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Friday, August 18, 2017 / 27 Av 5777
Light Shabbat candles at 6:52 p.m

Rabbi Sharfman
Dear Congregation Kehillah and Friends,

This week we read Parashat Re'eh (re'eh means "see!"). Here is something that I hope you will 'look at' and 'see'....it's a bit long, but hope you'll find it to be worthwhile.

At the end is a letter from the president of a synagogue in Charlottesville, Virginia detailing what he observed, as well as a statement from the Jewish Community Relations Council.

This Shabbat is also Shabbat Mevarchim, literally, "the Sabbath that blesses" as we announce and bless the new month of Elul that begins Tuesday night. Elul is a most special month on the calendar, not only because it is the month that leads into the High Holy Days, but because of the special energy and opportunity it offers us, if we choose to tap into it.

Elul is a month of preparation for the High Holy Days. The High Holy Days are spiritual exercises and in order to get the maximum benefit from them, it's also a good idea to warm up our 'spiritual ovens'! The good news is that it's easier to do in Elul than to wait until you walk into High Holy Day services in Tishrei (the month in which Rosh HaShanah and Yom Kippur fall....also Sukkot and Simchat Torah!). Here's why:

On Rosh HaShanah, the Sovereign (God) ascends the 'throne' and sits in judgment (din), but in Elul, God is more accessible. It is as if God had been traveling and is now on the way home to the palace, standing outside and greeting us without the formality, predisposed to granting requests and listening, happy to be with us because we are loved and give love in return. One source from which this idea derives is that Elul is an acronym for: Ani l'dodi v'dodi li, I am my beloved's and my beloved is mine (from The Song of Songs). God is our beloved, and we are God's beloved, but we have to do our part in acknowledging the relationship, including if we feel let down or frustrated by that relationship!

In Aramaic (the language of the Talmud), the word Elul means 'searching'. The specific teaching is that we now have an opportunity to embark on a journey in search of our truest selves, which is the essence of the word teshuvah that is so frequently repeated at the High Holy Days as meaning 'repentence'. Really, it is (re) turning, to our truest godly, holy core. Transformation is possible! In order to have the kind of spiritual High Holy Days that most of us seek, we need to do the work now, and do our searching (cheshbon ha-nefesh....literally 'an accounting of our soul') to see where we have fallen short, where we are stuck, and what is getting in the way of our moving forward and reaching our potential, be it in the area of physical health, emotional health, relationships with friends, family, community, and/or God. Rebbe Nachman taught: if you have the power to break, you need to believe that you also have the power to heal...

The Chasidim have imagery of God being with us in the fields, consoling us, reaching out to us, if only we will reach back!

I invite you to join me on this 40-day spiritual practice of preparing for the High Holy Days, starting with Rosh Chodesh (the new month) of Elul (this coming Tuesday morning) through Yom Kippur, each day setting aside some time to consider what it means to (re) turn to our true selves, what blocks us from getting there, unmasking our souls, and healing our broken hearts through honesty with ourselves and compassion for all, including ourselves and those who have hurt us. Find what is vital and whole within yourself and strengthen it. Find what is broken and not in alignment with your soul's purpose and repair it. It's the journey of a lifetime...most important one you'll ever make, and we get to do it every year at this time.

Maximize the potential of these days! Join us for Kabbalat Shabbat next Friday, August 25th (wine and cheese at 6:30 PM), and September 8th at 7:30 PM and September 16th (Saturday night) for an engaging Selichot program starting with Havdalah. You'll find details in the weekly Kehillah Connections. Invite a friend to share the experience. We're happy to welcome you to our 'family'.

Shabbat Shalom,
Rabbi Bonnie Sharfman

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From Alan Zimmerman, President of Congregation Beth Israel in Charlottesville, VA:

At Congregation Beth Israel in Charlottesville, VA, we are deeply grateful for the support and prayers of the broader Reform Jewish community. Our thoughts and prayers are with the families of Heather Heyer and the two Virginia State Police officers, H. Jay Cullen and Berke Bates, who lost their lives on Saturday, and with the many people injured in the attack who are still recovering.

The loss of life far outweighs any fear or concern felt by me or the Jewish community during the past several weeks as we braced for this Nazi rally - but the effects of both will each linger.

