Thursday, July 18, 2019

Invocation - Temple Beth-El Las Cruces Board Meeting on July 18, 2019 - Understanding and Peace on the Earth and the Moon

 Eternal One,

Creator and Sustainer of us all, 

Activate our wonder 

So that we can marvel in achievements and discoveries

That have revealed crucial information about 

The origins of our solar system

 The connections between the earth and the moon, 

And our place in this wide and amazing universe. 

Enliven our curiosity so that we will seek more knowledge

About the unity within creation 

Not only in the heavens 

But here in our world.  

As we have conquered the fear of the unknown by 

reaching for the skies, 

May we overcome the temptation to approach people from different origins and backgrounds only with fear. 

May our arms, eyes and ears be open 

To the stories of our fellow human beings 

So that we can recognize the resonance of their narrative

With our own story 

That traces how we came to live in this country and community.  

May we be steadfast in our own positions and beliefs,

And may we also defend the rights of those who hold opposing viewpoints to our own

With the hope that, somehow, some way, we might be able 

To find a path towards compromises that can begin to solve the challenges we face.  

Remind us that loving our neighbors and the stranger as ourselves

Requires a rejection of bigotry and prejudice in whatever form they may take.

Bind us together as one human family in ways that will 

Lead us to true understanding and lasting peace.  


Friday, July 12, 2019

Everyone’s life is worthy of a trading card - Column for Las Cruces Bulletin - July 5, 2019

      I was recently reviewing sports trading cards (baseball, football, basketball) that our son had collected, mostly in the 1990s. My goal is to pare down what we have to a reasonable amount. Whileit is easy to keep the cards of “name” players in each sport, there were other cards that required closer examination.
    Those were the cards of players who may not have been the stars of their teams, but who were significant enough to deserve trading cards featuring the appropriate action shot and their statistics.
   I searched for information for every single player whose name escaped me. Of course, simply making it to the Big Leagues is a source of pride for a player, parents, relatives and friends.
    I served a congregation in LaSalle, Illinois, for three years as a student rabbi for 18 weekends a year, flying from Cincinnati to Chicago and then driving to my destination. On one of my flights back to Cincinnati, I sat next to the wife of Cincinnati Reds pitcher Frank Pastore. I remember the couple with her telling her before we boarded the plane, “We will be sure to watch his games when we can.” Frank Pastore eventually became a well-known Christian radio talk-show host in Los Angeles. He died from injuries sustained in a motorcycle accident in 2012.
    In one of my early years as rabbi at the congregation in Topeka, Kansas, I received a call from a woman named Beth who said that her husband was looking at a job possibility in the area. She was Jewish and wanted to attend services on the Jewish High Holy Days. She eventually told me that her husband was a former baseball player named Joe Keough.
     I said, “You mean Joe Keough who played on the Kansas City Royals, who got the gamewinning hit in their first regular season game in April 1969 against the Minnesota Twins?” I think I left her speechless.
    It was just that type of accomplishment that led me to keep certain trading cards. Players who did something significant in one game or in one season, or who became coaches, analysts and broadcasters got my nod for retention.
    As we celebrate Independence Day, we can think of all those people in the history of the United States who have made contributions to the preservation of freedom, constructive and productive discourse, and acceptance of one another as fellow travelers along this journey, which is approaching 250 years in the not-too-distant future.
   We are also closing in on the 50th anniversary of the first moon landing on July 20, 1969, during the Apollo 11 mission. Books, articles, documentaries, and feature films continue to chronicle this accomplishment. We are finding out more and more about the diverse group of people who comprised the team that made Apollo 11 happen. Every person involved in the mission, from the construction of the vehicles to the splashdown recovery team, had a significant role in the success of that historic flight and the space program.
    An 1800-year-old rabbinic saying highlights the importance of each person to our world and our lives: “Despise no one, and call nothing useless, for there is no one that doesn’t have his/her time and there is no thing that doesn’t have its place.”
    Every one of us has an opportunity to further human achievement, freedom, respect and decency. May that be our continuing mission.

