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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 Day 1 - 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...

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...

"H" is for "Hagaddah" (April 2017)

It seems that every Pesach (Passover) season brings new Haggadot.  Many of them link the themes of Passover—slavery, freedom, oppression, liberation—with a contemporary issue.  Sadly, given the human condition, there is no end to the causes or issues that these themes can be attached to. During the Pesach that has just passed, I became aware of two new Haggadot...Read more...

We Were Strangers in the Land of Egypt (April 2017)

We celebrate Passover (Pesach) to remember and to re-experience the slavery and the Exodus experience of our Israelite ancestors.  The holiday is called “The season of our freedom,” “Z’man herutenu,” in our tradition.  We were slaves, and we were strangers in Egypt.

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The Bigotry - and Danger of - Intersectionality (March 2017)

There is a term that has become somewhat ubiquitous in current political discourse, particularly in progressive or liberal circles.  “Intersectionality” was coined by legal scholar Kimberlé Crenshaw in a 1989 essay but it is only in the last few years that the term and the phenomenon it represents have become widespread and...Read more...

Combatting the Campus Crusade Against Israel (March 2017)

You may be aware that there is an anti-Israel bias on some college campuses in the U.S. and elsewhere.  There are some well-funded groups that agitate against the Jewish State, sponsoring events such as “Israel Apartheid Week.”  Such activities often make pro-Israel students, especially Jewish students, feel uncomfortable or even threatened.  I offer here...Read more...

Praying With Our Feet (Jan 2017)

Last Shabbat my wife Carol and I participated in the Women’s March on the Boston Common.  I know a few other members of the congregation who were there, and that a few of our members rode all the way to Washington, D.C. to attend the march in the Capitol. 

 

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Thoughts on MLK, Jr., Day: The Arc of History (Jan 2017)

In preparation for our national holiday honoring Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., one of the truly great and courageous leaders of modern times, I have been reading a collection of his early sermons.  While I, like most people, am quite familiar with his “I have a dream” speech, as well as a few other oft-played speeches of Dr. King, I was not at all familiar with this...Read more...

Happy New Year (Jan 2017)

“Jews don’t say ‘Happy New Year,’”  according to an article on aish.com, the website of Aish HaTorah, an Orthodox organization.

 

I disagree.  I do agree that we shouldn’t be wishing...Read more...

Politics from the Pulpit? (Nov 2016)

     The Forward recently ran two opinion pieces that offer contradictory perspectives about whether or not rabbis should be speaking about politics and the recent elections from the pulpit.  These articles caught my attention, as I have been giving this much thought in recent weeks and have been somewhat torn.  Both writers offered what for me are valid perspectives on the topic.  I want to...Read more...

November 9: My Coming Out Time (November 2016)

     I began my column in last week’s newsletter, entitled “November 9,” with “While I am concerned, very concerned, about what happens on November 8, I am more concerned about November 9 and beyond.”  I was as shocked as most of the country was with what happened on November 8.  I remain very concerned about “November 9 and beyond,” but for reasons other than what I...Read more...

Rosh Hashanah Sermon - May the Words of Our Mouth (October 2016)

Cruelty Culture

     As she made the long journey from New York to South Africa to visit family during the holidays in 2013, Justine Sacco, 30 years old and a communications professional at an American internet and media company, began tweeting to her 170 Twitter followers about the trials and tribulations of her journey. She was trying to be funny. She complained about the body odor of a passenger on her plane. During her...Read more...

Remembering Shimon Peres (September 2016)

A light has gone out.  That's how President Obama described the death of Shimon Peres, and he is absolutely right.  He was a great statesman and leader, and he was, again in the President's words, "the essence of Israel itself-the courage of Israel's...Read more...

In the Arena (August 2016)

       I have been thinking a lot lately about an inspiring quote from President Teddy Roosevelt, as I encountered it twice within the span of a week.  There is a good chance that you heard it along with me the first time:

     "It is not the critic who counts; not the man who points out how the strong man stumbles, or where the doer of deeds could have done them better. The credit belongs to the man who is actually in the arena, whose face is marred by dust and sweat and blood; who strives valiantly; who errs, who comes short again and again, because there is no effort without error and shortcoming; but who does actually strive to do the deeds; who knows great enthusiasms, the great devotions; who spends himself in a worthy cause; who at the best knows in the end the triumph of high achievement, and who at the worst, if he fails, at least fails while daring greatly..."

