Testimony to VT Senate January 30, 2018

Rabbi Amy Joy Small

Issue: Universal Background checks

Good Afternoon. I am Rabbi Amy Small, Senior Rabbi of Ohavi Zedek Synagogue in Burlington.

On December 12, 2012, I was driving to an appointment around noon. As I turned the radio on, I heard the emergency announcement that there was a shooter in an elementary school in Sandy Hook, CT. My heart started pounding. Then I heard that the youngest classes were the site of a massacre. I was beside myself.  My close first cousin who lives in Sandy Hook, CT, was a second grade teacher in that area, though I didn’t know which school was his. I tried to call him. No answer.

I found the website for the school district, searching on my phone,. But the phone numbers were not listed. Nor were there faculty lists posted on the site.  It appeared as though parts of the site had been taken down immediately after the shooting (though I never did confirm if that was the case.)

It was a terrifying day until I heard from my cousin. Thank God he was fine. He teaches in a different school. He had to wade through more than 40 voicemail messages from family and close friends. We had all been holding our breath for hours until my cousin, who doesn’t use his phone while teaching, heard the news.

But our joy and relief were deeply tempered by the news of what had happened. 20 children and 6 adults were gunned down in their school classrooms.

There have been 200+ school shootings in our country since the murder of those pure, innocent souls in 2012. That’s about one a week. It was noteworthy that the shooting in Kentucky last week earned little space in the news cycle; our nation has become almost numb to this evil phenomenon.

But we will not be numb. We are determined to see our legislature enact common sense gun protection laws.

The relentless cycle of gun violence, including, but not exclusively, horrific mass shootings —  that often target young people —  is a deeply troubling phenomenon. We know that some common sense gun control laws could save many lives.

I do not know what would have stopped Adam Lanza from getting guns in Sandy Hook, CT. I know that some perpetrators of mass shootings would not have been stopped by mandatory universal background checks. I know that many of the gun killings in this country are not mass shootings. Clearly, guns kill in a variety of situations: in domestic violence – most often afflicting women, in shootings of law enforcement officials, in senseless small-scale murders, and in suicides. These gun violence events are more common, and they are absolutely epidemic.

The loophole in the background check system that allows individuals to easily transfer guns when they are not purchased in a gun shop is a problem that requires a solution.

Private-sale gun purchases in person and, more ubiquitously, online and at auctions or flea markets, are currently exempt from the background check requirements to which gun shops are bound. It is estimated that 22% of gun transfers take place without a background check.

Some states have begun to lead the effort to close this loophole. The results of state-legislated background check laws are stunning. In the 19 states which have enacted universal background check laws for handguns, there have been dramatic decreases in the incidence of killings by guns. 47% fewer women have been shot to death by their partners, 53% fewer law enforcement officers have been killed, and there have been 47% fewer suicides by gun.

We have a responsibility to keep guns out of the hands of would-be criminals. This is how we have a government of the people, and for the people.

I have heard the argument in Vermont that the current ease of transferring guns to friends and acquaintances is important to some Vermonters who value their individual rights. And I have heard the argument that individuals who acquire guns are the ones who must take responsibility; we can’t be responsible for them. The cost and inconvenience of applying for a background check is an infringement upon personal agency. If I am law-abiding and honest, why should I be required to take this wasteful step?

I am not moved by these arguments because they are based on an individualism that rubs against my moral commitment to care for my fellow human being. The Torah, at the opening of the Hebrew Bible, commands, “You shall not insult the deaf, or place a stumbling block before the blind; AND Do not profit by the blood of your fellow; AND Love your neighbor as yourself.” (Leviticus 19:14,16,18)  In the depth of my being, I feel responsible for the health, well-being and safety of my neighbors. In fact, this is the first building block of our partnership with God in completing creation — to which we are called in my faith tradition. Further, it is our responsibility to respond to the Divine call to repair the world of it’s painful, hurtful ills.

My tradition teaches “Kol Yisrael arevim zeh bazeh,” which means that we are all responsible for each other. If I am inconvenienced in the process of exerting care to protect others from harm, so be it. I expect that my fellow Vermonters would do the same for me.