Patience, Humility and Hope - D’var Torah - Parashat Chukat - July 12, 2019

     I have closely followed the American space program beginning with the missions of Gemini 7 and Gemini 6 in December 1965.   I remember the graphics in Time magazine illustrating their combined flight that achieved the milestone of the first rendezvous in earth orbit between two manned spacecraft.   The photographs shared after the flight of the two Gemini capsules flying close to one another was impressive.   Successful exploration of space was the result of ingenuity, insight, teamwork, and patience.  The Mercury and Gemini programs represented the first steps to accomplish President John F. Kennedy’s goal to land astronauts on the moon by the end of the 1960s.   

     Public Television aired, earlier this week, their series entitled “Chasing the Moon” to mark the 50th anniversary of the Apollo 11 moon landing.    Each program chronicled the gradual progress of the manned space program, with flights that provided the building blocks and skill and hardware development necessary to assure, as much as possible, a safe moon landing.  

     The second episode of the series included what I would consider to be the most detailed portrayal of the ill-fated Apollo 1 mission.   Astronauts Gus Grissom, Ed White and Roger Chaffee died when a fire broke out in their Apollo capsule cockpit during a test of communications and other systems on January 27, 1967.   I was watching television that night when the network interrupted regular programming with the announcement of the fire and tragic loss of life.   The details of what happened and photos of their charred capsule were shared in the days and weeks that followed.  The commentary during the “Chasing the Moon” episode discussed the attitudes that may have led to the tragedy.    Impatience and arrogance by those who created and produced the Apollo capsule led them to assume that everything would be fine, because everything had always been fine before.   No one questioned the risk of maintaining a 100% oxygen atmosphere, in a crew cabin filled with flammable materials,  during the test that ultimately took the astronauts’ lives.  No one seemed to consider the possibility that a hatch that opened into the capsule, instead of one that opened out, would prevent workers outside the spacecraft from being able to offer crucial help in case of an emergency.   Later that year, I visited the graves of two of the Apollo 1 astronauts at Arlington National Cemetery.  While the astronauts knew of the dangers of space flight, the consequences of that night lingered for many months, as NASA worked with the companies involved to ensure the safety of the revamped Apollo capsule.      

     As I listened to the newly-told story of Apollo 1, I thought of Moses and Aaron in this week’s Torah portion.   God told Moses to speak to a rock to produce water for the people, who were, once again, complaining that they had been brought into the wilderness to die.   Once before, God had told Moses to strike a rock to produce water.  The intensity of the tumult among the people wore Moses’ patience thin.   He had always given God credit and gratitude for all of the divine acts that had preserved the Israelites on their journey.    This time, the usually humble leader seemed to change his tune. He proclaimed over the shouting of the Israelites, “You rebels, shall we get water from this rock?”   Then he struck the rock, yielding the desired stream of water for the people to drink. 

      God immediately told Moses and Aaron that they would not lead the people into the land of Canaan.   We might think that Moses and his brother deserved at least a little mercy in the face of this impatient people.  What they learned is that every word and action counts, and that letting down one’s guard, even once, can have dire consequences for the moment and for the future.  Moses’ lack of patience led him to portray himself to the people as having divine power.   He violated one of the central principles of his service to God and to the Israelites - that he was their human guide, following God’s direction along the way.   He probably realized that it was time to appoint Joshua as his successor and to train him to be humble, patient, steadfast and always optimistic.  

   The lessons learned from the Apollo 1 fire ultimately led to the success of the Apollo missions to the moon, which featured 6 moon landings along with the crew in space and on the ground overcoming seemingly insurmountable odds during the flight of Apollo 13.   

     In our own lives, there may be challenges that arise which require us to be patient, humble, and hopeful, and which might call on us to recognize the potential partners nearby who can share our concerns and lighten our burdens.   May we accept,  with open arms, the support and help that comes to us, so that we will proudly and safely reach our destination, whatever it may be. 


