Friday, December 30, 2016

The Power of Language to divide...and to unite - article in The Jewish Voice, newspaper of the Jewish Federation of Greater EL Paso, for January 2017

“I am Joseph!  Is my father still alive?” 

With that declaration, from the standpoint of Joseph’s brothers, a stranger became family.  

   We know the story:  a colored coat, dreams of seeming grandeur, a concerned father, jealous brothers, the dreamer sold into slavery, the slave framed and sent to prison, the dreamer/slave/prisoner becoming an accomplished interpreter of dreams, and that special talent taking the young man before Pharaoh for a crucial dreamer interpretation session, the dreamer/slaver/prisoner/interpreter being made Pharaoh’s “second-in-command” to manage the storage in preparation for the famine, and the newly-appointed Egyptian official seeing his brothers come into his presence.   Once he saw his brothers fight for the freedom of his full brother Benjamin, Joseph was unable to control himself.”  That was when he revealed who he was, telling his brothers that God had sent him to Egypt to save their lives. 

  In that case, the Torah told how one simple sentence made a world of difference for Jacob’s family   Words compassionately spoken in the context of a personal encounter reunited Jacob’s sons and led to the future that had been laid out for their people.  

  I was intrigued by the importance of language in two recent movies. In the film “Arrival,” actress Amy Adams portrayed linguistics professor Louise Banks, who led a team of investigators trying to determine why 12 gigantic spaceships had touched down in random locations around the world. “The language you speak determines the way you think,” said Professor Banks, as she tried to devise a way to communicate with the extraterrestrials to determine if their intentions were peaceful.  Learning the language of the visitors is crucial to the outcome of the film.  Misunderstanding was a constant possibility which had to be overcome to bring the situation to resolution.  That would only happen if both sides learned and fathomed the meaning and intentions of the thoughts being expressed.   That is difficult even when we speak the same language. Professor Banks’ hope was that their conversation would, ultimately, turn these strangers into friends. 

   The film “Denial” portrayed Professor Deborah Lipstadt’s success in contesting the libel charge brought against her by Holocaust denier David Irving. In her 1993 book, Denying the Holocaust: The Growing Assault on Truth and MemoryLipstadt called Irving a “liar” and “falsifier of history.” She accused him of “taking accurate information and shaping it to confirm his conclusions.”  Language was key in the case and how words can express the truth or be twisted to create disinformation.  Professor Lipstadt and her legal representatives proved that Irving intentionally falsified documents and that much of his material, referenced in footnotes in his books, came from other deniers.   In one scene, a poem Irving had written for his daughter that had definite racist overtones (which I will not share here) was read into the court proceedings.   Irving himself was unable to see anything wrong with his negative and insulting references to people of other backgrounds. “Denial” reminds us that words can be deftly used to divide people in ways that can be harmful to all of humanity.   

   The reconciliation “scene” in the story of Joseph is still one of my favorite tales in the Tanakh.   Perhaps we all know stories about people, who have been at odds for a long while, who have found a way to get back together and have continued  into the future with a renewed sense of commitment and purpose. 

   To do so requires faith, hope, and a commitment to focus on what unites us as human beings.    

    Judaism teaches that the entire human family shares a common ancestry.  Is that enough to enable us to see one another as brothers and sisters?   

     The answer to that question is in our hands and our hearts.  







Wednesday, December 28, 2016

Remarks at Chanukah Candlelighting at San Jacinto Plaza in El Paso, Texas on December 28, 2016

