Friday, January 14, 2011

Beloved Community - January 14, 2011

Shabbat Shalom.

“There are certain things we can say about this method [of non-violence] that seeks justice without violence. It does not seek to defeat or humiliate the opponent but to win his friendship and understanding. I think that this is one of the points, one of the basic points, one of the basic distinguishing points between violence and non-violence. The ultimate end of violence is to defeat the opponent. The ultimate end of non-violence is to win the friendship of the opponent…the end is reconciliation; the end is redemption; the end is the creation of the beloved community. It is this type of spirit and this type of love that can transform opposers into friends. It is this type of understanding goodwill that will transform the deep gloom of the old age into the exuberant gladness of the new age. It is this love which will bring about miracles in the hearts of men.”
Martin Luther King, Jr, from “Justice Without Violence,” April 3, 1957 and “Facing the Challenge of a New Age,” 1956

Martin Luther King, Jr.’s concept of the “beloved community” came to mind for me in a variety of ways this week. Tonight is Shabbat Shirah, the Sabbath of Song, when we remember the Israelites rejoicing by the Sea of Reeds after escaping the pursuit of the Egyptians, who had hoped to recapture the Israelites to make them slaves once again. The rabbis wondered why the women happened to have timbrels with them by the sea so that they could break into song and dance, led by Moses’ sister Miriam. They explained that the women had faith that miracles, such as gaining their freedom, awaited them, so that they would have a reason to celebrate. The women carried with them the hope and love of which Martin Luther King, Jr. spoke.

Many members of the worldwide Jewish community have mourned this week the death of songwriter/songleader/performer/teacher Debbie Friedman in California at age 59. I posted some extended comments about Debbie on my personal blog,, recounting some of my more memorable moments with Debbie, beginning even before I met her in 1975. Rhonda and I watched the funeral (you can see it at or, along with the evening minyan, at this past Tuesday, hearing eulogies from well-known rabbis and teachers, and marveling at the strength of the musical performances by Craig Taubman, Josh Nelson, Julie Silver, and Cantor Linda Kates. Debbie had a way of bringing people together, not only through song, but through prayer and study that emerged from the lyrics and melodies she composed. Her concert performances, workshops at conventions, healing services in many communities, and teaching at camps, congregations and at Hebrew Union College-Jewish Institute of Religion gave many people a common experience and a shared musical language. That unity has been evident in comments that have pervaded several e-mail digests and facebook over the last few days. The lyrics of Debbie’s song, “One People” reflect Martin Luther King, Jr.’s vision of a beloved community: “We are one people seeking justice, one people seeking freedom, one people seeking hope, one people seeking peace.” Her English setting of a phrase from Psalm 126, “Those who sow in tears will reap in joy,” also conveys a similar message of hope which can guide us in how we view our relationships, including within congregational life.

The tragedy in Tucson this past Saturday has touched our entire nation, and perhaps the world as well. Congressional representative Gabrielle Giffords continues on her difficult road to recovery. I am sure that many of us read in Foster’s Daily Democrat that our congregant Todd Selig has met and gotten to know Representative Giffords:
I was in contact on Wednesday with two rabbinic colleagues who were touched by this sad event, one who serves the Conservative synagogue in Tucson, the other who was organizing a candlelight vigil at the Claremont Colleges in California for Representative Giffords, who is an alumna of Scripps college. Such ties make the shootings in Tucson seem even closer to us. In an email last Friday night to Kentucky Secretary of State Trey Grayson (soon to be director of Harvard University’s Institute of Politics), Giffords told her friend from the Republican party: “After you get settled, I would love to talk about what we can do to promote centrism and moderation. I am one of only 12 Dems left in a GOP district (the only woman) and think that we need to figure out how to tone our rhetoric and partisanship down,” This vision represents a step towards “beloved community.” President Obama echoed that vision as he memorialized 9 year-old shooting victim Christina-Taylor Green: “Imagine: here was a young girl who was just becoming aware of our democracy; just beginning to understand the obligations of citizenship; just starting to glimpse the fact that someday she too might play a part in shaping her nation’s future. She had been elected to her student council; she saw public service as something exciting, something hopeful. She was off to meet her congresswoman, someone she was sure was good and important and might be a role model. She saw all this through the eyes of a child, undimmed by the cynicism or vitriol that we adults all too often just take for granted….I want us to live up to her expectations. I want our democracy to be as good as she imagined it. All of us – we should do everything we can to make sure this country lives up to our children’s expectations.”

In our nation, in our community, in our congregation, the vision of a beloved community can guide us along a hopeful and productive path, one on which we are traveling companions who are able to engage in civil conversations that can take us forward to achieve our shared goals. May the thoughts we share with one another and the songs we sing continue to make us one people seeking freedom, justice, hope and peace.

Rabbi Larry

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