Friday, June 14, 2019

"Blessings above and below" - D'var Torah - Parashat Naso - June 14, 2019

 Most days, I find myself looking to the sky around the time of sunset.   Even cloudless evenings feature a colorful glow on the horizon after the sun has completed its descent.    For me, though, it’s the clouds, their ever-changing shapes, and the vast array of colors that ensue that make the sunset views to which we are treated so spectacular.  When I am not involved in a meeting or other activity at days’ end, I keep my eyes trained on the western sky.   I usually photograph the sunsets which I consider to be most impressive, sometimes more than once.    I know that many of us appreciate the blessings which creation bestows on us each night, vistas that illustrate the diverse wonders in our world.  
      Every day, we have to carefully look for the blessings that are placed before us.  Sometimes they are obvious.  At other times, we are challenged to discover those proverbial “blessings in disguise,” silver linings in dark clouds that will eventually shine brilliant light upon us and within us. 
    Last night, I was driving north on Roadrunner Parkway and saw two openings in the clouds that I would describe as “God’s eyes,” or, at least, as windows to the mysteries of creation.  They were accidental cloud formations, for sure, but much more.   They presented an unexpected gift of amazement.  Such views have a way of making us turn aside, breathe, and experience awe and even holiness.
     In July of 2000, Rhonda, Adam and I traveled to the Outer Banks of North Carolina for Rhonda’s week-long cousin reunion.  There were 27 of us in one large house.    

On Friday morning during that week, I woke up at 6:00 am, got dressed quickly, and walked over the one sand dune that separated us from the beach to see the sunrise over the Atlantic Ocean.   As I got my first glimpse of the eastern sky, I saw that the clouds appeared to extend all the way down to the horizon. I wondered what I was doing there, because I thought that I might see nothing but clouds.  As the sun began to ascend, I realized that I was mistaken.   There was a sliver of sky hovering just above the ocean. The sun shined through that space, and then, as it kept rising behind the clouds, I could see the veiled image of the sun.  The view was simply incredible. 

     It was clear to me that it was the clouds that gave that sunrise its special character.        I made sure to capture the scene in a series of photographs.   In several photos of my photos, a single sea gull was walking on the beach, making a total of two of us who enjoyed creation’s performance on that particular morning. 
   I realized, in retrospect, that if we think of the challenges we face every day as the “clouds” of our lives,  then the “sun” represents the ingenuity, patience and wisdom that we employ to overcome disappointments and difficulties.  We are our own blessings when we discover solutions to our problems and dilemmas.  If we are fortunate, we have people around us who can see us through those moments when the clouds seem daunting.  Those colleagues, family members and friends who help us at those times, are, without a doubt, blessings to us.
     Rhonda expressed some of those very insights in a poem she wrote in response to my sunrise photos.  She described the ocean waves as cleansing us from what we need to leave behind so that we can move forward with resolve and hope.    In March of 2001, I wrote the song, “You Can Open Your Eyes,” as my thoughts finally came together about the deeper lessons of that day.
     I still think about the insights I gained from that experience which, in some ways, parallel the Priestly blessing that I will read from the Torah in a few moments.  Our service to each other, our sharing of our creativity in the form of songs, poetry, and the work of our hands, are blessings that we give and, hopefully, receive in return.  The priestly blessing isn’t only about how the Eternal One bestows upon us goodness, favor, and kindness.   It is about how we are all God’s representatives or messengers, or even angels, showering one another with the support we need to look beyond the clouds so that we can still see the blue sky peeking through, offering us the optimism that we need to wake up in the morning with our eyes open, with our spirits refreshed, with the confidence to present our best to the world, and with the humility to accept and to be grateful for the blessings that come our way.    May we continue to bless and keep one another, with God's help, with love, with acceptance, and with peace. 

