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Between You and Me – February 2019

A foundation of spiritual practice is the truth that we can hold two opposing feelings all at once. We can feel joyful as we grieve, we can experience hope in our despair, we can be certain in our uncertainty and, if we are wise, always be uncertain in our certainty. The weeks leading up to, and following the commemoration of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr’s birthday were both incredibly simple and infinitely complex.

Simple was the joy we felt both welcoming and being welcomed by St. James African Methodist Episcopal Congregation over the weekend prior to Dr. King’s birthday. Our choirs seemed to blend effortlessly to offer devotional song in both houses of worship. Both Reverend Edwards and I had a chance to speak to our congregations as we joined in Sabbath prayer on Friday and Sunday. Some of our youth children went to church and some of their youth came to temple. In my experience nothing felt forced, people met the unknown with openness and everyone came away moved, wondering whether reaching out across social, racial and religious lines to find friendship, healing and reconciliation can be as simple as that was.

Concurrently, during those same weeks I was part of a group of Jewish and African American leaders who were preparing for the very high-profile visit of Tamika Mallory, activist and leader of the National Women’s March, who was invited to speak at UNCA to honor Dr. King’s legacy. The event drew national coverage as it came to light later that Mallory’s relations with the Jewish community became strained over anti-Jewish remarks she allegedly made as well as her refusal to distance herself from ties to Louis Farrakhan, who is known not only for his organizing and support of vulnerable African American communities but also for his extreme hate speech against Jews. Whether or not the allegations against Mallory were true, the layers of identity politics that required navigating that were instigated by her visit were anything but simple. People who are not friends of the Jews often point a finger at us for our privilege and our economic and political power. When members of the Jewish community were insisting that nothing short of Chancellor Cable rescinding Mallory’s invitation to speak would suffice, that unfortunately played right into that harmful stereotype. And yet, in the current climate of division and hostility against Jews, how could the Jewish community turn a blind eye?

As I write this, we are still preparing for that visit. But here’s what I know ahead of it all. I know that the truth is complicated and people are complicated. Some things are easy for us to agree on, and some actions are easy to take. Others are difficult and the way forward isn’t clear. But I do believe that right now, people sitting down together, in dialogue or in prayer, gets us closer to where we hope to be. In the words of Kohelet, “There is a time for everything under the sun.”

President’s Message – February 2019

I’ve been thinking a lot about Jewish food lately. My daughter is planning her wedding and is designing the menu around ‘Jew-ish’ food — pastrami and rye, falafel in pita, black and white cookies, Israeli salads — a little of this and a little of that, mixing what we think of as culturally Jewish food and food from Israel. I have two new Israeli cookbooks filled with amazing pictures and recipes, and I want to try them all. Before we know it, I’ll be thinking about our Seder for Passover. And, The Souper Bowl is just around the corner!

I laugh when Rabbi reminds us that ‘oneg’ doesn’t mean cookies, but ‘joy’. But that actually sums up all of my thoughts around Jewish food — joy. For me, whether I’m learning a new recipe or having cookies at an oneg, it really comes down to the joy of sharing. We might be sharing recipes — I will never forget how privileged I felt when a special bubbe shared her famous and delicious brisket recipe, only to find that she used Lipton Onion Soup Mix! Or, we might be sharing the cooking experience — I love having the whole family in the kitchen helping to get a holiday meal on the table. I also love the shared food preparation for Hard Lox! Or, we might be sharing stories — small and insignificant or hugely important, when we’re having a little nosh at an oneg. And, we share lots of meals – I can distinctly recall every Shabbat at Home we have hosted or attended. Every one of those meals has given me the opportunity to get to know someone from our congregational family a little better. The Souper Bowl gives us another reason to share our recipes and a meal, all the while getting to know each other.

My new Israeli cookbooks, especially “Jerusalem – A Cookbook,” authored by Yotam Ottolenghi and Sami Tamimi, make a point of explaining that it’s futile to try to attribute really any of the food of Israel to one ethnic or religious group. They have fused together in so many ways, over so many generations, that it’s impossible to unravel who invented a particular food or who brought it with them to Israel. They also ask, “Why does it matter?” The true beauty of food is its immediacy. The pleasure we take in eating great food is what matters. That thinking is what makes us not hesitate to serve both Israeli food and New York Jewish food at our upcoming celebration. It all tastes great and it all evokes, and creates, wonderful memories.

I have another book I love, called “Matzoh Ball Gumbo – Culinary Tales of the Jewish South”. In it, Marcie Cohen Ferris explains how African American women who cooked for affluent and middle-class Jewish families influenced their recipes. Jewish and African American women created dishes that blended Southern and Jewish cooking, like lox and grits and sweet potato kugel and Pesach Fried Green Tomatoes. (No surprise there, matzoh meal makes the best “bread crumbs”!) She also explains why Crisco was the answer to the prayers of Jewish cooks in the South. They finally had something to make their biscuits and pie crusts almost as flaky as those made with lard, by their Gentile neighbors.

I can’t write about Jewish food without considering the role of kashrut laws in our private lives and in the temple. As Reform Jews, particularly in the South, we may not be invested in keeping Kosher, but I believe it’s important to follow our Kashrut policy both in and outside the temple walls if an event is sponsored by CBHT.

Jewish food plays many roles in our lives. It enriches our relationships and is wrapped up in our memories. I wish you the best in all your Jewish food experiences!

