Thursday, September 25, 2014

Working to Make a Difference:  Beyond Opportunity to Mitzvah

A story is told of a King whose daughter was to be married in 3 months.  He sent out invitations to his entire kingdom for everyone to come and celebrate at the wedding feast.  He also asked that guests not to bring gifts.  All that he requested, was that each household, in the weeks before the wedding, should bring a pitcher of their finest red wine to the town square.  There, he had erected a huge barrel - 8 feet tall and 4 feet wide.  During the weeks that led up to the wedding, each household was to bring their pitcher of wine to the barrel, climb up a ladder and open the lid and pour it in.  In this way, when it came time to toast his daughter and her new husband, they would do so using the shared bounty of the entire community.

As the weeks and months passed and the wedding date grew closer, a representative from each household came to the town square, climbed up the ladder, opened the lid and poured their pitcher into the huge barrel.  It slowly filled with each offering until it was almost completely full.

Finally, the day of the wedding arrived.  The bride and groom stood under the Chuppah, rings were exchanged, the glass was broken. Everyone shouted MAZAL TOV!!!  Then, at the beginning of the feast, the King prepared to bless the wine and called for the 1st toast.  He held a clear, crystal glass up to the tap on the bottom of the barrel.  He broke the seal, opened the spigot and out came a stream of pure…..water.

You see, each townsperson, as they heard about the King’s request, thought to themselves: “So many people are contributing to the King’s toast, and it’s such a huge barrel, if I just pour water in, no one will know the difference!  So, one by one, thinking that their contribution didn’t count, each person poured water, not wine, into the barrel.

The moral of this story is obvious – but worth stating:  Every member of a community has value.  Every one of us has an essential and vital perspective to share.  If everyone does not feel as though their contribution is going to make a difference, then, in the long run, we are all diminished.

Two weeks ago, our Tahoe-Douglas Rotary club welcomed a fellow rotarian from Scotland.  Given the floor for a few minutes, our visitor shared his views on the upcoming vote in Scotland.  For those not familiar, Scotland voted for independence last week.  And while there was much to learn from our visitor at Rotary, the upsides and the downsides of independence, the rigorous campaigning on both sides, what is still with me, what I remember most about that election was not this great, personal and individual perspective but it is a statistic.  Last week, the voter turn out in Scotland was 84%.  I had to read the headline a second time, so let me say it a second time.  The voter turn out for the Scottish independence vote was 84%. 

Just to paint a comparison, our most recent election, the primary in June was under a 40% turnout on the California side and just a hair above in Douglas county.  The previous South Lake City Council election in 2012 was just over 60% and in 2010 it was less than 50% when it wasn’t a presidential year.  

Last week in Scotland, they all brought wine to the barrel. 

In America’s recent history, and especially in our own community, we bring water.

I don’t know about you, but wine certainly goes better at a wedding!  In all seriousness, though, there is something askew here.

Last week, Scotts decided that they wanted to make a difference.  They wanted to be heard in what has been heralded as the single biggest decision in those voters’ lifetime.  I believe they also understood something that has been lost for many here, in our town, our community, our country.  We have lost the sense that we can make a difference. 

In our Talmud we are reminded in a very simple way, that every effort, every little action makes a difference.  In Baba Bathra we are taught, “Just as in a garment every thread unites with the rest to form a whole garment, so every penny given to charity unites with the rest to form a large sum.”  Or for those who prefer Ghandi’s words over the Talmud, “Be the change you want to see in the world.”  Whatever the source, we can find countless invaluable arguments for our individual roles in making a difference, in affecting change in our world. 

Making a difference in our world is something we, as modern Jews, are familiar with.  Even from the ancient world, the call of the prophets rings through to today; it charges us to right wrongs and correct injustices.  The famous words of the prophet Amos, echoed by Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., drive home this connection, “Let justice roll down like water and righteousness like a mighty stream.”  From the original sojourn of Abraham to create a better reality to the ancient call of the prophets, we have felt the urge to make the world a better place.  In the words of my colleague and friend, Rabbi Asher Knight, “Judaism provides us with the tradition and the community whose rituals, stories and whose texts, and reinforcements of those texts, keep reminding us to act on our values:  Compassion, decency, humility, justice, generosity of self and spirit.”       

