In the pandemic years, we witnessed significant changes in how Jews gather to pray. It has been most evident in how we utilize television and live streaming to pray from the comfort of our homes. One notable example is the Central Synagogue’s services, featuring the esteemed Rabbi Angela Buchdahl, a top-rated Jewish “program.” The impact of these professional and meaningful offerings on Jewish prayer is profound, both as a blessing and a challenge.

Technology influences our connections within our communities. The pandemic forced many of us into confinement at home and seeking solace, we turned to electronic media.

Synagogues have sought to make services accessible long before the pandemic. Adas Israel, in Washington, DC, pioneered this approach, broadcasting services on the radio. Such broadcasts aimed to accommodate those who were ill or elderly and couldn’t attend in person.

The Romemu community in New York championed Zoom and live-streamed services before Covid. Their approach respected virtual participants, offering a membership category for internet participants. Romemu elevated the technological approach to prayer, making the experience more personal and highly professional.

Zoom provided life cycle event connections for a Shiva minyan or a bar/bat mitzvah service. It also allowed smaller communities to sustain daily minyans. Zoom services welcomed individuals who couldn’t previously participate in communal prayer. There are compelling reasons to support a Zoom minyan.

Yet, fulfillment of your prayer obligations was not through electronic media. Ten people had to attend to complete a prayer service minyan. Then Covid happened. Progressive segments of the Jewish community accepted remote participation. Progressive Judaism already tends to emphasize the individual’s needs. Accordingly, virtual presence was equivalent to in-person participation.

The idea of remote participation expands upon Jewish law. The Talmud teaches that synagogues must have windows to connect worshippers with the outside world and allow those outside to join the service. Similarly, Mishnah Rosh Hashanah teaches us that hearing the shofar outside a synagogue fulfills the obligation. This inclusivity aligns with the spirit of live stream services.

A person standing near windows or doors to the prayer space, with visible eye contact, could be counted as part of the minyan. Another source even suggests that ten people standing in a field, able to see and hear one another, constitute a minyan. If someone standing outside a window can be counted, why not include those in a Zoom room participating in a service?

Should online services relieve us of the obligation to gather physically as a community? Or we must ask ourselves: do the benefits of a Zoom minyan outweigh the tradition of gathering in person?

The Conservative Movement’s Committee on Law and Standards (CLS) has questioned the continued use of the Zoom minyan. They suggest it should be limited to emergencies, such as a pandemic or natural disaster.

Psychologically speaking, they might be right. Words can offer comfort, and voices can provide support, but they cannot replace the touch of a hand, a hug, or physical presence. Those who cannot be touched, whose hands we cannot shake, whose smile we cannot see, remain alone.

The pandemic taught us that isolation can cause harmful loneliness. Technology rescued us from seclusion but did not fully replace the warmth of human connection.

The best forum for fostering connection is in the spiritual setting. You may sit in a theater with a crowd of people, but you aren’t forming a community. You can attend a sporting event, but a gathering of fans won’t satisfy your need for meaningful relationships. As social as pickleball and book clubs may be, I’m not sure such leisure activities create significant personal connections.

Jewish tradition understands the profound spiritual significance of coming together face to face, heart to heart. When gathering for a life cycle ritual or a holiday service, we have the opportunity for something profound to happen. We are meant to be present, share our joys and sorrows, and support one another on life’s journey.

Don’t mistake the convenience of online participation for spiritual fulfillment. The crisis of loneliness still looms over our society.

Through simple yet profound acts of connection, we can heal the wounds of isolation that plague our world. If not for yourself, your sense of loneliness your physical participation may be a blessing to someone else who needs more personal relationships.

We must reaffirm our commitment to one another and the idea that our faith communities are not just places of worship but sanctuaries of love and fellowship. We must be beacons of light in a world that sometimes feels dark and disconnected.

Despite the technological allure leading to isolation,  God’s presence is most powerful when we come together as a community. The spirit of unity and togetherness is a testament to our shared humanity, and it is through these connections that we find God’s love. In an age of screens and gadgets, we must remember that God and not the internet is the connection between people.

Let’s prioritize gathering in person, not just for religious purposes, but for the sake of ourselves and the well-being of our neighbors. It is in these connections that we find strength, hope, and the ability to overcome the crisis of loneliness that plagues our society.

While technology can connect us across distances, it cannot replace the power of physical presence and the warmth of human touch. We must balance embracing modern tools and upholding the traditions and values that have sustained us for generations.

Rabbi Evan J. Krame

Today, as we gather on this sacred day of Yom Kippur, we come together to reflect on the profound theme of forgiveness. It is a day when we focus on seeking forgiveness from God and from those we may have wronged. We examine our actions and ask for pardon with a sense of urgency in our hearts. Yet, there is one aspect of forgiveness that often remains elusive, and that is the act of forgiving ourselves. This is the type of forgiveness with which I struggle the most.

In our tradition, we are no strangers to acknowledging our wrongdoings. From the earliest days of our faith, we have been guided by a set of moral principles and teachings that remind us of what we should not have done. We dedicate these 25 hours of Yom Kippur to introspection, where we meticulously examine our missteps and errors. It’s almost as if we are experts in identifying our own flaws and shortcomings.

But amid all this reflection and repentance, there lies a crucial foundation within our tradition, one that prevents us from sinking into a bottomless pit of self-loathing. That foundation is the concept of forgiveness.

Today, I want to address a struggle that many of us face—the difficulty of forgiving ourselves. We often find it easier to point out our own faults and to engage in self-criticism. We replay our mistakes in our minds, tormenting ourselves with feelings of regret and self-loathing.

