Can We Talk?

Divrei Shalom

civilityAnyone who knows me knows that a longtime focus of mine has been on civil discourse and what I view as the descent of public discourse in recent years.  Some believe that passionate, vigorous disagreement has always been with us, and that our time is no more or less disharmonious than any other period.  I disagree. I am not troubled by disagreement. I am deeply disturbed by the hateful ways in which too many voice their positions and disagreement in our day.  What’s more, I am disturbed by the rhetoric and hateful characterization of “the other” – whoever that be.  In too many corners I see incivility growing. It alarms me that our children are absorbing the message that it is okay to engage in hate-speech and character assassination in order to make your point, or to win a contest. In Congress, on the Presidential campaign trail, within our Jewish…

View original post 438 more words

Can We Talk?

civilityAnyone who knows me knows that a longtime focus of mine has been on civil discourse and what I view as the descent of public discourse in recent years.  Some believe that passionate, vigorous disagreement has always been with us, and that our time is no more or less disharmonious than any other period.  I disagree. I am not troubled by disagreement. I am deeply disturbed by the hateful ways in which too many voice their positions and disagreement in our day.  What’s more, I am disturbed by the rhetoric and hateful characterization of “the other” – whoever that be.  In too many corners I see incivility growing. It alarms me that our children are absorbing the message that it is okay to engage in hate-speech and character assassination in order to make your point, or to win a contest. In Congress, on the Presidential campaign trail, within our Jewish community when it comes to discussing anything related to Israel; on a national level when it comes time to deliberate hot-button social issues such as racial or economic justice – in short, almost wherever one looks, the temperature is rising and the rhetoric is growing more hateful and ugly by the day.

In the aftermath of yesterday’s New Hampshire Presidential primaries, analysts acrossprimary2016_lg the spectrum are telling us that the voting public is expressing anger. Indeed, I was raised to believe that we are meant to express our views at the ballot box. Even so, I wonder whether the build-up to the day on which the public is invited to weigh in has to be filled with so much venom, with so little listening to the other, and with so much divisiveness.

We hear that it is the fault of the media.  We hear that it is the fault of our politicians. From Democrats we hear that it is the fault of Republicans; and from Republicans we hear it is the fault of Democrats. If I were answering a survey, I would readily check the box “all-of-the-above.”  And, it’s our fault as well!

If we want the tenor of our public discourse to serve the higher purpose of moving – our city, our state, our nation, our community – forward then we must step forward together and bring an end to the endless spiral of “othering,” hate speech and poison-rhetoric we tolerate.

ie3_cover_250wIn the coming days, I will begin teaching Engaging Israel 3.0 – a Shalom Hartman Institute course focusing on Jewish Values and the Israeli-Palestinian Conflict. Having viewed a number of parts of the course as part of my preparation, I am deeply impressed by the Hartman Institute’s approach which is less about staking out positions or convincing anyone what is the correct view to hold.  Engaging Israel 3.0 is as much about how do we hold a values-based conversation about a difficult subject respecting both our own strongly-held views as well as the person and views of the other. I am as excited about EI 3.0 as an experimwnt in civil discourse as I am about its content which will allow participants to learn about Israel, the Palestinians, and the conflict against the backdrop of Jewish values.

Can we talk? These next few months will be an experiment in which I am eager to engage, on so many levels.  I am hoping, that with all of the various places from which participants will come to conversation that the answer will emphatically be, “Yes, we can talk.”

Interested? You can learn more and sign-up at https://www.templeshalom.org/learning/adult-learning/

 

Rabbi Allison Berry’s Inclusive Community Shabbat D’rash

February 5, rabbi_allison_berry_2011_web_medium_large2016

Inclusive Community Shabbat D’rash – Parashat Mishpatim  

Years ago, for many of us, instead of opening our hearts to prayer, Hebrew school had the effect of silencing our natural instinct to prayer. Now – I certainly hope this no longer applies – but for just a moment go with me on this one.

