Happy Thanksgiving 2017

Wishing everyone a wonderful Thanksgiving.

This is an interesting year indeed. It seems that each day brings new issues testing us in new and often uncomfortable ways. However, this Thursday is Thanksgiving. Let us take time to celebrate our many blessings. For many of us enjoy a bounty. Try to use this time to gather loved ones, families and friends, and recognize the many reasons you have to be grateful.

Let us also use the time to acknowledge we have a long way to go on the journey to fully realize the values that guide us. For there are too many in our country who do not fully enjoy all of its blessings. This is the time to rededicate our efforts to make this a kinder, gentler and fairer place for all.

 

 

Shine into the Darkness, The Message we mean to send

“ I know you think you understand what you thought I said but I’m not sure you realize that what you heard is not what I meant”                              ― Alan Greenspan

Last week I went to the White House to meet with the Special Assistant to the President with the JCRC and Women’s Philanthropy Division of the Jewish Federation of Greater Philadelphia. Respectfully but rather forcefully we advocated for our concerns over the issues of DACA, Gun Violence, BDS, Anti-Semitism, and SNAP. I know we did not change the administration’s opinion, but we gave voice inside the halls of power to our values. Sometimes we do not do speak constructively and what we think we are saying is not the message heard. There is an important example of this making its way around social media.

An anonymous rabbi is attributed as responding to a White House request for a Menorah with a rebuff saying that the current administration is antithetical to everything the holiday and menorah represent, so their menorah is not available.

I believe this message does not take the moral high ground, and instead sounds preachy and filled with a self-righteous arrogance that makes dialogue impossible. The story resonates only for those who already believe it.   But for everyone else, the message is negative, generating pushback and defiance, not a moment of teaching and potential rapprochement.

Those of us who believe that the current administration undermines important Jewish values need to speak truth to power but to do so respectful of the institution and with the hope of carrying the message to not merely protest, but to hopefully persuade.

We are obligated to reach out to those with whom we disagree. Through building relationships and dialogue we might give insights and change viewpoints. We also are empowered to champion our causes publicly and we vote. These are sacred and important parts of what makes this an extraordinary country.

The only way our light will illuminate is if we cast it into the dark.

 

 

 

 

A special message for Shabbat: Remembering Kristallnacht and Veteran’s Day

This weekend is an extraordinary confluence of memories and events that I pray leads to our rededication to the values we cherish as a nation and as Jews. Kristallnacht and Veteran’s Day are times of extraordinary solemn remembrance. The lessons we learn from these can shape our commitment to the world we seek to achieve.

 

November 9 marks the anniversary of Kristallnacht, Nazi Germany’s great pogrom and genocide against the Jewish people. The oppression and persecution of the Jews of Europe entered a new and deadlier phase bringing the long-simmering anger and aggression out into the open as Goebbels encouraged mass arrests, violence against Jews and any visible signs of Jewishness, including synagogues, stores, and our sacred texts.

 

WW1 veteran Joseph Ambrose, at the Vietnam Veterans Memorial. He holds the flag that covered the casket of his son, who was killed in the Korean War.

November 11 marks Veteran’s Day, the time we honor those who have bravely fought to preserve, protect, and defend our country and the values we represent. Eventually, these men and women fought against the Nazi’s tyrannical regime built on hate but sadly too late to rescue the 6 million Jews slaughtered.

 

And yesterday, November 9, I was proud to accompany the Women’s Philanthropy Division of the Jewish Federation of Greater Philadelphia on a trip to Washington, DC to advocate both in Congress and the White House for DACA, Responsible Gun Legislation, Food Insecurity and the SNAP program, and against BDS and Anti-Semitism. We championed our values and spoke truth to power with persuasive force and civility.

The struggle to realize a better kinder nation and world continues. Yasher Koach and most profound gratitude to all of those who join the fight.

Shabbat Shalom.

Jewish Sacred Aging Radio

Pleased and proud to help my friend and colleague Rabbi Richard Address launch Jewish Sacred Aging Radio!

For the initiation of this wonderful project, Rabbi Address, Rabbi Simcha Raphael, and I had a lively insightful conversation about questions surrounding the unique challenges of the later stages of life. Listen in by clicking above or on this hyperlink:

http://jewishsacredaging.com/jewish-relationships-and-jewish-views-of-death-and-afterlife/

The three of us bring our unique areas of expertise together in our lecture series we call:  L’Chaim! Jewish Wisdom for the End-of-Life Journey.

This month we are presenting at Adath Jeshurun in Elkins Park Wednesday evenings.

Reach out to us to bring this extraordinary series to your community!

Miracles can happen when you don’t forget about me

For something truly extraordinary to happen, we must include the people already inside the tent.

In Vayeira I see an important message about inclusivity, but it’s not what you think. Everyone looks at Abraham’s hospitality, running to the three men and offering rest, food and drink, and honor. But it is only when Sara comes from the tent that the great miracle of prophecy occurs. This is a most important message for us in these changing times.