Judaism, however, offers us a more constructive alternative to self-destructive tendencies. These High Holidays provide us with a roadmap for recognizing our mistakes, resolving to improve ourselves, and requesting forgiveness. As human beings, we are inherently imperfect. We stumble, fall, and make mistakes—it’s an integral part of our journey towards becoming better individuals.

We must not forget that we are deserving of forgiveness’s embrace. Our tradition emphasizes not only seeking forgiveness from God but also from one another. Forgiving others and accepting their forgiveness is an affirmation of our equality. It acknowledges our shared humanity, our shared capacity for error, and our shared potential for growth.

Leviticus 19:18 instructs us to “Love your neighbor as yourself.” This commandment underscores the importance of self-love. To truly love others, we must first learn to forgive ourselves for being imperfect. It’s a reminder that self-love is not only permissible but imperative.

Often, when we face challenges or fears, our past mistakes flood our minds. We wrestle with our imperfect selves, much like Jacob wrestled with the angel. Jacob, too, was a complex figure with a blend of imperfections and divine qualities. In the end, he forgave himself and his failings, accepting himself as both flawed and inspired. It was only then that he could reengage with the world with courage, hope, and integrity.
Wrestling with our mistakes is the path to personal growth. We must recognize that we are not born perfect, all-wise, all-skilled, and all-loving. Accepting our humanity and forgiving ourselves for our mistakes is the key to growth.

We often spend more time berating ourselves for our errors than anyone else ever would. We fill our minds with negative thoughts, convincing ourselves that we are not smart enough, strong enough, or good enough. The loudest voice in our heads is often self-destructive.

But it’s time to let go of guilt, shame, and regret. It’s time to release the “should haves” and “maybes” and focus on what we will do and achieve. We are more than the sum of our mistakes. As Bryan Stevenson aptly put it, “Each of us is more than the worst thing we have ever done.”

In a world increasingly dominated by cancel culture, where our mistakes are magnified and used to define us, we must remember that we are better than any failure or mistake. Our mistakes are not our identities; they are opportunities to learn and grow.

So, how do we embark on the journey of self-forgiveness? It starts with admission and recognition of our lapses. Speak your feelings aloud, share your burdens with someone you trust, and give your mind a rest from incessant self-criticism.

Adopt a mantra, a positive phrase that reminds you that mistakes do not define you. Be proactive in making choices that disprove your worst thoughts about yourself. Believe in your capacity to become the best version of yourself.

Ultimately, healing and self-forgiveness will not only benefit you but also enhance your capacity to connect with others. When we let go of self-loathing, we can embrace humility, acknowledging our fallibility and opening ourselves to better relationships.

Life is a journey, and along the way, we will make mistakes and falter. But remember, to live life fully is to accept yourself. To accept yourself is to forgive yourself for being human. There is always room for improvement and growth, but acceptance means learning from mistakes and returning stronger than before.
In the end, self-forgiveness is not just a gift we give ourselves, but it’s also a gift we give to the world. When we forgive ourselves, we can love ourselves, and that love spills over, making us more capable of loving others.

So, as we strive towards forgiveness during these High Holidays, don’t forget to forgive yourself. Heal your wounds, embrace your vulnerabilities, and believe in your ability to become the best version of yourself. For in forgiveness, we find not only redemption but also the capacity to love and be loved.

May this Yom Kippur be a day of self-forgiveness, healing, and renewal for each of us. And may we emerge from it with the strength, resolve, and optimism to make the most of each God-given day.

Rabbi Evan J. Krame

The key concept of Rosh Hashanah may be the willingness to sacrifice. What do you have that you would sacrifice? What are you willing to sacrifice? Money, Time, Individualism? For whom are you ready to sacrifice? For your family, your community, the Jewish people?

Abraham is the focus of the Torah reading for Rosh Hashanah. Abraham left Babylonia. He sacrificed his home and his independence to an unknown God and an unseen promised land. Then God tested Abraham him.  Was Abraham willing to sacrifice his son Isaac? God gave the command. Abraham obeyed. Abraham took his only child to Mt. Moriah with wood and firestarter. Some sages taught that Abraham demonstrated absolute faith in his willingness to sacrifice his son.

While studying at the Hartman Institute in Jerusalem this summer, Micah Goodman offered some thoughts on the concept of sacrifice.  He began with a census. In Exodus 30:11 in the Torah, a census was taken and a half shekel payment was paid as redemption for each person counted. Without the half shekel, there would be a plague.

Centuries later, King David ordered a census with disastrous results. As King, David laid the foundations of a nation. He had waged wars and united the tribes. David made Israel a nation just like the other nations, militaristic and subduing their own people.

To succeed in conquest, a King needed to count the available soldiers. The King needed to count the farms and farmers to know how much grain and animals the King could take.  To build a monarchy, a King counted the people, not as unique and precious, but as sources of power and wealth.

In II Samuel 24:1, the story of King David takes a turn. “The anger of the LORD again flared up against Israel; and He incited David against them, saying, “Go and number Israel and Judah.” David knows the danger of taking a census. Yet, David follows God’s command and orders a census to be conducted.

After the census, the prophet Gad approaches. Three punishments are proposed, a three-month rout by Israel’s enemies, a seven-year famine, or a plague. Each of these will hurt multitudes of people. Ultimately, God sent a plague that killed 70,000.

Judaism rejects the world where census taking reduces people to mere numbers. The role of Judaism is to tell the world that each person is precious. Each is created in the image of God, each as valuable as a world unto herself. The nations of the ancient world subjugated people and dehumanized them with submission, conscription, and slavery. Judaism rejects power structures that diminish humanity.

