From Rabbi Lieberman

  • A Tempest in a Coffee Cup

    Posted ‍‍כח חשון ה תשעו - November 10, 2015 By in Rabbi's Thoughts With | Comments Off I write these words we’re several weeks away from Thanksgiving, but the “Christmas Wars” have already begun. The first salvo was fired at Starbucks Coffee.

    Joshua Feuerstein—a self-described “American evangelist, Internet, and social media personality”—rages in a widely-seen video against “the age of political correctness” and the new seasonal coffee cups at Starbucks. What’s the issue? The cups are all red (with the Starbucks logo in green)….no snowmen, no snowflakes, no manger scenes, no Christmas trees. This is, apparently. anathema to the likes of Joshua Feuerstein, who accuses Starbucks of engaging in the “war on Christmas”.

    In a salient essay in The Atlantic Monthly on this issue, Emma Green writes:

    “There are many, many ways in which the erosion of an American Christian mono-culture has created fascinating, difficult challenges for Christians. [...] But coffee cups are not one of them. Rhetorical bluster about coffee cups distracts from the real, difficult questions of religious liberty and freedom of expression—including workplace hiring and discrimination, wedding-vendor services, or contraception insurance—and diminishes the seriousness of those questions by association. Feuerstein’s challenge to “all great Americans and Christians around this great nation” to “take your own coffee selfie” is a silly social-media campaign. This is a situation all but defined by choices and freedom: the choice to buy coffee from Starbucks, the choice to facetiously trick baristas into saying something that aligns with Christian cultural preferences, even the choice to speak out against the company on social media. Coffee-cup outrage is flimsy when paired with real conflicts of conscience that have led to years-long lawsuits and businesses shutting down and significant public protests—and it is shameful in light of the violent persecution of Christians around the world.”

    As Jews around the world prepare to light the first Chanukah candle on Sunday evening, December 6th, we would do well to remember that at the very core of the Chanukah story lies a bloody and determined battle for the right to worship as we deem fit. Despite the sad history of the Hashmonean dynasty that descended from the Maccabees and which sought to suppress religious diversity, we do not embrace a religious vision that calls upon us to impose our beliefs–or our dreidel-laden coffee-cups–  on our neighbors….and it is not “politically correct” to expect of our neighbors an understanding that American culture is polyglot and religiously diverse.

    So, as we drift deeper into the “holiday season”, I will lift my seasonal-red Starbucks cup in a toast to “political correctness’….as beautifully defined by the writer Neil Gaiman:

    “I was reading a book [...] yesterday which included the phrase ‘In these days of political correctness…’ talking about no longer making jokes that denigrated people for their culture or for the color of their skin. And I thought, ‘That’s not actually anything to do with ‘political correctness’. That’s just treating other people with respect.’

    Which made me oddly happy. I started imagining a world in which we replaced the phrase “politically correct” wherever we could with “treating other people with respect”, and it made me smile.

    You should try it. It’s peculiarly enlightening.

    I know what you’re thinking now. You’re thinking ‘Oh my god, that’s treating other people with respect gone mad!’”

  • Rabbi Lieberman’s Testimony Concerning “The Compassionate Care for the Terminally Ill Act”

    Posted ‍‍ז חשון ה תשעו - October 20, 2015 By in Rabbi's Thoughts With | Comments Off

    b99410956z.1_20141227143226_000_g6q9agom.1-0In late October I submitted the following testimony before the Joint Public Health Committee of the legislature in support of H.B. 1991,
    “The Compassionate Care for the Terminally Ill Act” which would create a compassionate aid-in-dying law in our state. If passed, Massachusetts would join Oregon, Washington, Vermont, Montana and California in providing its citizens with important decision-making abilities when confronted with a terminal illness. An additional 20-plus states are now considering such legislation. In 2013, in a ballot initiative, Massachusetts voters very narrowly defeated such a proposal. There is good reason to hope that a legislative approach will be successful this time.

    If this issue engages you, I encourage you to consult resources created by Compassion & Choices  ( and to be in touch with your legislators to tell them of your support for this effort.


    “My name is Elias Lieberman and I serve as the rabbi of the Falmouth Jewish Congregation on Cape Cod, a position I have held for the past twenty-five years. I am grateful for the opportunity to offer testimony today in support of The Compassionate Care for the Terminally Ill Act.

    I have, in the past, served as a hospice chaplain and I bring to this moment decades of experience serving the needs of families as they contend with end of life issues. I have been witness to good deaths and bad deaths; I have seen members of my community pass from life serenely and I have watched them endure suffering that none of us would wish for ourselves or anyone we love.

