new-years-eve

Rabbi Milder of Beth Emek in Pleasanton sent this email to his congregation. He summarizes the four Jewish new years and considers the meaning of the Gregorian New Year that is observed on Dec. 31.

Which New Year Is It?

The Mishnah records that there are not one, but actually four new years. The rabbis needed one new year for reckoning the date of festivals (the first of Tishri), one for determining when the reign of a king begins (the first of Nisan), one for calculating to which year new-born animals belonged (the first of Elul, after the summer calving season had ended), and one for calculating the produce of trees (the fifteenth of Shevat). According to Biblical law, it was not permitted to use the produce of trees during their first three years.

The new year observed in the Gregorian calendar (January 1) has little to do with the sacred themes of the Jewish calendar. It has a lot to do with ancient themes of chaos, and the conquest of chaos in the coronation of a supreme deity. That chaos is replicated in the revelry of New Year’s Eve, which comes to a halt when the clock strikes twelve and everyone kisses and sings Auld Lang Syne.

In contrast, the Jewish New Year observed in the dead of winter (Tu Bishvat) is one marked by a sacred and optimistic commitment to the future–the planting of trees. No raucous parties accompany this act, just a sense of wonder in the miracle of nature, and a sense of obligation that was put into words in a famous Midrash from the Talmud: “Just as my ancestors planted for me, so shall I plant for my children.”

Likewise, the new year for the festival cycle, Rosh Hashanah, emphasizes themes of reflection and personal assessment. People talk about making new year’s resolutions on the Gregorian New Year, while Rosh Hashanah is less concerned with making promises to ourselves, and more concerned with examining what we have done with the past year. It’s easy to look forward and ignore the past; it is more difficult to confront oneself and acknowledge our weaknesses.

I enjoy the festive quality of the Gregorian new year, while recognizing that the important work of our lives is not about conquering chaos. It is the steady work of planting for the future, and self-examination, that make our lives a continuous work of art.

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jewsandchristmas

You may want to decorate a Christmas tree while your partner wants to make latkes. What will work for you as a family? Whether December is your favorite month – full of Christmas cookies and chocolate gelt – or your most dreaded month – material surfeit and cultural overwhelm – you are invited to join this open and supportive discussion on how to handle the December dash.

This year will be especially interesting because the first night of Hanukkah falls on Christmas Eve.

Sunday, December 4
Time: 10:30 – 12:00
Place: Beth Emek, 3400 Nevada Ct, Pleasanton
Cost: Free to Beth Emek members, $8 public. No one turned away!
Sign up here or just show up.
www.bethemek.org

Posted by admin under A meaningful life, Adult Child of an Interfaith Family, Children, Christmas, Holidays, Parenting
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group-with-torah

I received this message from a reader of my Mixed and Matched column in the J-weekly.

Your column is always suggesting convoluted ways that interfaith couples can deal with more traditional Jewish views. Why bother? Why don’t you just tell them to join a Reform synagogue and be done with the people who don’t agree with their life choices or see their kids as Jewish?
— Annoyed with Traditional Jews

And my answer —

Dear Annoyed: I can’t tell you how thrilled I am that you asked this question! I’ve been wanting to discuss this topic since I started writing the column.

I don’t know the religious makeup of your family, but my loved ones include Christians, Muslims, atheists and Jews of all stripes. Additionally, they are white, black, Hispanic and Asian; some Jewish, some not. What do they have in common? I love them. I don’t want to discard any of them. I may not agree with all their views or practices, but I choose to hold them close all the same.

The most challenging moment of inclusion I experienced was traveling to Texas to visit my nephew, who was serving in the Army. He wanted to take us all to a shooting range as an outing. He had dozens of guns and had prepared some for our use. Live ammunition was to be used. What should I do, I who was raised by a pacifist to abhor violence and guns? I sucked it up.

I looked at this situation through the eyes of my beloved nephew. For him, guns are a daily part of life and were essential to staying alive when he was deployed in Iraq. Shooting is a skill, and like hunting, fishing or golf, it can be a hobby. Granted, it is a hobby that I never anticipate adopting, but I made the effort to see it all through the eyes of someone I love. I am proud to say that I was able to do that.