Chanukah Candlelighting
San Jacinto Plaza
El Paso, TX – December 28, 2016
We come tonight
To bring light to the darkness
As we have for centuries
During our celebration of Chanukah.
We have gathered in homes from generation to generation
making sure, in places
where we enjoyed freedom,
that the 9 branched Menorah
the Chanukiah
Could be seen by passers-by
Enough to raise a question in their minds
Why are they lighting these lights?
We are lighting these lights
Because of a fight for freedom
By people who had been given a choice to change their customs, their beliefs, their faith, OR
To die in a world that denied them their right to worship One God.
These people knew there was yet another choice – take to the hills, fight back, keep in mind the vision of the Temple in Jerusalem that was transformed into a space where no Jew could pray again
Unless the fight was successful.
The first phase of a long war
Brought the Jewish fighters,
Known as the Maccabees,
Back to Jerusalem where they did win.
They rededicated the Temple to the One God and to the practices that it had housed from generation to generation.
The celebration lasted 8 days.
But why?
Various reasons were given in the retelling of the story that focused on the Jews of Judea and their desire to rejoice.
Several hundred years later, the rabbis added their take on the miracle of the Jewish fighters: that when they entered the Temple, they wanted to light the Menorah in the holy precincts, but could only find enough oil to light it for one day….But it lasted for eight
And they rejoiced. 
The rabbis saw it as a miracle made by God
For a people who sought to follow God and their faith for many centuries into the future.
And here we are – far from that place, that spot whose Jewish associations may be questioned by some
But not by we who light this Chanukiah. 
Though we may be physically far from that place, our hearts are not far from that place at all
Or from that ancient time when the first shouts of joy emerged from the Temple at a victory for the freedom
To believe what we want to believe
To be who we are
And to teach all of this to new generations of Maccabees.
May the lights we light tonight in this public place inspire us and our neighbors to preserve freedom, understanding, and respect for the many beliefs and customs around us and among us.  
May these lights, which we call holy, lead us to infuse holiness into all that we say and do.  Amen. 

Friday, December 23, 2016

Dedication of New Front Doors at Temple Beth-El Las Cruces - December 23, 2016

Exodus 25:31-33
You shall make a lampstand of pure gold: the lampstand shall be made of hammered work; its base and its shaft, its cups, calyxes, and petals shall be of one piece.  
Six branches shall issue from its sides: three branches from one side of the lampstand and three branches from the other side of the lampstand.  On each branch there shall be...cups shaped like almond-blossoms.

I, the Eternal, in My grace, have summoned you.
And I have grasped you by the hand. 
I created you, and appointed you a covenant people, a light of nations.
Opening eyes deprived of light.
Rescuing prisoners from confinement, 
From the dungeon those who sit in darkness.
I am the Eternal One, that is My name. [Isaiah 42:6-7]
 The Eternal One is my light and my help; 
whom should I fear? [Psalm 27:1]
The human spirit is the lamp of the Eternal One. [Proverbs 20:27]
The commandment is a lamp, the Teaching is a light. [Proverbs 6:23]
Your word is a lamp for my feet, a light for my path.  [Psalm 119:105]

   The rabbis believed that the menorah from the Temple was so sacred that no effort should be made to reproduce it.  Depictions of the menorah over the centuries sometimes had five branches, six branches, or eight branches, but artistic representations still often bore the seven branches.  
   These doors bear a stylized Menorah.  Some see a seven-branched Menorah in the wood, if you allow your eyes to see six branches floating on a sea of glass.   Some see a Chanukiah, both in the wood and in the glass, where the space between the two doors holds the place of the middle branch.  The menorah represents the oldest continuous Jewish symbol, our bearer of light from ancient times.  The Chanukiah brings light to a dark time of the year.  It reminds us of a crucial fight for freedom and how rekindling the light in the ancient Temple illustrates for us how we can rekindle our faith today, at any time, when we allow our heritage to inspire us.
During the day, these doors allow light to come in and to sense when someone has a desire to enter our space to join us.  At night, we can see the light from within shine forth into the night.
As these doors allow light in, may we be open to the lights of learning, freedom, friendship, love, hope and God’s presence so that they can suffuse our spirits.  As these doors reveal the light within to the darkness of the outside world, may we share our lights with our community, the lights of wisdom, wonder, creativity, commitment, kindness, and peace.
May we enrich ourselves every time we walk through this entryway, and may our personal and communal growth offer new and unique gifts to the world.  
We recite this verse from the book of Psalms to consecrate these doors and all that they represent:
בִּנְדָבָ֥ה אֶזְבְּחָה־לָּ֑ךְ א֤֘וֹדֶה שִּׁמְךָ֖ יְהֹוָ֣ה כִּי־טֽוֹב
Bi-n’davah ez’b’chah lach - Odeh shimcha Adonai ki tov. 
With a generous gift, I make an offering to You, O God; I give thanks to Your name, for it is good. 
(Psalm 54:8) 

