Thursday, May 28, 2015

Giving and Receiving - A Meditation on the Priestly Blessing - from twoperspectives - May 28, 2015

[With the 45th anniversary of my Confirmation and the 34th anniversary of my rabbinic ordination approaching, I wanted to write about what it feels like to offer the Priestly Blessing to a community member at a special occasion and also how it feels to receive that blessing.  May you, the reader, feel the sense of overflow embodied in these words and in the interpretation below: 
May the Eternal One bless you and keep you.
May the Eternal One look kindly upon you and be gracious to you.
May the Eternal One show favor towards you and grant you peace]

From the one/The One who gives blessing

Looking in your eyes
Seeing how you have grown
You are a partner 
A student
A companion
A friend
I place my hands on your shoulder
So the blessing will flow through me 
to you
Although I am only human
There are hands that have blessed me before 
that in turn now stand behind me
and lie at my foundation 
as I recite the words for you
Granting you life
an outpouring of love
Moral insight
the fire of vision 
prayers answered
 reconciliation that readily comes when you seek it
Harmonious cooperation of human forces
    to the ethical and spiritual ends of God's dominion
well being

From the one who receives blessing 

And as I stand before you
your hands on my shoulders
the Divine standing behind you 
and holding you from the depths of the Oneness 
that unites us all 
I see God's eyes in your eyes
I feel God's warmth and support in your touch
I sense the hope you have for me
the promise of my future
and my responsibility to see it through
I look back at moments
when I knew that Care, Goodness, Love, Knowledge and Insight
Illumined my path
and made me better than I was
and led me forward to new heights
of self-confidence, of self-love
and to forgiveness of my own misjudgments 
and the ability to move beyond the misunderstandings that led to estrangement from others
so that I could feel in this blessing being placed upon me
Your Acceptance, Your Grace, Your Light, Your Wisdom,
Your Instruction and Your Peace. 
May these gifts ever be mine
And, whenever I have the opportunity, may I pass them on to my family
to my fellow community members
to all of humanity
and to the entire world. 

Friday, May 22, 2015

"Come by here" - Annual Message to Temple Beth-El Las Cruces at May 21, 2015 Annual Meeting