To illustrate, Rabbi Nahman of Bratslav tells the story of a simple shepherd, who every day would offer his personal prayer to God: “God, I love you so much, if you were here, I would give you half my sheep. If it was raining and you were cold, I would share my blanket.” One day a great rabbi was walking by the field, and he heard the shepherd praying. He ran up to him, and said, “Do you call that praying? Are you kidding? What would God do with your sheep? Of what use would a blanket be to God? Here, let me show you to pray properly before you further desecrate God’s holy name!” The rabbi then got out a siddur, and gave a brilliant lecture on the structure and meaning of the various prayers, and explained what to say when to the poor illiterate shepherd. As soon as the rabbi left, the shepherd sat there dumbfounded. He didn’t understand a word of it. But he knew the great rabbi was quite upset that his prayers were not proper. So he stopped praying.*

And, so sadly for many in our community, that’s where the story ends…Their prayers and essentially their voices are silenced. However, here in our community – there is more to this story…

A recent innovation in the Jewish world has been to designate February as Disability and Inclusion Awareness Month. The secular month of February was chosen in part because this is usually the time of year we read the powerful and profound message of this week’s Torah portion, Mishpatim from the book of Exodus. Among all the laws discussed in this portion, we are taught the mitzvah (commandment) of not taking advantage of the stranger, the widow and the orphan. As we read in Exodus:You shall not wrong a stranger or oppress him, for you were strangers in the land of Egypt. You shall not mistreat any widow or orphan (Exodus 22:20-21).”

Our commentaries address the question of why God loves and singles out these three groups – the ger or stranger, ya-tom, orphan and the almanah – widow – in such a special way.  What unites these three kinds of people? Rabbi Loren Sykes teaches us: Based on the language of the commandment, we understand strangers, widows and orphans can easily be taken advantage of, be oppressed or be ignored.  You can imagine the conversation: “It is too expensive to care for these people, let someone else take care of them” or “We are really sorry but we are just not equipped to help” or “You are not welcome here.  Your child makes too many strange noises during services or during class.”

Of course the Torah’s call to not take advantage, to not oppress, to not ignore the stranger, the widow and the orphan resonates in today’s world. And in our modern context, we can extract the importance of caring for those who are particularly vulnerable.

And so, this month of February is a reminder to each of us: we can do more to include members of our community who are vulnerable; in particular those with special needs or disabilities; those whose prayers are uniquely their own. And in fact, it is the Torah’s imperative that we strive to make all who enter our community feel at home, welcomed and loved. And of course, this is the very foundation of our community and Temple Shalom’s vision.

However, our month of reflection and recognition should not only be a celebration of our intent. Let this evening also be a call to action. At Temple Shalom, our vision and values guide our understanding and the imperative of inclusion and there is much to do and much to celebrate.

Just this year, due to the generous support of members of our community, we welcomed Inclusion Coordinator, Emily Kieval to our education staff.

Our new Inclusive Community Task force has begun the process of creating a strategic plan so we can spread the word about great work happening in our community, as well envision ways we can grow. We will have the first draft of this plan ready soon and we hope many of you will participate in the process of making it reality.

We are proud of our deepening relationships with partner Jewish organizations such as Gateways, The Ruderman Synagogue Inclusion Project, Yachad and Synagogue Council as they, along with us, further the work of opening and then widening the doors – quite literally – of our community and its institutions.

Finally – a huge thank you to members of the Temple Shalom community and Inclusive Community Task Force. Your care, tireless effort and support have brought us to this moment. Your thoughtful plans including our (sadly canceled) dinner program celebrating our inclusive community are the result.  We recognize each of you for your contribution.

And so, remember the story of our shepherd and know his stifled prayer is not where our story ends. Instead, our story continues as we strive as a Jewish community to open our arms, minds and hearts.

