Friday, December 25, 2015

Dreaming of peace - column created for Las Cruces Sun-News of December 25, 2015

We are completing a year in which there have been all too many deaths from acts of violence in our country and throughout the world. Some incidents happened on the spur of the moment. Others were the result of premeditation intended to make a political statement or to hold the world hostage.

These words of the prophet Isaiah (chapter 54) come to mind for me in light of such events: "You shall be established through righteousness/justice. You shall be safe from oppression, and shall have no fear. You shall be protected from ruin, and it shall not come near you." The passage itself declares divine providence over those who follow God's teachings. I would take its meaning to another level. When we create a context in which people act towards one another based on fairness, respect and concern for everyone, there will no longer be oppression. There will be nothing to make us afraid, because people will find a way to resolve differences through words rather than weapons.

Is such a world a dream? Perhaps, but it offers a preferable alternative to a world in which violent acts take innocent lives all too often. The passage from Isaiah (chapter 54) also declares, "Great will be the peace of your children." What can we do to promote peace and well-being? We can offer comfort to those who have lost family members and friends to violence and conflict. We can support all those who keep the peace and make peace. We can learn more about our respective backgrounds and listen to each other's stories. We can approach one another based on a trust that recognizes our common humanity. We can teach people how to resolve disputes, even small ones, in a spirit of cooperation and compromise. We can recognize that, as members of the human family, we are traveling along the same road. The peace of our children will be great only if we walk that path together.

Saturday, December 19, 2015

"We Can Work It Out" - overcoming dissonance and creating harmony- D'var Torah for Parashat Vayigash - December 18, 2015