As Rabbi Jonathan Saks wrote: “The numbering of a people is the most potent symbol of mankind-in-the-mass, of a society in which the individual is not valued in and for him- or herself but as part of a totality whose power lies in numbers.”  Israel should be a nation of priests not a list of numbers. God offers love to people whose strength has nothing to do with numbers; God cares for people, not empires.

After the plague began, an angel of destruction approached Jerusalem.  David cried out to God. “I alone am guilty, I alone have done wrong; but these poor sheep, what have they done? Let Your hand fall upon me!” David offered himself as the sacrifice needed to stop the plague. David was willing to sacrifice himself for his people.

God heard David’s offer and stopped the plague. David was told to offer sacrifice to God on the threshing floor of a Jebusite’s farm. The sages say that the threshing floor became the location of the Temple, built by David’s son Solomon. This story again links back to where we started, with Abraham and Isaac at Mount Moriah. Mount Moriah too is the location of Jerusalem.

Abraham was asked to sacrifice his son and promptly did so. He only stops when the angel stays Abraham’s hand.

David took a census despite the risk. He failed this test. David is unprepared for the sacrifice to come. Of his people, his flock, 70,000 died.

Abraham is steadfast in his obedience. David is vacillating between his duty to God and his control of the nation.

Then, David offered himself as a sacrifice to stop the plague. Perhaps he realized that the monarchy had the potential to replace Judaism with the worship of power. Maybe he repented his role in creating an unholy kingdom. His atonement was to lay the foundation for the Temple to be built in Jerusalem.

Judaism boils down to three locations: Eden, Sinai, and Jerusalem.  Eden is the creation of the world. Sinai is the revelation of God’s word. Jerusalem is the promised land’s capital. And then we hope for a messianic time, which is the return to Eden. The loop is closed.

The “Jerusalem” has its foundation in the stories of Abraham and Isaac and David and the census.  The ideal of Jerusalem is the spine that holds Judaism together. Jerusalem is not just a city. It is a religious archetype. Jerusalem represents the land promised to Abraham by God for the treasured people saved from slavery by God. Torah commanded we create a place for God, a Bet HaMikdash, a Temple, ultimately built in Jerusalem. There was established a place of sacrifice where Abraham would have sacrificed Isaac.  Where King David sacrificed to stop a plague. Sacrifice in Jerusalem was the operating system of Judaism. Jerusalem represents the willingness to sacrifice for God.

Does sacrifice continue to be an essential part of the Jewish experience? Judaism demands sacrifices, sacrifices of your time, your earnings, and your independence. We sacrifice time to prayer and to rituals. We sacrifice our money, to feed the hungry, clothe the naked, care for the widow, and care for the orphan.  We sacrifice our independence as we are not complete as people without our attachment to the Jewish community. We are intertwined, all Israel responsible for one another.

Micah Goodman, whose lecture initiated this discussion, fears that sacrifice is no longer at the core of Jewish identity. What becomes of Judaism when we no longer sacrifice time to prayer and rituals? What becomes of people when we fail to care about each other’s needs? What becomes of Judaism, without a willingness to sacrifice some of our independence in exchange for Jewish connection and identification?

The system of Jewish worship was built on sacrifices. The offering of animals, incense, or foodstuffs demonstrated devotion in the ancient world. With the destruction of the Temple in the Roman era, sacrifice was replaced with a complex system of Tefilah, Teshuvah, and Tzedakah – prayer, repentance, and charity.  Prayer, repentance, and charity all require personal sacrifice.

Meanwhile, modernity, wealth accumulation, and individualism are blessings that improve our lives and curses in Judaism’s view of the ideal world.

Modernity steals time from spiritual development to economic growth. The computer age, the internet age, the information age, and the virtual reality age provide compelling alternatives to spiritual life and ritual observances. Most people are not willing to sacrifice television for a day of rest.

Wealth is idolized, and poverty is increasing. Rich nations take from poor countries. Wealth is concentrated in relatively few people. Our government is a plutocracy, rewarding special interests with money and power. Meanwhile, we are unable to sacrifice a little of our wealth to end poverty or cure disease. Judaism requires tithing and tzedakah to meet everyone’s needs. We can afford to end poverty in the United States by providing a universal basic income. The estimated cost to end poverty is $175 Billion.  The military costs about $800 Billion. We choose to have poverty in the United States because we are unwilling to sacrifice our advantages for the sake of the many who are hungry today.

Individualism is a thinly veiled egotism.  We sanctify individual rights as God-given and sacred. Yet, the elevation of individual rights is often recast as individuals choosing themselves over the collective.  That individualism is born of nihilism and narcissism. Jews are selecting the “me” over the “we” are preferring the “I” to the “us.” We won’t sacrifice any of our independence for our religion or people’s sake.

My teacher, Micah Goodman, was chiefly concerned about Israel. Modern Israel was founded on a willingness to sacrifice life, wealth, and independence for a safe homeland for the Jewish people. That was Zionism! Devotion to Zion is eroding in Israel.  Groups of Israelis are forcing the government to serve their needs without regard for the nation or the Jewish people. For example, the ultra-Orthodox in Israel are insulated from army service while receiving inordinate Government subsidies for their communities.  Meanwhile, reservists, alarmed at the Government’s recent actions, will cease to serve the nation. The willingness to sacrifice for Israel is fading fast.

On Yom Kippur, we offer a martyrology service about rabbis who died for Judaism.  The martyred sages call to us through the ages. They are asking, what would you sacrifice for Judaism, for the sake of the Jewish people, for a Jewish future? Save your lives, . . but are you willing to give of your time, wealth, and independence?