Here is a link to a performance of the song "You Can Open Your Eyes" 
Larry Karol sings "You Can Open Your Eyes"

And here are the lyrics 

 You Can Open Your Eyes (L. Karol - March, 2001)
Some days are so hard that we look to the night
As our protection when we have no strength left for the fight 
We refuse to believe that we can go on
And we wonder when the night and the pain will be gone
CHORUS:  The clouds in the distance roll the darkness from the light 
                When you wake up, the sun will still rise, it's all right - You can open your eyes
It may be people we know, the situations we face
We need patience to answer with wisdom and grace 
It takes courage to live, uncertain of what will be 
There are days when the night is all we can see - CHORUS - You can open your eyes
A brilliant dawn is breaking as the ocean kisses the shore 
Even through the haze, there is promise in store
So rest for a while, let your mind be still - There are hills to climb and dreams to fulfill 
Your aspirations will guide your work until it's done 
May you walk with hope when each day has begun - CHORUS
You can open your eyes

When you wake up, the sun will still rise, it's all right - You can open your eyes

Thursday, June 6, 2019

Heroic acts still need the coordination of a community - Column for Las Cruces Bulletin - Friday, June 7, 2019

       On May 9, I participated in a program at White Sands Missile Range that highlighted the contributions of members of the Jewish community to American life.   

        Having just seen “Avengers: Endgame,” I decided to focus on the creators of comic book heroes, popular songs, comedy and classic films whose Jewish roots and upbringing may have influenced their work.   

          “Schindler’s List” (Steven Spielberg), the song “Over the Rainbow” (Harold Arlen and Yip Harburg) from “The Wizard of Oz,” Superman (Joe Shuster and Jerry Siegel), and Batman (Robert Kahn/Kane and Bill Finger) all illustrated the value of holding on to our aspirations to make a positive difference in the world. 

          In each one of those examples, none of the work could be done alone.  Even superheroes needed to partner with dedicated people who were supporting them.  And Dorothy couldn’t have made it home by herself.   

          Perhaps that is the draw of the “Avengers” films.  Each hero has personal challenges.  Together, the heroes realize that their individual abilities, added to the whole, have the potential to make them collectively (and ultimately) invincible. 

     The enthusiastic worldwide response to “Avengers: Endgame,” I believe, demonstrates a commitment of fans not only to seeing a film with fast-paced action, or wanting to know “what will happen this time,” but also to the principle of people working  in concert to do something incredible.  

      That is how we create community: by working together for a common goal. 

      We see teamwork in musical performances, theatrical presentations, films, sports,  interest groups, and organizations.   

      We have witnessed coordinated action in the extensive efforts of local groups to offer hospitality and care to asylum seekers who spend a few days in Las Cruces and other nearby communities before going to their sponsors in other parts of the country. 

       Those acts of kindness mirror what we have been doing all along to offer assistance to local residents who are in need of food, clothing and shelter.  

         We have also witnessed communities coming together at times of tragedy.  At this writing, on Memorial Day, I can look at the flag in my home that was presented to my family at the funeral of my father, who was a World War II veteran.  

        The violent attacks on houses of worship in recent months, in the United States and around the world,  have brought people together to resolve to offer one another greater understanding, support and security. 

         Sometimes, a sense of community can be resilient in ways we may not expect.  I attended the funeral in St. Louis of my 43 year-old friend (and harmonizer on my three albums), Angela Gold, several weeks ago. 

        Angela’s health challenges began at age 27, and continued in the years following. During all that time, she remained active and vibrant as a teacher, singer, guitar instructor, creator of jewelry, and participant in music conferences. 

      I met some of her closest friends for the first time at her 27th birthday celebration, and easily reconnected with them at the funeral.  The family requested those who had gathered for the evening service, customary on the day of a funeral (and the evenings following), to remain afterwards and join together in song to pay tribute to Angela’s memory.  

     Several generations of friends and family fashioned a meaningful musical tapestry of remembrance, a “circle of song” that offered warmth and comfort. 

