Category Archives: morality

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)

 

 

 

Come Together- The AIPAC Dilemma

ComeTogether_Desktop

Trump has spouted words that are divisive, angry, bigoted and hateful. These things are anathemas to Jewish sensibilities. Many Jews and Jewish organizations, the CCAR and the URJ among them, have denounced such hate speech. But we are about to hear the speaker in an appearance before AIPAC. This dilemma is of AIPAC’s own creation.

 AIPAC has created a large and powerful voting group of Jews coalescing around promoting its view of American support of Israel. Obeisance to AIPAC’s understanding of the American-Israeli alliance is the litmus test that will judge the suitability of the presidential candidates. So expect nothing more.

 The candidates should not rise or fall based on a single speech. But given the stakes, I expect all candidates to speak in support of a strong secure Israel. I do not expect thoughtful analysis of the Middle East or a path towards peace, just words espousing that peace is good, Israel must remain strong and we are Israel’s friend. I do not recall a candidate speaking otherwise to any Jewish groups or lobby. To expect more than these platitudes, however, would be to set unrealistic expectations. Even if both candidates did have detailed plans, given the deep fissures in the American Jewish community and our own inability to engage ourselves in meaningful dialogue, anyone with political savvy will play to the crowd rather that risk alienating a voting bloc.

 I will not judge a candidate’s suitability for President based on this opportunity to curry favor with AIPAC, nor should anyone attending the AIPAC conference. Mrs. Clinton was one of the earliest national leaders to speak to the idea of a two-state solution, which was most unorthodox at the time and did not sit well with many. Mr. Trump has not-too-deftly tried to balance his need to be an impartial mediator with pro-Jewish, pro-Israel sentiments. We must look to a record of thoughts and deeds to establish the bona fides of the candidates. We need to have someone who understands the complexities of the situation.

 The AIPAC convention is not the place where this will happen. So this phase of the conference is merely a beauty pageant. AIPAC can bask in its own glory, pleased in knowing it had the political clout to force the equivalent of a bathing suit competition. But we will learn precious little more than that.   This is a moment to reassess our true motivations for having such appearances and why we attend such staged events.

 Many friends and colleagues are heading to the convention to learn and show support for AIPAC and its work supporting Israel. I commend my colleagues and friends who are grappling with the appropriate response to Mr. Trump. I suggest that whatever course of action you decide, it is unfortunate that the AIPAC convention has become so focused on something so meaningless.

The Real Tragedy of Palmyra’s Destruction

PalmyraAll of us are sickened by the horrible barbaric acts of ISIS and rightly so. Their vision incorporates an intolerant hateful extreme interpretation of Islam, destroying and creating terror wherever they are, in the name of a new triumphant Caliphate.

We have watched helplessly while ISIS destroys Palmyra, an extraordinary archeological remnant. I find this somehow ironic; for Palmyra is nothing more than remnants. The remains of Palmyra are ruins precisely because of a history where the next invader destroyed what preceded. So ISIS continues to do what has done for millennia.

I certainly do not suggest that ISIS is either civilized or legitimate, anything but. However, human beings have a past where we often find a need to conquer and destroy rather than honor and build upon what came before. These ancient ruins are sites of destruction and murder from history. They are tied to cycles of building and prosperity punctuated by war, overthrow and occupation. Possibly there is more we can learn in this moment beyond how to preserve ancient monuments.

Perhaps if we are to truly honor Palmyra, saving the inhabitants of the land should be the priority. ISIS is partly a reaction to a failed nation-state, which we, the “civilized” West, had supported. The developed countries helped to create a festering problem by permitting strongmen to ruthlessly rule because it was in our political interests to do so, rather than create an organic sustainable government whose legitimacy is derived from the people governed. ISIS is attempting to fill a void created when the dictatorship is finally overthrown and there are no institutions or even a history of governance to take its place.

The “civilized” world must accept its responsibility in creating the situation that now exists and therefore engage in nation building to create a place where the native people can live in peace. In the interim, it is our responsibility to provide safe haven for the refugees and victims of war by providing shelter, food and clothing through temporary facilities as well as through immigration. Only when the civilized world does these things can we say we truly honor our past and that humanity is indeed progressing forward.

Pushback on Israel’s obligation to Syrian Refugees

I have received pushback on my call for Israel to join the humanitarian efforts and take in refugees.  I share my response below, to a comment to a post from someone who does not believe as I do.  But let me state for the record that this person, with whom I disagree on this and many other subjects regarding Israel, is someone who I know loves Israel very deeply.  And it is her love for Israel that compels her to take her stand and be in dialogue with me.  I am honored that she thinks enough of me to want to engage in this conversation. Please look to the sidebar to see her comments.

Israel’s moral compass should continue to lead it to be a champion of human values and decency. It is compelled to act as a “light to the nations.” In other words, to be a Jewish homeland is to embrace Jewish Values.

I understand your fear for Israel’s safety. But Israel has the finest security and intelligence capabilities in the world, from the Mossad to the people at the airport. I am fully confident that the Israelis can vet refugees.

And another place where we agree, implementing is not easy. No one realistically would claim otherwise. But I find President Kennedy’s words stirring,
“We do these things not because they are easy, but because they are hard… because that goal will serve to organize and measure the best of our energies and skills.” We do it because we are Jews and that is what Jews do to live the values we cherish.

May we all be inscribed in the Book of Life, L’Shana Tova Tikatevu

Shabbat Shalom

The Time for Common Heroism is upon Us.

Heroes, it is said, act without thinking of the fear before them. Fear can paralyze, placing us in what we classically describe as Mitzrayim, the narrow places. Although most of us are not heroes, most of us are people who respond with empathy and compassion to those in need.

 When we rise above our fears we can achieve great things. When we act out of fear, we are reflexive and often myopic and ultimately selfish in our self-protectiveness.

 The unfolding tragedies in the Middle East, the hopes of an Arab Spring becoming, to extend the metaphor, the harshest of Winters, have left hundreds of thousands dead and millions displaced. What was once considered home is now an impossible place of hopelessness and despair.

 As Americans, as Jews and as human beings we are compelled to answer the immediate desperate cry for help. World governments, first and foremost the United States, must tackle the underlying causes of this devastation work to resolve these problems. But you and I can make a difference to the people in immediate risk for their lives. We can support humanitarian efforts to provide sanctuary, medicine and food and further we can actively support efforts to resettle refugees.

 Refugees are carefully screened before granted permission to come to the United States. HIAS is in the forefront of coordinating with government agencies after these people are vetted. Our fear cannot let us turn a blind eye and keep us from engaging in the compassionate work our tradition commands.

 L’Shana Tova

Shabbat Shalom in a World Desperate for Peace

We wish each other Shabbat Shalom, with the image of Aylan Kurdi’s lifeless body seared into our minds. This horrific image profoundly disturbs the peace we are supposed to welcome and embrace. The suffering of countless victims of war in places like Syria and Africa is unimaginable.   The willingness to risk life itself to escape gives us some measure of the conditions that exist in the places from which they flee.

 Europe cannot turn its back on these people and we here in the United States must also be ready to offer help to those that flee. Moreover, the world must be willing to address the circumstances that have created these desperate situations. The time to act is long overdue.