Planting a tree in Israel

Planting a tree in Israel
Bringing life to Israel with my own hands by planting a tree!(summer 2010)

Wednesday, September 7, 2011

September 11,2011

We recently shared Labor Day weekend, a holiday weekend. Holidays are typically happy occasions.  For children they are time off from school and for adults they are an opportunity to refrain from work.  For all of us, holidays are a time of celebration; replete with food, family and friends. 

            However, this Labor Day for many thousands of people was a reminder that we are approaching the anniversary of September 11th’s terror attacks.  Some might say that every day is a time of remembrance.  For the families of victims and responders no hour is free of torment.   Some will say that ten years have passed and it is time to continue to move forward.

            As a Jew I am one of a remembering people.  Indeed, one way of understanding Jewish life is to see oneself as simultaneously standing with one foot in the past, one foot in the present with an eye to the future.  For Jewish people the days of Abraham, King David and Maimonides are as alive as this very day.

            Joyous times (Rosh Hashanah, Passover and Sabbath) are intermixed with commemorative days of loss, such as the 9th of Av and Holocaust Day.  As a Jew my ancient traditions provide me support as I, a wounded American, remember those astonishingly dark days ten years ago.

            Against our will we are drawn into a worldwide program of violence and fear.  Our nation was attacked and all of us have been placed in a position of grave threat.  A new reality was thrust upon us ordinary folk. 

            Similarly, ordinary Israeli folk have been put in positions of threat and disaster for years by Hamas in Gaza, by Hezbollah in Lebanon and by opportunistic terror thugs from Egypt.  Just as we Americans are left to wonder about our vulnerability and the potential for future attacks, so, too, are common Israelis left to wonder in the very same manner.  The sole difference between our two conditions is location of the threat.  Unlike we Americans bordered by the peaceful nations of Canada and Mexico and surrounded by thousands of miles of ocean, our Israeli counterparts have no such luxury. 

            Gaza is adjacent to Israel.  The Egyptian frontier abuts the southern border and Hezbollah’s power base in Lebanon is atop Israel’s northern border.  Syria is next door and Iran is only a missiles’ distance away.  The only current non-hostile neighbor in the entire region is Jordan. 

            Not reported in the news are the nearly daily rocket attacks from Gaza, the occasional forays by Hezbollah and the routine attempts by terrorists entering from Egypt.  Just two weeks ago Israeli tourists were attacked while vacationing in their own version of Gulf Shores known as Eilat. Not mentioned by our media is Hamas which holds Gaza in an iron grip with terrorists astride Israel and the inability of the diverse factions of Palestinian leadership to come together in order to negotiate in common voice with Israel.

            Imagine our attempting to work out a peace agreement with a foreign threat only to learn that other tribes of that foreign power are still prepared to blow up skyscrapers, fly aircraft into our homes and murder as many of our children as possible.  Would we be able to live under those conditions?

            And still Israel, a country that is one fifth the size of Alabama with a population of seven million people does its very best to awaken each day and to provide a present and a future for its Jewish, Christian and Muslim citizens – just as America does. 

            You will hear reports that the Palestinians are taking their case to the United Nations to unilaterally declare a state.  President Mahmoud Abbas of the Palestinian Authority has announced the intention to bring this cause to the U.N. later this month.  Imagine a region where many people agree only on killing one’s neighbors with no other common voice.  Now imagine such a community becoming a nation without any regard for living side by side with a democracy. 

            We Americans draw strength from our shared heritage we also call to mind the great work ethic which contributed to our beloved nation.  We appreciate the value of hard work and of providing for our children and securing freedom and safety for all of our neighbors.  We remember the loved ones who have been taken from all of us by acts of terror and we pledge to remember them always and to continue bringing honor to their memories through maintaining democratic ideals.

            Let us also appreciate the only democracy in a very unstable Middle East, a democracy which upholds the principles of law and order, representation in government an independent judiciary and an unfettered press.  Should you learn of anti-Israel sentiment I request that you bear in mind the commonalities between Israel and America and the dedication to freedom which both nations hold dear.  As the date of the Palestinian unilateral declaration potentially draws closer I ask you to share your support of beleaguered Israel with family, friends and your elected officials.  May the months ahead see greater peace and security for both nations.