On Saturday morning, I stood outside our synagogue with the armed security guard we hired after the police department refused to provide us with an officer during morning services. (Even the police department's limited promise of an observer near our building was not kept - and note, we did not ask for protection of our property, only our people as they worshipped).

Forty congregants were inside. Here's what I witnessed during that time.

For half an hour, three men dressed in fatigues and armed with semi-automatic rifles stood across the street from the temple. Had they tried to enter, I don't know what I could have done to stop them, but I couldn't take my eyes off them, either. Perhaps the presence of our armed guard deterred them. Perhaps their presence was just a coincidence, and I'm paranoid. I don't know.

Several times, parades of Nazis passed our building, shouting, "There's the synagogue!" followed by chants of "Seig Heil" and other anti-Semitic language. Some carried flags with swastikas and other Nazi symbols.

A guy in a white polo shirt walked by the synagogue a few times, arousing suspicion. Was he casing the building, or trying to build up courage to commit a crime? We didn't know. Later, I noticed that the man accused in the automobile terror attack wore the same polo shirt as the man who kept walking by our synagogue; apparently it's the uniform of a white supremacist group. Even now, that gives me a chill.

When services ended, my heart broke as I advised congregants that it would be safer to leave the temple through the back entrance rather than through the front, and to please go in groups.

This is 2017 in the United States of America.

Later that day, I arrived on the scene shortly after the car plowed into peaceful protesters. It was a horrific and bloody scene.

Soon, we learned that Nazi websites had posted a call to burn our synagogue. I sat with one of our rabbis and wondered whether we should go back to the temple to protect the building. What could I do if I were there? Fortunately, it was just talk - but we had already deemed such an attack within the realm of possibilities, taking the precautionary step of removing our Torahs, including a Holocaust scroll, from the premises.

Again: This is in America in 2017.

At the end of the day, we felt we had no choice but to cancel a Havdalah service at a congregant's home. It had been announced on a public Facebook page, and we were fearful that Nazi elements might be aware of the event. Again, we sought police protection - not a battalion of police, just a single officer - but we were told simply to cancel the event.

Local police faced an unprecedented problem that day, but make no mistake, Jews are a specific target of these groups, and despite nods of understanding from officials about our concerns - and despite the fact that the mayor himself is Jewish - we were left to our own devices. The fact that a calamity did not befall the Jewish community of Charlottesville on Saturday was not thanks to our politicians, our police, or even our own efforts, but to the grace of God.

And yet, in the midst of all that, other moments stand out for me, as well.

John Aguilar, a 30-year Navy veteran, took it upon himself to stand watch over the synagogue through services Friday evening and Saturday, along with our armed guard. He just felt he should.

We experienced wonderful turnout for services both Friday night and Saturday morning to observe Shabbat, including several non-Jews who said they came to show solidarity (though a number of congregants, particularly elderly ones, told me they were afraid to come to synagogue).

A frail, elderly woman approached me Saturday morning as I stood on the steps in front of our sanctuary, crying, to tell me that while she was Roman Catholic, she wanted to stay and watch over the synagogue with us. At one point, she asked, "Why do they hate you?" I had no answer to the question we've been asking ourselves for thousands of years.

At least a dozen complete strangers stopped by as we stood in front the synagogue Saturday to ask if we wanted them to stand with us.

And our wonderful rabbis stood on the front lines with other Charlottesville clergy, opposing hate.

Most attention now is, and for the foreseeable future will be, focused on the deaths and injuries that occurred, and that is as it should be. But for most people, before the week is out, Saturday's events will degenerate into the all-to-familiar bickering that is part of the larger, ongoing political narrative. The media will move on - and all it will take is some new outrageous Trump tweet to change the subject.

We will get back to normal, also. We have two b'nai mitzvah coming up, and soon, Rosh HaShanah and Yom Kippur will be upon us, too.  
After the nation moves on, we will be left to pick up the pieces. Fortunately, this is a very strong and capable Jewish community, blessed to be led by incredible rabbis. We have committed lay leadership, and a congregation committed to Jewish values and our synagogue. In some ways, we will come out of it stronger - just as tempering metals make them tougher and harder.

The following is from the Jewish Community Relations Council. Rabbi Sharfman was instrumental in the creation of the JCRC and now serves on its executive board and as the Phoenix Board of Rabbis' liaison to the JCRC. 
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