Erev Yom Kippur - 5776
Many years ago, I was lucky enough to observe a public master-class being taught by the renowned violinist Pinchas Zuckerman. A young man from Russia – he couldn’t have been sixteen years old – played an arrangement of Kol Nidrei by Max Bruch. The student gave a marvelous performance, and both Zuckerman and the audience were quite taken with him. In a thick Israeli accent, Mr. Zuckerman told the student that he had played beautifully, but could he tell the class what he was thinking while he played. The student replied that he thought of the notes and the phrasing. Zuckerman agreed that the notes and the phrasing were very important, but could he tell the class what he was feeling when he played this music. The student hesitated before answering that the music was full of sadness.
Zuckerman nodded, as if to say, ‘perhaps,’ and then said: “Do you know what this music is? [Pause] It is Jewish! … What do you think of when you think of ‘Jewish’?” Oh this poor kid. He didn’t know what to say. So he just shrugged at the master violinist, obviously taken aback. Zuckerman then turned to face the audience with a twinkle in his eye. “Eh? Do you know?” (Pause) “Then I will tell you … It is guilt! There is nothing like Jewish guilt…” The laughter in the audience was quickly replaced with a collective sigh as Zuckerman whipped out his violin to play the opening bars of the chant. Every note was an anguished sob, and the guilt seemed to literally drip off the strings.
Rosh HaShanah Morning - 5776
We were deep in the rural south marching double file behind the American flag and the Torah. Black people, white people, Jews, Christians and Muslims – perhaps thirty of us in all. I had never been to South Carolina before, and had no idea what to expect. We had travelled about an hour by bus to the side of some road in the middle of nowhere, to begin that day’s trek of 16 or 17 miles. Most of the people we encountered along the way were in cars. Some looked confused, and some looked angry, but most smiled, honked and waved. The leaders of the march would often shout out, "We're marching for you! Come and join us!"
I grew up learning about the Civil Rights Movement and how Rabbi Abraham Joshua Heschel marched arm in arm with Dr. King. I was captivated by Heschel’s interpretation of his action as “praying with his feet,” and I have quoted him often in my own sermons and stories. Never, ever, did I expect to literally follow in his footsteps. Yet this summer, along with my daughter Stephanie and our member Phil Glick, that is exactly what I did. Together we proudly represented you in America's Journey for Justice.
Erev Rosh HaShanah 5776
Good yontif! You know it’s hard to believe that an entire year has passed since we last gathered as a community in this magnificent sanctuary. Yet, it is very clear that our world is not the same. One year ago how many of us were thinking about a nuclear agreement with Iran, or rising anti-Semitism in Europe, or a tsunami of human suffering in a rapidly expanding refugee and migration crisis? One year ago how many of us thought that the Supreme Court would legalize gay marriage, or that the clear Republican front runner for president of the United States would be Donald Trump?
Hi there! I am the senior rabbi at Temple Beth Ami in Rockville, Maryland, where I have served since 2016.
(c) copyright 2018 by Rabbi Gary Pokras