Rabbis to focus on Mideast at their weekend services

Few plan to mention uproar over Mel Gibson's anti-Semitic remarks

August 04, 2006|By LIZ F. KAY | LIZ F. KAY,SUN REPORTER

Rabbis conducting services around the Baltimore area today and tomorrow are choosing to focus on the chaotic and deadly events in the Middle East rather than the uproar over the anti-Semitic remarks Mel Gibson made during a traffic stop.

Several rabbis said yesterday that the fighting between Israel and Hezbollah in Lebanon seems to parallel the commemoration of Tisha B'Av, a day of fasting that primarily marks the destruction of the Jewish temples in Jerusalem in 586 B.C. and 70 A.D. The holiday began last night and ends at sundown today.

"The locus of our physical power was destroyed. ... We became powerless in history," said Rabbi Steven M. Fink of the reform Temple Oheb Shalom in Northwest Baltimore. He said the commemoration offers lessons that apply today.

FOR THE RECORD - An article in yesterday's editions gave the wrong date for the Jewish holiday of Tisha B'Av. The fast started Wednesday and ended Thursday at sundown.
The Sun regrets the error.

"It's better to have power and to wield power than to be powerless," he said, adding that power must be used with a moral sense. "That's the great difficulty."

Few rabbis said they plan to mention Gibson. Fink suggested that subject might be more appropriate for the Jewish high holiday of Yom Kippur. On that day, "we deal with repentance, forgiveness and atonement," he said.

Rabbi Mark G. Loeb of Beth El Congregation in Pikesville said people attend services for "a sense of perspective on what's happening, a sense of comfort in times of trouble, which we are certainly living through."

He said Tisha B'Av, which is marked by reflection and fasting, is fitting for a discussion of the situation in the Middle East.

When each temple was destroyed, "the Jews were almost put out of business," Loeb said. "Eventually, in history, we renewed ourselves, we recovered. We are praying that the results will be better for everybody."

After remembering the events of Tisha B'Av, this week's Shabbat celebration will focus on comfort and redemption, said Rabbi Steven P. Schwartz of Beth El.

Although Tisha B'Av was a sad day, Jews also understood that the Messiah would be born on that day, he said, bringing hope.

As a result, "despite all of the challenges ... in the end you have reason to maintain hope as well. There's continuity to the Jewish people," he said.

Cantor Jan Morrison of Columbia Jewish Congregation said she stays away from political topics, instead striving for "healing kinds of services, to look for ways for us to work together."

This week's Torah readings show that "if we don't learn from the past, we're doomed to make the same mistakes in the future," Morrison said.

"Everyone's looking for ways to practice peace," she said.

liz.kay@baltsun.com

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