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A Reform Jewish Community for all of Tucson
225 North Country Club • Tucson, AZ 85716
(520) 327-4501 • Fax: (520) 327-4504
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Yom Chamishi, 24 Nisan 5774

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February 21, 2014 - Rodeo Shabbat

Rabbi Samuel M. Cohon, Temple Emanu-El, Tucson, AZ


Shabbat Shalom, and Howdy Folks—it's Rodeo Shabbat here in Tucson, and this is always a fun way to celebrate the Sabbath. There is nothing that says "Arizona" more than Rodeo Shabbat, a unique part of our twin heritage as southwesterners and Jews. We have been a big part of this region of the country for many years. There were Jews, mostly secret ones, conversos, who rode in with the Spanish explorers, and there were Jewish settlers early, both on the Mexican side of the border and what was eventually the American one. Many of you know that Nogales, Arizona, where a number of our faithful congregants come from, was founded by a Jewish man named Jacob Isaacson as a trading post in 1880. He set up his store straddling the border so he wouldn't have to pay duty on merchandise to either country. Eventually his little settlement became two separate but conjoined municipalities divided by a national border, Nogales, Sonora, Mexico, and Nogales, Arizona. It was the Post Office that eventually changed the name from Isaacson to Nogales. More about Nogales later...

Jews were active in these very western parts in famous places like Tombstone, where there is a Jewish cemetery at Boot Hill—perhaps we should we call that one Yarmulkeh Hill?—that the late Fred and Gert Rosen, a past president of Temple and president of the Sisterhood, helped renovate. And Jews were sheriffs and mayors in Tucson—sometimes they still are—and elsewhere around Arizona. There were Jewish miners and shop owners and, yes, cowboys, although there likely far more peddlers than there were gunmen.

Read more: Vayakhel 5774: To Save a Life and Protest a Wrong

January 24, 2014

Rabbi Samuel M. Cohon, Temple Emanu-El, Tucson, AZ

I've been traveling a little the last couple of weeks, first attending a rabbinic conference and then going to Los Angeles to present an award. There is nothing better than the sense of true community that exists for me at the ONEG rabbinic conference, where the rabbis are bright, accomplished, talented, inspirational, interesting and above all incredibly mutually supportive. It's a great group, and always refreshing to spend time sharing learning and collegiality.

On a personal note, I had the privilege last week of presenting the Cohon Memorial Foundation Award to two outstanding individuals who work to make a difference in the Jewish world. They were the 2013 winners of the annual award given by my family's foundation in memory of my grandfather, Rabbi Samuel S. Cohon and my grandmother, A. Irma Cohon, to those who make a major contribution for Jewish unity, education, arts and culture, or rescue. The two winners were Harriet Rossetto, who started a great program called Beit Teshuvah in Los Angeles which rescues Jewish addicts and newly released prisoners, and Rabbi Kinneret Shiryon, the founding rabbi of the Reform congregation in Modi'in, Israel that does wonderful work with developmentally challenged children in Ramle, Israel. Both very deserving, and wonderful people as well.

There is really nothing more energizing than feeling as though you are helping those who are doing God's best work in the world. May they continue to go from strength to strength.

Read more: Mishpatim 5774: Anti-Fragility and Spirituality

January 22, 2014

Rabbi Samuel M. Cohon, Temple Emanu-El, Tucson, AZ

There is a famous Midrash in the Talmud that talks about last week's Torah portion. It reads, in part, "Rabbi Judah said: [while the Children of Israel stood at the shores of the Sea] Each one argued with the next saying, "I do not want to go into the sea first." While they argued, Nachshon son of Aminadav jumped up and went into the sea first." [Talmud Bavli Sotah 36, 72] And according to some versions of this Midrash, when Nachshon went into the Sea it did not part until the water reached his nose—only then endorsing his full willingness to drown by dividing and allowing our ancestors to cross over into freedom.

