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Rabbi's Update 5/14/2021

Dear Friends:

There is so much to write about this morning but I will try to be brief.

Since Shavuot is this coming Sunday night through Tuesday night, you will not get an email from me this coming Monday morning.

There will be a special Zoom “Ask the Rabbi” this coming Thursday night, May 20, after minyan. Before the pandemic we would have “Kiddush Konversations” roughly once a month or so after Kiddush on Shabbat, and every once in a while it would be “Ask the Rabbi” where we could discuss whatever might be on your mind. While my Thursday night class on “Contemporary Jewish Controversies” has filled a similar role to some extent, this will be an opportunity to discuss some of the things which have been in the news recently. “Ask the Rabbi” will be instead of Rashi class that evening.

As we know, war continues between Israel and Hamas. Sadly, we have also seen in the last few days civil strife break out in Israel proper between Israeli citizens who are Jews and Israeli citizens who are Arabs. A couple of things need to be said clearly:

  1. Launching missiles at civilians, as Hamas is doing, is a war crime. There is no justification for it under any circumstances and the Israeli government has the right and the obligation to protect its population.

  2. At the same time, there is no justification for beating people up and trashing their businesses, homes, or places of worship because of their ethnic or religious identification. This is true whether it is Arabs attacking Jews or Jews attacking Arabs. There is no “context” in the world which can justify this behavior.

One of the signs of a healthy society is its ability to engage in introspection and self-criticism even in the midst of war. I want to share with you two articles published yesterday by scholars associated with the Shalom Hartman Institute in Jerusalem. The first is by Rabbi Donniel Hartman; the second is by Yossi Klein Halevi, author of many books including Like Dreamers, about the paratroopers who captured the Western Wall and the Temple Mount for Israel in 1967, and Letters to My Palestinian Neighbor. (Yossi Klein Halevi is also the cousin of our member David Markowitz.)

On a different subject entirely, you may have seen that the Pew Research Forum issued a new, quite thorough, demographic study of Jewish Americans. Their last such study was in 2013 and it seems that there is not a huge difference between the two studies. In 2013 Pew estimated that there were 6.7 million Jews in the US, representing 2.2% of the population. In 2020 there were 7.5 million Jews representing 2.4% of the population, so our growth is keeping pace or even exceeding the growth of the US population as a whole. However, there is a big caution in interpreting the results from 2020 vs. 2013 and that is a complete change in surveying methodology. In 2013 the survey was conducted by telephone using random digit dialing -- phone numbers were called, questions were asked about the religious and ethnic identity of the household, and then households which had a Jewish member were given a more thorough survey. As we know, many if not most people no longer answer their phone if the call is not from a number they recognize, and therefore the survey was conducted by mail and the internet (there is a long methodological appendix to the survey if you are interested). So Pew warns that in particular, small differences between 2013 and 2020 can be attributable to the change in methodology and not necessarily an actual change in attitudes or behavior.

The landing page for the entire study is here:

From this page you can get to more detailed information including, if you wish, the entire report (warning -- it’s 248 pages long).

As you almost certainly know, the Centers for Disease Control yesterday issued revised guidance indicating that fully-vaccinated people can go back to most activities which we engaged in prior to the pandemic and can ditch their masks except in very crowded large gatherings. At the same time, this new guidance does not override local mask and social distancing regulations, so it remains to be seen precisely how Montgomery County and the State of Maryland will respond.

At Kehilat Shalom we are working towards once again having services in our building but we have also made a commitment to those who are unable to attend in person or still uncomfortable about doing so, to preserve their ability to continue to participate remotely. We’re still in the process of installing sufficient Internet bandwidth in the sanctuary as well as the necessary cameras and monitors (since the people in the sanctuary need to see those who are online and not just vice-versa). It will be a few weeks until we have installed, tested, and learned how to operate this equipment but the time is approaching when those of us who wish to gather together in our building will be able to do so.

Finally, a couple of reminders for Shavuot:

If you want to participate in the Conservative Movement’s worldwide Tikkun at any time between noon Sunday and noon Monday you can register here and you will receive the full schedule, study sheets, and a link to view the event in your email inbox. Alternatively you can simply watch the event without registration by clicking here.

Yizkor is recited Tuesday during our morning services for the second day of Shavuot. We use the same booklet we used on Yom Kippur, Shemini Atzeret and the eighth day of Pesach, so you may have a physical copy in your possession. If not, you can download a .pdf of the service (or simply have it open on your screen) by clicking here.

As always, if you need to talk or I can do anything for you, please contact me via email at or via phone at 301-977-0768 rather than through the synagogue office as at the moment I continue to work mostly from home, although having been vaccinated I am available for in-person meetings in my synagogue office by request.

Shabbat Shalom and Chag Shavuot Sameach,

Rabbi Charles L. Arian

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