Archive for April, 2012

Enjoy each day

Friday, April 27th, 2012

Dear Friends,

This was an exciting week for me with the opportunity to meet the President and to have all the wonderful pictures and video to remind me of this special occasion. It reminded me of how fortunate we are that on a day in which we remembered the Holocaust I could be standing by Elie Wiesel, a number of survivors, and meeting the President. We should never take for granted the freedom we enjoy in our world and how fortunate we are to live in the United States of America in which we can freely practice our religion. I We know that as it says at the Korean War Memorial, “freedom is not free” and the commemoration of the Holocaust reminds us of what can happen in societies where people don’t enjoy freedom. (see pictures from the link below)

On a separate note, this week we read the Torah portions “Tazria-Metzora” from the Book of Leviticus that among other things deals with leprosy. We are taught that this portion may be meant to teach us about how lashon hara or negative speech can wound us and how in the same way we sometimes isolate the leper, that we sometimes jump to conclusions based upon hearsay. We read this portion every year to remind ourselves not to speak negatively about others and to not speak idle words of slander or gossip.

My favorite prayer is the meditation after the Amidah that says, “O God, guard my tongue from evil and my lips from telling lies…” This quote is attributed to the Chofetz Chaim, a rabbi who loved life and taught us that the secret of life is fulfilling the words of this prayer. I hope we can learn from his teaching and will be careful in the words we use. When I was a child we were taught that “sticks and stones can break your bones, but words can never hurt you.” Today, we are taught by Robert Fulghum, author of “All I Really Need to Know I Learned in Kindergarten” who wrote that “Sticks and stones can break your bones and words can break your heart..” Let us mend hearts with the words we use and the deeds we perform…

Shabbat Shalom,

Rabbi Bruce Aft
GMU Hillel Rabbinic Advisor

Remembering the 6 million… do something and Never Forget

Thursday, April 19th, 2012

Dear Friends,

Today is the day on the Jewish calendar when we mark Holocaust Commemoration Day.

I need to confess, although some of you have heard me say this. We say the we should NEVER FORGET and yet I wonder how many of us watch the news about genocide in Africa and change the channel. There are many accounts that suggest that people knew more or less about what was happening to the Jews in Europe during the Holocaust. And yet…the question that haunts me is whether or not everything was done that could have been done to save Jewish people. When the genocide was occurring in Rwanda, I remember speaking about the O.J. Simpson trial, but never speaking about the genocide. Years later I taught a course at Adat Reyim in 2008 and one at George Mason University in 2011 on the religious response to genocide. The final project for the course at Adat Reyim was for the high school students to do a fundraiser to help victims of genocide. Due to the kindness and connections of a congregant, we were able to send money to Rwanda to help those living in a small village and make a donation to Save Darfur. However this occurred 14 years later…

I feel terribly guilty that as one who has been on so many March of the Living trips and says NEVER FORGET, that I haven’t done more to help victims of genocide. Last night, Yael Ingel, our Israeli educator, shlicha, spoke at an adult education session at Adat Reyim about the power of memory. I hope that as we remember the victims of the Holocaust today, we will remember that there continues to be genocide and do whatever we can to make sure that senseless killing doesn’t continue to occur. Whether contacting political officials, teaching our children about these horrible things, or contacting the Sudanese embassy, each of us needs to commit to do something so that we prove we have not forgotten.

Rabbi Yoachim Prinz, a rabbi in Berlin who served a congregation in New Jersey and shared the podium with Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. when he gave his “I have a dream speech,” once said the greatest sin of the Holocaust was the sin of silence. We have just celebrated Passover where we remember that we were slaves to Pharaoh in Egypt so that each of us can think about the plight of those who are mistreated and oppressed in our world. I hope we will remember by DOING SOMETHING and not be silent!

Rabbi Bruce Aft
GMU Hillel Rabbinic Advisor

Passover Message

Friday, April 6th, 2012

Dear Friends,

I wish all of you a Happy, Healthy, Ziessen (sweet) Pesach. I hope you are together with people who are important to you and that we will all find something to liberate ourselves from that will make us feel better about ourselves and our lives.

My colleague, Rabbi Mitch Wohlberg suggested recently that one of the things that makes this night different from all other nights is that we gather with those who are dear to us for a significant Jewish event and enjoy dinner together. Wouldn’t it be wonderful if we could find other opportunities, including Shabbat, to be together with our families and friends?

I often wonder what we could do as individuals and a community to make this year different than every other year. What commitments are we prepared to make to really embrace that which is important to us? We speak of four children at the seder and are commanded to tell the story so that the wise, the alienated, the simple, and the one who doesn’t know how to ask, can understand. What kind of person do we want to be? Do we wish to make the cause of the underprivileged our own? Do we wish to embrace our freedom by reaching out and working with causes that help enhance the plight of the oppressed?

What kinds of questions do we ask at our seder? We know the formula for asking questions about matzah, bitter herbs, dipping, and reclining. But what are the meaningful questions about our lives that we wish to ask? Are we satisfied with our careers, our major in college, our extra curricular activities, our friends, our sports teams (ok, you knew I would put that one in there so close to opening day…Go Nationals! (and White Sox, of course)), our relationships, what we are doing with our lives…? What are we prepared to do to respond to the tough questions that we could address to ourselves or that others could ask us?

Pesach is a time of liberation, a time to dream, a time to reshape our journey. I often believe that Moses was a GPS, a guide to personal spirituality. May each of us find meaningful paths as we journey toward our promised land. And….like Nachshon, who took the first step into the Red Sea and had faith that he could cross over the Red Sea to safety, may we have the courage to take that first step toward our own liberation, toward our own freedom from something that enslaves us, and as Debbie Friedman wrote in her prayer of healing, may we have the courage to make our lives a blessing.

Hag Sameach and Shabbat Shalom,
Rabbi Bruce Aft
GMU Hillel Rabbinic Advisor