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Eight Nights of Hallmark Hanukah (December 2018)

On the lighter side, some of you know that I watch a good amount of television, and I love to talk about the shows I watch. I happen to watch Hallmark movies. My mom got me into them and they’re something that we share and love to talk about.

It’s hard to find anything but Christmas movies on Hallmark this time of year, so it was gratifying to read that the network has plans in the works to produce a series of Chanukah movies for...Read more...

The March Continues: Our Civil Rights Journey (December 2018)

A few nights ago my family and I returned from a memorable and transformative trip to Atlanta and Alabama. We visited the Martin Luther King, Jr., Center in Atlanta, and historic sites from the civil rights struggle of the 1950’s and 1960’s in...Read more...

Family Civil Rights Journey (November 2018)

This weekend my family and I are heading to Atlanta and Alabama for a few days to visit some of the significant sites of events that were central to the Civil Rights Movement. We will visit the Edmund Pettus Bridge in Selma with a woman who participated in the Selma-to-Montgomery voting rights protest march that was attacked by police as they attempted to cross the bridge. We will go to the Equal Rights Museum and Memorial (also known as the...Read more...

A.J. Jacobs on Gratitude (November 2018)

NOTE: This was intended to be a pre-Thanksgiving message, but I missed the deadline.

I have encountered A.J. Jacobs a few times recently, and I want to share him with you. The first was on my favorite Jewish podcast, “Unorthodox,” and then more recently on CBS Sunday Morning. Jacobs is a writer--you may be familiar with his The Year of Living Biblically, in which he chronicles his year of attempting to live by all of the laws,...Read more...

Tree of Life:  Still in Our Hearts (November 2018)

It’s hard to believe that it’s only been 2-1/2 weeks since the horrific shooting at the Tree of Life synagogue in Pittsburgh. We are still reeling and trying to determine where we are going and what to do in its aftermath, as a congregation and as American Jews.

The response from our neighbors has been remarkable and very affirming. The day after, many of us were at a community-wide prayer gathering at Temple Emanuel Sinai in...Read more...

After Pittsburgh? (November 2018)


The day after the attack on the Tree of Life congregation on Saturday, some of you heard me say that I had no words of wisdom to bring meaning from the chaos. That remains the case. I have no answers, only questions, hence the question mark...Read more...

The Charlottesville Sequel: No Cause for Celebration (August 2018)

Happy Elul!

This is a “good news, bad news” column about the Charlottesville anniversary and continuing concerns about the resurgence of white nationalists and white supremacists in our midst.

The good news is that the much-anticipated white supremacist rally in Washington, D.C., to commemorate the first anniversary of the “Unite the Right” march in Charlottesville, Virginia, that took place on Sunday afternoon was a...Read more...

See "RBG" If You Haven't! (July 2018)

Carol and I saw a great documentary about Supreme Court Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg, entitled “RBG.” I did not know very much about Judge Ginsburg; now that I know much more I am in awe of her. She has been a passionate defender of human rights, particularly women’s rights, fought gender discrimination (against men as well as women), broke new legal ground and overcame deeply embedded institutional misogyny throughout her life and...Read more...

The Continuing Tragedy--and Travesty--of Family Separation (July 2018)

One of our great national disasters continues to play out on the American landscape—the separation of children from their parents as a result of the “zero tolerance” policy of the Trump administration. I wrote about this in our last newsletter (“The Devil Can Cite Scripture”) two weeks ago. While some families have been reunited since then, the majority remain separated, and our government lacks either the ability or the will—or...Read more...

Bigots on the Ballot (June 2018)

Undoubtedly the name of David Duke sparks vivid and alarming images for anyone who believes in equality, the dignity of all people regardless of the color of their skin or their religious beliefs and practices. As a reminder, David Duke is an American white supremacist and white nationalist politician, anti-Semitic conspiracy theorist, Holocaust denier, convicted felon, and former Grand Wizard of the Ku Klux Klan.

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The Devil Can Cite Scripture (July 2018)

 Last Rosh Hashanah I gave a sermon that I entitled “The Soul of Our Nation.” It was barely a month after the neo-Nazi march in Charlottesville and the abject moral failure of an American president who talked about the “good people” on both sides of that frightening and deplorable event.

