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Note: The opinions expressed here are solely those of each individual blogger and do not necessarily represent the views of TRT.

Thoughts after Charlottesville

August 2017

By Cantor Alexander


My grandmother was a German Jewish girl living in Shettin, Germany (now in Poland). She was about seven years old when Hitler was elected Fuhrer. I wonder, but will never know, did her parents tell her what this might mean for the family, for her? My great grandparents, Irma and Johan (who I am named for) believed the words of Mein Kampf; they believed the Brown Shirts rampaging down the streets. They believed that even their beloved, enlightened country would do to the Jews what they were threatening. Johan had fought for Germany in the Great War; he was a patriot, but he also had a cousin who had been Hitler’s commander, so the family believed what Hitler said. In 1933 they applied for visa’s to the US and to British Palestine, and they waited; they waited 5 years. While they waited my grandmother was sent to Catholic school. While they waited her brother, Walter, was called out in class by a NAZI official as a fine example of an Aryan figure (he had light hair and light colored eyes). If he had told the truth, if a classmate had let it slip that he was a Jew… we can only imagine what the embarrassed official would have done to my great-uncle to retaliate for this Jew’s Aryan looks. There was a time my grandmother had to live separately from her parents as they moved to Amsterdam to be closer to port when the visas might come. What did my 9, 10, 11-year old grandmother think? Did she know she was in danger? Did she feel abandoned by her parents? Did she skip and play and run around like a carefree child with schoolmates?

Finally the visas came, but before they could travel to America Johan had a heart attack; the journey would need to be delayed. Did they know what this might have cost them? In 1938, when my grandmother was just 13 years old and her brother 15, they set sail for America. They were permitted to bring about $40, and had paid for their furniture to be shipped to California (because they didn’t know how far inland they would travel). While my great-grandparents were wealthy enough to have servants in Germany, they knew life would be very different in America; they started the journey with 2nd class tickets. My grandmother and her nuclear family were saved; one aunt with her family also came to America and a few cousins moved to British Palestine, but her grandparents, her other aunts, uncles and cousins would all perish in the Shoah.

This week, as we watched white supremacists and NAZIs march in Charleville, I wondered what or if I should tell my children. They are so little - just 6 years old. They should grow up with pride in their country; they shouldn’t know these evil things. They shouldn’t know their President has supported evil people; I shouldn’t share with them the truth that will bring them nightmares. And I thought, driving home, what did my grandmother know as a 7-year old girl? What did her parents say? How did they teach her to be brave and fearless in the face of such tangible fear? And I think, too, how lucky, how privileged I am that I can even decide to tell or not tell my 6-year olds the truth of the world. How many parents - Black parents, undocumented parents, Muslim parents - how many of them are given the choice to protect their children with ignorance? How many parents in Syria, or Afghanistan or Sudan are given the choice to protect their children from hunger and fear and violence; from a life filled with death every day? I am lucky, I am privileged, I have the power (for now) to keep my children safe.

When my grandmother was a girl of 7, a man filled with hatred for her kind came to rule her country. I will never know what she knew when, but I will forever be grateful that her parents were brave and strong and prepared to risk everything to protect their children from that evil. I hope I can imbue my children with their strength and kindness and the legacy my grandmother left us: open arms, a great big smile and the knowledge we are going through it together.


Cantor Joanna Alexander

"Choose Life"- (Deuteronomy30:19-20)

August 2016

Cantor Alexander

The summer is at its halfway mark, and we still have another two months until Rosh Hashanah, but we can tell this is still a necessary time of reflection. Traditionally, reflection leading up to the time of atonement does not start until one month before. During the month of Elul, we are to take the time to account for our year, our missteps, our successes, and prepare for Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur. After all, acknowledging where we have gone wrong and dedicating ourselves to not make the same mistakes is not something that can happen overnight, but something that takes preparation, commitment andrecommitment.

During this time, we have other issues of great importance and possibility hanging over us and constantly in the news. I'm speaking of the non-stop news story known as the 2016 election. We have, after all, been hearing about it daily for nearly two years, but now is the time our choices matter. As I write this article, the Republican and Democratic parties have not yet held their conventions. I do not know what the fallout from the "Bernie or Bust" camp will be, or if "party unity" will prevail in either or both or neither of the camps. But I do know we are in a time of change, anger and something unprecedented. My Jewish values have led me to more liberal choices in my voting history, but this does not have to be the case. We see a do-nothing Congress, we see governmental corruption, and we see bloated deficit spending. I can understand a small-government, more conservative political choice. But with this presidential campaign, it is not that simple. People have often felt the need to vote for "the lesser of two evils," so maybe this election is nothing new. But I'm concerned we are on the precipice of a whole new world.