In closing I share with you a blessing:  Baruch Ata Adonai, Eloheinu, Melech ha-olam, asher kidshanu bemitzvotav vetzivatnu lirdof tzedek, u’lichabed kol nefesh. Blessed are you, Our God, spirit of the universe, who makes us holy with your mitzvot (commandments) and commands us to pursue justice and to honor all people.

*This story, based on a Talmudic tale, can be found in the book, Days of Awe: Stories for Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur by Eric Kimmel (Puffin, 1993). I only included half the story in the D’rash but this abridgment along with the second half of the story is found in Rabbi Barry Leff’s Rosh Hashanah sermon, 2003: http://www.jacksonsnyder.com/arc/Midrash/56.htm

Tagged ,

Candidates: Join In, Take Time for Sabbath and Reflection

mishpatim201A welcome snow day before Shabbat – it’s practically a double blessing.  Earlier this week, as I was listening to our b’nei mitzvah practice their Torah portions for tomorrow morning, I found myself reflecting on which passages might be especially pertinent teachings for these days from among the myriad mitzvot wh10 commandmentsich comprise this week’s Torah portion. Our portion, Parshat Mishpatim, is the direct follow-up to last week’s reading of Moses ascending Mt. Sinai last Shabbat to receive, Aseret HaDibbrot – the Ten Commandments as the world knows them.

Within the context of the narrative in this week’s portion, God’s revelation to Moses continues, and we learn a diverse array of commandments intended to govern relations between members of the Israelite community as well as those strangers living among them.

A quick scan of the portion, and my attention was hooked on a number of passages which echo loudly for me against the backdrop of the political discourse of these days:

Exodus 23:1-3 1You must not carry false rumors; you shall not join hands with the guilty to act as a malicious witness: 2You shall neither side with the mighty to do wrong—you shall not give perverse testimony in a dispute so as to pervert it in favor of the mighty—3nor shall you show deference to a poor man in his dispute.

Exodus 23:6-9 – 6You shall not subvert the rights of your needy in their disputes. 7Keep far from a false charge; do not bring death on those who are innocent and in the right, for I will not acquit the wrongdoer. 8Do not take bribes, for bribes blind the clear-sighted and upset the pleas of those who are in the right. 9You shall not oppress a stranger, for you know the feelings of the stranger, having yourselves been strangers in the land of Egypt.

And there’s plenty more in our portion.

Unless one has totally disconnected from the world, it’s been nigh impossible to escape the Presidential campaign which has already stretched on for too long.  And we are only now days removed from the Iowa caucuses and on the cusp of the “first-in-the-nation” New Hampshire primary. Much has been made of the various candidate’s poll numbers and campaign tactics. We’ve barraged with debates, and many more are in the offing.  Once in a while we actually hear the candidates and their interrogators get around to discussing issues of substance.  And, we hear quite a bit about the religious faith of various candidates as some among them try to present themselves as ”holier than,” well . . . everybody else. It is stunning how the messages get crafted and tweaked for each state and its residents.

I am wont to cry out to all of the candidates: For a variety of faith communities, it is or will yet be Sabbath before Tuesday comes.  Might you consider a brief respite from your campaign duties and the whirling rhetoric?  (We can use the break, maybe more than you
and your staff!) Might I urge you all, individually to spend a few minutes with our Jewish lectionary reading for this Shabbat.  The words printed above (and many more which keep-calm-and-shabbat-shalomsurround them) should give you, and us all pause to reflect on the values we hold, and not just the ones we profess before the throngs and the cameras.  Whichever path leads you to your faith and your encounter with or experience of God, might you take a few moments to step back, in humility, and reflect on some ancient words by which we still believe we live?

Pause, read, reflect . . . and then, into the fray once more!

Shabbat shalom!