When we consider the water and the wine, the election experience in Scotland last week and the Jewish role in the civil rights movement, we recognize there is something that intricately ties them together.  The Jewish call of Tikkun Olam - repairing the world - is certainly a strong component of our existence today, in the modern world.  It was the modern sage, Rabbi Abraham Joshua Heschel who led the way for so many amongst the Jewish people to engage in the Civil Rights Movement.  Yet, it was his words upon reflecting on his experience in marching from Selma to Montgomery, Alabama in 1965 that paint the picture of our tradition’s true call, that of deed being as strong, if not stronger, than creed.  When Heschel returned home from Selma, he wrote, “For many of us the march from Selma to Montgomery was about protest and prayer.  Legs are not lips and walking is not kneeling.  And yet our legs uttered songs.  Even without words, our march was worship.  I felt my legs were praying.”

This, the social dimension, is one arena, certainly in our own country, in which our people have excelled.  We have been a part of seeing to the needs, of the needy.  We have found Jews amongst leaders for justice, for fighting poverty, and in the civil rights movement.  We have not been absent from continuing Abraham’s sojourn in ensuring a better reality for so many.  By no means is this task complete, it is something we must always continue, yet there is another dimension to ensuring all we can for a better tomorrow, there is a broader scope possible for our work.   

On Rosh Hashanah, this Yom Teruah - Day of Sounding, the sound of the shofar plays an integral role.  Rabbi Zalman Schachter-Shalomi, zichrono livracha, taught about the Shofar that, “Maimonides speaks of the shofar as an awakener.  We want to awaken to a higher awareness that gives us a perspective from which we can see the flaws in the routines of life and how they can be improved.  The word shofar can be derived from leshaper, fixing or improving.  Shapr ma’asehem:  Shofarot encourages us to repair our deeds.  The awareness provided by the shofar blast enhances our experience of this reflective day.” 

We improve our deeds by taking them to the next level, to engage fully in what it means to be a player, a confident, intentional and integral traveler in this journey of life.  Working to combine knowledge, skills and values to make a difference in our world, that is engagement, but it is not just in the social dimension.  While it is chief among the causes to alleviate poverty and to shelter the homeless, we must also engage civically, tying together our moral and civic sense of responsibility. 

Thomas Ehrlich, former Indiana University president, wrote, “Civic engagement means working to make a difference in the civic life of our communities and developing the combination of knowledge, skills, values and motivation to make that difference.  It means promoting the quality of life in a community, through both political and non-political processes.”

Yes, we have advocated in the political process as a people.  Lobbying on behalf of Israel, engaging, as Rabbi Heshcel, in the Civil Rights Movement even the labor movement at the turn of the twentieth century considered many prominent Jews amongst its ranks.  Today, we, as a people, do much to respond to the needs of the hungry, the homeless and all of those in need.  But, when it comes to understanding how these moral and civic causes are tied together and intricately intertwined, I believe this is where we need to heed the call of the shofar, to awaken to the possibilities.  In that same publication, Professor Ehrlich goes on to write, “A morally and civically responsible individual recognizes himself or herself as a member of a larger social fabric and therefore considers social problems to be at least partly his or her own…”  It is about how we understand the work we do and the roles we fill as individuals as compared to how we see ourselves as part of the fabric of the whole.

Rosh Hashanah, the head of the year, is not just a time to see ourselves in the fabric of the Jewish people - although it is certainly a huge component of the day - it is also the time to recognize the communal calling of our tradition.  Moving through the liturgy of this day, as we have done, hearing the troubling words of the binding of Isaac in our Torah and engaging together next week in the Vidui, the confessionals of Yom Kippur, we cannot avoid that this season is about the community.  We are all too familiar with the chant we engage in together:  Ashamnu, bagadnu, gazalnu, all verbs in the plural.  Even the hallowed words of Avinu Malkeinu ring in this same plural form.  We are here together; praying and repenting, reflecting on and envisioning all that was, and all that can be.  Our engagement in our world is hemmed in by the individuality we express.  America has given us so many amazing opportunities to express that individual reality of our own homes, our own cars, the way we dress, living in the insular world of our own technology; it is up to us to understand from the perspective of minyan.  We cannot pray effectively, our tradition teaches, without a gathering of minyan - 10 adult Jews.  The merits of that requirement not withstanding, the thrust of Judaism elevating the community as paramount is unequivocal. 