I also came smack up against my boundaries. I realized right then and there that I never even considered being among people who own guns. I don’t want a gun owner to move in next door. I don’t want people to be allowed to carry guns in my community. That means I wouldn’t want my nephew as a neighbor — but the thing is, I would, guns and all.

So the dilemma is: Is the love we feel for our family members so strong that we can accept things about them that push our buttons?

Jews within the same family circle are going to practice their Judaism differently. Interfaith families with patrilineal Jewish children will have family members who accept only matrilineal descent. Therefore, an interfaith couple needs to figure out how to live among those they love despite significant differences. We all need to figure this out for ourselves, because whether we embrace traditional halachah or not, we will interact with Jews who do.

I see more and more adults in my work who grew up with a non-Jewish parent. It is vital that our entire Jewish community stop speaking for this next generation and instead listen. For decades, many have said of interfaith families with patrilineal children, “Let them be Reform,” essentially avoiding the work of creating caring relationships. It is time to ask young adults from interfaith homes to share their experiences with us: What are we doing well, and what needs to change? It is time for both individuals and institutions in the Jewish community to be open to patrilineal children and observant coreligionists alike, without judging or condemning their beliefs.

I am currently involved in a study of the experience of those raised in interfaith families. Their Jewish practice is across the spectrum. In the Bay Area, they have been met with kindness by rabbis in all movements, although they have not always felt empowered to share their feelings about their upbringing with other Jews.

This is a time and opportunity ripe for learning. As we approach the High Holy Days, I hope we can all commit ourselves to love our fellow Jews, patrilineal or matrilineal, observant or secular, as members of our family.

Posted by admin under A meaningful life, Community, Mixed & Matched
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Flower heart from Pixabay

Flower heart from Pixabay

I really enjoyed this article by Rabbi Larry Milder. He sent it to his congregation, Beth Emek of Pleasanton. It gives you a nice summary of the rather obscure holiday, Tu B’Av. Why not take his advice and tell someone that you love them, maybe even give them flowers.

The Jewish Day of Love

Today, the 15th of Av on the Jewish calendar, is the best holiday you’ve never heard of.

Tu B’Av (“Tu” equals 15) is a rabbinic holiday, i.e. one that isn’t mentioned in the Bible. According to the Mishnah (Taanit 4:8), on this day, young women would dress in white and dance in the vineyards, to attract the attention of young men.

Sounds a lot like Friday night Israeli folk dancing at summer camp!

Shimon ben Gamliel explains, “The Israelites had no greater holidays than the 15th of Av and Yom Kippur.”

It is a rather odd comparison. It is true that on Yom Kippur, it is also customary to dress in white. But we don’t usually think of Yom Kippur as a joyous holiday; rather, it strikes us as serious.

That was not how the rabbis of the Mishnah viewed it. Yom Kippur, too, was supposed to be a day for women, dressed in white, to dance. I don’t know how they did it while they were fasting, but the rabbis claim that these two days were the premier match-making days of the Jewish calendar.

I actually get it. People often do meet their bashert, their destined one, on the High Holy days. It is a time when Jews come together, and it is inevitable that some unmarried Jews will find one another, perhaps reacquaint after an absence of some years, and maybe fall in love. Or, at least, go get a snack together after services are over.

As widespread as the observance of Yom Kippur is, however, the celebration of Tu B’Av has somehow fallen by the wayside. What a shame! We can use a good holiday devoted to love, and nothing more! No fasting required, no hours of prayer, just a good hora, a line dance, Cajun two-step or Texas boot scootin’.

The wearing of white (Shimon ben Gamliel says “borrowed”) suggests a kind of equality, a way of getting beyond the surface appearance of who has fancier clothes. We are encouraged to consider character, the deeper qualities of a partner, the things that will lead to a lifetime of happiness.

I prefer not to think of Tu B’Av as a Jewish St. Valentine’s Day. Among other reasons, we don’t have saints, and the story associated with Saint Valentine isn’t a pretty story, either. There is nothing but beauty and simplicity in the tradition of Tu B’Av.

More importantly, we were celebrating Tu B’Av for centuries before St. Valentine’s Day.

Sometimes, the riches of our tradition are just waiting to be discovered.

Go out and get someone you love some flowers. It’s Tu B’Av!

