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of prayer for all peoples.’

- Isaiah 56:7



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By Rabbi Boaz D. Heilman

At first blush, it would seem that Chanukah is yet another of those ancient Biblical holidays that have to do with, they tried to kill us, they didn't succeed, let's eat.

How wrong that is!

First, Chanukah (however you spell it) is not a Biblical holiday. It was instituted by the Talmudic Rabbis sometime in the 4th or 5th century. Though the events it commemorates took place many centuries earlier, when the Bible was still in the process of being compiled, the story doesn't appear anywhere within the authorized Scriptures.

And yes, they (the Greeks, that is) tried to destroy Judaism by forbidding not only Jewish worship and rituals, but also through the teaching and learning of Torah and Hebrew.

But it never was about latkes and apple sauce, or sour cream, or whatever side dish you like with your favorite fried vegetable. All that came later. Much later.

Originally, way in the days that preceded both the Greeks and the Jews, it was a festival of lights, with rituals intended to bring back the light and warmth of the sun. However, even that changed through the ages. It's still about lights, but also about so much more.

It's about Jewish survival despite all odds.

Today, when we see anti-Semitism on the rise again, we are reminded that we are still surrounded by the darkness of prejudice and hatred. Yet hope shines through. We survived every attempt on our existence (though the unimaginable numbers of our martyrs give sad evidence to our history as a persecuted minority). Today, whether the hatred comes from anti-Zionists or neo-Nazis, from the political left or the Alt-Right, we can find hope in the support and friendship of our many friends, Jewish and Gentile.

We saw that support in Pittsburgh, site of the horrific synagogue shooting, with members of the Muslim community raising a generous sum of money to help out the families of the victims. We saw that support in the letters, emails, calls, hugs and flowers that were delivered to our houses of worship. Every synagogue throughout the country, every community that held memorial vigils and special services, experienced incredible turnout.

Over and again, we were reminded that the oldest hatred cannot win out in the end, that Love is stronger than hate.

Jewish celebrations are rarely without a few tears shed. It will be the same this year.

And yet celebrate we will. With lights, songs, games and, yes, special foods.

At Temple B'nai Israel in Laconia, our Chanukah celebration will take place on the weekend of December 7-9. Friday evening, we will have a community dinner for members, children and grandchildren, followed by a special family service. Saturday evening, TBI will host our annual Chanukah party with more candles, food, games, prizes and Israeli dancing. With each year and each celebration, we say Shehecheuanu, the prayer thanking God for enabling us to exist, live and reach joyous times yet again. The Jewish People has learned not to take its existence for granted. Gratitude is the least we could offer in return.

November 2, 2018 - Rabbi Boaz D. Heilman,

Honorable guests and community members, fellow clergy and educators, neighbors and friends: Shabbat shalom!

We are humbled by your presence and grateful for the message of hope, strength and solidarity that your presence here tonight brings us.

By some strange coincidence, this Sabbath is actually an anniversary for me. On a Sabbath exactly 56 years ago, I stood on a bimah, a synagogue podium, for the first time, on the occasion of my bar mitzvah.

A bar mitzvah is a ceremony that marks the beginning, the very first steps, of adulthood. To tell the truth, however, I was far from being an adult that day. Having only recently come to the United States from Israel, my chief concerns then were making friends and learning just enough English to get passing grades and not have to go to summer school. And my chief prayer at the moment was, Oh God, please don't let me mess up, in front of everybody here!

Skip ahead 56 years, almost to the day, and by the quirks of the calendar, the Torah portion—the weekly reading from our Scriptures—that I chanted that very day, on my bar mitzvah, is also this week's portion, read on this Shabbat at every synagogue, temple and shul around the world: Chayei Sarah, The Life of Sarah.

At thirteen, however, while I understood the basic storyline, I had no inkling of the lessons that this portion would hold out for me for the rest of my life. Over the years, I kept coming back to it, and at each new stage of life I found new lessons. The past week has been no different. The horrific event at the Tree of Life Synagogue in Pittsburgh added yet one more layer to my understanding of my Torah portion.

Despite its title, Chayei Sarah, The life of Sarah (Genesis 23:1—25:18), this portion isn't at all about Sarah's life. Rather, it's about Sarah's death, and about Abraham facing the last two great missions of his life. (You may remember that Abraham and Sarah are the first Hebrews, the first generation and earliest ancestors of the Jewish People.) We are told that Abraham mourns for Sarah, and that when the mourning period is over, he negotiates with one of his neighbors, a wealthy landowner named Ephron, for a cemetery plot—no more than a cave actually—in which to bury Sarah. After this, there remains only one last task he must complete: to find a wife for his son, Isaac. One more negotiation takes place—this time not for land, but rather for the girl's hand: Rebecca. Happily, Rebecca agrees to marry Isaac, and the future of the Jewish People is secure. Only now, confident that his legacy is safe-guarded and that the future of his family is on solid ground, only now can Abraham finally rest.

