Thursday, February 21, 2019

Invocation - Temple Beth-El Las Cruces Board Meeting - February 21, 2019

Eternal One, 

Source of strength,

Our Help in time of need, 

Our Inspiration when we seek wisdom and ingenuity,

Our Teacher when challenges before us call for creative solutions, 

Bless our gatherings in this holy space. 

May our conversations be marked with words imbued with sacred purpose

May our actions reflect understanding and respect. 

May the work of our hands bring us closer to one another

As we discover the ways in which our combined knowledge

And our coordinated approaches and shared intentions 

Can lead us to a feeling of oneness

That reflects the Oneness that is You. 

May our partnership and companionship 

Spread throughout our entire community

So that others will join our circle of hope, peace, and love. 

May our prayers to You 

Sustain our souls 

For the work that lies ahead.  

Wednesday, February 20, 2019

Inferfaith Activity in Las Cruces - Article in Legacy Newsletter, Winter 2018-2019, New Mexico Jewish Historical Society

     Temple Beth-El Las Cruces is the fourth congregation and community I have served since my ordination at Hebrew Union College-Jewish Institute of Religion in Cincinnati in June of 1981.      

     In each of my previous communities, there was a formal interfaith organization and an organized clergy group.   In my last two communities, I participated (and often helped to plan) an interfaith Thanksgiving service and a service commemorating the birthday of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.  

     Las Cruces, New Mexico features a diverse faith community.   It is the first city in which I have lived that is the center of a Roman Catholic diocese.  There are Jewish, Christian, Muslim, Baha’i and Buddhist groups that are active and vibrant in their worship and programming.   

     Members of Temple Beth-El have recounted for me some of the interfaith programming from the past:  interfaith Psalms study, joint programs with a Catholic Church near the previous location of Temple, Thanksgiving services, participating in the New Mexico State University Interfaith Council, and an ongoing relationship with Roman Catholic Bishop Ricardo Ramirez prior to his retirement in 2013. 

     In my eighth year in Las Cruces, interreligious connection and coordinated action continues to be ongoing and vibrant. 

     Members of the Jewish community serve breakfast every Monday with representatives from local Christian congregations at the El Caldito Soup Kitchen.   

    Temple Beth-El’s Social Action/Adult Education committee sponsors and organizes an annual interfaith dialogue program at Temple Beth-El on the Sunday before Thanksgiving on a chosen topic.  This began in 2015, when the committee chairperson requested that I invite spiritual leaders to take part in a panel presentation to share faith perspectives on gratitude. During our fourth annual gathering on November 18, 2018, those who attended were calling for more frequent dialogue opportunities throughout the year. 

    I participate in an interfaith book discussion group that includes members of the Christian, Jewish, Muslim and Baha’i communities. We meet every Friday at a local Catholic Church to discuss a book of our choosing. In early 2017, I was invited to teach the group about Jews in America, with Dr. Jonathan Sarna’s book, American Judaism, as our text.  Since then, we have read and discussed other books on religion that have enabled us to deepen our understanding of one another’s beliefs and traditions, including Constantine’s Sword, by James Carroll.  Currently, we are reading The Battle for God, by Karen Armstrong. 

      I convene local clergy on the third Thursday of each month for breakfast. This group has been important in strengthening connections among a core of local spiritual leaders.

    Over the past eight years, Temple Beth-El’s Tanakh study group, held at Temple every Wednesday, has studied Numbers, Deuteronomy, Joshua, Judges, Exodus, and Isaiah. We are now reading and discussing the books of Ezra and Nehemiah.  This group has become interfaith with the participation of the local Orthodox priest, members of his church, and other members of the general community.  

     New Mexico CAFe (Communities in Action and Faith), a local affiliate of the national community organizing group Faith in Action (formerly PICO), has brought clergy and members of a broad base of religious groups together for discussion and action.  Temple members have, at times, been active in NM CAFe and supported its work.  I was often involved in helping to prepare faith-based statements on specific issues which expressed the teachings of several religious traditions on specific issues.   

