Who Goes to Shul Anymore?: Rabbi Cohon's Sermon Behar 5776

May 20, 2016

Rabbi Samuel M. Cohon

Temple Emanu-El

Tucson, Arizona

A friend of mine asked me recently, “Does anyone go to services Friday night anymore?”  It was an innocent question, reflecting the fact that he doesn’t go to services on Friday night, of course.  But it highlights a cultural change in American Jewry over the last forty years. 

Today there is a sort of consensus opinion in the American Jewish community that Reform and Conservative Jews simply don’t go to synagogue on Shabbat any more.  I am here to tell you that while there is a kernel of truth in that assumption, it is not actually true.  The week my friend asked that question we had three different Friday night services, Shabbat Rocks! in the sanctuary with Avanim, the Chapel service with Adult Choir, and Downtown Shabbat with Armon Bizman at the Jewish History Museum, the Old Stone Avenue Temple, our original home.  There were 140 people at Shabbat Rocks!, 35 in the chapel service, and a full house of 65 downtown.  All three were filled with active, engaged, Jews energetically enjoying Shabbat. 

But the overall perspective on the “Who goes to services anymore?” question is relevant nonetheless.  Things have changed in recent years, and we feel the effects in every non-Orthodox temple in America.

In the 1960’s, ‘70’s and ‘80’s regular attendance at Friday night services was a pretty standard experience for people who belonged to Reform synagogues in America, while Conservative Jews came mostly Saturday morning.  While many Jews came much less often—far more people showed up on the High Holy Days; actually, everyone showed up Rosh HaShanah and Yom Kippur—there were still lots of people who came to services every week.  Those who didn’t attend usually felt some embarrassment, at least when they saw their clergy.  I would hear sheepish comments, like “I know I haven’t been at services for a while…” from congregants I hadn’t seen since Yom Kippur.  It was like they had ordered a BLT and looked up to see the rabbi at the next table…  they probably still ate the sandwich, but they had the decency to look chagrined.

Read more: Who Goes to Shul Anymore?: Rabbi Cohon's Sermon Behar 5776

Mitzvot—What are Commanded Acts for Reform Jews Today?: Rabbi Cohon's Sermon Vayakhel 5776

March 4, 2016

Rabbi Samuel M. Cohon

Temple Emanu-El

Tucson, Arizona

I had an interesting discussion last week about the difference between Judaism and Christianity with a congregant.  She noted that in her view the key difference between the religious traditions was that Christianity believes that faith is the most important thing of all, while Judaism believes that actions are the most important.  That is, for Christians, belief is the highest principle, and underlies all action; while for Jews, belief matters, but what matters much more is the way that you act.  I agreed with her that Judaism, while cognizant of the importance of belief, highlights action above all.

Read more: Mitzvot—What are Commanded Acts for Reform Jews Today?: Rabbi Cohon's Sermon Vayakhel 5776

Rebellion, The Jewish Act: Rabbi Cohon's Sermon Ki Tisa 5776

February 26, 2016

Rabbi Samuel M. Cohon

Temple Emanu-El

Tucson, Arizona

Last night my daughter Cipora and I went to see the latest Coen brothers’ movie, called “Hail, Cesar!”  A farcical tribute to the old studio-controlled movie business of the early 1950’s, with broad parodies of Cold-War themes, it centers around the making of a kind  of Quo-Vadis/Ben Hur Hollywood epic with Christian religious themes.  At one point the studio fixer, Eddie Mannix, played by Josh Brolin, calls in four clergymen to inoculate the studio against charges of impiety and being sacrilegious.  It is a very, very funny scene, mostly because the other clergy—the bishop, the Greek Orthodox patriarch, the Protestant minister—are mostly agreeable, while the rabbi pretty much disagrees with everything.  No great surprise…  Of course he does.   

Read more: Rebellion, The Jewish Act: Rabbi Cohon's Sermon Ki Tisa 5776

The Most Unlikely Leader: Rabbi Samuel M. Cohon's Sermon Shemot 5776

January 1, 2016

Rabbi Samuel M. Cohon

Temple Emanu-El, Tucson, Arizona

There is a story.

In an effort to improve their challenging personal relationship, President Barack Obama is talking on the phone to Prime Minister Bibi Netanyahu of Israel, leader to leader, and they are comparing notes.  President Obama is explaining patiently that he has the more difficult job, since not only is he the leader of the most important country in the entire world, but the scale of things is completely different: while Israel is a small nation, he, President Obama, is the president of 330 million people.  But Prime Minister Netanyahu replies that actually he has the more difficult job: “You are the president of 330 million citizens; but I am the president of 7 million presidents!”

Read more: The Most Unlikely Leader: Rabbi Samuel M. Cohon's Sermon Shemot 5776

Light in Dark Times: Rabbi Samuel M. Cohon's Sermon Mikets 5776

December 11, 2015

Rabbi Samuel M. Cohon

Temple Emanu-El, Tucson, Arizona

Once there was a Chasid who was afraid of the dark.  “Tell me, Rabbi,” the Chasid asked,  “How can I chase the darkness from the world?”

So the Rebbe sent the Chasid into the deep darkness of the shul’s basement.  Handing him a broom he said, “Go sweep the darkness out of the basement.” 

Read more: Light in Dark Times: Rabbi Samuel M. Cohon's Sermon Mikets 5776