The Star ~

In the last weeks we have seen the face of the rise of overt antisemitism in this country. We have seen innocents murdered at prayer in their house of worship. We have seen homes spray painted with swastikas. We saw a man buy a ticket to Fiddler on the Roof so he could yell Heil Hitler! and Heil Trump! in the middle of the performance.

I am not so naive as to believe that antisemitism is really growing, it has been there all along. Just like racism and xenophobia of all kinds. I don’t think people’s feelings have really changed. What I think is that over the last decades, at least for a while, it became socially unacceptable to express those feelings in public, to act them out in overt and destructive ways. And so at the least overt expressions of hate, to some extent, went underground.

What I think is that the current leadership, or lack thereof, of our country has created or at least affirmed the “rightness”  of a culture of the expression of hate. It has become okay, or normal, to express racism, antisemitism, hate of Muslims, etc. in public and out loud.

My mother is not Jewish, and for some in my community that means I am not. My father is Jewish and in my Reform community that means I am Jewish if I say I am. I was asked once how I determined that my identity was Jewish. I thought about my answer carefully and my answer is this. If I had lived in Germany in the early part of the 19th century, I would not have been asked if my mother was Jewish or not or what my identity was. I would have had a star sewn to my coat, I would have been herded into a ghetto and ultimately a cattle car and sent to my almost certain death. It has always seemed to me that if I would have died for being it, I should be willing to die to defend being it.

For a long time I stopped wearing my Star of David, or anything around my neck, for reasons related to vanity. But seeing these expression of anti-semitism becoming socially “acceptable” or at least part of some new normal made me re-think that. Now I need to wear it, every day and visible outside my clothing. Because I can.

NASO ~ Nurturing Community

This portion, Numbers 4:21 – 7:89 is about the dedication of the Mishkan, the tent in which the people gathered not only to worship but to become community.  Our “tents of offering”, our communities, are a precious and fragile thing, requiring constant care and love.

Our communities can be many things, they can be our Temple family, they can be the greater Jewish community in which we live, they can be all Israel, they can be our classmates, our colleagues, our friends and/or our families.   And each of these, each network of relationships, requires a different kind of nourishing.  And from each we seek something different in return.  It is, in some cases, a bargaining or bartering relationship as is often the case with colleagues.  But in most cases, we nourish our relationships because they provide us with something just by their existence, not because they actively “give” us something.

in the world of Naso, the idea of “home” was ephemeral as the people were still nomadic in the desert.  And so that tent of meeting, that communal place of worship and community became the stabilizing home place.  Today we are emotional/cultural nomads, living in geographically fractured families, extraordinarily fractured politics, constantly fractured finances and careers.  So home matters crucially as it did for those desert nomads.  What is home?

There are a lot of sayings about home.  It is where you hang your hat, it is where your heart is, it is where your dog is, it is where they have to take you in (thank you Robert Frost).  It may be all of these things, but it is much more complicated than that; but that is for another blog.  Suffice it to say that the Mishkan, our Temple, our place of meeting and community, matters.  It, like all our relationships, requires love and care if it is to sustain us.it is as fragile as everything else and demands our selfless service.

a belated Shabbat shalom.

 

 

 

Bemidbar ~ Counting On

We are in Numbers 1:1-2 and the Israelites are in their second year in the wilderness and G-d says “count”.  Oy vey is there counting.  Count the adult men, count the tribes, count the sons of Levi, count the first born males.  And so forth and so on.  This portion also details the duties of various muckety mucks, but that is for another blog.

There are many phrases and adages regarding counting.  For example, we “number our days” and we “count our blessings” and we “count to ten” before we speak in anger or frustration.  We say its the “little things that count” and “don’t count your chickens”.

Why did G-d instruct Moses to do so much counting?  Perhaps it was to ensure that everyone, in their wilderness community was accounted for.  Isn’t that what we are really doing when we “count” things in our lives, we are making sure they are all there, all in line, all accounted  for.  And for wandering Jews I imagine it would have been easy to lose track of people, wilderness being what it is.  When we count the number of our friends on Facebook are we assessing our community? Accounting for the people we care about?  Making sure we don’t lose track?

Counting gives us comfort, lists give us structure, assessing gives us security.  But honestly, doesn’t it work in the opposite in some ways?  When you number your days are you making them count?   Or worrying at how few they are.  When we count to ten before we speak are holding back angry inappropriate words, or are we failing to speak the words that count,  the truth.  When we say its the little things that count are we discounting the big, important things?  Because often it is the very very big things that count.  When we say don’t count your chickens are we simply saying don’t hope for things that count.