There are many ways to demonstrate courage in this world. Aristotle wrote that true courage was best demonstrated by those who understand the dangers they are encountering and overcome their fear to fulfill their duty in spite of that. He was less sanguine about those who lacked all fear, seeing their courage as something different, a kind of inability to fully comprehend the consequences of dangerous acts. In the Nicomachean Ethics he considers such boldness without regard to consequence as a lower sort of courage—still brave and virtuous, but inferior to the courage demonstrated by those who measure the full consequences of their potential actions, see the dangers of both acting and refraining, overcome their natural fears and then choose to act, knowing that there may be further dangers ahead.

Last week the former Prime Minister of Israel, Ariel Sharon, died after existing in a coma since a massive stroke suffered in office almost exactly 8 years ago, back in January of 2006. Zichrono livracha, may his complex memory be a blessing, and may he rest in peace.

Read more: Yitro 5774: Courageous to a Fault? Ariel Sharon & Israel Today

January 3, 2014

Rabbi Samuel M. Cohon, Temple Emanu-El, Tucson, AZ

I don't know how many of you have been watching college football bowl games this week, or will watch more over the weekend. At the beginning of every game, of course, following the longstanding tradition established by baseball, they always sing the Star Spangled Banner, our national anthem. And the conclusion of that stirring song stuck out this week; you all know it, it's the line that singers struggle with, "the land of the free, and the home of the brave."

My high school textbook for AP American History was called Land of the Free, as I recall. And that dedication to freedom, and thus liberty, has always been a central proposition of our country's heritage.

America, we are told in song and pledge, is the sweet land of liberty, dedicated to the proposition that all are created equal, and each of us has the inalienable right to life, liberty, and the pursuit of material possessions or happiness, whichever comes first. We know that the definition we use here for freedom includes some brilliant and noble conceptions: freedom from want and fear, freedom of conscience and public expression, freedom of the press, of thought, of religion, freedom from coercion and tyranny. We tend to think that the Lockeian ideals of individual rights are the first, foremost, and only way in which human beings can seek freedom, and that freedom is, in and of itself, an unassailable, intrinsic, greatest possible good for all human beings. We even seek actively to export freedom to all the peoples of the world—or at least all we can reach by military expedition or to commercial advantage.

Read more: Bo 5774: Freedom and Commitment

December 27, 2013

Rabbi Samuel M. Cohon, Temple Emanu-El, Tucson, AZ

Last year at this time of year Wendy and I were in New York City, and I can vouch for the sheer volume of humanity congregated in very small places during the non-Jewish holiday season—at times it is simply overwhelming. While it seems incorrect to say "L'shanah Tovah" tonight, I am reminded of John Stewart's comment about New Year's. He notes that he likes to go to Times Square on Rosh Hashanah since it's much less crowded than it is December 31st —in fact, it's just a few Jewish guys walking around going, "What's up?"

Anyway, this is the final Shabbat of the 2013 year, which means it must be time for lists of the top Jewish stories of the past 12 months. Now the truth is that of course this is not actually the end of the Jewish year—that came in the fall when we celebrated Rosh Hashanah. Of course for our new year we don't usually have champagne or bowl games or explosive devices. But since we are currently being richly drenched in end-of-the-year lists of bests and worsts, it isn't a bad time to review the past year from a purely Jewish perspective.

While some Jewish best of lists come out around Rosh Hashanah, there are always a few that crop up in late December, and 2013 is proving to be no exception. The Forward newspaper, one of the best representatives of Jewish journalism around today, has a top 13 Jewish stories for 2013, while the NJOP—formerly the National Jewish Outreach Program—has a top 18 viral Jewish stories of 2013. The ADL, headed by Abe Foxman, released its list of top 10 Jewish issues of 2013, and I suspect there are many, many other lists of top Jewish news items from the past 12 months. And like all Jewish efforts in every area the lists of course don't agree with one another...

Read more: Va'eira 5774: Top Ten Lists and a Non-Jewish New Year's Resolution

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