Thursday, July 28, 2011

Justice: Seek It, Pursue It, Secure It, and Maintain It

Last spring, as a recently retired attorney, Roger Price had the time to satisfy his curiosity. So he enrolled in Evanston's Citizen Police Academy. Since justice is Beth Emet's theme for 2011-2012, Roger's reflections kickstart our attention to things justice-oriented in the community that surrounds Beth Emet: Evanston.

Justice is a core Jewish value. We are urged to seek it, pursue it, secure it and maintain it. In our community, those tasks are often delegated to professionals and we generally know too little about who they are and what they do. Last spring, I decided to learn more. I enrolled in Evanston’s Citizen Police Academy, as part of its thirty-third class. What an experience!

I met police officers, many surprisingly young, who see on a daily basis what a lot of us would prefer not to see. They told us what many do not want to hear. They serve and protect all who want service and protection but would pass on the details, the financial cost and the personal toll on the responders.

I did not get to meet Horatio Caine or Det. Mac Taylor, but I did hear from some very real officers who talked about all too real, all too disturbing, often all too sad stories, of people at all stages of life who were engaged in conduct that ranged from premeditated and evil to simply sloppy or stupid.

I heard officers speak from the heart of the challenges they face, not just the budget constraints, but the challenges of scrutiny, probity, confidentiality and fear. They live in a world where everyone is a suspect until proven otherwise and the discretion they use, the decisions they render, often without full knowledge of a situation, can literally make the difference between life and death for them or someone else.

And I heard officers speak, with incredible pride, about the work that they do, about the satisfaction that they have in assessing and resolving a difficult problem, about being able to alter another human being’s life. How many of us really get a chance to do that, especially up close and personal and on a regular basis?

I also had the privilege to ride along with a police officer. At first the ride was mercifully dull. The city was quiet. And then, with lights and sirens and a gulp in my throat, we were off to face the unknown. I saw up close and personal the aftermath of a home invasion, with a rear entry glass door smashed, broken glass all over a den floor and a broken heart of a violated homeowner. Minutes later, I saw the arrest of three young adults, stopped initially for littering and then for possession of controlled substances.

By graduation, we covered topics as varied as animal control, dispatching, criminal investigation, domestic violence, evidence collection, chaplaincy and gangs. I had gained a good deal of knowledge about programs, procedures and policies. But more importantly, I had a chance to meet some real heroes, to paraphrase Raymond Chandler, men and women who down these sometimes mean streets must go, yet who themselves are not mean, who are neither tarnished nor afraid.

Crime, we are taught at the Academy, occurs where the community allows it. And the Evanston Police Department is a small force – less than half the size of the estimated gang population here. For a safer and better community, police and citizens must work together. Anyone concerned about our hometown and mindful of our obligation to seek, pursue, secure and maintain justice should consider participating. Academy Class 34 begins in the fall. Go to

Roger Price is the blogmaster of

Wednesday, July 20, 2011

Thoughts on Judaism, Science, Blogging, Adult Education, and How Everything is Connected to Everything Else

by Larry Kaufman

The age-old quandary, which came first, the chicken or the egg, is perhaps both paralleled and answered by a primary principle of Torah study, there is no earlier or later in the Torah. The parallel issue is the concern about sequence; the answer to the question, though, is actually provided: we read of the creation of winged creatures on the fifth day with no coverage at all of the creation of eggs.

This comes to mind because I have recently learned about a new blog,, whose author, Beth Emet’s Roger Price, credits it to be an outgrowth of the mini-course he offered here at the synagogue on Friday mornings during the spring, but which almost certainly emanates from an earlier interest on Roger’s part in the general subject matter of the compatibility of religion and science.

As a “satisfied customer” who participated in Roger’s class, I went eagerly to the blog when I learned about it. What I found is not an expansion on the specific essays by scientists and religionists that we had talked about, but further forays into the broad issue -- exemplified in unpredictable insights whose connectedness is clear once Roger points it out, but which I would never have thought of on my own.

For example, how does Sportin’ Life’s aria, “It Ain’t Necessarily So” from the Gershwins’ Porgy and Bess connect to Judaism or to science? Figure out your own answer, and then read the mind-blowing blog post to see if you got the whole thing. (I sure didn’t.)

I personally have posted several articles both on the Reform Judaism blog ( and here at Torat Chayeinu that emerged from discussions in Beth Emet classrooms, Rabbi London’s Torah study class being a particular stimulus. Kol hakavod, kudos to Helene Rosenberg and the Adult Education committee for providing the Beth Emet community with these opportunities for intellectual and Judaic growth, and to Ellen Blum Barish and Susan Fisher as the spark plugs in providing us with this forum for continuing the discussion and expanding our horizons further.

Friday, July 15, 2011

Power Outages, Double Rainbows and The Gifts of Shabbat

I hope this finds you powered back up if you lost your ability to plug in this week as so many did (I was among the lucky who did not.) It's one thing to lose power for an hour or two; something so very different to lose it for days on end.

Since my house was gifted with a working refrigerator and outlets, ours was the go-to spot for our neighbors wanting to save groceries and charge their phones and laptops. I couldn't help but notice how a power outage gets people connecting in other ways. People get to talking. One friend described how during one of her many dark evenings, she lit and candle and sat quietly in her livingroom. Within a few moments, her college-age daughter entered the room and began to play her guitar. And together they sat like that for a long while. Moments, my friend said, she would have never had if the power hadn't gone out.

I've been thinking a lot about Shabbat recently. How to bring more of it into my life. Even when it isn't Shabbat. That moment between my friend and her daughter strikes me as one of those. Rarer now with so many ways for us to plug in.

Last Shabbat I was in Colorado with my family and after a short, light rain - at dusk - emerged a double rainbow. Regular business stopped. Out came our cell phone cameras. (The photo above is one of the results.) We lingered for a while, marveling at it.

Upon seeing a rainbow, the Hebrew prayer goes:

Barukh attah Adonai eloheinu melekh ha-olam,

zokher haberit vene’eman bivrito v’kaiyam bema’amaro.

The rainbow was given to be “l’ot brit” [for a sign of the covenant] between the LORD and the earth] to keep it from destruction by deluge (Genesis 9:12-17).

I'm thinking about that double rainbow as the double blessing of the gift of Shabbat; the gifts of physical rest and psychic space. An entire day without humanmade light or power sources.

Shabbat Shalom.
Ellen Blum Barish
July 15, 2011

Monday, July 4, 2011

A Prayer for Our Country

With fireworks bursting overhead, we celebrate Independence Day in the United States. After the oohs and aahs give way to the stillness of the night, we may find a moment to reflect upon the significance of the day and consider a prayer for our country:

O GUARDIAN of life and liberty,
may our nation always merit Your protection.
Teach us to give thanks for what we have
by sharing it with those who are in need.
Keep our eyes open to the wonders of creation,
and alert to the care of the earth.
May we never be lazy in the work of peace;
may we honor those who have died in defense of our ideals.
Grant our leaders wisdom and forebearance.
May they govern with justice and compassion
Help us all to appreciate one another,
and to respect the many ways that we may serve You.
May our homes be safe from affliction and strife,
and our country be sound in body and spirit.

For the prayer in its entirety, along with the other prayers for our community, see