    These last two weeks of news, especially news somewhat related to the Jewish community, have featured examples of separation and coming together, dissonance and harmony.    Let me show you what I mean.
      Israeli Education Minister Naftali Bennett recently visited one of the Conservative Jewish movement’s Solomon Schechter day schools in the United States.  He was immediately criticized by Israeli Chief Rabbi David Lau, who asserted, “To speak deliberately with a specific community and to recognize it and its path, when this path distances Jews from the path of the Jewish people, this is forbidden. If Minister Bennett would have asked my opinion before the visit, I would have said to him explicitly, ‘You cannot go somewhere where the education distances Jews from tradition, from the past, and from the future of the Jewish people.”    Naftali Bennett responded that he was proud to join in community with members of all branches of Judaism around the world.   
There was one more important response to Chief rabbi Lau.  Amichai Lau-Lavie is known for his great work in creating and sustaining Storahtelling, a program that effectively dramatizes Torah readings for congregations to make them come alive during worship.  Lau-Lavie will be ordained as a conversative rabbi at the Jewish Theological Seminary in May.  He is also a first cousin of Chief Rabbi David Lau.  Expressing extreme disappointment in his high-placed relative, Lau-Lavie declared in a widely-published open letter: “To Rabbi Lau, my respected cousin: We came together not too long ago at my father’s grave, where we paid joint tribute to the heritage of our forefathers. But let’s bear respect not only for our beautiful past. Here and now, let’s look together toward the future — in which there is great animosity and many foes, but also a great thirst for spirituality and religion and in which there can also be great peace emerging out of mutual support and the discovery of courageous ways to work toward the continuity of our tradition – in all its many faces.”
       The Vatican made a landmark statement this past week about how Catholics should approach members of the Jewish community.   The headlines noted that the Catholic Church will not officially pursue efforts to convert Jews.  Individual Catholics are still called upon to bear witness to their faith to all people.  The document recommended to Catholics to speak about their own faith to Jews in a “humble and sensitive manner,” particularly in light of the Holocaust.   What was clear from the Catholic Church’s statement is that the Jewish covenant with God is still intact, in force, and valid, and that we, as Jews have a path to salvation all our own.
  That statement from the Vatican was not good enough for Jews for Jesus.  David Brickner, executive director of Jews for Jesus, claimed that any group  that calls itself Christian must fulfill the Great Commission of the New Testament to convert all humankind to a belief in Jesus as the one true Savior of Humanity.  Brickner stated last Friday that his organization finds the Vatican’s position “…egregious, especially coming from an institution which seeks to represent a significant number of Christians in the world.”  This turn of events seems to confirm that Jews for Jesus is a group that must be defined as essentially Christian.  The aspects of their practice that one could call “outward Jewish trappings” are intended to bring more Jews to the Jews for Jesus mode of belief and practice.  This organizations declared good intentions in its missionary work lost a great deal of luster when Brickner claimed that the Vatican was “pandering to Jewish leaders” with its recent statement.
    Finally, I was intrigued at the responses from both ends of the political spectrum at the inclusion of Rabbi Susan Talve of Central Reform Synagogue in St. Louis at the White House Hanukkah celebration on December 9.  She offered an invocation at the event, speaking from her heart about issues near and dear to her and her approach to Judaism in action, including curbing violence in our communities (including gun violence), justice for Palestinians and security for Israelis and peace for the two sides together, and maintaining calm in our communities at home.  Rabbi Talve, one of my rabbinic school classmates, served as a faith leader in peaceful demonstrations in Ferugson, Missouri, which attempted to foster reconciliation and progress in relations between local citizens and law enforcement officials.  After Rabbi Talve’s high-profile appearance at the White House, and even before, she was roundly criticized by left-wing organizations for her persistent support for Israel while, at the same time, working with the Black Lives Matter movement. Left-wing groups see her as a walking contradiction, with some activists openly decrying her with the hastag “Real Terrorist.”   From the right, one commentator, Daniel Greenfield, wrote that “Rabbi Talve’s behavior at the White House was deeply insulting to the religious Jewish community and made it clear that the White House was determined to hijack even a Chanukah party to promote an anti-Jewish agenda.”   Rabbi Talve made her remarks in the presence of President (and Mrs.) Obama and Israeli president Reuven Rivlin, who both spoke right before her invocation.  What she said had been preceded by similar sentiments voiced by  President Rivlin, as he expressed a hope for peace in the Middle East. He made this statement to the crowd gathered that night: “Today, we see around the world terrible crimes, and danger to humanity which cause a lack of respect, a lack of freedom of faith, and a lack of freedom of religion.  Each night of Hanukkah, we add a new light to the menorah.  Rabbi Abraham Heschel, one of the best friends of Martin Luther King, wrote in his book, Insecurity of Freedom, that people usually follow the path of regression.  They begin high and fall down.  But instead, we should be like the Hanukkah candles and follow the path of progression.  He said that the people will have the strength to ascend if leaders…continue to rise….I would like to light this candle, this little flame, with a prayer and hope that one day, religious, cultural and moral liberty will be enjoyed without question by each and every person in the world.”
     All of these messages that reflect consideration for others uneasily coexist next to declarations that seem to widen divisions between people based on politics, race and ideology.  This persistent conflict called to mind for me the scene in this week’s Torah reading.  Joseph, second-in-command in Egypt, knew that his brothers had come during the famine to provide food for their family.  He concocted an elaborate scheme to see if his brothers would bring down his younger full-brother Benjamin, whom he knew was the apple of his father’s eye that he would not want to leave home.  Once Benjamin did come, and Joseph had his courtiers frame Benjamin as a thief, Joseph had created the ultimate test: would his brothers abandon Benjamin as they once had done to Joseph?   With this threat to their well-being, the brothers spoke with remorse about what they had done to Joseph, not knowing they were standing right before the aggrieved party who heard and understood every word they said.   Joseph realized that his brothers had changed, as had he.  He revealed himself to his family and made reconciliation possible for one major reason.  It was Joseph who finally could interpret his own dreams.  He had arrived at the moment when his family was bowing down to him, but not because he was superior. After Joseph told his brothers that he really was their long-lost sibling, he assured them that he knew that it was God who had sent him ahead to Egypt to save their lives.  There was no higher calling than that for this now-great leader of Egypt who had come from such humble beginnings.  
    I don’t expect full agreement from those who are sitting in front of me or will read this online regarding the examples I have shared tonight of how we find ways to build bridges in some cases towards one another, and, sadly, some construct tall, impenetrable barriers in other situations.  At the very least, we need to listen to one another just in case someone with whom we disagree may have a point.  Even more, we need to ask ourselves if what we are saying and doing follows a higher purpose well noted in Judaism, and included in Rabbi Talve’s remarks at the White House – that we are called upon by our heritage to see the face of God in the faces of all people.  That principle drives much of what I do, including reaching out to Muslim colleagues in my local interfaith work who have had people in local public places harangue and verbally accost them because of their outward appearance.  These individuals with whom I have worked locally, and the vast, vast majority of Muslims worldwide, have no alliance whatsoever with those very few who have perpetrated horrible acts of terror and violence which they, for themselves, associate with their view of Islam.  We know that we, as Jews, don’t like being stereotyped, because that approach leads to generalized hatred.    We should do all we can not to take that approach of stereotyping and generalizing with people of other faiths and backgrounds.  

