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Wednesday, July 29, 2015

Leo Frank and Today - the Importance of National Knowledge and Support

On Sunday, August 16 at 2 pm, I will join my friend and colleague Rabbi Steve Lebow as we remember Leo Frank.  We do not just remember...we seek exoneration.  You see, in the early morning of August 17, 1915, Leo Frank was brutally lynched for a crime he never committed.  Rather than dwell on all of the ignorance and negativity surrounding this horrific incident, Rabbi Lebow and I prefer and choose to celebrate the "New South, the New Marietta."  This is a Marietta that embraces the other and celebrates our differences.  As a matter of fact, we are all humans and all due the same rights and privileges.  This is our preference - to celebrate and commemorate Leo Frank...and with this, we hope comes exoneration.  It is time to right a wrong and clear his name and reputation.  Although I am 100% in support of this and am extremely excited at the possibilities that lie ahead, I must take a step back and ponder how things would be different if it was today, not 100 years ago.

You see, I click on news article after news article of brutal uses of force today.  In 1915, these shootings or uses of force would have been ignored...or would they have garnered the same kind of national response Leo Frank's case did?  Unfortunately, I do believe that what we are seeing today brings us back 100 years to 1915.  Except, today Leo Frank is a young African American who is accused of crime.  I know, it's a bold statement, but it's true.  You see, Leo Frank was a northern Jewish man who was very much misunderstood in the South.  The problems that industry brought to the South caused many southerners to view Frank as a scapegoat - he represented everything they detested.

Does that sound familiar?  You see, I believe the same ignorance that was rampant in the South 100 years ago is still here today.  If we had twitter 100 years ago, you might see #Jewishlivesmatter.  Well, it's true, ALL LIFE MATTERS.  The African American community has struggled so much in this country and now they are once again fighting against a force that is based in ignorance, or at least partially based in ignorance.

So, there it is.  The same kinds of terror that ran rampant in Georgia in 1915 now runs rampant all over the United States...and this causes so much pain.  There has to be a way we can turn the tide in that we do not continue this trend and find ourselves in another hundred years with a new Leo Frank.  Yes, Black lives matter...White lives matter...Hispanic lives matter...etc.  We all matter.  That's the truth.

Monday, June 22, 2015

The "New" South?

One of the hardest parts of being a rabbi is knowing that when I write, act, or speak, I am not doing so just as Erin Boxt.  Rather, I am doing so as Rabbi Erin Boxt of Temple Kol Emeth in Marietta, Georgia. Sometimes, I find this very difficult.  As I mentioned in my sermon this past Friday night, I am an idealist.  I expect people to act and speak to each other in a way that is mutually respectful.  While I try to live by these standards, I expect for others to do the same.  When I hear about injustice - any kind, whether it be religious, racial, gendered, sexuality - I cringe.  I want to reach out to those who have experienced injustice, hold them, cry with them and then work toward change.  I want to effect change - not just because I think it is the right thing to do - because it IS the right thing to do.

Last week, as I sat in my office, thinking about my sermon...I decided to teach about the differences between an "unholy" and a "holy" controversy - as discussed by the Rabbis of the Talmudic period (in Pirkei Avot).  I chose to look at the way people respond to others...AND how people responded to each other when responding.  And, then, I started to read about the shooting in Charleston.  As a South Carolinian, I was mortified.  Why I was mortified might be surprising.  You see, growing up in Columbia, South Carolina, I experienced antisemitism.  For the most part, though, I really cannot remember any black/white racism.  As a matter of fact, when I would tell people (not from SC) that, they would never believe me.

Now, I am not suggesting that racism does not exist in South Carolina.  Of course it does - it exists everywhere.  What I am stating is that it was not "rampant" in my childhood.  In my  neighborhood, there were Blacks, Whites, Hispanics - you name it.  It was almost as if my generation was trying to do everything we could to make a "new" in which we really could get along - all of God's children together.

To be completely  honest, I am really distraught.  I am hurt inside...I hurt for all of those who lost their lives last week (in Charleston and elsewhere) because of hatred...stupid hatred.  I hurt for all of those families who had to wake up with that never ending pain - the hole that now exists in their hearts.  Yes, I pray for all of them...yes, I cry for all of them.  When does it stop?

