Category Archives: Politics

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.

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.

 

 

 

 

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.

 

 

Talmud teachings about the ACA

 

Yesterday’s reading of the Daf Yomi (daily page of Talmud), was remarkably timely in its discussion about destroying and replacing things. Rav Hisda taught that a Beit Knesset, synagogue, cannot be destroyed until a new one is ready to replace it. The Affordable Care Act (ACA) seems to be the modern day equivalent of this conversation.

The Gemara explains that just ripping down what exists opens the real possibility that irresponsible people will never follow through with the replacement, and the people will be left without a place for prayer. As we watch the government begin steps to dismantle “ObamaCare” through Executive Order and Congressional actions, we must ask, what is there to replace it?

What does Healthcare for our people look like? What is our responsibility to our fellow Americans? This is an important conversation for our nation. Regardless of the flaws both real and perceived in the existing structure, it is grossly irresponsible to destroy the ACA without a clear plan to replace it seamlessly with something clearly articulated before we take a sledgehammer to what we have.

As long as our government is of, by and for the people, there is no king with the authority to decree what shall be. Our elected representatives must be accountable for building not destroying.

This essay is based on the insights of Rabbi Steinsaltz as published in the English version of the Koren Talmud Bavli with Commentary by Rabbi Adin Steinsaltz and edited and adapted by Rabbi Shalom Berger.

There’s got to be a morning after

I was thrilled to see the level of engagement around the country this past Saturday. The civil rights that so many have fought so hard to achieve are precious and will neither be surrendered or taken away. But preserving, protecting, and expanding our civil rights requires vigilance and hard work that started the day after the protest marches and needs to continue as a daily commitment against those who would threaten these precious rights.

Our Rights should be self-evident but we cannot treat them like an entitlement. For many, our Rights were achieved only after hard work and even bloodshed, and they remain vulnerable. Marching is the beginning of organizing and speaking out is the beginning of developing a political voice. Although the administration is in place for the next four years, the Congress is up in two. The politicians must know that we will support only those who safeguard and champion the rights we hold so dear.

The morning after is when the hard work begins. So after the Women’s March, we must take the next steps. Find your place to make your actions count. 10 Actions in 100 Days is a place to join those already organized to continue the work. Together we can make a difference, preserving and protecting the Rights we hold dear.

www.womensmarch.com/100

 

Constancy in the face of Change

safetypinThe election has many of us anxious, unsure of what will happen to us next, fearful that strides we have made will be stripped away.

The ground did shift underneath us all last week. But the tremble did not cause us to fall. I am no different from who I was last week in the matters that count. Last week I stood tall, aspiring to create a nation of dignity, equality, opportunity, safety and security for all our citizens. This week I stand perhaps taller and more firmly in those ideals and values. There is a greater sense of urgency in my posture today, but this is a good thing. Our movement forward has never been easy. The fight for human rights and inclusion, a nation freer from prejudice, hatred and fear have been an ongoing struggle. But our commitment remains, our resolve undiminished even if the challenge might be greater.

Today I wear a safety-pin on my lapel to let people who are fearful know that they are not alone. As an American, a Jew, and a Rabbi, I stand with them and I will continue to do my part as an advocate, and that we continue to stand side by side. We march forward dedicated to bringing America’s blessings to all.

Joining hands we move forward together toward a brighter future. We are the change we envision.