     The local Dona Ana County chapter of the NAACP holds an annual march on the Sunday before the Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. birthday holiday, with a community breakfast on the morning of the holiday.  Spiritual leaders and members of local congregations (including from the Jewish community) participate in these gatherings each year.  

     Religious and community leaders often join together in response to local and national events.  Several of my clergy colleagues and I spoke at a vigil following the Pulse Nightclub shooting in Orlando, Florida, in June of 2016.  Clergy addressed a vigil for the victims of gun violence (both citizens and police) in July of 2016. Roman Catholic Bishop Oscar Cantu, who recently moved to a diocese in San Jose, California, joined with me and several other spiritual leaders to organize a service to stand opposed to the Muslim ban in February, 2017.  Bishop Cantu, along with Bishop Mark Seitz of the Diocese of El Paso, organized an interfaith service in Anthony, New Mexico in September, 2017 to express support for DACA recipients.

     In the hours after the shooting at Tree of Life synagogue in Pittsburgh on Saturday, October 27, 2018, I knew that I needed to bring the community together for a memorial service for the victims, so that people could find expression for their grief and move towards strength and hope in the days to follow.  Emails sent to Temple Beth-El members, my clergy group, and my Friday book discussion group, along with postings on Facebook, brought 180 people together at Temple on October 28.     

    People from throughout the faith community attended even beyond the direct reach of the messages I had sent.   It was heartwarming to hear what people had to say when I gave those assembled a chance to speak with their neighbors about the positive values which they would try to promote going forward.  When I asked people to share what they had discussed, one person offered this poignant comment: “We often judge people by what we see on the outside. We should overcome our tendency to prejudge and sit down with people to talk with them. We will usually find out that what we initially thought about them was wrong.” 

     That statement encapsulated exactly why interfaith dialogue and action is crucial to our communities.  I know that Temple Beth-El and members of the Las Cruces community will continue to create new opportunities for sharing, learning and engendering connection and hope.  

On February 3, 2017, following the declaration of the ban on Muslim immigration, a prayer service was led by Bishop Emeritus Ricardo Ramirez and Bishop Oscar Cantu of the Roman Catholic Diocese of Las Cruces, Rabbi Larry Karol of Temple Beth-El, Pastor Jared Carson of Peace Lutheran Church, and Radwan Jallad, president of the Islamic Center of Las Cruces.  Photo courtesy of the Roman Catholic Diocese of Las Cruces.  

Interfaith Prayer Service for Tree of Life Synagogue, Pittsburgh on October 28, 2018. 

Wednesday, February 13, 2019

Compassion rather than contempt - invocation - Program on immigration at Temple Beth-El - February 13, 2019

God of Justice,

Source of mercy, 

Watchful protector of all who seek freedom and safety,

Open our hearts to seekers of refuge from violence and threats to their very lives. 

Open our minds to deep discernment 

So that we can recognize sincerity and desperation 

Of those who can benefit from the liberty we can share with them.

Enable us to make laws based on wisdom rather than fear.

Confine our expressions about diversity and difference 

To words that engender respect rather than derision,

To declarations that encourage compassion rather than contempt.

May we learn well from our history 

Taking and emulating the best policies and practices of our predecessors. 

May we apply the laws before us

With a sense of understanding and insight 

That transcends any trace or hint of discrimination or prejudice.

May we all support one another and grant that everyone 

Is trying, during this challenging time, 

To act based on his or her best intentions 

Making it possible

To open doors of opportunity 

While sustaining hope for the future.

Bless our discourse, Eternal One,  so that we will move closer 

To unity of soul and purpose 

For our community and our nation. 

Friday, February 8, 2019

Whose Hearts So Moved Them - Parashat Terumah - February 8, 2019

     “Tell the Israelite people to bring Me gifts; you shall accept gifts for Me from every person whose heart is so moved.”