Last Friday night, as thousands of my brothers and sisters (AMERICANS) were praying for healing in Charleston, I expressed to the TKE congregation a fear I had never had before.  For the first time as a rabbi, I actually was afraid to stand up in front of the congregation.  I was not nervous - I was truly afraid.  Dylann Roof put that fear in me.  His acts of racial hatred caused me to pause.

Then - I read about the family members who had forgiven him for his actions.  I was immediately in awe of their courage, their ability to see good where I thought there was nothing but bad.  The good these people saw was God.  Their courage and strength gave me the courage to stand up and be the leader of TKE. Dylann Roof - you will not win.  You will be defeated...not because you are guilty and will be punished accordingly.  You will be defeated because God will defeat you.  Good will defeat you.

My heart still aches for all of those who have suffered because of any kind of racism.  We shall work together as a world community to do what is right...and defeat what is wrong.

"It is during our darkest moments that we must focus to see the light."  Aristotle Onassis

Monday, June 8, 2015

"Do you hear you care?"

Sitting at my desk, listening to SiriusXM online, and a song plays I have never heard before - "Words" by Missing Persons. I was reading an article by a Jewish reporter who was writing from Gaza. The words of the article did not tell me anything I did not already know. However, the coincidence of the song playing while I was reading stuck with me.

It seems that the "war" in Israel/Palestine is never ending. Each side has their heroes and their villains. Each side has its rally cry and the message it wants the world to understand. However, I wonder if the Israelis and the Palestinians (and I do not mean the governments, but rather the man/woman walking on the street) wonder:

Do you hear me
Do you care
Do you hear me
Do you care

My lips are moving and the sound's coming out
The words are audible but I have my doubts
That you realize what has been said
You look at me as if you're in a daze
It's like the feeling at the end of the page
when you realize you don't know what you just read

I love Israel - it is my homeland. I do try to get to Israel as often as I can. However, I believe that peace is a possibility - ONLY if the real losers (the man/woman walking on the street) have a voice that is listened to. They would no longer be the losers - rather they would be the winners. And, when and if this becomes a reality, we would see that we all win...not just those who live in that region.

What are words for when no one listens anymore
What are words for when no one listens
What are words for when no one listens it's no use talking at all

I might as well go up and talk to a wall
'cause all the words are having no effect at all
It's a sorry state, I say to myself

Something has to happen to change the direction
What little filters through is giving you the wrong impression
It's a funny thing, am I all alone

Walls - we speak of walls as if we understand their purpose. Walls are not just put up to block out or keep inside. Walls are put up to protect...those inside and those outside. When we shut out those who truly desire change...who truly want to "save the human race," we all lose. Let us be winners - let's tear down the metaphysical walls...embrace the "other," and then eventually we will have no need for the physical walls.

What are words for when no one listens anymore
What are words for when no one listens
What are words for when no one listens it's no use talking at all

Do you hear me
Do you care
Do you hear me
Do you care

Let me get by
Over your dead body
Hope to see you soon
When will I know
Doors three feet wide with no locks open
Walking always backwards in the faces of strangers
Time could be my friend
But it's less than nowhere now
less than nowhere now
less than nowhere now
ow ow ow...

Time - it is our friend...but will we run out? Will there come a time when either time completely stops, or, better yet, will there come a time when the people will say "enough is enough?" Will the people overthrow those in power? Will they become the leaders we need...or will they become just like their predecessors? When will the cycle end? Will we be able to reach out, embrace and hold onto those that are different? I believe the answer is yes...this is why I do the work I do.

Pursue it further and another thing you'll find
Not only are they deaf and dumb they could be going blind and no one notices
I think I'll dye my hair blue

Media overload bombarding you with action
It's getting near impossible to cause distraction
Someone answer me before I pull out the plug

What are words for when no one listens anymore
What are words for when no one listens
What are words for when no one listens it's no use talking at all

What are words for when no one listens anymore
What are words for when no one listens
What are words for when no one listens it's no use talking at all...

Yes, the media overloads and bombards us with what we should see and what we need not to see. While this may seem a contradiction - it is true. Too many depend on the media for the "stuff" they need to know...or what they think they need to know. NO - we must reach out and embrace those we do not understand and listen. NO - we are not required to agree with everything we hear. YES - we are required to support people and do what it takes to make sure others feel safe being who they are...just as we want for ourselves.