 There is a folk song that has been sung at many a summer camp and youth group event over the last century in our country and, perhaps, in other places around the world as well.   The earliest sheet music for the song bore the title, "Come by here."   It was asking God to come by, to be present, at times when we face trouble and challenge, at the times when we lift our hearts and voices in prayer.   This song invoked divine help or, at least, the support of a community that, in its core beliefs, acknowledged the oneness of humanity and the unity of creation.  At Temple Beth-El, and in Jewish communities around the world, we do, in fact, ask God to "come by here," or we recognize that God is here, when we recite the Shema, when we read from the Torah, when we seek to generate healing in the Mi Shebeirach prayer, and when we ask God to "grant us peace."  That sentiment is embodied in the inclusion of Psalm 23, "The Eternal One is my shepherd," in a funeral service.  It is reflected in our Rosh Hashanah worship and at a shivah minyan when we read Psalm 121, "I lift my eyes to the mountains. What is the source of my help?  My help comes from the Eternal One, maker of heaven and earth."  The folk song "Come by here," when referred to by its more popular title, is most often associated with expressions of doubt and skepticism about the prospect of people in conflict finding a way to resolve their differences.   "Come by here" is not the title with which we are most familiar.  It seems that former slaves who lived on the Sea Islands off the coast of South Carolina and Georgia spoke a creole dialect called Gullah.   The phrase "Come by here" translates in that language to "Kum bah yah."  Sadly, the most common citations about this song these days relate to two countries engaged in frustrating and nearly fruitless peace talks.  Even in recent months, some negotiators and world leaders have been known to say, "Well it's not like the two sides are going to get together, hold hands, and sing Kum Bah Yah."  
    That is what happens we forget about the song's direct request for God's presence and help, showing an awareness of higher purposes at work in our lives.   When it comes to asking for God to be with us, or for community members to be present for one another, nothing matters but that higher purpose.  Disagreements, ideological conflict, past disputes, and present enmities should be secondary to our need for God’s care and for communal support.    What does matter most is the commitment to be part of a community that enables each of us to find meaning and purpose in our lives.   Part of that goal is the desire that God, in some way, would “come by here” so that we won't be afraid of taking the next steps in our life's journey.  The last verse of Adon Olam declares, "Into Your hands, God, I commend my spirit, both when I sleep and when I wake; and with my soul, my body as well, You, Eternal God, are for me and with me, I will not be afraid."  Embedded in our tradition is that confidence that we can live and not be afraid.   Hopefully, that is part of what we do at Temple Beth-El: be present for each other as we push away our fear and offer respect and support without hesitation or condition. It may be that, simply, through discussion and learning about our tradition and its central teachings, we can let go of some of our apprehensions about daily living and gain confidence to move forward with each new day.   It may be through putting God's teachings into action in the greater community, working for justice, reflecting God's mercy and compassion, and doing loving deeds - G'MILUT CHASADIM - that we can transform our fear into optimism, into a feeling of partnership, and into a sense that God HAS come by here to walk by our side.   Or it may be that, by joining our voices together in prayer and song, we overcome fear because, no matter what else is going on in our lives, we don't feel alone anymore.  All of that can happen if we approach our faith and our community with open minds and open hearts. 
   Earlier this week, I asked congregants to reflect on the meaning of being a member of Temple Beth-El.  Your comments – 60 of them - cited values of congregational life, specific programs and milestones you have shared with our community.   Here are some of your statements about how membership at Temple Beth-El is meaningful to you:   