The command to be responsible for each other is taught in the context of a reflection on the domino effect of sin. If one sees another person at the verge of sinning, she/he has an obligation to step in and help. We are guarantors for one another. Indeed, the frequency and scope of senseless gun violence in this country demonstrate the domino effect of sin.  It is up to us to stop it.

How can any of us, even if we value our individualism above all else, be truly safe in a world so rife with senseless gun violence? We are all responsible for each other.

Further, I come to you as a leader of a faith community — Ohavi  Zedek Synagogue is the oldest and largest synagogue in Vermont. Sadly, houses of worship have become one more target in the scourge of mass shootings. Our community, like many, has felt it necessary to invest in significant security measures for our building. We are not being paranoid. My conversations with Christian and Muslim colleagues and our police reveal serious concerns regarding threats to our sacred spaces. What a tragedy that our children must learn what to do in the event of an intruder in our synagogue! We may not be able to prevent all violence by instituting universal background checks, but we can certainly reduce the threat. We owe this to our children and to communities.

I beseech you, help to keep all of us safer; enact universal background laws. This is what it means to lead. And for your leadership, I thank you.






Just as we were celebrating Shavuot in May, a virtual volcano erupted with the murder of George Floyd by Minneapolis police officers. In order to craft a message as quickly as possible after the holiday, I was grateful for postings of many wonderful Jewish organizations addressing the situation, including Truah and the Religious Action Center among others, whose resources are quoted or referenced here.
May 31, 2020

Our community just completed an uplifting, inspiring and soulful two-and-a-half days of Shavuot. In the midst of so much stress from pandemic isolation, loss and fear, we needed the prayer, song, learning and most importantly — community that Shavuot offered. Just as our people stood at Sinai and proclaimed as one, “All that the LORD has spoken we will do!” (Exodus 19:8), we received and accepted Torah once again. These holy days redirected our hearts and minds to the path of Torah, teaching us what it means to be fully human, in the image of the Divine.

These past few weeks and months have inescapably reminded us of the structural racism in our society — in how law enforcement may unfairly treat people of color, and the disproportionate effect of the coronavirus.

Over the course of our Shavuot observances, our country was in deep, dark despair once again over the murder of a black man, George Floyd, by Minneapolis police officers. Surely, the divine image has been diminished. We express our condolences to the family of George Floyd, and to their community. We share the pain of people of color across the country who experience profiling and harassment, as one Burlington activist said, “Why must I walk around, each and every day, with black trauma on my back? Why must my days be filled with guilt, grief and walking cautiously?” Edosomwan said…“I’m jealous there are folks walking the same earth as me and they don’t have a target on their backs.”

No one should live in fear of being assaulted, wrongfully imprisoned, or killed by law enforcement. Yet, African Americans live this reality every day. “This is yet one more tragic example of racist violence too often perpetuated by police officers, who are charged with protecting all of us–not only some of us.”

“How were the Ten Commandments arranged? Five on one tablet and five on the other. On one tablet it was written: I am the Eternal your God, and opposite to it, on the other tablet, was written: You shall not murder. This means that one who sheds blood is considered as having diminished the divine image.” Mechilta d’Rabbi Yishmael, Tractate Bachodesh

This has indeed been a traumatic and painful week. Sadly, none of us should be surprised. Since the first African slaves were brought to Virginia’s shores four hundred years ago, the seeds of racism were planted in our society which has sinfully treated blacks as lesser human beings. After two hundred and fifty years of slavery, the unfulfilled promise of freedom after the Civil War was followed by decades of hateful segregation, lynchings and Jim Crow laws. Mass incarceration continues the racist stain on our society. Our nation has yet to come to terms with the consequences and ongoing impact of this history.

As Rabbi Jonah Pesner of the Religious Action Center of Reform Judaism wrote,
“The national rage expressed about the murder of Mr. Floyd reflects the depth of pain over the injustice that People of Color – and particularly Black men – have been subjected to throughout the generations. In recent months we have seen, yet again, too many devastating examples of persistent systemic racism, leading to the deaths not only of Mr. Floyd but of other precious souls, including Breonna Taylor and Ahmaud Arbery.”

