Saturday, July 14, 2018

A Prayer for This New Week - July 14, 2018

A Prayer for This New Week 
July 14, 2018.
Rabbi Larry Karol

Creator of Land and Sea, Mountain and Valley, 
Sustainer of the processes that renew our world, 
Inspiration for our impulse to enhance our lives with 
Song, story, meditation, and deeper connection with our surroundings 
And with each other,
Heighten our ability to empathize with our brothers and sisters of all ages. 
Help us to recognize and call out hatred when we see it, 
 Bigotry when we experience it, and prejudice when we realize how its long-term consequences diminish who we are. 
Spread kindness when cruelty and hard-heartedness sends lives into chaos without cause. 
Lead us back to hospitality when some would belittle our desire to offer a warm welcome to community member and stranger, friend and guest.
Refocus our vision of reality so that we will better fathom the truths of our society. 
Provide us with the tools to tear down hastily-constructed barriers intended to prevent us from seeing what we still have in common.   
Teach us how to fashion bridges that will overcome wide gulfs of difference and disagreement.   
Look into our souls, reach in with Your caring hand, and open our hearts to the love that is still very much a part of us.  
As You, Eternal God, are the source of light and hope, share them with us generously so that we can positively look forward to the future, always seeing Your light in one another’s eyes.

Friday, July 13, 2018

Not because of hatred - D'var Torah - Parashat Matot-Mas'ei - July 13, 2018

There is a lot of hatred going around our country and the world. 
Why does it seem like more than usual? 
People have always had opposing opinions. 
There are many stories of duels that emerged from interpersonal conflict and insult from the earliest days of American history.  
There was ridicule of major political figures going back even before the founding of our nation. 
   Lately, in just the last week, two videos came to light. One focused on 92 year-old Rodolfo Rodriguez of Los Angeles, who was beaten with a brick and told to go back to his country.  He is a legal resident of the United States.   And Mia Irizarry, looking forward to a birthday party in a Chicago area park in mid-June, was harassed by a man who told her that she couldn’t wear a shirt bearing the Puerto Rican flag in the United States.  He has been charged, and the police officer who stood by and did nothing while that was happening has resigned. 
   There are candidates for congress expressing white supremacist and Neo-Nazi views, while at least one candidate on the other end of the spectrum considers herself anti-Zionist.  
   American citizens have, historically, expressed prejudice, suspicion, and, eventually, hatred towards every wave of newcomers that have arrived here.   What is forgotten in those pronouncements of disdain and contempt is that those already here came to this continent for similar reasons as those more recently attempting to enter and be part of the American experiment. 
   People with different ideologies have sometimes been able to sustain a modicum of respect for those who disagree with them.   However, the notion of the “loyal opposition” has a way of getting lost in the midst of ridicule, accusations, and narrow declarations of truth that are all intended to solidify power instead of fostering cooperation. 
      Xenophobia – the fear of strangers – rises to the surface in tides of public opinion that target immigrants and people who are different as the cause of most or all of a nation’s troubles.      The burning of one of the Women of the Wall prayerbooks by the Kotel this morning is a function of an internal hatred and xenophobia, because the ultra-Orthodox community in Isarel sees the women who pray together out loud at the Western Wall as “other,” almost like foreigners to the Jewish tradition. 
   Or it may be xenophobia that seeks to denigrate and minimize the claims of asylum seekers when they explain that they cannot return home, but they are told they cannot stay.  
