Wednesday, November 27, 2013

Prayer for Chanukah 5774 (and Thanksgiving) with help from lists developed by the Temple Beth-El Machon (7th-12th Grade) Class

Eternal God, Creator of us all,
we are grateful this year for the many gifts that we enjoy:
For the opportunity to celebrate
with family,
with friends,
with our community;
For the unity and understanding that we can sustain
between people of different faiths and backgrounds
in our diverse nation;
For life and health;
For the bounty of the earth
And for the beautiful landscape that surrounds us;
For freedom and for the right to be different
for which our ancestors fought
as they preserved our heritage
in ancient times and until this day;
For the liberty that we strive to maintain as members
of a national community and the human family;
For the miracle of generosity and compassion,
which leads us to give to people in need, both near and far;
And for the hope that we see dancing in the candles’ flames
every year: lights that we call holy.
May the warmth of our celebrations unite our hearts                       now and throughout the year.

Saturday, November 23, 2013

A Rabbi’s Psalm of Praise and Thanksgiving - November 23, 2013

Eternal One,
Creator, Sustainer, Guide, and Teacher,
All praise to You for this amazing world
For the diversity of ideas, faiths, backgrounds, 
and genetic makeup
that You weave into a Oneness
which we can choose to enter and enjoy
For broad-ranging experiences
that enrich our perspectives
and provide us
with deeper understandings
and new insights
For natural surroundings that remind us 
of all that preceded our time on Earth
and all that will survive us.
Praise to You for moments
when individual voices
in communal worship
merge to become one as You are One
And praise to You
when personal meditations
lead each of us to a place of inner peace 
that will enable us to reflect that peace
in our relationships
and in our participation
in community life.
All praise to You
for voices
that grow younger in wisdom
with age
And for the exuberance
and questioning of children
that engenders
inspired, thoughtful and loving parenting.
Praise to You for flashes of creativity
that reveal knowledge and connections
in the world never seen before.
Praise to You
for conversations and situations
that teach us to grow and change
even when we believe
we should remain where we are.
Praise to You
for that sense of justice
that strengthens equality
and for acts of compassion
that ensure the persistence of kindness. 
Praise to You
for giving human beings
the potential to be humble enough
to be grateful for Your gifts
So that we can give thanks
for the opportunity
to serve, to learn, to study,
to speak, to sing,
to cry out for those in dire straits
who have no way to call for help
to listen to stories, concerns,
hopes, fears, and opinions,
to hear criticism and affirmation
with ears that detect love and support
to hold on to what we need
to move forward
and to let go of what holds us back.
Thank You for the possibility
of walking along this path
towards a better world
with family and friends
with colleagues and leaders
with members and partners
who join in along the way.
Eternal One,
All praise to You for this amazing world 

And for the warmth of Your Presence 
that reminds us, always, 
to be present for one another.

"A rare opportunity for giving thanks" - Column for the Las Cruces Bulletin on November 22, 2013

  Just for this year, a wave of intercultural media-hype has bestowed upon the beginning of Chanukah a new name: "Thanksgivukkah." 
     The first candle will be lit on the Chanukah menorah (chanukiah) on Wednesday, November 27, the night before the observance of the American holiday of Thanksgiving.   This calendrical  phenomenon won’t happen again for another 79,000 years!  
     I have known of families that have observed Chanukah early while children and grandchildren were visiting during Thanksgiving.  This year, those same families can share Chanukah while enjoying a holiday during which Americans commonly extend their hospitality for a festive meal and celebration.   Perhaps sweet potato latkes (potato pancakes are one of the foods eaten on Chanukah) are in order!
    Recently, the Pew Research Center published “A Portrait of Jewish Americans,” evaluating the results of surveys that were completed in recent months   This study characterized an identity among Jewish Americans that mirrors the themes of both Chanukah and Thanksgiving, including consideration of others, an appreciation of freedom, and being grateful for what we have.
      Chanukah, often called the “Festival of Lights,” commemorates the rededication of the Temple in Jerusalem as a Jewish place of worship in 165 B.C. after it had been taken over by the Syrian Greek rulers of Judea three years earlier. The Jews of that time realized that they needed to assert their right to be different and pride in their tradition in order to survive.  
     Thanksgiving's origin story portrays the process of developing cooperation between European newcomers and Native Americans. 
    The Thanksgiving proclamation issued by President Abraham Lincoln during the Civil War sought to unify the nation in one celebration of gratitude among all citizens.  
     Embedded in that declaration was a hope for an end to the conflict between North and South so that Americans could turn, once again, to an appreciation for the bounty of the earth.  
    According to the Second Book of Maccabees (in the books of the Apocrypha), the Jews who had retaken and rededicated the Temple in 165 B.C. in late fall/early winter, decided to observe the Feast of Booths, Sukkot, the harvest festival that had occurred two months earlier (before the fighting had ended). In that celebration, Chanukah took on the same theme of gratitude for the produce of the land which we mark on Thanksgiving.
     The Pew survey noted that the Jewish community in the United States espouses the values of leading an ethical/moral life, working for justice and equality, combating hatred, being intellectually curious, and even having a good sense of humor.    While the question "do you light the candles on Chanukah?" was not part of this study, it is likely that, in 90% of homes where at least one family member is Jewish, there will be a menorah burning brightly, perhaps visible to passersby.      
    The prayer that is recited right after lighting the candles notes that the lights of the Chanukah candles are holy, sacred and special.   The glow emanating from the menorah is not to be used for any task or work.  The lights of Chanukah signify the importance of preserving freedom and of retaining a connection to a time-honored heritage.
       I recently came across an evening prayer in the Reform Jewish prayerbook as I was reading through the service with my seventh grade students.   These words can voice our gratitude for what we have, as individuals, as families, and a community:
"We are called unto life, destiny uncertain,
yet we offer thanks for what we know:
for health and healing, labor and repose;
 for renewal of beauty in earth and sky;
for that blend of human-holy which inspires compassion;
for eternal, promising light.
For beautiful, bountiful blessing,
all praise to the Source of Being." 
     May we ever be grateful for the gifts we enjoy!