Changing My Place to Reinforce a Cherished Value

It’s an oft-used Hebrew idiom: M’shaneh makom, m’shaneh mazal, “Change your place and you’ll change your luck.” I’ve been pondering the phrase for several days now. A friend even used it in a conversation just this morning. A more literal translation of the Hebrew would suggest, “if you change your place, you change your mazal (meaning the astrological constellation under which you are situated. The words mazal tov we often to congratulate one another, are actually astrologically rooted.  Another time.)

My mind locked on this phrase in a most unexpected manner in recent days as I have been enjoying some vacation time. It’s not been a travel vacation but more of what folks call a “stay-cation.” Nonetheless, I sensed that even two days away from my usual surroundings might be a welcome diversion. On Sunday I packed up and headed out to spend two days in the Berkshires in Western, Mass. Some reading, perhaps a bit of study, and catch up on sleep. Maybe I’d even do some writing. Mostly, I thought that sitting in a different set of surroundings would allow me to more fully feel the sense of having vacated my usual haunts and habits.lee20mass20exit202

There was, however, one wrinkle: Sunday afternoon’s AFC Championship game between the New England Patriots and the Denver Broncos.  Where I was headed I would not have cable service (nor internet for that matter – a part of the allure.) The Berkshires may provide a quieter, and in many cases, more rural surrounding, but they are hardly cut off from the world. I’d scout the town of Lee for a restaurant or pub where I could catch Sunday’s game.  That turned out to be a relatively easy mission.  What I did not expect was an experience that would draw me right back to what my colleagues and I, both lay and professional, work at creating at Temple Shalom: a welcoming environment which exudes what is now often called “audacious” or “radical hospitality.”

frontwindowI parked my car in Lee with about 30 minutes until kick-off. I began scouting my options along Main Street of which there were several. I first walked into a relatively new Craft Beer and Whiskey Bar named “Moe’s Tavern” which was hidden around the back of the stores that front Lee’s main drag.  The place was mostly empty. One long table was partially occupied and a number of folks were seated at the bar. A server quickly greeted me and answered my questions. One gentleman, whom I’d soon learn was named Josh, offered to take me around to Main Street to check out their store front Craft Beer shop. He opened up the shuttered store, and offered gracious explanations of their wares I thanked him, suggesting I was going to walk around for a bit, indicating I might well return to Moe’s.

I walked down the store-lined street to another venue, a sports bar/restaurant.  Their obvious advantage was their full menu of food options. While Moe’s allows patrons to bring their own food, they only offer random bagged snacks for purchase. I’d missed lunch and was hungry. So, I stepped inside. The place was half empty. A second room offered larger TV options. It too, was only about half full.  There were quite a number of servers and a greeter present. I found myself standing awkwardly for an uncomfortable amount of time. Walking around, I spied a small table for two which was empty, with a “reserved for 1:00 pm” sign on top.  I asked a nearby waitress if I might sit as it was way past 1 pm.  I received a brusque answer and wandered back to the other side of the establishment in search of a menu and a table.  Asking if I might glance at a menu, I found the wait staff flustered at my request. I found a menu on my own.  In the meantime, no one had offered to seat me.  I quickly realized that game time was drawing near.  While Moe’s might not offer food for sale, I felt more drawn to returning to a place that graciously welcomed me than the one which offered more of what I sought, but which felt cold and unwelcoming. Moe’s it was. I spent a mostly delightful afternoon (leaving the outcome of the game aside. The Broncos deserved their win), in surroundings, and the quite pleasant company of complete strangers.

As the final seconds wound down I packed up my gear, disappointed by the Pats loss. I returned to my car with a sense that in spite of the outcome of the game, I had been blessed with a really powerful object lesson in that which I spend so many of my waking and working hours addressing: make people feel welcome; helping them see that we value their presence and that they have a place in our midst.

1431288989In a world which can so often seem impersonal and increasingly disconnected as we “connect” via our myriad technological devices, we all need relationships and personal engagement. Getting out of my usual box served to reinforce something I know so well, yet so easily could forget. Thank you Moe’s for reminding me of a very powerful and important piece of the work I do.  I will most certainly be back!

