Friday, November 3, 2017

Israel Tour 2018: June 13-27

Never been?  Haven't been to Israel in 5 years? 10 years? Longer?
The time has come to make plans and "if not now,when???

Anyone interested should email me at

The outline for our travel is ready for your perusal.

Group airline tickets via Air Canada are reserved: 
departing Portland June 13  8:10am, arriving Toronto 3:35pm
departing Toronto 4:40pm, arriving Ben Gurion Airport, Tel Aviv 10:05am
make your own arrangements using air miles

Arrangements can also be made for participants flying out of other cities

Additions and corrections to our itinerary will continue to be made, our itinerary is basically as follows:

Our guide and tour bus will meet us on arrival.  With luggage loaded we will head directly to Jerusalem.  We will make a L'Chaim overlooking the Ancient City of Jerusalem from the Haas Promenade, and make our way through town to our hotel, my favorite, the Mt.Zion for the first 6 nights.

We will get a full tour through Old and New Jerusalem: Jewish Quarter, the Wall, Arab bazaar, Yad Vashem, biblical zoo, Ben Yehudah Street and Nachalat Shiva pedestrian malls, night spectacular at the Tower of David Museum. 

In preparation for Shabbat we will rub shoulders with Israelis in the crowded Machaneh Yehudah outdoor market as we buy our picnic lunch for Shabbat.  We hope to have a Bar/Bat Mitzvah or two which we will celebrate at Azarat Israel, the area of the Western Wall reserved for egalitarian services.

We will make our way to the Dead Sea basin where we will climb or cable car to the top of Massada.  We will take a short walk to Nahal David, the springs and waterfalls in the Ein Gedi Nature Reserve and have our chance to float in the Dead Sea. Separately we will head to Beit Guvrin where we will have the opportunity to participate in an actual archeological dig.

Our trip includes a guided visit to Caesarea after which we will explore a Druze village where we will experience a home hospitality lunch.  In Haifa we will view the Bahai Gardens from the top of Mount Carmel.  Planned is a walk through Wadi Nisnas where we will participate in a dialogue on coexistence with members of the Arab community.  We will visit Atlit, the British internment camp where illegal immigrants were imprisoned.  We will wander in Chrusader Akko.

In the Golan Heights we will stop at Mt. Bental overlooking the abandoned Syrian town of Kuneitra, make a choice of either visiting a winery or a chocolate workshop. (that last option has my vote.)  We will prepare for our second Shabbat in Safed, the town of the mystics.

Included is a stop in Tiberias, a boutique goat cheese workshop, the Zippori National Park with some of the most magnificent ancient mosaic floors on our way to Tel Aviv where we will spend our last two nights.  Wander through Jaffa, swim in the Mediterranean, experience the Ayalon Institute, home of the clandestine munitions factory used during the British mandate., Rabin Square, Independence Hall where Ben Gurion declared Israel's independence

And so very much more.

We are scheduled to fly home June 27 departing at 11:50am through Toronto, arriving in Portland at 8:08pm the same day, Amazing!

Round trip flight from Portland to Tel Aviv   $1487

Land arrangements: 12 nights in luxury hotels, including daily buffet breakfasts, licensed hand picked guide, air conditioned bus and driver, several additional meals, all entrance fees as per itinerary:
$4,549/adult sharing double
$1570 single supplement
-$1220 reduction for child 2-11 as third in room with parents
-$640 reduction for 12-17 year old as third in room with parents.

Any questions and/or to reserve a spot, write to me: at your earliest convenience
We are hoping to gather 20 participants.
I'm excited already...

Rabbi Daniel Isaak


Love Knows No Boundaries: The Challenge of Intermarriage

Recently a Neveh Shalom congregant came to discuss his son's forthcoming marriage.  His son grew up here, celebrated his Bar Mitzvah here and continued in our high school program for some time.  His father reminded me that I was not here for the Bar Mitzvah, because I was sitting Shiva for my father who died almost immediately after our arrival in Portland.