Friday, December 16, 2016

We are not alone - An Original Midrash on Jacob's daybreak encounter - Parashat Vayishlach - December 16, 2016

After he heard that his brother Esau was coming to meet him with four hundred men, Jacob had no idea of Esau's intentions, but he knew that there was a strong possibility that his brother had come to seek revenge for Jacob's deception early in their lives. 
So Jacob sent his family across the Jabok River.  Rather than joining them, he stayed behind for a moment to gather his thoughts and his courage. 
Jacob was left alone. 
Or so he thought. 
Out of nowhere, a man appeared.  He lunged toward Jacob, hoping to take him to down to the ground. 
Jacob, not knowing he had such strength, resisted with great success. As they struggled, Jacob struck the man's hip, and, in an instant, his own hip was strained.   
But Jacob was in control. 
"Let me go, for the day is breaking," the man said. 
Jacob said, "I won't let you go, unless you bless me."  
The man asked, "What is your name?"  The answer came, "Jacob." 
But Jacob continued, "Who are you and what are you doing here?  I just sent my family across the river.  I was preoccupied with the impending arrival of my brother.". 
As the man look intently into Jacob's eyes, for some reason, he felt safe enough to add more to his story.   "I have no doubt that he holds a grudge because I convinced him to  negotiate away his birthright and, with my mother's support, I took the blessing of the first born right out from under him.   He received a blessing, too, but not the one he thought he deserved.  I left home, and God has brought me prosperity, but not without some challenges along the way.   All I wanted was to be alone to prepare myself to see Esau.  Why are you here???"
The man said, "Jacob, do you really think YOU could ever be alone?   You are the son of Isaac and Rebekah and the grandson of Abraham and Sarah.  Even I know that your descendants will become a great people!"
Jacob was surprised, "How do YOU know THAT?" 
The man said, "It's not important how I know.  But I know. Wherever you go, Jacob, your past, your deeds, your beliefs follow you.  I know that your mother Rebekah believed you to be the son to follow the ways of God.   I know you had a dream at Beth El and said that, if God brought you back there safely, then you would be close to God always.  I understand what happened with your uncle Laban, and with your wives, and how Laban tried to deceive you.  It's written all over your face and in your heart."
"You can really tell all that just from looking at me?" Asked Jacob.   
The man replied, "Yes, but let's say I have special sources that let me know all that you have experienced.  Even so, Jacob, you are not alone.  Remember those angels going up and down on that ladder?  They were there to protect you.  Now it's my turn." 
Jacob's eyes were wide, "You're an angel?"  
The man clarified, "Well, not exactly.  Let's just say that I am the sum total of your life until now, joining you in this place as you get ready for one more confrontation that might not go well.  I can tell you, though, Jacob, that you are up to it.  You gave me quite a fight.   And you know why?  You are Isaac's son, and for all that he went through, he still had a touch of his father's spirit.  You are Rebekah's son: resourceful, insightful, seeing the big picture, which you could do, if only you would allow yourself to do so.  Any person, even if he or she is alone, is not alone, Jacob. All that you have been until this day will take you into the future and help determine what you will come to be.   But that doesn't mean that there isn't at least one change that will come from our encounter."
Jacob was puzzled, "What do you mean?  I just beat you handily in a wrestling match.  Isn't that enough?"  
The man was quick to answer, "No, probably not.  You did prevail over me, at this moment.   There is one thing we need to do. Your name means 'the one who grabbed onto the heal of his brother,' or maybe 'the one who will supplant his brother.'  Not much of a name, if you ask me.  How about this?  You will be Israel - "the one who struggles with God."  Because that's what you have done all your life.   And, at this moment, you have come into your own.  You are ready to be the man you need to be to see your brother Esau again, and you are the man who will be the progenitor of a great nation that will spread in all directions."  
Jacob thought for a moment, and softly spoke.  "Israel - yes, I can feel how that name is good for me now and for the rest of my life."  He looked up to the sky, "God, thank you for making this moment happen that helped me become who I need to be." Jacob then asked the man his name, and was told not to ask.  The man blessed him there.  
And soon, Jacob, now Israel, crossed the river, rejoined his family, and met his brother Esau, who ran up to him and hugged and kissed him. Israel said to him, "Seeing your face is like seeing the face of God."  
And Israel knew that he would find God in every person he met, if he could only look deep enough. 
And he knew one more thing. 
He would never ever feel alone again.   