OnYomKippurweread:"LifeanddeathIhavesetbeforeyou,blessingandcurse.Chooselife-sothatyouand yourchildrenmaylive-byloving,obeyingandstayingclosetoAdonaiyourGod."(Deuteronomy30:19-20)Life comes from following God's mitzvoth, death from disobeying.

I plead for us as a nation to choose life, choose diversity... choose to be welcoming to immigrants, as our nation opened its doors to my ancestors and yours. Choose for our government to sponsor no religion and for people of all faiths to be free to worship and be free from suspicion. Choose for voices of dissent to be welcomed as dialogue worth listening to and learning from, not to be greeted with violence or shut down with libel lawsuits. Choose for truth to win over popularism. Choose for people of all sexual orientations and gender identities to be themselves, to use restrooms in peace and marry in love. Choose life, choose expanding our definitions of who is welcome rather than contracting it. Choose for success to mean more than how much money we have in the bank. Choose for power to mean more than whose back we stepped on to get it. Choose life.

Choose for every life to matter, including the most vulnerable among us. Understand that the system doesn't currently work the same for every person, whether the system is the criminal justice system, the education system, employment opportunities, or the banking system. We are not currently all treated equally; until we are, the American dream of pulling oneself up by their bootstraps is just a myth.

So I pray, as we enter a time of prayer, self-reflection and atonement, I pray we will be inspired by what can be, by what beauty, creativity, and prosperity the "other" can bring to all, rather than by hatred, xenophobia and fear of this unknown future. I pray we will choose life, not just for ourselves and people like us, but for all to feel safe and free.  I pray we can stop the hate, stop the fear mongering and come to know that there is a better way.

As Reform Jews, Torah is not the final word on decision making, but it has always been a foundation. I pray we will find a way forward in this crazy new world we find ourselves in to "do justly, love mercy and walk humbly with God" (Micah 6:8)

Cantor Joanna Alexander

Leap year/Rock Shabbat Fundraising Concert

February 2016

From the Desk of Cantor Alexander

This year, we celebrate a Jewish Leap year. You may be aware that seven out of every nineteen years we add an additional lunar month to the calendar. The Jewish holidays are based around agriculture.   If we did not have these leap years, a holiday which celebrates the spring harvest would soon take place in the middle of winter. We would be unable to find a lulav and etrog for Sukkot, for the holiday would find itself in the summer. But by adding a leap month, we keep the holidays centered around the proper agricultural time of year. This year however, our leap month is pushing our Jewish calendar significantly off our American schedules.

Difficult Conversations

October 2015

From the Desk of Cantor Joanna Alexander

Last year, I wrote about the gifts of my grandmothers.  Part of their gifts to me was communicating to my parents (their children) about the quality of life they wanted were they unable to communicate and advocate for their own medical decisions.

New HH Machzor

August 2015

From the Desk of Cantor Joanna Alexander

As you may be aware, this year we will be using a new Machzor, or High Holiday prayer book. To better learn about this new Machzor, Rabbi and I went to a seminar for rabbis and cantors in May, and yes, we have been thinking about and planning Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur since the first week of May. 


Happy Pesach, and Happy April

April 2015

The Spirit of Shabbat

 After another long winter in the snow, I’m so excited to have many temple activities this spring to bring us together to celebrate, sing, and be part of a holy community. Each month, no matter the season, we have special Shabbat services which bring us together clapping and learning new songs, where we watch the un-encumbered dance and exude the spirit of Shabbat; where we put the prayer books down and hold hands or embrace our loved ones.

Learning, Exploring & Studying

February 2015

Religious Action Center for Reform Judaism

In January, I had the extraordinary opportunity to go with our 10th graders to the Religious Action Center for Reform Judaism, the Reform movement’s lobbying arm. Our students spent a packed 3 1/2 days of intensive learning, exploring and studying.