Let me call him Avi.  Avi's father told me that Avi had fallen in love and they were now exploring wedding plans.  For work Avi was doing a great deal of international travel.  Along the way he met and fell in love with a lovely young woman who works for the United Nations.  Avi was hoping that I would officiate at their wedding.  The bride is a Muslim woman from Pakistan.  Their hopes were to have two ceremonies, the first a Muslim ceremony with the bride's family in Lahore and the second here in Portland with a rabbi and an imam.

Wow!  There is nothing more fulfilling for me than to officiate at a wedding of a young person I have known since he/she was young.  But this was the first time I had been confronted with so many obstacles all in one.  The fact that the bride was Muslim was irrelevant.  What was relevant was that she was not Jewish and would not consider converting..  Additionally the meaning of the ceremony in Pakistan raised issues, as well as the desire for me to officiate at a ceremony with clergy representing another faith.

I explained to the father that as a Conservative rabbi I could not officiate at an intermarriage.  Although I personally struggle with this requirement as do rabbis throughout the country, I agree with it.  Though it is a turnoff to many young couples, which I understand, I am in the business of creating Jewish homes and Jewish families, which have the prospect of Jewish learning and Jewish practice.

However I asked this dad for Avi's email address, so that I could explain to him and his bride my inability to fulfill his request directly and not through an intermediary.

With Avi's permission the following is my communication with him and his very lovely response:

Dear Avi and Sonia,

I met with your dad last week to talk about your plans for your forthcoming wedding.  He told me about you and your world-wide travels and about Sonia working for the U.N. in Geneva.  It's a new world when a Jewish young man from Portland, Oregon, falls in love with a Muslim young woman whose family comes from Pakistan.

Finding a life's companion with whom you want to spend the rest of your life is truly a blessing and I want to congratulate you both.  You have found a way into each other's hearts despite the gigantic distance that you are traveling to traverse your cultural, ethnic and religious differences.  Your dad told me about your plans to have a Muslim wedding ceremony in Lahore and a second Jewish/Muslim ceremony here in Portland.  Though that sounds easy enough on paper, I can't imagine the hurdles that need to be overcome in order to make either one of these events happen as you hope.

Partly the obstacles have to do with differences in our traditions.  Though I certainly know less about Islam than about Judaism, the more interactions I have with my Muslim friends here, the more I appreciate our many similaritiies.

Judaism historically only recognizes marriages between Jews and for centuries the number of marriages between Jews and non-Jews has been relatively small.  This is certainly not the case today.  However our insular the recognition, which may be similar in Islam, it had to do with a number of factors: the most important one being that creating a union between two people was assumed to be creating a link in Jewish tradition, that the newly formed family would create a Jewish home, celebrate Jewish holidays, raise Jewish children, transmit Jewish values.  That is the essence of the Jewish ceremony, from the blessings that are recited, the ring that is transmitted, the canopy beneath which bride and groom stand, to the glass that is broken at the end of the ceremony.  Though some intermarried couples choose to do all of the above, they are largely the exception.

Intermarriage has also been viewed as perhaps the supreme challenge to Jewish survival.  As a small people of only 14 million, we concern ourselves about critical mass.  That burden should not be placed on individual Jews like the two of you, but we are concerned from a macro-perspective as a people.  With considerable assimilation will we survive or continue to disintegrate?  Certainly in this area Islam does not have similar concerns.

For this reason, Alex Schindler, a reform rabbi, urged the Jewish community to love the intermarried at the same time that we discourage intermarriage.  By that he meant that though we confront the reality of intermarriage, we are obliged to do all we can to reach out to welcome those who have intermarried.

Although there are rabbis who officiate at intermarriages with hopes that a Jewish family can be salvaged, I have not done so.  The number of rabbis who will officiate at an intermarriage with clergy of another faith are significantly fewer since the symbolism of such a ceremony is that the emerging family will not connect with just one community.  Though idealistically identifying with both communities might seem as a positive, realistically it is exceedingly difficult.