Tagged ,

Shabbat Bo – Connections: Dr. King’s Teaching for our Discordant Time

Divrei Shalom

In recent months, I have been busy building out my morning rituals. I still begin with coffee & catching up with news (nothing new there.) I continue to work at strengthen my Mindfulness practice (most mornings.) It’s still somewhat new to me, but I have found it meaningful in these past two and half years of baby-steps. Recently I’ve added two more “practices.” Each came “on-board” separately, but around the same time. Each involves a short reading/reflection piece to help my mind, heart and soul focus on more than news and minutiae of my day. One, which came from a somewhat surprising source, Itake-your-soul-to-work-365-meditations-on-every-day-leadership-by-erica-brown-book-cover-284x400’ll share as part of tomorrow morning’s monthly Seeking Shabbat. The other was occasioned by the publication of Erica Brown’s newest book, Take Your Soul to Work: 365 Meditations on Every Day Leadership.

I’ve shared teachings from some of Erica Brown’s other books over the years…

View original post 902 more words

Shabbat Bo – Connections: Dr. King’s Teaching for our Discordant Time

In recent months, I have been busy building out my morning rituals. I still begin with coffee & catching up with news (nothing new there.) I continue to work at strengthen my Mindfulness practice (most mornings.) It’s still somewhat new to me, but I have found it meaningful in these past two and half years of baby-steps. Recently I’ve added two more “practices.” Each came “on-board” separately, but around the same time. Each involves a short reading/reflection piece to help my mind, heart and soul focus on more than news and minutiae of my day. One, which came from a somewhat surprising source, Itake-your-soul-to-work-365-meditations-on-every-day-leadership-by-erica-brown-book-cover-284x400’ll share as part of tomorrow morning’s monthly Seeking Shabbat. The other was occasioned by the publication of Erica Brown’s newest book, Take Your Soul to Work: 365 Meditations on Every Day Leadership.

I’ve shared teachings from some of Erica Brown’s other books over the years. Erica spoke here several years back with former Globe columnist Ellen Goodman, on the occasion of the publication of her book Happier Endings, which I’ve yet to read. Ironically, it was only the very week of the publication of this most recent book that I had the chance to meet and learn from Erica Brown at a CJP-sponsored workshop held here at TS in early December. She is a marvelous teacher. I look forward to bringing her back to TS so we can all learn from her.

Each morning I sit with Erica’s Take Your Soul to Work, which she encourages that the reader consume in small doses, ideally just one a day.  I admit, sometimes I sample 2 or even three selections. They are short, but powerful.

There are some times when one simply has to scratch their head and wonder about randomness and coincidence in life.  For me, yesterday was one such morning. I sat down with my coffee and the morning’s news (I’d say the Globe – but, well, you know, that’s not a pretty story these days.) Soon enough I’d consumed both the coffee and more than enough news. Now you have to understand that my Thursday morning of any given week (often earlier) my mind is already wrestling with what I might teach at Minyan Torah Study; what I might offer in what I strive to write weekly for our blog Divrei Shalom (I’m a few weeks behind at this point); and if it’s my turn to share some words at Kabbalat Shabbat, what kernel might inform those words. I’m always mindful of the week’s Torah portion, as well as other bits and pieces from what I’ve studied during the week as well as the calendar and the world in which we live. I set down my iPad and picked up Erica’s book which usually lives right next to favorite reading spot at home. I opened to the next offering, in this case Day 37, entitled “On Connection,” in which Brown quotes from Dr. Martin Luther mte5ntu2mze2mjgwndg5ndgzKing, Jr’s 1967 Christmas Eve homily in which he says: “I’ve seen too much hate to want to hate, myself, and I’ve seen hate on the faces of too many sheriffs, too many white citizens’ councilors, and too many Klansmen of the South to want to hate, myself; and every time I see it, I say to myself, hate is too great a burden to bear. Somehow we must be able to stand up before our most bitter opponents and say: “We shall match your capacity to inflict suffering by our capacity to endure suffering.”