     That is the heroic work we can do for each other:  giving support to create and sustain harmony, security, healing and hope. 












Wednesday, May 29, 2019

Humility and the Art of “We” - Temple Beth-El Las Cruces Annual Meeting Message on May 9, 2019

Message from Rabbi Karol at the 
Temple Beth-El Annual Meeting 
May 9, 2019
Humility and the Art of “We”
Humility. Sometimes it seems that there 
isn’t enough to go around. 
 A culture based on winning, on “who has the most 
toys,” on claiming that some people deserve to be 
built up and some deserve to be put down, doesn’t 
encourage humility....but, Judaism constantly re-
minds us to be humble.
  We recite prayers of confession on Yom Kippur while 
fasting in order to focus on improving ourselves. The 
readings are worded in the plural, “we,” not “I.” We are 
called upon, as members of a congregation worshiping 
together, to apologize for the wrongs we have committed 
and to seek forgiveness. Human beings can grant for-
giveness, but it’s God who pardons us and cleanses us, 
after we have done the right thing. 
 When we sing of peace in every service, we ask God 
to make peace for all of us together, encompassing all 
people who live on the earth. We can do much of the 
work to bring about peace, but praying to God for assis-
tance demonstrates that we know we can’t to it alone.
 And when we speak about the ties that we have in 
common, we talk about “the Jewish people.” We sing 
“Am Yisrael Chai/the People of Israel lives” to declare 
our place in a large, extended family with a long and 
unique history.
Seeing ourselves as part of something greater, and ad-
mitting our limitations, are very Jewish approaches that  guide us on a path of humility.
 During the first week of April, I was with my rabbinic 
collective, the Central Conference of American Rabbis, at  its 130th annual convention held in Cincinnati. In the sessions I attended, I learned about how we can be better community members, how we can increase our respect for  each other, and how we can advocate for people seeking justice because the biblical prophets called on people of  their time, over and over, to do selfless acts that could raise up people who are often or constantly put down. They encouraged their listeners to work together to 
strengthen their relationships and their community. Their  words have meaning for us, as well, in the here and now. 
  I was sorry to miss the volunteer meeting before the 
Jewish Food and Folk Festival this year, which was held while I was in Cincinnati. Of course, I would not have  missed the sixth annual JFFF for anything. It is one of the best examples of the concept of WE in a congregation that I have ever seen. The JFFF came together five years ago by adding to the best practices of past congregational  fundraisers fresh ideas from committee members and volunteers. This event now has a style and character all its own.
   The Jewish Food and Folk Festival, and its partner 
fundraisers, the Matzo Ball Open, A Night at the Auction, and  the Renaissance Faire booth, created a welcoming  spirit among us and in our community. This is a WE accomplishment, because everyone, including planners and  participants, developers and donors, bakers and cooks, marketers and volunteers, made this possible. We ARE amazing, and we all deserve to feel proud. 
   We also deserve to feel proud of our efforts to bring 
community members into our space to grow in knowledge and wisdom. There were candidate forums, a film about Jewish Americans who served in the Armed Forces during World War II, a discussion about antisemitism as it relates to attitudes towards Israel, a series on immigration, an interfaith discussion on freedom and justice, a service and film to put the Holocaust in perspective, and a gathering 
of 180 people to strengthen one another in the immediate aftermath of the shootings at Pittsburgh’s Tree of Life Synagogue.
 We served breakfast at Camp Hope on December 25, 
and donated food to Casa de Peregrinos that was collected during the High Holydays.
We celebrated Shabbat and holidays with our voices 
united in song and prayer, enjoyed each other’s company at Oneg Shabbat receptions, built and decorated and prayed in the Sukkah, and danced with the Torah scrolls and unrolled them on Simchat Torah. We contributed a smorgasbord of latkes and brought our Chanukiot to light on the Shabbat during Chanukah, creating our own special communal glow. We planted a tree on Tu Bish’vat and cheered - or, I should say, booed - as Haman met his demise, once again, in the Purim Spiel. We heard our Religious School students recite the four questions and engage in a harder than usual Afikoman search as 72 people shared the Temple Seder, sponsored by Sisterhood. 