    In Jewish tradition, a frequently heard toast is “L’chayim”, a Hebrew expression that means “To life”. In truth, mine is a faith tradition that deems precious the gift of life we are granted. But mine is also a tradition that rejects the notion that there is anything inherently redemptive about suffering.

    The wisdom found in the Book of Ecclesiastes reminds us that “there is a time to be born and a time to die.” I have come to believe that there is, sometimes, a time for an individual to make the informed decision to bring his/her life to an end with compassionate support and with the safeguards incorporated into this proposed legislation.

    As a person of faith and as someone who chose a profession in which I am expected to offer guidance and support to those facing the ultimate in existential questions, I believe firmly that every individual should be afforded the right to end life when suffering renders living intolerable.

    I believe that life must be infused with meaning and purpose and when it is no longer possible for us to attain either, because of the suffering induced by illness, a compassionate alternative must be available to us, one that lies at the core of this proposed legislation.

    I do not presume to speak for all Jews or for Judaism; I do presume to offer my experience and my convictions gained over the course of my career ministering to the dying and to their loved ones. I urge you to grant the precious gift of autonomy to those whose suffering will be unendurable and for whom a release from a life of suffering would be the greatest of blessings.”

    Reb Elias

  • October is Domestic Violence Awareness Month

    Posted ‍‍ד תשרי ה תשעו - September 17, 2015 By in Rabbi's Thoughts With | Comments Off

    Learned Helplessness Domestic Violence

    They say
    These clever scientist folks,
    That there is such a thing
    As learned helplessness;
    Cage a rat
    Subject it
    To repeated trauma
    Until it is so tired of fighting
    It will lie in the corner
    And take the pain

    Not leaving
    Even when the door is opened

    I know this to be true
    This has been me
    In the corner
    With imploring eyes
    For you to shut the door
    And stop confronting me

    With impossible choices

    This poem, by an unnamed victim of domestic abuse speaks powerfully of what is the day-to-day reality for so many victims of domestic abuse and violence.

    October is Domestic Violence Awareness Month (DVAM), an observance that evolved from the “Day of Unity” held in October 1981 and which was conceived by the National Coalition Against Domestic Violence. The intent was to connect advocates across the nation who were working to end violence against women and their children. The Day of Unity soon became an entire week devoted to a range of activities conducted at the local, state, and national level. The activities conducted were as varied and diverse as the program sponsors but had common themes:

    • Mourning those who have died because of domestic violence
    • Celebrating those who have survived
    • Connecting those who work to end violence

    These three themes remain a key focus of DVAM events today. In October 1987, the first Domestic Violence Awareness Month was observed. That same year marks the initiation of the first national domestic violence toll-free hotline. In 1989, the U.S. Congress passed Public Law 101-112 designating October of that year as National Domestic Violence Awareness Month.

    While women and children are, statistically, the primary targets of domestic abuse and violence, it is manifest in every socio-economic and cultural stratum of society. Perpetrators and victims may be of any gender or sexual orientation. Studies reveal that the incidence of domestic abuse and violence in the Jewish community mirrors that of society at large. We are, by no means, immune to this scourge.

    On Cape Cod resources exist for those who need help extricating themselves from abusive and dangerous situations.

    Cape Cod Center For Women, providing services for battered women and their children, is the only 24-hour, 7-day-a-week confidential domestic violence emergency shelter serving Cape Cod, Martha’s Vineyard and Nantucket. The Center is dedicated to providing quality programs and services to individuals and families escaping violence or abuse. Our compassionate community of staff, volunteers and supporters assist primarily battered women and their children in leaving violent environments and transitioning to independent living, fully connected to a network of community support and with a lifelong safety plan. 508-564- (SAFE) 7233

    Independence House, Inc. is the only comprehensive community-based organization on Cape Cod providing free and confidential specialized services and widespread programs for adults, teens and children (ages 6 and up) who are survivors of, or affected by domestic and sexual violence. For over 35 years, Independence House, Inc. has been sharing knowledge and skills with survivors in order for them to regain self-confidence, make informed decisions and initiate changes in their lives n order to live empowered, independently, and free from violence.

    Independence House has been a consistent and continuous leader in increasing safety options for adult and children survivors of domestic and sexual violence; increasing knowledge and awareness about domestic and sexual violence prevention; elevating and improving Cape Cod’s response to domestic and sexual violence; and actively engaging with the community to end domestic and sexual violence. 24 HOUR HOTLINE: 800-439-6507

    I urge you to find some time this month to educate yourself about domestic abuse and violence and what resources exist to address this problem. Chances are great that you know someone–a relative, a neighbor, a friend–who is a suffering from domestic abuse and is awaiting your outreach and advocacy.

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