I don’t know the answers, I think each of these things can be seen in either way, from both sides.  The one that I only see one way is to count my blessings.  When I number my blessings, I can’t see the losses.  When I number my blessings, I don’t wallow in the painful.  When I number my blessings I am doing G-d’s work.

Shabbat Shalom

Secrets & Courage

I had the great privilege of leading my Congregation’s Shabbat service tonight, what follows is the d’var from that service.

This week’s Torah portion is vayeishev, essentially the story of Joseph.  Often we who are not great Torah scholars think of Joseph as the story of the multicolored dreamcoat – perhaps you are old enough to remember that.  In my case it puts me in mind of a beautiful song written by the great song writer Dolly Parton called the Coat of Many Colors.  Both of these cultural references to the story of Joseph’s coat present a fairly sweet or optimistic picture.  Unfortunately, the story of Joseph is not, overall, a happy one.

My wonderful seventh level religious school class has been working through the early portions in the book of Genesis and each and every one is about family relationships; parents and children, brother and brother, husband and wife.  And most of these stories are full of conflict, violence or at the least deception.  And Joseph’s story is much the same, his brothers hate  him and he is exiled, going from place to place, away from his family.  Oddly he is generally oblivious to their hatred, tremendous self absorption.  But it is important to note here that no matter where Joseph went, through all his travels and travails even when he was the only Jew in Egypt, he determinedly retained his identity as a Jew.

What my students discerned is that in all these stories, there is a missing piece, much midrash but a big missing piece.  And that is the communication, the dialogues, the conversations that must have taken place between family members.  We are told the action, the facts of what happened, but not what was said.  It is hard to imagine that Cain and Abel went from nothing to murder with no talking or interactions between.  Or that Isaac trudged up the mountain with his father in complete silence.  These conversations are left to our imagination.  One hopes that the conversations took place and were just lost in the telling and retelling of the stories.  So it is with Joseph and his family, we know what happened but not what was said.

This portion generally falls on or near Chanukah so the challenge is to find the connection.  A side note here, the Chanukah story is not in the Torah or the Hebrew bible as a whole.  It was in the two books of Maccabees but when the Hebrew bible was canonized, the Rabbis left them out.  The Catholics, interestingly, did not – they included them.  There are many theories and as with so much of our tradition,  a great stew of debate.  But I digress.

This time of year is a time when many end their lives either intentionally or by simply giving up. And how much of that stress and sadness finds its roots in family relations, quite a lot  I think. And how much family dysfunction is a result of a failure of communication?  Again, quite a lot I think.  How many of us have families in which there are secrets? Those things we “don’t tell mom” or “don’t tell dad”.  In my family it depends on the subject as to who we don’t tell.  How many conversations have you had with family members in which you began or ended with the words “don’t tell…..”.  There are many reasons to keep secrets, some good, some not so much.

Maybe the story of Joseph is meant to remind us to bravely retain our identities, to fight for them as bravely as the Maccabees did to be public Jews.  This is the crux of the Chanukah story.  Maybe it is also to remind us to speak kindly to one another, to overcome our difficulties with family members, to listen to each other’s feelings and needs.  And maybe to remind us to reach out to the isolated, lonely, sorrowing or frightened among us.  To remember that a kind word or a civil dialogue can have enormous impact on someone or on a relationship.

As we light our channukiahs in the window, because we can, to symbolize our religious freedom, let us be proud of who we are and teach our children thus.   And may we be free from the bondage of silence, conflict, disunity and hatred.  Let us all be a light for kindness, freedom and peace.  Shabbat Shalom.

Shabbat Shalom Y’all

About six years ago, we moved to the south. It was quite a culture shock. It is especially weird to go to Temple with blond big hair blue eyed goddesses with syrupy southern accents, especially after growing up in New York City with friends who ironed their seriously kinky brunette hair and had their birth noses reshaped! I realize that assimilation has taken a toll, as has intermarriage and the failure to affiliate. But its still funny. We grow up with stereotypes, which become stereotypes because they have grains of truth in them. I personally am married to a Jew by choice who celebrates St. Patrick’s day (ethnically speaking of course) so… stereotypes are dangerous as well. Nevertheless here we are. It is a beautiful spring day in full bloom here in the sunny south and Shabbat is coming. So Shabbat Shalom Y’all.