"Returning" to Parenting

October 2014

A Rededication

Rededicate yourself to Temple Rodeph Torah: try a new class; try a new social action project; try a new worship experience; even try having coffee or dinner with a new family to broaden your social circle and be inviting to others.

Why be Jewish?

June 2014


Recently I was speaking with a potential convert who grew up with no religion. What he was really struggling with was, what do I need religion for at all? Can’t I just be a good person? I've heard this question from many Jews and certainly many students over the years: why do I need to come to temple, or Sunday school? Isn't it good enough to be a good person? And for the most part it is. To my Jewish students it’s easy to say, of course being a good person is important, but you are a Jew, and that includes a history, and religious traditions which have nothing to do with ethical behavior, so to continue the Jewish people you need to know about these things and continue to teach them. But to a non-Jew this, of course, was not a true statement.


April 2014


What does it feel like when you pray? I don’t mean when you come to services, or when you sit begging God for something really important. What does it feel like when you know that right now, in this moment, you’ve connected? You’ve been touched by God? You’ve been moved by energy, or spirit, or community. What does it feel like?


February 2014


Welcome to our second annual Rock Shabbat Fundraising Concert!
Wow, what a year it has been! Last year we held our first Rock Shabbat fundraising concert and with the approximately $6000 in proceeds, combined with the generosity of our wonderful Rock Shabbat Sponsors, we were able to hold another amazing year of once-a-month Rock Shabbat services with a variety of guest artists. This year we have invited our first female artists, including Naomi Less (in January) and Beth Schafer, who will be with us in May. Because of the popularity of Rock Shabbat we decided to try a similar aesthetic for a Rosh Hashanah service and created "Rock Hashanah." That service, with guest artist Jules Frankel, was amazing - one of the best worship experiences of my life.

Traditions and Resolutions

December 2013

Benayim, January 2014

Happy New Year! Just a few short months ago we were saying Shanah Tova, Happy New Year for the holiday of Rosh Hashanah. We were evaluating how we had missed the mark in the past year, and what T’shuvah, turning or re-dedication, we could do for the next year. We contemplated re-evaluating our priorities, making more time for what is truly important in life. We may have asked what God wanted us to do to be a better person, a better Jew, a better ME? We may have been inspired to think differently, or act differently by our holiday worship,  sermons or time spent with family. Only a few short months ago many of these topics were on our mind. 

It's All Worship To Me

October 2013


As you might have seen, but definitely heard about at our High Holiday services, TRT is in the midst of many worship experiments. We've been very successful with Rock Shabbat, and believe Rock Hashanah is something to be repeated as well. But these once per month services are not the only changes we are making.

What IS Sinful Texting?

July 2013

Newletter Article August/September 2013

Thank you, Temple Rodeph Torah, for five amazing years! Thank you for celebrating those years at the June 14th Rock Shabbat. I look forward to many more years, music, experimentation and celebrations!

“Sinful Texting”: a Yom Kippur Community Experience at Temple Rodeph Torah


This Yom Kippur we continue asking the question we started asking when we launched the Center for a Jewish Future: what does the Jewish Future look like? And what does Judaism say to me, today, in 2013? Judaism is not a religion of the past; it is a living religion which changes to meet the needs and realities of every generation.

On Yom Kippur we say many of the same prayers Jews said a hundred years ago. Yet we also add new prayers, and say many of them in English; men and women sit and pray together; we have a female cantor singing from the bima; we drive to the service and pray in a temperature-controlled environment (most years). Our traditions reflect many of our modern values, but what about the future?

What is YOUR commandment?

June 2013

Newsletter Article June/July 2013

Growing up, I remember being taught about Mitzvot as good deeds, rather than commandments. I think the reason for this was that at the time, Reform Jews viewed Judaism as “ethical monotheism.” They believed that teaching monotheism was important and that the important commandments were the ethical ones. (Acting ethically is good or a good deed, so mitzvah was appropriated as a good deed, doing the right thing).  At camp, I remember learning about commandments falling into two categories: ben adam l’chaveiro (concerning people’s interaction with each other) and Ben adam l’makom (concerning people’s interaction with God).  Because of the emphasis in Reform Judaism on living in the modern world, and on ethical monotheism, we elevated the mitzvot ben adam l’chaveiro over those just concerning God. We elevated acting ethically towards our fellow humans, and towards animals and the world, above commandments concerning our relationship with God.

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