I sat sit still for several moments.  As is often the case, I was moved by Erica’s teaching. As is her intention, her offering gave me pause to reflect. I was as taken by what I’d read Thursday morning as I was by the happenstance that I’d read her offering even as I was already contemplating words to share as we embrace Shabbat, and this weekend of remembrance and reflection on the life and teachings of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. This Shabbat’s Torah reading brings us to the final showdown between Moses and Pharaoh as Pharaoh relents finally allowing our Israelite ancestors to depart from slavery and degradation in Egypt. It’s a story we know well. My intention had been to make what seemed to me a relatively simple, yet important, connection to my belief that in our day, we are still bound. In 2016 we still enslave ourselves and others: to fear, prejudice, racism, hatred, bigotry, and to a stunning narrowness of mind that divides us – within the Jewish community. On this weekend, I am even more troubled as our nation is roiled by hateful rhetoric and disturbing discourse which to me drive us further apart and further from the core values upon which our nation was founded. On this Shabbat and this MLK weekend I am deeply disturbed by the reality that as a nation we are still divided, enslaved, fragmented, less than whole, distant from Shalom as violence and hatred still live vibrantly in our streets, communities and cities and in the political discourse of our would-be leaders.

83422227_hrErica Brown’s sharing of MLK’s words struck me quite powerfully: “”I’ve seen too much hate to want to hate, myself . . . and every time I see it, I say to myself, hate is too great a burden to bear.” I hope you will join me in taking some quiet moments beyond tonight’s gathering to reflect on Dr. King’s words and our painful, noisy divisions; the hatred that passes for political and civil discourse. Let his words, and this weekend of remembrance lead us to living our values – Jewish and American, as we take our steps into a new week in a world that is still enslaved to too many of the ancient world’s divisions. In his talk in 1967, Dr. King states: “It really boils down to this: that all life is interrelated. We are all caught in an inescapable network of mutuality, tied into a single garment of destiny. Whatever affects one directly, affects all indirectly. We are made to live together because of the interrelated structure of reality.” We must awaken our hearts and souls, our ears and our minds to his truth. It must become our truth if we are to survive as a society rooted in justice and freedom.

 

Tagged , , ,

Parashat Vayiggash – The Faces We Behold

Divrei Shalom

What do we see when we look at another person? What do we see when it is a loved one? What do we see when we see it is someone whom we’ve not seen for a long period of time?  What do we see when it is someone with whom we have a challenging relationship? These questions flood my mind as I read this week’s Torah portion, Vayiggash, which opens with the revelation by Joseph of his true identity to his brothers who have come to Egypt to procure food for their family as a famine has gripped the land of Canaan. I always find the opening scene of our portion to be one of the most emotional and gut-wrenching of stories we read in Torah. Our portion opens:

wm-Joseph-reveals-himself-Peter_von_Cornelius-thumb-640x640-3751Then Judah went up to him and said, “Please, my lord, let your servant appeal to my lord, and…

View original post 706 more words

Parashat Vayiggash – The Faces We Behold

What do we see when we look at another person? What do we see when it is a loved one? What do we see when we see it is someone whom we’ve not seen for a long period of time?  What do we see when it is someone with whom we have a challenging relationship? These questions flood my mind as I read this week’s Torah portion, Vayiggash, which opens with the revelation by Joseph of his true identity to his brothers who have come to Egypt to procure food for their family as a famine has gripped the land of Canaan. I always find the opening scene of our portion to be one of the most emotional and gut-wrenching of stories we read in Torah. Our portion opens:

wm-Joseph-reveals-himself-Peter_von_Cornelius-thumb-640x640-3751Then Judah went up to him and said, “Please, my lord, let your servant appeal to my lord, and do not be impatient with your servant, you who are the equal of Pharaoh . . . Our father said, ‘Go back and procure some food for us.’ We answered, ‘We cannot go down; only if our youngest brother is with us can we go down, for we may not show our faces to the man unless our youngest brother is with us.’ . . .  “Now, if I come to your servant my father and the boy is not with us—since his own life is so bound up with his—when he sees that the boy is not with us, he will die . . .  Please let [me] remain as a slave to my lord instead of the boy, and let the boy go back with his brothers . . .

