Category Archives: United States

We will build this world with love

I joined the Minister’s March for Justice in Washington yesterday. We marched to support the values we hold dear. We marched in support of a vision of America based on equality of opportunity and justice for all, a place where there is no room for hatred, persecution, or oppression.  We joined with others who share this vision.

We left galvanized to bring the message back to our communities to promote these great American values and to live them. Together, we will reach out to promote understanding and inclusivity. To those who would hate, we proclaim that we will build this world with love, Olam Chesed Yibaneh, and invite them to join us. For our ideas are better ideas and we will prevail.

Happy Fourth of July

Celebrate the 4th of July!

Today is a celebration. Barbecues, Beaches (even in NJ) and Booms (I mean fireworks, but I was going for alliteration). Enjoy this day. It is more than a tribute to our independence, it is a proclamation of values that have made this country the envy of people throughout the world.

So as you consume the food and participate in the festivities of the day, remember that we are a nation founded upon extraordinary principles. We have so much more work to do both here and in the world to extend those principles to everyone yearning to breathe free. So today let us rededicate ourselves to the amazing idea this nation represents.

Happy Fourth of July!

What Race are You?

What Race do you identify with?

Marathon

((Rimshot))

Actually, that isn’t the opening joke in my lounge act, but part of an important recent conversation.

I was asked this question in the Red Cross Blood Drive pre-screening. The inquirer, an African-American, was completing the questionnaire and asked me to identify myself by race. There was a time when I would have responded Caucasian/White. But I uncomfortably paused and then quipped Marathon. We laughed and then we skipped the question. But, I actually do not know how to answer that question anymore.

I am not ashamed of what is now called my “white privilege.” As a Jew in America, the ability to call myself Caucasian/White is on some level a sign that we made it and have gained popular acceptance. But perhaps this acceptance remains elusive. This simple gathering of data for statistical tracking purposes has become a marker of something more complicated and fraught.

The dream of some, where we entered the melting pot of America and assimilated into a homogenous culture was a vision of many immigrants. This vision propelled many to immigrate to the land where Emma Lazarus and the Statue of Liberty beckoned. America was something new, different and better accepting all of us, and creating unbridled opportunity and equality.   That, however, was the myth for most. The reality was quite different for people outside the mainstream culture who were marginalized, persecuted and oppressed. Our national aspiration to realize our myth has been a slow and often painful evolution.

I am a Jew. I am a proud American. But I do not fit into the “white box.” Or maybe I am not comfortable residing there. I have become more sensitive to the racial issues in our country. Perhaps it is because the privileged position I have enjoyed has come under fire, not from the political left, but from the ugly anti-Semitic elements that have become emboldened and found their public voice in this new chapter of the American experience. My schools, my community centers, and my people have been the subject of a new round of persecution. Our cemeteries are desecrated; our houses of worship and community are vandalized. It is a wake-up call that the civil rights we fight for in this country are truly our own.

I am compelled to stand up for the things I believe in, the values that truly make America great, and a devotion to equality under the law and of opportunity for all. We have made great strides, but we have so much further to go. It is a marathon. Run with me.

 

American Jews in Turbulent Times

 

Lighthouse John Lund

Being a rabbi in Turbulent Times was the theme of the annual convention of reform rabbis. Indeed we live in particularly turbulent times. But it is times like these that can give us perspective and renewed commitment to our ideals.

Life in modern America is arguably the best that Jews have ever experienced. Our liberty and prosperity are superior to any other time in our history. Our forebears fought for our place here and American Jews have now full access to the rights, privileges, and responsibilities of being a citizen. We embrace these blessings and have worked toward expanding them to include others. However, the path forward has not been smooth. There have been times when our achievements and extraordinary blessings have been threatened. But these threats are opportunities that challenge us to do better, examining our resolve and commitment to our values.

Living in turbulent times forces us to ask difficult questions. How do we champion ethics and morals, protecting and preserving them when civil conventions are challenged or dismissed as unimportant? Ethics and morals, however, remain the fabric that keeps us together, binding us, enriching us and keeping us strong. Promoting these is the work that needs to be done now more than ever; this is the seminal and imperative challenge of our time.

The contemporary American landscape has parallels in Judaism; like the Jewish people, America is a nation of laws. The law’s purpose is to create a civil society where people live together respectful of differences and all citizens enjoy equal rights and protections. These laws are also a reminder of the work yet to do. Judaism teaches that changing hearts and minds is an evolutionary process. Compassion in our tradition has developed from the laws we are commanded to follow. We pray that the teachings underlying the laws will eventually be inscribed upon our hearts, but until then, the laws guide us. We recognize these laws and uphold them.