When you have what to die for, you have something to live for.  Judaism has given the world a legacy of hope. Judaism affirms the inherent value of each human being. Our religion is a testament to the value of freedom and to human rights. Judaism speaks to the dignity of each person.

Fewer are willing to sacrifice for Judaism. People are unplugged from religious life and plugged into their devices. Perhaps we fear failing the test – as God tested Abraham and King David. Perhaps we are protective of ourselves, fearful that we don’t have enough time, enough resources, enough freedom.

The challenge for 5784 is to ask ourselves are we willing to sacrifice for Judaism, for the Jewish people, and for a Jewish future. Are we able to show our children and grandchildren, nieces, and nephews, that there is great value in giving time, wealth, and identity to being Jewish.

Judaism is about living in service of something greater than yourself.  If you live not according to God’s voice but to your own voice, you will be paralyzed within your ego, fearful, bored, lonely. The key is to find balance, balance between your devotion to the greater cause represented by Judaism and self-preservation. A life consumed only with your needs is not a life well lived.  A life only about yourself is imbalanced. A life lived only about yourself is unfulfilled. May this be a year in which you find the balance, recognizing the value in sacrifice that is the foundation of Judaism.

Rabbi Evan J. Krame

Dear fellow clergy, distinguished guests, my neighbors,

Today, I want to reflect on how we, as a community, Christian and Jewish and Muslim, Black and White, all cherish the place called Zion.

In our traditions, Zion is a mountain in Jerusalem. Zion is where we built a structure worthy of God. Zion’s rocky edges and stone paths all glisten with the divine light of God’s love.

Zion is the place God chose to inspire us, radiating the divine light that illuminates our path. It beckons us to improve ourselves and our world. Zion’s light penetrates the cracks that are our imperfections, unseals our closed eyes, and warms our cold hearts.

Each week in synagogues, Jews read a portion of the Torah, the five books of Moses, a source of wisdom and inspiration. As we remove the Torah from its ark, we chant, “Ki Mitziyon Teytze Torah” – from Zion comes learning. From Zion comes law. From Zion comes Godliness.

When we seek Zion, we seek God. When we seek Zion, we strive to spread Godliness through our words and actions. Our pursuit of Zion aligns with the goodness that God intends for all humanity. It reminds us that we lead by our example, sharing the divine values of compassion, justice, and equality.

In Potomac, we have our own place which is Zion, the Scotland AME Zion Church. Four years have passed since flooding waters ravaged the church. The waters engulfed the building.  But God is greater than the raging waters. As the Psalmist taught us, the waters will pass, and God remains with us. And now we, all of us, together, must rebuild the church.

Why is rebuilding this place a joint effort? I turn to the Jewish philosopher Franz Rosenzweig. Rosenzweig understood the basis of our religions to be the ongoing revelation of God’s message. God’s words are not history. They are verses that continue to reverberate throughout the ages, speaking to us even today, every day. This understanding holds great significance for both Judaism and Christianity. As God continues to speak, it is our responsibility to listen attentively. To listen to God is to respond faithfully.

God asks us to pursue Zion. To seek Zion is to create a world where the Divine word, revelation, is heard and cherished above all else. A world unblemished by racism and antisemitism. A world free of poverty and defilement, greed and pride, hatred, and inequality.

Through our shared experiences, we must develop empathy and understanding for each other’s struggles. This empathy can motivate us to stand up against all forms of prejudice and bigotry. This understanding compels us to care for each other’s spiritual homes as if they were our own.

Our mutual traditions emphasize justice, fairness, and respect for all human beings. As we all respond to the call to build and rebuild Zion, we dismantle the barriers that separate us.

American ideals, Christian morals, and Jewish principles have endured and continue to endure despite the hatred that persists in our country. Racism and anti-Semitism are twin children of an evil ancestor born out of ignorance and prejudice. Good people have the power to combat these hateful ideologies. We must combine social action with inner spiritual work, building with the bricks of our humanity, and assembling a community in a place called Zion.

Let us engage in open dialogue, educate ourselves and others, and actively participate in efforts to create a more inclusive and equitable society. Let us be advocates for righteousness. Let us be neighbors and friends. Let us rebuild Zion in our own community.

The psalmist wrote, by the waters of Babylon, we sat down, and we wept as we remembered Zion. Today I sing a new song, by the waters that ruined the Scotland AME Zion Church, we do not sit and weep, but we rebuild Zion.

May the ongoing revelation of God’s words guide us on this journey, illuminating our path and inspiring us to create together a world that reflects the light of Zion. May God bless us with the strength, wisdom, and compassion to eradicate racism and hatred. And together, may we create a renewed Zion.

In honor of Juneteenth,

June 18, 2023

Rabbi Evan J. Krame

The promise of freedom is at the heart of the Passover seder. Freedom is not merely the liberation from slavery but goes to the quality of our lives. This year, challenges to freedom plague our world and our people. Will your seder stick only to the 3,500-year-old story or fast forward to the present-day reality?

Ultimately, Passover directs us toward freedom. I doubt that the final phase of the Exodus has been reached if democracy in the promised land is in peril. We who love Israel are concerned about its recent descent toward autocracy.

Perhaps the most dangerous part of Netanyahu’s power grab is the rupture in Israeli society. Most concerning to me is that the hiloni (secular Israelis) are feeling disenfranchised. These are the men and women who defend Israel in the Army and are now hesitating to show up for reserve duty. Others are contemplating leaving Israel. Is Moses’ mission a failure if leading our people out of slavery to freedom brings us to an undemocratic Israel?

