Temple Jeremiah


Shabbat Naso

Dear Friends,

A few weeks ago, I had the privilege of leading a delegation of 16 Temple Jeremiah members for the biennial Consultation on Conscience of the Religious Action Center. The RAC is the Reform voice in Washington, D.C. Working with the RAC we have strengthened our Social Justice Advocacy work. It was a very exciting and energizing conference.

The Torah portion for this week is Naso, from the Book of Numbers. This portion continues the work of the census that began in last week’s portion, the beginning of the Book of Numbers. The Hebrew word Naso means” lift up.” The command is not merely to count the number of people but to lift them up. Moses and Aaron are commanded to lift up and acknowledge the importance of each person; to affirm their humanity.

This is our work, too. As social justice advocates, we take on the responsibility of lifting up those who are most vulnerable. One focus of the Consultation on Conscience was on returning citizens. This new language is meant to replace the reference: convicted felons. During the first plenary session we heard from Desmond Meade, president of the Florida Rights Restoration Coalition. He spoke about the successful campaign in Florida to restore voting rights to those persons convicted of a felony. His point, most people will get out of prison and return to society. It is much better to do all that we can to help these persons become part of the community again. This positive message rolled into the work we lobbied for, to remove the check off box on federal job applications that asked if you were convicted of a felony. The idea is again to give returning citizens a better shot at finding employment, housing and hope.

Hope was the overall feeling we got as we moved through the Consultation on Conscience. Two years ago, 400 people attended. This year, 1200 people participated in the conference. The fact that we had one of the largest delegations speaks to the desire we have to make the world better and the acknowledgement that we can. You will be hearing more about how we will continue our advocacy here in our state through our RAC Illinois cohort. We are working with our sister congregations throughout Illinois as well as non-profit organizations advocating for immigration reforms and criminal justice reforms.

Moses and Aaron, at God’s command, lift up the heads of each Israelite. It was to be a sign that each person was seen, was valued and was worthy of care. We must continue this work as we lift each other, rising to the work to bring help and hope to those who seek refuge in our state and those who are returning citizens seeking to make a new life for themselves after serving their sentence. May we all commit to this work with energy, spirit and hope.

Shabbat Shalom,

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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