Some of us made our way to El Paso this past Sunday to add music, dance, information and spirit as our two communities celebrated Israel’s 71 years as a state.
 We pondered the essence of leadership in several spe-
cially designed programs and shared our individual and collective insights in discussions on short stories and sacred texts. We intently and proudly watched and listened as the history of Temple Beth-El came to life onstage on October 7. We tested our gaming skills as BETY/BEMY offered us an opportunity to simply sit and be together to play our games of choice, which happened, as it turned out, just hours after the shootings at the Tree of Life Synagogue.
   Rhonda has always told me that, while working at the Dayton Jewish Center, she learned that it was her job as a member of the Center professional staff to support the lay leaders and volunteers in their work, whether as an out-front partner or as a strong, nurturing presence behind the scenes. Sometimes the nature of the WE manifests itself with certain individuals being more visible than others, 
but we know that a strong WE takes the enthusiasm, ingenuity, talents, and involvement of every single person that  comprises a group or a committee or a whole community. 
    My service to this congregation as rabbi has always 
been about being a part of the WE of TBE. An Adelante Newsletter looks good because of all that we do that infusesour Temple life with content. A class or study group, a community program, and even a worship service is as good as the willingness of the leader/facilitator and the participants, together, to enhance and strengthen each other’s contributions in word, in thought, in spirit, and, sometimes, in song. Being part of the WE of TBE means that every 
single one of us has something to add to who we are and who we can be; but it also means that each of us is part of a team, an extended family right here within these walls, that can do great things when we put our minds and hearts together. Our strength emerges not only from our creative prowess but also from our humble, sincere, and selfless service to this holy community. 
   There are, in this space, of course, a variety of opinions regarding how Temple Beth-El will approach challenges in the coming months and years. My own involvement in a mutual and respectful decision-making process with the Board of Trustees to begin to chart that course yielded my signature on a letter sent to Temple members. Just about anything that has happened in my rabbinate has been like a door that has opened to a new experience. The Temple leadership has assured that the connection between the Karols and this congregation will remain real and strong for years to come, even after my retirement. That offers us an 
opportunity to continue to humbly get to know one another in a new way. 
   I believe that the best way to move into the future is to take positive and optimistic steps forward, but I am not only speaking about Rhonda and me. It is about all of us. We have been working, studying, praying, planning, hosting, meeting, laughing, singing and leading together on the Board, in classes and community events, in committee work, and in one-to-one conversations over these last eight years. There is more for us to consider and to accomplish. . There is much good left to do.
 Many thanks to Ellen Torres, our Temple president, as 
she concludes her dedicated service in this capacity of leadership. . To all of my partners on the Board of Trustees, in the Temple choir, on committees, in our Religious School among both parents and students, in the Mensch Club, Sisterhood, and BETY/BEMY, and to all of you with whom I have worked and shared here at Temple, thank you for your partnership. To Adam, Rabbi Juli and Josh, thank you for 
your support from afar which enables me to keep my sense of humor and a proper perspective on what I do.
 And to Rhonda, thank you for your love, wisdom and 
support over these 38 years that have always kept me focused on the significance of what I do, and what we do together, to try to make a positive difference in the 
world. And so I offer these words based on verses 
from Psalm 67 to send us forward with confidence and 
“May the Eternal One be gracious to us and bless 
us, and may the divine face shine and smile upon all of 
us, so that God’s presence will envelop us all in love 
and peace.”

