Building the Beloved Community here in Bucks County

The Martin Luther King holiday is coming up this weekend, and every year as it approaches I consider how to make it a meaningful observance for myself, my kids, and our community as a whole. It has become a day of service for people all across our country, which is wonderful, but I know acts of kindness and service were but just a slice the full legacy that King left us. He was a civil rights activist who preached a clear-eyed vision of racial equality, universal human rights, and peaceful co-existence he called the Beloved Community. He issued scathing indictments of war, poverty, and materialism that made many Americans, who led contented middle-class lives, quite uncomfortable. 

As a Jew, when I read the difficult parts of Torah such as the plagues or the death of the first-born, I am uncomfortable. I question whether the collective punishment that the plaques wrought was effective, much less moral. It may be perhaps a traditional approach to stand in awe of God’s might and power as the plaques are unleashed, proving our God the victor, both morally and magically. 

But if we are to truly be the more righteous people, made more compassionate through our suffering and servitude, then we must pay attention to the gap – both in the Torah, and our society today. How have we become complacent, accepting of injustices both small and large? Where have we not spoken out when we should have? What is our part in creating the Beloved Community? Where do we have privilege in our society, and how can we stand with and support others without that cushion? These are uncomfortable questions that we must explore and face, and that is what this special weekend dedicated to the Reverend Dr. Martin Luther King calls me to do. 

I hope you will join our beloved community at Friday night services at 7:30pm as we welcome Barbara Simmons, Pastor Danny Thomas, and Gayle Evans, all of the Peace Center, to share with us their vision of how we can each do our part in created the Beloved Community in Bucks County. We are so honored to have all three of them to share Shabbat with us. Also, on MLK Day itself, I will be speaking at two events – one at the First United Methodist Church of Hightstown, NJ that is in part a family service opportunity and part an interfaith dialogue, which begins at 10am (the interfaith dialogue begins after 11am). In the evening I am honored to be the speaker at our Newtown/Yardley annual interfaith Martin Luther King service at Macedonia Baptist Church in Newtown at 7pm.  

I hope both your participation in both service and vision will be part of this special weekend!

On Good Endings

My message this week (the final one of 2018!)

This week, we complete the book of Genesis. In this portion we have a multitude of conclusions: Jacob blesses his sons as well as Joseph’s two sons (Jacob’s grandsons), and then he dies. Then, after assuring his brothers that he bears them no ill will, all is forgiven and that he will provide for their “little ones” – the family’s future generations, Joseph dies. Amazingly, after all the family drama, division, and rancor, Genesis ends with family leaders having a peaceful, even good, death. Further, the family that is soon to swell into a tribe and then a nation is set on a stable and prosperous course, even as they live in a foreign land.

Isn’t that the kind of ending we all could only hope for? As December is rapidly heading toward the close of the 2018, I know many of us are feverishly trying to complete everything we need to do to be ready for the end-of-year break and quality time with family and friends. Some of us (like Zach Schnitzer and Alexis Miller) are experiencing job transitions, which makes this year end even more of a pronounced change! I want to take this space to thank Zach for all that he has done for our community and for being a most gracious and welcoming gate keeper and grounding force in our office. And, we are excited to grow and learn with Alexis as she takes on this central role in our community. Welcome, Alexis!

Endings can really be fraught, not only with details, but all the mixed emotions we may feel at times of change. Let us notice the tender feelings we may be experiencing during the American holiday season, with all the expectations of joy and family it brings, and be kinder to one another. I hope we can set growthful and realistic goals for the new year that are truly good and healthy for us.

Joseph’s last words to his family’s next generation were, “God will surely take care of you!” May it be that you feel God’s nurturing care in all of your preparations and all of your transitions.

Happy (secular) New Year! 
Rabbi Anna

Mitzvah Opportunity with Syrian Refugee family and Kol Emet

Dear KE community,


You may know that Kol Emet, in conjunction with other congregations in the area, has been supporting a couple of Syrian refugee families. One family has a two young daughters, one of whom is getting ready to attend preschool. She is wetting her feet (as it were) at Kamp Kol Emet. We are excited to welcome Y, as she begins Kamp starting on July 5th!

The family does not have a car, so she will need rides to and from camp. This effort is being coordinated by our well-organized local refugee settlement committee. I want to emphasize that KE is not assuming responsibility for finding drivers or for the actions of the drivers – this is simply an opportunity (and a need) to which people who wish to help this family can respond. If you might be able to assist in this effort, even in a limited extent, please read on and let me know if you are interested. I will then give your name and contact info to a liaison for the family.

Kamp is three days a week – Tuesday, Wednesday, and Thursday – and begins at 9am and ends at 1pm. The family lives not far from Kol Emet. The morning driver needs to take A and R (the mother and younger daughter) along with Y to preschool and then take R and A back to their apartment. The morning pickup time at the apartment will be 8:45. The afternoon driver needs to pick up A and R at their apartment at 12:45 and then take everyone home afterwards. The morning and afternoon drivers for any given day need not be the same. If the driver for a day is going to be the same, they can leave in the car seats (which will be provided) in between pickups.