   The song that gave this talk its title in the Temple’s Adelante newsletter was just entering onto the charts 50 years ago this week.  “Life is very short and there’s no time for fussing and fighting, my friend” should be a watchword for all of our relationships.  We can work it out – all of it – if we see the higher purpose of our existence on earth.  As our prayerbook states, “O may all, created in Your image, become one in spirit, and one in friendship, forever united, God, in your service.”  And further: “May our deeds exceed our speech, and may we never lift up our hand but to conquer fear and doubt and despair…light up the universe, our God, with the joy of wholeness, of freedom, and of peace.”   We can work it out, and build bridges, and foster hope throughout the world, if we rise above conflict and see the higher purposes revolving around us, just like Joseph was finally able to do.  May we find a way to that vision.  And let us say amen.

Monday, December 14, 2015

Light - A Reading for Hanukkah - from the Religious School students and faculty members of Temple Beth-El Las Cruces - December 11, 2015

The menorah is a beautiful light to have in the house, 
especially on Hanukkah.
Mia



 Menorah light 

is always plentiful 
near Chanukah. 
Burning so bright, 
and showing off its flicker.  S






I have been 
a light 
to someone 
when they 
need help.  
Gavin
  





Thank you 
for everything 
Shylah







Being a light to others…
·    Is about honesty caring and sharing
·    is giving without being asked
·    is being there even if it seems that
the person does not want you.
Rhonda


To be a light 
means 
to cheer someone up 
Olivia 





K’hilah
Community 
togetherness

Derek

 

A light means 
if someone is dark and empty,
you will bring light 
and happiness 

Kaila




Bringing light means

   Loving
   Involved with others
   Greeting someone
   Helping/happiness
   Together
Casey



To bring light 

is to bring 
happiness to an otherwise 
dark and sad person 

Sadie




I bring light by making people feel special and welcome when they are new. Also, if someone is sad and if you say something nice to them, you can bring happiness and light to them
Mateo


Sharing my light means to bring people happiness and
to make people feel good about themselves
Hannah Saltman


                                       
I have been a light 
to someone else 
when I helped her 
finish her math
Mara


           
 How can we spread light to others?
· Do community service
· Smile at everyone you see
· Give a hug
· Say kind words
· Help people in need
· Make people laugh
Lily - Olivia -Claire 
Elizabeth -Ben - Aaron

Bringing light to others means giving
·     Warmth
·     Wisdom
·     Hope
·     A listening ear
·     Joy
·     Love
Rabbi Larry

