This is the blog of Rabbi Matthew Abelson, rabbi of the Jericho Jewish Center. It presents me with an opportunity to respond as humbly and thoughtfully as possible to events that take place in the synagogue, the community of Jericho, and the larger world, including Israel. At this juncture, posting weekly seems a reasonable goal, but that could change quickly.
Reversal of U.S. Policy on West Bank Settlements
I have blogged before - mostly on issues related to pro-Israel advocacy. That leads to the first issue that I'd like to address. President Trump's decision to reverse U.S. policy and regard Jewish communities in Judea and Samaria - commonly referred to as settlements on the West Bank - as not illegal is ground-breaking. I regret that I need to follow up that statement by stating clearly that I am not a supporter of President Trump. I'd like to be able to credit a President of the United States - any president of the United States - on decisions he makes without that being construed as support for that person on the whole. Nevertheless, I recognize that in the current political climate and with the intensity of polarization around President Trump, such a statement is necessary.
Primarily what this reinforces for me is the perplexity I feel around this President. How can someone who demonstrates poor character in so many arenas, who appears not to operate according to principles or a moral compass, be so unabashedly and undoubtedly right about Israel? I understand that some don't find this perplexing at all. His supporters regard his decision as part of what makes him so great, and his detractors assert that nothing he does can possibly touch the moral realm because of the enormity of egregious behavior - including but not limited to lying - that he regularly demonstrates. For me, I remain puzzled. That puzzlement is not something that I can part with easily. I genuinely wonder about this issue, and that is my basic orientation toward this President.
The Resignation of Rabbi Katz at Temple Beth Torah
Last week, I had lunch with Rabbi Katz of Temple Beth Torah at Bagel Boss. Apparently, we chose the less good one, but I hardly noticed as the lox was terrific. I imagine if I had a choice between being able to eat ham or prosciutto or lox - one or the other but not both - I would choose lox. Fortunately, that accords with the laws of kashrut because not being able to eat lox would disappoint me.
When we sat down, Rabbi Katz told me that he would be resigning from Temple Beth Torah effective June 2020. I was saddened to hear that. Given that he has been the rabbi of TBT for nearly forty years, I had hoped that he could serve as a kind of mentor to me. At the very least, having a colleague close by with such experience appeared to be a boon. Based on what he shared with me, I understand, however, why he made the decision he did, and I hope his retirement is fruitful. In addition to discussing his resignation, we also spoke about the prospect of TBT and the Jericho Jewish Center coming together in some fashion given the declining memberships of both synagogues and the changing demographics of Jericho. My conviction is that the Jewish community in Jericho needs one strong Conservative congregation and that coming together in some arrangements makes a great deal of sense. My hope is that members of both congregations - and not just leadership - will start to discuss this prospect more seriously in the coming weeks and months.
At the Jericho Jewish Center
In the meantime, my tenure at the Jericho Jewish Center is still at its beginning. Very early on, I sought to do as much listening and observing as possible so that I could gain a feel for the congregation. Overall, I've experienced a great deal of support and warmth. As I continue to grow into this position, I will begin to articulate my views about the direction I would like our congregation to go in. What's important for me - and for congregants - to remember is that I cannot take the congregation where it is not prepared to go. Rash decisions would be unhelpful. A gradual laying of a framework for a vision of the future with significant buy-in from the congregation is essential.
I do plan on doing more teaching. The primary challenge is finding the best times to offer classes. For those who work, evenings are best, but I only have three weekday nights free and my days are less packed often than my nights. Perhaps because our congregation has a significant number of retirees, day time classes could work. What I am most eager to teach at this time is Torah and Haftorah trope. I would really like to see more congregants participating in these parts of the Shabbat service.
Who Wrote the Bible?
I am currently reading Who Wrote the Bible? The book details the scholarship around the composition of the Tanakh. The author is Richard Elliot Friedman. I am tempted to use this book as the basis for a class, too. I have shied away from scholarly studies of who wrote the Bible because I wanted to experience a more old-fashioned kind of faith. For some reason, however, this book has grabbed my full attention, and I am feeling strengthened in my relationship to Judaism rather than weakened.