We remember others before them: Eric Garner. Tamir Rice. Trayvon Martin. Sandra Bland. Oscar Grant. Philando Castile. Walter Scott. Terrence Crutcher. Samuel Dubose. Michael Brown. The list feels endless, and so too is our despair. But as we recite the Mourner’s Kaddish for them all, we say now, again: We will not sit idly by.

Our country simply cannot achieve the values of “justice for all” to which it aspires until we address ongoing racism in all sectors and at all levels of society.”

We pray for the families of Mr. Floyd, Ms. Taylor, Mr. Arbery, and all those whose lives have been so cruelly and violently taken, and we renew our commitment to working to achieve a nation that exemplifies compassion and justice for all.”

As we struggle with the Covid-19 pandemic, we are deeply troubled that the virus disproportionately impacts People of Color. We must all take responsibility for repairing this tear in God’s creation.

“When the community is immersed in suffering, a person may not say: I will go to my home and I will eat and drink, and peace be upon you, my soul.” (Talmud Taanit 11a)

We cannot, we must not turn our heads away, hoping to not notice. Reverend Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. reminded us that “Injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere.” As Ohavei Tzedek , Lovers of Justice, we are commanded to pursue justice for all peoples. This is our cause and our purpose. We can realize God’s vision by joining with other faith communities to make it happen.

This is a very distressing, sad and frightening time. For years now, our Ohavi Zedek community has been walking the path of education and ongoing activism to address systemic racism, locally and nationally. We are committed to continuing to work with our interfaith partners and communal leaders to uncover unconscious bias and condemn racism and hate. As Nelson Mandela taught, “No one is born hating another person because of the color of his skin, or his background, or his religion. People must learn to hate, and if they can learn to hate, they can be taught to love, for love comes more naturally to the human heart than its opposite.”

Finally, a word about our local police. In my four-and-a-half years in this community, I have cultivated close and collaborative relationships with our law enforcement officials who have actively sought collaboration with clergy. We need each other — indeed as our community has struggled with how to best protect our synagogue and ourselves from hateful antisemites, we have been grateful for the ready advice and support from Burlington Police and VT State Police and the VT Attorney General’s office. Clergy meetings at the Burlington Police Dept. have delved in issues of unconscious bias and racism. We all know that there is yet much work to be done to overcome the stain of racism and to continue to work to properly train and supervise law enforcement officers. But I know good people who are working on this at the leadership level and I appreciate their partnership.

I pray that the all-too-well-known pattern of delayed justice in the wake of police violence will cease. I pray that the courts will hold law-enforcement’s bad actors responsible for their crimes. I pray that the recruitment, training and culture of law enforcement all across this country will address use-of-force culture and racism.

And I pray that the protests around the country, and here in our community, will heed the call of Dr. King for peaceful protests. Even as we may understand the causes for the the rage that has sparked rioting (see a powerful YouTube video by Trevor Noah explaining this) we can advocate for a different way. Dr. Bernice King, MLK’s daughter, on Saturday condemned the violence of the protests around the country. She said, “As I stand here in this moment and look at my journey, I have to make an appeal to my brothers and sisters, because I realized that the only way to get constructive change is through nonviolent means,” she said, before reminding everyone that her late father once said, “Riots are the language of the unheard.”

None of us will be free until all of us will be free. We commit to working in our community and our world to heal and to realize this vision of a world repaired.
In sadness, sympathy and solidarity,
Rabbi Amy Joy Small
Senior Rabbi, Ohavi Zedek Synagogue

“Martin Luther King’s Daughter Says ‘Only Way to Get Constructive Change Is Through Nonviolent Means’” MSN News

The faces of the children tell the story; imprisoned by our government, punished for seeking a safe home. I saw them on a recent Jewish clergy trip to the El Paso and Ciudad Juarez, Mexico, organized by HIAS and T’ruah: The Rabbinic Call for Human Rights. This issue is very important to the Jewish community, as Jewish faith commands that we care for the stranger. Ohavi Zedek Synagogue is engaged in working to support refugees and new immigrants in many ways.

