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A Reform Jewish Community for all of Tucson
225 North Country Club • Tucson, AZ 85716
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Yom Chamishi, 23 Elul 5774

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July 11, 2014

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

This has been a very difficult ten days or so for Jews everywhere, but especially so for Israel and for all of us who love her. So much has happened in such a short period of time that it is worth recapping it all, painful as it may be.

After the bodies of the three kidnapped Israeli teens were found early last week, brutally murdered and left under a pile of rocks, an Arab teen was also brutally murdered—burned alive—a few days later, and the Israeli police arrested and charged six ultra-Orthodox teens with the crime, and they confessed. Arab riots took place in the West Bank and East Jerusalem in response, and then a video on the internet also showed Israeli Border Police brutally beating the cousin of the murdered teen, a teenage American from Florida, and more riots broke out. The Israeli roundup of Hamas activists and terrorists in the West Bank collected about 500 prisoners, Hamas fired rockets from Gaza in response, and then engaged in a competition with Islamic Jihad elements in Gaza to see who could fire more rockets farther into Israel. The Israeli Air Force bombed targets all through Gaza, destroying the homes of many Hamas leaders without killing many of them, although some Hamas terrorists and more civilians were killed.

Hamas and Islamic Jihad rockets reached but failed to damage the rumored Israeli nuclear site of Dimona, as well as Tel Aviv, Jerusalem, and Zichron Ya'akov in the north. Iron Dome missile defense batteries successfully shot down many rockets, while others struck unoccupied areas. Israel targeted Hamas leaders, and killed one in charge of their rocket arsenal, but otherwise seems to be unable to reach Hamas military commanders who are holed up in tunnels under Gaza. Israel mobilized some of its reserves for a potential ground offensive in Gaza. While various parties counseled restraint and de-escalation, the UN mobilized too, in order to criticize Israel.

It's a mess, and for Israelis headed for bomb shelters on a regular basis for the first time in years this is a very, very disturbing turn of events.

Read more: Pinchas 5774: The Rockets Red Glare: Heat and Light from Israel and Gaza

May 23, 2014

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

Shabbat Shalom. As you have heard very humorously in our drash tonight, in most ways Bamidbar is a stupendously dull portion, one of the least superficially interesting Torah portions of the entire year. After all, it's nothing more than a series of lists, a counting, a census of people. How many were in the tribe of Reuben, head by head, one by one, age twenty and over, all who are able to go out to war? 46,500. How many were in the tribe of Shimon, head by head, one by one, age twenty and over, all who are able to go out to war? 59,300. How many in the tribe of Gad, Judah, Issachar, Zevulun, Ephraim, Menasseh, Benjamin, Dan, Asher, Naphtali, head by head, one by one, age twenty and over, all who are able to go out to war, on and on, thousands upon thousands, all counted one at a time? Numbers and numbers and numbers, added together, a Torah portion only an accountant could love.

On closer examination, it looks—well, even less intriguing. More details about the arrangement of the camp. More minutiae relating to the census. Nothing with the vaguest whiff of interest or challenge or meaning.

In fact, when you come right down to it, it looks a whole lot like the regulations for the establishment of a census. Count each and every person carefully, total them up, move on to the next area or region. Each and every single individual is tallied. A good process for the statisticians, but what can it possibly mean to us? Does the annual reading of Bamidbar explain why there are so many Jewish CPA's?

Read more: Bamidbar 5774: Jewish Accounting for God

May 16, 2014

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

This week's Torah portion of Bechukotai describes both wonderful promises given to our ancestors if they fulfilled God's mitzvot and kept the covenant, and a long litany of punishments if they failed to do so. The blessings guarantee that if we follow God's commandments we will be a blessing to the peoples of the world. The curse section is called the Tochecha, and this sequence of often viciously negative consequences for our ancestors, and by extension, for us, came to mind this week when I heard of a new study that had just been released about anti-Semitism, surely the world's longest-lived irrational hatred and the one with some of the worst consequences in all of human history.

This first worldwide study of the ancient disease of anti-Semitism was commissioned by the Anti-Defamation League, and completed by First International Resources. It interviewed roughly 53,000 people in over 100 countries, which statistically represents some 88% of the world's population. In the story that came out on Wednesday of this week, the study found that about a quarter of the entire population of the world is pretty deeply infected with Anti-Semitism, a stunning number in view of the fact that the entire Jewish population of the world is roughly 14 million, or less than ½ of 1% of the world's total of 7.2 billion. That means that over a billion people in the world today have anti-Semitic attitudes.

Read more: Bechukotai 5774: A New Tochecha -- Worldwide Anti-Semitism Today

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

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