Rabbi Kenter Blog
Rabbi Barry A. Kenter on Wednesday, May 1, 2013 at 12:00:00 am
“And Shephatiah the son of Mattan, and Gedaliah the son of Pashur, and Jucal the son of Shelemyahu, heard the words that Jeremiah spoke unto the people....”
-- Jeremiah 38:1
A congregant once asked me, “How do you know that the stories of the Bible are true? How do you know they are authentic?” At least part of an answer was found on our recent trip to Israel.
It was a glorious Thursday morning in Jerusalem when Judi and I walked into the Jerusalem Archeological Park and the excavations in the city of David. How wondrous was it to begin the descent into 3500 years of Jeiwh history, returning to the period of King David and the early site of the Jebusite city secured by David to be his capital. For nearly three and a half hours we moved back into Jewish history, tracing the development of David’s capture of the city through a water shaft, and the creation of one of the most remarkable engineering feats of the ancient world, the carving of a tunnel durng the reign of King Hezekiah to redirect the Gihon spring into the Siloam Pool, and to protect it from enemy attack while assuring a water source for the city of Jerusalem.
Even more amazing was it to find independent confirmation for many of the narratives in the books of Samuel and Kings. More extraordinary was our guiude pointing out to us that among the oldest archaeological finds to date are clay document seals or bullae, containing the names of Gedaliah ben Pashur and Yuchal ben Shelemyahu. Both names appear in the Book of Jeremiah (38:1). The two men were ministers in the court of King Zedekiah, the last king to rule in Jerusalem before the destruction of the First Temple. 2600 year old clay seal impressions were discovered intact just below the walls of the Old City near the Dung Gate. According to Dr. Eilat Mazur of the Hebrew University, leader of the dig, this was the first time in the annals of Israeli archaeology that two clay bullae with two biblical names that appear in the same verse in the Bible have been unearthed in the same location. “It is not very often that such a discovery happens in which real figures of the past shake off the dust of history and so vividly revive the stories of the Bible.”
How glorious it was to walk the same paths trod by our ancestors, to revisit earlier archaeological excavations, such as Warren’s Shaft excavated in 1867, once thought to have been the centerpiece of the city's early water supply system, and to witness firsthand the ongoing presence of our forbears and ancestors in Jerusalem. Quite a visit and one I hope to share with many of you in the future.
In the meantime, I look forward to marching with all of you in the “Celebrate Israel” Parade June 2. We will draw from the strength of one another as we demonstrate our engagement with and support for the State of Israel in its 65th year of independence.
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Rabbi Barry A. Kenter on Thursday, April 25, 2013 at 12:00:00 am
One of the epithets hurled at those active in environmental and greening circles is “Tree huggers.” Less than loving in its connotations, it casts aspersions on those who take seriously human impact on the world we all inhabit. As a GreenFaith Fellow and Jewish Greening Fellow, I would have to plead guilty to being a tree hugger, but for a very different reason. One of my favorite liturgical verses, one that resonates deeply within each time it is recited as the Torah is returned to the ark (no less than four times a week): “It is a tree of life to those who hold fast and all its paths are peace” [Proverbs 3:18]. Jewish tradition links the tree of life in the Garden of Eden to the Torah, whose delivery we celebrate annually on the least-observed and shortest of the three pilgrimage festivals, Shavuot, the feast of weeks and the holiday of Bikkurim, first-fruits. Observed one day in Israel and two days in Diaspora (farmers could ill afford to take off more time from their harvesting of the late spring crops), Shavuot is the traditional date of the giving of Torah. Not connected to the lunar cycle, it is always seven weeks and one day after the second day of Passover.
In a midrash in the Zohar, the mystic book of splendor, the Tree of Life represents the path of Torah which gives life to a human being, enabling one to know the good and straight path which offers one protection. By direct statement or through rabbinic interpretation, Torah focuses us and points us in the right direction. Commenting on the verse “The Eternal God took and placed the human being in the Garden of Eden, to till it and tend it” [Genesis 2:15], a rabbinic midrash suggests that when God created Adam, God led him around to all the trees in the garden of Eden. God said to him, “See how beautiful and praiseworthy all of My works are? Everything I have created has been created for Your sake. Think of this, and do not corrupt or destroy my world; for if you corrupt it, there will be no one to set it right after you (Ecclesiastes Rabbah 7:13).
All Jews are attached to the Torah, to the Tree of Life. Some are attached to its trunk, some to its branches, some to its leaves, some to its roots. We at the GHC are in the business of growing Jews; creating tall trees with sturdy branches and deep roots. We work with the seeds and saplings that come within the sphere of our influence; we strive to create new and improved strains that successfully can be transplanted into other communities. Our responsibilities include watching over seeds entrusted to our care, seeing to it that they are nurtured within the rich soils of tradition; that there are ample supplies of nutrients, water and sunlight.
