Monday, August 27, 2012

When You Go Out - Parashat Ki Teitzei

This week we are reading Parashat Ki Teitzei, which means: “when you go out.”
Parshat Ki Tetze demands that we, as human beings take some responsibility and act on behalf of those in need, to try ensure that justice is done, and thereby to act as partners with God in repairing the world in which we live.
Ki Teitzei is chock-full of instructions and detailed laws on various topics, but it really focuses on how each person is expected to act every time they “go out”.  (Remember your parents saying, “Now, when you’re in public I expect you to be on your best behavior) In fact, this portion contains more commandments than any other portion in the Torah. The idea of including the commandments is to make sure that we focus our attention and our actions on creating a society where people start taking responsibility, and actually take care of each other.  It says in the Parashat “You must not remain indifferent”(Deut 22:3)
In addition, and very timely, I might add… the Parashat refers to the treatment of women. This is something that the Israelites were taught never to be indifferent to. It was clear in Ki Teitzei that the dignity of women was to be protected. We’re talking about rape here. Plain and Simple.
There are no varying degrees of rape. To suggest otherwise is inaccurate and insulting and minimizes the serious physical and psychological repercussions for all victims of rape. They seemed to get it.
Throughout the Parashah, Ki Tetze is concerned with defining human responsibility toward others. Cain may have asked, “Am I my brother’s keeper?” in Genesis 4:9. Parshat Ki Tetze responds with:“Yes”!

Saturday, August 25, 2012

Women's Equality Day

Just about when the Republican National Convention is about to begin, and Hurricane Isaac is about to hit the coast of Florida, on August 26th, the Women of America will commemorate Women’s Equality Day.  We’re celebrating quite a victory….the right to vote! But, I wish that I could say that the struggle and fight for full equality was behind us. But, it’s not.
The Equal Pay Act was a huge step forward, making it against the law for women to be discriminated against in the workplace—but it is not enough. Women are still being paid less than men for the same job.
The Violence Against Women Act was grudgingly passed with restrictions.
The new bill removed protections to Native Americans, lesbian, gay, and transgender Americans and illegal immigrants. Unbelievable!
It’s frightening to think just how much some people would like to take away a woman’s right to make a choice about their own bodies, that they have actually waged a War on Women.
And then, this week, of course, Todd Akin’s debacle on Rape. 
We need to reflect on the progress we’ve made and the challenges we still face.
A lot has changed in the last century. We’ve won the right to vote and more and more women are running for public office.
Women’s Equality Day is about celebrating the Right to Vote. Let’s make sure that everyone uses their vote this year, because this election will affect Women for generations to come.

Sunday, August 19, 2012

Justice Justice Shalt Thou Pursue-Parashat Shoftim

All justices past and likely present were reared in a religion that stands on the words in the Bible. Turning to the Bible, a favorite quote comes to mind: Deuteronomy 16:20: "Justice, justice shalt thou pursue." (Associate Justice Elena Kagan)

            Law serves a central role in Jewish faith and tradition.  Indeed, Jewish law comprises a legal system, which developed over thousands of years, exploring and regulating every form of human endeavor and experience.  Therefore, it may not be surprising that the American courts and legal scholars have increasingly turned to Jewish legal tradition to insights into various issues confronting the American legal system.  Jewish law has provided an alternative model, and, at times a contrast cast that some have found particularly helpful in illuminating complex, controversial, and unsettled areas of American law.
Deborah is introduced in Judges 4:4 as a prophet and a judge.  Both titles indicate her role as someone who serves as an intermediary between the human world and the divine, bringing the word of God to the people of Israel.  This task is certainly an important one within Israelite society, indeed, envisioned by the passage’s authors as being so important that Deborah is even assigned a special location from which to carry out her work, a tree known as the palm of Deborah, located in the hill country of Ephraim between Ramah and Bethel.  As Judges 4:5 tells us, Deborah used to sit under this tree while the Israelites came to her to seek her judgment and advice.
Today, Ruth Bader Ginsburg, who as a lawyer, professor, women’s rights advocate and Associate Justice of the United States Supreme Court, transformed constitutional jurisprudence to guarantee equality under the law.  She is the second woman on the bench in the court’s history, and it’s first Jewish mother.

It was a combination of extraordinary abilities, the values instilled in her by her parents, tireless devotion to her work, the support of her husband and family, and, as she herself states, good luck, that brought her to the highest position to which a lawyer can aspire.  Although she is the first Jewish woman on the Court, Ruth Bader Ginsburg follows such outstanding jurists as Brandeis, Cardozo, Frankfurter, Goldberg and Fortas.  She and Justice Steven Breyer are the 107th and 108th justices, and recently welcomed to the court Associate Justice Elena Kagan. 
“There is an age-old connection between social justice to mend tears caused by the Holocaust and Jewish tradition.  One of my predecessors, Justice Arthur Goldberg, famously remarked: “My concern for justice, for peace, for enlightenment…stems from my Jewish heritage.”  Art in my chambers display the Hebrew letters, the command from Deuteronomy—Justice, justice shalt thou pursue.  These postings serve as ever-present reminders of what judges must do…that they may thrive.”[1]

Ruth Bader Ginsburg is one of a number of Jewish women who helped to change the rules of professional life and parenthood, making it more possible for mothers, as well as fathers, to become mentors to their children, and for daughters, as well as sons, to reach their full potential. When appointed to the Court by President Clinton, she said:
“I am a judge born, raised and proud of being a Jew.  The demand for justice runs through the entirety of the Jewish tradition.  I hope, in my years on the bench of the Supreme Court of the United States, I will have the strength and the courage to remain constant in the service of that demand.”

