The Jewish mystic tradition, through the Zohar, speaks of the Ushpizin, the greats of Jewish history as welcome guests to our Sukkah.
Abraham, Isaac, Jacob, Joseph, Moses, Aaron and David, along with Sarah, Rachel, Rebecca, Leah, Miriam, Abigail and Esther are our honored visitors. They bring with them the ideals and values central to Judaism and are sacred honored guests at our table, if only metaphorically.
Here in Philadelphia we had the opportunity to add another name to the honored guests. This one is Pope Francis. His Holiness speaks of values that we hold sacred. He speaks truth to power, even when that truth is uncomfortable. He illumines a path of joy and happiness, purpose and service, a meaningful life that extends beyond ourselves, in service to others. He is the Pope of the Catholics, but he is also a Pope for the World. Pope Francis has stretched out his arms to embrace Jews as brothers and sisters. He does this through his long-standing friendship and collaboration with Rabbi Skorka of Argentina. He also reaches out to the Jewish people through his support of Israel and his blessing of “Sinagoga and Ecclesia, In our Time,” a magnificent statue dedicated to the profound understanding of brotherhood between our two religious traditions commemorated on the fiftieth anniversary of Nostra Aetate.
We are blessed to have Pope Francis in our midst. May his vision and teachings empower all of us to work to build a better world together.
Our Sukkah is underway. This Sunday, erev Sukkot, we will celebrate. In honor of the Pope’s arrival to Philadelphia we will have a combined Sukkah Decorating and barbecue, that we have affectionately dubbed the Pope-e-que.
The Pope’s presence is bringing havoc to the area with the faithful throngs coming to see and hear him while the roads are shut down for security purposes. Rather than be cynical, I am thrilled by his message of hope, love, joy and action to make a better world. He is a disruptor in the best of ways.
Although your schedule is full Your Holiness, you are most welcome to Lashev baSukkah, grace us with your presence and enjoy some of the best kosher beef ribs around!
As Yom Kippur approaches this evening, we offer each other words of kindness, “Have an easy fast.” But this self-affliction is purposeful and not meant to be easy. We fast to help create an atmosphere of contemplation and deep reflection as we bare our souls.
So instead, I want to wish everyone a “Tzom Chashuv,” a “meaningful and important fast.”
What’s good for the Goose is good for the IceGander (Icelander)
Fighting fire with Ice
I recently read of those advocating a boycott of Icelandic products in response to Iceland’s decision to boycott Israeli products. I set off to find out what that might mean and after substantial time searching, I do not think it means a lot.
Iceland imports a lot of stuff, but does not export all that much to the US. In fact, about the best we can do is deciding not to buy Icelandic Cod or Haddock. However, the total value of those imports was a measly $142million*. And that was the largest category of imported stuff. We also import about $12million worth of fats and oils*. So we will need to spend a great deal of time just to find the things we decide we will not buy.
Better we invest our time in promoting a society in Israel that is dedicated to civil rights, a society that protects everyone through a system of laws developed in a democracy. Better we work to heal the rifts within our community. Better we remember we are brethren sharing a history and value system that withstands the test of time.
And by the way, I prefer Nova Scotia Salmon with my bagels anyway.
*Statistics are from 2013, from the Office of the United States Trade Representative
“Ani L’Dodi v’Dodi Li.” These poetic words from the Song of Solomon are spoken as words of commitment under the marriage canopy. “I am My Beloved’s and My Beloved is mine” is the symbolic joining and full commitment of one to another. We aspire to this in our deepest relationships. But as a people we have sadly failed to live up to this hope. Every Jew is integral to Israel and Israel is integral to every Jew. We are bound inextricably together emotionally and spiritually, a modern homeland and the diaspora, two parts of one whole. Together greater than the individual parts could achieve.
We do however permit the separation and distance, a cleaving when we hear when some claim to be against Israel but fine with Jews; that it is possible to be anti-Zionist while not being Anti-Semitic. For Jews such parsing of words is false. It speaks to a reading of history that is biased and ultimately these two hatreds conflate.
I was struck when Iranian President Rouhani offered New Year Greetings to Jews of the world while almost within the same breath recommitted his country to the extermination of Israel. “May our shared Abrahamic roots deepen respect and bring peace and mutual understanding.” This seems to be a disingenuous goodwill offering since his worldview requires the eradication of Israel, where approximately 6million of my fellow Jews reside and would be murdered for to achieve his political goal.
Jews find themselves attempting to parse words and find something good in Rouhani’s outreach. This “olive branch” however is a straw man. It is an insidious attempt to separate Israel from its own people through the delegitimizing efforts by Israel’s enemies. Even when we disagree with policies or politics within Israel, we cannot divorce ourselves from her, or permit others to divide us. Israel is a fundamental part of us. Who we are is in some measure defined by our relationship to Israel. Commitment to Israel’s growth and evolution as well as our commitment to the State’s survival is at the heart of what it means to be in relationship with another. An attack on our spouse with the caveat that you however are all right would be deeply offensive. And we would defend the one we love. How can we not rise to the defense of our brethren as well?
I am in deep relationship. I have a vested interest in Israel’s success both as a nation and as an aspiration. When Israel falters, I have the responsibility to be constructively critical because of my relationship. Helping Israel to be better makes me better as well. We all are improved off as a result of such efforts. And when people stop calling for the destruction of a part of who I am, I will gratefully acknowledge offerings of good tidings for the coming year.
“Man and woman were created in the Divine image. Male and female God created them.” Each year we reread the story of creation. We return to our story of origin as a signal that Rosh Hashanah is all about returning to our truest selves — or as we say in Hebrew, tshuvah.