      This second verse of the Torah reading for this week, TERUMAH, which is found in Exodus Chapter 25, suggests the initial criteria for what would become the “building campaign” for the Israelite Tabernacle.   

      I have always found the language curious, because the first part of this verse seems to contradict the second part.   

      The first phrase asked ALL the Israelites to “bring gifts” for the Tabernacle.    The next phrase stated that the gifts should be accepted from people “whose hearts were so moved” to donate.      

  One reason for the inconsistency might be the translation of the word “VAYIK’CHU.”  It is rendered “bring” when it really means “take.”   

    So, let’s re-translate: Tell the Israelite people to take for Me gifts; you shall accept gifts for Me from every person whose heart is so moved.”

    That makes more sense.   All of the people were directed to accept and collect the donations for the tabernacle, so that they would feel a part of the campaign.   They didn’t have to feel guilty if their hearts didn’t move them to give.   Bringing some of the contributions to a central location gave them an opportunity for valuable participation.  

    I appreciate the fact that, according to this passage, giving was voluntary and not mandatory, but collecting and taking was required.  Everyone had to do something significant to make the Tabernacle a reality.  

    Perhaps the reason that there no requirement to donate was the nature of the gift.  TERUMAH comes from the Hebrew root that means to “RAISE UP” or “ELEVATE.”   If someone didn’t feel “raised up” at the moment of giving, then it was better that they didn’t just go through the motions and contribute.    Donating with an “elevated” motivation and spirit demands that we be sincere.   That honesty of purpose was crucial for the Holy Tabernacle to possess an aura of sanctity once it was complete.    

    The Torah seemed to suggest here that collecting and bringing contributions were tasks STILL infused with sacred purpose.   It would be like a person from Temple taking our food donations which we collect in the hallway up front to the local food pantry, Casa de Peregrinos, even if he or she didn’t give.   The delivery of the food is, in and of itself, an act that accomplishes our congregational goal of Tzedakah, righteous giving. 

   One of the newer opportunities for people in the United States and across the world to donate to cherished causes and organizations is Giving Tuesday. This day of contributing, just after Thanksgiving, is driven by social media, with most gifts directed to recipients online.   

  In light of the concept of people giving “if their hearts so moved them” in the Torah reading this week,  I decided to explore the origins of Giving Tuesday.  Yes, there is a website called   Here is how it explains the origin of this effort: 

   “Celebrated on the Tuesday following Thanksgiving (in the U.S.) and the widely recognized shopping events Black Friday and Cyber Monday, #GivingTuesday kicks off the charitable season, when many focus on their holiday and end-of-year giving. Since 2012, people from all over the world have given over $1 Billion to causes on #GivingTuesday. #GivingTuesday has become a movement that celebrates and supports giving and philanthropy with events throughout the year and a growing catalog of resources.”

  I had assumed that Giving Tuesday was intended as a follow up, and even a counterbalance, to Black Friday and CyberMonday.   When I looked at the note under “ABOUT” on the website, I was treated to a surprise regarding the creation of this day of giving:
“Created by the team at the Belfer Center for Innovation & Social Impact at the 92nd Street Y—a cultural center in New York City that, since 1874, has been bringing people together around the values of service and giving back—#GivingTuesday connects diverse groups of individuals, communities and organizations around the world for one common purpose: to celebrate and encourage giving. A team of influencers and founding partners joined forces, collaborating across sectors, offering expertise and working tirelessly, to launch #GivingTuesday and have continued to shape, grow and strengthen the movement.” 

   I am sure that most of you have heard of the 92nd Street Y, which is a long-running center of Jewish life in New York City.    Rhonda and I actually walked by the 92nd Street Y during one of our visits to New York City last year.   It is impressive!   

     Are you surprised that GivingTuesday is likely rooted in the Jewish value of TZEDAKAH?  I’m not.   