Saturday, November 16, 2013

No boundaries in Oneness - Remarks and Blessing for Border Quilt Panels created for the "Revitalize not Militarize" campaign of the Southern Border Communities Coalition - November 16, 2013

    In the Torah reading for this Sabbath, I read this morning at Temple Beth-El about the reunion of Jacob and Esau.  After many years, they reconciled with each other, leaving behind the distance and conflict that had kept them apart.  Jacob urged Esau to accept the gifts he was giving him in gratitude for their meeting, saying “Seeing your face is like seeing the face of God.”
   Within Judaism, and perhaps other faiths as well, “God” can mean the Oneness the lies at the foundation of the entire universe and within every living creature.   In this Oneness, there are no borders, no boundaries – only unity.
   It is our challenge to put ourselves in a place where we can gain a “God’s eye” view of the world.  The closest we can come to see the earth from that perspective in a physical way might be by viewing photos of the earth from space.    There are natural borders like rivers and oceans, but those borders welcome any living being that can successfully cross them.  
     Some borders made by human beings are not so forgiving or welcoming.   But we can choose for our borders to be embracing and warm, where we see anyone who lives near that boundary and crosses it in the most positive light.
This quilt does just that:  it expresses the feelings of those who live near a border who want their lives to be normal, enriching and fulfilling. They know that the hospitality shown by a nation can encourage citizens and neighbors to have hopes and dreams which they can have the opportunity to make real.   
    This quilt, with separate panels brought together, is a unified tapestry.  The whole is the sum of its parts.  It is one, like the earth from thousands of miles away.  No boundaries, no borders, just a sense of connection and a hope that those who guard our borders and those who cross or live near our borders will always see the face of God in one another.
    I want to conclude with Bible scholar Stephen Mitchell’s rendering of Psalm 24.  This passage challenges us to be compassionate, and loving and supportive of each other:
“Who is fit to hold power
and worthy to act in God’s place?
Those with a passion for the truth,
who are horrified by injustice,
who act with mercy to the poor
and take up the cause of the helpless,
who have let go of selfish concerns
and see the whole earth as sacred,
refusing to exploit her creatures
or to foul her waters and lands.
Their strength is in their compassion;
God's light shines through their hearts
Their children's children will bless them,
and the work of their hands will endure.”

May the work of the hands that created these panels for the Border Quilt soften the hearts of our nation so that we can be warm and welcoming once again. 