We - like Hanukkah lights - can coexist in harmony - November 30, 2015

Lighting Chanukiot at Temple Beth-El on
Friday, December 11, 2015
    I have found myself thinking in recent days about how we deal with diversity in the United States, and, specifically, in our own city and community.   Our differences are real.  What is also real is our basic and intrinsic similarity as members of the human family.  Unfortunately, differences may unnecessarily lead to divisions that drive us apart.  Differences, however, can also offer opportunities to learn about philosophies, ideologies and beliefs that we may not share so that we can better know and understand our neighbors.
   Temple Beth-El recently hosted "Ever Grateful - An Interfaith Conversation," which featured a panel that included Jewish, Christian, Muslim and Baha'i participants and an audience that broadened the range of faith groups represented that day.   We heard about prayers, stories, and perspectives that illustrated a tapestry of religious approaches that were connected by common threads of thankfulness for the gifts of life and community.   This event took place nine days after the attacks in Paris.  One question that was submitted wondered if all of us believe that our faiths can lead us to cooperatively improve the world.  We all responded with a resounding "yes"!
     The Jewish holiday of Hanukkah is being celebrated this year beginning on the night of December 6 through sunset on December 14.  Hanukkah commemorates a victory for religious freedom by Jews in Judea in 165 B.C. against their Syrian-Greek rulers, who had demanded everyone in their empire to follow Greek culture and beliefs.  The Temple in Jerusalem, which had been turned in a place of exclusive tribute to the Greek pantheon of gods, was recaptured by Jewish fighters and rededicated as a Jewish house of worship.  Some Jews who had adopted Greek practices prior to the takeover of the Temple realized that there was greater value in their own faith. They willingly joined in this struggle for the right to be different. 
With Rhonda Karol at the Las Cruces Public Schools
Amistad Pre-school during a Chanukah Presentation
     Every Hanukkah menorah, with its eight branches for the eight nights of the holiday, plus the branch for the shamash/"helper" candle, is lit with one new candle each night, until we see the brilliance of nine lights on the last night of the festival.  Most boxes of Hanukkah candles provide a rainbow of colors (for which there is no religious significance).   Placing candles in a menorah (specifically called a Hanukkiah, by the way) is, therefore, always an exercise in creativity and diversity
     The Hanukkiah/Menorah reminds me of who we are as a nation and as a world community.   When the multi-colored eight-candles-plus-one are kindled on the last night of Hanukkah, it is an amazing sight, one that elicits wonder as the flames dance, seemingly in a coordinated movement.   These lights are a source of warmth, holiness and joy.   They call to mind our passion for what we believe, even as we acknowledge the devotion of our neighbors to their perspectives, with the possibility that we will discover ways in which we can work towards common goals.

    On Hanukkah, lights coexist in harmony.  In the same way that they stand side-by-side,  we can all be like the candles on a menorah, offering warmth and the promise of unity and respect towards one another.  For our well-being as a human family, that continues to be my hope.   


Last Night of Chanukah at the Karols' - December 13, 2015

[This article was carried online on several site:

Friday, November 27, 2015

Gratitude beyond a moment - Giving thanks in our time - November 27,2015

[In Vayishlach, the Torah reading for this Shabbat during Thanksgiving weekend, Jacob showered his brother Esau with gifts out of fear that Esau's approach, along with several hundred men, had the purpose of revenge.  Instead, it was a touching reunion that ensues, only after Jacob had wrestled with a "man" when he was left alone.   As Esau saw Jacob's generous sharing, he said, "I have enough, my brother."   Esau offered for Jacob to follow him.  Jacob said he would come later, and never did keep that promise.   The momentary reconciliation remains, though, as does the giving spirit that resulted in a glimpse of family harmony.    That moment inspired this expression of thanks]. 

At this time of in-person reunions
And long-distance contact,
Full stomachs 
And giving to others so their lives can be more full, even in a small way,
We give thanks. 
We give thanks for those charged with defending our country
Those who provide leadership
Those who see every shade of difference in our nation
And those who seek to bridge divisions to create shared understanding.
We give thanks for those who guard and sustain traditions
Those who infuse the old with the new
Those who view their increasing years as a source deepening wisdom
That can keep them as young as the brightest lights of a new generation.
We give thanks for fighters for freedom who use words and ideas that challenge
And those who seek any measure of revolution through peaceful, cooperative change based in justice and compassion. 
We give thanks for seekers, helpers, healers, peacemakers
Those who give their hope to the despairing
Those who offer their love to anyone unloved and forgotten. 
We give thanks for dancers, singers, playwrights, composers, songwriters, choreographers, artists, and authors who find new ways to add beauty, appreciation and depth to our lives. 
We give thanks for hard workers, whether owners or employees, no matter what their assigned role or chosen occupation or calling, who see the value of dedication, devotion, commitment, responsibility and dependability and reward a job well done with mutual affirmation and respect.  
We give thanks for mountains, hills, rains that quench a thirsty land, lakes and rivers, seas, grasses, and trees that all fill us with wonder.  
We give thanks for a world that enables us to have enough, to be happy with what we have, and to share our own bounty as a demonstration of our gratitude. 
For all these and more, Eternal God,
MODIM ANACHNU LACH,
We thank You.