Like Abraham, this week we too mourned our dead. We mourned for the tragic loss of life at a Kroger's Supermarket in Jeffersontown, KY, where a white supremacist took the life of two African Americans, after trying—and failing—to enter a predominantly black church nearby. And we also mourned for the victims of the mass shooting in Pittsburgh, where a neo-Nazi, carrying an assault rifle and three handguns, entered a synagogue during Shabbat services and murdered eleven men and women sitting in prayer, while wounding six more, including four police officers.

The Jewish People is well acquainted with evil. We recognized this murder for what it was.

But in addition to the anguish we felt, this hate crime also raised memories and fears that we thought we had left far behind.

For 500 years, Jews have been coming to America seeking refuge and shelter. Fleeing the Inquisition in Spain; expelled from France, England, and from dozens of other towns and countries; escaping murderous pogroms in eastern Europe, we made our way to new shores of hope, a new promised land, a New World. And then, only one generation ago, six million of our people were murdered in the Holocaust, and even more refugees arrived, each of them a survivor, all still trembling with searing memories of the nightmare they had seen and lived through.

In America we found a safe haven from the ancient, evil hatred we know as anti-Semitism.

Until recently.

Along with steep escalation in anti-Semitic violence across Europe and elsewhere in the world, we have also seen a 57% increase in anti-Semitic incidents in the United States, the largest recorded rise in 40 years. These include bomb threats, graffiti, hate speech and physical violence. Safe space has increasingly been denied to Jewish students in many colleges and universities across the country. Synagogues and cemeteries have been desecrated. At a parade at the University of Virginia, white supremacists, many of them wearing shirts emblazoned with Nazi swastikas, marched with burning torches and shouted, Jews will not replace us. Hate stickers have been found on cars, park benches and even at children's playgrounds. Needless to say, the social media have proven rich ground for even more hate speech and abuse.

The terror attack in Pittsburgh, however, has taken all this to a totally new place, a place we never dreamed we'd find ourselves in. Along with waves of grief and anger, for the first time in decades we also felt afraid and isolated, filled with doubt and uncertainty.

I am sure you've all seen that bumper sticker that, through the use of various images, spells out the word coexist. It's a beautiful sentiment; but reality isn't so simple. Coexistence doesn't just happen. It takes effort; it takes give and take. For coexistence to be and to endure, it has to be negotiated, and its rules must be respected.

Maybe that's why, in this week's Torah portion, Abraham insists that his land purchase be done in the open. With all the townspeople as witnesses, the full price, as asked, was paid; and the field with the burial cave was turned over to Abraham and his descendants. Yet what was sealed at that moment was more than just a real-estate deal. It was no less than a sacred covenant, a sacred bond between Abraham and his neighbors. This spot would forever remain sacred, a sanctuary never to be disturbed, never desecrated. Those were the terms; that was the agreement.

Maybe that's why, in this week's Torah portion, Abraham insists that his land purchase be done in the open. With all the townspeople as witnesses, the full price, as asked, was paid; and the field with the burial cave was turned over to Abraham and his descendants. Yet what was sealed at that moment was more than just a real-estate deal. It was no less than a sacred covenant, a sacred bond between Abraham and his neighbors. This spot would forever remain sacred, a sanctuary never to be disturbed, never desecrated. Those were the terms; that was the agreement.

And that's what made the atrocity in the Tree of Life Synagogue in Pittsburgh so horrific. Yes, it was brutal mass murder and a hate crime. But in addition, it was a violation of a sacred trust. It was breaking faith, intended not only to cause terror and pain, but also meant to tear us apart.

But in that respect evil did not win out.

Over the past few days, we at TBI have received countless emails, calls, hugs, and messages of support. I have heard from colleagues and friends from all around the country telling me about vigils and services that had overflow attendance, bringing together entire communities. Now that's the right kind of response! That's how faith and trust are restored and rebuilt.

We live in unsettled times. War, terrorism and injustice threaten the fragile peace that exists between nations. Climate change, drought and monstrous storms have caused millions of people to lose their homes and possessions, and seek shelter elsewhere. If our nation, our people, are to meet and overcome these challenges, we must never allow hate to come between us. Love your neighbor, our Scriptures teach us; do not hate him or her in your heart. That is the key to our strength and survival.

Shabbat—the Sabbath—is sacred time. It is right that we are all gathered here tonight, to show our unity and purpose in the face of evil and hate. A synagogue, a temple, church, or mosque—these are the sacred places in our midst. Like the burial cave that Abraham purchased, they are intended to be places where a person can seek God's presence, and expect to find shelter, peace, tranquility.