The persistent hope of the Exodus story is at the seder’s end when we say, “Next year in Jerusalem.”  Jerusalem may no longer represent our hopes for human rights and freedom.

From a distance, we have supported Israel when under attack. We have yearned for a resolution to the conflict with the Palestinians. But we have not yet dealt with the prospect of an undemocratic Israel.

Jews have been praying for a return to Israel, as a place of refuge, hope, and freedom for Jews. Today, our prayers must turn to protect the democratic Israel we love.

Rabbi Evan J. Krame

The morning in Selma, Alabama was extremely foggy. It was hard to see the Alabama river below the bridge into town. We turned off the bridge onto Water Street. Stepping down from the bus, we entered one of the old brick buildings along the waterfront. And then the day slowly began to clear.

Selma had recently been in the news. An F-2 tornado touched down in January devastating parts of the city. But that was not why this group of rabbis came to town. Selma has another dark and stormy history spanning centuries. Selma is emblematic of a small Southern segregated city.

We stood on Water Street, just a few dozen feet away from the spot where boats would dock. For decades, this is where slaves arrived in Selma.

After the Civil War, Southern states denied their African American citizens’ basic human rights. In 1896 the Supreme Court affirmed laws that gave separate but equal treatment to Blacks. Of course, in practice, these laws denied Blacks their rights to a good education, equal access to government services, or participation in commerce. Chief among these rights is the right to vote. Through various restrictions such as poll taxes and literacy tests, southern states were able to prevent Blacks from registering. By the 1950s, only two percent of Blacks in Selma could vote. For that reason, Selma became the focal point of the efforts to secure voting rights for Blacks.

Civil Rights leaders feared the backlash from attempts to desegregate Selma. Yet, Dr. Bernard Lafayette convinced the leadership to send him to Selma. His efforts laid the groundwork for the historic march from Selma to the state capital, Montgomery, Alabama. The only road to Montgomery required crossing a bridge named for a Confederate general and KKK leader. It took three attempts for the marchers to walk from the Brown Chapel AME Church over the Edmund Pettus Bridge. The first attempt was on March 7, 1965. Six hundred marchers were met with horrendous violence from the police and local men deputized for this purpose. It is known as Bloody Sunday in American history. The next week, with the support of Federal Troops, the marchers made it across the bridge on a five-day, fifty-mile trek to the capital, demanding voting rights.

My first steps in Selma were into the By the River Center for Humanity.  We met Sister Afriye We-kandodis who leads life-changing experiences. We sampled some of her soul work. In her presentation, she shared a belief that healing is achieved when we acknowledge the totality of the past. Our work is to love ourselves and overcome fear. Her healing techniques included sound, movement, and performance to achieve spiritual and emotional releases.

Picture this scene. Twenty white Jewish leaders in a wide circle, hugging themselves and screaming “I love myself.” With inspirational music blaring, many took turns dancing in the circle’s center with Afriye. Her faith was so strong, that all were swept up in the love, and fully engaged in the activity.

We later walked across the Edmund Pettus Bridge. The sunshine brushed aside the fog and cloudiness. We sang: “Kol Haolam Kulo Gesher Tzar M’od,” all the world is a narrow bridge. The main thing is not to fear. We walked quietly. Our steps followed the steps of civil rights heroes. We were walking on holy ground.

The challenge today is to keep walking across those bridges.

Rabbi Evan J. Krame

The American South hosted Jewish immigrants hoping to live the American Dream. German Jews, Ashkenazi Jews, and Sephardic Jews all found refuge below the Mason-Dixon line. Yet, their American dream included the dual terrors of discrimination and segregation.

Jewish communities thrived throughout the South during times of Jim Crow segregation. They had cordial relationships with their Christian neighbors. Jews had retail businesses and relied upon White Christian customers.  And Jews of the South generally refrained from participation in the civil rights movement.

We learned more by visiting the only remaining synagogue in Selma. Temple Mishkan Israel stands on Broad Street in the heart of Selma, Alabama’s downtown. In 2023, there are three members remaining.  Not three families.  Three members.  We met with Ronnie Leet.  The meeting began with a video about the synagogue. The video was also a fundraising pitch. The building needs $5 million dollars of repairs. Leet argued for the preservation of the building as the only way to tell the story of Selma’s once-thriving Jewish community.

Of interest to our group was how Leet and his family viewed the Civil Rights Movement.  The Leet family watched from a distance. They had a retail store. Mr. and Mrs. Leet worked every day. They had long participated in society with their white Christian neighbors. The Leets feared upsetting those relationships. While his family may have been sympathetic to their Black neighbors, Civil Rights was not their fight. 

Ronnie Leet’s answer was direct and honest. Like the Leets, most of us focus on our families, our livelihoods, and our health. We might take interest in the news and donate to causes. Human nature is inclined toward stasis, even if the arc of the universe leans toward justice.

Jews believe in truth and justice. We celebrate freedom every Sabbath and every Passover. We helped Soviet Jews escape repression. But supporting Soviet Jews did not jeopardize our jobs. We were writing checks to help Israel on Yom Kippur in 1973. But supporting Israel did not imperil our families.

Some will argue that we have an obligation to our own people before we can help others. I might agree with that argument if we were a people of limited resources and limited power. But American Jews have more wealth and more power now than any Jewish people in over 2,000 years. Our place in America is secure, despite recent episodes of anti-semitism.