Refugees are being detained, even while seeking asylum at legal ports of entry, for the “crime” of seeking asylum. Together with 17 other rabbis and cantors, I witnessed hundreds being rounded into cages under the border bridge between Juarez, Mexico and El Paso, Texas. It was gut-wrenching. I thought of the prophet Jeremiah, whose warning cries to the people to reclaim their sacred purpose landed him in prison. Now, while hundreds of people daily are being sent back to the violence and poverty they escaped, I wondered who will listen to our cries of pain and worry for the humanitarian crisis and brutality on our border?

While visiting a Catholic-run shelter for migrants in Ciudad Juarez, Mexico, we noticed one of the residents who seemed especially excited to see our group of Jewish clergy. A colleague who spoke with her reported that she was a Jewish woman from Honduras, where she’d had a good job as a nurse and a nice home. When she had noticed that some medical equipment in the hospital was stolen, she reported it.Unfortunately, the authorities were connected to the theft and, fearing retaliation, shefled for her life with her 13-year-old son. They had lost everything. The violence these refugees are fleeing is real. For anyone to ignore that is immoral.

Decades of U.S. government policies have contributed to the poverty, corruption and violence that is prompting thousands of vulnerable people to flee Central America. Many are families with children, even children sent with smugglers to the “land of the free and the home of the brave.” Only, they are the brave ones, not us. It is a shameful stain on our nation’s soul.

We toured the Otero detention center and the Southwest Key Casa-Franklin children’s detention center, both run by for-profit corporations.  We visited shelters in both El Paso and Ciudad Juarez, where refugees wait in limbo for court hearings and possible resettlement in the U.S., or deportation. We met righteousheroes, including staff at the Las Americas Immigrant Advocacy Center, Hope Border Institute and Annunciation House who are caring for refugees under enormous and complex pressures.

In the Casa-Franklin center in El Paso, housing 56 kids, there is to be no hugging, no touching, no human contact. The staff explained, this is “out of an abundance of caution.” The outer door is alarmed, lest anyone try to leave, the director explained, for the children’s security. We were told that these kids have arrived unaccompanied, as young as 5-years-old, but we saw mostly young teens.  We were told that other children’s detention centers house considerably larger populations, up to 1,000 youth. Having toured Otero, housing 1,000 young men, we could picture it: prison-like. 

The best we could offer the refugees was to wave, smile, and say hello. We witnessed their sadness and longing, perhaps the wish for human contact, perhaps the wish that we’d relate to them as fully human. Some of us felt like we were touring a zoo — a dehumanized zone where these “aliens” (a noxious term we heard used by staff) were to be held until they could be sent back. In fact, near 95% of the refugees whose cases are heard in El Paso courtrooms will be “repatriated” — deported back to the violence from which they’ve fled.

It is time for our government to address the core issues that have created the desperation that drives thousands to flee on treacherous journeys north. Border control can’t solve this problem; only systemic change will work. We need the wisdom and courage to address this change.

The faces of the children, teens and families will haunt me forever, but particularly this Passover, as we tell the story of our own people’s liberation. We owe these asylum seekers  the same liberation.  We owe them this as fellow human beings. We owe them this as people of faith. We owe them this as Americans.

This is a time for action. The non-profit organizations helping refugees on both sides of the border need our support.  And our political will must be exercised. The cruelty of our own government is unacceptable — we must speak out loudly. The problems may seem overwhelming. But change will only come when we start, each of us, one day at a time. Let us be the change.

Rabbi Amy Joy Small, Senior Rabbi

Ohavi Zedek Synagogue, Burlington, VT 

Shloshim; The Meaning of Thirty
Women of the Wall, March, 2019

This past week I was filled with memories of my first visit to Israel in 1982, just before entering rabbinical school. I spent the summer studying in an Orthodox women’s yeshiva, which reinforced my beliefs and practice as a non-Orthodox Jew. And, while I loved Israel, I also came to certainty that I could not make aliyah. I wanted to be a rabbi and a progressive/observant Jew, which didn’t seem possible in that time in Israel.

It was sad that women in Israel could not fully express their Judaism with equality; and even sadder that it didn’t appear to occur to most Israeli Jewish women to even try. It was a man’s world. That was alienating.

When I returned to Israel after a long hiatus, in 2001, I found a new reality: women rabbis, and an awakening of the need for modern, egalitarian Israeli Judaism. I’ve been back over 30 times since then, immersing ever deeper into life in Israel.

