Category Archives: United States

Jerusalem still weeps this Shabbat

As the President of the United States declared Jerusalem the capital of Israel, the various players had expected reactions. Many in Israel cheered, Arab Nations jeered, but really nothing has changed. The President officially recognized the de facto situation; Jerusalem is the capital of Israel. However, peace had not been advancing between parties and it seems unlikely this declaration does anything to move it forward. The two sides remain filled with mistrust of the other and neither is willing to budge from their respective recalcitrant positions. The status quo remains. Jerusalem, the City of Peace, sadly is not at peace.

We welcome Shabbat singing Lecha Dodi. In this mystical song-poem, Jerusalem is anthropomorphized; we prayerfully exhort that she shakes off the dust and embarrassment of a world that has forsaken what she represents to Jews and to humanity. I sing those verses with an ambivalent heavy heart every Friday night, struggling with why peace has not yet come to the place where God dwelled.

Jerusalem remains a city divided and in a state of unrest. Sadly, she is unable to bring unity to her people Israel, or to brothers and sisters who also share a vision of belonging. She is mine, but she belongs to others too. Jerusalem, The City of Peace still remains an elusive dream. An outside declaration or moving an embassy changes nothing. Only the will of those who truly seek her can realize the dream that Jerusalem is a holy center for humankind and the aspiration of peace on earth.

Shabbat Shalom.

Disaster Spiritual Care

I am pleased to announce that I have joined the Disaster Spiritual Care team of the American Red Cross. I have completed the background checks and continue my training, but I am cleared to go into the field. I look forward to supporting those whose lives have been disrupted by calamity and trauma with this extraordinary group of caregivers.

As we share a season of gratitude for all our blessings, remember to reach out to those who are less fortunate and support the many people on the front lines who are making a difference.

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.

 

 

 

 

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.