Nevertheless I want to wish you much luck.  It's probably difficult right now with the two of you not only living in different cities, but different countries.  I hope that if and when you are both in Portland, you will make time for us to get together and perhaps go out for coffee..

If you have questions for me or want to continue our discussion, I hope you will not hesitate to write.


Rabbi Daniel Isaak

Dear Rabbi Isaak,

It's great to hear from you!  It's been quite a long time since we had a chance to talk (perhaps as far back as my Bar Mitzvah).  I'm sorry for the delayed response, but I've been traveling quite a bit for work.  I just returned from Kenya where I was hosting a regional workshop for my organization.

Thank you so much for your thoughtful words and explanations.  You're right that there have been some logistical and other complications along the way, but I think we've done a really great job of speaking to people honestly about our commitment to each other, to our respective traditions, and to the values that our parents instilled in us.

I was saddened to hear that you won't be able to perform our ceremony, but I understand your justification.  I was sad because I value your opinion, find comfort in your words , and it would have been very meaningful for me to have a wedding officiant who has known me for as long as you have.  However I do completely understand and respect your decision.  I also particularly appreciate your thoughtful explanation of why religious intermarriages have been discouraged.  I was also very warmed to hear the teaching of Rabbi Schindler to love the intermarried even while discouraging intermarriage.

For Sonia and me, we believe that both our faiths will make each of us and our children richer and better off.  Our belief is that practicing one's faith is a non-zero-sum equation where more is better as long as one does not fundamentally disprove the other. It is our hope to create a link between us in both traditions, and transmit Jewish and Muslim values, which we believe are quite similar.  And of course, we want our chidren to inherit a tradition, culture and value system that both faiths can be proud of.  I know this is a path less traveled, and I can't say I have all the answers yet, but this feels authentic to both of us, and we know in our hearts that it s the only choice for us.

I am really grateful to have received your letter and for this chance to think more deeply about our approach to religion, interfaith marriage, and creating a multi-faith home.

I hope to be able to see you soon and would love to introduce you to Sonia next time we're in Portland.  I shared your eail with her and she was very touched.  I know we both would really enjoy and would benefit from hearing more from you.

Thank you again for your thoughtful words and well wishes!!


Avi and Sonia 

Tuesday, September 19, 2017

Fear: What If 9/11 Happened in 2017?

Within weeks of Pearl Harbor the Secretary of the Navy made news claiming that the Japanese inhabitants in Hawaii had colluded with the Japanese government in the bombing.  Months later this accusation was debunked as completely without merit.  Nevertheless the damage had been done, though how much this false claim served to incite fear of Japanese American citizens and others living in the U.S. is unknown.

I learned of this little-known episode just last week when I attended an exhibit documenting the shameful Japanese imprisonment on display this month at the Muslim Educational Trust.  I hope that we will bring this excellent, however troubling exhibit, to Neveh Shalom researched and organized by Neveh Shalom member Anne Galisky in the near future.

The exhibit opened at MET Monday evening on 9/11, a connection which was not lost on this largely Japanese and Muslim crowd.  It was the Secretary of the Navy's outrageous false accusation that made me think deeper about the aftermath of 9/11 in 2001.  We should all remember how President Bush responded domestically.  He went to great lengths to proclaim that despite the great loss of American life, despite the fact that the perpetrators were all Arabs, a majority from Saudi Arabia, that their "success" was celebrated by Osama bin Laden and his supporters, nevertheless Islam and its adherents must not be seen as the enemy. These terrorists were extremists, who must not be seen as representing the view of 1.3 billion believers. To make the point Bush very publicly visited a mosque in D.C.  Americans must not accuse our American Muslim citizens and residents for the slaughter.