“Joseph could no longer control himself before all his attendants, and he cried out, ‘Have everyone withdraw from me!’ So there was no one else about when Joseph made himself known to his brothers. His sobs were so loud that the Egyptians could hear, and so the news reached Pharaoh’s palace. Joseph said to his brothers, ‘I am Joseph. Is my father still well?’ His brothers could not answer him, so dumfounded were they on account of him. Then Joseph said to his brothers, ‘Come forward to me.’ And when they came forward, he said, ‘I am your brother Joseph, he whom you sold into Egypt. Now, do not be distressed or reproach yourselves because you sold me hither; it was to save life that God sent me ahead of you.’” (Genesis 44: 18- 45-5, excerpts)

We get a sense of Joseph’s pain as he confronts his brothers from his position of power and his veiled identity. The brothers face a man they believe holds their lives and the life of their father in his very hands.  At the moment when Joseph can no longer sustain the charade he empties the room of all his servants.  His cries are so loud that they are heard far and wide. He opens his eyes, he sees his brothers, and asks, “Is my father alive?” I find myself wondering why he did not ask, “Is our father alive?” It’s hard to know what is truly in Joseph’s heart. Yet, he hastens to assure the brothers that there was a purpose in what has transpired. It was God’s plan that they send him away. He draws them close and beyond the hugs and tears, assures them that they are going to be taken care. Joseph is able to see something in the faces of his brothers which triggers forgiveness and leads to reconciliation.

tzelemWe know that our tradition urges us to see tzelem Elohim, the “image of God” in each and every human being.  Teachings abound which seek to inspire us to make that a tangible reality in our everyday interactions with others. Earlier this week I came across a passage, not from the rich treasury of our Jewish heritage, but rather from a passage from the teachings of the Sufi Master known to the world as Rumi that struck me as in sync with both Joseph’s capacity to see God in what has happened, and our challenge in seeing each person we encounter as a reflect of “the Image.”  Rumi teaches:

Who could ever describe
The ways of the One who is like no other?
Anything I could say is only an attempt
At what might be needed now.

Sometimes God’s movement appears one way –
and sometimes as its opposite.
The work of real religion is bewilderment;
But not a bewilderment that drives you away
From Him, no, but bewildered like this –
Drowned and drunk with the Beloved.

One person’s face is turned
Toward the Beloved in awe,
Another only faces himself.

Gaze upon each person’s face.
Pay attention. Perhaps through service
You might come to know
The Face of the Beloved. (The Rumi Daybook, page 7)

As we read this Shabbat of reconciliation and the power of relationships renewed, may we hold in our mind’s eye, if not in our actual sight, the faces of those, in whose visage, we might glimpse a spark of holiness, of divinity, of healing and of blessing.

 

shabbat shalom

Tagged , , , ,

Check out Rabbi Gurvis’ “Ten Minutes of Torah” written for the URJ – 12/17/15

 

From Generation to Generation: Kindling Light Among Our Youth

This fall, the afternoons seemed darker than I remember. Family and friends also noticed that on some days, sundown seemed to come along as early as 3:30 or 4 p.m. On Thanksgiving, I even said, “We’re still three weeks from the equinox. Why does it seem so dark?”

I began to wonder if perhaps world events – terror attacks in Israel and Paris, ISIS’s increasing presence, ongoing racial tensions across our country, gun violence seemingly everywhere – and the unending stream of news about all the brokenness in our world were impacting my perception of daylight.