Wednesday, November 25, 2015

I/We give thanks for - Expressions of Gratitude from the Temple Beth-El Las Cruces Community - from members of ALL ages - November 25, 2015

I/We give thanks for:
  • Kindness
  • Things that give inspiration
  • Friends
  • Family
  • Caring community
  •  Those who reject violence
  • A beautiful environment
  • Life and all the joys and sorrows that make it worth living
  • Disagreements that can clear the air and provide for opportunities and growth
  • New opportunities
  • Smiles
  • People who care about preserving the earth
  • Clothing
  • Food
  • School
  • Insightful people
  • Patience
  • Companionship
  • Every day
  • Every second
  • Every new person I meet
  • The ability to love and be loved
  • Sunshine
  • Chances to be giving 
  • Israel
  • Torah
  • Talent
  • Water
  • Time for reflection
  • Wisdom that comes with age 
  • For loving and being loved
  • Energy to meet new challenges
  •  Enjoying new experiences
  • Striving for greatness
  • Health
  • Goodness in the world
  • Beauty in the world
  • Shelter
  • Study
  • Learning
  • God
  • A good life
  • Being able to contribute to society 
  • Oxygen
  • Small miracles.
  • Parents and Grandparents
  • Children and grandchildren
  • Being able to giving to those in need
  • Mobility
  • Understanding
  • People who volunteer time and energy in the community
  • A loving God
  •  Knowledge
  • Friendship
  • Light not darkness
  • Being able to speak my mind 
  • Special people
  • Safety
  • Striving with others around the world for peace




Friday, November 20, 2015

Climbing the Ladder of History - A Modern Midrash/Allegory - Parashat Vayeitzei - November 20, 2015

[There is a rabbinic story that tries to answer why there were angels going up and down the ladder in Jacob's dream, rather than down and up, as we might expect.  That explanation suggested that each angel that went up and down represented the ascent and demise of great world powers.  Jacob never seemed, in these stories/midrashim, to get the opportunity to get onto the ladder himself for his people.   Here is my take, in light of world events and how people are talking about each other, especially those different from them, on how Jacob might take his place on the ladder of history]