Although 9/11 was followed by some reprehensible anti-Muslim incidents, given the shock of the nearly 3000 deaths and the destruction of the Twin Towers, the number of such incidents was thankfully relatively small.  By contrast there were those who reached out to reassure that community whose fear was palpable..  Some offered to accompany Muslims with their shopping.  Others opened new lines of communications that had not existed previously. The anti-Muslim incidents were condemned and the perpetrators prosecuted.

That led me to think about that Secretary of the Navy in 1941 and how all Japanese were considered suspect of being traitors and needing to be removed from their homes and businesses, men women and children to camps, where they could be under constant military surveillance.  The number who raised objection to the treatment of the Japanese was shamefully insignificant.

My thoughts then turned to our current day, with a president who does not hesitate to cast aspersions on Mexicans, gays, Muslims, African-Americans, protesters without evidence. When the American president finds it difficult to condemn Nazis and Ku Klux Klan without equivocation, I fear what would have happened in the American street in cities across this country had Trump been president in 2001 or if God forbid a similar atrocity were to take place today.  We have every reason to fear that violent response would have been given a nod.

Think about it and be concerned.

Monday, September 18, 2017

A Rabbinic Nightmare

My first High Holy Day pulpit was at Beale Air Force Base about an hour north of Sacramento.  (Beale had at one time been a Japanese internment camp.)  My rabbi, William Dalin, who officiated at my Bar Mitzvah, was retired military.  He functioned as the chief Jewish chaplain of the western states.  As such it was his responsibility to make sure that someone was available to lead High Holy Day services wherever Jewish military personnel were stationed.  I was in college at the University of California, Berkeley, and Rabbi Dalin called to ask me to lead services at a base.  There was someone from the local lay community who would assist with davening and reading Torah, but I would have overall responsibility to prepare sermons and oversee the conduct of the service.  That was 1968.

I have led High Holy Day services every year thereafter until my retirement just over two years ago.  This will be my third Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur where I will attend rather than lead services, be a congregant in the pews, rather than trying to infuse added meaning into these Days of Awe from the pulpit.  It's a very different feeling and a wonderful relief.

So what terrorizes a pulpit rabbi, or at least what annual nightmares plagued me year after year?  The prospect of arriving at Rosh Hashanah services without a sermon!  How would I stand before the congregation and excuse my lack of preparation? It's comparable to the universal nightmare of appearing in public stark naked.

Not only am I no longer plagued by such nightmares, but I have come to appreciate what August and September are like.  I can now do wonderful ordinary things during these extraordinary months of the year: enjoy a relaxing meal and conversation, read the paper and do the crossword, go bike riding with grandchildren visiting from San Diego, attend a theater production with my wife.  Such amazing joy.

Although I was not always as productive on a day by day basis during these weeks as I would have liked to be; in fact I was often the opposite of productive.  Writing what one hopes will be profound thoughts is enormously difficult.  Nevertheless August and September were devoted to High Holy Day prep.  Certainly much else filled the agenda.  Weekly Bar/Bar Mitzvah celebrations, speaking every Friday evening and Saturday morning, funerals and hospital visits which proceed as always.  The school year and the calendar of synagogue events preparation: adult ed, High Holy Day honors, teen assignments for parts, etc. all need to be attended too and in fact dealing with those matters allowed me a welcome excuse to procrastinate.

Each year there invariably was a book or two whose subject matter intrigued me and I considered to
possibly contain thoughts for an appropriate Kol Nidre sermon.  And those times were devoted as well to searching for a sermon's opening story or anecdotes to share as the long service progressed.

All my High Holy Day angst certainly had its affect on my family, most particularly my wife, of course.  I focused all of my energy on the need to be prepared.  Those closest to me suffered.

People continue to wonder how I have adjusted to retirement.  Without doubt the biggest change is my ability to prepare for these Days of Awe as a private person.  It is difficult to describe what a relief it is.  I am looking forward to davening along with our new cantor and to listening to the thoughts about repentance from David Kosak, our rabbi.