[1] Comments of Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg

Thursday, August 16, 2012

Another Summer At Camp

My grandmother used to say, that time passes in the blink of an eye. That shows me that we can’t slow the passage of time – and somehow, we will always look back at the end of our journey with amazement at how quickly it has passed.
But, every summer, when Camp comes to a close, I do spend some time reflecting on the past weeks., and how my memories make me feel.,
How can we can make our time here count – we can look back fondly on the past, and eagerly toward the future “Today well lived makes every yesterday a dream of happiness, and every tomorrow a vision of hope
When our Campers say  “goodbye” to each other and to their summer home, I know that their hearts break a little bit.
Most of them start scheduling sleep-overs and get-togethers throughout the year. No one really says goodbye to each other. That would just be too painful.
I would imagine that their get-togethers are full of eating….and telling stories about camp. And each year when I get together with my “Sisterhood”, I seem to be more aware of how quickly time is passing. It’s important to spend that time with the girls that I love…to just sit around and laugh. We don’t agree on everything. But it’s camp.
We don’t all live near each other, so being together during the summer makes it even more special. And while the span in our ages goes from the mid 20’s to mine, the oldest of the bunch…Camp doesn’t seem to recognize that.
But as I get older there seems to be more an awareness of time. An awareness that everyone is changing so quickly, and I actually hear myself saying “time passes in the blink of an eye”. This is life. I am thankful for it. And I look forward to scheduling many happy reunions with my “Sisterhood” throughout the year.

Sunday, August 12, 2012

Is The Glass Half Empty Or Full-Parashat Re'eh

Parshat Re'eh continues with Moses' second sermon to the Israelite people. It begins with the statement, "See, re'eh, this day I set before you a blessing and a curse" - a blessing if the people obey God's commandments and a curse, if they choose to disobey.

Strange that it doesn’t begin with the word “Sh’ma” or “Listen”, like it usually does at the beginning of a list of instructions. Like “Listen Up”.  Instead, this parashat begins with the word “Re’eh”, or “See”. Re’eh teaches us that each day we have the opportunity to choose. We have the choice to see the glass half empty or half full. 
The Torah presents the blessings and curses as choices, saying that each one of us must “See” for ourselves which ones follow.
 Deuteronomy is in essence a review of where we have been. It asks us to examine our past actions, and then look ahead to the future. It requires us to have a vision, the ability to “see” with all of our being in order to discern the blessings from the curses. As we get ready to enter the Land, we need to open our eyes and our hearts to the possibilities that lie ahead, learning from the mistakes that we made along the way.
The gift of Free Will definitely carries some problems with it. The onus is now on us to try our best to make the right decision.
Every day is a day of choices, and the key to making these choices is being able to understand all of the options before us.

Monday, August 6, 2012

For You Were Strangers In The Land Of Egypt--Parashat Eikev


“You too must befriend the stranger, for you were strangers in the land of Egypt” (Deuteronomy 10:19)

For many years, the Arabs in Sudan lived peacefully alongside the native Africans in the region. After a severe drought in the ‘80’s, the situation became desperate, and the African villages were often attacked by government forces. Living on the constant threat of harassment, persecution, and violence, refugees fled in massive numbers to Egypt and then to Israel. They crossed the Sinai on a harrowing journey, led by Bedouin guides, who charged huge amounts for their services. According to a 1954 Israeli law, all infiltrators from enemy states, such as Sudan, must be imprisoned, until their refugee status can be confirmed. Many refugees were sent back to Egypt, where they faced deportation back to Sudan. Those that were allowed to stay in Israel were met with poor living conditions, unemployment and prejudice.
So much for remembering.
Doesn’t the Torah teach the concept of ethical responsibility, and recalling our struggles in Egypt….and we’re told that because of our past we aren’t allowed to mistreat strangers? With 1,200 refugees entering Israel each month, could the Israeli government be reacting out of fear?
Prime Minister Netanyahu has come up with a whole series of plans to offer refugees “temporary protection”, but what about mistreatment?  Has Israel really considered the rights of those that are seeking freedom,too?
We that have known suffering, are in a position to help those who are in need. Its not only the right thing to do, but ignoring it, would be unethical. We were strangers in the Land of Egypt, and we are obligated to help any stranger needing to escape their home. Who else should know better?

Saturday, August 4, 2012

Bleeding Blue & Gold

Color War…..
Mind you, this isn’t the Olympics. It’s bigger.
London can keep the games, but we’ve got the 4-day show-down of competition at the end of every summer.
We divide into 2 teams, the Blue & the Gold, and it’s everything.
Several sleep-away camps claim to have invented Color War, said Leslie Paris, an associate history professor at the University of British Columbia who spent years investigating the matter while writing “Children’s Nature: The Rise of the American Summer Camp.” The earliest reference she found: “Red and Gray Week” in 1916 at Schroon Lake Camp, a Jewish boys’ camp in the Adirondacks. By the 1920s, Dr. Paris said, Color Wars composed of a series of small contests, from checkers to swimming races, were a staple of the camp experience.
Color War has changed a bit. Long-gone are the checkers contests, but we still have Swimming Races.
First, the much-anticipated “Break”, where the 4 Counselor Judges are revealed, and the Team Lists are announced.  Then the competition begins. From land sports, to water-sports to the highlight of the competition, “The Apache Relay”…it’s everything most of the kids have been waiting for. (you can tell that, because there’s lots of screaming!)  But, Color War isn’t just about the athletic competition and tallying up the points. It’s about that team, and friendship, and caring about each other.
And, after “The Sing”, when the scores are finally announced, and a lot of tears are being shed, something happens. We’re one again. No more Blue Team & Gold Team.  We become One Team. We all sing the Alma Mater together, and the counting begins, until next summer.