We properly reach out to people outside our tent in an effort to practice inclusivity and outreach. But as we reach out we must also reach within to make sure that those already within the tent feel equally honored and valued.

People regularly leave the synagogue community because they no longer find anything there for them. Parents leave once the child has been “Bar-Mitzvahed” and Boomers leave because they do not see value in belonging. But helping to develop a child’s value system and sense of community has only just begun with Bar-Mitzvah, and finding support in a caring community is never more important than when we confront the challenges of middle age and beyond. Our synagogues are as important as ever, but destined to struggle with membership (and finances) if we do not find ways to communicate a value proposition that resonates for those already in the tent. Those front doors we want to fling open to welcome newcomers are also open to those looking to leave. We need to help them understand why they would want to stay.

Sara prepared the cakes to serve the messengers and standing at the tent’s opening, she scoffed with incredulity at the vision the men proclaimed. Our congregants too find the future difficult to accept, but it is our sacred task to give them a vision of an extended family and the caring community they are unable to imagine for themselves. As we seek to evolve and broaden our reach, we must always remember to continuously nurture those who have already aligned with us so they continue to embrace our important values and keep our tent full.

Shabbat Shalom

For most of October, I have been away traveling with Naomi from Budapest to Amsterdam, spending most of our time in Germany. It was a fascinating trip, both revealing and thought-provoking. I look forward to sharing some of what I have learned and some of the questions that remain unanswered in the weeks ahead.

For now, I wish you Shabbat Shalom and share with you Psalm 92. This music was written by Franz Schubert and performed by Cantor Solomon Sulzer for the consecration ceremony of the Stadttempel in Vienna. I will share in other posts the famously talented Shmuel Barzilai, Cantor of the Stadttempel. (This performance is by the Choeur de la synagogue de Copernic Soliste: David Serero)

Shabbat Shalom!

If not now? A call for change on Yom Kippur

#4 What do we do now- Be Kind

 

We come to the Third part of Hillel’s quote: If not now, When? The answer is NOW.

I have refrained from speaking directly about Charlottesville with you thus far.

I am sure that the public display of hate deeply pained you.

The horrible chants, torch-lit marching, gun-toting thugs,

40 Jews inside Congregation Beth Israel that evening,

spiriting their Torahs out the back door, expecting the Temple to be burned, it sickens me.

 

The Nazi march was vile and despicable behavior by people who live on the fringes of our society,

a group that trucks in hatred,

truly disenfranchised miscreants who crawled out from the dark underbelly of this great nation

and are mired in their own bizarre fantasies of violence and white supremacy.

I am very angry and deeply saddened by this horrific display.

And I am equally appalled by the lack of moral leadership on this and all issues at the highest levels in our land.

However, I am not fearful.

And in response to the horrors of Charlottesville

I have a one-word reply:

Houston.

 

Charlottesville and many other places make it clear we have a long way to go in the battle for life, liberty, and equal justice for all.

Again I say Houston. For there in Houston, there is hope.

 

In response to the devastating Hurricane Harvey that dumped floodwaters of biblical proportions on the region,

the very best of humanity showed up to the rescue.

There were only two groups in the city:

The rescuers and those in need of rescue.

Race, religion, color, creed, age, sex, gender identification, political affiliation, economic class, social class-

Nothing mattered except the need to save lives of people.

The Cajun Navy spontaneously appeared, people helped people, human chains literally reaching out into the floodwaters,

holding tight to each other

so that another life could be saved from the torrents of water. Everyone was on both ends of that lifeline.

In losing everything, the people of Houston found something truly precious, their humanity.

My response to the horror of Charlottesville is the beauty of Houston.

We seem to be at our best in the aftermath of a calamity.

Houston, Sandyhook, 9/11- these are only a few catastrophes to which we have risen up as a people,

United in bonds of love and fellowship.

Why must we reserve our best in response to tragedy?

This Yom Kippur, I suggest we preemptively deploy our best behavior in our everyday lives.

 

Let us shine light into the darkness

and illumine a path that leads out of the narrow places,

the Mitzrayim- the Egypt- those spaces both literal and figurative that both confine and oppress us.

Let us join together doing acts of loving-kindness.

Let us not sit helplessly and lament the world we long for.

Let us reach out to one another and build the world that should be. Let the humanity of Houston be our inspiration.

 

 

Together let us march forward

carrying love in our hearts and good deeds in our arms.

We have come to the proverbial edge of the Red Sea,

yet one more time in our history. Let us cross over together.

 

(And if I sound a bit like a Southern Baptist preacher, I can only say, Thanks, Grandma.)

 

How do we do this?

For you may say, I am only a single individual-

what effect can I possibly have?

I recall the story told of Mother Theresa,

that saint who tended the poorest of the poor in India.

