1

Shalom y'all!

Words are often more significant than we realize.  Sometimes words can be hurtful or helpful; and more often than not, words can be so much more.  Perhaps everyone might remember the following, "You're rubber and I'm glue, whatever you say bounces off of me and sticks to you."  My mother told me at a very early age that words can be destructive...but they can also be great builders!

In 1993, as a Junior in High School and in my 3rd year of SEFTY (Southeast Federation of Temple Youth...now NFTY-SAR), I was fortunate to work as a counselor at the Jenny Rosenthal Memorial Mitzvah Corps program.  We brought a large group of children from what was then Techwood in downtown Atlanta, from Fowler Street Elementary School to URJ Camp Coleman to experience a weekend of fun...away from their somewhat tumultuous daily lives.  I had no idea at the time...but that year and the following year when I returned again had such an amazing impact on who I am.  I learned so much from those young kids.  I often credit Camp Coleman for making me who I am today.  It is no secret that SEFTY and Camp Jenny were a huge part of that.  These kids had never experienced Camp Coleman before and all of its wonders.  And, I learned more from them than they could have possibly learned from me!

Fast forward 21 years - I am now a rabbi at Temple Kol Emeth in Marietta, Georgia.  I am given the opportunity to work once again at Camp Jenny - but this time as an adult staff member.  When I arrived at Camp Jenny, I was so amazed that although so many things had changed and become better, many of the people were the same.  The ideals behind Camp Jenny are the same...and the goal of Camp Jenny - FTK (For the Kids) - has never changed.  This time, however, I was able to observe NFTYites and their interactions with the kids from F.L. Stanton Elementary school.  AND, I was able to bring Batya and Carlie up to camp.  Carlie slept in one of the bunks and really had an amazing and eye opening experience.  It was truly inspirational for me to watch my daughter interact with kids who came from a different situation in life...and see how much alike they really were.

I have remarked over the past 2 years how very lucky and blessed I am to be able to come to work everyday and really enjoy what I do.  I have reveled in the amazing opportunities given to me by Temple Kol Emeth.  It is definitely true that one of these opportunities is the chance to return to Camp Jenny every year with my family.  Being able to share my love for social justice with Carlie and Batya was and continues to be awesome.  Carlie has already remarked that she wants to go back to Camp Jenny every year for the rest of her life.  This touches my heart - as every one of those students did.

It is important to get out there and do what you can to make our world a better place.  There are thousands of opportunities.  Whether you work with AJWS or the One Campaign...or work with organizations closer to home.  Whatever it is - just go out there and make the world a better place for everyone that lives in it. Those two words - Camp Jenny - have always been and will continue to be building blocks...bringing worlds together and helping all of us realize how similar we really are!

Rabbi Erin Boxt




Monday, May 19, 2014

Lobbying on "the Hill"

Shalom y'all!

I wanted to give myself a week or so to digest and reflect upon my visit to Washington, D.C.  First of all, I must share that walking around D.C. in May can be very tiring and HOT!  Comfortable shoes are a must for sure.  If you do not know already, I am very active with the American Jewish World Service.  I have been impressed by and honored to work with Ruth Messinger, the President of AJWS, and so many other unbelievable new friends and colleagues.  Currently, AJWS is fighting for equality of women and the LGBT community worldwide.  Just to give you some background, the current bill (which is now in the House and the Senate, HB3571 and S2307) we were lobbying support for: The International Violence Against Women Act (IVAWA), is of vital importance for a number of reasons!

1) I believe we can all agree that violence against women and girls is unacceptable.
2) 1 in 3 women around the world is beaten, coerced into sex or otherwise abused in her lifetime.
3) Approximately 10 million girls worldwide become child brides every year.
4) Women constitute about 70% of the world's absolute poor - those living on less than a dollar a day.
5) Every year, some 14 million adolescent girls give birth.