Just as there is a complex hereditary structure assuring that certain specific plants and vegetables emerge from particular seeds or rhizomes, so, too, family backgrounds determine the nature of the Jews that enter our community. Homes of origin create Jews with certain affinities, capacities and possibilities. Along a wide continuum, Jews develop within homes that span a line traveling from the observant to the non-observant, from homes in which Judaism, Jewish ritual and ceremony play central, critical roles to those in which Judaism serves as an ethnic or cultural marker. Adults Jews reflect a varied background, a diversity of Jewish educational success or failure, parental involvement or apathy. In their quest for community, Jews may gravitate to synagogues reflective of their homes of origin, or may select synagogues that represent distinctly different patterns of practice. The challenge presented to any Conservative congregation is in planting a multi-faceted, ever-renewing garden, a complex eco-system in which a wide variety of plants can grow and thrive---allowing ample space for their roots and growth, their care and maintenance.
“Everything I have created has been created for Your sake. Think of this, and do not corrupt or destroy my world; for if you corrupt it, there will be no one to set it right after you.” We take tree hugging seriously at GHC. The seeds placed into our care are one of the givens of the congregation. The creation of new seed varieties is one of the ways in which we may impact upon future growth within the Jewish community. We are engaged in planting and nurturing older varieties, developing hybrids and creating new varieties. We accomplish this through the variables over which we have some control. We can assure that the seeds, seedlings and saplings are planted in containers appropriate for optimum growth and that can allow for subsequent transplantation into larger vessels and into the extensive garden that is Judaism. We provide the water, warmth and sunlight: Torah, avodah, and gemilut hasadim, education, prayer and tikkun olam, the perfecting of the world entrusted to our care under the Sovereignty of God.
Please join us May 14 at 7:30 p.m. for our annual Tikkun Leil Shavuot, our annual evening of study, conversation and discussion that gives us yet another chance to hug the Tree.
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In Just a Month….
Rabbi Barry A. Kenter on Wednesday, March 27, 2013 at 12:00:00 am
An anonymous Jew cited in The Jew Within, edited by Steven M. Cohen and Arnold Eisen, once observed “The most important thing a Jew should do as a Jew is to pursue a Jewish journey . . . not to ignore Judaism or to give up on it … to be open to it.”
Spiritual heirs to a nomadic people, we view life as a journey. From earliest times in our history as a nation and as a people, we see Jews traveling on a multilane, intergenerational highway, directing themselves toward a deep, meaningful, and spiritually fulfilling life. Some will stay in a slower lane; others will accelerate more quickly, changing lanes to speed their way. Some Jews will stay on the thruway; others will exit to secondary and tertiary roads, rejoining the highway after a while. We at the synagogue supply maps for our congregants journeys trying to point out scenic routes and points of interest along the way to nourish the soul.
The places I can travel; the places I can go. One of the most deeply embedded roadmaps in my brain is a street map of Jerusalem. Merely closing my eyes enables me to walk the by-ways and paths of the state whenever I choose. I can replay the film and access the images within fractions of a second. ‘Twas not always the case. It took me quite a while to find myself and to see myself in Israel. It was only after Judi and I were married that I took my first trip. In just over a month from when I am writing this, Judi and I will return to Israel, this time not leading a synagogue trip. We will join with Jews from throughout New York and Westchester to celebrate Israel’s 65th anniversary of independence as part of the UJA William Rosenwald Mission. How I look forward to seeing the Naftali Bezem frescoes in the President’s Residence, sharing in the miracle of the absorption of Jews from Ethiopia and elsewhere in the very fabric of Israeli society, cooking with a well-known Israeli chef, enjoy dinner with the Prime Minister in the Knesset. Together Judi and I will share the dvash and the oketz, the honey and the sting that is Israel: a commemoration of Israel’s Yom Hazikaron, Memorial Day when all traffic stops at 11 a.m. followed by the festive celebration of independence once it is dark.
Judi’s grandmother taught her children, “An apple, when sweet, tastes even sweeter when shared.” Having the opportunity to share in a visit with those who traveled to Israel many more times than we or with those for whom it will be their very first time will be remarkable. Having the opportunity to visit new sites, to catch up with Israelis who once were members of the GHC; being able to explore new collections at the Israel Museum and to see the new galleries at the Tel Aviv Museum of Art, finding an out-of-the way synagogue in which to celebrate Shabbat, having an opportunity to revisit the Jerusalem Bird Observatory just down the road from the Knesset, taking direction from congregants who are providing us with new places to discover. We will take our directions from T. S. Eliot:
We shall not cease from exploration
And the end of all our exploring
Will be to arrive where we started
And know that place for the first time.
“Little Gidding” (1942)
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