I don’t condemn the Selma Jewish community of the mid-twentieth century. They were afraid and fear motivates us to protect ourselves. Rather, I will focus on those who did show up, who funded civil rights campaigns, and who pressured their representatives to rectify the injustices of segregation.

The Southern Jewish communities are dwindling in size. Where there is racism, there is anti-semitism. Why would Jews continue to live and work where their futures are in peril?

While life for Jews in America has improved in the past sixty years, discrimination against African Americans continues. Jews might leave the South, but let’s not forget our fellow Americans who suffer bias and degradation.

Crossing from Georgia into Alabama on I-75, our group of rabbis entered the first rest stop. A large carved stone reads: “Alabama We Dare Defend Our Rights.” Alabaman’s defense of rights? Whose rights are these Alabamans daring to defend?  Is it the rights of its African American citizens? Or the state’s right to make laws that discriminate as each state sees fit?  The statement as displayed dares us to explore what rights are important to Alabama. Withhold judgment until you learn more.

For example, the issue of mass incarceration is on my mind. Alabama’s prisons are filled with African American inmates. Blacks are incarcerated at twice the rate of whites. My inclination is to condemn criminals for their behavior. But the statistics in Alabama make me question my judgment. Are all the people incarcerated contemptible? Such judgment fails to consider the circumstances that led to incarceration or the humanity of each imprisoned person. While Blacks are 25% of the state population, Black prisoners represent 50% of the total prison population. Is that attributable to an unfair legal system, perhaps? Bryan Stevenson of the Equal Justice Initiative says that “no one deserves to be judged solely by their worst moments and greatest failings.” My presumptions about the character of Alabama prisoners must be challenged.

Does the same approach to judging people by their greatest failings apply to others in Alabama? This question will come up when we meet Jewish Alabamans who refrain from the struggle for civil rights. Will I judge them solely by their moral failings? Spoiler alert, we met lovely Jews in Alabama who were apathetic or unmoved by the Civil Rights movement.

Perhaps the key to a civil rights mission to Alabama is to set judgment aside. Like Jello, there’s always room for judgment. But to gain understanding and wisdom, judgment should come at the conclusion of fact-finding, and deep listening to the concerns and perceptions of each person. My intention is to listen before I offer judgment.

We drive out of the rest stop and pass a ball field where a group is playing soccer. How similar this scene is to one I might see in Montgomery County, Maryland. I see children enjoying life despite the mess their ancestors have made of this world. They deserve a world where we are curious and concerned before we offer judgment.

Rabbi Evan Krame



Yom Kippur teaches us the process of teshuvah. One element of our repentance is reconciliation. More than making amends for past wrongs, reconciliation demands education, understanding, and caring in the formation of a relationship based upon shared values. In 5782, I began a journey of discovering how we need reconciliation on a national level and how we Jews are uniquely qualified to lead the way.

I had not attended an in-person conference in the two years since the beginning of 2020.  When I heard that Reconstructing Judaism would be meeting in a hotel in Northern Virginia, I registered. While I am not affiliated with that branch of Judaism, I hope to see friends who would be attending.

In an entrance foyer of the conference center at the hotel stood a large display. On the boards were the details of a resolution and supporting facts, graphs, and pictures. The resolution was a key program for the group. They called for reparations to be paid to African Americans.

I was confused. In my mind, this was a “Jewish conference.” While I might agree or disagree with the statement on reparations, I wanted to be inspired by some Yiddishkeit, some Torah, something Jewish. Moreover, I had not yet come to an educated understanding of the issue of reparations in America.

I was supportive of reparations for Holocaust survivors. I had not given much consideration to reparations for African Americans or Indigenous peoples.  Was Jewish victimhood at the hands of Nazi Germany deserving of reparations but not African American torment or Native American suffering?

Six months later I was in Germany. We were visiting the town of Walldorf, just south of Heidelberg. Our friend Jim Klein was invited, together with family and friends, to a weekend of activities honoring the memory of his father, Kurt Klein, z”l.  Kurt Klein was born in Walldorf. He left Germany in 1937. His parents hoped to follow their children to the United States. After the war began, the Kleins were deported to Vichy France. The visas they desperately sought were approved but only after they had been deported again and killed in Auschwitz.

The visit with the people of Walldorf was more interesting and uplifting than I anticipated. We attended presentations on the history of Jews living in the town. There was a discussion about confronting history. We visited the small local Jewish cemetery where generations of the Klein family were buried. There was a presentation of a musical piece crafted around a poem written by Kurt Klein.

The Germans have a lot to teach us about the methodology and meaning of reconciling with the past. Most of the people we met were not alive during World War II. A very few were alive then, like Jim’s cousin who survived the war in n Germany and remained ever since. “Germans” include tens of thousands of Jews who live in Germany and affiliate with the Jewish Community. There are estimates of two hundred thousand more Jews mainly from formerly eastern bloc countries living in Germany but not registered as Jews. Absent reconciliation, would Jews feel comfortable making Germany their home?

Remembering and reconciling is evident all over Germany. In front of houses where Jews were deported you find brass shtepplesteins, brass plates stating the names of the family members deported or murdered, and the dates and the place they were sent.

In the medieval town of Worms, on the Rhine River, there is a huge Roman Catholic cathedral. I was not much interested in visiting a Church, but Jodi beckoned us inside.  Adjacent to the altar near the front, we saw large panels with historical essays, pictures, and graphs, like the panels I saw at the Reconstructing Judaism conference.  The panels described the history of Jews in the Rhineland – a history marred by marauding crusaders and black plague and Nazism. The panels were next to the confessional booths.  Any Catholic coming to confession would have to see the panels. If local Catholics did not have any current sins to ponder, they could always atone for the Jews who were tortured or died at the hands of their ancestors.