In many visits since, I found a liberating experience as a Jewish feminist: prayers at the Kotel (Western Wall) on Rosh Hodesh (the New Month, a traditional women’ holiday) with Women of the Wall. Women of the Wall has been fighting to liberate the Kotel from the ultra-orthodox control granted by the Israeli government. For thirty years these courageous women have endured violence, arrests, and outrageous restrictions, and they have resiliently endured. They have inspired me to stick with them and do everything I can to support them and be engaged in the struggle for equality for all Jews in Israel.

This fight is not just about the Kotel; far from it. It is about what it means to be a Jewish state and a state for all Jews. It is about government funding for all synagogues and rabbis, not just orthodox. It is about conversion, marriage, divorce and burial. It is about the control of the “official” rabbinate of kashrut supervision (and the cost of food.) It is about compromise and peace. It is about Israel’s very soul.

The Israel Religious Action Center (IRAC) has been fighting these battles in court and in the Knesset for years — with many important successes and accomplishments. But even those successes have not changed the status of the Kotel as an ultra-Orthodox synagogue ruled by an ultra-Orthodox rabbi, Rabbi Rabinowitz, who often disregards even the courts and political victories of WoW. This must change.

For all those reasons I set aside my very busy schedule at Ohavi Zedek to be with Women of the Wall for Rosh Hodesh Adar II at the Kotel. It was to be a very special thirtieth anniversary celebration. I couldn’t imagine not standing with Women of the Wall at this critical moment.

I have been with WoW many times over the years. I was there on occasions when our prayers were truly joyous even as hateful ultra-Orthodox women and men blew whistles to drown out our voices and screamed curses at us. I was there when Anat Hoffman, IRAC Executive Director, was arrested for carrying a Torah in the Kotel plaza, as the police tried to grab the Torah from her arms and she would not let go. I was there when a riot broke out in 2013 as thousands of ultra-Orthodox teens — boys and girls — filled the plaza and surrounded us as a hostile mob. I was there when WoW was forced to gather in the back plaza, far from the Kotel in the women’s section, because thousands of ultra-Orthodox youth had filled the worship space near the Kotel. And I was there when eggs and water bottles were thrown at us, and was hit by an egg. I had heard that metal chairs were thrown at the women in the early days, and my heart goes out to the women who endured that and still didn’t quit.

None of that prepared me for the violence we experienced on Rosh Hodesh Adar II, March 8, 2019. Once again thousands of yeshiva students filled the men’s and women’s sections before we arrived for our 7 am prayers. I was among a few WoW supporters asked in advance to lead a prayer during the service. That meant arriving first and standing in the center, next to the prayer leaders. Small plastic stools were brought in for us to ascend when we were leading. Two small “snack table” size tables came out of a bag and were covered with a cloth, providing a center table for the leaders of the service. I stood alongside that table, next to a colleague and friend from our studies together at the Hartman Institute, and a woman I didn’t know was on my other side. During the hour we were there, we became bonded forever as we held each other, lest we would have crashed to the ground from the force of the pushing and shoving behind us.

First the girls behind me were loudly reciting Psalms to try to drown out our voices. It was nearly impossible to hear ourselves as a group. WoW had been denied in their request for a microphone. It got much worse when Rabbi Rabinowitz allowed the ultra-Orthodox men to use the Kotel’s sound system to loudly broadcast their prayers. We couldn’t hear ourselves at all after that.

Rosh Hodesh Adar II — which is supposed to be a time for gladness and joy, turned into a nightmare at the Kotel. Many thousands of yeshiva students — boys and girl, young men and women—were bused in and filled the Kotel plaza long before our 6 am arrival. They came at their rabbis’ instruction to disrupt what they were taught is unholy — our prayers. Nothing could have been more unholy than their angry, hostile, violent behavior toward us and towards the men who came to daven (pray) in solidarity with us (in the men’s section.)