Jacob took from the stones of the place and made a headrest. And he laid down for the night, and fell asleep.
He had a dream.
It was vivid. 
He felt awake.
He felt alive.
He was amazed.
He saw a ladder going up to the sky. 
There were angels going up and down on it.
But he noticed something strange. 
The angels that were going up and then down
did not get back on the ladder and ascend again.
It was one trip up, one trip down, and gone.
Jacob was puzzled.  He had no one to ask.
Suddenly, out of nowhere, God materialized, taking a spot by the ladder to heaven.
Jacob knew who it was. He didn't have to ask. 
"God, what's going on with these angels?  I would expect angels to come down from heaven on the ladder and then go up.   What I am seeing is just the opposite.   I am baffled!"
 God stood silently, pondering how to answer this young man who had left his home to flee from the wrath of this brother Esau, who was still angry with him. 
Jacob was obviously struggling to come up with solution to his puzzlement.
God finally spoke up, "There is a reason for what you see.   Do you remember what your mother Rebekah told you about what she heard before you were born?"
Jacob instantly recovered the memory of that divine promise and prediction.  "Yes, God, I do.  She said that Esau and I would become two nations, that one of us would be greater than the other, and that the older would serve the younger....or was it, the older brother the younger one would serve?  She could never get that part straight."
 God replied quickly, "There was a good reason for her uncertainty, Jacob.  You see, it's all up to you.  You will serve your older brother unless you become the best of what you can be.  Reach your potential for cooperation, for compassion, for leadership, and you and your future generations will endure.   I can't reveal what that greatness will mean exactly, because I don't know the whole story myself.    You will be in charge of making your own history unfold.  But you will be great, and the people that will one day name themselves after you will do their best to set an example of conscience for the world." 
Jacob was still perplexed as he looked at the ladder.
"God, what about the angels?  I am still confused.  Who are the angels on the ladder?"
  "Why, Jacob," God said as if a wise teacher, "those angels represent the nations of the world that have not yet come to be.   Each of those great civilizations will rise, going up each rung as they grow in the knowledge they acquire, the land and wealth they amass, and the support that they give one another in their society.  They will even find ways to make people from the outside, foreigners, feel welcome inside their cities and towns.    Then something will happen.  It's just human nature.  It will all go wrong.   They will forget about how to be generous to strangers.  They will look at them with suspicion, with disdain, and, finally, with contempt.  Eventually, that is how they will begin to look at each other.   Compassion and mutual support will disappear from their relationships.   They will stop trusting those who govern them, even if they are ruling in good faith and with a sense of responsibility.   They will care only about gaining power over each other until their lack of human kindness and humility will destroy them and their nation."
Jacob was shocked, and afraid.  He thought to himself, "How could a world exist if this is how people would act?" He spoke up, "God, thank you for showing me this vision.  I would never even think of getting onto that ladder now!"
God was taken aback.  "Jacob, don't you get it?  You have to get on the ladder.  How else will you become the great nation that I promised your mother and father, and your grandparents, that you would be?   You have to be brave and take a chance."
"God, you just told me what will happen to all of those other great nations.  They will, by the end, be corrupt and self-serving. They will forget what it means to think positively about other people and other nations.  I don't want that to happen to my descendants.  I am not climbing up even one rung!" 
God was silent for a moment, for a few moments, for what seemed like an eternity.  And then God said, "Jacob, don't be afraid.  I am here with you now, and admit to yourself, you had no idea that I have been your invisible traveling companion for all the years while you have been growing up.  I have been watching.   You have such potential.   When you wake up, you will realize that I was here with you.  You will put up a stone and call this place Beit El, the House of God.   And you will declare that this spot is a gateway to heaven, the very spot where you realized that a divine presence is constantly accessible to you.  That is why you have nothing to fear." 
Jacob still wasn't convinced.  "God, every other nation seems to forget about you.  I know that you are One - my parents told me that my grandfather Abraham realized that we are all connected in your Oneness.  And that is what made him special.  What if we forget that, God?  What will happen to my people?"
God was pleased at hearing Jacob think so clearly.  "Jacob, that is the right question.   I will be sure that your descendants will remember that I am One, and that they will teach each new generation that my Oneness means that all of you human beings, even when there are deep divisions between you, are still One.  Someone has to remember that.   One day you will be called 'Israel' - I can't tell you why right now.  You'll see soon enough.   But generations of the people of Israel will recite the words, 'Hear, O Israel, God is ours and God is One.' Some of them will recite those words every week, some every day, some more than once a day.  You have nothing to worry about.   But that will all happen only if you have the courage to get onto that ladder."  
"But God,” Jacob insisted, “what if they still forget that You and we are all One?   You have seen how Esau and I have fought each other.  What if all humanity is locked in bitter conflict like we have been?"
"Don't worry, Jacob, even if there is conflict.  You will get through it.  Just don't be afraid of anyone.  Consider everyone as a potential neighbor, not an automatic stranger to be kept at arms length.   Love me, love yourself, and love those around you as you love yourself.   If you take to heart those words and let them guide you, you will find your way back to the right path even if you go astray.   Are you ready to get on that first rung now?"
Jacob felt a calm overtake his entire body.  A smile came to his face, one that reflected the brightness and wonder represented by this spectacle of a ladder reaching to heaven.
"I am ready, God....here I go...."

And Jacob awoke from his dream, and said, "God was in this place, and I had no idea.  I hope God will be with me wherever I go."    And Jacob set up a stone to mark the spot, and went on his way.  

A House of God - Rabbis' thoughts on Temple Beth-El Las Cruces, NM -talk given at the New Mexico Jewish Historical Society Conference on November 15, 2015 in Las Cruces.