Rabbi David Wolpe writes, “Two constant questions in Jewish history:  What is our obligation to other Jews?  What is our obligation to the world at large?”  He goes on to teach that Rabbi Abraham Isaac Kook, the first chief rabbi of Israel, taught that these two questions are inseparable saying that:  Love for Israel implies the love for humanity.  We must balance where these concerns lie.  When the Jewish people finds peril, our concerns focus inward, but when issues plague humanity, we muster a universal response.

I fear that this universal response, the role we have the potential play in our wider communities has waned.  We have found our success in this country socially, financially, educationally, professionally and even in the public realm.  Where has our yearning to engage civically disappeared?  This is not something that is unique to our people, but to our country as a whole.  It is an opportunity for us as Jews to demonstrate why this matters, to act.  It becomes an opportunity for us to vote, to sit on civic committees and commissions, to speak out about matters big and small. 

In the Talmud, a great question is asked, “Who is wise?” and in responding to its own question, we find the answer, “The one who envisions the future.”  I am confident this is not about crystal balls and Tarot cards, rather about those who lay the groundwork.  It is about being wise to engage in the process to make our communities, our societies, our cities, towns and country all that it can be.  Rabbi David Stern of Temple Emanuel in Dallas, Texas, wrote, “Our faith calls us, every day, to bring the far-off into the near reach of our Jewish [moral] concern. And it means that our faith commitments can’t stay on this side of the stained glass, that our Torah gets restless if we leave it in the ark too long. When we take the Torah scroll off of the bima and walk with it amidst the community, we make a physical statement that the Torah does not live in the ark - it lives in the world. We take it in procession around the sanctuary not so that we can walk with it, but as a reminder that it needs to walk with us, wherever we go.”

We take Torah out into the world when we not only register to vote, not only when we vote in the presidential election but when we voice our opinion, express our values for our future at every possible chance - the primaries and the mid-term elections, the referendums and the city elections.  We unroll Torah and share it with the world when we respond to a survey about what we want from our officials, what we believe will make our neighborhoods, our schools and our streets safer and better.  We live the words inked on the parchment when we take on leadership roles in and around our own communities and speak not only from a Jewish perspective, but from the communal words, from the perspective of minyan. 

Moments ago, we heard the blasts of the shofar.  We heard the full and wholesome blast of Tekiah - awakening our souls, our minds and our bodies to all that is possible.  We heard the Shevarim - the three connected short sounds yearning to be whole, allowing our ears to lead us to the broken connections in our world.  And we heard the Teruah - the nine short notes completely divided - a brokenness in our world.  But ultimately the shofar service concludes with the great sound of the Tekiah Gedolah, the long, full, enduring blast of our envisioning the future.  It is up to us to engage.  To heed the demands of modernity, which are opportunities.  To recognize that working to make a difference in our world was once an opportunity we, as Jews, yearned for; now it has moved beyond opportunity to Mitzvah - it is commanded of us to engage - to intertwine the morality of our social concern, what we have been so good at for generations, with everything that makes our communities tick - to see the moral and the civic as forever interrelated and connected.

A few moments from now our services will conclude; our prayers will be offered, our thoughtful introspection at this season well on its way and our High Holiday melodies heard and shared and we will celebrate the New Year with challah, honey and a bit of kiddish wine - hopefully not watered down.  But our work will be just beginning.  As you exit, there will be an opportunity to register to vote - if you are not registered, please do.  Participate in our High Holiday food drive by taking home a grocery bag, filling it and a few others with food for St. Theresa’s food bank and Austin’s House, a transitional housing facility for youth, in the Carson Valley, look for opportunities to engage in our community - get involved by being an educated and concerned citizen, not just for our own individual interests, but seeing the community as a living, breathing and growing being that needs advocates too. 