Our united presence here tonight reinforces the holiness not only of this time and place, but also of the bond between us as neighbors and friends. Only with this faith restored can we look forward to a better future, a more secure future, for our children and grandchildren. Like Father Abraham, we can only rest, reassured and confident, when we know that our children can grow up free from fear, at home in a land where all people are considered equal, regardless of their faith, color or gender.

My friends, I recently had occasion to re-read the letter that President George Washington sent to the Hebrew Congregation at Newport, RI. It is well worth quoting from today. Asked to reaffirm America's covenant with the Jews, President Washington wrote: May the children of the stock of Abraham who dwell in this land continue to merit and enjoy the good will of the other inhabitants—while every one shall sit in safety under his own vine and fig tree and there shall be none to make him afraid.

That IS America's legacy; that is the sacred ground upon which its future rests.

November 5, 2018 - Michael Mortensen, Laconia Daily Sun

LACONIA — With memories of the horrific tragedy in a Pittsburgh synagogue still fresh in people's minds, the task that people face is to move forward, committed to making a fairer, more peaceful community, nation and world.

That was the repeated message as more than 150 people — Jews and Gentiles — overflowed the sanctuary of Temple B'nai Israel in Laconia for a Sabbath of Unity service on Friday, to remember the 11 men and women shot and killed at Temple of Life Synagogue seven days before, and to offer a message of solidarity against hate in all its forms.

There is no way to get from here to there, except by joining hands and marching together, those in attendance read in unison at one point in the service, which included prayers, chants and songs, in both English and Hebrew.

Those who attended included Laconia Mayor Ed Engler, Laconia Fire Chief Kurt Beattie, state legislators, candidates for office, and representatives of various faith communities. The services was led by Rabbi Boaz Heilman and Cantor Melody Funk. Assisting in the music during the service were synagogue members Karen Rines, and Joel Funk, and Noam Wolf, emissary for the State of Israel to New Hampshire. Half or more of those seated in the main sanctuary and the adjoining fellowship hall were non-Jews, according to one longtime synagogue member.

The service repeatedly touched the diametrically opposite themes of unspeakable evil and unquenchable hope.

Speakers addressed the increase in tribalism in the nation's politics and growing insensitivity to those seen as different on the one hand, and the founding principles of the United States which brought those different people to this country in the first place.

We are in danger of making the extraordinary become the ordinary by walling ourselves off and choosing to only associate with people who look like us and, importantly, who share only our exact same values, said Engler. By holding that view, he continued, year upon year we lower the definition of evil dangerously close to one that's applied to anyone outside those closely guarded walls. And aren't the eventual consequences of that behavior ever so predictable?

Longtime congregation member Bob Selig, who noted that he has been worshipping at Temple B'nai Israel since he was 3 years old, said that it was the belief that the U.S. was a land of opportunity which has drawn Jews to America's shores. And he reminded the audience, We are all immigrants. Noting that because of their own personal experience, Jews feel a particular responsibility to support immigrants of all races, colors and creeds, he said, We're helping people who need help.

The Rev. Judith Wright, minister of the Unitarian Universalist Society of Laconia said, We're in this together. Let us hold each other tight.

Heilman struck and similar note when at the opening of the service he said, This service promotes unity as we stand up against anti-Semitism and all forms of hate.

In his sermon, Heilman said recent events show that Jews and Jewish houses of worship are not the only targets of hate in this country. He pointed out that 10 days before the tragic synagogue deaths a white supremacist took the lives of two African Americans in a Kentucky supermarket after trying — and failing — to enter a predominantly black church nearby.

In America we found a safe haven from the ancient, evil hatred we know as anti-Semitism.

Until recently, Heilman said.

Along with steep escalation in anti-Semitic violence across Europe and elsewhere in the world, we have also seen a 57 percent increase in anti-Semitic incidents in the United States, the largest recorded rise in 40 years,” he noted. The terror attack in Pittsburgh, however, has taken all this to a totally new place, a place we never dreamed we'd find ourselves in. Along with waves of grief and anger, for the first time in decades we also felt afraid and isolated, filled with doubt and uncertainty, he added.

Heilman said the task ahead is for Americans to rediscover the value of inclusivity and willingness to live peaceably with all kinds of people.

Looking out at the congregation composed of people of many faith traditions, and those who do not ascribe to any particular faith, he said, Our united presence here tonight reinforces the holiness not only of this time and place, but also of the bond between us as neighbors and friends. Only with this faith restored can we look forward to a better future, a more secure future, for our children and grandchildren.

December 15, 2017 - Rabbi Boaz D. Heilman

In Memory Of My Father, Zev Heilman Z"L

I went to see Man Of La Mancha a few nights ago. It was snowing all day and the roads were treacherous, but this play has a special draw for me and so I went.