    Helping members of all ages find an avenue for Jewish expression and learning and to practice Tikun Olam.
    The spiritual and community ties that link our members
    Religious Service and Community
    Friendship and Learning from Others
    Modeling values for the next generations
    Sharing my Jewish identity through social justice. Being a part of a Jewish community that carries on our traditions of fighting injustices and helping others.
    Temple gives me a place to commune with God, to maintain a meaningful connection to my parents and family members who have passed on, and to continue practicing Judaism with members of the Temple community.
    Connecting to Adonai so that life has a deeper, real meaning and is not simply social connections with no depth.
    Worship - inspiration - illumination – education
    The sense of community on Shabbat.
    Community -- being surrounded by people dedicated to the same values and the same set of questions. (I think of Judaism as a religion devoted to questions and questioning...) and family -- we were married in TBE, both our sons were named here….This synagogue has shaped us all as people, for the better.
    The Temple gives me a place where I can be surrounded by the sights and sounds of my Jewish upbringing. It is a place of peace, comfort and acceptance. I know that my Temple is a place where I will have no fear of discrimination.  It is a place where I can learn from my Rabbi and other scholars about Torah and Talmud and where my questions will be answered without judgement of my lack of knowledge or understanding.   My membership is important as Temple is a place where I can become involved and make friends with other Jews. It is a place to celebrate life, the joys and sorrows that touch us all.   Although we may be from other places and may not share the same Jewish education and knowledge of traditions and beliefs, we have much in common with each other which brings us together as family.  May Adonai bless our Temple that our Temple be a place of peace, love and warmth to all who enter.
     Maintaining Temple Beth-El as a vibrant, supportive, warm, welcoming, and giving community is a goal for which we all work together.  We apply our creativity, experience and energies to sustain our values and our special spirit.  You can look at the summary of events from this past year to see the specifics of what we have done to strengthen fellowship and friendship and to make our Jewish tradition and heritage come alive.   With Temple Board members and committee chairs and members, leaders of Sisterhood, Mensch Club, and BETY, participants and workers in all kinds of events and pursuits, worship leaders, singers, dancers, teachers, learners, and volunteers on many levels, we can move forward without fear. We can be like Jacob, sharing his vision at the original Beth-El, when he said, "Most definitely God was in this place, and I, I did not know."   We can continue to be God's partners and devoted companions for one another, committed to the central teachings of our heritage, recognizing that God and godliness are beside us every step of the way.
    For this coming High Holy Days, we will receive a limited number of copies of Mishkan Hanefesh, the new Reform High Holy Day prayerbook, to use for worship on the second morning of Rosh Hashanah and for discussion and study on Yom Kippur afternoon.    That will give us an ample opportunity to explore Mishkan Hanefesh before making a total change later on. We will continue to use Miskkan T’filah on Shabbat holidays, with its words in Hebrew and English that are there to teach us something new if we truly listen to the message of each prayer.   I ask you now to take out Mishkan T’filah and turn to page 39 to join in reciting words that tell us how to walk side by side from past to present to future:
Standing on the parted shores of history
We still believe what we were taught before ever we stood at Sinai’s foot:
That wherever we go, it is eternally Egypt
That there is a better place, a promised land’
That the winding way to that promise passes through the wilderness.
That there is no way to get from here to there except by joining hands
Marching together.  

