When I first was contacted by Jill Feldman and Ashley Goldstein to participate in the CBB Irving and Marlyn Berstein Leadership Institute (LI) via Zoom, I was hesitant for a variety of reasons. You know the excuses: time commitment, not being able to meet in person, concerns about future requests to participate on committees and events, being one of the older ( ok, I will be honest – the oldest) participants, not feeling like I was “leadership” material, etc.
However, I was also worried that I would be the only Republican in the group and how would that play out? I didn’t want my political view to define me yet I wanted to be open and honest. After speaking to Deborah Naish who helped facilitate the course along with Aaron Ettenberg, I felt reassured that this would not be a barrier, it could actually be a growing opportunity for myself as well as my fellow LI attendees.
From delving into the history of CBB, interviewing past CBB leaders, listening, and learning from our board president, rabbis, cantor, administrator/staff it truly gave me an appreciation of how much effort goes into running a vibrant, living, growing Jewish community.
I gained a perspective and respect for my other LI attendees. We were given assignments, discussed Jewish ethics (what would Moses do?), and learned about our own innate biases which can impact decisions on crucial board/synagogue issues. My fellow LI participants are smart, hard-working, multi-tasking, passionate young “up and coming” leaders of CBB. We are fortunate to have them not only in our synagogue but also as representatives of our Santa Barbara community.
I am grateful for the opportunity to have participated in the LI with the professional, insightful, probing, and supportive guidance of Deborah Naish and Aaron Ettenberg.
When the Jewish people join hands in collective responsibility they become a formidable force for good. Rabbi Jonathan Sacks (Bechukotei 5774)
Some of you may have seen that I was asked by the Santa Barbara News Press to comment on the Supreme Court decision to allow CA houses of worship to hold indoor services. I told the author of the article that we would not be coming back to in-person services as a result of the ruling. She seems a bit surprised. I told her the same words I wrote back in May as restrictions on public worship first lifted: Just because we can be together, doesn’t mean we should. I believe that the decision our synagogue has made, and houses of worship all across CA have made as well, is out of an effort to put Moral leadership before popular leadership.
This is, in a way, the beauty and challenge of the American judicial system. The rulings of the courts do not dictate any sort of moral code. There are plenty of things that are legal but still immoral. But we are given the flexibility to make a moral choice within a legal system. This is what separates a secular law code from a religious one. Torah law attempts to combine law and morality based on the desire of a God for creation. The Torah portion this week is a perfect example. Mishpatim, literally meaning Laws, or statutes, contains legal ramifications for breaking the law such as paying restitution when accidentally damaging another’s property, and moral acts of returning a lost animal to its owner.
Torah law, at its inception, was a departure from other ancient codes. In the Mesopotamian legal system, people were often assigned a monetary value, and in the case of murder, the victim’s family would extract a payment from the murderer as recompense. In the Torah on the other hand, where human life could not automatically be converted to dollar, punishment for murder was death. Murder was not just a crime against a person, it was a crime against God.
It is good in my opinion that the judicial system is not meant to impose what is or is not moral, only what is or is not legal according to our Constitution. However, that openness allows our legislatures to make those choices for us. What is our recourse when legislators take that freedom of morality and create laws that they are within their purview to make, but are immoral according to our values?
This conflict is particularly present in our country’s ongoing struggle around abortion and reproductive rights. There is an ongoing tug of war between the judicial and legislative branch around issues of contraceptive access, pregnancy planning, and funding for clinics like Planned Parenthood. In the landmark Roe v. Wade decision of 1973, the supreme court ruled that a state could not make abortions illegal, that the medical procedure chosen in one out of every six pregnancies was a woman’s right. There has never been a time where this right has been in such danger as now. Since 2011, more than 400 state laws have been passed attempting to restrict access to this right, and right now, there are 17 cases only 1 step away from the Supreme Court. It is highly likely that we will see this court take on the issue once again, and its decision could have dire consequences.
This Shabbat nationally is Reproduction Shabbat, a program of the National Council of Jewish Women, and co-sponsored by dozens of national Jewish organizations from the Reform, Conservative, Reconstructionist, and Humanistic movements. In dozens of synagogues across the country tonight, rabbis are reaffirming the Jewish commitment to contraceptive access, and the right to choose. I am joining with my colleagues in this call at a time when that right has never been in more danger.