Earlier in the season, though – before Thanksgiving and long before Hanukkah – I received a powerful reminder of an important source of light in our midst, one that has burned brightly for me since my teenage years.

In mid-November, led by our high school youth group, Temple Shalom in Newton, MA, hosted our NFTY region’s fall conclave. That weekend, nearly 350 teens from across New England traveled to our town for the event, which included worship, socializing, and programming designed to build and nurture participants’ Jewish identities.

What joy I experienced during Kabbalat Shabbat on Friday evening, when I had a rare opportunity to simply sit as a member of the congregation. With my eyes closed, I allowed the voices of those teens to carry me into the holiness of Shabbat. Worshipping together with our congregation and teens from across the region was not only a balm for my soul, but also a powerful Shabbat experience. How different from just a week earlier, when Shabbat had arrived with news of the attacks in Paris, robbing me of any Shabbat spirit or joy.

I’ll admit that having NFTY teens in the house reminded me of what an important role NFTY had played during my own teen years and beyond. To this day, in fact, some of my closest friends are those from my time in NFTY and in our local group, LIFTY, on Long Island. (Thinking back, though, I cannot recall any event I attended as a teen that numbered nearly 350 participants!)

The conclave also provided me with no small measure of delight as I watched my youngest son, Jacob, among the leaders of the weekend’s activities. Like mine, his life has been indelibly shaped over time by the people he has met in our local youth group, at URJ Eisner Camp, and at numerous NFTY programs in which he has participated.

If I ever needed a reminder about the value of engaging our youth (and I didn’t!), it would have been easily quelled by the spirit, intellect, joy, and energy I witnessed among those teens. Again and again over the course of that weekend, I found myself trying to absorb their joy, their energy, their spirit – the light they continually bring to our midst.

Hanukkah candles give us but eight nights of light. By contrast, the flames we kindle in the hearts and souls of our youth are not set by the calendar nor determined by the season. They are kept ablaze by the energy, insights, and relationships young people build, nurture, and share in these experiences with their peers. The power of our congregations, together with our movement’s youth programs, to kindle light that will be spread by our young people is more intense than we can imagine.

During that November weekend, the hundreds of teens gathered in our midst reminded me just how much our youth see the world as it is. Their involvement with NFTY encourages them to turn their hearts, minds, bodies, and souls toward making it the world it can be.

To them, to the generations of leaders who continue to guide and mold our movement’s youth, instilling a commitment to Jewish values and vibrant Jewish living deep within them, as well as to the URJ, whose efforts complement the work of NFTY groups throughout North America, I say, “Yasher koach!” (“May your strength be firm!” or, idiomatically, “Good job!”) and “Don’t let the light go out!”

Have something to say about this post? Join the conversation in The Tent, the social network for congregational leaders of the Reform Movement. You can also tweet us or tell us how you feel on Facebook.

Rabbi Eric Gurvis became senior rabbi of Temple Shalom in Newton, MA, in July 1999. His rabbinic career spans more than 30 years, including synagogues in New York City, Jackson, MS, and Teaneck, N.J., before coming to Temple Shalom. Rabbi Gurvis is a recognized leader of youth and camping programs. He served as dean of faculty and chairperson of the education committee for the URJ Eisner and Crane Lake Camps from 1995-2011 and as chairperson of the committee on youth for the Central Conference of American Rabbis from 1986-1993. Rabbi Gurvis has served on the national board of ARZA(Association of Reform Zionists of America) and theCommission on Social Action. He has been active in interfaith affairs, having served as president of the Mississippi Religious Leadership Conference, founding chairperson of the Jackson Clergy Network, and as first chairperson of the Jewish Community Relations Council of Bergen and North Hudson Counties’ task force on Inter Group Relations. He served as president of the Newton Interfaith Clergy Association from 2009 to 2013.

 

Follow

Get every new post delivered to your Inbox.

Join 1,906 other followers