Temple Jeremiah


Shabbat Chol Hamoed Sukkot

Dear Friends,

I write this just having celebrated a marriage on Sunday afternoon, the Eve of Sukkot. I felt tremendous gratitude that a young woman who I have known most of her life, helping her celebrate becoming a Bat Mitzvah and completing her Confirmation, found such happiness and love. Standing under the Chupah with the two of them brought into sharp focus the inclusive nature of the Chupah itself. A house does not become a home without the loving presence of family and friends says the Chupah. It is open on all sides to show that we are stronger when we are open on all sides to all people. These two young people are not alone. They have the great support of their community, their family and their friends. They know that in times of celebration and in times of trial they will be strengthened through these relationships.

How important this lesson is for us in this moment. Too much energy is devoted to pushing us into factions and stripping away the sense of community. We are being divided into war camps. We focus on what we do not have and who is to blame rather than reflecting on all that we have and the Source of all goodness. We can, and we must, resist these forces that would have us believe that the easiest way to improve our situation is to get rid of those to blame for it.

The Sukkah, like the Chupah, is a fragile structure. We build it and we are told that we must dwell in it for seven days. In making ourselves more vulnerable we become more sensitive, and maybe even a bit more compassionate. The Sukkah can be a tool we use to reject the current trend of our society. We remember the Sukkah that our ancestors built to shelter themselves after the Exodus on their way to the Promised Land. In making themselves more vulnerable they were open to the sheltering presence of God. In opening ourselves up we become more aware of the needs of others and the myriad ways we can help.

The Sukkah also reminds of the millions who do not have adequate shelter throughout the year, not just seven days. We think especially of the 60 million refugees fleeing the violence of their home country seeking shelter wherever they can find it. There are many in this country, undocumented people, who need our help, as well. These children brought here, not of their own volition, not knowing any country other than America. These people are here and are part of a program called DACA: Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals. This Friday night, the Shabbat of Sukkot, we will hear the story of one of the DREAMers, a woman who qualified for DACA protection.

Sukkot is a festival of thanksgiving. We are blessed with so much. We acknowledge this blessing by helping those in need. May this Sukkot find us opening our hearts, our minds, and pockets.

Shabbat Shalom and Moadim L’Simcha,

Rabbi Paul F. Cohen, D.Min., D.D.

Rabbi Paul Cohen

About Rabbi Paul Cohen

Rabbi Paul F. Cohen, D.Min., D.D. is originally from Chicago. He graduated with a bachelor's degree from Grinnell College where he studied biology and comparative religion. Upon graduation, he moved to Minneapolis where he worked for two years in a short-term residential treatment program for delinquent adolescents. Rabbi Cohen received his Masters of Arts and rabbinic ordination and the honorary degree, Doctor of Divinity, celebrating 25 years in the rabbinate in March 2015, from the Hebrew Union College-Jewish Institute of Religion in Cincinnati, Ohio. While there, he served as the student rabbi for the United Hebrew Congregation in Ft. Smith, Arkansas and the auxiliary chaplain at the Wright Patterson Air Force Base in Dayton, Ohio. Rabbi Cohen's rabbinical thesis was titled "Modes of Divine Communication: Some Aspects of the Rabbinic Views" which focused on some of the less conventional ways rabbis expect to send and receive communication vis a vis heaven. Rabbi Cohen was awarded a Doctor of Ministry degree from the Bangor Theological Seminary in May 2001. His dissertation is entitled "Digging Our Parent's Wells" and deals with congregational renewal. While in Cincinnati, Rabbi Cohen met his wife, Cathy, and together they moved to Norfolk, Virginia where he served as the assistant and then associate rabbi of Ohef Sholom Temple. Active on many community boards of directors, Rabbi Cohen was the founding president of the South Hampton Roads Campaign for the Homeless. Immediately prior to serving Temple Jeremiah, Rabbi Paul Cohen was the spiritual leader of Congregation Bet Ha'am in South Portland, Maine and served on the boards of the Jewish Federation, Cedars Nursing Home, the Equity Institute and the Cancer Community Center. He was the president of the Greater Portland Interfaith Council, a founding member of the Religious Coalition Against Discrimination and the Maine Interfaith Coalition for Reproductive Choices and sat on its executive board. Politically and communally active, Rabbi Cohen has been asked on several occasions to offer testimony before state legislative committees. Rabbi Cohen served as chair of the Rabbinic Advisory Committee of Olin-Sang Ruby Union Institute, he is President of the Chicago Association of Reform Rabbis and is a past board member of the Interfaith Housing Center of the North Shore (now called Open Communities), was a founding board member of Family Promise of Chicago North Shore, served as President of the Chicago Board of Rabbis and is a member of the Winnetka Interfaith Council, served on the Ethics Committee of the North Shore Senior Center. He is a graduate of the Kellogg Management Education for Jewish Leaders program, sits on the Jewish United Fund/Jewish Federation Board of Directors and the Jewish Center for Addiction Advisory Board and serves on the Clergy Advisory Board for the Public Defender of Cook County. He is a Senior Rabbinic Fellow of the Shalom Hartman Institute in Jerusalem.

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