As difficult as it is to imagine, since Charlottesville this president and this administration have only sunk further in the depths of...Read more...

The Different Rules of Our President (June 2018)

David Brooks wrote what in my opinion is a terrific opinion piece in the Times that explains the actions of President Trump at the G7 this past weekend in a way that I hadn’t seen previously. The article is inciteful and sobering. (My thanks to Steve Schuster for bringing it to my attention.)

Brooks contrasts the high-trust politics that existed when the G7 was formed with the low-trust Trumpian worldview. High-trust is when...Read more...

Renewing Our Democracy (May 2018)

Rabbi Mike

By nature I’m not usually a joiner or a signer. As I’m sure is true for most of you, I am constantly solicited to join an organization or sign a petition. But for purposes of time, money and sanity, I filter out most of these requests, even while realizing that some of them are worthy.

However, this morning (May 1) I immediately responded to an invitation of “We hope you’ll consider joining us” after reading an opinion piece...Read more...

The Serious Side of Purim (March 2018)

Something was lost last week amidst our celebration of Purim, with our costumes, levity, singing, the noise-making and parodies. On Purim we celebrate the victory of the Jewish community of Shushan over Haman, the narcissistic advisor to the king who hates Mordecai because Mordecai would not bow down to him. As a result, Haman plots to kill all of Mordecai’s people and garners Ahashverosh’ permission to do so by telling the king, “There...Read more...

You Don’t Know What You Got Till It’s Gone (January 2018)

Rabbi Mike

Carol and I spent Friday in the company of Sarah Hurwitz. Sarah was the invited guest and speaker at the Phillips Academy’s Jewish Cultural Weekend, an annual event of the school’s Jewish Student Union. As the Jewish Chaplain at the school I was integrally involved in planning her visit.

Sarah is originally from Wayland. Although trained as a lawyer, she became a speechwriter for several prominent politicians, including John...Read more...

MLK Day:  Cream Cheese and Jelly Sandwiches (January 2018)

Rabbi Mike

In 1966 an eleven-year-old African-American boy moved with his family to a hitherto white neighborhood in Washington. Sitting with his brothers and sisters on the front step of the house, he waited to see how they would be greeted. They were not. Passers-by turned to look at them but no one gave them a smile or even a glance of recognition. All the fearful stories he had heard about how whites treated blacks seemed to be coming true. Years...Read more...

The Plight of Israel’s African Asylum Seekers (January 2018)

Rabbi Mike

[NOTE: My thanks to Liora Bram for bringing this to the attention of the Beth Tikvah Board, and for the Board encouraging me to disseminate information about this crisis to our congregation.]

Just as immigration is a controversial and divisive issue in the U.S., it is currently in Israel as well.

According to a new law in Israel, Africans who reside without legal status have fewer than 90 days to leave, or face imprisonment....Read more...

The Demise of Orthodox Judaism? Hardly! (January 2018)

Rabbi Mike

This weekend Carol and I attended a cousin’s wedding in Chicago. Don’t get me started on the issue of having a wedding in Chicago in early January—it was freezing, but apparently it was here as well!

Our cousin Josh comes from a Conservative Jewish family, as does his Elana, his bride. Both have become what most would consider “modern Orthodox.” The aufruf on Shabbat, when Josh was given an aliyah as the groom-to-be, was in...Read more...

Our Continuing Downward Spiral (December 2017)

Rabbi Mike

Martin Luther King, Jr., famously said, "The arc of the moral universe is long, but it bends toward justice,” borrowing from a 19th century minister, Theodore Parker. It is a wonderful sentiment, optimistic in its outlook, and I truly would like to believe it. Sadly, the moral arc of our own country is bending in the wrong direction, and it has been for quite a while.

Tomorrow in Alabama voters will elect Roy Moore or Doug Jones to...Read more...

Thank You, Sarah Idan and Nick Cave! (November 2017)

Rabbi Mike

Over the past few days I ran across two encouraging stories of individuals who challenged the way many people try to isolate and marginalize the State of Israel.

