Tag Archives: consolation

Have a good day! (and please come home alive)

 

How many parents send their children off to school with this blessing?

The level of violence in our society is incomprehensible. It happens on so many levels but the most blatant manifestation is the tens of thousands of people who are murdered with guns. Seventeen children and teachers are the most recent victims, murdered in their school.

There is no single solution to the problem, but that cannot keep us from working hard to reduce violence and death. Mental Health issues may be at the heart of much of this, but there is an entire category called crimes of passion wherein people resort to guns when the rage is uncontrolled. But the mass murders of innocents such as children and teachers in school can only happen in a society that is content with permitting it. We cannot be complicit any longer.

We are responsible. We do not invest in adequate security for our schools, we do not invest in mental health professionals to help troubled people, we do not invest in systems to keep lethal weapons restricted, we do not ban weapons of mass destruction such as assault rifles.

We can blame feckless and craven Congressmen and State House representatives for inaction, but the ultimate responsibility is ours. If we do not demand action and accountability, these elected representatives devolve into pawns and lackeys. They will neglect the duties of their offices and work only to retain their offices by kowtowing to those with a particular political agenda and money to promote it.

Today we are reeling yet again at the tragedy in a Florida High School. But when we are finished burying the dead, we must galvanize the people to demand thoughtful action to address our horrific problem. There are important organizations advocating ways to reduce gun violence. Join them in their life-saving work.

 

 

Shabbat Shalom – Peace and Reflection

ShabbatCandlesThis Shabbat, rather than a musical selection, I want to offer a moment to reflect on the recent tragedies and  acts of horrible violence we have experienced.

 Tonight the words Shamor v’Zachor will dance in my mind as the light from the flickering flames of the Shabbat candles fill the room. It will not be a joyful beautiful dance this evening. Tonight I will somberly reflect on what it means to remember and preserve Shabbat. So much violence, so many lives needlessly taken by fear and violence. How will I react?

 I hope to rise above my own anger and frustration. Instead of hate, I want to resolve to be part of something better. I will look to my community and join with them as my community joins with others. I hope to become part of something greater that aligns with the message of hope instead of despair, of love instead of hate, of joy instead of pain.

 Join me in committing to something better. Find your caring community and become part of it. Embrace and share the values that will transform our communities, our nation, and our world the place it ought to be. On this Shabbat let us dedicate that we will be an active part of bringing peace and wholeness to the world. May it begin with this Shabbat.

Shabbat Shalom

 

Tazria-A metaphor for helping through bereavement

Bereavement

Something bad happens a strange infirmity of the body called Tzaraat appears. Some say it is leprosy, others claim it to be the heartbreak of psoriasis. But it appears on clothing too. Either way, the priest confirms the affliction and the family is moved out of community. The priest tends to the affected individuals watching to confirm that the disease has passed so they can rejoin the population. Something else might be going on here however.

 I was planning a Shiva Minyan teaching the other day and I saw the words of this parshah speaking to us about the grief-stricken family.

 Something calamitous happens when a loved one dies. The loss shakes the family to their core and, as our tradition suggests in our rituals surrounding death, the shock and grief is overwhelming and incapacitating. The seven days of Shiva are marked by an abnegation of needs; the mourners sit on low stools, do not attend to basic items such as grooming, clothes are rent.

 We in the community are tasked to keep a caring eye on the mourner. We check in with them regularly. We bring the Kehillah, or sacred community, to the mourner so they may engage in prayer even though they are unable to come to the synagogue. We bring them food to eat because they are unable to care for themselves. We offer love and support and succor. We watch over them until it is time for them to start the process of re-joining the community. We welcome them with caring embrace when they come back to the synagogue to say Kaddish. Like the priest helping the ailing, we are responsibility to the mourners through the period of Shiva through the time they can return. Shiva is like the exile of old from the community. It is imposed for reasons over which the person has no control but is rendered impure, or in this interpretation separated because of the trauma of loss.

 Tazria shows us that although an ordeal separates the mourner from the community, the community has a responsibility to reach out and continue to support the grief-stricken, acknowledging the difficult place to which they are banished by loss, but caring for them providing protection and then a pathway back to home and life.

This is Shabbat Nachamu, the Shabbat of Comfort. It is hard to take comfort now. It is not the external threats but the threats from within that are the most dangerous, the most discomforting. This has been a week of pain where Jews perpetrated horrible unconscionable acts of violence. We are all hostages of this perversion of Judaism. This Shabbat Nachamu let us struggle with the reasons why such atrocities can exist and what we can do to change this.

As I wish everyone Shabbat Shalom I also wish refuah shlemah to the survivors and deepest condolences to the families of the slain.

The Power of Love and Forgiveness this Shabbat

Today the community lays to rest Reverend Clementa Pinckney along with the others murdered last week: Cynthia Hurd, Rev. Sharonda Coleman-Singleton, Tywanza Sanders, Ethel Lance, Susie Jackson, Depayne Middleton Doctor, Rev. Daniel Simmons, and Myra Thompson.

 We have much to learn from the power of faith and the power of forgiveness of these extraordinary people and those who are left behind. The survivors of those who were slain by a human consumed with hate have shown the power of love and forgiveness. Jewish tradition views forgiveness differently. Personally, I struggle to think I could forgive as they have. We all have something profound to learn from these wonderful people imbued with a faith based in love.

We say zichronam livrachah, may their memories be for a blessing. The nine people assassinated during bible study in their church truly were a blessing to us. They and those they leave behind are an inspiration to all of us. We are all blessed. May that blessing be merited, may we build on what they have left to us.