Rabbi Larry Milder

Posted by admin under A meaningful life, Holidays
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At the Oneg

At the Oneg

I had an ah-ha moment this week. I had attended a community meeting on the subject of responding to the violence against black people. We met at a black church. The event was organized by PICO, an organization that teaches faith-based community organizing. There were people of different faiths and races present. Afterwards there was some discussion among the dozen Jews around me about next steps. I felt oddly uncomfortable and out of place. It took me a couple days to realize why. Then it hit me. The conversation felt like we were helping “other people,” people of color. But I have family members who are people of color. Members of my synagogue are people of color. This isn’t about “them;” it’s about “us.” I know from speaking with you that many of you have multiracial families and friends. This struggle is our struggle. If you are feeling alone, reach out. There are many Jewish groups, synagogues, etc, that are confronting the violence; you can say you need support. If you want to help, reach out. Everyone is needed. Call your rabbi, call the Jewish Community Relations Council.

The most meaningful thing that I did (for me) was to start contacting my family and friends of color and say, “Are you OK? I’m thinking about you. I’m worried that even if you are physically unharmed you are being psychologically and spiritually hurt. I love you.” One on the young people I called was numb and depressed. I asked her, “What can I do to brighten your day?” Obviously I couldn’t alter the universe but I could do something to cheer her. She told. We did it. I’ll see her again tonight for Shabbat dinner and services. I will be sure to tell her that I love her.

Go tell someone that you love them, that you are thinking about them. Say you want them to be safe and to feel loved. See if you can do some small loving thing for them. Then please tell me what you did.

Some good articles:
6 Concrete Things You Can Do To Help End Police Brutality
Jews of Color Ask Us All to Dream of – and Fight for -Justice

Posted by admin under A meaningful life, Jews of Color
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Shabbat Table3

In the June 2016 column of Mixed and Matched, I responded to a comment from a woman who had experienced what was described in the previous month’s column – having her Jewish authenticity questioned.

I can relate to your May 20 column “My father is Jewish and my mother is not.” My mother and I both had Conservative conversions when I was 9 years old. Still, all my life I’ve heard “You’re really not Jewish since your mother isn’t Jewish.”

I have always led a Jewish life. As an adult, I married and had children with a Muslim man, and both of my girls were raised Jewish. When I taught Hebrew school at my Reform synagogue, the director asked if I felt conflicted about the occupation of Gaza since my husband was Muslim. I told her that I felt conflicted because I am Jewish. She didn’t get it.

I have been divorced for over a decade. My daughters get comments all the time, saying “How strange to have a Jewish mother and a Muslim father.” Since my mother wasn’t born Jewish, I guess it makes my children not Jewish. We just keep living as Jews.
Oh well

***

Dear Oh well: Where to begin? I’m sorry that my column speaks to your life. I hope the day comes when this attitude goes the way of the woolly mammoth. You are a Jew, as is your mother, as are your daughters. Are there some who do not accept Conservative conversion? Yes. There are also people who are vegetarians and others who are carnivores. We are all free to believe what makes sense to us.

However, I find it disturbing that members of your synagogue, including the Hebrew school director, are so ill-informed about the Reform movement’s policies regarding both conversion and patrilineal descent. I am confident that your rabbis would not approve of these remarks. Sadly, many self-identified liberal Jews are not as open as they believe themselves to be.

In regard to the comment made to your daughters, many people are surprised that a Jew and Muslim would marry. But it does happen, even in Israel, and I wish others would stop feeling the need to say something about it. From what you tell me, your girls are happy as Jews and have been able to brush aside the questions and remarks. Good for them!

You raise the issue of “What is a Jewish name?” Two quick points on this challenging matter: Jews have all sorts of names in modern America; we are no longer just Goldsteins and Levines. And when you encounter a Jew whose last name shouts not Jewish, like Christensen or Church, that individual is likely the child of a non-Jewish father and a Jewish mother. This makes the individual halachically Jewish.

Many have said to me, “But I’m just curious, not malicious.” If you learned of a person whose child had died, would curiosity be a sufficient reason to ask the parent about the circumstances? No. Do not raise topics that are going to cause pain. If you are uncertain of whether a topic is appropriate, err on the side of kindness and don’t.