Rabbi Steven Silberman

Friday, August 12, 2011

Surviving a fall!

Did you choose to each breakfast today?  Perhaps if you were running late you might have skipped breakfast or maybe grabbed a quick bite.  Most of us do not give too much thought to when we will be eating next.  Two days ago a preschool teacher by the name of Pamela Salant was rescued after surviving a fall from a cliff and three nights exposure in the Oregon wilderness.

          She had been hiking and accidentally fell off of a cliff.  Breaking her leg and fracturing her back she survived by drinking water from a river, eating berries, grapes and sampling a slug. 

          I cannot imagine being so hungry as to needing to eat a slug.  Never have I been without food for that long.  Never have I been at such a low point in my life. 

          The day that Pamela Salant was rescued is a sacred day in the Jewish calendar.  It is the 9th day of Hebrew month of Av.  For over 2,500 years it has been marked as a day of great loss and sorrow.  A fast, penitential prayers and reading the Biblical scroll of Lamentations are the chief observance of this commemoration which marks the destruction of the Temple and the forced deportation of the Jewish people out of its ancestral homeland into Babylonia (and throughout the Roman expire during the second destruction 650 years later on the exact same day).

          For centuries millions of Jewish people have spoken of, studied about and attempted to observe this perplexing day.  Voluntarily, Jews forego all food and water for 24 hours in order to appreciate the suffering of those Jews who fought a vastly superior military force and who died attempting to remain free in their own land.  The despair for all those Jews during the first conquest by Babylonia in 586 BCE and the second conquest by ancient Rome in 70 CE must have been beyond description.  That ultimate despair led to collective shared memory for Jewish people down through the ages.

          I have never faced true despair, nor have I ever anticipated my own death from starvation or great injury.  Pamela Salant overcame a moment in crisis.  She will be forever changed.  Perhaps the goal of Tisha B’Av (the 9th of Av) is to remind us all that we can never truly know how far we will go until there is no possible alternative.  But survival is key. 

          I pray that none of us ever has to reach that point.

Thursday, July 7, 2011

Independence Day 2011

The fireworks are over! The rockets' red glare, accompanied by music, bring
smiles to all
. The grills have been cleaned and there may be a few leftovers
from the cookouts in the fridge. The anticipation of celebrating our
independence has waned but the memories are good. We have a lot to be
thankful for - we are a free nation.
I am sure you have seen travelers in airports greeting soldier and sailors and
thanking hem for their service to our nation. Ever since September 11
, 2001 
there has been greater awareness of the duties fulfilled by
our servicewomen and servicemen and their selfless acts which preserve
our security.
Freedom is a very precious gift and it does not come easily. During our
daily life we may not take stock of freedom's import unless
we are reminded by some extreme event of how valued and how
fleeting it truly is.
A week before July 4th (June 26)  many people mark a very
different anniversary. Five years ago Gilad Shalit, a soldier who was 19,
standing by a road and minding his own business was kidnapped by Hamas
terrorists. He has been held in captivity in Gaza for 5 years. In viol
ation of
the Geneva Convention and all international norms he has been denied
access to the International Red Cross,  supervised medical care or any communication
with his family or his government. In March of 2009 Israel traded 20 female
prisoners who had been accused of terrorism  for a DVD of Gilad
Shalit. No indication of his health or life has been received since. It makes
me think about what it means to be free.
In the Jewish morning liturgy, there are 15 one sentence prayers. "Blessed are
, 0 God, who has opened my eyes." "Blessed are You, 0 God, who has helped
me to get dressed." "Blessed are You
, 0 God, who has helped me to stretch my legs
and walk
." "Blessed are You, 0 God, who helps me to stand
upright." Each blessing helps us to welcome a new day. One of the blessings
reads as follows
, "Blessed are You, God, ruler of the universe, who has made me
In normal times I have said this blessing without giving it too much thought.
After all
, growing up in the United States I take being free for granted. This
year as Gilad's anniversary of capture nearly coincided with July
4th I began
to think about "being free." It occurs to me that it is truly a blessing and I
should not take it for granted. I will not ask you to pray for the release of a
24 year old stranger until he comes home for
 that is too
burdensome. But after reading this blog, I ask you to pray for his release for three days.
For three days, pray that he comes home.  Let him be reunited with his family.
Let him be free.

