Friday, January 12, 2018
Thursday, January 4, 2018
December celebrations that have symbols of light associated with them (Christmas, Hanukkah, Kwanzaa and others) reflect the need for brightness to counter the increase in daily hours of darkness as the winter begins. These observances bear other meanings as well, with light as the foundation of their message.
During the celebration of Hanukkah, which commemorates a victory for religious freedom won by Jews in Judea in 165 BC, I asked my congregants at Temple Beth-El to share one word about what the festival meant to them this year.
Their responses encompassed a wide range of aspects of the holiday and its relation to our lives today. The “one-word” descriptions I received included:
• Gratitude and pride.
• Triumph and hope.
• Family and Continuity.
• Endurance and perseverance.
• Remembrance and tradition.
• Freedom and survival.
• Empowerment and enlightenment.
• Dedication and responsibility.
• Commitment and focus.
Some of these values naturally flowed from a story about a people seeking to hold on to their house of worship, their faith, and their right to be different in the face of a ruler who sought to change them and insist that they be like “everyone else.”
Other principles expressed how we can find ways, today, to be heroic on our own terms and to offer our help to people in need whose circumstances have led them to a place where hope is ours to give them.
That is how I view the annual effort of my congregation to serve breakfast at Camp Hope on Christmas morning. Many Temples and synagogues around the country try to find ways to serve their communities on a day when regular volunteers at hospitals and helping programs may be at home celebrating the holiday that they observe with family or friends.
In 2012, members of Temple Beth-El sought to identify a way in which we could make a small impact on people who needed some warmth and cheer on a holiday known for those qualities.
We called on congregants to provide donations of food, funds, time and energy so that we would be able to serve a hot breakfast at Camp Hope.
As it has turned out over the six years of this effort, we have not only served a meal, but we also have had a chance to speak with the people who came. We have listened to their stories, and we have tried to provide them with a sense that there are people who care about them.
In recent years, our Religious School children have created “goodie bags” that residents could take with them. This year, they also made greeting cards that, they hoped, would lift the spirits of the recipients. Several of our students were present to directly deliver these gifts of their hands and hearts.
I know that there are other organizations and congregations engaging in this type of activity in order to dispel darkness with light, to replace hopelessness with a spark of hope, and to offer warmth to counter the chill in the air.
These acts bring a brightness that can be sensed inside the one who gives and the one who receives. They reflect every value that my congregants cited in relation to Hanukkah, because it is, through our giving and our dedication, that more people will be able to live well and thrive every day. May that be a goal for which we continue to strive individually and as a community.
Saturday, December 23, 2017
Friday, December 22, 2017
Friday, December 1, 2017
What we learn, what we see...on Chanukah - Column for Temple Beth-El Las Cruces Adelante Newsletter - December 2017
• They resisted the tyranny of a ruler and regime that sought to impose one culture, one belief, and one approach to life on everyone.
• They demonstrated that power that lacks inspiration and purpose, but only seeks control, will not last.
• They turned the perceived need among some of their fellow Jews to acquiesce to cultural pressures around them into an affirmation that it’s all right to be different.
• They acted with courage in the face of great odds and what might have been certain defeat.
• They kept their vision focused on what was holy to them: their values, their tradition, their rituals, their community, and their God.
• They persisted in engendering hope at a hopeless time.
What do we see in the lights we light on the Chanukiah?
• We first see the history of each chanukiah we light: when it came into our home, who lit the candles on it over the years, why that particular chanukiah design bore significance for the family, and, perhaps, photographs of lighting the candles from year to year, and how Chanukah itself marks the passing of our heritage from one generation to the next.
• We see the joy that we know in our own lives that comes from warming relationships with family and friends.
• We see connections between us and the Jews around the world who are also lighting their Chanukiot.
• We acknowledge that our celebration is one of many in December, which provides us with an opportunity to build bridges of understanding.
• We look into the lights on the Chanukiah and see the guidance and wisdom of Judaism that has sustained us until now and can still nourish us with its teachings about compassion, commitment, justice, hope and peace.
• We learn from using the Shamash to light the other candles that service is crucial to assuring that the lights of any society or nation, in the form of well-being for all people, will burn brightly.
• We see the various colors of the flames, reminding us of the diversity of humankind that has a way of moving people towards coexistence out of necessity and, ultimately, out of love.
• We watch the candles burn and feel their warmth, knowing that we can exude that same warmth through hospitality and generosity of spirit.
May our celebration of Chanukah in 5778 lead us to a special place in ourselves and with each other. As the lights of Chanukah are holy, may we reflect that holiness in our lives through all we do. Happy Chanukah!
We need people of good character to assure that our society, our nation, and our world will move forward in a positive direction.
The memorial service was held several hours after Temple Beth-El had hosted its annual pre-thanksgiving Interfaith conversation on the afternoon of November 19, 2017. This year, the theme was “People of Character: What Does It take to be a mensch (a decent human being)?” At the program, I shared the “Periodic Table of Character Strengths” prepared for Global Character Day, marked this year on September 13 and founded by film-maker and innovator Tiffany Schlain (featured in my September column).
What was most important about the November 19 program was that we had representatives of several faith groups speak on values which, we believe, are central to good character.
Pastor Jared Carson of Peace Lutheran Church presented his views on persistence. He used biblical examples (Jacob of the Hebrew Bible and Joseph of the New Testament) and shared a poignant personal story that reflected this value.
Deb Rodgers of the Baha’is of Las Cruces shared a personal experience that recounted kindness shown to someone in a communal setting who needed encouragement.
The Rev. Carol Tuck spoke about truth and its varying permutations in our society, seeking to uphold a reverence for honesty and forthright presentation of current events so that we can find a way to live with each other in a spirit of integrity.
Kelley Williams of the Islamic Center of Las Cruces spoke about law, justice, and mercy, noting how religion seeks to strike a balance between all three.
Sonoma Springs Covenant Church pastor Rob Reed spoke on perspective, using the New Testament image from Hebrews of life as a marathon race to be run, with eyes fixed on God and a pace that is holy, honest, humble and healing.
I spoke about compassion/mercy, beginning with the suggestion of the book of Exodus to adopt a positive approach towards the stranger and even to one’s enemy, and also addressing how Judaism seeks to give mercy an edge over an approach of strict justice.
When we broke into small groups for further discussion, attendees shared their impressions of the presentations and built on what they heard to engage in new conversations about how we can work together to encourage everyone to explore how to cultivate character strengths in themselves.
What most impressed us was that, amid the diversity of the teachings of the faiths represented, there was a definite resonance about what builds good character, about what it takes to be a “mensch.”
As we enter a month with important annual holiday celebrations, may our gatherings lead us to consider how our rituals and customs can teach us how to continue to be people of character who value kindness and goodness in a world that needs the best that we have to give.