I brought your concerns to my friend and colleague at Lehrhaus Judaica, Reform Rabbi Peretz Wolf-Prusan, who reflected that Jewish tradition teaches the concept of tzniut, usually translated as modesty. He pointed out that it also means privacy and said all Jews could benefit from observing this mitzvah by respecting the privacy of others.

I would encourage you and your daughters to answer invasive questions this way: “I observe the mitzvah of tzniut, so I can’t respond to that.” If your inquisitor is baffled, suggest they query a rabbi who can explain more fully what this means.

I have no quarrel with traditionally observant Jews who believe that only a person born of a Jewish mother or converted by an Orthodox court is halachically Jewish. Within their community they should live and be well. They should also observe tzniut and refrain from talking about the identity of others.

For the rest of us, it’s important to examine our beliefs and be honest about what we think. Do we accept non-Orthodox conversions? Do we accept patrilineal descent? Hillel taught, “What is hateful to you, do not do to your fellow: this is the whole Torah.” It is hard to do, but we need to anyway.

Posted by admin under A meaningful life, Adult Child of an Interfaith Family, Children, Conversion, Mixed & Matched
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Star of David

I feel very strongly that we need to teach compassion for our fellow Jews and to avoid sinat chinam (senseless hatred). Many Jews condemn other Jews, citing internalized anti-Semitism, in-group elitism and the unpleasant practice of figuring out whether a person is Jewish or Jewish-enough. I think it is important to stimulate compassion for the people who do this. They are the ones suffering. We need not take on their bad behavior, nor their dark feelings and fears. We can and should feel sorry for them and we can and should strive to act differently. There is an old poem that my father used to recite that is my guide in this area in particular:

They drew a circle to keep me out,
Rebel, heretic, a thing to flout.
But Love and I had the wit to win,
We drew a circle that took them in.

We are the fortunate ones when we don’t feel the need to reject others.

In my teens my good friend, Irene, became a born again Christian. At one point she burst into tears and said she was so unhappy because I was going to hell. I said to her, “Irene, I’m 17! What can I have possibly done at this age that would cause me to go to hell?” But for her, not accepting Jesus as my savior was enough to bring this terrible fate and, for her, such grief. How lucky was I to be free of this dark fear! I knew she accepted Jesus as her savior and although I didn’t believe poor Jesus could do a thing for her, I believed she would be fine. She was, and is, a good person. I had and have no fear for her soul.

This is not to say that anyone has the right to pry into the background of another person. My June column of Mixed and Matched is about deflecting that rude behavior. But I want to congratulate those of us who are fortunate enough to not feel a need to invalidate or degrade a fellow human being, Jewish or not.

Posted by admin under A meaningful life, Community, Jewish Culture
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forgiveness

“The first to apologize is the bravest. The first to forgive is the strongest. The first to forget is the happiest.”
This statement, from Rabbi Ken Cohen, is truly worth considering

Apologize? I know people who can’t get the words, “I’m sorry” out of their mouths. They sometimes will say, “I’m sorry if I hurt you.” IFyou hurt me? Obviously you did or you wouldn’t have gotten this far. But “if” I hurt you is not an apology. Why can’t these folks just say it? Because they are afraid; afraid that admitting wrong doing will make them subject to derision. It does indeed take courage to make yourself vulnerable by admitting an error or wrong doing. I know families whose members remain fractured because one or more people are not brave enough to acknowledge that they are human, fallible and have done something wrong to another person.
Do be brave. Is there someone that you are uncomfortable seeing because you know you have wounded them? Don’t waste time trying to justify your self. Pray, talk to your clergy person, read about how to apologize even when it scares you.

Forgive? Being able to forgive someone is tremendously liberating. It means you are not waiting for someone else to act. If you can forgive and move on, you own your life. No, don’t keep deceivers or hurtful people in your life. But forgive those people you love for being imperfect – you probably are imperfect too.

