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Rabbi Lance J. Sussman, Ph.D.


Rabbi Isaac Mayer Wise with sculptor Moses Ezekiel and the bust of Wise that Ezekiel created

Isaac Mayer Wise is widely recognized as the founder of Reform Judaism in North America. Born in Steingrub, Moravia (Czech Republic) on March 29, 1819, he arrived in the United States in 1846 and immediately went to work to create a nationally united expression of Judaism, a Minhag America, under his leadership. Criticized by traditionalists as a reformer and resisted by radical reformers as unprincipled and unrefined, Wise nevertheless relentlessly pushed forward with his dream.

Largely due to his urging, the Union of American Hebrew Congregations (now the Union for Reform Judaism...

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View of empty pews from pulpit with an open book (Bible) on it

Preaching from the pulpit is a real challenge these days. With few exceptions, rabbis have had to trim their sermonic sails, even during the High Holidays, sidestepping politics, throwing in autobiographical snippets and a joke or two, and ending gracefully, like docking a family boat.

In contrast, when I was growing up in the 1960s, sermons were among the most anticipated events in synagogue life, especially on the eve of Rosh HaShanah and Kol Nidre night. At Oheb Shalom Congregation in Baltimore, MD, our senior rabbi, Abraham D. Shaw, dressed in a majestic white robe and a...

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Menu from the Trefa Banquet

On July 11, 1883, a large group of about 200 American Jewish VIPs sat down to eat a festive meal to celebrate the ordination of the first graduating class of the Hebrew Union College (HUC) at the elegant Highland House in Cincinnati, Ohio. For Isaac M. Wise, president of HUC, it was a sweet moment validating four decades of tireless work to unite American synagogues with the primary purpose of pooling resources to create a rabbinic school for the Jewish community in the United States. His students were now ordained rabbis and the time to celebrate had arrived.

Ten years earlier,...

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Close up on American flag; stars in the foreground, stripes in the background

About a dozen years ago, I was involved in a German-Jewish teen exchange program. German students from Frankfurt area high schools stayed with the families of teens in our synagogue, Reform Congregation Keneseth Israel in Elkins Park, PA, and then our students went to Germany to stay with their counterparts' families. Everything was going well until we took our guests by bus to Independence Hall. As we drew near to the cradle of American democracy, the usually festive German kids became strangely quiet. When pressed, they told us they expected to see banners about freedom and not dozens of...

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Statue of Liberty in shadow with sun shining behind her

Had our ancestors only made the voyage to America,Dayenu

Had they only endured hardships and made a new life for themselves and their descendants,Dayenu

Had our country only offered us, a storm-tossed people, a respite and a haven,Dayenu

Had the United States only have been the first country in history to give Jews citizenship,Dayenu

Had America only given us Freedom of Speech and Assembly,Dayenu

Had we only been guaranteed Freedom of Religion and the separation of church and state,Dayenu

Had the United States only struggled mightily for the...

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