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Rabbi Lance J. Sussman, Ph.D.

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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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Lincoln Memorial against black background

In many ways, Abraham Lincoln (1809-1865), the 16th president of the United States, remains one of the most “biblical” figures in American history. Despite contemporaneous suspicions of his being an agnostic, much of what he wrote was infused with scriptural quotations favoring the Hebrew Bible to the New Testament by a four to one margin. Moreover, he came to understand the Civil War and the destruction of slavery in biblical terms and later, saw a biblical mandate in “binding up the wounds of the nation.” Unlike New England Puritans during the Colonial era who loved Hebrew but disdained...

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Canadian and American flags flying; blue sky and white clouds in the background

In the U.S. and Canada, Independence Day is almost upon us! Both national holidays call for celebration and prayer, and each country has its own customs to ask for divine blessing on the land, people, and government – as does Jewish tradition. Reform Judaism, too, has a rich liturgical tradition of “prayers for the government” that tells us a great deal about who we are as Jews and as citizens.

On April 30, 1973, President Richard Nixon ended a speech with “God bless America and God bless each and every one of you.” Although neither Gerald Ford nor Jimmy Carter closed presidential...

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The early American synagogue occasionally reflected its frontier environment. Fist fights, defending the honor of women congregants, and even duels were not unheard of. Perhaps the best known of these riotous events involved a rabbi and the president of the synagogue in Albany, New York, in 1850. And not just any rabbi, but the future founder of the American Reform Movement, Isaac Mayer Wise! The president was Louis Spanier, wealthy, charismatic, and the brother-in-law of Samuel Mayer, the chief rabbi of Hanover in northern Germany.

The two men were “powder and fire” and after...

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