Shanah Tovah U’mitukah - A Happy and Sweet New Year filled with all of us engaging in making our world and our communities what they can be!

Wednesday, September 24, 2014

Eilu V’Eilu:  But There is a More Right in Israel’s Right to Exist

One of my early family trips growing up took us to Florida.  Of course, where else do Midwest Jews go on vacation?  My grandparents rented an escape to stay each winter for a couple of months; and the entire family, aunts, uncles and cousins would schedule out the overlap and our own time with our grandparents.  Beach days, rainy days at the outlet malls and of course the big day, the day we visited Disney World.  The epic family journey treating the younger generation to thrills, exploration and over stimulation, while the older generation struggled to meet everyone’s needs and expectations, battling the sun, the tummy aches from too many corn dogs and entertaining us, the kids, during those long lines.  Recently, my mother recounted a memorable, well sort of memorable, moment from one of those trips.  It was the occasion for all of the cousins to visit the fabulous World of Disney together.  My younger brother, Zack, and I were debating, actually arguing about what Disney World was really about.  For me, it was the adventurous rides, the roller coasters and things that make adults dizzy.  For my brother, a little more tame than I, it was the attractions, the Small World boat ride and Epcot Center that was Disney World.  Apparently, we argued for days leading up to THE DAY.  Back and forth, we debated what Disney World was truly about and how we would spend our much anticipated visit.  That was, until a voice, perhaps of reason, entered the fray.  Like an other worldly voice, my Aunt Deborah spoke up and said, “You are both right!”  “Disney World is so fabulous, it offers so much and we can do all the things you are arguing about,” she said.  “We will make sure you each get to enjoy the day!” 

Arguing and Debating are certainly part of our Jewish tradition.  From our ancestors in Genesis, to the Israelites debating Moses, from the people's disregard of the prophets to the Rabbis of the Talmud, argument and discourse are rooted in what it means to be Jewish.  The old adage reminds us:  Two Jews, at least three opinions.  When it comes to debates, discussions and conflict, this season, the Yamim Noraim - the Days of Awe, are an important time to consider how we argue, and how we fight.  As we enter this time, welcome this New Year, we have work to do.  I’m not talking about the chicken soup, the brisket and kugel, rather it is the work of Teshuvah - our repentance.  We will always argue and debate throughout life, it is part of being human.  But, the way we engage in that debate goes a long way.  That is where our true character is witnessed.   

Among the most famous debates in our tradition rank those of the great sages Hillel and Shammai.  In fact, many of us may be less familiar, if at all, with Shammai and that’s because of the result of one debate in particular.  In the Babylonian Talmud, we study this great disagreement.  It is recounted by Rabbi Abba in the name of Samuel that Hillel and Shammai argued for 3 years; both asserting that the Halacha, the law, was in accordance with their own view.  In an almost magical moment, as can happen in the amazing world of Talmud, we find a phrase used by rabbinic literature as the lowest form of prophecy, but, nonetheless, divine in origin.  “יצאה בת קול ואמרה אלו ואלו דברי אלוהים חיים,” “These AND those [literally both] are the words of the living God.” This phrase, the bat kol, is used to continue the point, stating that the Halacha, the law, follows Hillel.  A grand and phenomenal moment for sure.  In the words of the great Rabbi Louis Jacobs, the bat kol, is the lowest level of prophecy but a mighty powerful voice. 