Beth-El - a House of God.   The name evokes the story of a place that was unknowingly holy. 
     This tale begins the Torah portion for this week.  Jacob had left home to escape the wrath of his brother Esau, who was angry at him for the loss of his first-born birthright and blessing through persuasion and motherly deception.   Jacob came upon a place and laid down for the night and dreamed of a ladder with angels going up and down upon it and he encountered God in his nightly vision.    Only when he woke up did he realize, in retrospect, that God was in that place, and he had no idea whatsoever of the divine presence that was right there with him. 

     That divine presence offered Jacob a sense of connection when he was alone.  That connection what we hope for when we join and serve a Jewish community.
With Rabbi Howard Laibson
    I am here to represent myself and my full-time rabbinic predecessors at Temple Beth-El in Las Cruces.  Together, we have logged over 30 years of rabbinic service to this community and to Southern New Mexico.  
    To collect comments for this presentation, I contacted my colleagues Howard Laibson, who was here in 1984-1989; Cy Stanway, who served here in 1990-1998, and Paul Citrin, who arrived in 2008 and left in 2011.  Cyrille Kane, widow of Rabbi Gerald Kane, who died this past May, offered reflections on Jerry's years here, from 1998 to 2007.    My wife Rhonda and I arrived here in late June of 2011. 
With Rabbi Cy Stanway
    One of my first impressions of Las Cruces had nothing to do with the meaning of the city's name, understood by many as "the Crosses."  What I did realize is that Las Cruces reminded me of Beersheva, Israel, in its appearance and size.   Once I checked the latitude of both cities, I realized why I sensed such a similarity.  Las Cruces sits pretty at the latitude 32.3144 degrees north.   Beersheva is 31.2589 degrees north.   Immediately, I felt a strong bond with a city in Israel I had visited only once, and with this city that would become home. 
With Rabbi Jerry Kane (right) and
NMSU President Garrey Carruthers
 
