Archive for September, 2011

L’shanah tovah tikateivu… g’mar hatima tovah

Wednesday, September 28th, 2011

Dear Friends,

As we prepare to celebrate Rosh HaShanah, Sue and I want to wish each of you and sweet, fulfilling new year filled with good health, safety, and happiness. I recently had a discussion with one of our children about all the various greetings at this time of year. I thought you might be interested to know that some will say L’shanah tovah tikateivu, may you be inscribed for a good year; (more…)

Being greatful and remebering loved ones

Friday, September 16th, 2011

Dear Friends,

Earlier this week, my wife and I were in Shanksville, Pennsylvania for the private memorial for the families and friends of Flight 93. There was a funeral and burial for three caskets of remains which have been found over the past 10 years. The local funeral home staff and others dug 40 feet down in order to search for the limited remains that could be found that were not burned up in the crash. The service which was held was an interfaith service with those representing each religion praying in ways that were meaningful to the adherents of their religion.

I was representing the Jewish faith and began my remarks by suggesting that I felt like the doctor in the movie, “Field of Dreams” who was asked whether he was ever sorry he had not tried to be a ball player and responds that he would have been sorry if he had not become a doctor especially when he saves the little girl in the movie. Well, after 30 years in the rabbinate, I feel that perhaps yesterday was one of the reasons I had become a rabbi. If I could provide any comfort to the victims’ families and friends, then perhaps I would feel that I had made a difference as a rabbi. (Yes, like many of us, even rabbis sometimes wonder if we are making a difference….)

As the service progressed and the three clergy spoke from our religious perspectives, one could see the tears, feel the pain and anguish, and witness what I hope and pray was a transformation from grieving to healing. The minister spoke of leaving the pain behind and taking away hope that their loved ones had made a difference and in the love their loved ones shared with them, while recognizing that anniversaries and birthdays may never be the same; the priest spoke of the holiness of the ground on which we were standing, following up on the imagery of the Gettysburg address; the representative of the funeral home spoke of the area in which they are now buried as a cemetery that will always mark the place where their loved ones died; and I spoke of the Jewish custom of burying the despair and regrets, and taking away the courage that their loved ones had exhibited as they made their lives a blessing through their love and by saving so many others.

As we walked from the site of the service to the place of burial, we walked along the flight path of United Flight 93 through the open field. As the clouds dissipated and the sun came out, people cried, they held each other, young children got antsy, and the mood became one of hope with the realization that after 10 long years, the families and friends could feel a sense of closure. After the service concluded, everyone had the opportunity to put a rose on the gravesite and people hugged me in ways that only family members and close friends have hugged me before. People took pictures of the clergy to document this historical moment and I was even asked for an autograph so that future generations would know who had been present at this sacred occasion.

I may never have this kind of opportunity again (and due to the nature of this tragedy, I hope that I do not have to participate in this kind of service again) but am grateful for the honor and privilege of being able to perhaps alleviate a bit of pain, and inspire hope for the future.

Thanks for reading this. As one of the family members told me, no one who visits that place ever leaves it as the same person. I do not know what changes will occur in my life based upon this experience but I do know I am forever blessed to have been part of this incredible memorial for incredible heroes.

Rabbi Bruce Aft

Eve of 9-11 Anniversary

Friday, September 9th, 2011

Dear Friends,

As we prepare for Sept. 11 this Sunday, I hope that all of you will join us at our Memorial/Healing Service on Sunday at 3pm at Adat Reyim. Please share the reading which is found at the conclusion of this article with those that are dear to you since I think it raises provocative questions. I personally think we provide the best memorial to those who died that day and to those who have died in the war against terrorism, by remembering them through the performance of good deeds and acts of kindness to others. How many of us remember the feeling of unity we felt 10 years ago and how that feeling seems to have disappeared? I hope that we can recreate that sense of togetherness that we experienced at that time.

Please be safe this weekend and as we go about our daily lives, be aware of anything that seems out of the ordinary. Notify someone if you see an idle car, a strange package, and be vigilant in pursuing all the other precautions which the media is suggesting.

Shabbat shalom,
Rabbi Bruce Aft

The 9/11 attacks are linked to a wider moral malaise
Published in the Times 8/9/2011 by Rabbi Jonathan Sacks

Two things have haunted me since 9/11. The first is the pain, the grief, the lives lost and families devastated, the sheer barbaric ingenuity of evil. The scar in our humanity is still unhealed. The second is our failure to understand what Osama bin Laden was saying about the West. We did not hear the message then. I’m not sure we hear it now.

After the shock and grief subsided, two theories began to be heard. The first was that this was an event of epoch-changing magnitude. The terms of international politics had been transformed. The Cold War was over. Another war had begun. This time the enemy was not the Soviet Union and communism. It was radical, political Islam.

The second was the opposite. 9/11 was terrifying and terrible but it changed nothing because acts of terror never do. Terrorist campaigns have been aimed at other countries. Britain suffered similarly from the IRA in the 1970s. The most important thing is not to overreact. Terror may bring dividends in local conflicts but it never succeeds in its larger political aims.
There is something to be said for both theories. But there is a third, no less consequential. Why did al-Qaeda attack America? Because it believed that it could. Because it thought the US was a power past its prime, no longer as lean and hungry as it believed it was.