The first story involves Sarah Idan, who is Miss Iraq. While participating in the Miss Universe International Beauty Pageant, she posed for a photo with Adar Gandelsman, Miss Israel. They both posted the photo on their Instagram accounts, “in an unusual display of...Read more...

Is There A Blessing for the Bazaar? (November 2017)

Rabbi Mike

I don’t know about you, but my email inbox has been flooded lately. Last week it was all about Black Friday; since then Cyber Monday. I have been spending way too much time pushing the “delete” button.

We live in a consumer culture, and we feel it most acutely this time of year. I understand it, but I don’t particularly like it. I understand that retailers do an inordinately high percentage of their business during this...Read more...

Shalom Haver (November 2017)

Rabbi Mike

     Last week my family had to have our beloved dog Dylan euthanized.  It was not an easy decision but clearly the right one, as he had been injured in a minor accident, and was clearly suffering. 

 

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The Good and the Bad of Vayerah (October 2017)

Rabbi Mike

     A cousin of mine once pointed out to me why, in his very uninformed opinion, many synagogues are struggling to day for membership and attendance.  “What we need is more current events, more commentary on contemporary issues.  No one cares about the ancient texts such as the Bible.”  Others argue that what is needed is authenticity, an...Read more...

Disaster Relief (October 2017)

Rabbi Mike

Quote of the Week:

“We did not expect much of him.”

                     --Thesis advisor of Richard Thaler, who just won the Nobel Prize in Economics

 

Disaster Relief

Even as we get our share of what is left of Hurricane Nate, I would like to turn your attention once again to the millions of victims of the natural disasters we have been...Read more...

Open Our Hearts and Our Hands 

Rabbi Michael Swarttz

It’s only been about five weeks since Hurricane Harvey made landfall on the coast of Texas, and preceded to devastate a large portion of that state’s coast, along with Houston, as well as doing serious damage to neighboring states.  Since that time, we have seen damage and desolation on numerous Caribbean islands, in Florida, Mexico, and Puerto Rico from other...Read more...

The Soul of Our Nation - Rosh Hashanah First Day 2017 Sermon

Rabbi Mike Swarttz

Today is the first day of the Ten Days of Repentance, Aseret Y’mei Teshuvah, a period of reflection, introspection and soul-searching.  We are bidden to reflect on where we went wrong, where we erred, or sinned, where we went astray in the past year, to ask forgiveness of those whom we hurt, and to redirect our lives on a better path, to turn in the right direction. Teshuvah implies “turning,” or “returning” to the right...Read more...

Songs of Hope Concert (September 2017)

Rabbi Mike

Musical traditions of the Black and Jewish communities will be featured at “Songs of Hope,” a concert that will be held on September 10, 2017, at 4:00 pm at the Belmont A.M.E. Zion Church, 55 Illinois St in Worcester (see attached flyer). “Songs of Hope” is the very first event sponsored by the Worcester Black-Jewish Alliance, a new initiative supported by the Jewish Federation of Central Massachusetts, the Worcester Black Clergy...Read more...

Heschel the Dreamer and Songs of Hope (September 2017)

Rabbi Mike

As you may know by now, I have been involved in the new Worcester Black-Jewish Alliance, an initiative of the Jewish Federation of Central Massachusetts, the Worcester NAACP, and the Worcester Black Clergy Association.  Our members Jeff and Judy Narod have participated as well. On Sunday, September 10, the Alliance presented “Songs of Hope,” a concert featuring...Read more...

The Politics of Hate (August 2017)

Rabbi Mike

On Friday afternoon Carol and I went to an “Interfaith Gathering of Unity, Love, and Strength” at Temple Israel in Boston, which was organized by the Greater Boston Interfaith Organization. Their quite large sanctuary was full, and additional attendees were directed to an auditorium where the program was being piped in.  I heard that there were an additional...Read more...

Israel at 69 (May 2017)

Tuesday was the 6th of Iyyar on the Hebrew calendar, which is Israel Independence Day, or “Yom Ha’atzmaut.”  It was the State of Israel’s 69th birthday. While this should be a time to celebrate and rejoice, the topic of Israel, and by association the Palestinians, the settlements and related issues have all become the focus...Read more...

Thu, January 24 2019 18 Shevat 5779