The aggressive pushing, shoving, spitting and screaming, of the haredi girls was terrifying. The police were nowhere to be found. One of the girls was fiercely pushing me from behind with her leg on my bad left leg (after surgery following a break 3 years ago.) After about half an hour of enormous effort to hold still and not react while trying to pray with WoW, I couldn’t take it anymore and I pushed back with my good leg. That made her push me harder and spend the next half hour screaming in my ear and stepping on my right foot. The muscle aches in my back and my weak leg from the effort it took to not fall remain a reminder of standing for justice.

We had been able to pray together a bit when we started, even as they shouted and pushed. I led one Psalm at the beginning. But it quickly fell apart as they increased their pushing, shoving, kicking and even scratching and spitting, and the sound system began to drown us out. It became impossible to pray. It just fell apart. It took the police a hour to arrive in the Ezrat Nashim (women’s section) to rescue us — literally — and even then there weren’t enough of them and at points we had to push our way out. As we walked through the angry mob, some women in our group were pushed to the ground. Many of our women sustained bruises and other injuries.

We finally found peace in “Ezrat Yisrael,” at the Robinson’s Arch section of the Wall. There we read Torah, sang, danced and rejoiced for Rosh Hodesh Adar. Shaken, we seized a moment for healing and for joy. We still had one more hurdle — walking through the angry mob awaiting us as we exited to our buses on the street. We felt the Shechinah accompany us as we made our way back toward peace.

It was unspeakably sad! The feeling of dread I felt from such sinat hinam (baseless hatred) remains with me. I heard echoes of this very place in the year 70 when Jerusalem was destroyed; the rabbis taught that it happened because of sinat hinam. Heaven help us.

Anat Hoffman remained steady and calm in her leadership. She believes this was a game-changer— that the pressure on the politicians will change everything. May it be so!

Rabbi Rabinowitz, the official government rabbi of the Kotel, is, in my opinion, a cruel, sinful man. His behavior, which created this atmosphere of hostility and violence, is a Hillul Hashem — a desecration of Gd’s name. Even as I understand that these Haredim are reacting out of fear for the crumbling of their power, their behavior is reprehensible.

And – still, being with the Women of the Wall on Thursday night, Friday afternoon, and Motzei Shabbat (Saturday night) was inspiring and uplifting. We learned, prayed, sang and reflected. It was a powerful three days together—masterfully shaped by the amazing WoW staff, under the leadership of Lesley Sachs, Executive Director of Women of the Wall. We are bonded on a sacred mission. And we will yet liberate the Kotel.

The three paratroopers from ‘67 — the iconic photo when they liberated the Kotel— have become major supporters of WoW. They were honored on Thursday night. One said (as I recall it), “We didn’t liberate the wall. We won a war with Jordan. But the wall is not yet liberated. Together, we will liberate it.” Not a dry eye in the house. They came to the Kotel on Friday am and were with other male supporters of WoW — on the men’s side— and were also attacked. Yizhar Hess, Director of the Masorati (Conservative) movement in Israel was attacked by boys who took his kippah and tallit and threw them down.

It is infuriating that the police blamed WoW for provoking the violence. Such a hateful lie! How could it be that the police not only neglected to protect us (though WoW leadership had begged in advance for their protection and to keep the peace), but then they also blamed the victims?

We can hope now that this moves the politicians to change the situation. I pray that all the good and caring and kind people of Israel will awaken to activism and thoughtful political choices when they vote next month. In any case, we are not giving up; not until the Kotel, and Judaism, is liberated from the hands of extremist Jews.

Lesley Sachs shared this poignant poem with us after our gathering:

Our heads were swimming with cacophony.
Yet, we heard you.
Our bodies were swept up in a violent wave of humanity.
Yet, we felt your gentle touch.
Our ribs were elbowed, our toes were stepped on.
Yet, your hands grasped ours with confidence

Thirty — Shloshim: that is how many years Women of the Wall have been praying and fighting for equality. Shloshim is also a significant Jewish number; it marks the conclusion of the first month of mourning after losing a close relative. It signifies a conclusion of one stage and an entry into the next. For Women of the Wall, for all Israelis, for all Jews, we enter a new stage. May this new stage be the conclusion, that there should not, must not be a fortieth anniversary of Women of the Wall, that we will have succeeded in the fight for Jewish equality.