Is this easy? NO. Is this possible? YES. Does this require some major figure? NO. Does this require everyone of us to make it happen? YES.

Yes - we will...because we have no other choice.

Monday, May 11, 2015

Praying for Marriage Equality

On Sunday, April 26, I joined many other faith leaders at Unity North Church in Marietta, Georgia to hold a prayer vigil in support of Marriage Equality. This issue – the equality of all couples – is central to my belief system as a Jew and as a Rabbi.  As a member of the Cobb Interfaith Spiritual Leaders, I wanted to stand by my colleagues and support those in our community who are treated differently, just because they are “different.”  As a Jew, I understand what it means to be considered the “other.”  It is because of this that I choose to stand up and fight for any group who finds themselves on the “outside looking in.” 

The United States Supreme Court, on April 28, heard hours of arguments from both sides (those in favor and those against marriage equality).  The decision that stands before them now is one that will greatly affect thousands (if not millions) of Americans.  Imagine being told that you cannot make a medical decision regarding your child because the state you live in does not recognize your rights as the parent of that child.  Imagine being told that you will not be able to be present at the bedside of your loved one while they are sick because you are not legally considered family.  There are many cases in the United States where this kind of scenario occurs.  And, it is totally wrong. 

As a rabbi, I have always fought for the rights and equality of all.  I have read many Op-Eds and arguments of those who disagree with me.  It seems the argument against Marriage Equality for LGBTQI community comes down to two main points: 1) The Bible calls it an “abomination,” and 2) the perception of marriage has been the way it is for so long that it would be unwise to rush into a decision that changes it.  In response to what the Bible says, I can only reply there are many instances in the Bible in which I would disagree with the statement being made.  For example, should I take an unruly child outside of town and allow the Elders of my community stone him to death?  Of course, this is only one example…the Bible is a living document which means we have a responsibility to dialogue with it and not find ourselves “stuck in ancient history.”  As far as the second point is concerned – the perception of marriage being the way it is for so many years.  Well, times change…and with time changing, so should the perception of equality under the Law.  Too many of my friends and colleagues find themselves in ridiculously difficult situations because of this “perception” of marriage.

I do not purport to know all of the answers, and I am certainly willing to have a conversation with someone who disagrees with me.  However, when it comes to the reality (or lack thereof) of equality, there can be no misinterpretation.  Marriage equality means all couples should have the right be married and share the same benefits as everyone else.  For me, this is not negotiable.  I only hope the Supreme Court makes the right decision and makes Marriage Equality truly Equal under the Law.

Thursday, February 12, 2015

"Selma" and the Jews

On Monday, January 19, Martin Luther King, Jr. Day, I invited my 9th grade students to join me as we watched “Selma,” the recent movie directed by Oprah Winfrey. My 9th grade class curriculum focuses on the history of Reform Judaism, specifically focusing on growing up as a Jew in the South.  Prior to our trip to Selma, Alabama, in March, we will be spending some time at The Temple on Peachtree Street learning about and discussing the role the Atlanta Jewish community played in the Civil Rights movement of the mid 20th century.  Of course, with the release of “Selma,” I believed this to be a great introduction for my students. 

Having recently read “What Selma Means to the Jews” by Dr. Susannah Heschel, I was keenly aware of some of the criticism that has been given to “Selma.”  The criticism specified in Dr. Heschel’s Op-Ed seems to focus on a few key points.  In the first paragraph, Dr. Heschel writes, “Regrettably, the film represents the march as many see it today, only as an act of political protest.”  Yes, it is true – the film does focus on the politics of the Civil Rights Movement.  However, there is also a special focus on Dr. King’s invitation to clergy nationwide to join him in Selma.  The movie’s emphasis on this invitation is significant.  As a matter of fact, the brutal murder of one of these ministers happens to be one of the most difficult and tense scenes in the entire movie.  In my opinion, the most spiritually uplifting scene in the movie occurs when Dr. King knelt down to pray and then turned around and walked the other direction, back from where he came.

As a rabbi, I have always appreciated Dr. King’s comparison of the march from Selma to the Exodus of the Jews out of Egypt.  Dr. Heschel writes about this as well in her Op-Ed: “Not only were the Israelites leaving Egypt, the place of enslavement, but also the Egyptians, because there was a hope at Selma that white America was repudiating its racism.”  It is true that we still have a long way to go in this country in order to finish the “Exodus from Selma.”  However, the march was a great step and a foundational moment in our history.  This cannot be ignored, just as any first step in achieving the prophetic vision of total justice for all peoples.

