Tu B’Av, the 15th day of the Hebrew month of Av, has long been associated with love and romance. The origins of this “Jewish Valentine’s Day” are found in the Talmud where it is mentioned as a day for romantic encounters between men and women. It seems to have served as a matchmaking day for unmarried women during the time of the Second Temple (before the fall of Jerusalem in 70 C.E.).
Tu B’Av was almost unnoticed in the Jewish calendar for many centuries, but it has been rejuvenated in recent decades, especially in the modern state of Israel. In its modern incarnation, Tu B’Av is gradually becoming a Hebrew-Jewish Day of Love, and in a world filled with so much hate, this is a very nice holiday to have!
We will mark Tu B’Av with special musical selections and readings on Friday night during our Shabbat services. Wishing you a week filled with love and kindness.
This Sunday, Jews around the world will observe a solemn Jewish holiday called Tisha B’Av. According to our tradition, it was on the 9th of Av that both the First and Second Temples were destroyed – first by the Babylonians in 586 BCE and then by the Romans in the year 70 CE. Jewish tradition further teaches that throughout our history many of the worst atrocities against the Jews fell on Tisha B’Av.
In remembrance of these catastrophes, many Jews observe a day-long fast and read from the Book of Lamentations, a scroll in which the author bewails the destruction of the First Temple and the exile of the Jews from Jerusalem.
While very few Reform Jews observe Tisha B’Av in a formal way, our angst and fears about Jerusalem continue to be real for all of us today. Our threats come from within our faith and from forces beyond us.
Internally, the Ultra-Orthodox control of the Temple Plaza and all religious activities in the State of Israel represents a threat to Jews around the world. Externally, issues concerning Jerusalem, in general, and the Temple Mount, in particular, remain a constant impediment to peace in the region. These are real concerns for all of us, and they remind us that Jerusalem is and has always been central to our faith.
Today is the Fourth of July, and tonight – as fireworks fill the skies and we stare into the heavens – our eyes focus on our unity as a nation regardless of creed or heritage. This sense of American pride is beautifully captured in the following words from our Sabbath prayer book:
God, who has made us one nation out of many peoples, amid our diversities of race and tradition, unite us in a common love of freedom and in a high ambition for our national life.
Continue in us the pioneering spirit which led our ancestors across the estranging sea and upheld them in the wilderness.
Deepen in the people of this land a devotion to the common good, so that we may open new doors of hope to the neglected and the oppressed. . .
Help us establish this land in righteousness. . . (Union Prayer Book p. 121).
These words remind us that we live in a country where diversity is celebrated and ingenuity of thought and belief are part of the fabric of our national identity. Indeed, each year we have a great deal to celebrate, and through our fireworks and picnics, we certainly do our share of rejoicing. However, if we fail to remember what the fireworks are all about; if we fail to appreciate the liberties we have been afforded and fail to defend the liberties of others, the Fourth of July will be just another day.
May the words of this prayer and the joys we plan to share with family and friends help us remember that we must constantly stand up for the core values of our nation so that in every generation liberty and freedom, diversity and independence will be guaranteed to all.
When Michael Green brought twenty members of his nationally acclaimed gospel choir to HCRJ for our Gospel Shabbat this year, their voices of praise and joy lifted our spirits in new and exciting ways. After a powerful Sabbath experience, Michael said, “If you thought that was good, you should experience the choir in its entirety!” That night we made a promise to keep this new relationship alive by building bridges of cooperation and trust through worship, music, shared experiences and fellowship.
Please consider joining us this Sunday, July 1 at 12:00 as we take our first steps in fulfilling this promise. Our goal is to bring twenty members from HCRJ to worship with their community and converse with their Kerygma Team (clergy) who will take us on a tour of the facilities, address any questions we have and share in fellowship and a light meal with their members.
The Church Without Walls Queenston Campus is located at 5725 Queenston Boulevard, Houston, TX 77084. Meet us at 11:45am in the main lobby of the church so we all can walk in and sit together. There is no need to RSVP, but advance notice to Justin at 713-782-4162 or firstname.lastname@example.org will help us coordinate our efforts.
For a little taste of the powerful sound of this gospel choir, click here.