To Read More and View photos:





Harold Sidney Small, MD, passed away on April 28 after a short illness.
He was 89 years old. He was born and raised in Passaic, NJ, where he met
Lynne Kosson. They were high school sweethearts and were married in June
1950 following Harold’s graduation from the University of Pennsylvania.
He was a member of Alpha Epsilon Pi fraternity. Following medical school
at the University of Pennsylvania, Harold did an internship at Newark Beth
Israel Hospital and residency in anesthesia at Walter Reed Medical Center in
Washington, DC. Dr. Small served 7 years in the US Army and was stationed
at Ft Belvoir, VA.

Following his discharge from the Army, Harold moved his family to Englewood,
NJ and was a clinical professor of anesthesia at Columbia Presbyterian
Medical Center. In 1967, he moved his family to the Morristown area
where he lived for the rest of his life. Harold practiced medicine at
Morristown Memorial Hospital for 30 years, including a term as Chairman of
the Anesthesia Department.

Harold and Lynne bred and raised Pembroke Welsh Corgi dogs for 20 years, producing
many champions at Ariel Kennel; they were active in the NJ Pembroke
Welsh Corgi Club. They were founding members of Congregation B’nai
Israel in Bernards Township and Harold served twice as the President of
the Board of Trustees. He and Lynne were avid duplicate bridge players – Harold
was a Silver Master; and they traveled all over the world.
After Lynne’s passing, Harold lived his last 3 years at Lester Senior
Housing in Whippany. He is survived by his adult children Bob (wife, Rabbi Amy) & Carol;
his daughter Missy predeceased him (survived by husband, Bob). He has 9 adult grandchildren and 2 great granddaughters.

After 30 years in the rabbinate, I tend to avoid focusing on the courage it took to pursue rabbinic education and launch a career in the congregational rabbinate. Besides, calling attention to myself in that way would be immodest.

But a #MeToo conversation with colleagues in Rabbis Without Borders, and a recent reconnection with old friends from the small group of past presidents of the Reconstructionist Rabbinical Association, has reminded me what it has taken to be a rabbi and a woman. This comes by way of a conversation with female colleagues about legacy — how is the memory and history of the first generation of women rabbis to be preserved and how will the lessons we learned be conveyed?

In 1987, shortly after I was ordained at RRC, I moved to South Bend, Indiana for my first full time congregational job. I met most of the small Jewish community in the short time I was there; many came to our innovative programs though they were loyal members of the Conservative or Reform congregations in town. It was a fun time.

One of those guests brought me a precious gift — a rare photo from 1939. The man who gave it to me had escaped from Germany just in time, in 1939. Before he left Berlin, he took a picture of a very special woman named Regina Jonas, who had been ordained as a rabbi by German Reform rabbis in Berlin. I had never heard of Rabbi Jonas in my rabbinic training — and most people didn’t know her story. We had talked about our hero, Rabbi Sally Priesand, as the first woman rabbi. But Sally was ordained in 1972, and Rabbi Jonas was ordained in the mid-1930’s. She tragically died in Auschwitz, after helping to care for fellow Jews during the darkest hour of the Holocaust.

Not long after that, Rabbi Jonas’ story became publicized with the find of her papers in Berlin. Included in that was one formal photo of her. I owned the other photo — and I had tried to share it with the American Jewish Archives. But I did not receive a response to my letter of inquiry to them. Maybe the letter was somehow lost? I will never know.

When I received the photo, I had a negative and a copy made, and framed the copy for my office, where it has been over the years. As I read about burgeoning research about Rabbi Jonas by colleagues in recent years, I longed to reach out to share this treasure. But, mea culpa, life got in the way and I didn’t get to it. I imagined that by the time I would retire I’d make sure the photo would be saved by the appropriate museum or archive.

Today, talking with my old friend Rabbi Sandy Sasso in a long overdue conversation to catch-up, I learned that Sandy had taken a great interest in Rabbi Jonas and had been writing a book about her. So I told Sandy about the photo in my possession. She was amazed and excited, and this gave me the motivation to deal with the need to share this treasure with the world.

This time the American Jewish Archives enthusiastically responded right away, as did the director of the Jewish Women’s Archives. The photo will find its permanent home with them.