This Shabbat was chosen based on a passage, a painful and problematic passage, from this week’s Torah portion. It reads, “When two people fight, and one of them pushes a pregnant woman and a miscarriage results, but no other damage ensues, the one responsible shall be fined according as the woman’s husband may exact from him, the payment to be based on reckoning.
But if other damage ensues [in other words if the woman also dies], the penalty shall be life for life.” As gruesome and painful as this passage is to hear, it also serves as the basis for numerous talmudic rulings on the legality of abortion. The passage suggests that a fetus, while precious and valuable, does not equate to human life. If the fetus is lost, a monetary fee is paid, but if the mother’s life is lost, the penalty is death. According to the Talmud, life starts at birth, not at conception. Perhaps not surprisingly, there is no concept of viability in Talmud. Medical research had not progressed that far at that time.
Jewish law is clear that in the case of threat of health of the pregnant individual, abortion is not only an option, it is a commandment, an obligation. Judaism commands that we save a life no matter what. But noted Orthodox legal scholar from this century, Rabbi AharonLichtenstein, zichono livracha, wrote that Pikuach nefesh [where a life is at stake] is not the only reason one might terminate a pregnancy. Other factors are allowed to be taken into account as well, including sh’lom bayit, peace in the home, tza’ar, pain and suffering both physically and mentally, and kavod ha’briyot, the dignity of an individual.
It should be made clear that Judaism does not advocate for abortions as a positive thing. Our most basic commandment as Jews is to be fruitful and multiply. Bringing children into the world, and caring for those who are already here, is of utmost significance. But it is also clear that Judaism, even in Orthodox circles, accepts the necessity of such a procedure.
We live in California, a progressive state, for better or worse, but a state that has committed to providing access to contraceptive health care and abortion facilities, at least on paper. But according to a 2020 report from Powertodecide, two and a half million Californians live in a county with limited to no access to appropriate health options. Those two and a half million Californians join an additional 17 million across the US with little to no access. A Supreme Court Decision to overturn, or change the ruling of Roe v. Wade will cause that number to significantly increase, and we Jews have a moral responsibility to ensure that access for others, even if it is a choice we would not make for ourselves.
This Torah portion also calls on us to not oppress the stranger, and to protect the vulnerable in our community. If the Supreme Court makes the legal decision to remove state restrictions on abortions, responsibility will fall to individuals to advocate for moral leadership to be upheld at the legislative level. Laws restricting access to abortion do not stop abortion, they just prevents safe, legal abortion.
On Yom Kippur I spoke of the miscarriage my wife and I suffered in our first pregnancy, and the taboo nature of speaking about such personal life moments. Abortion, even more than miscarriage, is a topic not often spoken about in Jewish circles. Those who have made this choice for themselves often feel they must make it without any friend support or knowledge to avoid embarrassment. And as one in four people who can become pregnant will chose at some point in their lives to have this procedure (including within the Jewish community), WE Testify founder Renee Bracey Sherman is correct when she says, “all of us love someone who has had an abortion, whether we know it or not.” I have spoken with some who have made this choice, and spoken of the physical and mental pain they personally endured. They expressed fear of how others would react if they found out. We as a welcoming and warm Jewish community need to be willing to open ourselves up to those who maybe make different personal choices than we might, but are still in need of loveand support.
And we as a Jewish community should look past labels of liberal or conservative, and see the ability for one to forego a pregnancy for what it is, a moral necessity of Jewish law for the protection of life, the honoring of individual choice, and the separation of one’s personal religious views from public law.
A very psychic friend had posted something about Nevada, right when I was wondering if and where to go. I took that as a sign. My destination: Carson City, the Capitol of Nevada. (I had to look up where the Capitol of Nevada was). As I was leaving the house, I said a prayer, and set these intentions: 1) get the images and stories that will best serve the public, 2) stay safe, and 3) have an adventure I could write home about. (In that order).
On my way, I arrived at the Sacramento Capitol around 8:00 pm on January 16th, the night before the potential terrorist attacks that the FBI was anticipating. There was a formidable fence around the entire building, which has the radius of several blocks. Inside and outside were members of the US National Guard, and police vehicles. It was not nearly the show of force I had seen in some cities, like Louisville, KY, during some of the BLM protests, yet it was impressive. The next morning, security was beefed up even more: now hundreds of law enforcement could be seen standing or patrolling the grounds and neighborhood.