     The first time I heard it was when President Obama cited part of it at the Democratic convention in praise of Hillary Clinton.  Several days later I encountered it in a book by Brene Brown, a renowned social worker and researcher.  It seems as though the universe was telling me something.  Hearing and then reading the Roosevelt quote has gotten me thinking about what it means to "be in the arena," to actually be doing something about our world and our society a better place, in other words, to do tikkun olam.  I often feel as though I talk and teach these things, but don't have or don't make the opportunity to do.  Like most of you, I am busy running around, earning a living, trying to give enough attention to family members and friends.  For all intents and purposes, this is my arena, but I feel as if I can and should be doing more.

     An opportunity to do something meaningful and to put a few core Jewish values into practice has very recently come to our attention, and Carol and I are trying to make it happen.  If it does, I will undoubtedly have much to report to you.  Sorry to be cryptic, but that is all I can say for now.

     I am showing my hand here, as I expect that you will be hearing more from me during our upcoming High Holidays about "the arena" and about some of Brene Brown's teachings.  She work focuses on themes such as making connections, vulnerability, empathy and shame.  Here is a taste from one of several TED talks she has given.  Enjoy, and let me know what you think-michaelswarttz@rcn.com.

 

The Hurricane of Anger: Where Do We Go from Here? (July 2016)

{I had originally intended this week to write about Elie Wiesel, who, as I’m sure many of you are aware, died  on July 2.  However, I feel compelled to defer the Wiesel piece and reflect on events of the past week.} 

The former Chief Rabbi of England, Jonathan Sacks, recently published an article with the title “We Need Morality to Beat This Hurricane of Anger.”  He was writing primarily about the recent...Read more...

Living in a Bubble? (June 2016)

I was heading out of town last week when the news broke about an anti-Semitic incident at Gibbons Middle School in Westborough.  I was dismayed, as I'm sure all of us were, but I can't say that I was totally surprised.

     I have to commend Amber Bock and the Westborough educational leadership for what appears to be a textbook response to the incident.  They contacted the police, notified parents and the...Read more...

The Six Day War- 49 Years Later (June 2016)

{By request I am providing my remarks given at Shabbat services on June 4, which was only a few days before the 49thanniversary of the Six Day War.  It was Rose Hollander’s Bat Mitzvah, and I was in part reacting to a few points she made in her d’var Torah to the congregation.  In preparing these comments I was inspired by a piece entitled “Why History Matters” by David Harris, Executive Director of the American Jewish...Read more...

Muhammad Ali and the Jews (June 2016)

We are all aware of the recent death of Muhammad Ali.  As I have been watching and reading much of the extensive coverage about his life and legacy, I was wondering about his relationship to Jews and to Israel.  A recent piece in The Times of Israel provides some of that background.  According to the article, he had an uneven record, with a few surprises.  Enjoy!

Times of Israel: Sometimes He Stung Like a Bee...Read more...

Aaron Feuerstein:  Recalling a True Mensch (January 2016)

Last month the Boston Globe reported in its Business section the closing of the Malden Mills factory in Lawrence.  Malden Mills was a huge textile factory whose primary product was Polartec, one of the country’s top winter apparel brands.  Polartec announced that it was moving its manufacturing operations in Lawrence and moving the work to plants in Hudson, NH, and Tennessee, undoubtedly due to cheaper labor and manufacturing...Read more...

Healing the Enemy (January 2016)

Victims of the terrible Syrian civil war have been at the center of the world's attention for months.  The refugees flooding into Europe, questions in American political conversation about how many to let in and who, concerns about terrorist infiltration into the refugee mix are all part of the discussion emanating out of this terrible catastrophe effecting millions of innocent Syrian civilians.  During this recent holiday hiatus of...Read more...

50 Years of Nostra Aetate (November 2015)

Last week marked the 50th anniversary of what some have called the most radical document by the Second Vatican Council. It's called Nostra Aetate, or "In Our Times," and it was a watershed in Catholic-Jewish relations, as it repudiated anti-Semitism and the charge that Jews were collectively guilty for the crucifixion of Jesus Christ.

Following are three sources for your reading or listening pleasure, if you are...Read more...

Sat, October 21 2017 1 Cheshvan 5778