Man Of La Mancha has always been like that for me, at least since I first heard the original Broadway cast recording. I was in high school then, and the play's idealistic-quixotic, you might say-message, told in music, hit home with me right away. Not long afterwards, I was fortunate enough to see a production of it in Los Angeles, with the original stars, Richard Kiley and Joan Diener, in a performance that had an almost religious effect on me.

The story of the play is based on one of the oldest and most famous novels in world literature (some actually call it the first modern novel), Miguel de Cervantes's Don Quixote. Since its first publication 400 years ago, it has entertained, amused and inspired generations of readers in any number of languages and adaptations. I first read it in Hebrew, in a children's, abridged, version.

But there is yet one more level to my appreciation for this beautiful story.

When I was a child, my father was a teacher at a vocational high school in Israel. One day-I'm not sure why I didn't go to school that day-my father took me to work with him. I didn't actually go into his classroom when he was teaching, but through the keyhole I could hear him talking about Don Quixote. I saw him waving his arms, probably imitating a windmill, bringing to life this most memorable scene from the novel. From that moment on, I learned to be as enthralled as my father was, by the story of a man in whose imagination windmills turned into giants, and who saw in a common innkeeper's daughter, an elegant lady to be admired from afar.

Don Quixote's imagination runs wild on him. Psychologists have been quick to analyze the delusional and dysfunctional man that he must have been, and have even named a psychosis after him: The Quixote Principle.

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November 30, 2017 - Rabbi Boaz D. Heilman

I know it isn't Purim yet. That jolly holiday of Hammentaschen (those wonderful poppy seed- or jelly-filled pastries), of make-believe and masquerades, won't be for another three months or so. But Jewish history is filled with miracles, of days designated to be days of sorrow but which, somehow, at the very last minute, turn into joyful celebrations instead. And this evening I want to talk about one of those days: November 29.

Though it isn't my birthday, I owe my life to that day, and to the heroes who made it happen.

The story goes back to 1944, but before I get into the story itself, you need to know something about my mother.

My mother was 16 when World War Two erupted and the Germans invaded Poland. Within a month the Germans overran the entire country, including her hometown of Katowice, in the southern part of Poland, not far from Krakow. The roundup of the Jewish population began not long afterwards. My mother's journey of persistence and survival took her to several ghettoes and prisons, and took nearly five years to complete. She escaped four times from the grip of the Nazis, and finally succeeded in reaching Israel-called Palestine at the time and under the control of the British-in March 1944.

Holocaust survival was often a matter of luck and chance, but in the case of my mother-as well as a few hundred others-there was yet another reason. They were all members of Ha-No'ar Ha-Tzioni, a Jewish youth group that was organized yet before the war in order to prepare young men and women to make aliyah to Israel, to teach them the crafts and skills that they would need as they began a new life there. When the war broke out, however, the mission of this youth group changed drastically: they would resist the Nazis and establish escape routes for themselves and for their families. They organized into small units, each with its own dedicated purpose: to obtain weapons, forge passports, establish escape routes and set up safe houses along the way. My mother was put in charge of one of those units.

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A Sermon For Yom Kippur 5778 - September 30, 2017 - Rabbi Boaz D. Heilman

A cartoon strip I recently saw hit it right on the nose. In the first panel, a speaker addresses a large audience and asks, "Who wants change?" Enthusiastically, everybody raises their hand. "Who wants to change," he asks next. No hands go up, and all avert their eyes, looking down at the floor. Finally, the speaker asks, "Who wants to lead the change?" The room suddenly becomes empty.

We speak often of change, but not always fondly. It may be a good idea, we all agree, but nobody actually wants to do it. Change is difficult. We grow comfortable with our routines, while change evokes all sorts of fears. The devil we know is better than the devil we don't know, is the common adage.

And yet, change is inevitable.

Since World War Two, the world has changed immeasurably. Empires fell, new countries emerged; political alliances have formed and re-formed; medical advances have enabled the world's population to triple in size. The Internet has changed the way we communicate, while modern transportation has affected the entire structure of families and societies everywhere.

Yet one place has seen more rapid change than practically any other in the world: Israel.

One hundred years ago the Land of Israel was sparsely populated. It was basically either swamp or desert. Ruins and desolation characterized what once was the crux of civilization, where the world's trade routes intersected. In modern times, however, almost everything about it changed. Most importantly, our people's historic return to our homeland transformed the landscape, and now Israel is once again a busy hub of enterprise, business and culture.