But where was the insurgents? The rioters? How about the peaceful Pro-Trump supporters?
There was one young man standing in front of the fence in a suit, holding an American Flag. The fact that he was alone, with the massive and stately California Capitol building and US military behind him, made for quite the dramatic and uncanny scene. A couple dozen reporters and as many National Guardsmen were milling around, tension as thick as the humid breeze off the river. A formal suit was not quite what I had imagined a Neo-Nazi insurgent wearing, but what did I know? I went to interview him.
Turns out he wasn’t a Trump supporter, or a terrorist. He was a college student in Computer Science who had come with a message of unity and love, for the lawmakers, police and everyone in the universe.
So where were the Trump supporters? The Insurgents? The rebels?
No where! Not a single one!
Later in the day, two giant, steel-colored pickup trucks with Dakota plates, scull and cross bone decals and confederate flags drove by, and a woman, smiling, leaned out the window as she sped past the Capitol. She screamed a war cry out of the window.
That was it.
This was a good lesson. My fear began to lessen. Without a leader egging them on, and with such a show of force by law enforcement, they were too chicken to take a stand. This is why leadership need be held accountable.
Then, I thought of all the people who had come out to protest police brutality in 2019– how many tens of thousands of black citizens had lined the streets and stood nose-to-nose with police and Federal Agents, the very people and institutions most likely to be hostile to their cause; the very people they were protesting! The courage for the unprivileged to act and to use their voices when they knew all too well there would be no Presidential pardons or house arrests for them. The contrast between the courage of those Black-Lives-Matter protestors, and the people who had swarmed the Capitol because they believed the lies they were told, and had believed themselves to be heroes, under the wing of the most powerful man in the world— was immeasurable. My eyes teared up thinking about what true courage is, and how when the truth really is on our side; when a people are truly righteous, they can stand up to the police or the government or anyone, and protest peacefully. This is what the insurgents and their leaders in mayhem didn’t get: “The truth— and only the truth— will set us free”.
Then I drove from Sacramento to Carson City later that day, a two hour drive, and entered the grounds of the Nevada State Capitol. I could not believe my eyes. I didn’t know what to believe! I felt like I was in Bizarro-land; the Twilight Zone. I walked the entire congressional campus, in a state of bafflement. There were no protestors there either, but neither were there policemen. Nobody. Not even one overweight, semi-retired security guard half asleep on a metal folding chair. I walked up to the front door and looked in the thinly plated, glass windows. Not a soul to be seen.
I glanced at my iPhone: the news stories had listed this Capitol as one of the top five targets on the FBI’s watch list for this day, and the day of the Inauguration. I had read that one of the law makers in the state supported a coup, and had tweeted that on this day he knew the Emergency Broadcast system would be activated, and Trump would declare Martial Law, and the US military would be called forth to assure the Republican take-over. Was this part of how it was going to happen? By letting anyone who wanted walk right into the state Capitol, and legislature and Supreme Court buildings — all which were unguarded, as far as any eye could see? Or, did they know something I didn’t? Was there really not a threat, as long as no one was leading them inside?
I took several videos and photos — of nothing.
About an hour later, when still I could not spy a single officer or protestor (but thought I saw a form passing across the foyer deep inside the Capitol building— if it was Guard, or Ghost, I cannot tell you), I went to find a hotel. I started driving away, when I was stopped in my tracks. Not by domestic terrorists … but by a herd of deer.
I jumped out of my car — as silently as one can jump— and took their photograph. I recalled a dream someone had shared with me once, of Deer being buried underground. And I thought to myself, “Ah, the deer have risen!” And, “if only they were in front of the Capitol: what a miracle that would be!”
Then, something stunning happened. One by one, the deer began to cross the street, toward the Capitol. But not without pausing, first, under the street sign that would show I was actually in Carson City— a photojournalist’s dream! They crossed the road, one-by-one, and wandered on to the Capitol lawn. Then, every time I thought, “if only you would move a little over there— that would be an even better shot”… they did!
They were so sweet. So docile. So TRUSTING. So loving. Carson City is still a bit of the Wild West: it is a place of gun lovers and avid hunters. Yet the Deer were tame: they came up to me, and would have eaten out of my hand, had I had some food to offer them.