Forget? This one is a bit trickier. Utterly forgetting what transpired is not a good idea. But we do get to chose what and how we remember. A year and a half ago my sister died after a brief struggle with cancer. While we had been very close when we were younger she had become a very angry adult. She requested, through our other sister, that I not attempt to see her. It was hard but I promised. In the last weeks of her life her son told me to come see her. I was so conflicted as I felt I had made a promise to her and wanted to honor it. But in the end I went. She was a shriveled scrap of her self; it was shocking. As soon as she saw me she started to cry. I went to her and hugged her gently, “I love you,” was all I could say. She wept and said, “I love you too.”

Now I could try to forget the down right dangerous things my beloved sister had done but that would have meant not seeing the real pain she had left behind in my other family members. It would have meant not learning anything from all the misery, including her illness. But I could choose to focus on the memories of good times. I could pull out photos of us swimming or playing or hugging. That is what I chose. I will remember what went wrong and hope to avoid and heal that. AND I can remember my beloved sister as she was when we were best friends.

If you are able, and I know that family members don’t always allow you to contact them, consider healing a relationship this coming week. You will be able to celebrate a true personal liberation.

May we all be blessed with many imperfect, but loving family members and friends.

EVENTS
Welcome Shabbat Outdoors (Los Altos)
Taqueria Sinai Shabbat! (Oakland)
Summer Shabbat Potlucks (Palo Alto)
Community Picnic with B’nai Shalom (Walnut Creek)
Grand Opening! At the Palo Alto JCC! (Palo Alto)
PTBE Book Club (San Mateo)
Prospective Members Open House (San Rafael)

Welcome Shabbat Outdoors
Summer worship outdoors is a tradition at Beth Am, giving congregants an opportunity to appreciate the natural beauty of our campus. Everyone is welcome, feel free to bring friends and enjoy a picnic dinner before or after the service.

Date: July 8
Time: 6:15
Place: Beth Am, 26790 Arastradero Rd., Los Altos Hills
www.betham.org

Taqueria Sinai Shabbat!
Join us for this Sinai summertime favorite: a casual Shabbat dinner catered by Taqueria El Paisa followed by Erev Shabbat services in the Albers Chapel. BYO Bottles of beer or wine.

You must register and pay for dinner by July 11. You can do that here.

Date: Friday, July 15
Time: Dinner 6:00pm followed by Shabbat Services at 7:30pm
Place: Temple Sinai, 2808 Summit St., Oakland, in the Sacred Garden
www.oaklandsinai.org

Summer Shabbat Potlucks
Join Kol Emeth for a potluck this summer. Want to meet new people? These potluck dinners are a perfect place. They begin with an outdoor evening service and are followed by the meal. They are held in members’ backyards. So call Elaine Sigal, executive director of Kol Emeth at 650.269.3058 so she can tell you where you’ll be going and talk to you about what to bring.

Elaine says: This is exciting. The dinners are so haimish and warm, and friendly. Kids are for sure welcome.

They begin with an outdoor evening service and are followed by the meal.
On three Fridays in July, join us for outdoor Shabbat Evening Services at 6:00pm, followed by a festive potluck dinner.

Dates: July 15 and 29
Time: 6pm
Place: Call Elaine for the address.
Hosted by Kol Emeth, 4175 Manuela Ave., Palo Alto
More info: Elaine Sigal, 650.269.3058, execdir@kolemeth.org

Community Picnic with B’nai Shalom
Want to check out a synagogue this summer before the High Holidays? Why not go to B’nai Shalom’s fabulous annual Community Picnic with games, swimming, hot dogs and more! All are welcome!

Sunday, July 17
Time: 12:00pm
Place: Cowell Park in Concord
Call Lisa at the synagogue office at 925-934-9446 x102 if you have any questions. She is incredibly kind and helpful.

Grand Opening! At the Palo Alto JCC!
The Palo Alto JCC is proud to announce the Grand Opening of four new destinations on our campus!