I am sitting here and getting angry just typing these...just the thought of these numbers is mind-numbing.  In a world in which we can speak to our loved ones by video/phone around the world, how do these numbers still exist?  I could go on and on with more statistics...but do you get the point?  These numbers are unacceptable and unbelievable.  2/3 of the world's 875 million illiterate adults are women - mostly because they are not allowed the opportunity to get educated.  Why?  Is it because the men in those communities are so afraid of an educated woman?  Are these men afraid of women earning an income?  Here is another staggering fact (as per the world bank): When women earn an income, they reinvest 90 percent of it into their families, as compared to only 30 to 40 percent reinvestment for men.  By keeping women from education...by allowing them to be considered second class citizens all over the world, we are negatively affecting our global economy.  "If the value of the unpaid, invisible work done by women - approximately $11 trillion per year - were included, global output would be almost 50 percent greater."  The truth is right there - by investing in equality and equal rights, we are investing in our own futures.  How do we not get it? Why do we still allow this to happen worldwide?

I want to be clear.  I have not personally met anyone who believes it is ok to treat women with violence.  I have not personally met anyone who believes it is ok for young girls to get married.  However, it happens...and not just "across the pond."  As a matter of fact, the Atlanta airport is the busiest airport in the world for sex trafficking.  That's right - the city I live in contains many, many, many of those who are guilty of these heinous acts.  So, why should we concern ourselves with the international community when we have our own problems?  I am often asked that question.  Well, as bad as we have it in the United States, the developing world (countries of the Global South) has it so much worse.  Why? Well, for starters - education. It all starts there.  When people are given the opportunity to get an education, good things can and do happen.  I am not saying that all of the world's problems will end if everyone had the opportunity to get educated - after all, we are humans.

What I am saying is this:  Get off your backside and do something.  Yes, I went to Washington, DC and lobbied on "the Hill."  Yes, I met with members of the Congressional staff.  And, you know what?  They all believe that the United States can be an example - a beacon of hope in the world.  We have a great responsibility in this country to be the leader and to lead by example.  Anyone, ANYONE can contact your senators and representatives to set up meetings.  You may meet with staff...or you may meet with your Senator or Congressman.  Regardless...it is imperative that we do this.  With all of the resources we have in the United States, we must take part in supporting those in the Global South who are not able to.

After all, if not us...who?  If not now, when?

Rabbi Erin Boxt


Monday, April 7, 2014

Genetic Screening - Really, you should do it!

Shalom y'all!

I read a very sad story today.  The saddest part of the story was that it could have been prevented.  You see, the story begins with two loving Jewish kids - Randy and Caroline.  They had a love that blossomed very quickly after they met.  They dated for 8 months, got engaged and were married 3 months later!  They were truly in love and excited about beginning a family.

Their first child, Natanel, was born just 15 months after they were married.  However, Randy and Caroline wanted a bigger family, so Eden was born two years later.  When Eden was three months old, Caroline started to worry that something wasn't quite right.  She was not advancing and hitting all of those milestones that other kids were reaching.  Even though the pediatrician continued to reassure Caroline that every child develops differently, both she and Randy were concerned.  So, they went to see a neurologist who did an MRI on Eden's brain.  What they were told changed their lives completely.  Something was wrong...so the neurologist referred them to a geneticist.

When the geneticist told Caroline and Randy he thought it was a genetic disease, they were shocked.  They had been tested before they were married.  However, after two agonizing weeks, the diagnosis was confirmed.  Eden had ML4 - a preventable progressive neurological disorder called Mucolipidosis Type IV. Eden's mental development was halted at only 18 months old...and she is expected to be blind by the age of 12.  What was more upsetting was that Caroline and Randy knew they were tested - or so they thought.

As it turned out, Caroline was only screened for 8 of the 16 Jewish genetic diseases while Randy was screened for 2.  Randy and Caroline never asked, "Why us?"  What they did instead was to make sure that Eden's story was told to anyone and everyone.  They wanted to make sure this never happened to another family.  They worked to create a comprehensive education program for doctors, rabbis and young couples. They lobbied insurance companies and medical labs to make genetic testing standard...more accessible with lower costs.  Their work was inspirational - and the Marcus Foundation and Emory University School of Medicine created JScreen - a web-based national screening program for the 19 most common Jewish genetic diseases.