Sunday was Father’s Day, and I hope that everyone had a wonderful day celebrating fatherhood and the joys that come with it. I know I did. As a father, few things are more satisfying than knowing that your children are growing up, and as my children range in age from 10 to 22 years, I feel blessed to be able to join my children as they journey the path from childhood to maturity.
Father’s Day (as well as Mother’s Day) serves to remind us of the fact that this lifelong journey is one of the greatest joys a parent can behold. These special days help us appreciate the sacred nature of this relationship we have with our children.
So to all our fathers (and all of us who are children), may Sunday’s celebration of fatherhood remain with us as more than a single day for a great meal with the family and an opportunity to share thoughts on cards. Rather, let Father’s Day compel us to embrace the journey and remind us to weave enduring memories associated with parenting into the fabric of our lives.
In the 8th century BCE, the Prophet Isaiah espoused the following words which remain a primary call for peace in the world today:
Let us go up to the mountain of the Lord [where]. . . God shall judge among the nations, and shall rebuke many people: and they shall beat their swords into ploughshares, and their spears into pruning hooks: nation shall not lift up sword against nation, neither shall they learn war anymore.—Isaiah 2:3–4
Isaiah’s words are words of hope that tools used for the sole purpose of destruction might one day be transformed into tools to help feed the world and serve human kind in a positive way. While nothing prophetic may have come out of the summit in Singapore, echoes of Isaiah were certainly present.
As it is with all efforts towards peace, we must proceed with extreme caution, but we must proceed nonetheless. The denuclearization of our world today has far more profound implications for the future of humanity than spears and pruning hooks did in the 8th century BCE. Therefore, as we reflect on the meeting between President Trump and Kim Jong Un (even if the details of any agreement are yet to be articulated), it must be seen in light of Isaiah’s vision of a world liberated from the shackles of human destruction.
In our Torah portion this week, we are presented with two biblical characters who represent archetypes of moral courage. Joshua and Caleb are two spies among a company of twelve who have the faith and the inner strength to stand up and speak out with a minority opinion.
As our Torah recounts, twelve messengers are sent by Moses to scout out the Land of Israel. All but Joshua and Caleb report the following, “The country that we traversed and scouted is one that devours its settlers. All the people that we saw in it are men of great size–and we looked like grasshoppers to ourselves, and so we must have looked to them” (Numbers 13:32).
In contrast to the ten naysayers, Joshua & Caleb return with messages of hope for the future. They say, “Let us by all means go up, and we shall gain possession of [the land], for we shall surely overcome [our adversaries]” (Numbers 13:30).
The juxtaposition of these two reports is as familiar to us today as it was in ancient times. In most situations where major decisions must be made, there is usually a majority and a minority report. The fact that the Torah celebrates the minority report through Joshua and Caleb invites us to consider moments in time when we too are challenged to defend a minority point of view.
In our world today, there are many moral causes which can seem far too gigantic for us to confront. Does this mean we should shy away? Absolutely not. We need to have the faith and moral grounding of Joshua and Caleb, and try (in whatever ways we can) to confront these giants head on.
Today, I had the unique and sacred responsibility of bringing a pair of newborn twin girls into the covenant of Israel. It was a truly joyous moment, but as I engaged in this ancient ritual at the mikvah, I paused in a moment of existential bewilderment.
In what way was my role in this confluence of relationships “making” these two baby girls Jewish?
Before I answer my own question, allow me to share the circumstances. These two beautiful babies were born here in Houston to a non-Jewish surrogate mother. The parents, who are two gay men from Israel, requested my services so that these two babies would be “officially” Jewish before they returned to Israel to be raised in a Jewish household.
On so many levels, these two babies were already 100% Jewish. Even though the womb from which they emerged was not of a Jewish mother, everything from the point of their births forward would be Jewish. Their fathers were Jewish. They were going to live in Israel. They would speak Hebrew. They would know all the blessings. Nothing in their lives was anything but Jewish, and yet, in the minds of these two fathers, immersion in the mikvah with a rabbi was a necessary step.
Why? The answer is that this ritual was for the fathers, not for the babies.
Sometimes we do rituals to remind ourselves of our commitments to our faith. In this case, immersing their newborn daughters in the mikvah was a means to affirm who the fathers were and what they believed.
So too it is with all of us. Rituals serve many purposes in our lives. They help us mark sacred occasions; they enable us to connect to our faith; they bond us together as a community; and YES, they even make us Jewish!