December 22, 2016 / 22 Kislev 5777

Rabbi Sharon Kleinbaum
As the nights of winter lengthen, as we move towards Chanukah, we search for light. Chanukah - our holiday of re-dedication - arrives this coming Saturday night and CBST's Chanukah Shabbat service will be on Friday, December 30th at 6:30 pm.
So many of us are struggling with how to handle the despair and daily assaults of news and anticipating the future. Some have said it is like being between the earthquake and the tsunami. Some think we shouldn't share any depressing news and should only focus on positive news. There isn't one right way! But we will need to deepen our souls, strengthen muscles of survival and resilience and resistance and make room for love and light and joy and laughter and learning new things and books and music and good food and great art. Communities will be more important than ever. CBST is  engaging in a process of discerning what it will be to be a powerful spiritual community of resistance and love. This is a marathon - as Heschel said in 1944 - just as evil as the forces of fascism are, we must be as forcefully good.
It's exhausting and demoralizing. Yet, we cannot afford to get lost in the despair we feel.
Our community - those in the congregation and those well beyond our walls - must come together to sustain our powerful spiritual community of resistance and love. In the weeks, months, and years to come we will build an ever deeper and broader base for spiritual rejuvenation, love, hope, and an engaged and thoughtful activism.
Yes, a true tsunami is approaching, a mabul, a flood of biblical proportions. Tog ether we must build an ark that will welcome all on board - those who are strong, those who are vulnerable - and together we will weather this storm. We must begin NOW to build and fortify the foundations of the world as we want it.
If you ever wondered why you were alive, that purpose is more clear than ever: we are here for such a time as this.
We have experienced months of hateful words and deeds - since the election NYC has experienced a 157% rise in hate crimes, which have been anti-Semitic, anti-Muslim, anti-LGBT, anti-stranger. We are all bound together.
I encourage our whole community to read this blueprint and offer input as we shape the ark of social justice that will carry us through this time. Study this outline and share with others, send your feedback and input, to make this a community-based action plan. Come to a community-wide gathering on THURSDAY, JANUARY 5th, from 6:30- 8:30pm to discuss, and begin to chart the course for our next steps together. If you can't come but would like to offer ideas, email  
We must not become embittered or allow our muscles of love and hope to atrophy. It is in community that we can best respond, thrive, and gain strength and vision from each other.
"If I am not for myself, who will be for me?
If I am only for myself, what am I"
If not now, when?"
~ Rabbi Hillel Pirkei Avot 1:14
1)    Education
a)    We must educate ourselves in areas that we are not well versed. Some topics might include understanding the ways that homophobia, xenophobia, racism, and fascism have worked in history offers lessons on how hatred is unleashed. History can show us forms of resistance that have been and can be successful. CBST member Josh Kruchten and Rabbi Yael Rapport. have established an educational initiative to study the history and trajectory of such hateful movements, and will be offering multiple program options in partnership with great educational institutions throughout NYC.
Here are some things to read in the meantime:
b)    We need to deepen our engagement with, and knowledge of, our Muslim neighbors here in NYC. We know that one of the first targets of institutional and individualized hate already in NYC and elsewhere is the Muslim community. We must study Islam and become better educated so we can engage in sophisticated discussions.
c)    Masha Gessen, a brilliant queer Jewish Russian journalist and CBST member has written important pieces based on her expertise about autocracies, Russian President Vladimir Putin and much more. Gessen will be speaking at CBST this Friday December 23, 6:30 Kabbalat Shabbat service and the Oneg Program that follows. Purchase her book through CBST now - she will sign and you can pick up your copy at the program. 
d)    We will compile an online library of articles, books, and other materials that members of our congregation have found useful to read on a resource page on our website. If you see something you think should be included, email us about it. This will be a community resource.
e)    The best response to anti-Semitism is ultimately to be more deeply Jewish - at this time of Chanukah and re-dedication, commit to more Jewish study and to more deeply engaged Jewish practice. Commit to read one Jewish book a month, take a class, read something Jewish on Shabbat, learn Hebrew, come to services. Be part of CBST's learning community - our adult education classes begin on February 7, and registration is open on our website.
2)    Liturgy/Prayer
a)   We must deepen our religious lives to be composed of spiritually rejuvenating practices. We must commit again and again to making Shabbat and Jewish holidays full of joy and music, good food and prayer, and friends and family and community.
i)   If you weren't with us for the very powerful gathering after the election when Mayor de Blasio and leaders of the Muslim community joined us, watch here.
ii)     Listen to my drash from that night, a version of which can be read here .
iii)    We will add a newly written prayer for our country and world into every service.
3)    Direct Service and Engagement
a)    As a congregation, we will commit to deep engagement with some of those in the City who are particularly vulnerable: Muslims and immigrants. As LGBTQS Jews we will work to build real and lasting connections. We will hold weekly welcome vigils at a City mosque (working with the Islamic Center of NYU and Muslim Community Network) and invite others to join us.
b)    We have established a "Muslim and Immigrant Engagement Initiative" with Rabbi Marisa James of T'ruah, the Rabbinic Call to Human Rights and CBST member Harold Levine.
c)     We will collaborate to offer self-defense classes and "upstander" / de-escalation trainings (how to be an upstander, not a bystander, when we witness attacks on others).
d)    We will share collaborative activities with Muslims, attend worship services in a mosque and invite Muslim neighbors to attend services and programming at CBST
e)    As community members see opportunities to take action (food drives and soup kitchens, ESL and direct service, for example) we will bring these opportunities to our community for participation.
f)      We will support and nourish our own CBST members during these trying times: our Chesed Committee will expand our communal support systems. We encourage all to be conscious of even the smallest opportunities for kindness. Make an effort to say hello to people in shul who you don't know. Offer to give someone without a car a ride to the cemetery so they can visit a deceased love one. Be patient with each other. We will make our community a microcosm for the kindness and strength we want the larger world to look like.  
4)    Social Justice and Political Activism
a)    We will partner with appropriate organizations and lend our voices to create a persistent and clear message of resistance to any and all abhorrent policies and actions by our government. As a synagogue our participation in electoral politics is limited, but free to engage in actions to protest or support policies. We will fight racism, anti-Semitism, Islamophobia, anti-Immigrant and anti-environment policies, and misogyny, all of which are already visible.
b)    CBST is sponsoring buses to Washington DC for the Women's March on Washington on January 21. Join Rabbi Bauer, Rabbi Kleinbaum, and Executive Director Yolanda Potasinski. Seats are still available. Register online. CBST will be a presence at programming and marches in NYC as well, contact Rabbi Rapport to be kept in the loop.
c)     Many Israeli progressive organizations are concerned that progressive Jews will stop giving to Israeli causes as money is donated to meet domestic needs here in the US. We must maintain our connection and support to those in Israel with whom we share such deep values, including the Israel Religious Action Center, the Jerusalem Open House, and the New Israel Fund.
d)    This rise of hate we're facing is a global phenomenon. We must be vigilant and attentive, alert and sensitive, educated and informed, inspired by the values of Judaism, and inspiring to others to act thoughtfully.
e)   Speaking truth to power in times of oppression and lies is an act of resistance - let's continue these provocative, thoughtful, tender, and open conversations.

B'vrachot, with blessings for light,
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Rabbi Sharon Kleinbaum, D.D. 

Congregation Beit Simchat Torah
130 West 30th Street, New York, NY 10001
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