The sages of our tradition go on to further understand and explain how this Eilu V’Eilu - These AND Those - statement is supposed to work.  If both are the words of the living God, Rabbi Abba continues, what merited Hillel to the Halacha, the law?  Talmud puts the matter to rest by teaching us that it was because they, Beit Hillel, Hillel and his disciples were pleasant and demonstrated humility in the arguments.  But most importantly, they studied their own decisions and those of Shammai and even included Shammai’s rulings in stating their own.  It is this last piece that becomes the ultimate lesson.  Being pleasant and demonstrating humility are asked of us throughout our lives.  But in the arena of discourse, debate, disagreement and perhaps battle, understanding the other side’s argument, their stance and their situation must be at the fore.  This is about how we argue, debate and even fight.  While both Shammai and Hillel’s rulings represented the, “Words of the Living God,” it was ruled that Hillel’s pleasant, humble demeanor AND recognizing the value of another’s opinion becomes our ideal to aim for.

Jacob ben Wolf Kranz, the Maggid of Dubno shared the following parable in the 18th century.  He spoke about a prince who assigned a group of workmen the gigantic project of constructing imposing buildings and a spacious palace, among other edifices.  Before turning the completed structures over to their owner, they carefully inspected every nook and cranny to make certain that nothing was overlooked and that the prince would find nothing lacking.  At this solemn season it is fitting for us, too, to research our ways and to take stock of our behavior, values and opinions.  On Rosh Hashanah it is incumbent upon us to inquire into, and evaluate in retrospect our dealings during the past year so that we may repent; lest God find that our performance was incomplete.

As we, too, embark on a new year, we are obligated to look at the world around us with a different measure of examination; a newly constructed ruler.  For the Jewish reality is not only about black and white of right versus wrong, but also about the how, the way we take responsibility, the way we own our rights and how we engage the other.      

Tonight I want to share words unlike any other I have from this or any bema.  I have prepared these thoughts because I truly believe that now something is different.  These words share what I believe is among the most pressing issues for the Jewish People.  That, this summer, the geo-political stage was once again occupied by the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.  Many of you heard me speak again and again about the situation on the ground and our own role as Jews of the Diaspora through the summer months.  As we celebrate, yes, and welcome this New Year on this Rosh Hashanah 5775, we must ensure that Israel, our Jewish State, is more understood than in the past.  We must argue and debate for Israel’s right as a sovereign state to protect and defend itself.  It is our responsibility, in part, to engage in examining what is right, what is wrong and how to ensure a better and safer future for Israel. 

Israel’s actions as a country against Gaza have, and continue to, draw much criticism.  From the use of force at all to the collateral damage, Israel has been the brunt of much hostility on the stage of public opinion.  I must state clearly that I cannot defend the loss of life, personal property and ability to earn a living on either side of the conflict.  Yet, in order to see, and then hopefully begin to achieve, a better tomorrow, we must examine the conflict, understand the arguments as they are shared and take steps, albeit baby steps perhaps, towards a different reality. 

Hillel and Shammai were said to engage in this debate for three years.  Well, for more than a century the Arab-Israeli conflict has ebbed and flowed.  The Israeli-Palestinian conflict has been front and center at least since the declaration of independence of the State of Israel in 1947.  We must understand also that part of the complexity of this reality is determining its starting point.  I must pick this, the Modern State of Israel’s existence, as a point of departure.  As such, this debate is now more than three-quarters of a century old.  When it comes to Israel, I am an ardent Zionist.  And yet, this debate, this conflict is reminiscent of that belonging to Hillel and Shammai in the Talmud.

I used to feel differently.  I used to believe the sense of “right” could be shared, but as I have taught, and discussed this summer, the most recent conflict is different.  It has a different character to it and rather than a situation of figuring out who is more right or who is less wrong, there is a right.  In our case, Zionism, a Jewish state is Eilu, one side that is right.   And, the right of what we consider the Palestinian people to exist, to have a national home, that is Eilu, too.  Both sides, in this ultimate sense are what our tradition calls, “דברי אלוהים חיים,” “Words of the Living God.”  However, it is now clear that the avenues chosen by Gaza’s leadership, which I will, but need not remind you, is Hamas - a recognized terrorist organization, are not, or at least no longer, Eilu, and they are certainly not of the Living God. 