* The Oasis Play Space–a unique play experience for kids ages 1-10–with gentle hills, tunnels, slides, a climbing structure and benches on which to hang out
* Nourish, a Newish Jewish Cafe offering a savory and healthy menu
* Family Center–a cozy hangout for parents with little ones
* Outdoor Training Area–an al fresco workout space for our members (open to the community at the Grand Opening)

The free celebration, which is open to the community, will include:

* Music and entertainment
* Samples from our tasty cafe menu
* Goodies and giveaways
* Fitness Center tours and demos
* Demos at our Outdoor Training Area
* Coupons for future cafe treats and drink
* Face painting, bounce house and carnival games

Date: Sunday, July 17
Time: 1:00pm-4:00pm
Place: Oshman Family JCC, 3921 Fabian Way, Palo Alto
650-223-8700
http://www.paloaltojcc.org

PTBE Book Club
Milton Steinberg’s As A Driven Leaf will be this summer’s reading. Also known as one of Rabbi Dennis’ favorite books, this masterpiece of modern fiction tells the gripping tale of renegade Talmudic sage Elisha ben Abuyah’s struggle to reconcile his faith with the allure of Hellenistic culture. Steinberg’s classic novel also transcends its historical setting with its depiction of a timeless, perennial feature of the Jewish experience: the inevitable conflict between the call of tradition and the glamour of the Modern world.
Please join Rabbi Lisa Kingston and Lisa Meltzer Penn for an exciting conversation based on the book.

Date: Thursday, August 18
Time: 7:00 – 8:30pm
Place: Peninsula Temple Beth El1700 Alameda de las Pulgas, San Mateo
www.ptbe.org
Details here.

Community Shabbat Service and Dinner
You’re invited to Beth Am’s Shabbat service under the trees, followed by a special community Shabbat potluck dinner. We’ll have a chance to enjoy the delights of Shabbat together while savoring a beautiful summer evening. Please sign up here to bring a dish to share (enough for 10 people) according to your last name:
A-M main dish
N-Z salad or side dish
Beth Am will provide a delicious ice cream dessert!

Date: Friday, July 15
Time: Service at 6:15pm Potluck Dinner to Follow
Place: Beth Am, 26790 Arastradero Rd., Los Altos Hills
Service in the Outdoor Chapel; Dinner on the Patio
www.betham.org

Prospective Members Open House
Considering joining a synagogue in Marin? Want to learn more about Rodef Sholom?
Here’s the perfect opportunity! You will get to meet the clergy and other members of the Rodef Sholom community. RSVP to Molly at molly@rodefsholom.org.

Date: Friday, August 26
Time: 5:45 pm reception in Rabbi Stacy Friedman’s study; 6:15 pm Shabbat services
Place: Rodef Sholom, 170 N San Pedro Rd, San Rafael
www.rodefsholom.org

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Rabbi Ken Cohen

Rabbi Ken Cohen

I read this sentence on Rabbi Ken Cohen’s Twitter profile. It is so beautiful I had to share it here. I also discovered his website.

The first to apologize is the bravest. The first to forgive is the strongest. The first to forget is the happiest.

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Religious Action Center

Many synagogue congregants are receiving emails from their clergy about the tragedy in Orlando. I am confident that many church members are getting similar messages. I share with you the one that Peninsula Temple Sholom‘s clergy, Rabbi Dan Feder, Rabbi Lisa Delson, Rabbi Molly Plotnik and Cantor Barry Reich.

****

Over the weekend, the Jewish people celebrated Shavuot, the festival of receiving Torah at Mount Sinai. However, instead of waking to the wholeness and peace that comes with accepting our sacred stories, we awoke to news of devastating human destruction. We mourn the 50 lives that were cut short at the Pulse Nightclub in Orlando, a place where LGBT folks came to enjoy themselves in a comfortable and life-affirming place. Our thoughts are also with the more than 50 who were injured as well. Just like last week when we mourned the deaths of four people who were killed in Tel Aviv, once again we are reminded that we live in a broken world.

It is becoming clear that it is not only enough to pray. We must speak out against extremism and join together with the vast majority of our Muslim brothers and sisters who reject violence in the name of their religion. We must speak out against homophobia and spread the message that love is love. And finally, we must join together and advocate against gun violence and promote gun control laws to keep guns out of the hands of those who wish to cause harm.

Tzedek, tzedek tirdof – Justice, justice you shall pursue (Deuteronomy 16:20). Judaism offers us a framework for how we should act in the world. Prayer and study are important, but so is action. Let us cry and mourn over the lives lost and then transform our tears and fear into creating a more just and peaceful world.

To take action, visit rac.org/gvp and share your thoughts with our elected officials.

Posted by admin under A meaningful life, Community, In the News
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