While JScreen is targeted at the Jewish population, the site offers expanded screening panels to check for a total of 80 genetic diseases.  For those couples that are "mixed" or of different cultural backgrounds, this expanded screening panel could be very helpful.  For further information - please visit www.jscreen.org. You can also contact Karen Arnovitz Grinzaid, the Senior Director for JScreen @ karen.grinzaid@emory.edu or 404-778-8645.

Eden's Story was written by Debra Goldschmidt, as told to her by Caroline and Randy Gold for JScreen.

This is of extreme importance - if you are interested in starting a family (and really for your own knowledge), it is vital to get screened.  Prevention and/or education is helpful and can prepare young couples for the future.  BTW - if couples are at risk of carrying certain genetic diseases, there are ways to prepare.  There are also ways to have children without the fear of passing on a genetic disease.  However, the FIRST and most important thing to do is to be aware.  Get tested...it's pretty simple with JScreen.  Go to the website and learn all about it.

Rabbi Erin Boxt

Tuesday, April 1, 2014

The Experience of "Not being remembered"

Shalom Y'all!

         This past weekend, I drove to Columbia, SC to meet with several of my High School classmates to begin planning our 20th reunion.  Whenever I go to Columbia, there are always two women who I visit – probably the two most important women in my life until I met Batya.  One, Claire Lilly Boxt, resides in a grave at the Hebrew Benevolent Cemetery in downtown Columbia.  The other, Betty Rhoad Lilly, the mother of Claire Lilly Boxt (and my Nana), resides at the Presbyterian Home right off of I-20 just outside of Columbia.
          Claire Lilly Boxt, my mother, died on December 1, 2004 and I have vowed to visit her every time I am in Columbia.  These are not usually very long visits – but long enough for me to say hello, catch my Mom up with whatever is going on in my life and to kiss her Headstone. To say my mother and I had a challenging relationship would have been an understatement.  However, she was/is my mother and I will always visit, no matter what.
Betty Lilly, my Nana, will turn 90 years old this year.  Visiting with Nana has become somewhat more challenging as time has moved forward.  You see, Nana has Dementia and no longer remembers who I am.  As a matter of fact, when I visited with her on Sunday, she asked me if I was married 3 times.  Unfortunately, in my line of work, I see this way too often.  I will admit that the first time I visited someone with Dementia or Alzheimer’s; it was very difficult to understand what was going on. 
One of the doctors said to me the following: “No matter how hard it is for you…it is always harder for them.”  He explained that for those who are getting older, it is extremely difficult (at least at first) to feel as if you are losing your memory…losing the most precious of thoughts, images and information you may ever have.  My sister texted me shortly after I left, and asked if Nana remembered who I was.  I replied, “I don’t think so.”  Bekki then sent me a frownie face text.  I replied, “Unfortunately, I see this every day.”  She replied, “Not from your Nana.”
As I was driving home, back to Marietta, I began to think about what Bekki said – and how I responded.  You see, the losing of one’s memory is one of those unexplainable things.  There may be science behind it, but it is something we may never truly understand.  You might think that it should be more difficult for me that it is Nana who is not remembering me…as opposed to the family member of a congregant.  However, for me, it is very much the same.  As a rabbi, I find myself in situations all the time that may be perceived by someone as miserable.  And, do not get me wrong, sometimes I have to take a breath and a break.
You see – I buried a 6 week old child last summer.  Everything since then has been put in perspective.  When my 90 year old Nana doesn’t recognize me – for sure, it hurts.  However, Nana has lived a full and amazing life.  She is the mother, grandmother and great-grandmother of an entire family of people.  She has influenced a great deal of people.  It is not that I have no feelings or am inhuman.  It is, though, that I appreciate all of the many things that I will always remember about Nana – even when she doesn’t remember them.  And, even though she did not recognize or remember me, she treated me and loved me as if she did – and no one can take that away from me.      
          So, what does this story have to do with Parashat Metzora from the Book of Leviticus?  This week, as last week, we read about Tzaraat, often mistranslated as leprosy or skin disease.  Truthfully, what Tzaraat represents or symbolizes is much more important than what it actually is.  What is represented is something bad…a disease, a plague, who knows.  When I made the commitment to visit with Nana – it does not matter how badly or sad I feel when I realize I am not remembered.  I still love Nana and deep down I know she loves me as well.  She may be afflicted by something unknown or unexplainable…who knows?  However, the Tzaraat appears when I forget to visit and love her.
I bet you thought I was referring to her sickness.  Well, gotcha!  Truth is, it is up to us to show love and support for those in our lives – regardless of what is happening to them.  When it is the hardest for us, we must recognize it will always be harder for them.  Just as homes can be affected by Tzaraat, as in this week’s Parasha, so can our hearts.  If we allow ourselves to turn away or ignore the pain of others (even if it pains us to see our loved ones in this way), then we are afflicted with Tzaraat.
Parashat Metzora provides answers for how to cure our homes from Tzaraat.  We can take the same cure and apply it to our own hearts.  If we shut out and ignore, the disease is certain to stay.  However, if we accept and reach out to embrace, then the disease goes away (even if only temporarily).  I guess that is the answer I was looking for.  Yes, I am saddened by the condition my Nana is in.  However, I have so many years and years of memories, love and experiences that enable me to embrace Nana, even as she loses more of her memory.  It is ok to break down and cry…there is no need to always be stoic.  However, I choose to think of the happiness and the great fond memories I have. 