Using this litmus test provided by our tradition, about the conflict between Hillel and Shammai, we know that neither side in a war can be pleasant and neither may be unequivocally right or wrong.  Humility is different, however.  We must understand that Israel’s tactics in this situation represent the highest regard for human life in the realm of war and armed conflict.  Consider the words of Donniel Hartman, who wrote, “I know that the fact that every country and army facing similar circumstances would either act in the same way or take far more extreme measures…” but he goes on to write that this reality, “doesn’t convince any of our critics of the legitimacy of our actions.”  So, turning to the final qualifier in our tradition’s test, the one that determined the merits of Hillel's argument, we must look at how each side views, and considers the other.  This, like the dating of such a conflict, is complex and muddy.  But I believe there is merit to the following simplification.  Israel recognizes that the Palestinian People need a national home.  Yes, some actions by the State send conflicting messages, however the current government not only sees this as inevitable, but as a must for enduring peace to be possible.  Gaza’s government, Hamas, states something quite different in nature in its own charter, stating, “Israel will exist and will continue to exist until Islam will obliterate it, just as it obliterated others before it.”  It goes on to state later in the charter, “Israel, Judaism and Jews challenge Islam and the Moslem people.”  This clearly belies any legitimate right for Israel to exist.  This articulates how Hamas does not recognize Israel's right to exist, does not recognize the right of Jews to exist nor does it consider Israel’s views or needs. 

Both causes are just and right.  However, the way, the how of the Palestinian cause in Gaza has evolved to employ Hamas as its leadership and this has forever changed the character of its reality.  It takes what once was a more right versus a less wrong situation to what has now become about the right to exist, as a nation, as a people and as human beings.  Israel’s right to exist, right as a sovereign state to defend itself and its people is just and must be square one; the beginning of the conversation.  It creates a situation in which the Palestinians of Gaza must examine their own deeds, their own decisions and choices of leadership to reestablish their case, and only being a just and right cause if it recognizes the right of others, the right of Israel and Jews to exist, peaceably. 

We know this now.  It leaves us wondering what will be?  What can we do?  Yes, Israel has this right and the Palestinians of Gaza have abandoned that right by their decisions and their actions.  But this leaves us wanting for a path, a different road to hoe in order to at least believe in a better tomorrow.  We, Israel - Am Yisrael, the people of Israel and the Modern State of Israel have been asked again and again to justify the nation’s actions.  Israel, too, has gone astray in the past.  After all, this is the Yamim Noraim, the Days of Awe.  It is a time when we are charged to examine our own inconsistencies, our own failings, as individuals and as a nation, a people.  This is not the time for us to point fingers at others.  So we ask ourselves that question too.  How?  What in this reality of conflict do we justify.  In the great saga of our ancestor Joseph, there comes a great moment before Joseph, then the vizier of Egypt, reveals his identity to his brothers.  Recall that Joseph had been cast aside by his own brothers to die.  Later, when the brothers sojourn for food in Egypt, Joseph recognizes them and has stolen property placed in their possessions.  Upon revealing the seeming theft, Judah cries out to the vizier of Egypt, “מה נאמר לאדני מה נדבר ומה נצטדק - What can we say to my lord?  What can we say, how could we ever prove our innocence?”  

This, too, is our response.  How can we prove innocence?  There is blood on Israel’s hands, that cannot be disputed.  Golda Meir once said, “We can forgive the Arabs for killing our children.  We cannot forgive them for forcing us to kill their children.  We will only have peace with the Arabs when they love their children more than they hate us.”  It is not about demonstrating Israel’s innocence to the world, it IS about arguing again and again, until it is not just understood, not just accepted, but the norm, that Israel has the right to exist, that Israel has the right as a sovereign nation to defend itself and that Jews throughout the world are accepted as partners in creating tomorrow, participating among the nations of the world. 