Saturday, April 30, 2011

Loss,pain and hope...

Loss, pain and hope…                                                                                 
     We are surrounded by debris. Our state of Alabama has been struck by great forces of wind and rain. Tornadoes have demolished homes, businesses, schools, stores, emergency resources and entire neighborhoods. Life has been torn from us. Families have been stripped of their loved ones. Suffering seems without end.
     On the heels of a tsunami and earthquake in Japan and a terrifying earthquake in Haiti we are left with many questions. Are we being punished for misdeeds? Is our society in need of repair? Is God calling out to us?
     I am terribly undone by all the acts of destruction I see with you. Like you I watch the TV and read news on internet sources. The scope of recent loss is extreme. If acts like fire and flood happened in the Bible could they happen to us now?
     I believe in God but not as a destroyer of modern life. We have many possible responses to the death and loss surrounding us. We can cry out to God in accusation, or turn our faces away from the Lord. We can hide in a closet, both literally and figuratively, until we think it is safe to emerge. Or we can extend our hands to others in love and support.
     My Jewish response is to collect tzedakah and to pray. To pray means many things. I do not think prayer is always getting what I want from God. Prayer is reaching out to something bigger than myself and needing to be heard. Prayer is seeking to draw enough compassion from within me to support others when they are at their limits. Prayer is recognizing my limits and not accepting my inabilities to make a difference. Prayer is invoking sacred words offered by my ancestors in different parts of the world throughout millennia and knowing I am bound to a community. Prayer means to add my own words to the sacred chain of holy speech initiated by Sarah and Abraham. Prayer means to reach outwards and inwards simultaneously.
      I ask you to pray for our fellow Alabamians. Offer your own words of hope and prayer and strength. Offer your own tzedakah and make a difference.If you know of anyone affected by the tornadoes please contact me and share their names with me. I will pray with them and offer any and all support I can.    
      We are collecting food for the Mobile Bay Area Food Bank. Please be generous and bring a bag of groceries to the shul. Please do your best to donate a check in any amount to the Rabbi’s Discretionary Fund for disaster relief.
     Yes,God is calling out to us and yes our society is in need of repair. The challenge for us is to hear God's call and to aid in repairing our world.
     Loss,pain and hope…remember the community Yom Hashoah service on Sunday May 1 at 7:00 p.m. at the synagogue. Non-Jewish children have created artwork and written poems and short stories which will be incorporated into this special service.  You owe it to yourself and to those who cannot be here to attend.
Seeking Shalom,
Rabbi Steven Silberman

Wednesday, April 27, 2011

Eyes looking heavenward

     In less than 48 hours a giant explosion will propel the Endeavor heavenward from Kennedy Space Center. Tons of fuel will detonate and the Space Shuttle will laboriously attempt to break the bonds of Earth's hold upon her, carrying six men upward and sheltering them from the nothingness we call space. Mark Kelly, Commander of the Endeavor, will be in space as his wife, Rep.Gabrielle Giffords, and millions of us watch  and pray. I remember the Challenger explosion-the shock, the astonishment, the pain and the emptiness. I remember the first time I visited the memorial to the Challenger in Israel and realized that loss of innocent life and its untapped potential resonates in every locale which cherishes freedom and human achievement.
     I remember the Columbia explosion and the emptiness which washed over me; the vast sense of loss from a tragedy which was, above all else, a colossal waste of human life. There had been such success -and on the brink of that success the nations of the world wept (including India and Israel- both of whom were represented on that crew).
     Like you I remember the emptiness which washed over me when we learned of the Tucson shooting in a strip mall. Again, the loss of life and the emptiness brought about by tragedy-this time a tragedy initiated by a thinking person. Tragedies which were worlds apart- the loss of life by forces beyond our control as explorers and scientists seeking to expand our shared knowledge and overthrow limits of space and time succumbed to accident contrasted with a destructive and malevolent act of intentional hatred and criminality targeting families and our society.
      I prayed at the times of the Challenger and the Columbia and at the time of the Tucson shooting (I continue to pray on behalf  of those who were injured- mentioning them by name). I remember hearing the words of Mark Kelly when he prayed at the National Prayer Breakfast  in Washington D.C. on Feb.3, 2011:
"You pray where you are. You pray when God is there in your heart."
      My eyes will be looking heavenward in the coming hours...praying alongside Gabby Giffords and the families of the crew of STS-134. I shall take a lesson from Mark Kelly, pray for his safe return to rejoin his wife and all of us and continue to pray for Gabby Giffords's renewed health. And may this family be granted  reprieve from future tragedy.

