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Rabbi's Corner


Rabbi Paula sees Jewish
practice as an ongoing, joyous celebration of God and ourselves.


April 2019

I’m writing from Europe, where I’ve been traveling with my family.

Aryeh’s two sons planned this trip months ago and their primary “goal” revolves around soccer—football—as it’s called here.

Our first stop was Amsterdam. Since

I was young and read her diary, I have wanted to visit the house where Anne Frank and her family were hidden. In our religious school production of the play, at 14 years old, I was Anne. I spoke her words and did my best as a kid, to imagine what it must have felt like to be confined in such a small space with her family and four others. Walking

through the rooms she walked in and seeing the sights she saw, I was filled with sadness for the suffering she and others endured during World War II. And I was amazed by the words she conjured to express her hope for the world.

While I am traveling in Europe, Rabbi Shifra is traveling in Israel with eight other members of our congregation in solidarity with Women of the Wall as they mark their 30th Anniversary. Women of the Wall (WOW) gathers every Rosh Chodesh (New Moon) at the Kotel (Western Wall). Their main purpose is to attain the social and legal recognition for women to wear tallit, pray out loud and read from the Torah

on the women’s side of the Kotel. But the bigger issue is that the ultra-orthodox minority monopolize the holy

sites and dictate how all Israeli citizens can be married and buried. For their 30th Anniversary, WOW’s goal was to gather supporters from all over the world as an expression of how important it is for the Kotel to be a place that all Jews can feel at home. Almost 10,000 ultra-orthodox school children were bussed in to fill the plaza of the western wall and prevent the group from entering. Rabbi Shifra said “most of these extremists were children and many of them had a very menacing mob mentality. They spat at us and shoved us and ridiculed us as we attempted to enter the women’s section to pray. Many of the people who came to be there with us gave up and turned back. However I did manage to make my way to the center of the Women of the Wall Rosh Chodesh service and it was a very moving experience for me. As I was pressed against a group of teenage girls who were there to block me, we respectfully exchanged our points of view in the eye of the storm as it were.” Despite harassment and even death threats, Women of the Wall continue their work, in conjunction with the URJ’s Israel Religious Action Center. We must never give up hope that Israel will become the example of religious pluralism and inclusion that it was intended to be.

‒Rabbi Paula Marcus

Read Women of the Wall: A Holy Mess in The Jerusalem Post at


On February 11, 2019, Rabbi Paula was honored with the Tony Hill Award at the 35th Annual Martin Luther King Convocation. She gave the following speech.

I want to thank so many people for this great honor. Those of you who nominated me and wrote letters of support, my Temple Beth El family. And all of you who have been partners in stirring up our shared public life in this amazing community. My family, including my amazingly supportive husband, my loving son, my loyal brother and his wonderful partner who are here this evening.

Tonight, we are honoring the memory of two men who stood up and spoke out whenever they saw injustice, insensitivity, inequality. Two men with the vision to keep going, even when others might have lost hope. Two peaceful warriors. Both of these men faced adversity. And both of them taught that love, not hate, is the way forward. Do we really know how remarkable this is? Because honestly, these days I’m finding it hard. Hard to stay in the struggle and not become enraged at what we are seeing.

It doesn’t help when my inbox is filled with political emails such as:

“Did you hear what Mitch McConnel just said?”

“Demand Governor Resign Over Blackface Photo”

“Condemn Rep. Steve King for White Supremacist Remarks”

Or “they want to be able to LYNCH LGBTQ people”

I know that these messages are sent by organizations that are working to mobilize us. They stir up our outrage. And, we can’t just get angry. Just like Tony Hill and Dr. King, we organize. We reach out to the people we work with and we say, what are we gonna do about this? We sit together, in sanctuaries, at cafes, sometimes in jail cells, and we share our stories our dreams and our plans to create change.

And we remember the legacies of hope and love and courage we hold so dear.

This is one reason I chose COPA* as the recipient of the $500.00 gift. I have learned so much about effective strategy, the importance of organizing across differences of faith, race, and economic class. And the preciousness of our stories, our understanding of why we need to work together. The patience it takes to stay in, especially when we don’t always agree about everything.

Last year, my husband and I traveled in Vietnam. Talk about a humbling experience, we were received by open hearted, generous people. I like to say it would have been easier if we’d gone when Obama was president, at least we could have said we learned something from that tragic war.

We spent some time at the Temple where the Vietnamese, Buddhist spiritual leader and teacher, Tich Nat Han, became a monk. We walked around the beautiful lake, sat in the meditation hall and spoke with some of the monks and nuns. This Temple is where Thich Nhat Hanh is now living his last days or weeks before he dies. This man, who protested against the war in Vietnam and taught that “Peace is in Every Step”. As we honor and remember Tony Hill and Dr King this evening, I want to close with these words from Tich Nat Han.

“If you see someone who is trying to shoot, to destroy, you have to do your best in order to prevent him or her to do so. You must. But you must do it out of your compassion, of your willingness to protect, and not out of anger. That is the key.

*COPA-Communities Organized for Relational Power in Action, local Industrial Areas Foundation affiliate.


Wed, April 24 2019 19 Nisan 5779