   People are not only being challenged for the opinions they espouse.  Some believe that holding any strongly-held view prevents an individual from being objective. Some of our citizens and leaders think it is unfathomable that anyone could suspend his or her political views in order to be able to fulfill non-partisan tasks.  That was evident in the hours of questioning yesterday of one FBI agent by leaders who do have opinions that clearly indicate their own bias.   
    However, sometimes conflict and even tragedy can happen in a way that is not due to hatred.     Chapter 35 of the book of Numbers described the eventual establishment of cities of refuge where a person guilty of an accidental killing – involuntary manslaughter – could go to escape the avenging relative of the victim who would automatically come to seek out and take the life of the guilty party.   Number 35, verses 22 and following outlined the procedure in such a situation:  “But if [a person] pushed without malice aforethought or hurled any object at [the victim] unintentionally, or inadvertently dropped upon [the victim] any deadly object of stone, and death resulted - though not being an enemy and not seeking to harm – in such cases the assembly shall decide between the slayer and the blood-avenger.  The assembly shall protect the killer from the blood-avenger, and the assembly shall restore him to the city of refuge to which he fled, and there he shall remain until the death of the high priest who was anointed with the sacred oil.”   
      In a case described a few verses before this section, it had been assumed that if these two people hated each other, that could constitute an incontrovertible motive for the killing.    What our current national moment calls to mind for me in relation to this Numbers passage is this:  What if the person guilty of involuntary manslaughter did dislike the victim?   Would the community have assumed that the killer should be released to the blood-avenger because of his hatred? 
     In my own internal debate on this, I refocused my thoughts on the words used to describe and characterize each possible action:  “pushed without malice,” “unintentionally hurled,” “inadvertently dropped.”    And I wondered: If an action itself was unintentional and inadvertent, would it matter if the two people were enemies?  Would it make a difference whether or not one had truly sought to harm the other?    It is likely that it would be known if two people bore enmity and animosity towards each other.  It would be harder to determine if either person in the conflict would want to turn those hard feelings into hurtful actions or even murder.    
    So what would the community decide, judging between the manslayer and the blood-avenger, if the manslayer and victim were known not to be enamored with one another?
     If there had been a twitter feed in ancient times, I can see it all now.  There would be assumptions that the animosity between the two must have been a cause of the inadvertent and fatality-causing action on some unconscious level.   There would also be assertions that unintentional is exactly that, and that a negative opinion would not necessarily have to  serve as the root cause of an inadvertent and tragic act.   
     Such a case would require the community to listen to the story of the relationship between the two parties.  They would need to hear testimony from the manslayer that he – or she – would never have acted on any bad feelings towards the victim.  There would need to be a strong statement that no threat of violence was ever made by one party against the other.   Would the community have believed this declaration?   
     Perhaps they would have, especially if that person had demonstrated, for the most part, some level of personal integrity that had won him or her respect among people in the community and family members.    
     And sometimes a consistency of good character can be the most powerful proof that what a person might say or do on the outside is a true reflection of what he or she is on the inside.  
      May we strive for this level of goodness, respect and trust and do what we can to create a society that still sees these values as central to who we can be as a community, a nation and a world.