Someday he too will experience how wonderful August and September can be.  

Friday, September 1, 2017

This Is Hunger!: Plan to Tour the Exhibit Sept 1-7 in the Neveh Shalom Parking Lot

Growing up my mother would tell me about food rationing she endured while growing up in the 1930s in Nazi Germany.  The family was entitled to one egg a week.  That went, she would say, to my grandmother, because she was sick.

Sent on a Kindertransport to England as a 15 year old, she was to be taken care of in a wealthy family that my grandparents knew.  Rather than treat her a a member of the family, she was treated as one of the household help.  There my mother was astonished that those who prepared meals would cut off the crusts of bread and throw them away.  After what she had experienced at home, she couldn't stand that perfectly good food was being thrown in the garbage.  When no one was looking she would rummage through the refuse and retrieve the bread crusts.

My mother spent her entire adult life considerably overweight.  Though she fought it with endless diets, nothing helped.  Certainly there are numerous reasons for problems with personal weight.  However I am convinced that it was my mother's early experience with hunger that made food a continuous issue as long as she lived.  No food was ever discarded.  Plates at every meal were emptied.  To this day I have a kind of revulsion when people take more than they are prepared to eat, when perfectly edible food is carelessly thrown in the trash.

Perhaps the obsession with food that I experienced growing up is why I have chosen to serve on the Oregon Food Bank board and have always seen hunger as the foremost need that must be met for the neediest. 

The big rig from Mazon emblazoned with This Is Hunger has arrived in our Neveh Shalom parking lot.  Everyone should make arrangements to tour the displays.  Both Oregon Senators Merkley and Wyden have reserved times when they will personally visit.  I am proud that both of our senators have long histories of championing support for government programs such as SNAP (food stamps) for food for the poor.  We need to be reminded and our consciences raised that members of our community, fellow Portlanders and Oregonians, not only need financial help to eat, but need enough support so that they can eat a nutritious diet including meat and fish, fruits and vegetables and dairy products

No one in our wealthy nation should go hungry.  We produce more food than we can possibly consume.  Yet 1 in 8 Americans experiences food insecurity.  In Oregon the percentage is tragically even higher.  A family that is food insecure is not starving as people experience in a famine, but they may not always know where their next meal will be coming from, or a food insecure child may not know if there will be anything to eat for dinner that night.  

In this country it certainly is not that we do not have sufficient quantities of food.  Clearly our grocery stores are always full.  It is much more a distribution problem and an economic problem.  In many areas of the country and in Oregon as well we have what are known as food deserts.  A food desert is often a remote area where there are no super markets where it doesn't pay for an Albertsons or a Safeway to keep a small grocer stocked with fresh produce.  Certainly it is possible to sustain the body on large quantities of carbohydrates, but it is not healthy.  In addition national food subsidies go largely to the producers of grain products, making them more affordable than more nutritious foods.

In addition though food is not expensive compared with many other countries, often a good diet is still out of the reach of many.  They must choose between paying rent, medications, gas for the car needed to get to work and food.  These are impossible choices.

Carol and I took Governor Kulangoski's challenge several years ago: live for a week on a food stamp budget.  That was eat for $3/day/person.  We made it, but it wasn't easy and it was thankfully just a week.  First of all we drove for our experiment to Winco.  But then we thought, how do poor people get to Winco?  If they take the bus, how much can they possibly carry?  We avoided all the expensive items.  No meat or fish.  No cheese.  No fancy bread.  No fresh fruits and vegetables. Friday morning I said to Carol that I would get the Hallah.  "Where do you think you can take the $5.99 for a Hallah?" my wife challenged me.  Think of it, a Hallah would take up an entire days food budget for two!  What we learned was that yes, it could be done, but not easily, and that on such a tight budget, one thinks about food all the time.  What can I eat and how much does it cost?  And we are adults.  How do you live this way with needy young children?