Sunday, May 17, 2015

"The Mountains Will Shout Aloud!" - Giving the Organ Mountains a Voice at the Organ Mountains-Desert Peaks National Monument First Year Anniversary on May 17, 2015

Isaiah 55:12 
Yea, you shall leave in joy and be led  home secure
Before you, mount and hill shall shout aloud
And all the trees of the field shall clap their hands.

   I took part this morning in the First Year Anniversary worship service for the Organ Mountains-Desert Peaks National Monument. Each of us was asked to reflect on the verse from Isaiah quoted above.  I knew from the location of the passage in the book of Isaiah that it was an expression of hope that the Judean/Jewish exiles in captivity in Babylonia would return home to Judea.  In fact, some did, according to history.  
  I didn't think that there was a link to our lives today, or, at least, the lives of the residents of the Mesilla Valley and Las Cruces, who can, almost at will, look east for a breathtaking view of the Organ Mountains.  On May 14, I took a ride up to the La Cueva Picnic site by the Organ Mountains, which was our gathering place this morning.   I was overwhelmed by the view looking back down on the city where Rhonda and I have now lived for four years.  Just before that, I had taken a special prayer and photo of the Organ Mountains to a congregant who was about to turn 90.  She told me, "I love the photo, because you know that I love my mountains."  I realized that, perhaps, the mountains love us back, and that they "watch" us live our lives day in and day out, hoping that we feel that we are, in many aspects of our existence, home.    I decided to give the mountains a voice during my participation in worship on this lovely and amazing morning, that brought together several faith traditions to express how our souls are bound to and moved by the open spaces of the earth. 

A Meditation for/by the Organ Mountains

As the world and the universe are one
I am linked at the earth’s foundations 
To the hills and the trees
That rejoiced as exiles left the realm of their captivity
and returned to a place they called home 
and a land they called holy. 
I am here, now, standing and watching 
as those of you who tell of that experience of so long ago
along with other members of the greater human family
join in stewardship of your corner of the earth 
to carefully preserve what remains. 
I try to be for you a source of inspiration
And you return the favor to me when I feel your footsteps 
as you climb towards the sky, gaining new vistas 
that I am more than happy to provide.
I sense every gaze that comes my way
As you take time during  your busy lives
To allow me to be a reminder 
Of the wondrous world in which you live
Of the grandeur given to you as a sacred gift
by the Eternal Spirit of the universe
who made you and who made me. 
Do not let my imposing heights mislead you
For I am humbled, I am honored
to serve you as a beacon, a guide, 
as you traverse roads of your own making
and natural pathways that bond you and me together. 
I have long realized that this is not just your land or my earth.
And, although I am so, so much older than you, 
I need you. 
It is your exuberance and your spirit 
That keeps me young and vital. 
I know I am part of your lives, 
and you are a significant presence 
that gives meaning to my existence.
And so, in the words of the prophet, 
I will watch over you as you leave in great joy
and return home safe and secure. 
I will coax from the trees and plants 
that enhance my landscape
A loving and supportive song that will be carried by the wind.
And I will shout with exaltation
At the partnership and fellowship that we celebrate.
I will join my voice with yours
For our mutual recognition of the Source of New Life
That will ever sustain our Unity, our hope, our joy. 