Monday, July 9, 2018

Prayers for our country - Column for Temple Beth-El Las Cruces Adelante Newsletter for July 2018

    I have been thinking a lot lately about what it means to be a Jew living in the United States of America. 
     In every service, we recite a prayer for our nation from Mishkan T’filah.  I have shared, in previous years, on the Shabbat closest to July 4, a series of prayers for our country from past prayerbooks of the various Jewish movements in the United States.  It is possible to look at a succession of meditations for our country from different prayerbooks, published at various times over the last century, and recognize specific values that are central to all of these texts.  
    Here is Professor Louis Ginzburg’s prayer written for the Festival Prayer Book, published in 1927 by the Conservative movement (translated in 2010 by Tim Daniel Bernard): 
Our God and God of our ancestors:   accept with mercy our prayer for our land and its government.  Pour out Your blessing on this land, on its President, judges, officers and officials, who work faithfully for the public good. Teach them from the laws of Your Torah, enlighten them with the rules of Your justice, so that peace, tranquility, happiness and freedom will never depart from our land.  God of all that lives, please bestow Your spirit on all the inhabitants of our land, and plant love, fellowship, peace and friendship between the different communities and faiths that dwell here.  Uproot from their hearts all hate, animosity, jealousy and strife,in order to fulfill the longings of its people, who aspire for its dignity, and desire to see it as a light for all nations.  And so may it be God’s will that our land be a blessing for all who live on earth, and that fellowship and liberty will dwell between them.   Establish soon the vision of your prophet:`Nation will not raise a sword against nation, and they will no longer learn war’ (Isaiah 2:4),  and, as it is said (in Jeremiah 31:34): `for all of them will know Me, from the smallest to the greatest.”
  Gates of Repentance, our long-time Reform High Holy Day prayerbook, featured this meditation on our nation:  
We pray for those who hold positions of leadership and responsibility in our national life.   Let Your blessing rest upon them, and make them responsive to Your will, so that our nation may be to the world an example of justice and compassion.  Deepen our love for our country and our desire to serve it. Strengthen our power of self-sacrifice for our nation’s welfare.   Teach us to uphold its good name by our own right conduct.  Cause us to see that the well-being of our nation is in the hands of all its citizens; imbue us with zeal for the cause of liberty in our own land and in all lands; and help us always to keep our homes safe from affliction, strife and war.”  
 This prayer for our country appeared in Kol Haneshamah, published by the Reconstructionist movement in 1994: 
Sovereign of the universe, mercifully receive our prayer for our land and its government. Let your blessing pour out on this land and on all officials of this country who are occupied, in good faith, with the public needs. Instruct them from your Torah’s laws, enable them to understand your principles of justice, so that peace and tranquility, happiness and freedom, might never turn away from our land. Please, Wise One, God of the lifebreath of all flesh, waken Your spirit within all inhabitants of our land, and plant among the peoples of different nationalities and faiths who dwell here, love and brotherhood, peace and friendship. Uproot from their hearts all hatred and enmity, all jealousy and vying for supremacy. Fulfill the yearning of all the people of our country to speak proudly in its honor. Fulfill their desire to see it become a light to all nations.   Therefore, may it be Your will, that our land should be a blessing to all inhabitants of the globe. Cause to dwell among all peoples friendship and freedom. And soon fulfill the vision of your prophet: “Nation shall not lift up sword against nation. Let them learn no longer ways of war.”
    I created this invocation for the Temple Beth-El Board of Trustees meeting on June 21.   This was my attempt to look back, to consider the present in which we live, and to look towards the future:    
Eternal God, Guide of the seeker; Protector of those fleeing the danger in their homes; Beacon to wanderers, parents and children, winding their way to freedom;  Provider for our needs who works through us to offer hospitality to the destitute, the traveler, the refugee, the lover of liberty looking for security and safety: Open our eyes to a world where there is enough kindness to give to overcome the violence that others perpetrate in places far and near.  Inspire in us the resolve to view others with compassion rather than suspicion, with understanding rather than rejection,  and with a desire to work together rather than focusing on ways to drive us apart. Remind us of those who came before us, who prayed to You along their journey as they faced an uncertain future in a land they were told was golden, a nation that likely looked a little like paradise compared to the villages from whence they came.  Help us to make this country a little more like the paradise our ancestors sought out through promoting greater respect, support and openness in place of fomenting fear and hatred towards people whom we really do not yet know.  Reveal to us the best that is in us so that we will approach our fellow human beings with trust, with a heartfelt welcome, and with sincere smiles.   May the borders of our souls be open enough to enable us to extend a hand to seekers, to wanderers, to travelers, to the destitute, to the refugee (as some of us once were), and to the lovers of liberty who believe that love is something we can share that will cause the divides between us to disappear so that we will, finally, truly reflect the Oneness of the One who made us to be considerate, hopeful, and whole.
    All of these texts call on us to promote kindness, freedom, justice, and to try as best we can to dispel animosity and hatred, and they guide us to be a beacon of these principles for the world.
    As Jews and dwellers in these United States, that is our ongoing charge and challenge.  

Thursday, July 5, 2018

“Grandmother taught me to be warm and welcoming” - column for the Las Cruces Bulletin July 6, 2018 issue

         I have only a few memories of my grandmother, Anna, whom I called “Bubby.”   

       Anna came to the United States from Poland in 1904.   She entered through Ellis Island and went straight to Kansas City, Missouri, where she joined other immediate family members who had already settled there.  