It has been 69 years since Israel declared independence, and in this span, the State of Israel has undergone innumerable transformations. Physically, it has grown right along with its population. When I was a child growing up in Netanya, the city's population was almost 30,000. Today, it's nearly a quarter of a million. Though I still recognize the neighborhood I lived in, the city has grown and become a sprawling metropolis. And what is true for the city is true for the entire country. The many wars Israel has had to fight in defending its right to exist have expanded Israel's boundaries and made the state both larger and stronger than ever.

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A Sermon for Kol Nidrei Service 5778 - September 29, 2017 - Rabbi Boaz D. Heilman

An ad on Facebook recently grabbed my attention, and managed both to pique my interest and irritate me at once. It was a cartoon video, drawn in primary colors and simplistic designs, posing a short and direct question. I should have scrolled on, right then and there-which is what I usually do, past a quick glance at the product being advertised. But this time I stopped to look. Unlike other ads, this one had Jewish content. Relying on Facebook's detailed knowledge of me and my interests, the ad drew me in, and I yielded. The video was of a man-presumably a rabbi-wrapped in a tallit, blowing the shofar for his few, sparsely seated, all male congregants. It was obviously an Orthodox synagogue (there was a mechitsa, the traditional curtain barrier separating the men from the women, but no women were present). The visual was a bit confusing, but its message was anything but mixed. It read, "Should you feel guilty or excited at Rosh Hashana?"

Now I was definitely both irritated and curious. Is that all there was to the High Holy Days? Guilty or excited? The Ten Days of Awe have tremendous power over our people, causing us to stop everything we're doing, and congregate in huge numbers at our various and sundry houses of worship. The High Holy Days stimulate and invigorate us; they inspire and challenge us to examine our lives, our hearts, our souls. I resented the simplistic, binary approach of this ad.

The video was a series of memes. One was of a heavenly scale, reminder of the annual judging of our lives and deeds that takes place on Yom Kippur. The next meme was of a joyous celebration (replete with colorful confetti) and the explanation that the Torah actually speaks of Rosh Hashana as "a happy day." This was then replaced by the final meme, where black letters that looked an awful lot like engraving on a tombstone, spelled out, in all-caps, the word "FEAR."

There it was. The site offered you a simple choice: you could choose between excitement and guilt, between joy and fear.

What a crude and patronizing lesson, I thought. That's it? Is that all that the High Holy Days are about? What about love, tradition, community, or that wonderful sense of renewal you get at this season?

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Second Day of Rosh Hashana 5778 - September 22, 2017 - Rabbi Boaz D. Heilman

So the story I told yesterday, of the rabbi who was on a NASA shuttle and found himself so flustered by the rapid time and location change, was obviously a joke. In reality, no rabbi worth his or her salt would be caught so ignorant of the Jewish laws and customs concerning the proper way to pray.

There are actually (and perhaps not surprisingly) many opinions regarding which way one should turn and face. Is it east? Common opinion agrees. One faces Jerusalem. Unless, of course, you live east of Jerusalem, in which case you face west. Or south or north-depending on where you are in relation to the Land of Israel.

It all started with King Solomon, who built the Temple in Jerusalem around the year 950 BCE. In his prayer of dedication, Solomon exclaims, "And may You hear the supplication of your... people Israel, when they pray toward this place. Hear in heaven, Your dwelling place; and when You hear, forgive." Not for nothing was King Solomon famous worldwide for his wisdom. He understood that God was everywhere, that no house and no temple, no matter how splendid or magnificent, would or could ever contain God's glory. So how to pray properly? Simply by turning toward this newly-dedicated Temple. The Temple would serve as a conduit, a direct channel to God's attention.

But there are other customs and answers as well. The Talmud is the source of many of these.

Throughout the ancient world, people-not only Jews-would face east when praying, because east is where the sun rose. Whether one actually worshipped the sun or some other deity, light gave hope, and facing the dawn enabled you to witness the answer to your prayers.

Well, just because of that, just because many pagans already faced east when they prayed, one Talmudic sage, a Rabbi Sheishet (who was, incidentally, blind) insisted on facing in any direction BUT east.

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A Sermon for the New Year 5778 - September 21, 2017 - Rabbi Boaz D. Heilman

As you know, NASA has sent many shuttles to orbit the earth. More and more, they made an attempt to include passengers of all races, colors and creed. But not too long ago they realized they had excluded one group: the clergy. So they invited a priest, a minister and a rabbi to orbit the earth in a shuttle.

Upon their return, crowds of people formed to hear their impressions. First the priest emerged, beaming and happy. His statement was full of joy. He said, "It was totally amazing, I saw the sun rise and set, I saw the beautiful oceans. I am in awe of God's magnificence."

Then the minister emerged, also happy and at peace. He said, "I saw the magnificent earth, our home. I saw the majestic sun, vast oceans, red deserts. Praise the Lord!"

Then the rabbi came out.