My prayer for us is that we may take some time today and reach out to those in our families and circles of friends with whom we may have lost touch.  Life is not infinite – it is finite.  Therefore, we should always take advantage of the time we have.  Never forget to say I love you…never forget to hug and kiss…and most importantly never forget those who made us who we are today.

Wednesday, March 5, 2014

What's in the News today?

Shalom y'all!

It seems that on most nights Batya and I will get into a discussion about something that is going on in the news.  Sometimes Batya surprises me with news I hadn't heard yet.  And, sometimes, I bring a new topic to the table.  I know that a lot of people these days get their news from social media sources - such as Facebook, Twitter, etc.  While I do sometimes see articles posted on Facebook...I always try and find another source. You see, the problem with social media is that it is open for everyone and anyone to post whatever they want.  Let me give you an example:

Today, Wednesday, March 5, 2014 - I was scrolling through my Facebook "newsfeed" and I saw an entry encouraging all users to call this 888 number immediately.  So, being the curious person I am, I clicked on the site.  I was taken to a website claiming that if I called this number, I would be given almost immediate student loan debt relief.  As someone who went to university and seminary for many, many years, I have accrued quite a bit of this debt.  If I was someone else, I might have called that phone number instantly and been duped into a program that basically would do nothing but cause me to pay MORE money.  If you choose not to do any research on these kinds of news links, at least look at the comments from other Facebook users.  Sometimes, that is the only research you need to do!

Now, don't get me wrong.  Sometimes, maybe even a lot of the time, the news links I find on Facebook are genuinely good and helpful - maybe even interesting and insightful.  What one must do when searching for the news is to research a variety of websites.  If you are a conservative, check out liberal web sources.  If you are a liberal, check out conservative web sources.  Contrary to what a lot of people believe, there is good and educational material in almost all sites out there.  And, even if you think what you are reading is bogus, at least you have an idea of what is out there...beyond your own thoughts and understandings.

So, what websites do I check out?  I am glad you asked - here is a list some of the news websites I frequent:

www.cnn.com
www.foxnews.com
www.huffingtonpost.com
www.usatoday.com
www.abcnews.go.com

www.jpost.com
www.haaretz.com
www.ynetnews.com

When you are exploring what is going on in our world, make sure you check out a variety of sites...not just the ones that represent your own political agenda.  I often learn more from reading varied perspectives on issues.

As always, I am,
Rabbi Erin Boxt



Thursday, January 30, 2014

Carmageddon 2014

Shalom y'all!

I have spent the past 3 days or so observing many of my friends react and respond to "Snowlanta."  Many of these friends have looked to place blame on this person or that person.  It is true that we were not prepared in a variety of ways for this week.  However, I would like to focus this blog on a small segment of my friends - the few who posted about the amazing Southern Hospitality that they witnessed.  Whether these brave souls were referred to as "Good Samaritans" or just good people...these are the people I believe we should focus our attention on.