The complexity of looking within, understanding our own Jewish reality in moving forward, increases because we have four sides to our own internal debate.  We have the hawks and the doves in Israel and we have the liberal and the conservative here at home amongst American Jews.  These must work together, but better:  WE MUST FIND OUR OWN UNITY IN A MODERN ZIONISM.  We must understand that while there is Eilu and Eilu in the hawkish and the dovish arguments for Israel and Zionism, while there is Eilu and Eilu on the liberal and the conservative here at home, to fully be:  Words of the Living God, they must come closer, exist together.  Then the right has a chance to be evident.  We are part of that, but as one prominent rabbi recently lamented, the American scene is struggling in supporting even this basic notion of Israel.  Rabbi Andy Bachman recently shared:

I worry about American Jewry on this trip more than I ever have.  I worry about their increasing alienation from the notion of a Jewish people, I worry about our understandable abhorrence of the killing of innocents that too quickly shifts to blame, guilt and distance from Israel; and I worry about a kind of liberal American Jewish hopelessness toward the Jewish national project, the dystopian other-expression of the very spirit that created this improbable, historically miraculous, wildly creative yet weighted, complex, imperfect nation. 

And finally, I worry (with no small amount of paranoia) of a Hamas operative, reading these words, laughing and rubbing his hands in a diabolically cartoonish gesture:  The Jews, he says, can be worn down.  Eventually, they'll give up and leave.        

It is not about giving up.  It is not about giving in.  It IS about recognizing the needs of humanity.  That life is about Eilu V’Eilu - these AND those; respect for the other and for self.  The debate between Hillel and Shammai raged until the answer was so apparent it seemed divine.  The answer wasn’t even about the law itself, but about our conduct. 

The reality in Israel, of Zionism and for world Jewry has been shaken in the last months.  Anti-Israel, Anti-Zionism, has become Anti-Semitism.  This has put us, the People and Nation of Israel, on the defensive.  We must be on the offensive; not military offensive, but we must search our opinions, our values, our beliefs and behaviors to know what our argument is, how it takes into account the other side.  Then, and only then, are we living in the image of Hillel’s disciples, being and living דברי אלוהים חיים, the words of the living God.  We must:  Travel to Israel to understand our love and attachment, and our need as the Jewish people for a Jewish land.  We must:  Listen, truly listen, to all the arguments within and among our own people and those of others, even if we determine them unfounded - WE MUST HEAR THEM.  We must:  Stand up for Israel’s right to exist as a sovereign state with its right to protect and defend itself and therefore, doing all we can in this New Year to ensure Israel, our Jewish State, is more understood than in the past.

May all those whose lives are forever impacted by conflict discover peace, in our day and speedily.

עשה שלום במרומיו הוא יעשה שלום עלינו ועל כל עמו ישראל ועל כל יושבי תיבל
May the Source of Peace on High bring peace to us, all Israel and all who dwell on earth.

Shanah Tovah U’mitukah

Shanah Tovah U'Mitukah - A Happy, Good and Sweet Year in 5775


Faye Moskowitz wrote, "So there is nothing new under the sun.  I accept that.  That is my challenge.  There is beauty enough and ugliness enough and love enough and hate enough for any one of us to select from and shape our own absolutely personal combinations.  But this shaping must be a conscious thing:  a reaching back and forward for those details that create patterns and form and motif in a life.  To see living as connection is to bevel the rough edges, miter the corners, blur the divisions so that time becomes a chain of always accessible segments, no fragments, of knowledge and experience." 

As we feel this moment, being on the precipice of a New Year, we live Moskowitz's words.  We reach back through the year we are concluding and we reach forward to create a new year with our best intentions, our highest hopes and most sincere promises.  Then, after we stand on that peak, looking off into the distance of 5775, reality begins to set in as Yom Kippur approaches, we adjust those intentions, we temper our hopes and compromise on our promises - that is life, our human reality. 

But, this season invites us, no charges us, to hold as tight as possible, though, to those intentions, hopes and promises.  It teaches us to recognize that all of this is about being our own potential.  Rosh Hashanah comes on the New Moon.  It comes not when the moon is full, but halfway between waxing and waning, between growth and contraction.  The moon reminds us of our own waxing and waning, our own growth and contraction.  Let this Rosh Hashanah be an invitation to growth, a charge to not just hope and yearn for that potential, but take active steps to reach it.

Shanah Tovah U'Mitukah,