He was completely disheveled, his beard was tangled and in every direction. His kipah was frayed, his tallis was wrinkled like you can't imagine. They asked him, "Rabbi, did you enjoy the flight?" He threw his hands in the air crazily and replied, "ENJOY??? What was to enjoy??? Oy! Every 5 minutes the sun was rising and setting! On with the tefillin, off with the tefillin, mincha, maariv, shacharit, mincha, maariv! And on top of that, always having to face Jerusalem. One minute I'm facing this way, the next minute that way... Gevalt!!!!!!"

It isn't easy to be a Jew. Even in space.

Of course, it never was easy. Not since Abraham left his homeland, his father's house, pursuing a vision only he could see, obeying a God only he could hear. We're not sure exactly what happened right before he left. The rabbis speculate that Abram was being persecuted for his belief in one God. The Torah, however, leaves it up to our imagination. All we know is that Abraham obeyed God without question. Overnight, he uproots himself and his family. They become migrants, subject to unknown dangers and the hardships of life in a foreign land.

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Erev Rosh Ha-Shanah 5778 - September 20, 2017 - Rabbi Boaz D. Heilman

A few nights ago I had a disturbing dream. I dreamt I was surrounded by a storm of words, indistinguishable, one flowing into the other, swirling around me like leaves whipped up in an autumn wind.

In retrospect, I am sure that this dream reflected images I had just seen of the hurricanes in Florida and Houston, and my panic at not having a single High Holy Day sermon written yet. In my dream, there were so many words-which ones should I use? What themes would I speak of this year? I was trapped between the blank pages and the flood of words and thoughts that whirled about me in my dream.

In the following days, I started thinking about the central image of my dream: words. I thought about the power of words. Simple words, complex words-words that codify our knowledge, words that make all human culture and civilization possible. Where would humanity be without language and words?

Words are how we communicate with one another. We learn about one another, about our past and present from words; we use words to imagine and shape the future.

Words express our needs, our thoughts and our feelings, and they register our reactions to events that take place around us.

Words free us from the drudgery of the ordinary, offering us escape into worlds of imagination, make-believe and fantasy.

Words govern our lives with rules and laws, and they offer instruction and guidance when we are lost.

Words give form to concepts and ideas. Words are the substance of knowledge. With words we learn to understand the mysteries that surround us, and thus to conquer our fear of the unknown.

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June 2 2017

In exactly 8 days I will walk up onto a stage, receive a slip of paper, and leave my high school class behind forever. I've been with most of them for 13 whole years and a student in the Gilford School District for 14 (I didn't quite get Kindergarten the first time). Over the course of that near decade and a half, my peers and I have established and built upon our own unique identities as human beings. We have forged relationships, learned about ourselves and the world around us, and developed into young people more or less ready to embark onto greater things.

For me, a significant part of this ever evolving identity has always been my status as a Jew. There have been times that have made me feel important and special like those in elementary school when I have taught my classmates about the significance of High Holidays or how to properly spin a Dreidel and others that are not so nice. Like having unfair stereotypes pointed out in the way that only cruel middle school cliques can. I have both connected with and felt unstoppably supported by the community at TBI and experienced sensations of helplessness and devastation when I have learned of the bitter hardships faced by countless men and women for the sole reason that they identify as a Jew. I understand how a scapegoat works and have felt jealously like any other human being but I will never comprehend how one person can hate another so deeply on the basis of religious belief.

Personally, I value diversity and think being Jewish is kinda great. I mean, we literally have a holiday dedicated to frying things in oil and gambling and there is no such thing as a gathering of Jews without delicious food. Our culture has survived for millennia, producing some of the greatest intellectual and humanitarian minds that the world has ever seen. Next time you sit down for a Passover Seder, try to remember that Louis Brandeis, Albert Einstein, Sandy Koufax, and Jesus all made it through the whole thing so you can too. I did a little reading online and according to Forbes, you are a more than 100x more likely to become a billionaire if you are Jewish. We only make up .2% of the worlds population but take up an unprecedentedly large portion of its history.

Being Jewish comes with high standards but I hardly feel any pressure. Sure, I want to succeed, but after a few long years in hebrew school, I now know that that can be taken a few different ways. The only real guidelines are those of morality given to us by the Torah and through study of Jewish tradition. Basically as long as you adhere to justice and are a good person, you're in the clear.

Overall, I am very proud of my Jewish heritage and thankful that I grew up so close to a synagogue. Temple B'nai Israel truly is an oasis in the cultural desert that is northern New England. Sure, we may not be the most traditional or observant synagogue, but I wouldn't want it any other way. The members of this temple have taught me right from wrong, to fight for the good in this world, and most importantly, how to be a Jew. I feel empathy for my fellow man regardless of his culture and will never be a bystander as I know how that can end. From the first time I walked through the front door I have never ceased to be reminded of how much people can accomplish when they treat each other with love and respect. To the younger members of the congregation who have not yet been bar or bat mitzvah'd I say that it is 100% worth it and to keep coming to Hebrew school and Friday night services. Judaism is part of you and nothing but good can come from it.