Friday, November 15, 2013

Like the Face of God - D'var Torah - Parashat Vayishlach - November 15, 2013

    This week’s Torah reading contains the Torah’s first real wrestling match….between Jacob and a man whose identity was intended to be a mystery.
    There are echoes of aspects of this tale in Chapter 32 of Genesis that I see in discussions and negotiations on pressing issues in our country and around the world.
    The Affordable Care Act is now in the midst of fixes to a website and adjustments to policies underpinning the law.  Insurance companies, medical service providers, consumers of health insurance and medical services, the Obama administration, and legislators and leaders at the state and national levels all have a stake in what will happen.  It is a process that appears, to those of us on the sidelines, complex, painstaking and even painful.
    The negotiations with Iran tying the easing of sanctions to limitations on its nuclear program appear to be progressing in small steps, much to the worry of leaders like Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu.  The central issue here is not just weapons development, but the engendering of trust that there is a real desire for cooperation and understanding on the part of all those who are party to these talks. 
   The Israeli-Palestinian negotiations appear to be at a standstill.  Palestinian leaders cite as difficult Israel’s issuing of building permits in the Judea/Samaria areas beyond the 1949 armistice line.  The killing of an Israeli soldier this on a bus in Afula by a Palestinian teenager, who sought to avenge Palestinian Arabs who are imprisoned for their acts of violence,  signifies an underlying lack of acceptance of Israel as a country and Israelis as neighbors.  The issue is, again, the need for assurance that cooperation and understanding are goals for everyone concerned. 
    It is difficult to trust someone that you believe is still seeking your demise, rather than mutual success.  The story of Jacob’s wrestling match seems to reflect this issue as well. 
The two men wrestled all night until the breaking of the dawn, with neither one prevailing over the other.   Jacob’s opponent asked to leave as the sun was about to come up, signaling that he was not who he seemed if he needed to leave so quickly.  Jacob let him go on the condition that he receive a blessing, which came to him in the form of a new name, Israel, one who struggles with God.   The new name was accompanied by this explanation: “For you have wrestled with beings divine and human, and you have prevailed.”
    Jacob’s opponent likely was no enemy at all and no one to mistrust. Some commentators say it was Esau’s angel.  Others say it was Jacob who wrestled with himself.  He was about to meet his brother Esau for the first time since he deceived him to take the firstborn birthright and blessing.   Jacob knew that deceit wouldn’t work this time against his brother and the 400 armed men who were approaching .   The wrestling match gave Jacob a chance to search his soul and to muster the confidence he needed to reunite with Esau based on a positive family connection. It was time to overcome his fear that hatred from the past would plague his relationship with his brother forever.
    When the two finally met, they hugged and kissed each other.   The word “he kissed him” has dots over it in the Torah text, giving commentators a chance to say that Esau didn’t mean this show of brotherly affection.   One explanation said that Jacob’s neck turned to marble to prevent Esau from fulfilling his intention to bite his brother rather than kiss him.  
    I would suggest that we explain the dots over the word as calling attention to this amazing moment of forgiveness and reconciliation.  As the brothers hugged one another, they were no longer opponents.  They were on the same side.  They had both done well with their lives.  There was no longer a reason to hate.   Jacob didn’t want to live anywhere near Esau, but the two were able to respect the success that they both had enjoyed.  They trusted and loved each other more than they ever had before.
     The most meaningful line in that reunion that links back to the wrestling match is spoken by Jacob, as he tells Esau: “Seeing your face is like seeing the face of God.”  Like Jacob, we need to do our best to discover the part of God that resides within every person. 
     In political and international conflicts, it is easy to designate an opponent as “the other” whom you don’t want to succeed.   When it comes to peace in our world, the well-being of our citizens, and showing concern for the human family, there should be no “other.”    Over the last week, there has been an overwhelming humanitarian response to people in the Phillipines in the wake of the violent storm that took so many lives and caused extensive damage.  Such situations demonstrate the innate human ability to see beyond conflict and differences and to offer a helping hand when necessary.      
    There may be times when we need to wrestle with others or with ourselves. If we see our adversary as “one of us,” the outcome may ultimately lead us to fresh understandings, renewed confidence and well-founded trust.   May all of our human struggles be for good, for growth, and bring us hope that the peace that reigns in the highest places will permeate the human family and the world.   And let us say Amen.

Friday, November 8, 2013

A Night to Remember - D'var Torah - Parashat Vayeitzei and Kristallnacht - November 8, 2013