Their sweet and gentle presence made me weep.
Then, it dawned on me. I remembered my “intention”, and New Year’s Resolution. THESE were the photos I was meant to get and share! Awareness of the rhizome level of reality: where all living beings essentially share the same animal body; where all of us are essentially trees, sharing the same root system deep within the Earth, drinking from the same underground rivers…
This is my gift: going with the flow to manifest this kind of synchronicity, to show the world what the “Shema” really means— in action. My camera, like my fingers on this iPhone, are merely tools in the story-making that underscores this cosmic reality.
Which brings me back again, and finally, to Elie Weisel, in the later part of his Nobel Prize acceptance speech:
“Yes, I have faith. Faith in God and even in His creation. Without it no action would be possible. And action is the only remedy to indifference: the most insidious danger of all.”
We can contrast this with President Trump’s speech on June 6th, where he was turning the people against the man who had been most loyal to him: “I just spoke to [Vice President] Mike. I said, “Mike, that doesn’t take courage. What takes courage is to do nothing. That takes courage.”
No, Mr. Trump. No!
As Weisel said, “There is much to be done, there is much that can be done. One person – a Raoul Wallenberg, an Albert Schweitzer, one person of integrity, can make a difference, a difference of life and death.”
Indeed, there is still time to speak out, and to act, in accordance with each of our unique skill-sets, abilities and sensibilities.
Let us let the Deer be our guides!
Amy Katzis a photojournalist and member of CBB. She has been travelling and covering the protests across the country.
Yesterday would have been Judy Meisel‘s 92nd birthday. If you did not know Judy, who passed away late last year, she was a Holocaust survivor, speaker and Civil Rights advocate, and Judy was also the Director of Beit HaYeladim Preschool at CBB for many years (click here to read about Judy’s extraordinary life).
I met Judy when my children were very young and we bonded instantly. Following her retirement, Judy would come to visit BHY to prepare challah and other tasty baked goods with the preschoolers, and we would sometimes go on “field trips to Judy and Fred’s house.”
One year, Judy and I prepared hundreds of rugelach for Sarah House as a Mitzvah Day activity. After that, we had many baking sessions at her home and in the CBB kitchen – she called baking her “therapy” – and she always sent me away with extra treats, packed in a recycled tin container. Judy’s chocolate chip merengues were my favorite.
For the past several years I would call Judy on her birthday and we would chat about life in Santa Barbara, life in Minneapolis, CBB and the preschool, our families and inevitably, whatever we were cooking or baking at the moment. Judy was like a grandmother to me, she had the best questions, and the best advice, given straight, with no apologies. I am forever grateful for her no nonsense approach to what is good and right in this world.
First mentioned in 1238, one of the oldest Jewish settlements in the Czech lands.
In 1568 the Jews were expelled from the town. Historical sources refer to their number at the time as “sizeable.”
In 1853 the first Jewish family moved back, in 1880 there were 332 Jewish citizens, in 1900 there were 415 and in 1930, 215 people claimed their Jewish heritage.
The Jews in Pribram enjoyed a rich social life; there was a chevra kadisha, a Sisterhood, and charity and youth organizations. Before WWI there was even a kosher restaurant.
During the Nazi occupation, 171 Pribram Jews were killed in the camps, including 18 children under 15. The youngest was Pavel Schling, he was four years old.
In 1873 the building of the synagogue (in the then-popular Moorish style) began and in 1875 it was finished and the first Torah scroll was placed in the synagogue.
In the 1960s many Torah scrolls were sold to Western Jewish organizations all over the world.
The last Pribram rabbi, Dr. Emil Friedman, was killed in Auschwitz in 1943, along with 543 Jewish people from Pribram and the surrounding area.
During WWII, the synagogue was used as a warehouse and from 1946 to 1957 it housed collections of the town museum.
In 1966, due to only a very small number of Jewish people in Pribram, the congregation donated the synagogue to the town of Pribram.
The magistrate accepted the donation, only to tear the synagogue down in 1969.
The location of the medieval Jewish cemetery in unknown.
The new Jewish cemetery was founded in 1879. There are currently 150 beautifully preserved grave stones and a monument to the 543 Nazi victims, unveiled in 1954. The last Jewish burial took place in 1958. The cemetery is very well preserved and taken care of.