       She met my grandfather-to-be, Mendel, within a couple of years after her arrival.  They married in 1907.  They had four sons, my father being the youngest.   

       Anna ran a “dry goods” store from 1908 until 1939.   One of my relatives often spoke about my grandmother’s engaging personality in greeting the public and in maintaining relationships with family and friends.  

      Anna was a well-documented resident, with her entry into the country chronicled at Ellis Island and her residency noted in the national census and in city directories.   It seems that, for her, and for many other immigrants, there was not much of a push to formally naturalize as an American citizen, although my grandfather had done so in the mid 1920s.  

        Yet, a major change in American life came when the United States Congress passed the Immigration Act of 1924.   This piece of legislation set quotas restricting the annual entry of potential immigrants, especially from countries in Europe, to 2% of what the population was in 1890 of American residents from those particular countries.    One consular authority of the time characterized Jews and other groups as “undesirable” in a report that supported the legislation, although the bill was had to be based on countries of origin rather than ethnic or religious identity. 

       Had my grandparents arrived on American shores later than 1924, it is likely they would have been sent back home.

       Still, my grandmother continued her life as a seemingly content resident, that is, until 1940.   

     That year, the United States Congress passed the Alien Registration Act, which required all “aliens” to register between August and December of that year. One purpose of that piece of legislation was to prohibit certain “subversive activities.”  The Act required residents who were not yet citizens to report at a local post office for an interview and to be fingerprinted.  

     My grandmother’s registration form, which I found among family papers, was likely filled out by my father, who may have accompanied my bubby to the post office for her interview.   

    A very quiet life in a midwestern city was almost upended.  It is likely that her change in status, from contributing community member (who belonged only to a “Jewish Mothers Club”) to being seen as a potential pariah, motivated my grandmother to apply for naturalization.   She became a citizen in late 1941. 

      After studying the documents related to the Karols’ journey to citizenship, I came to appreciate, even more, all those people who seek to become contributing members of our communities, whether they are seeking new opportunity or are fleeing violence or persecution. 

       My grandmother’s story relates directly to Father Gabriel Rochelle’s statement, in his June 22 column, that faith values point to “inclusion of the tired and the poor, those who are exiled or seeking refuge in one way or another, those looking to make a better life for their children.” 

     So, I say to my grandmother:  Thanks, Bubby, for your journey, and for your influence on my parents and my early life.  You taught me to be warm and welcoming, like you. You are one of the people who helped to make me a proud American. 

Monday, July 2, 2018

Support for Las Cruces City Council Resolution opposing Zero Tolerance Policy at the Border - July 2, 2018 (Email)

This was sent by email to City Council members. 

On Resolution No. 19-003

   I appreciate the City Council’s desire to take a stand against the Zero Tolerance Policy that has been adopted by this administration.  

    This past Saturday morning, I was considering the words I was uttering in prayer, which spoke of lifting up the fallen, giving strength to the weary, and opening the eyes of those who can’t see.  The United States has, at times, done all of that and more.

   At other times,  fear-based policies that do not help our country have won the day.   The flow of immigration that was reduced by law to a trickle in 1924 was mostly motivated by a desire to adjust the racial and ethnic composition of the United States population back to what it had been in 1890.   

   The Alien Registration Act of 1940 turned long-time residents into only temporary pariahs if they were lucky.  At that time, my grandmother had to go report to a post office after being a well-documented resident of Kansas City for 36 years. 

  Some people today so easily use words like alien, invader, stranger, foreigner, and illegal not while speaking in the realm of law, but for the purpose of ostracizing people, perhaps even to dehumanize them, all because of a fear of change.   

   At this moment, fear will get us nowhere.  A measured and thoughtful application of existing laws will better serve our nation’s well-being and security and offer people seeking freedom from oppression and violence a chance to seek asylum and refuge.

  I support your proposed resolution today, with the hope that your statement will help to reunite parents separated from children, keep families together, and create more of a sense of unity as our nation turns 242 years old this week.