"This Is Hunger" is an extensive experiential program created by Mazon: a Jewish Response to Hunger.  Mazon was born in the early 1980's out of a debate in Moment Magazine.  The magazine's founder and editor Leibl Fine challenged the readers with the following question: As Jews we have a responsibility to take care of the Ethiopian Jews newly arrived in Israel.  As Jews we also have an obligation to concern ourselves with those starving in East Africa.  How do I choose between priorities?  In if I have $100 to spend, do I divide it half and half between my particularist Jewish obligations and my universalist humanitarian obligations or 60-40 or 70-30 and if so which receives the 70% and which the 30%?

Though the debate had no clear answers one outcome was the creation of Mazon, a Hebrew word that means food.  Mazon would distribute the funds that it raised to  deal with both Jewish and non-Jewish hunger,  here and abroad.  Their appeal was a fascinating one.  In Eastern Europe it was customary to include the indigent in the community to celebratory events like weddings by adding tables for uninvited guests. Since that is impractical today, Mazon suggested that anyone planning a wedding, a Bar/Bat Mitzvah, a 70th birthday add 3% to the catering/food bill and send that amount to Mazon as a donation.   They would then distribute the money to food banks.  The Oregon Food Bank has long been one of Mazon's recipients.

So, as we live with full refrigerators and the ability to go to restaurants, we must not forget that too many in our society and even a greater percentage of the world's population do not have those privileges.  We must support government programs and organizations whose purpose is to feed the neediest.  Soon the government will face budgeting challenges.  The most significant is a proposal to cut SNAP by 20%!.  Such cuts are both mean spirited and basically immoral.  Millions of Americans and over half a million Oregonians rely on this most impactful government program to feed the hungry.  Such drastic cuts must be fought.

We will support Senators Wyden and Merkley as they fight for these programs.

Thursday, August 31, 2017

Texas Flood Disaster

A year's worth of rain in three days!  So often warnings of potential crises turn out to be false alarms.  This one wasn't.  In fact the warnings probably understated the disaster to come.  In addition to news on TV and radio, I am receiving two other types of reports: a. statements from Jewish sources on how the Jewish community, Federations, synagogues and agencies are faring and how they are contributing to the general welfare and b. reports through the Oregon Food Bank concerning the food banks throughout the affected area.  Some were flooded themselves and totally out of commission, opening as soon as possible to supply the enormous needs of an entire swath of the country shut down; the need to feed tens of thousands of people in shelters, even pet food.  Babies needing formula and many on restricted diets.  The national food bank community through Feeding America stands ready to help however possible.  I have put myself on a list of people prepared to travel to the storm area to help if and when called upon.

Neveh Shalom has opened a channel to directly support one of the smaller synagogues in Houston.  The Jewish Federation of Portland created a vehicle for direct donations and the MJCC joined a national Jewish Community Center effort to transfer money vouchers to mainline stores providing for general needs.  This will be a long haul.  Texas will be recuperating for months if not years.

A year after Katrina I traveled to Biloxi in an effort by Conservative synagogues to help.  We drove along the coast and seemingly for miles I saw slab after slab upon which a house once stood.  And what did I do for three days?  I removed sheet rock that volunteers had placed on homes after Katrina that had to be removed because in their haste they never bothered to remove the residue of mold!  Yes, I was removing what others in their good intentions had put up to save a house that no one could live in.

But not everyone understands the urgency and immediacy of the need.  I found today's New York Times editorial about the reactions of Rev. Osteen who only reluctantly opened his 16,000-seat mega church to flood victims and that of President Trump.troubling indeed. 

When human beings are in desperate straights, it is incumbent upon us all to reach out to do whatever we can.

And at the same time that our attention is focused on Texas, we must be aware of similar if not even more severe flooding in Mumbai, India.  There tens of thousands of innocents are suffering too from the monsoon rains more severe this year than ever before.

And then of course we must address the serious issue of climate change that if not addressed immediately will only bring ever greater calamities.