Friday, May 15, 2015

Free to - Parashat Behar - May 15, 2015

Earlier this week, it was reported online
that a technology company has been created to help employers overcome unconscious bias in their hiring of new employees.   Laura Mather, the brainchild of this new software, faced bias in hiring over a decade ago when she applied to work in Google’s Risk Management division.  She had graduated college 12 years before.  She had amassed a wealth of on-the-job training and learning, but Google’s CEO almost didn’t accept her for the position.  The reason: She didn’t graduate from an Ivy League school.  
  Mather’s company, Unitive, will help employers create job descriptions which would put all applicants at the same level.   Her software focuses on an applicant’s personal skills, assuring that other information doesn’t influence the rating of a candidate’s actual abilities and talents.   At the time of an interview,  Mather admits, biases can intervene, such as an inclination to hire someone because of the university which he or she attended as well as other considerations.   Mather notes that it is more difficult to combat bias in hiring today, because much of it is unconscious rather than overt.  She believes that much work still needs to be done.  For example, Mather noted that 40% of those with degrees in technology are women, but women hold just over 25% of the jobs in that field.  In addition, black students make up 4.5 percent of computer science or engineering graduates and Hispanics make up 6.5 percent.  Respectively, they make up just 2 percent and 3 percent of technology employees at Silicon Valley companies. Mather commented: “What I would hate to see happen is that we spend a ton of money and resources and effort on the pipeline…and then when they get to the doors of these organizations, the unconscious bias in the hiring process means that they don’t have the same opportunity.” 
    Mather’s company, Unitive, is interested in contributing to positive change in other ways as well, such as when society fails to create the avenues needed to provide equal opportunity.  The current blog post at Unitive views recent events in Baltimore from a perspective not related to particular instances of violence but based on how people invest in community life.  It stated, “Nationwide, we appear to spend more money on policing minority neighborhoods than on programs that economically empower them. For example, even though crime rates are the lowest they’ve been in over 30 years, the U.S. still spends more than $100 billion on police every year. The Department of Laborcharged with training and investing in a competitive workforce, protecting workers, and assuring income and retirement securityhas a total budget that is about half that.” The post cited programs which have been successful at increasing participation in the work force in a way that can give hope to workers who would otherwise face continuing poverty.
    The Torah reading for this Shabbat reveals the  ancient Israelite approach to equalizing society for reasons of spirit, compassion, and righteousness.  The parashah  Behar begins with the declaration of the Jubilee year every 50 years. During that year, slaves would go free, land would return to previous owners, and debts would be forgiven.    The Eitz Chayim Torah commentary explained the purpose of this practice: “At the heart of this parashah is the visionary concept of returning land to its original owner at the end of a 50-year cycle.  This prevents the polarization of society into two classes: wealthy, powerful landowners on the one hand and permanently impoverished people on the other.  In an agrarian society a farmer who sold all the land to pay debts had no prospect of ever being anything other than a servant.  Nor would a servant’s sons ever rise above that level.  Anticipating the human misery and social instability this would lead to, the Torah provides a plan.  In the 50th year, families would reclaim the land they had held originally and later sold.  Behind this plan are two religious assumptions.  First, because all the earth and all of its inhabitants belong to God, human beings cannot possess either the land or people in perpetuity.  Second, no human being should be condemned to permanent servitude.  Some critics have seen this as a utopian plan that never was put into practice. Archaeologists, however, have found records of deeds from the late biblical period containing references to the number of years remaining until the jubilee year.” It seems that the practice was more than a theory. It was real and, to some extent, observed as a way to deepen compassion and develop positive interpersonal connections within the Israelite community.
    The lesson both from this Torah reading and from Laura Mather’s creation of Unitive is that each of us is more than one particular aspect of our identity.  It suggest a specific type of lens to place before our eyes when viewing others and ourselves. We are more than our economic potential.  We are more than our city and family of origin.  We are more than the university we attended if we went to college.   Each of us is the product of the talents and abilities that we have developed.  Each of us is the result of our life experiences.   Moreover, each of us is a child of God, made in the divine image.  No one can own us, no one has the right to project onto us their own skewed perspective of us based on misunderstanding or prejudice.   It has been taught that the Jubilee Year was intended to restore a sense of unity among the Israelites in a spiritual sense, which sees each of us as unique, with gifts to give others that are all our own.   Our value comes from what we share of our essence, our kindness, and our generosity.   The meaning in our lives comes not from the power we wield and keep but from the love and respect that we show and that we engender in others.   This view of our essence should not just be God’s perspective; it should be ours as well.  So may we continue to give each other strength, comfort, support, and warmth. The text of this Torah reading declares, “Proclaim DROR – a release – or freedom – throughout the land to all the inhabitants.”   In that spirit, may we create a world in which each of us can be free to be who we are and offer our best selves to the human family that so sorely needs our help and our hope. 