There is a central coordinator organizing rides for the family. When people sign up for the driving pool, they are not committing to any specific responsibilities – they will merely receive notices of the needs and opportunities and they can respond (or not) at that point. The postings will give the specific information each driver needs to know.

If you can help, please send me an email.  We would be so very grateful.

Rabbi Anna

A Few Ideas for Your Seder

Eating matzo is

Best when spread with the stories

of where we come from.

-Susan Barocas


Wise, sly, simple, mute-

These, the four children, who knew?

Members of Congress.

-Dena Goodman

Passover is full of haikus and stories– the personal and the political, stories from long ago, and stories still unfolding.  On Passover, it seems like all those kinds of stories come together into one, giant, epic story we call the Haggadah, the Telling.

I am so looking forward to sharing Passover with many of you at our first Second Night Community Seder!  For those of you who can’t make it, please feel free (pun intended) to incorporate these aspects of our seder into your celebration.  Here are a few things you can bring to the seder so you can be prepared to leave Egypt with us:

  1. A PillowLet’s get comfortable together, as we luxuriate in our freedom.  The seder was originally modeled after a Greek symposium – think heaps of food, adult beverages, and pillows galore.  The ultimate in freedom.
  1. MoneySeriously?!  Yes, I realize this isn’t a traditional item at a seder, and we don’t usually deal with money on Jewish holidays.  But we are not a traditional congregation… At a certain point in the seder, we will be giving tzedakah to ten different causes of our choosing.  You can choose to give to all ten, or just a few you are especially passionate about.  This will be our way of helping to address ten modern plagues of our time.
  1. Your questions and your thoughtful engagement This is a Night of Questions, and at the seder, I will be asking YOUR questions.  Please write down whatever question you have, no matter how simple or complex it may be, on a piece of paper and bring it with you to our seder.  When you come in, there will be a box at the leader’s table in which you can place your questions. Throughout the seder, I will take out a few at the time and read them out loud.

So now many of you may be wondering and fretting about the length of the seder!  Not to worry, you will be eating dinner before 7:30, I promise.  And, we will serve a robust karpas (root vegetable hors d’oeuvres) toward the start of the seder, so no one will go hungry. 

Lastly, I want to thank Randi Davis, who has gone above and beyond her responsibilities as our president to cook and coordinate all the food preparation for this seder.  Passover would not be as joyous, liberating, and tasty without her efforts.

Have a sweet, sweet Pesach!

Rabbi Anna 

Thoughts on Visiting Mt. Carmel Cemetery – Feb. 27, 2017

Headstones at the Mt. Carmel Cemetery in Northeast Philadelphia

It was good to go to the Mt. Carmel cemetery today. I needed to be able to see the damage myself. Media reports have been so mixed, some reporting “dozens” of headstones overturned, while others reporting over 500 headstones impacted. It is easy to understand the confusion when you go: Mt. Carmel is no longer an active cemetery; the graves are crowded and the ground very uneven. You can see fallen headstones here and there as soon as you enter, but what is not clear is how long they were in that state, or how they came to be that way. Indeed, many had evidently fallen long ago. But as I made my way into the heart of the graveyard, it was stunning to see whole rows of headstones toppled, some in pieces, and some fallen on top of each other. There was no graffiti of any sort that I saw. It was shocking and very sad to witness.

After walking around for a while, speaking with various individuals including some rabbi colleagues, I felt called to sit among the fallen stones engraved with families’ names – none of my own family, but names of my people, names of my tribe. Closing my eyes, I felt their peace. In that moment, I actually did not feel that the peace of those who had passed had been interrupted. Rather, the stones seemed to be saying to me: Don’t worry about us, this isn’t about us! This is about you, your children’s future and your community’s future! Look beyond this cemetery… but also, do not forget us.

I continued to feel immense sadness, but there was also a sense I got that urged me to open my eyes and look up toward the heavens. The cemetery has no trees, and the gray sky was vast above me. “I lift my eyes up to the hills; from where does my help come? My help comes from the Holy One, Maker of heaven and earth.” (Ps. 121) Sitting on the earth, and looking up toward the heavens, I felt reassured and fear left me. I remembered that I was sitting on holy ground.

I went to the Mt Carmel to connect with something beyond my distress and fear, and to find some kind of direction (both, admittedly, for myself and for my congregation). And I surely did – this place, like all cemeteries, is a place that transcends the news of the day or the policies of particular government. I connected with a steadiness and a comfort that one can only find among these quiet monuments, testaments to whole lives. There, I found the courage to ask myself: What is my life? What will be my testament?

We will raise and repair these stones, and this cemetery will look better than ever, that is sure. But let us take this opportunity such adversity presents us with: to reflect on our lives and raise our ourselves, our community, and our society anew.

The scourge of antiSemitism is not new, but of late it has come out from the shadows. In recent decades, American Jews have grown comfortable and complacent. Let us also take the moment to step out of that comfort and find a new and awakened voice. That is the message I got from the headstones today. Really, they were saying it all along, but today I was there to hear it.