A cynic asked her how she intended to feed the overwhelming masses who were hungry- she responded simply,

One Mouth at a Time.

And that is how we do it.

Each of us has the power to effect change.

The V’ahavta prayer says VeLo Taturu.

Never underestimate the power to make a difference- each of us.

It is about meeting people, one person at a time.

It is about individuals building relationships with one another

and building these connections into bigger connections,

building a community with shared values and purpose.

And it all starts with one simple idea: You.

 

Rabbi Hillel says in Pirkei Avot,

“In a place where there are no men, strive to be a man.”

As Jeffrey Goldberg of the Atlantic insightfully translates,

it means to be a mature, courageous human being;

it also means to be a mensch. So I sum it up and say simply to you: Be Kind.

 

In an age and culture where we have become coarse and combative,

BE KIND.

In a world filled with overwhelming loneliness and alienation,

BE KIND.

In a world quick to cynically chastise and separate with fractiousness and divisiveness,

BE KIND.

Hillel condensed all Torah to this:

“What is hateful to you, do not do to another.”

BE KIND. This as our call to action.

 

Start with yourself.

Let us free ourselves from the shackles of guilt and sin keeping us mired in the past.

Learn from it to live next year better.

Be kind and forgiving of your self. Starting now.

Promise yourself to engage.

 

Jews are taught to awake with the words “I am Thankful.”

“Modeh Ani Lifanecha, Elohai Nishama Shenatati bi tihora hi.” ‘Thank you God for restoring my pure soul.”

What a beautiful intention to start the day.

A fresh slate, built on gratitude for our blessings

and hopeful for the possibilities that await us.

Use the day to engage in the things that motivate you- your Why. Actively support something you believe in,

a philanthropy or a cause,

be part of something greater than yourself.

 

End your day with a bedtime Shema- prayer.

Go to sleep knowing

you are in the sheltering arms of the One who loves and protects you.

 

Nurture your relationships.

Be compassionate and forgiving; for they too are as flawed, seeking wholeness and love.

BE KIND.

 

Find your community and

BE KIND.

We need a caring community to support and comfort us

During times of celebration and sorrow.

Temple Micah is an extraordinary community to find people with shared values.

And together we can make a difference

rising up our voices as one,

speaking with more power than one alone to affect greater change. Give to the food bank,

give to help the suffering victims on Puerto Rico.

BE KIND.

 

Our greater communities, both our nation and the world,

need people to champion our values now more than ever.

Your voice, your time and your money are all necessary

to champion the things you believe in.

There is no shortage of need, and we cannot be silent.

 

“Kol Arevim Zeh BaZeh.”

All Israel is responsible for each other.

Whether you see Israel literally or metaphorically,

you can make a difference in

the genocide of the Rohingya, happening as we speak,

climate change, Israel, healthcare, the political debate both national and local.

These issues are our issues.

Find the one that resonates with your and pursue it.

 

We need to build a better world.

I believe it can happen.

But only if we are willing to roll up our sleeves and do the work necessary,

for it cannot happen on its own.

As it says in Psalm 89 verses 3,

Olam Chesed Yibaneh. “We will build this world with love.”

 

 

 

 

 

 

Jewish Love is not romantic love.

We learn Jewish love in the Shema and V’ahavta prayer.

Love is an active verb.

Jewish love is not a state of being, it is a state of doing.

The prayer instructs us to Love God by living the commandments, teaching them to our children

and fully embracing them in all of our thoughts and actions.

Jewish wisdom sees the Heart as the guide to emotion and action.   I am the change I want to see.

This is the empowering message of the Torah.

It implores us to embrace that

only through our own action will we begin to build the world that should be.

 

The people of our nation have always had to fight for the values we hold dear;

from the moment we first expressed them through the present day. This amazing country of ours is both resilient and great.

But we remain a work in progress with a long way to go before all of her children will enjoy the aspirations of our foundational documents, including the Declaration of Independence, the Bill of Rights and Emma Lazarus’s poem on the Statue of Liberty.

Life, liberty, and equal justice for all remain the promise we still strive to achieve.

This promise is the beacon of light shining from on top of the hill to the other nations of the world.

We will build this nation on love.

Olam Chesed Yibaneh. We will build this world on love.

 

As we move toward the end of our prayers today

we will hear that the gates are closing and also

that the gates of repentance are never closed.

These two seemingly contradicting ideas both live in our texts.

I believe that with Ne’ilah, our closing prayers,

the liturgists are exhorting us to act.

It is the urgency of now. We cannot wait.

The prophetic tradition that is ours,

The fragility of life that makes each day a gift-

they combine to say “don’t wait another minute.”

So here is this sacred space, as we conclude our services this day,

I encourage everyone here to smile at one another,

kiss and embrace your loved ones,

and kiss and embrace whoever is near you.

This is the start of something new.

We will build this world with love.

 

G’mar Tov- May you be sealed for Good

Olam Chesed Yibaneh  (sing)