German reconciliation isn’t all stones and storyboards. In Berlin, we saw groups of German school children visiting the Museum of Terror and Holocaust sites. We attended a klezmer concert in the Lutheran Church of Worms. In the town of Mainz, a new synagogue of the most inspiring design was built near the center of town. The funding came from the government. The façade of the building spells out the word Kedusha in Hebrew. This New Synagogue of Mainz, in use since 2010 as a community center, was built at the location of the former main synagogue on the Hindenburgstraße of Mainz. Due to controversial discussions regarding the street name, Hindenburg being the name of the President of the Weimar Republic who invited Hitler to form a government, the location in the Hindenburgstraße was renamed Synagogenplatz (Synagogue square).

Since 1952 Germany has been paying reparations to Holocaust survivors. In September 2022, Germany agreed to a new reparations package of $1.2 B for the world’s remaining Jewish Holocaust survivors, which included $12M in emergency funds for the approximately 8,500 survivors remaining in Ukraine. Eighty percent of the many survivors in Eastern Europe live at or near the poverty level.

Gideon Taylor, president of the Conference on Jewish Material Claims said that “seventy years later, we still stand in the shadow of the six million murdered Jews. Their suffering still haunts the Jewish people and the German people.” Germany has embraced their historic responsibility. The desire for reconciliation is strongest among 30- and 40-year-old Germans who were not alive during World War Two and might not even have a parent who was alive then.

German reparations are the only instance in history of a defeated power paying reparations to individuals. Yet, initially, these payments were controversial, especially in Israel. Some survivors in Israel refused the money and said that amends could not be made. The conversation has since shifted.  For many survivors the biggest concern is not financial aid but how will the world remember? Specifically, what is the moral message we want to convey?

The Germans understand the concern of teaching the world a lesson in morality. Education has now become a part of the reparations package. Some of the $1.2 Billion will be used for holocaust education.

Even here in the USA, there is a need for Holocaust education. Two-thirds of young Americans are unaware of the Holocaust and a quarter believes the Holocaust was a myth. Protecting all minority groups, ethnic groups, or religious groups will only happen if future generations are educated about the horrors of the past.

During these High Holidays, we focus on repentance, forgiveness, and atonement. We spend these days repenting our errors and seeking forgiveness AND we restore what we have damaged or taken from another person. Reparations is part of Teshuva. From the process of repentance and forgiveness, we not only change our actions, but we also transform ourselves and the world.

Teshuva is an ongoing process. Germany did not stand idly by Jews in danger in Ukraine. Germany increased reparations to include emergency aid for Ukraine’s Jewish survivors. Through a reconciliation process, Germans are demonstrating real atonement, complete with reparations.

Different than forgiveness, reconciliation allows for a relationship to be established and maintained.  In fact, reconciliation can occur without forgiveness.  The peaceful pathway forward is paved with humility and intentionality. In this sense, reconciliation serves as an example for future generations. The burden is on the perpetrator. The victim might never come to grips with the harm. Reconciliation demands nothing of the victim more than taking care of their own mental and spiritual health.

Reconciliation is not just between the “perpetrator and the victim”.  There is a role for all of us, the next generations, as “allies”.  Like young Germans in their 30s and 40s, Allies support the re-establishment of relationships. Allies reinforce the shared values among wrongdoers and those who were wronged. The allies are families, communities, and nations and their descendants.

The work of allies is not about rebuke or public shaming. The process of reconciliation operates when we recognize that something bad has occurred without presuming that the person who caused harm is themselves entirely bad. Nor are their descendants entirely bad.

The process of reconciliation is more complex in the United States. Along with the layers of oppression of Indigenous people and African Americans, many Americans today have adopted a victim mentality.  Some believe that the current power structure doesn’t work for their interests and instead caters to the desires of other groups. Somehow, in an age where the country can’t seem to agree on anything, most everyone seems to agree that they are being ignored or exploited. Rich people are being overtaxed, poor people are underserved, African Americans are oppressed by institutional racism, and some whites are threatened by critical race theory. The Christian majority is in fear of becoming a minority and the Jews, well the Jews are perpetually in a state of victimhood. The danger is that victimhood becomes a roadblock to relationships. This country knows how to come together for the greater good, as we did during the second world war. But today, with the attachment to victimhood, we have lost the spirit of an American community.

Given what is taking place in our own country – the social rifts, the political divides, and a great deal of victimhood, we are in desperate need of reconciliation. No one acknowledges responsibility for any wrongs that have occurred. You might believe that your political party is best for America while the other party destroys our country.  You might say that my immigrant family had nothing to do with disenfranchising indigenous people or enslaving Africans so why should I support reparations? We can hold fast to those beliefs that exculpate us from responsibility.  In so doing, we may also be responsible for the unraveling of this nation.

If you attended a University like Georgetown or Harvard Law School or visited the Capitol or White House or Boston’s Faneuil Hall, you benefitted from the work of slaves. If you live almost anywhere in the United States, you likely live on land that once was home to indigenous people. Yes, your great-grandparents may have been in Ukraine when these structures went up. But if any people can appreciate the sacred legacy of a building or a land, it is the Jewish people. We still pray at the last standing wall of a Temple destroyed two thousand years ago in Jerusalem.