Friday, May 8, 2015

Why is this calendar different from all others calendars? Discovering our essence - D'var Torah - Parashat Emor - May 8, 2015

Tonight begins the ceremonies for graduation at New Mexico State University. I was asked yesterday morning if I could offer a prayer at recently-added a hooding ceremony for PH.D. graduates tonight.  Of course, I answered “no,” saying that I lead a Shabbat service at Temple Beth-El every Friday evening.    
And so, two calendars clashed: one recent, the other, ancient.  One is based on the acquisition of knowledge in an institution of higher learning. The other is outlined in the text of the Torah, and still followed by many Jews around the world, whether by simply acknowledging the time when we observe Shabbat, or by lighting candles, reciting the kiddush, blessing the Challah, joining a congregation in worship or finding a way to truly rest for one day of the week.    
     The observance of Shabbat should be familiar to anyone in the greater community with a moderate awareness of the content of the Bible, or even with knowledge of only the 10 Commandments.  For most people in the world for whom the Bible is Scripture, the day of rest was moved to coincide with “the Lord’s Day,” so Sunday took on some of the practices of the biblical Sabbath.
    In any case, in the modern world, it is we of the Jewish community who mark the 7th day as Shabbat AND who also observe the holiday calendar according to the schedule presented in the Torah.
     Those basic facts most of us already know. So why is this calendar different from all other calendars?
 The answer is that it is only partially because of time. 
Other peoples in the Ancient Near East, especially the Babylonians, may have used 7 as a common marker of time.
    For the ancient Israelites and the Jewish people, that time period of seven days took on a new and deeper meaning through the designation of Shabbat as a day of rest.   
    Other peoples in the Ancient Near East celebrated spring in some way through rituals that related to agriculture and raising animals.   
   For the ancient Israelites and Jews of all generations, spring’s theme of renewal was embodied in the story of the Israelite Exodus from Egypt. Our ancestors were, at first, free.  They became enslaved and moved to freedom, and then on to Sinai, where they would receive the teachings and rules that would keep them connected and committed for centuries. 
    So what do we learn from the Israelite holiday cycle that is not embodied in the Gregorian calendar by which we measure birthdays, secular holidays, fiscal years, and the beginning and end of the four seasons?
    Leviticus Chapter 23 outlines the Israelite holiday calendar, one of several passages in the Torah to do so.  I will be reading in a few moments the verses that focus on Shabbat and Pesach.  Even that short section sets apart those observances as holy and different from all the other days of our lives.
    We learn from these verses in Leviticus that we are not to engage in any creative enterprise on Shabbat.  We are not to work at our occupations on Pesach.  Why?   Because we are not our work.   We are not what we create.  The fruits of our labors and ingenuity do have a lot to say about who we are.  They are, however, a reflection of our essence.   On Shabbat and holidays, it is that essence that we have an opportunity to explore. Even if we find it necessary to engage in some work on those days, the message remains clear.  Take time out.  Find out who you really are.   Try to discover your essence by stepping out of your routine long enough to allow your thoughts,  your dreams, and your values to come to the surface and inspire you.   Be with your family and your community so that you can remember the greater whole of which you are a part.  Add your voice in prayer and song without ego and with a depth of spirit.   Give what is within you a chance to emerge for a short time, so that you will know yourself better as the new week begins.   Let rest and renewal define and redefine you in a way that will demonstrate your ability to learn and to grow. 
     Leviticus Chapter 23 directed the Israelites not to come empty-handed to their celebration of Pesach.  They were called upon to bring an ISHEH- an offering by fire.  In certain other instances in the Torah which mention the fire on the altar, the rabbis relate that altar flame to the fire that is inside each of us.   So what is our offering that we present that represents our internal flame?   We may give something of that fire when we join our community in prayer.  That fire can be our passion for learning and leadership.  It can be our dedication to Israel the state and to Israel the people.  That fire can be in the warmth that we show one another when we give others support and hope through genuine concern and by extending a helping hand.   It can signify our desire to grow spiritually by being in this place. It can find expression when we look east to the mountains, or when we enjoy a nearby desert landscape as we connect with creation.   The offering by fire can foster and build community when it comes from the depths of our souls.    
    One aspect that various calendars have in common is that they come back around on themselves.  They repeat week after week, month after month, year after year.  That repetition does not mean that the people who follow the calendar are the same as they were even a year before.  Within Judaism, it is not just every year that sees each of us become new in some way.  Every week in Jewish practice is a rebirth because of Shabbat.  Every Pesach hopefully brings humanity closer to the freedom for which we all strive.   Because of this notion of renewal, we can ask ourselves: what steps did we take forward this week for our own benefit and to benefit others?  What steps did we take backward?  How did we grow?  How did we learn from our mistakes?   And as we observe our festival of freedom year after year, Judaism calls on us to consider what it means to be free.   On both Shabbat and Passover, all people are equal.  Everyone present in the community is bound to rest and to mark the holiday.  Servants don’t work; the stranger or guest in the community joins his or her hosts in observing the rituals of the day.  On Pesach, the Haggadah reminds us that all who are hungry should have the chance to come and eat with us.  Shabbat and our holidays direct us to open our eyes to the realities of the world outside and to the values we hold inside so that we can sustain goodness within ourselves and offer the gift of our fire and passion for justice and freedom to those who may be mired in hopelessness.
    So why is this calendar different from all other calendars?  Because it’s not just about days and dates, times and seasons.  It is about how we can move ourselves up with each passing week and year, as if walking up a spiral staircase of Torah towards a higher place where we can find our best selves. We can ascend and join with the One who makes peace in the highest heavens in bringing that SHALOM, completeness and wholeness, to our own lives and to all people who can benefit from our concern, our support, and our kindness.   May these values be the basis upon which we mark our days, weeks, months and years.