The most significant criticism of “Selma” was that there was not more of a focus on the relationship between Dr. King and Rabbi Abraham Joshua Heschel.  Dr. King and Rabbi Heschel had a very special relationship.  The very famous picture of Rabbi Heschel walking alongside Dr. King, Ralph Bunche, Rep. John Lewis, Rev. Fred Shuttleworth and Rev. C.T. Vivian is one of the most well known artifacts from the Civil Rights period.  While the picture represents a future filled with hope, one in which justice can be achieved, the focus of “Selma” was on the struggle of African Americans and the eventual outcome.

As a rabbi in the South, I understand completely the significance of the shared history of Blacks and Jews.  When I walked out of the movie theater, I was not upset or frustrated that there was not more of a focus on the Jewish community and their role.  I was not upset that a particular person or group was not included.  I was inspired, not only by the actors and the roles they played, but also by the message from 50 years ago that still applies today.

“…Let justice roll down like waters, and righteousness like a mighty stream” (Amos 5:21-24) 

Israel B’yadeinu – Israel in Our Hands

Israel – the homeland of the Jews, the Promised Land, Eretz Yisrael, Ha-Aretz.  As a kid, I always envisioned what Israel would be like.  I saw the many posters in my synagogue, I watched the videos and read the stories.  When I first traveled to Israel in 1999, what I experienced on my first trip I could not have been prepared for.  There were modern buildings.  We had dinner in a mall.  Israel was just like America in so many ways.  As a tourist, I was in awe at the beauty and wonder of Israel.  Sixteen years later, I am still in awe at the wonder that is Israel, but I am also keenly aware of the challenges and questions facing Israelis every day.  

While I was living in Israel in 2007, I took a taxi with a few of my friends to go to the mall.  As was usually the case, the driver started to ask us about our visit to Israel.  When one of my friends, a female cantoral student, remarked she was studying to be a Chazanit, the driver stopped his cab, yelled that there was no such thing as a female Chazan, and then kicked us out of his cab.  This story is a clear example of some of the questions and challenges facing Israel, even today.

Rabbi Miri Gold earned the dual distinction of being the first female AND the first non-Orthodox rabbi to receive a paycheck from the State of Israel as a rabbi.  Anat Hoffman, often seen being arrested at the Western Wall for her leadership of Women of the Wall, just wants the right to pray, read Torah and wear a Tallis.  These are just two incredible women doing their parts to ensure gender equality in Israel.  Rabbi Gold, because she is not an Orthodox rabbi, is not granted the same status as her Orthodox colleagues.  The very character of the State of Israel is affected by these unequal policies.  By denying its non-Orthodox Jewish citizens equal treatment under the law, Israel violates its own Declaration of Independence, which guarantees freedom of religion.

As a rabbi, I stand 100% with Israel.  I love Israel – the people, the food, the culture.  However, as an American Jew, I understand also that there are opportunities for me (and all American Jews) to help shape the future of Israel.  Israel is not just the homeland for Israeli Jews; no, it is the homeland for all Jews.  As a Reform Rabbi, I support ARZA – the Association of Reform Zionists of America.  ARZA speaks for all Jews, providing a valuable voice for Women’s Rights and Gender Equality, Religious Equality among all Jews, and for the safety, security and stability of Israel, the Palestinians and the entire Middle East Region.

So, the question is – will you step up and do your part to help create an Israel that cherishes the same values we cherish??  Each of us has a critical voice, and a critical opportunity.  In October, 2015, the World Zionist Congress (WZC) will meet in Jerusalem to discuss, debate, and make decisions about critical issues; decisions that will continue to shape Israel today and into the future.  Israel was founded to be a pluralistic and democratic Jewish state.  By supporting ARZA in the WZC election, you will ensure that the dream of the founders of Israel will be realized.

How can you be involved?  Visit to learn more about the elections, and how your vote will matter.  Beginning January 13, 2015, and running through April 30, 2015, VOTE.  You can vote online or with a paper ballot.  The vote costs $10 for those over age 30 and $5 for those 30 and under.  The future of Israel is in your hands!