Below is a copy of the Shabbat sermon delivered by Rabbi Levi Welton on July 11th, 2015 at The Hampton Synagogue Rabbi Marc Schneier Community Center:
I saw a cartoon published just this week titled "Soccer in 2015" that depicted a little boy walking next to his dad holding a soccer ball. The caption for the boy read "Daddy, my coach keeps telling me that I kick like a girl," to which the father responds, "great work, son!" On Sunday, July 5th 2015, the United States soccer team was victorious in the Women's World Cup soccer tournament. In light of the festivities and the ticker-tape parade down the Canyon of Heros, I originally thought it would be befitting to draft my sermon today around the victory of the "daughters of Tzelophchad" in this week's Biblical reading (1).
But then, on Tuesday July 7th, I read of the despicable remarks made by the Israeli Minister of Religious Services regarding Reform Jews, stating,"the moment [a Reform Jew] does not follow the Jewish religion... I can not say that he is Jewish" (2). First of all, this is a blatant contradiction of traditional Talmudic axioms such as, "Even if a Jew does not fulfill all the practices of Judaism, they are still a Jew," (3) or "All Jews are filled with good deeds like a pomegranate is filled with seeds" (4). Secondly, and perhaps more significantly, these comments were made during the time period in the Jewish calendar known as the "Three Weeks of Mourning," which commemorate the destruction of the Jewish Temple in the year 70 A.D. (5). In the Talmud, Tractate Yoma 9B, the Rabbi's grapple theologically with the question of how could God allow the Temple to be taken from us. Their conclusion was that it was not God who failed us, but ourselves. In their words, "mepnei she-hayta bo sinat chinam - [The destruction of the Temple took place] because we did not show proper love to one another" (6).
This is a time period during which we can not afford to be at odds with one another. At a time when we are faced with an existential threat of a nuclear Iran, there is absolutely no place for divisive rhetoric and diatribe against each other.
Do the enemies of the Jewish people distinguish between Reform, Conservative or Orthodox while they plot to destroy us?
Did Hitler ever make a distinction between Orthodox and Reform Jews as they were led into the gas chambers?
A Jew is a Jew!
I may not be certain of what will transpire with the deal with Iran. But what I am certain of is that this is a time when the Jewish people must stand united. An expression of such unity will take place on Wednesday, July 22nd in Times Square where thousands of Americans will rally together to protest Iran's quest for nuclear weapons. I'd like to salute our own congregant Jeff Wiesenfeld who is one of the organizers of this "Stop Iran" rally. This is a prime example of people from across the spectrum standing together for their belief in protecting the security of this country and all of its closest allies.
I recall another example of unity in the face of adversity that occurred a few months ago when swastikas were spray painted on the walls of AEPI, the Jewish fraternity house at Vanderbilt University. David Greenfield, the grandson of Arlene & Marty Greenfield from our synagogue, participated in a march of solidarity that was immediately organized by Vanderbilt Hillel, Chabad at Vanderbilt and other organizations. Rabbi Shlomo Rothstein, director of Chabad at Vanderbilt, emphasized the importance of unity and stated, "Only when there is zero tolerance of prejudice and bigotry against all members of our community, will Vanderbilt achieve a culture of acceptance and respect" (7).
It is with these two examples in mind that I believe that Sheldon Adelson's new anti-BDS movement, "Maccabees on Campus" will only be successful on campus if it makes certain not to polarize but to include. As former Israeli ambassador to United States, Danny Ayalon, reminded us during our Friday night congregational dinner, "these times require unity through diversity." We must create spaces where students and people of all political or idealogical backgrounds can unite together to show their support for the state of Israel. For although Jews are diversely opinionated, we will only survive when we proudly march forward as a united people.
Interestingly, both the ancient Maccabees (8) and even Pinchas from the Biblical reading of today (9) were leaders who descended from the priestly family known as "Kohanim." The etymology of the word "Kohen" is derived from the word "to serve" (10). And what is one of the primary services of the Kohen to the Jewish people? As every Kohen present today recognizes from the liturgy of the Priestly Blessings that a Kohen's service is to "bless the people Israel with love" (11). This is what a Jewish leader should be doing. Looking for ways to bless the people, all the people, and to remind us that our greatest source of strength is when we stand together.
In this spirit, our congregation is ecstatic regarding the recent ruling of the Suffolk Country Supreme Court which favored the expansion of the Eruv to the nearby Southhampton municipalities. I'd like to congratulate the East End Eruv Association and all the women and men from The Hampton Synagogue Rabbi Marc Schneier Community Center who have made this happen. You should feel proud, for this is not just an achievement for our congregation, but sets a precedent and serves as a grand contribution to the entire American Jewish community. We have made history for American Jewry, demonstrating what can be accomplished when members of a community stay together, pray together and stand together other as one!
(1) Numbers 27
(3) Talmud Sanhedrin page 44
(4) Talmud Berachot page 57
(5) Talmud, Taanit 28B. http://www.myjewishlearning.com/article/the-three-weeks/
(6) Ibn Ezra (Lev. 19:17) expresses this concept when he states that by observing the commandment to "Love one's neighbor," we will return to our Land, because this mitzvah is the opposite of "sinat chinam", which is what destroyed the Second Temple.
(8) "The books of Maccabees use the names "Judea" and "Israel" (or cognates) as geographical descriptors throughout for both the land and people over whom the Hasmoneans would rule. The Talmud includes one of the Hasmonean kings under the description "Kings of Israel". Scholars refer to the state as the Hasmonean Kingdom to distinguish it from the previous kingdoms of Israel. The name "Judaea" has also been used to describe the Hasmonean Kingdom although this name reflects the later designation of the region under the Romans at the time of Josephus' writings in the late 1st century". - Wikipedia.
(9) Numbers 25:13
(10) The Hebrew word Cohen means "to serve" as the verse states: "...[bring] Aharon your brother and his sons... to serve (le-chahano) Me..." (Exodus 28:1).
(11) Talmud Sotah 39a