I would like to say thank you to my various teachers, tutors, rabbi and all of you at TBI who have made the past years of my life special for one reason or another. I appreciate it more than you could ever know.

Shavuot 5777 - June 2, 2017 - Rabbi Boaz D. Heilman

In a mock-commencement speech recently aired on the Stephen Colbert Late Show, comedian Hannibal Buress had some pretty depressing advice. "Just know," he said, "it's statistically impossible for all of you to succeed. That's just life. So good luck, or whatever."

As humor goes, I'm not sure how great this line is. Maybe it works better in context of the overall routine. The Late Show, after all, is comedy, and often it's very funny.

And in a way, despite the gloomy send-off, perhaps there's some wisdom in this advice. After all, life is tough, and most fields are already crowded with people willing to do just about anything to succeed. We shouldn't lose sight of this.

Still, even for a comedy show, in addressing a group of people who had just spent a fortune in time, money and hard work; who invested a tremendous amount of faith and hope; and who now, diplomas finally in hand, are facing the uncertain prospect of putting their education to practical use, a word of encouragement would probably go a lot farther than a dismissive dose of depressing reality.

The problem is in how we define success and how we go about achieving it.

For some, "success" is synonymous with power and money. It means having all you could possibly want or desire. It means being famous, number one, at the top of your field, with a million followers, surrounded by a fiefdom of yes-men and -women, all eager to satisfy your every whim and wish at a snap of the fingers.

To achieve this goal, there are some who are willing to do just about anything. They'll spend outrageous fortunes to get there. Some lie and cheat along the way, or take illegal performance-enhancing drugs. Some see nothing wrong with pushing others out of their way so they can stand up front and center, closer to the glare of the media, always in the public eye.

The problem with this system is, we can never have enough. Whether it's money, power, or fame, we always seem to want more. There's always someone ahead of us, always someone who seems to have more of what we want.

So inevitably, at some point or another, our pursuit turns futile, and we either wake up to this truth or we get crushed by it.

But there are other standards by which we can measure success, and other, more certain, ways of reaching our goals. read more

Sermon For Shabbat "Bo" 5777 - February 3, 2017 - Rabbi Boaz D. Heilman

The Exodus is one of the most breathtaking stories in the entire Torah. Visually spectacular, it is also intensely dramatic, so much so that it has been turned into opera, several Hollywood movies, and at least one musical.

But aside from that, this story really has many important lessons for us even today, more than 3000 years after the events it recounts took place.

Here are some of the lessons I got from it.

First, I learned how easy it is for people to forget-or at least not to learn from-their own history. "A new Pharaoh arose,"the Torah says; one that "knew not Joseph; who forgot how Joseph had, not too long ago, saved all Egypt from a devastating famine; how, instead, he helped Egypt turn into a world power; and how, along the way, he enriched Pharaoh's own, private coffers. Forgetting all these contributions, Pharaoh in return, turns the Jews into slaves, persecutes them and ultimately even resorts to genocide. Pharaoh commands that all male Jewish babies be thrown into the Nile River.

Secondly, I learned about heroism. Despite the harsh decrees and cruel oppression, the Jewish People refused to give up. Encouraged by teachers and visionaries like Moses, Aaron and Miriam, the Jews struggled under their burden, yet heroically they held on to their faith, never losing hope that God would eventually redeem them and lead them back to their own land, the Promised Land.

We often think of heroes as men, but in the Exodus story women take their rightful place among the saviors of our people. There were the midwives, Shifra and Puah, who proudly resisted Pharaoh and refused to obey his orders, which they saw as unjust, cruel and inhumane. Then there were also the ones who acted in secret, such as Yocheved, Moses's mother, who took pity on her child and refused to hand him over to the assassins. There was Miriam, who watched as her baby brother was put in a tiny basket and allowed to drift among the reeds that lined the shores of the Nile River. And there was, of course, the Daughter of Pharaoh, who openly flouted her father's orders, rescued the baby from the water, and raised him as her own.

Reading between the lines, I understood that there must have been an Underground Railroad, a secret, hidden passageway meant to save Jewish babies; and that Miriam, her mother Yocheved, and even Pharaoh's daughter were probably part of this secret, sacred alliance. read more


The Opposite of Slavery - By Rabbi Boaz D. Heilman

Today was an historical day. This day saw the inauguration of the 45th President of the United States. This is an impressive record, a testament to the strength of this nation. The idea of a freely elected, democratic government "of the people, by the people, for the people," is a relatively modern concept. It certainly isn't the model that many other other peoples and nations enjoy. But in the United States, our democracy has proven both strong and lasting. Despite those few momentous and tragic events when a President of the United States was assassinated while in office, overall, for the past two centuries and more, we have been fortunate to have a peaceful transition of administrations.