 A ladder was set upon the ground
with its top reaching to the sky
and angels of God were going up and down upon it.
Jacob, in his dream, standing at the foot of this link
to heaven, wondered if he should ascend, so the rabbis tell us.
He saw the great nations and ancient world powers, represented by angels, rising and falling. 
 Jacob thought his ascent might be too precarious, so he hesitated.   
But God promised him protection and partnership.
The rabbis didnt say that Jacob finally did step onto the ladder and begin to climb.
Whether he did or he didnt, there was no doubt in his mind that this dream was pivotal in his life.
Surely God was in this place, and I, I did not know,
Jacob said to himself.
In that place, Bayt-Eil, the house of God,
Jacob saw a gateway to a spiritual realm
that would enable him to rise above the
dire conflict with his brother Esau that he had left behind, at least for the moment.
This was Jacob's night to remember,
a revelation of what his life could be
if he realized that a supportive, powerful and spiritual presence was always there for him
to guide him to be at his best, to sustain hope for his family and his people for generations to come.
75 years ago, Jacob's descendants in Europe still retained hope for survival even when they saw godliness eclipsed by human hatred.
By November, 1938, Nazi Germany had succeeded in marginalizing  the Jewish community through laws that limited their participation in society and defined them as outliers and pariahs.   
   One congregant of Temple Beth-El told me this week about how the Nazis had been trying to take over his father's business in Berlin for several years before 1938. 
On Kristallnacht, his father, along with many other Jewish men, was arrested and taken to Sachsenhausen, a camp where he was detained for three weeks.   During that time, his father signed over his business to someone who was not Jewish.  That night strengthened the family's resolve to leave the country.  They emigrated to England in 1939 where they found a new home and relative safety from the hatred of too many people on the European mainland.
Kristallnacht continues to be a night to remember  for Jews and for others in our world.  We react to this pogrom with indignation and anger at the bigotry and prejudice that still haunts the human family.
   Unfortunately, signs of persistent hatred still appear in the 21st Century. 
   Jews in Europe believe that anti-Semitism is on the rise even now. 
   The National Socialist Party is demonstrating in Kansas City this weekend.  A broad coalition of groups will hold a rally for understanding tomorrow afternoon to proclaim their message of unity and cooperation.
A New York Times article this morning recounted the overt anti-Semitism reflected in acts perpetrated against Jewish students in the Pine Bush school district near Newburgh, New York.  Incidents occurred in the school building, on buses, and on field trips.   Several families have sued the school district for not doing more to protect their children.  School officials there said that lawsuits wouldnt change attitudes that have been engendered at home.
 However, that doesnt mean that we shouldnt try to set limits on the harm that children or adults can do others. 
   Some people refuse to accept their neighbors, who ever they are, as equals.  We, as part of the worldwide Jewish community, continue to bear witness to the Oneness  that unites all creation and all people.  
     We step onto Jacob's ladder by being who we are,
by working for justice, by allowing our experiences to guide us towards empathy and compassion for anyone who faces oppression.   
      75 years after the Night of Broken Glass, there are synagogues which were destroyed that night that have been rebuilt and rededicated to Jewish life.   The Nazi attempt to vanquish the Jewish spirit failed.   We have learned never to give up. When we see brokenness in our world, we do our best to pick up the pieces, believing that what we do can make a difference.
     And when we see a ladder that links us to a higher place, we have learned to ascend rung by rung to reach our greatest potential as caring human beings.
   So may we always do - and let us say amen.

Statement for PICO "Cost of Inaction" Rally on Immigration Reform for CAFe of Southern New Mexico on November 8, 2013

Throughout these months of conversation about immigration reform, I have wondered what my grandparents expected
and envisioned when they came to this country over 100 years ago.
   I know that they were expecting something better than the lives they knew in Lithuania. They wanted freedom from fear and prejudice, and an opportunity to make a living without restrictions because of who they were. They wanted to be accepted as full citizens in the city and nation where they lived.
    Wolf, Pearl, Mendel and Anna - my grandparents - celebrated the Jewish holiday of Passover every year, singing their special melodies about the Israelites moving from bondage to freedom.
     I never really made a connection between their freedom in this country and those tunes that my dad and his brothers sang at our Passover table and passed on to my brother and me.
    But the connection is there.
    In his book "America's Prophet," author Bruce Feiler described the central place of Moses in the lore of the United States. Feiler explained that the biblical story of that humble man leading his people to liberty was adopted from one generation to the next in our country as THE American story.
    It is that story that the Hebrew bible intended for us to adopt as a foundation for compassion, empathy, fairness, and a welcoming spirit to all people who would join us in the American experiment.
     In Leviticus chapter 19, we hear a powerful call for openness and compassion that has resounded through the ages, a call we cannot ignore: When strangers reside with you in your land,  you shall not wrong them. The strangers who reside with you shall be to you as your citizens, and you shall love each one as yourself, for you were strangers in the land of Egypt.
     This teaching sets the bar high for how we should approach our neighbors from many places and backgrounds.   In our perspectives and our policies, we should respect citizens and aspiring  citizens alike as having the potential to add something special to our nation.
This is a central principle that many national legislators have cited over the last year in their approach to new standards for immigration.  
   These are principles that we in the faith community would like our our own representative, Steve Pearce, to consider in his votes on these crucial issues.
   What I want to know from the House of Representatives is this: 
that people who want to be citizens now,  like my grandparents, Wolf and Pearl and Mendel and Anna, can still have hope for a better life in our country and that they will be welcomed with  open arms.
 My grandparents entered through Ellis Island because they could along with many other people.  Because of our current laws, pathways to entry and citizenship that were once open are now all but closed.      
 We need leaders who will open pathways and doorways and hearts
so that we can be a welcoming and compassionate nation that values what everyone who lives here can contribute.