Friday, May 17, 2019

Raising our voices in crucial moments - D’var Torah - Parashat Emor - May 17, 2019


As the Torah reading for this week begins, God told Moses, EMOR, speak to the priests to offer them instruction on preserving holiness among the people.  

   I decided a long time ago that EMOR can also mean to “speak out,” to raise a voice when there is a need for personal evaluation and improvement. 

   In one of the first sermons I gave on this parashah nearly 30 years ago, I told a Bat Mitzvah to speak out at times when her peers allowed their relationships to deteriorate to the point of being based only on gossip, hostility and bullying.  After my conversations with her before her special day about what went on in school, it was an important message to deliver at her service, especially with her peers sitting right there. 

     Now, in 5779, I focus on what I consider to be my favorite part of this portion, the holiday calendar in Leviticus Chapter 23, and I think about the lessons that our festivals teach us here and now. 

      This section of Leviticus begins, “These are My fixed times, the fixed times of the Eternal, which you shall proclaim as sacred occasions.” 

     In this passage, the “sacred” part did have to do, primarily, with performing the appropriate rituals for each holiday. 

      I believe there is much more to consider. 

     Shabbat reminds us that we, like God, are creators, and that we need to take time to reflect on the lives we are leading and what we are contributing to the world and to the people closest to us.   It is important for us to take our responsibilities and our actions seriously at every moment.  

      The festival of Pesach recalls when the Israelites were freed by Pharaoh.   That experience calls on us to work for the freedom for all people, to fulfill the words of Emma Lazarus: “Until we are all free, we are none of us free.” 

      The feast of Unleavened Bread, CHAG HAMATZOT, refers to the initial Exodus from Egypt.   The Israelites hurriedly made bread that did not rise. Matzah came to  signify the need to preserve the freedom that we have with dedication and wisdom, sometimes using our own hands to do so. 

       The OMER period was a counting of seven weeks beginning with the second day of the feast of Unleavened bread.  It offered our ancestors a time to give thanks for the coming barley harvest.  That observance was their way of showing gratitude for the opportunity to work the land and to produce food for themselves and their communities.  And it offers one of the best examples from the Torah of optimism, because the ritual of marking each new day of the seven week period involved counting up rather than counting down.  

      The fiftieth day, the culmination of the barley harvest, was a celebration of the human-divine partnership in coordinated creation of life-giving crops.   Tied to this observance, which we now call Shavuot, the Torah states: “And when you reap the harvest of your land, you shall not reap all the way to the edges of your field, or gather the gleanings of your harvest; you shall leave them for the poor and the stranger: I the Eternal am your God.”   Assisting people in need demonstrated the gratitude of the people for, what they believed, God had provided them. 

     What used to be the seventh month on the Jewish calendar, now the first month of the year, began with a day of blasts on a shofar that would prepare the people for a time of self-denial on the tenth day, YOM HAKIPURIM, the day of atonement.    Those days, even in ancient times, directed the people to  heal their relationships with each other and with God.   Striving to live a moral life was important, even then, for each person and for the community as a whole. 

       The feast of SUKKOT, with the commandment to live in booths for seven days, recalled the years-long march of the Israelites fully-realized freedom.  It signified their closeness to and their dependence on the natural world, as well as their need for security and protection. Sukkot taught our ancestors to appreciate all that God had given them: this earth, their families and communities, and their very lives. 

      What follows this recounting of the festival calendar is a second reference in the Torah to kindling lamps regularly, using the familiar words, NEIR TAMID. 

      At this time in our history, I believe that the light we offer, as members of the worldwide Jewish community, reflects the values that we have given to the world through our celebrations:  freedom and its preservation; appreciation of the natural world; optimism; caring for people in need; doing our best to assure that our actions are moral and godly; and providing each other with security and support as fellow citizens of this planet that we call our home.  

     And so, when we see anyone jeopardizing the freedom of others, sometimes claiming that only their freedom matters; when we sense that some people are proposing strategies and policies that might harm the fragile balance of the natural world; when caring for people in need is near the bottom of a list of communal priorities; and when treating each other with decency and respect seems to no longer matter, it is time to speak up and raise our voices....because, based on the principles embodied in the festivals we celebrate, it has been, and always will be, the Jewish thing to do.   May this be our task and our mission in the days to come.