The people of the United States have benefitted greatly from this system of governance. On the whole, we have seen steady-if gradual-economic, medical and social progress. We have benefitted from ever-greater freedoms of expression, religion, gender and life-style choices.

But whereas transitions were peaceful, elections have rarely been that. While some may view the 2016 Presidential election as a landmark of incivility (and perhaps it was), elections are often set against a background of change and upheaval, and sometimes even war-among ourselves or with other countries.

The United States has never been a homogeneous people. While we have gained much from the influx of a great number and variety of nations, religions and races, integrating the many into one whole has never been a simple task. Tensions and even hatred between groups have always existed, occasionally erupting into violence. We are constantly seeking to define ourselves, to determine what makes us Americans, to find that common denominator that makes us one people, one nation.

Today, however, is not a time to explore our differences. Rather, today we must celebrate our unity. read more

12/16/16 - By By Rabbi Boaz D. Heilman

In just about a week, we will be lighting the first candle of Hanukkah. It's a beautiful holiday, filled with glowing lights, songs, delicious foods and family traditions. Yet maybe because of its commercialization, or perhaps because of the repetitious nature of the ceremony over eight days, sometimes we forget to see the fuller meaning of Hanukkah.

The Talmud's explanation of the holiday begins with the famous words, "Mai Chanukah," "What is Hanukkah."" Perhaps it should start instead with mah nishtana Chanukah-why is this holiday different from all other holidays. Of all the Jewish holidays, Hanukkah actually has the most variations-not only in its many customs, but also in the number of different stories that became interwoven, resulting in the holiday as we know it today.

The purpose of Chanukah is simple: To recall the victories of the few against the many and the miraculous survival of our faith and people, despite the many obstacles that at times seem to overwhelm us.

Yet even the two names by which the holiday is known-Hanukkah and Chag ha-Urim, the Festival of Lights, reflect several sources.

Unlike most of our other holidays, Hanukkah is not mandated in the Torah. In the middle of the 3rd century BCE, about 250 years after the Torah was sealed, the Kingdom of Judah became part of the Greek Empire. It was a peaceful takeover; but less than a hundred years later, tyrannical rulers, competition among rival priestly factions, and strife among the Judean aristocracy, evolved into a full-fledged rebellion against the Greeks.

As the popular summary of all Jewish holidays has it, they tried to kill us, they lost, let's eat! That pretty much characterizes Chanukah, too, but of course things are never as simple as they seem. As with many other oppressors, the Greeks weren't interested only in our physical destruction. They took aim at our religion, which they saw as barbaric and unenlightened. They forbade the study and teaching of Hebrew and the observance of our most important rituals: Shabbat, Rosh Chodesh (essentially, our calendar with all its holidays) and circumcision...read more

11/18/16 - A Sermon for Shabbat Vayeira - By By Rabbi Boaz D. Heilman

In our Scriptural readings from the Torah, this week we find ourselves studying the story of Abraham, the first patriarch of the Jewish People and also the father of the three Abrahamic religions-Judaism, Christianity and Islam. I find it interesting-and hopeful, especially in these troubled times in America and the world-that we all share this one forebear, that no matter how different our faiths may be, we all find in Abraham a common source of teaching and inspiration.

When we first encountered Abraham, he was picking up the pieces of his life. At the age of 75, Abraham was uprooting. Called by God, he was leaving behind his family, homeland and people, in search of something vague, a place he knew existed, but that he knew not where. All he knew was that God would tell him when he got there.

It couldn't have been easy for Abraham to undertake this journey. He was getting on in years; he knew that chances were that he would never see his family again. The Chaldeans-the people he was leaving behind-were among the most advanced civilizations in the world at that time. And what was he doing? He was leaving for the Wild, Wild West, a lawless place inhabited by people whose language, customs and ways he did not know.

So why did he leave? At age 75, probably not for fun or profit. He was already rich, successful and established. So why now?

He left because he felt himself endangered.

Abraham was different from his fellow Chaldeans, and times were getting dangerous for people like him, who shared his world views, and particularly his religion. As Abraham saw it, the gods that most people around him worshipped were mere idols, make-believe creatures whose main characteristics were that they were lazy, quarrelsome, jealous and ill-tempered, and that the best way to deal with them was essentially to appease them with wine and sacrifice, and pray that they would leave you alone, like wild animals after feeding time at the zoo....read more

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