But I admit to having a moment’s pause — that photo has been in my hands for over 30 years. It was a precious gift, but even more — a part of my identity. I hesitated to arrange to give it away, even as I knew that I would eventually pass it along. I had a moment of a loss of nerve.

But today I remembered the courage it took for Sandy (RRC ’74) — the second American woman ordained as a rabbi — to establish herself. And I remembered the courage it took for me to do that thirteen years later, and the work that Sandy and I did together in those early years. I was inspired by the courage it took for Regina Jonas to pursue her rabbinic studies against the tide of rejection by the German Reform establishment, and ultimately the incredible courage she demonstrated caring for our people during the horrific time of the Holocaust.

Of course I can muster the small measure of courage it will take for me to release this precious photo so that it can be properly saved and shared. This will be a life-moment celebration of the accomplishments, power and inspiration of women who lead spiritual communities.

May Frau Rabbi Regina Jonas’s memory be an enduring blessing.

(I’ll post the photo soon, but first need to share with the archivists.)


December 17, 2015

As a community committed to tikkun olam, Jewish principles of justice and equality, we are gravely concerned by the increased incidence of anti-Muslim and Islamophobic rhetoric and acts of violence in our country. We are dismayed by the growing and blatant characterization of Muslims as “un-American”,  “terrorists”, and “violent”, not only because these broad representations are factually inaccurate and misleading stereotypes, but also because we know that ugly rhetoric can have dangerous consequences. We recall far too well when similar misrepresentations and hateful stereotypes became political rallying cries against Jews, and when solutions to the so-called problem of Jewish citizenry moved from political rhetoric to genocide.


While our local community has, thankfully, not seen hate crimes committed against Muslims as other parts of the nation have, we have seen the dissemination of Islamophobic literature in and around Burlington; we are not immune to Islamophobic vitriol, and we aim to work against it as committed Jews.


We stand alongside and behind our Muslim neighbors—alongside them as witnesses to our own history of persecution, and behind them as allies and supporters in the fight against anti-Muslim racism.

Ohavi Zedek Board of Directors

Senior Rabbi Joshua Chasan

Senior Rabbi Amy Joy Small

Joel M. Hoffman, PhD

Jewish Star Jack O'LanternWhen I was 11 years old, a grumpy Israeli teacher told me that good Jews don’t dress up for Halloween because it’s a Christian holiday when Christians persecuted Jews.

He couldn’t have been more wrong.

First of all, Halloween began as a Pagan holiday, not Christian. The Celtic Pagan year was divided into two halves. The first half, roughly from spring to fall, was for the world of light, and the second half was for the world of darkness. Holidays marked the transitions from each half to the other.

In spring, Beltane celebrated the spiritual beginning of light-filled summer days and the life-giving force of the sun.

By contrast, Samhain (pronounced “sow-an”), the precursor to Halloween, fell on November 1 and represented summer’s end, winter nights, and, in general, darkness. As is typical of gateways and transitions (which are known technically as “liminal” times), Samhain was regarded with suspicion and…

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This post will be the 100th posting on Raviva.org.  Somehow, that feels like a milestone.

But this blog has also reached a more significant milestone — it is moving to a new site,  hosted within the website of the new Deborah’s Palm Center for Jewish Learning and Experiences  http://www.Deborahs-Palm.org

I value all of you, my subscribers, and appreciate the conversation.

So please, check out the new Raviva home, and join me under Deborah’s Palm Tree.


I hope you will subscribe there.

For now, from this, Raviva’s first home, Shalom Uv’racha — Farewell and many blessings.

New posts will now be on Raviva’s new home site. I look forward to seeing you there!

Deborah's Palm Tree

Deborah’s Palm Tree

It’s Official!

Weekly classes in South Orange, NJ

Weekly classes in South Orange, NJ

is now offering Jewish wisdom in learning groups and programs in Northern New Jersey.

As I migrate the Raviva blog to my new site, here is one of the programs that Deborah’s Palm is offering — a weekly Sunday morning class “Your Jewish GPS” —  in South Orange, NJ.

Please visit:  www.Deborahs-Palm.org

The new site includes a page “Ask the Rabbi” — I’d love to hear from you!