 Wishing you all Shabbat Shalom,

A prayer for peace in Baltimore

We all pray for the family of Freddie Gray.  We mourn his tragic death and share the desire to see justice done for him.

We pray that peace return to the people and city of Baltimore.  The frustration is understandable.  But the violence and the destruction only serves itself.  Nothing is gained by these acts, and in fact, these very acts undermine the pursuit of justice.  We pray that cooler heads prevail and the desires of Mr. Gray’s family to respect his memory and stop the unrest immediately and calm is restored to the people of Baltimore.

Justice for Mr. Gray and his family must be the priority.  The crisis of confidence that exists between the people of Baltimore and its police must be resolved and the larger societal issues must be acknowledged and remedied.  Let us join together to make that happen.

Od Yavo Shalom Aleinu

G*d’s Burning Questions: A Tribute to Deah Barakat, Yusor Abu Salha, and Razan Abu Salha

The following is a re-post of Rabbi Michael Bernstein’s piece.  Thoughtful and wise as always, Rabbi Bernstein’s words are worth contemplating.

Shabbat Shalom

 On Tuesday, February 13th, Deah Barakat, Yusor Mohammed Abu Salha, and Razan Mohammed Abu Salha were shot to death by a man living next door to them at an apartment complex in Chapel Hill, North Carolina.  Because they were observant Muslims and the man who murdered them had expressed what he called anti-theist views against believers of all faiths, there is an open question as to what motivated this murderer to pull the trigger and whether the killing was an act against the faith professed by these three students – whether they died because they were Muslims in America. For me, however, as I learn more about the incredible acts of devotion, kindness, and service to humanity performed by newly wed Deah and Yusor, and Yusor’s younger sister Razan, I am moved above all by how being Muslims in America shaped how they lived.

  Deah Barakat was a dental student who, among other projects, raised money for and led a mission to Turkey in order to provide urgent medical procedures and preventative oral care for Syrians whose lives had been ripped apart by war and turmoil.  His work on behalf of those in need also informed his messages on behalf of seeking peace for all without exception.  While the  views of the world and its conflicts he expressed were in solidarity with Palestinians and other Muslims, he explicitly spoke out against violence done against Jews and against anyone who thought killing was the answer.   He was a supporter of interfaith programming, including participation in sharing Ramadan with Beth Meyer Synagogue in Chapel Hill.

   What would be the last months of his life was a celebration of his love for his wife Yusor, a Muslim woman and fellow dental student.  Yusor spoke powerfully about the blessing of being a Muslim in America on this StoryCorp recording and posted on social media about the practice of wearing the hijab, a full head covering, from the perspective of women’s empowerment.  Her sister, Razan, was an award winning artist who, along with Deah’s brother Farris, was instrumental in helping to create an incredible video that affirmed the forward looking and hopeful mindset of Muslim students at North Carolina State University in a way that also showed the playfulness and individuality of a community often treated as monolithic by others.

  Deah, Yusor and Razan spent a significant part of their lives responding to a burning question read this week in the Book of Exodus (Mishpatim).  This question arises in an unexpected place, an enumeration of laws of civil behavior that is explicitly concerned with not favoring any party in a dispute or legal proceeding.  And yet in the midst of cases involving oxen being gored or goring others, and the laws of lending to those in need, the text breaks out of its legalistic tone and demands to know what would happen if a lender insisted on taking the only coat of a poor person as collateral and did not make sure to return it before the sun set.

  “This is his only cloak, in what will he sleep?”  If a person has no cloak, no wealth, no protection either from nature or from malice, no one to care about his or her well-being —- “In what will they sleep?” And in many ways it was questions such as this that led Deah Barakat to dedicate his talents and his time to trying to alleviate suffering in Syria seeing what he could provide as a dentist as his version of the cloak. It is the revelation that G*d demands our attention for each person’s well-being  that drives the kind of reflection on faith that inspired Yusor and Razan to articulate so powerfully how their beloved traditions must lead to understanding between different people and be a source of communal responsibility.

  For me, this bittersweet opportunity to learn more about these three remarkable people, “three winners,” as those dear to them have chosen to name them, has made me think of Matthew Eisenfeld and Sara Duker, may their memories be a blessing, dear friends murdered  nineteen years ago by Hamas terrorists practicing a faith that is so unlike the understanding of Islam that these three students professed .  Unlike the killers of Matt and Sara, it is not clear that the man who murdered Deah, Yusor, and Razan hated everyone like them.  However, like Matt and Sara it is clear that the murderer’s cruel, unfathomable act of violence took from the world people whose incredible faith, talents and commitments to do good would have brought so much more compassionate insight into a world so in need of love. I imagine them having much to learn from each other should they meet  beyond this world.

  A beautiful commentary called the Kli Yakar (“Precious Vessel”) reads the question “In what will he sleep?” also as a reference to the tradition that when a person dies their soul is cloaked in the good deeds they have done on behalf of others.  If a person refrains from helping someone in this world, “In what will that person sleep” in the next world?  Deah Barakat, Yusor Mohammed Abu Salha, and Razan Mohammed Abu Salha are, I believe, among those clothed now in the deeds of the righteous.  Yet we are poorer for not having the new answers that they would have provided to G*d’s burning questions.

 May G*d, to whom we call by many names, provide for these witnesses an abode in Paradise, may their memories be a blessing to all they touched and the entire world.

 Shabbat Shalom,

Rabbi Michael