     After reading that statement, I had to see what the Belfer Center is about.   Here is how that organization at the 92nd Street Y defines itself: 

“The Belfer Center for Innovation & Social Impact brings the mission of the 92nd Street Y to the world.

We believe that when voices are heard, communities are connected and ideas are nurtured from the ground up, movements can grow and real change can begin. Through grassroots global initiatives, leadership programs and civic movements, the Belfer Center has created a vibrant worldwide community built around big ideas and doing good.” 

    GivingTuesday is one of the Belfer Center’s BIG IDEAS.  The Giving Tuesday website describes its foundational big idea with this declaration: #GivingTuesday harnesses the potential of social media and the generosity of people around the world to bring about real change in their communities; it provides a platform for them to encourage the donation of time, resources and talents to address local challenges. It also brings together the collective power of a unique blend of partners— nonprofits, civic organizations, businesses and corporations, as well as families and individuals—to encourage and amplify small acts of kindness. As a global movement, #GivingTuesday unites countries around the world by sharing our capacity to care for and empower one another.” 

     Caring is a function of ones’ heart being moved to act in a helpful way to someone in need of assistance.      Empowering others is a selfless act, because it means that we are willing to share what power and influence we may have, at whatever level, with people who can use our help.  This also requires our hearts to be moved, because it takes a generosity of spirit to share and collaborate with sincerity.      

    Even more important is the statement that one of the BIG IDEAS of Giving Tuesday is to “encourage and amplify small acts of kindness.”    Some might think of philanthropy and charitable giving in large terms, where gifts are significant only if they exceed a certain monetary amount.   The GIVING TUESDAY philosophy is in keeping with the Jewish view of tzedakah:  that we should give at a level at which we are comfortable, knowing that our gift will be added to others.  That is why small gifts are encouraged, because they are amplified when many people, out of the goodness and kindness of their hearts, contribute whatever amount they can muster at a given moment.   

    I annually receive emails prior to giving Tuesday from over 30 organizations seeking my support.   I choose the ones that resonate with me at that time.  It might be Women of Reform Judaism because my Mom was active in Sisterhood.  It might be a group that combats cancer, because of family members, friends and congregants who have dealt with cancer.  It might be organizations that enrich Jewish life on a local, national and global level.    No matter what amount I choose, I know that I am giving because of the deep-seated feeling that led me to donate to that particular cause.  

    So may we all take part in Tzedakah campaigns of many types, knowing that, if our heart moves us to give, we are engaging in an act of TERUMAH, contributing in a way that lifts our hearts and souls to a higher place.   May the ancient effort to create a space for holy encounter remind us that our giving today is a sacred act through which we can generate holiness, kindness, and hope.   And let us say Amen.  


Thursday, February 7, 2019

Our Guide, Our Companion - Invocation for Immigration Program at Temple Beth-El Las Cruces - February 6, 2019

Eternal God, 
Our guide throughout our history,
Our companion on our continuing path, 
Remind us who we truly are.
Bring to mind our ancient ancestors
Who were freed from slavery
Who created a nation that was ruled by Kings
That worshiped in the presence of Priests and Levites
That was moved to justice by the proclamations of prophets.
Remind us, Eternal One, who we truly are,
The descendants of those sent into exile
Who soon returned home if they chose
And who were exiled once again,
Establishing a foothold among many countries
Finding their way to live
Facing challenges due to their difference
Yet always holding on to their faith and practices.
Remind us, Eternal One, who we truly are.
The children of brave souls
Who overcame the obstacles of prejudice and hatred
To persist, to survive,
To sustain their communities wherever they were
And who crossed boundaries and oceans
To seek a haven from discrimination
To follow the dream of greater opportunty
To enjoy the promise of being equal citizens.
Eternal One, remind us who we are
The newest generation of immigrant families
Who are grateful to those who came before us
Who remember what it feels like to be a wanderer
Who has found a home
Who will work to make that home
A place of acceptance
And hope
And freedom.

