Rosh Hashanah Sermons 2019/5780

As Floridians during hurricane season when a storm is approaching, we often have a dilemma - for some of us, it is, will the chips and cookies that we bought to survive last until the actual storm hits?

After the hurricane leaves, and assuming there is no damage, we have to figure out, how long do we keep the shutters up?

The thought process goes like this - if I leave the shutters up, I'll be protected from the next storm which is bound to hit in a week, two weeks, or a month. Leaving the shutters up gives us a sense of protection; we are ready for anything. But, here's the thing, leaving our shutters up is actually dangerous. Every year, the county has to give a public service announcement on why keeping our shutters up is dangerous. The main reason: if there is a fire in the house, fire responders cannot get in to help, and people inside cannot escape. The danger quickly turns from outside in, to the inside out...

Rosh Hashanah marks the end of one year, and the beginning of another year. In this New Year, it seems we are running away from the unprecedented anti-Semitism of the last year in this country. It is the elephant in the room that we struggle with.

On October 27, 2018, a holy space, Tree of Life Synagogue in the Squirrel Hill neighborhood of Pittsburgh, was attacked by a white nationalist leading to the deaths of eleven innocent souls whose only crime was that they were Jewish, and they showed up for Shabbat.... click here to read the rest of the sermon.

It is the season of repentance, but first, you have to confess, so here it is - my public confession. This summer, I was with our sons in the deep south, and you can't get any more southern than this, in a Walmart parking lot. I looked around the parking lot and I noticed some cars with Confederate flags bumper stickers, and I became concerned. I took my sons aside and said, "We are going to take off our kippot, and when we are inside, don't call me Abba, call me Dad."

My sons asked, but, 'Abba', I mean, Dad, why? It was at that moment that I choked up - I had nothing to say. What do I tell my children? Why shouldn't we wear a kippah out in the open anywhere we want, this is America after all! As I thought more about it, I realized I was asking myself the wrong questions - I kept on asking, why not, in the negative, and what I should have been asking myself is, why should we be Jewish? Why does the world need us?

I'm not here to give a sermon on anti-Semitism, rather, I want to give a sermon about why we should be even more Jewish this year in the face of anti-Semitism;

Why be Jewish and why does the world need the Jews share a common answer that might surprise you: Because Jews step out of line.... click here to read the rest of the sermon.


Shannah tovah Shaarei Kodesh!  

I hope you all had meaningful Rosh Hashanah with us at Shaarei Kodesh or wherever you spent the holiday.  The high holidays are a magical time during our Jewish calendar.  It is a time of renewal, as individuals and communities, but it is also a time of returning.  At the end of every Torah service, we say the line:  

Hashivenu Adonai Elechah, Ve'Nashuvah, Hadeish Yameinu, K'Kedem.
Turn us to you, O Lord, and we shall return, Renew our days as if it were in the beginning. 

This famous line is also a popular refrain in many prayers connected to the High Holidays.  On the High Holidays, we return.  Many Jews who do not attend prayer services during the year return for a couple of days to connect.  Jews who are away from their families for a year may return home for a holiday meal.  Together, families who are distant from each other during the year sit together.  They return to times of the past, remembering what it was like to sit with their family when they were children.  They return for Yizkor to remember their family members long gone.  Jews all of types return during these days, and this Shabbat, we hope to expand the circle of returning.  

Last Rosh Hashanah, I spoke about the voice of the voiceless, the voices we don't hear during the year but are present.  One of these voices, is the voice of the person struggling with addiction:

"We have relatives who struggle with addiction...and we have relatives who have died from addiction.  I know I have, and I'm sure, many people in this room have as well...

One of our congregants got in touch with a friend, Lisa Hillman, who was a well-known development professional in the Jewish community and was also a broadcast journalist.  Through her years, she held a secret from her community, and even her rabbi:  she had a son who struggled with addiction.  She wrote a book about her son Jacob's struggle with addiction called Secret No More: A True Story of Hope for Parents with an Addicted Child.  In the book, she speaks about the shame she felt, but the shame started to lift once she gave voice to her son's struggles and her own.  He wasn't weak, and she was not a bad mother; he was suffering from an illness, and so was she.  Both she and her son Jacob addressed the rabbis in our community, our local Jewish high schools, and an open speaking event.

CSK co-sponsored the event, and the biggest surprise was to see who came.  The room was filled with Jews who drove from all over South Florida, who had never stepped foot on our Federation campus, who probably haven't been in a Jewish setting since their bar or bat mitzvah.  In the Q & A portion of the evening, the audience thanked her profusely for giving them a voice, and many tears were shed.  There were also parents with their kids with them.  I will never forget one mother who stood up and said to Jacob, "Scare my kids straight!"  Lisa's son Jacob answered, "Here's the truth, my friends, the friends who gave me my first drink, my first hit off a joint, my first pill, they are fine now.  But I'm not, because I have a disease."  It's not a weakness, it's a disease.  There are voices out there that we have to listen to, that we have to acknowledge, that we have to care for, that's the role of a synagogue, that's what we do as a holy congregation."

This Shabbat is a time of returning, letting others in who have not been heard all year.  We hope you can join us for a special Shabbat Shuvah as we welcome (for the second straight year)   Rabbi Mark Rottenberg, who will be speaking about addiction and recovery in a Jewish context as part of National Recovery Month .  Please invite anyone who needs to hear this important message - our gates are open for all.  

To read more about our innovative program, please read an article published in this week's Sun Sentinel - Synagogue to offer free High Holiday program this weekend for people facing addiction and in recovery

On Sunday, we will hold a special high holiday program for people in recovery and their families.  Please join us this Sunday at 1 pm.

As we journey to Shabbat Shuvah, a Shabbat a returning, let us all realize that we are all works in progress.  Our high holiday season reminds us that we work on ourselves every year.  None of us are perfect, but we never stop striving for perfection, one step at a time.  

Shannah Tovah U'Metukah, May you all have a sweet and healthy New Year,

Rabbi David Baum
Follow me on Twitter @rabbidavidbaum
Congregation Shaarei Kodesh 
561-852-6555 | |