Sunday, April 3, 2011

More than a JV soccer game

It could have been any other Jr. Varsity soccer game.  Davidson High School was up by one.  Faith Academy scored and they were tied.  9th and 10th grade boys ran back and forth, back and forth.  I became tired just watching the boys.  The ball seemed to have a mind of its own.  Too many times to count, it went out of bounds and play slowed then resumed.  Up and down the field, up and down the field they ran.  Suddenly there was a shout, “2-1 Davidson.”  20 minutes of play and another goal ; 3-1 Davidson.  Three short minutes, 4-1 Davidson and the ball came barreling down the field approaching the other goal, but time ran out. 

            The two teams came together.  Faith congratulated Davidson and then all the Davidson players ran around the field shouting and cheering.  We spectators stood up from the bleachers and prepared to greet our players. 

            Suddenly, all the players came together in the center of the field and quietly stood in one large circle.  A hush fell over the stands as we saw red jerseys and white jerseys mixed within a circle, heads bowed.  We realized that something very special was taking place.

            When Jacob exited the field we asked what they were doing.  Jacob quietly said, “I suggested to the coach that we say a prayer for Deonte” (the Davidson High School football player who had died in a car accident two days prior).  I observed that after the prayer all of the players, coaches and refs exited the field in silence.  Our 11 year old daughter, Danit, noticed “they are all one team.”

            It could have been just an ordinary JV soccer game.  But it was not.  The athletes imbued it with special significance by remembering a fellow athlete; a friend to some and unknown to others- an athlete who was a good boy with a promising future. Deonte was a quiet and humble young man who was anticipating a college education and playing football for Alabama State; two dreams and two loves.

            I cannot speak for the boys on the Davidson and Faith JV teams as to what they will remember about this particular game. Long after the record books are closed I will remember that final scene wherein white and red jerseys stood together in performance of Jacob’s suggestion for praying for Deonte and  Danit’s words echoing through my thoughts; ”they are all one team.”

Monday, March 14, 2011

A prayer for Japan

Shalom,my dear friends;
The disaster in Japan is extraordinary! The loss of life and the enormity of destruction boggle the mind. Pictures rivet our attention and yet they are insufficient to convey the depth of loss and the intensity of privation.  All of Japan and, indeed, the Pacific basin will be reeling from the massive devastation which we are seeing. No doubt, all of us will be reaching for our checkbooks and our credit cards to offer some relief from the devastation.  Already Israel has offered aid. One hour after the tsunami hit Japan the Israeli government had offered assistance! (Our tiny homeland is doing its part to help others).


Avinu Shebashamayim-Our Father you who are in Heaven and you who extend beyond the heavens:
Look to your children who are suffering greatly! See your own children who are lost, who are dying, who are missing, who are searching for their loved ones, who cry out to you in a myriad of voices and languages.
Hear the weeping of your own creations, your daughters and sons, your family torn, drowned, separated, weeping, terrified… numb!
Listen to the tumult which rises to your heavenly throne; a rolling wave of agony-a storm of pain- a song of anguish.

Arise from your place in the clouds and come down to Earth-where your fragile broken children wail in misery.
Give your ears to us and hear all of us as we cry. Accept our voices, whispered, silent and shouted, and understand our prayers.

Remind us that each of us is created in your own Divine image to be like you. To you we turn wondering how to be Godly and how to live holiness every day.

Our first step is to care for each other, for people around the world and down the street: to love others who are like us and not like us and then we remember that you have taught us that all people are like us and we are like all people.

Give us strength  to care and to pray for others; to act and to support, to donate  and to weep  both in silence and in our Minyan.


May we all appreciate the treasure of life this Erev Shabbat and every day.-With love and hope –Rabbi Steve Silberman  March 11, 2011  Mobile AL