Friday, February 1, 2019

Teach us to number our days - column for Las Cruces Bulletin - February 1, 2019

 In the Karol household, we have been going through some of our old files to decide what we need to keep.  While deeply engaged in that task, my wife Rhonda called from the other room, “You need to see what I just found!” 

   It was a copy of the photo spread in Cincinnati’s Jewish newspaper, The American Israelite, chronicling my June, 1981 rabbinic ordination. Seeing this memento offered a momentary measure of my nearly 38 years as a rabbi. 

  This article came to light right around the time I attended local events sponsored by the NAACP Dona Ana County Branch to honor the memory of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. The NAACP breakfast, besides recalling the words of Dr. King, offered a poignant memorial tribute to former Las Cruces Police Chief Jaime Montoya, who died in early January.  

   Programs that revisit impactful statements and accomplishments of people who left their mark on their community have a way of bringing to mind the legacies which we, ourselves, will leave.  

    Verse 12 of Chapter 90 in the book of Psalms suggests how we can put our lives into proper perspective as we move through each passing year.  

    As I perused the Bible translations on my shelf, each one offered a slightly different take on this biblical piece of counsel:

  • Teach us to count our days aright, that we may gain wisdom of heart (The Catholic Study Bible: Third Edition – New American Bible Revised Edition, Oxford, 2010). 
  • Make known to us the best way to count our days so that we may develop hearts of wisdom. (Our Haven and Our Strength: The Book of Psalms, translation by Martin Samuel Cohen, 2004)
  • To count our days rightly, instruct, that we may get a heart of wisdom.  (The Book of Psalms, Robert Alter, 2007)
  • Teach us how short our time is; let us know it in the depths of our souls. (A Book of Psalms, Stephen Mitchell, 1993).  

    Taken together, these renderings of this verse challenge us with this question: What is the best way to count our days? 

   In the previous verses, Psalm 90 speaks of how everything comes into being and then passes on.  It declares that our days are filled with choices we make, some which we eventually regret.  As it states in verse 9, “we spend our years like a sigh.” 

    I believe that this Psalm reminds us to savor every moment, to consider the good that we can do every day, and to keep within view the needs of humanity and all of creation. 

    Martin Samuel Cohen, in his commentary on Psalm 90, suggested that this Psalm intentionally juxtaposes the usual span of our lives with God’s timelessness.  

    We do, however, have a chance to taste — and to do — what is timeless when we share a kind word, when we give to others with a generous spirit, and when we dedicate ourselves to making a difference in the world.   

     Perhaps we should change the order of phrases in this verse from Psalm 90 to better understand its message.   

      How can we gain a heart of wisdom? 

    We do so by recognizing that our time on earth is limited, and by realizing that we achieve the goal of “rightly numbering our days” when the acts we perform have the potential to sustain the world for yet another generation, if not more. 

   So may we make our days - and all that we do - count in the best way possible. 

Thursday, January 31, 2019

Invocation -Board meeting - TBE Las Cruces - January 30, 2019 - Your Love, Your Way

God our Hope,

God our Guide,

God our Companion,

God our Inspiration, 

Be with us 

As we gather to discuss

How best to preserve the well-being

And sustenance

Of our congregation. 

Enable us to identify wide-ranging possibilities

To discover new ways to employ tried and true approaches

To connect with community members

To spark their interest

To enlist their energy

To ensure their commitment

To our collective future. 

God our Hope,

Keep us positive so that we will envision 

Our own mutual achievement and success. 

God our Guide, 

Lead us to form bonds with others

That are founded in respect, sincere connection and warmth. 

God our Companion, 

Open our eyes to Your presence with each of us 

And among us 

within the image of a bush that burns unconsumed.

God our Inspiration, 

Open our hearts to recognize Your spirit within each other

And in each of us

So that we will continue walk upon a common path

That leads us to Your love and Your way.