Friday, August 1, 2014

Great shall be the peace of your children - Temple Beth-El Adelante Newsletter Article for August 2014

   “All your children shall be taught of the Eternal One, and great shall be the peace of your children.” This passage from Isaiah, Chapter 54, has been on my mind during recent weeks. A ceasefire was just announced (it’s Thursday, July 31, 2014) that both Israel and Hamas accepted. Hopefully, a longer ceasefire will ensue that will bring quiet and perhaps, in the long term, security (Rabbi’s note—sadly, it didn’t last long).
   A few nights ago, I set that Isaiah passage to music (see video below) and created this English lyric to capture the prophet’s declaration: “Can you hear the sound, the sound of justice driving out the hatred, calling off the warning? (There’s) no need to fear the peace that will surround you.” Forging agreements that will lead to eventual cooperation and peace may seem difficult when set alongside the perpetuation of a less-than-perfect status quo. We human beings are, at least sometimes, afraid of change, even though we know that it is a constant in our lives.
     I had the privilege of helping out with Las Cruces’ Peace Camp on July 21-25. On two days, I took part in discussions on social justice. I led the song session that concluded the pro-gram as well (see photo). Peace Camp was like a respite from the current turmoil of the world, where the children, along with their counselors and teachers, could practice techniques and strategies for resolving conflict that would bring people together rather than keeping them at odds with one another. So much of the work of making peace is about acknowledging one another’s stories, but focusing more on the future and the benefits that productive agreements could bring. Evidently, there were talks going on between Israel and Gaza business leaders over the last few months that might have led to an increasingly open border and commerce that would have benefited everyone concerned. Hamas did not approve of those efforts, but those seeds of partnership may actually be allowed to blossom one day.

    On July 30, 15 congregants came together to join me (see photo in the next column) in discussing a well-known pas-sage from the biblical book of Micah: “It has been told you, O mortal, what is good and what the Eternal One re-quires of you: only to do justly, love kindness, and walk humbly with God.” Participants first had the opportunity to comment on each of the three parts of Micah’s statement. “Do justly” was seen as expressing the societal principle of equality of opportunity along with the elimination of false obstacles to equality. There was an acknowledgment that not everyone sees justice with the same perspective, but it is through justice (legal, personal, cultural and social) and fairness that we survive as a community. “Love kindness/mercy” implies the value of G’MILUT CHASADIM, showing or acting with kindness, and doing so with a whole heart and a generous spirit. This can refer to tzedakah, righteous giving, and it can refer to helping people in all sorts of ways. This is definitely kindness in action. Participants noted that we “walk humbly/modestly with God” when we listen to other people and see the divine spark in everyone. One person commented, “Practicing justice, love, kindness and mercy ensures that you will walk humbly, modestly and wisely.”
We discussed how to apply this passage from Micah to our dealings in our congregation and in the greater community. Intra-congregational dialogue should be based upon mutual respect for each other’s opinions. There was a feeling that we can, through such conversations, develop a common understanding of social justice (to “do justly”) that will serve as a basis for our work as a congregation in the community. We noted that some local coalitions (I am part of one that includes a wide range of faith groups that met recently at Sonoma Springs Church next door) are working on stocking food pantries, serving at El Caldito soup kitchen, providing beds for families in need, and helping with transportation for children going to school and for adults who require assistance. Some faith communities join together in many American cities to deal with immigration reform, prison reform, civil rights, working for changes that can enable people to move out of poverty, and dealing with domestic violence and child abuse and neglect. These issues are linked to many faith traditions, including Judaism, and can be an expression of religious values in action.

This conversation was one of many that I hope will en-sue in the coming months. More and more members can be part of this dialogue to enable us to find out who we are as a congregation and what we would like to do for each other and for our neighbors in Las Cruces. May we work together among ourselves and with partners in our city to ensure the peace and well-being of our children and their children as well.

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