There is one more example of the legacy of pain unresolved. Rabbi Tirzah Firestone has written Wounds into Wisdom. She describes how the lasting effects of individual trauma have consequences for families and even entire ethnic groups. New research in neuroscience and clinical psychology demonstrates that even when they are hidden, trauma histories—from persecution and deportation to the horrors of the Holocaust—leave imprints on the minds and bodies of future generations. Rabbi Firestone writes that trauma legacies can be transformed and healed. That process includes reconciliation – seeing the humanity in each other, finding common values, and again establishing relationships.

The Jewish people practice repentance each year. We are experts in the art of reconciliation. We understand the moral imperative of reparations. Can we, you be deployed to show a way forward, here in the USA?

I am NOT advocating for or against reparations. I only mean to state that reparations may be a component of as part of the process of reconciliation. First, there must be a consensus that wrongs have been committed. America requires education and reminders. The Rockville slave quarters of Josiah Henson are now a museum facing busy Old Georgetown Road. It stands as a testament to the degradation of African Americans, unlike the Air BnB listing for the Panther Burn Cottage that proudly advertised: The property was an “1830s slave cabin” that housed enslaved people at a plantation in Greenville, Miss. removed in August.

Can we find ways to establish civil relationships among factions, parties, and communication between faith groups and minority communities? We must overcome the attachment to victimhood that mires us in disagreement and conflict. The hope of this country, the future for our children and their children, demands that we break the logjam of every person holding their victimhood precious while failing to build relationships.

Through my personal journey in 2022, I have begun to understand how reparations were part of Germany’s reconciliation with survivors of the Shoah. Given the time and complexity of the issue, reparations might not be a part of the process of reconciliation in America. However, the crucial work begins now and continues for generations, for those who were not directly responsible for slavery or eradicating indigenous peoples. The task begins with an understanding that the harm caused to others, even in generations past, is cancer that must be extracted from society. All of us benefit if we heal can heal America.

We practice repentance in our personal lives. And we have a bigger task ahead of us. Americans must engage in reconciliation for the sake of our nation.

I have undertaken to help the Scotland AME Zion church rebuild after it was left unusable from a flood in 2019. The project is not merely about a building. The project is about educating this community that many of us live on land that was owned and farmed by African Americans, who were enslaved and continued to be oppressed.

May the coming year be one in which we transcend our differences, emphasize our shared values, and establish meaningful relationships. May 5783 be the year when Americans use words to heal and not wound when the swords of victimhood are turned into the plowshares of reconciliations, when this nation shall not lift up swords against neighbors and when instead of disagreement, we learn from each other once more.

Rabbi Evan J. Krame

If a fascist were to be elected President, would you move to another country? If so, what country would that be? For Jews, the safe choice is assumed to be Israel.

Jews around the world are answering similar existential questions. 17,000 Ukrainians and Russians arrived in Israel from February to May of 2022. Thousands more are expected. Ukrainians want to escape the bombs and Russians anticipate the repercussions of Putin’s war. But Jews from Slavic nations are not alone. 9,000 more Jews made Aliyah from France, Argentina, and other countries in 2022. Their primary motivation was dangerous social and economic conditions. The total number of “olim” (those who go up to Israel) is far outpacing the prior year.

Rescuing Jews is a great mitzvah as Torah teaches. The donations we make to the Jewish Federation have always been used to assist the Jewish Agency. The Jewish Agency in turn helps “olim” to make Aliyah. If you are a donor, your gift to the Federation checks off that mitzva

If I felt imperiled, I too would consider moving to another country. That decision would include many factors. Do I have to learn a new language? Would I be able to make a living? Is the new country stable? Does it have adequate healthcare and a democratic government? Can my entire family emigrate together?

Israel provides an excellent choice. Most Israelis know English and signage in English is everywhere. The economy is thriving. Israel has good health care. The government may seem byzantine, yet it remains democratic.

On the flip side, the country has many problems. Enemies near and far threaten to eliminate Israel. Internally, there are deep divisions. To be blunt, the secular Jews are wary of the Orthodox and the Orthodox don’t have great respect for the secular. There are religious Zionists, political, practical, and cultural Zionists, and, of course, anti-Zionists. Large ethnic groups like the Sephardi and the Mizrachi feel second class to the white Ashkenazi. About 25 % of the population is not Jewish, generally Muslim, or Christian. Some of these are Druze, Armenian, Maronite, and Bedouin. 17% are from the Former Soviet Union States and are referred to as the “expanded Jewish population.” Many of the FSU citizens identify as Jewish. The Orthodox Jewish authorities have marked many with an asterisk for having a Jewish father but not a Jewish mother or for marrying a Christian or Muslim before arrival.

With all its mishigas and tsuris (Yiddish for craziness and troubles), Israel is a dubious choice as a refuge. Israel’s deep challenges might make it an imprudent choice. Of course, Israelis might think me insane for considering any other nation. Israeli Zionists of various stripes believe that all American Jews should already be making Aliyah.

Alternatively, you might believe that idyllic New Zealand is the refuge of choice. An English-speaking nation, you can never starve in New Zealand . . . if you eat lamb. But New Zealand is not a Jewish State. While committed to multi-culturalism, pervasive tensions between Maori natives, white Europeans, and Asian newcomers rile the status quo. How Jewish arrivals would be treated is a lingering liability that has previously plagued Jews.

Most Jews have lived in the diaspora since the second century. There may always be a Jewish diaspora. Israel has been a Jewish state for only seventy-five years. The mezuzah on the door at Ben Gurion Airport beckons us to enter.

From history’s perspective, support for Israel maintains a haven for Jews. History’s lesson is that Jews need refuge from time to time. I have no plans to emigrate from Maryland, but with every visit to Israel, I am scoping out a second-choice home.

Rabbi Evan J. Krame