    So what is unique about being Jewish in Las Cruces and southern New Mexico, according to rabbis who have served here?   There is an awareness of being a minority and, perhaps, being on guard due to possible expressions of prejudice.  That feeling has always been balanced with a strong desire to become immersed in community life.   There is a sense of independence, freedom and, in the words of one rabbi, "cowboyishness" that comes from living in this locale.   
    Some people in the general community in Las Cruces and Dona Ana County have had little contact with Jews living here.  Others shopped at the stores run by Jewish New Mexicans and got to know their Jewish neighbors well.
With Rabbi Paul Citrin
    Rabbis who have come to Las Cruces noticed how much Jews have actively participated in city and community life.   Jews have been involved in all manner of organizations in Las Cruces: non-profit charitable groups, service clubs, the local symphony, and the professions (especially law and medicine).    One rabbi noted that if there was any perspective of the Jews in the community held by non-Jews, it was more favorable than the Jews might have thought themselves.  There were many Jews involved at the university, with some of them affiliated with the congregation and others not. 
    There were opportunities for rabbis to be involved in the campus ministry association, now the NMSU interfaith council, and with the Las Cruces Ministers' Association, which now takes the form of a monthly breakfast gathering.    Those groups offered rabbis, ministers and other spiritual leaders an opportunity to engage in meaningful and fulfilling discussions. 
    Rabbi Jerry Kane was particularly close with Bishop Ricardo Ramirez, a relationship cemented at the time of the 9/11 attacks and that continued in the years following.     Rabbi Kane also taught "Studies in Film: Jews on Screen" at New Mexico State University on a regular basis. 
      Rabbis who have served here have felt privileged to hear of or to get to know founders of the congregation and active members in the greater community, such as Sam Klein and the late David Steinborn, who both served as Mayor of Las Cruces.  Members of the Las Cruces Jewish community have served as State Senators and representatives, and as local judges.   There are congregants known for their artistic abilities who share their talents in local circles.  
         And there are the stories that Frances Williams, Bea Klein and other long-time members tell of the history of this community.  I would add the late Mel Taylor to that list as well, for his several decades of involvement at Temple Beth-El.  
I asked my colleagues about milestone events during their time here. A food bank was created at a local church in the late 1980s, along with the serving of a hot meal to people in need.  Temple Beth-El was involved from the beginning in those efforts.  Now, we donate food to the Casa de Peregrinos food pantry, and members of the Jewish community serve at the El Caldito Soup kitchen every week.   We have, for the last several years, taken a breakfast every December 25 to Camp Hope, where people who are homeless live in tents for a time with the possibility of receiving housing and getting a job. 
    In the 1980s, Temple Beth-El hosted a legislative luncheon, where congregants and community members gathered to interact with city, county, state and federal officials about current issues important to constituents. 
    In the 1990s, Rabbi Cy Stanway established a Talmud class that is still continuing its long run today.    Temple's major fundraisers, the Gala dinner, and serving signature pastrami sandwiches at the local annual Renaissance Fair, were well-known in the community. 
      During Rabbi Kane's tenure, Temple Beth-El received awards from the Union for Reform Judaism for the best Adult Education program of a congregation its size.  
     Rabbi Citrin led the congregation in commissioning the writing of a new Sefer Torah in 2010-2011, which culminated in a community wide event held at Temple. 
     One major milestone of the last 10 years is the creation and completion of the new building for Temple Beth-El in the Sonoma Ranch part of town and its dedication in 2007.   The new facility was many years in the making.  What impresses me most is how much this building reflects the creativity of Temple members. David Steinborn worked hard to see the project come to fruition.  Talented congregants fashioned the ark, the main lectern, the candle table, the stained glass windows, the depiction of the Burning Bush on the Ark Doors, and the frame and lettering of a verse from Psalms above the ark.  I have never seen such involvement by Temple members in the creation of their congregation's sacred space. 
      In recent years, Temple's Golf Tournament has enjoyed the support of many friends and neighbors.  This year, the tournament was titled the MATZO BALL OPEN and held at Picacho Hills Golf Course.  Some of the proceeds this year went to Mesilla Valley Habitat for Humanity.   
     Temple Sisterhood has held events over the last few years that have included a Tzedakah component with a gift presented to a local charitable organization.  The Sisterhood Judaica shop remains as a central source of Jewish items.
     In 2012 and 2013, Temple Beth-El hosted “A Night with Judaism.”  We invited community members to learn about Judaism by attending a service and a very enhanced Oneg Shabbat that included a question and answer period.  
     In 2014 and 2015, Temple Beth-El embarked on a new fundraiser for the community to come and enjoy the sights, sounds and tastes of Jewish culture.  The Las Cruces Jewish Food and Folk Festival was created and was successful both years. Planning and designing the event drew on the knowledge, experience and wisdom of congregants who worked on the Gala and Renaissance Fair and on the energy and ideas of new members. 
     The spirit of volunteerism and a commitment to joining together as a community for holidays and social gatherings continues here. 
     Our Frances Williams Library has an extensive collection of Jewish books and resources.  And this is the only community which I have served with its own Chevrah Kadishah.
     Music has become an important part of Temple worship and education over the last several years.  Our choir turned intergenerational for the 2015 Jewish Food and Folk Festival, demonstrating the special spirit that knows no bounds based on age.  
    Temple's Wednesday breakfast, with a speaker every week, draws people from the congregation and greater community. 
    Adult education continues with programs that attract people from all over Las Cruces on a regular basis.    Learning among our children, even in a small Religious school, continues with enthusiasm and quality.   Teens still participate in the Southwest Region of the North American Federation of Temple Youth. 
    Individually and as a congregation, we remain connected with our neighbors, hoping to improve life for our fellow citizens in the city, county and country. 
     In the Torah reading for this week, Jacob was amazed at the angels going up and down on that ladder in his dream, and at God's appearance next to that stairway to heaven.  
     In this beautiful area of New Mexico, with stark scenes, incredible sunrises and sunsets, overwhelmingly frequent sunshine, and amazing mountain views every day, we have a sense that we can be angels for one another to keep Judaism vibrant and to preserve the warmth of community among us.  
      And we can lift our eyes to the hills, and look into each other faces, and know that God is in this place, God who is the Oneness that will continue to bind us together to perform acts of lovingkindness, righteousness and justice for ourselves and for our neighbors