Robert McNamara said that the first rule in politics is to understand your enemy’s psychology. As I struggled to understand 9/11 I began to suspect that the answer lay in the events of 1989. That is when the narratives of the West and the rest began seriously to diverge.

In the West, 1989 was seen as the collapse of communism, the fall of the Berlin Wall, the implosion of the Soviet Union and the end of the Cold War. The Western narrative was triumphalist. It saw those events as heralding the victory of its values without a shot being fired. The free market and liberal democratic politics had won for the simplest of reasons. They delivered, while communism did not. They would now spread across the world. It was, said Francis Fukuyama, the beginning of the end of history.

There was, though, another narrative that few were listening to. It said that the Soviet Union collapsed in 1989 not because of the triumph of liberal democracy but because of the Soviet withdrawal from Afghanistan earlier that year. It had invaded in 1979 and was forced to withdraw, not because of superpower politics but because of the determined resistance of a small group of highly motivated religious warriors, the Mujahidin and their helpers. That, historically, is the event that captured the imagination of Osama bin Laden.

According to this account, that one event, the humiliating retreat of the Soviet Army, set in motion a series of internal crises that resulted, months later, in the fall of a great power. If one of the world’s two superpowers was vulnerable to asymmetric warfare — the war of the few against the many — why not the other, America itself? What 1989 represented was not the end of history but the end of a history dominated by the twin superpowers of communist Russia and capitalist America.

Both were vulnerable because both were overripe and about to fall from the tree. Much excitement was felt in the West by the failure of communism. Less attention was paid to what Daniel Bell called the cultural contradictions of capitalism.
Throughout this period there were voices that few seemed to be listening to. First and greatest was the philosopher Alasdair MacIntyre in his 1981 masterwork, After Virtue. He argued that the moral discourse of the West had broken down.

The “Enlightenment project” of a purely rational ethic had failed — not because there was no such thing, but because there were too many. They clashed inconclusively and people were left with a sense that morality is whatever you think it is.

His minatory warning was: “The barbarians are not waiting beyond the frontiers; they have already been governing us for quite some time.” That was a scary thing to hear from one of the world’s great philosophers. I soon began to hear it from other leading intellectuals also, such as Philip Rieff, Christopher Lasch and Robert Bellah. That is what I heard in the echoes of 9/11: that all great civilisations eventually decline, and when they begin to do so they are vulnerable. That is what Osama bin Laden believed about the West and so did some of the West’s own greatest minds.

If so, then 9/11 belongs to a wider series of phenomena affecting the West: the disintegration of the family, the demise of authority, the build-up of personal debt, the collapse of financial institutions, the downgrading of the American economy, the continuing failure of some European economies, the loss of a sense of honour, loyalty and integrity that has brought once esteemed groups into disrepute, the waning throughout the West of a sense of national identity; even last month’s riots.

These are all signs of the arteriosclerosis of a culture, a civilisation grown old. Whenever Me takes precedence over We, and pleasure today over viability tomorrow, a society is in trouble. If so, then the enemy is not radical Islam, it is us and our by now unsustainable self-indulgence.

The West has expended much energy and courage fighting wars in Afghanistan and Iraq abroad and defeating terror at home. It has spent far less, if any, in renewing its own morality and the institutions — families, communities, ethical codes, standards in public life — where it is created and sustained. But if I am right, this is the West’s greatest weakness in the eyes of its enemies as well as its friends.

The only way to save the world is to begin with ourselves. Our burden after 9/11 is to renew the moral disciplines of freedom. Some say it can’t be done. They are wrong: it can and must. Surely we owe the dead no less.

Friday, September 2nd, 2011
Dear Friends,

I hope that everyone enjoys a safe Labor Day weekend and that we all remember the important role that Labor has played in our country’s history.  I remember that my dad used to show me the notebooks where he kept records of all the hours he worked in order to help my brothers and me go to college.  He worked for the railroad, first as a switchman, then a yardmaster, and then a trainmaster.    I know that he used to say he worked in the transportation business because he was embarrassed to say he worked for the railroad.  This bothered my mom a lot since she and the rest of us respected that he worked hard in an important field.  Although working on the railroad wasn’t a typical profession for a Jewish man, he worked approximately 40 years for different railroads and his efforts, along with my mother’s devotion to being home with the four Aft boys, taught me the value of hard work.  When you visit me in the rabbinic study, you will notice three Cal Ripken bobblehead dolls which are on the window sill in order to remind me that one of Cal’s greatest gift to baseball when he broke Lou Gehrig’s streak of playing in consecutive games, was to remind all of us the value of fulfilling our commitments each day.

I hope that you also will calendar to be with us on Sept. 11 at 3pm for the following special commemoration of Sept. 11, 2001.

9/11 Interfaith Memorial/Healing Service

Sunday, September 11, 2011 will mark the 10 year anniversary of the terrorist attacks on our country. Please join us at 3:00 pm for an Interfaith Memorial/ Healing Service at Congregation Adat Reyim as we commemorate not only the lives lost, but the brave men and women still fighting for our freedom. The Memorial Service will feature musical presentations.
For more information or if you have any questions,

This program will be sponsored by Congregation Adat Reyim, Burke Presbyterian Church, The Institute for Islamic and Turkish Studies, Messiah United Methodist Church, and St. Andrew’s Episcopal Church.

Be safe this weekend, enjoy a productive semester, learning something:-), and Shabbat Shalom,

Rabbi Bruce Aft