When I was out and about on Wednesday, checking on different streets to see if there were any people I could help, I saw so many wonderful people out pushing cars, giving people rides, allowing people to sit in their warm cars, etc.  There was so much goodness...so many great acts from people who were complete strangers the day before.  When it came down to it - these were fellow Atlantans who either needed help or wanted to help others...or both!

I think back to September 2001 when all of us were glued to our televisions as we watched New Yorkers hand in hand walk together and help each other along.  I am reminded of those who did everything they could to help those victims in Boston...and the millions of Americans who sent money and other items to the Northeast after Hurricane Sandy.  The truth is that it is very easy to blame governmental officials...it is harder and means more to instead turn our focus on those who are out there doing what they can to help in the recovery of the moment.

I say to all of you - let us turn our attention to making sure that every one who needs help is helped.  Once the Atlanta I love gets back to "normal," then we can begin to talk about how we can prevent something like Carmageddon from happening again.  Let us not point fingers at who did or did not do this.  Instead, let us come together to make sure we are prepared in the future.

Stay safe, stay warm.  Thank God for all of those out there who put their necks on the line to help.  Thank you to Home Depot, Kroger, Publix, Target, Rite Aid, Chick Fil-A and countless other businesses who remained open havens for people who needed a warm and safe place to sleep.  Let us learn from their example!

B'Shalom,
Rabbi Erin Boxt

Monday, January 27, 2014

...Dedicated to the One I love!

Shalom y'all!

I have a secret to share.  It is been extremely hard for me to hold onto this secret.  I do a very good job of keeping confidential the secrets of others (after all I am clergy), but when it comes to my own, I am really bad at it.  And, this one is a doozy.  Ready for it? OK, here goes:

My wife,  Batya Ozaroff Boxt, is the most outstanding wife, woman, mother, etc. I have ever known.

OMG, my world is so much better now.  That secret has been weighing me down for quite some time.  You see, this may not be much of a secret to anyone who knows Batya.  However, SHE doesn't always understand or realize how great she is.  I am sure you have heard the old saying, "We are our own biggest critic."  Well, Batya is the epitome of this...she is not only her own biggest critic, but she really never gives herself the credit she deserves for being who she is.

Really.  Shortly after Batya and I were married, we were driving in a car with one of my aunts.  My aunt told me that if Batya and I were to ever divorce (she was NOT suggesting this), Batya could stay and I would be the one who gets kicked to the curb.  Although this is humorous, it is so true.  She really is my BETTER half. She really does complete me.  And, I cannot tell you how often I am reminded by everyone I know how awesome she is.  I just wish these same people would tell her!  I know she is...she is the one who needs to hear it.

Batya and I have been married for just over 11 years now.  We have been together for 13.  I cannot tell you enough how much I have grown in these 13 years - as a person, a professional, a student, an Aba, a rabbi, a husband, etc.  Much of this growth SHOULD BE attributed to Batya.  I have not always understood or recognized how influential she has been on me...but trust me, I realize this more and more every day I get to wake up next to her.

In reality, our marriage is not perfect.  No marriage is.  We have our challenges and our struggles. Sometimes we annoy each other. However, no person has ever supported or loved someone as much as Batya has loved and supported me.  Even her criticisms of me come from a place of love and support.  Any person who is married should be able to wake up every day and thank their partner for that support.  I am so very thankful that I am able EVERY day to do this.  I only wish that Carlie will be the same kind of spouse and have the same kind of spouse that her mother is.

Sometimes I am asked how I am able to do my job as a rabbi.  People want to know how I am able to be that "non-anxious" presence when people are at their darkest moments.  They want to know how I am able to do a funeral and then two hours later show up at a youth group event with a smile on my face.  A lot of this is because I know that when I get home, Batya is there to help me reflect and unwind. Being a clergy person is not easy...being the spouse of a clergy person is MUCH harder.  I was taught and went through training - Batya is just a natural at being my spouse.  And, my friends, this is NOT an easy task.

For my Batya, my b'sheret, my love, my wife, my everything - I love you...and if you EVER doubt that, please tell me so I can make sure that you never doubt it again!

B'shalom,
Rabbi Erin Boxt