Friday, May 1, 2015

Planting our own seeds of holiness - D'var Torah - Parashat K'doshim - May 1, 2015

When we think of holiness, we most likely think first about God and faith and religion.   There are holy places - like this Sanctuary.  There are holy days - like the celebration of Passover we completed three weeks ago and the observance of Shavuot which will be upon us in three weeks. And, of course Shabbat is holy as well.
   We call ourselves a holy people and our congregation is a KAHAL KADOSH - a holy community.  
   There are holy acts, which we may confine in our minds to lighting candles, saying kiddush,  reciting a motzi on Shabbat and holidays, or participating in an aliyah to the Torah.
    The Torah reading for this Shabbat, Kedoshim, provides us with a different framework for holiness in our actions that we might not even consider at first.
     A divine declaration in Leviticus Chapter 19 verse 1 sets the tone for this broadening of the scope of the term holiness.  "You shall be holy, for I, your Eternal God, am holy."   It is stated in the plural, KEDOSHIM TIHIYU, but the rules that follow are sometimes in plural, and sometimes in singular.  Either way, each command is directed towards each of the Israelites in the original setting.   And, every proclamation of a  "holy act" in Leviticus 19 is also directed towards each of us.
   We learn from this section of the Torah that the term "holiness" can be applied to respecting our parents and elders, keeping the Sabbath, and not turning anything material into an object of veneration or worship.  
   In this context of holy deeds, we are commanded to provide for people in need, to refrain from spreading rumor, and to refuse to be a mere bystander when a person is being attacked or abused verbally or physically without cause. We are called upon to judge people fairly, no matter whether they are rich or poor, and to be honest in our dealings with all people.  If we want to be holy, we cannot let hatred or disgust towards a fellow community member fester to the point that we will do something drastic that we will regret later.  We are told, instead, to talk to him or her privately and offer gentle feedback that can provide growth and healing.  Keeping grudges and taking revenge for any reason do not fall into the realm of holy behavior.  What follows to end this passage is the command that might encompass all of these acts of holiness: "Love your neighbor as yourself."  
    This passage in the Torah could serve as the basis of a personal inventory of what we do that could be called holy.   Coming to Temple on Shabbat or having Shabbat dinner at home, staying in touch with a parent or grandparent, donating to a food or clothing bank or serving a meal at a soup kitchen, stopping a friend or colleague from playing fast and loose with the truth - all of these things that we might do on a regular basis are actually holy.   And so is any type of consideration and kindness we show to other people - even holding a door open for someone.  Yes, that, too, is holy.  
     The news this week has given us way too many negative reports by which we can infer what to do that would constitute a holy, constructive and positive course of action.  Even when emotions are high, law enforcement officials and protestors have the opportunity to act with restraint, remembering that the people on the other side of the imaginary dividing line are also created in the divine image.   Political officials like the one who pleaded guilty today for making passage over a bridge next to impossible near a very large city on the east coast might take a moment to understand that such a decision to engage in subterfuge and dishonesty will bear dire consequences for months and years to come.    
    You may have heard about the new ads that were cleared through legal action to be featured on buses in New York City. Created by a group sponsored by pro-Israel activist Pamela Geller, the ad declared "Killing Jews is Worship because it draws us close to Allah - that's my Jihad, what's yours?"    This ad parodied an earlier series of ads sponsored by the Council of American-Muslim Relations which defined jihad in what was likely its original meaning - internal struggle towards a resulting personal faith, somewhat like a word that we could translate as "struggle with God."  That word is Yisrael.   On Wednesday of this week, the New York Metropolitan Transit authority banned all political ads from the buses as a response to this attempt at defining Islam from the outside.   Whether we agree or disagree with Geller's intentions, we know how it feels to be defined by others, especially when we hear people calling Jews any number of names that we don’t want to hear or referring to Israel as an "apartheid state."   Leviticus 19 directs us to stop the rumors and move towards more direct learning about our fellow human beings of other faiths. 
   Sometimes an attempt at making a positive statement can have unexpected and far-reaching results.   It was reported this week that, about a year ago, a young Israeli Arab, who lives in northern Israel, wanted to use social networking to convince other Israeli Arabs that the Israel Defense Forces (IDF) are not some “army of evil” and that its soldiers are not as bloodthirsty as they tend to be portrayed in Arab propaganda films. Instead of hearing back from the Israeli Arab audience he was targeting, he began receiving messages of peace and love from young Arab men and women from across the Arab world.     The messages appear on a facebook page set up by this young man, called "M" in the online article.   One young woman from Saudi Arabia filmed a green Saudi passport in her post. Her voice plays in the background, against a street scene in Jeddah, with a message for the people of Israel: “Good evening. I am a young woman from Jeddah in Saudi Arabia. I am a member of one of the better-known tribes of the Hijaz, and I am showing you Darajeh Square, a famous landmark in Jeddah. Id like to send a message of peace and love to Israel and its dear citizens. I know it is surprising that a Saudi Arabian citizen sends a message to the people of Israel, but it is a basic principle of democracy that everyone is free to voice an opinion. I hope the Arabs will be sensible like me and recognize the fact that Israel also has rights to the lands of Palestine.”  
A young man from Iraq shot a picture of his passport along the Tigris River. “I want to send a message of peace and love to the dear Israeli people,” he says. “I decided to shoot this video and tell you, ‘True, we are two countries that do not have friendly relations, but that doesnt matter. I believe that the number of people who support Israel here will grow consistently.’”
    One Egyptian police officer took it a step further by including his police cap along with his passport in the shot and wrote in Arabic, “We love, love, love Israel and its army.” He even added a picture of a heart with a Star of David in the middle of it.
    In a world where leaders or borders may try to keep new ideas out and thwart the possibility for peace and cooperation, it is still possible for ancient ideas, like loving our neighbors as ourselves, to transcend obstacles placed in the way.   I find this story of M from northern Israel greatly inspiring and hopeful.
    And it is one of the best examples that I have seen in recent days of telling one's positive truth, a holy act in and of itself, and having it grow into something greater that spread holiness to faraway places.
     That is what Leviticus 19 is trying to teach us.   We don't know how one holy, kind act will take on a life of its own.   That is why we have to do it in the first place.   It is like a seed that can grow.  

   In the coming days, may we plant such seeds of holiness, consideration, respect and peace.