We rely on strong institutions and deeply ingrained principles to safeguard against assaults on these laws, believing that they will withstand the pressures. However, based on the history of our people, we are naturally wary of threats to our way of life. Even for those who believe in this New World, the idea that history might again repeat itself gnaws at us. Our patriotism is deeply intertwined with our Jewish identity. Therefore we become activists to protect and preserve this remarkable American way of life against threats, foreign or domestic, internal or external.

We have learned that however strong our institutions, they require dedication and nurturing by we the people, lest they wither. So now is our time to recommit to the noble purpose that is our country. We affirm the prophetic vision of the Promised Land. Despite all the progress we have made, we know we have so much farther to travel before the dream is fully realized for all. We stand at the threshold, challenging us to move forward toward a vision of what still could be. This dream gives us the courage and the strength we need at this moment in our Jewish and American history to move onward together. So now we redouble our efforts with renewed vigor and purpose to keep forging ahead. Let us be the change we want to see.

 

 

 

 

Shabbat Shalom- A Reflection from Mt. Carmel

I have just returned from Mt. Carmel Cemetery to provide presence and support to the volunteers who came here. I was moved, being with people honoring the past and affirming their identities.

 

As Americans and Jews, we arise with a sense of unity and rededication of purpose. Like a phoenix rising from the ashes, we stand arm in arm with all victims of hatred and domestic terrorism. Our values bring us together.

 

Although disturbing acts underlie this awakening of spirit, we need to focus on the good that has come from these cowardly and ugly actions. From ugliness comes beauty, from despair comes hope, from aloneness comes community, and from hatred comes love.

 

We stand together against hate.

Hate has no home here.

Shabbat Shalom.

Imperial, Imperious, Imperiled Presidency

 

As I reflect on the first month of the new President, it appears clear that the arc of the presidency is shifting. The Founding Fathers were deeply concerned about an Imperial President and created checks and balances to help prevent the Presidency from devolving into a Sovereign. However, a combination of the Legislative branch ceding power to the Executive and a desire for decisive quick action has undermined the traditional process of lawmaking and enforcement. Debates have long raged over the creep towards an Imperial President. These debates have become increasingly political, accusing our Presidents of becoming imperious in the use and abuse of power. Now we appear to have arrived at a new tipping point; the Presidency is imperiled.

Erratic behavior, divisive language, pronouncements without an apparent understanding of the complexities of issues have led to a situation where the President risks marginalizing himself and his office. The Congress is potentially poised to fill the void and assume a position of primacy, provided a strong leadership can restore healthy debate and a cohesive vision for the nation. This is no small feat, but Mr. Ryan, the Speaker of the House, and Mr. McConnell, the Majority Leader of the Senate, could reassert the power of the Legislative Branch of Government.

The President must put forth a unified strategic vision that goes beyond provincial nationalism. His design needs to embody our core values including liberty, equality, and the pursuit of happiness, domestic tranquility. The President’s leadership must also protect and include all Americans. These priorities must also reconcile with our place as the leader of the free world. If the President is unable or incapable of fulfilling these responsibilities, legitimate power will shift to those who are capable, lest our system risk irreversible damage and decline. A government of, by and for the people must preserve, protect and defend us from adversaries both foreign and domestic.

It is our obligation to our nation and ourselves to demand no less. Too much hangs in the balance.

 

 

The Fourth Estate is not Mar-a-Lago- The Sacred Duty of the Press


The Fourth Estate is not Mar-a-Lago, it is time for both sides to get back to work.

The Free Press has a sacred place in the American system of government. The Founders knew the profound responsibility they entrusted to the Press to use their powers as a supreme check and balance to the power of each branch of Government.   The First Amendment of our Bill of Rights guarantees that this voice is exercised to preserve, protect and defend our country from the corruption that power can bring. Whether the Press fulfills this responsibility, or that the work is appreciated is the open question.

The Press has not always lived up to its sacred obligation. History is replete with examples of the Press being used to support a particular opinion or even worse, smear something with which it does not agree. The phrase “Yellow Journalism” comes from the type of press with little or no legitimate research, with sensational headlines driven by the desire to sell newspapers. It dates back to 1895. The issues of fake news or headlines without legitimacy are not new and have been the nemesis of higher quality journalism has fought for a long time. It is also the scourge of government, undermining anything with which is does not agree, slinging mud and being dishonest by misinforming the public.

Hall of Mirrors

Journalism, the kind with higher purpose as envisioned by the Founders, has its legitimate mission to gather and report the facts as a means of checking government power. It is not the friend of government rather it often plays an adversarial role. That, however, is not grounds for government officials to cast aspersions on all the press. It is to be put those officials on notice that the people are watching and you officials are ultimately responsible to us. The recent hard work of the press corps in the matter of Michael Flynn should be viewed as an important step in protecting “We the People.”

Government of, by, and for the people is the extraordinary sacred mission our officials are tasked to do. Ensuring and preserving that is the sacred mission the Free Press. It is time for everyone to do his or her respective jobs.