My Best,

Humor Corner – January 2019

Julius: How many Commandments are there?

Julia: Ten, of course

Julius: What would happen if you,-er- well- you know- if you broke one of them?

Julia (encouraging): So, there’d be nine.


Poetry time for young lovers:

A romantic Jewish young Mr.
Had a girl and he often KR
But he asked her to wed,
and she solemnly said:
“I can never be more than your Sr.”

Both from Encyclopedia of Jewish Humor
From Biblical Times to the Modern Age
Compiled and edited by Henry D. Spalding

Between You and Me – January 2019

An appeal to fellow Americans following the Pittsburgh Shootings

The deadly attack on the Tree of Life Congregation in Pittsburgh on October 27, 2018 was by far the worst anti-Semitic incident in our nation’s history. But it was hardly the only one. According to the Anti-Defamation League, the number of reported anti-Semitic hate crimes rose 57 percent in 2017 to a total of nearly 2000, the largest one-year increase ever. We can only wonder how many unreported incidents might make that number rise. The most public incident was Unite the Right rally of “white nationalists” in Charlottesville just fifteen months ago. That August weekend, men in fatigues bullied and taunted the members of Charlottesville’s Jewish congregation by standing outside the synagogue with automatic weapons while they worshipped after a Nazi website suggested it be burned down. The people who were brave enough to come to temple that morning had to scurry out the back door carrying their Torah scrolls with them. Anti-Semitic mantras like “Jews will not replace us,” and specifically Nazi slogans like “Blood and Soil” were chanted and the day culminated in the murder of Heather Heyer and the injuring of dozens more.

These were extreme events. But there are other things we cannot shrug off as the mute sounds of a dog whistle. Listen carefully for the persistent diatribes against “globalists”—a word widely understood among neo-Nazis and their ilk to mean “Jews.” The man accused of the murders at the Tree of Life Synagogue in Pittsburgh included that in his vocabulary of hatred and it is regularly tossed around by public leaders, perhaps disparaging Jews. Denunciation of news media as “enemies of the people” is dangerous to a free democracy, is associated with the accused perpetrators of the mail bombs which targeted CNN and Jewish philanthropist George Soros, and it comes directly from anti-Semitic political propaganda of the 20th century hatefully insinuating that Jews control the media. History bears sad witness to the intent—and effectiveness—of this kind of propaganda appealing to prejudice, inciting fear and leading to violence rather than bringing out the best instincts of humanity.

“It can’t happen here,” is what we’ve said to comfort ourselves. Unfortunately, it is happening here, in Asheville. I moved here in 2008 and in those early years, I was called into the school system once but also heard anecdotally from other students in the congregation that they were bullied by peers saying they were “Christ-killers.” For about five years, no incidents were brought to my awareness. However, since the 2016 elections, I’ve been called in to speak to school administrators following anti-Semitic taunting and bullying no fewer than on six occasions. Middle-schoolers, primarily, making swastikas of their math manipulatives, sending suggestive Instagram pictures of gas chambers, using Heil Hitler salutes and shouting “chase the Jew,” on the playground are just some of the incidents popping up. This touched me personally when my own daughter was a freshman at Asheville High School, and the administration turned a blind eye to a young man dressing in a Nazi Brownshirt uniform at school while my daughter had a real possibility of being sent home if her skirt was shorter than fingertip length.

Crimes borne of hatred do not “just happen.” They are the inevitable consequences of a dangerous climate that is growing in our country directed against Jews, but also against immigrants, refugees, people of color, transgender individuals, and those who support them. History and current events abroad bear sad witness to the intent—and effectiveness—of hate-speech and propaganda appealing to our prejudices and fears rather than to our best human instincts.

Fortunately, there is a powerful antidote: activating our best instincts by showering support on targeted communities. After the JCC bomb threats, my colleague, Reverend Brent Norris, offered to have 50 people standing outside our doors if we felt scared to come to temple. More than fifty clergy ascended the dais at the impromptu rally downtown in support of the Jewish community following the Pittsburgh shootings. I was stopped at a local café by a neighbor who lives behind the temple, who assured me that she literally has our back. I received cards of support from faith communities and caring individuals all over Western North Carolina. These expressions of support were powerful and they were vital. They helped my community know that there might be a few who choose to hate, but that we are at home here, and folks won’t stand by or tolerate hate or injury of any kind.

Certainly, we owe it to ourselves to keep demanding at the ballot box that our political leaders actively promote unity and bi-partisanship. But we also need them to know pushing divisive policies by stirring fear and hatred that targets any group diminishes us all. We need to call out propaganda when it rears its ugly head because it’s wrong and because physical violence is likely to follow.

Jewish sages of old said, “In a place void of humanity, we must strive to remain human.” They taught this not theoretically but at a time rife with violence. They could have advocated that their people keep a low profile and hope that things wouldn’t get worse. But they chose to rise up with the best they had in the face of the chaos around them. Inhumanity must not guide our way forward either. Let us resist fighting hatred with hatred. Know your neighbor and love her as you love yourself. As diverse as we are, let us seek harmony and unity and prove that America is better than our fear and division by spreading the seeds of compassion and justice that reside within us all.

With gratitude to those with whom I drew counsel in authoring and shaping this letter. It is a reflection of what is possible when dialogue between people with different political views come together and unite behind our common humanity and values.