Thursday, December 15, 2016

D'var Torah - Board Meeting - Temple Beth-El, Las Cruces - December 15, 2016

Eternal God,
Our Creator, Our Protector, Our Guide
Stand by us in our search for truth
In our commitment to integrity
In our responsibility to hold people to their word
in remaining ethically consistent in our perspectives and our judgment
Of both leaders and peers.
Shelter those escaping war-torn cities
People who face the threat of spontaneous attacks 
Though they be innocent of posing a direct threat to anyone
Raise the spirit of those who are bullied, harassed and criticized
Because of who they are rather than for anything they have done or said. 
Enable us to hear voices different from ours 
In order that, even in the heat of conflict, we can find common ground. 
Keep our words soft, our beliefs strong, our responses to the people around us compassionate and flexible. 
If we lead, remind us of those whom we represent. 
If we follow, remind us of our duty to serve and strengthen our community. 
Be with us as we seek to make a difference in this world, to foster hope here, in the midst of our home, and Your creation. 

Friday, December 9, 2016

Finding Meaning (and God) in every place – Parashat Vayaytzay - December 9, 2016

Rhonda, Adam, and Larry Karol
Confirmation 2002 at Temple Beth Sholom
Topeka, Kansas
What is it that gives life meaning? 
It might be our relationships,
Our hobbies and personal interests,
our past accomplishments,
Or our continuing involvement in the greater community.
We may realize what has meaning to us while we are moving through an experience
Or, only afterwards, when we have a moment of peace.
Sometimes the realization that something significant has happened to us hits us in the silence that follows a moment of joy or satisfaction.
This past weekend, I heard our one of our Youth group members talk about the feeling that participants have once they return home from regional events shared with their peers, including many friends. They call it withdrawal, something that, when I was a youth group member many years ago, would have been referred to as “letdown.”  It is that sense of having been present in moments unlike what we encounter in everyday life that can make a re-entry into our routine harder than we might expect.       
   The special, perhaps, even holy, nature of a particular experience may become clear to us afterwards because it is only when we do come back into our usual activities that we understand the lasting impact of where we were and what we did.
Temple Beth Sholom, Topeka, Kansas - Confirmation Class, 2002
   The description of Jacob’s dream of a ladder to the sky with angels going up and down on it has inspired artists as well as biblical commentators for centuries.
They have, in their own way, attempted to portray the contents of the dream and to communicate what this vision meant to Jacob and what we can learn from it.
The greatest lesson of this passage may not have to do with the identity or purpose of the angels on the ladder. 
   The central message is likely in Jacob’s reaction to it after he awoke.   He declared: “Why, ADONAI is in this place, and I, I did not know it!  How awe-inspiring is this place!  This is none other than a house of God, and that is the gate of heaven!”
   Jacob set up a stone as a remembrance of his dream and named the place, “House of God/Beit El/Beth El.”  That marker demonstrated that Jacob realized that what came to him that night was incredible, inspiring, and even life-changing. 
   Nowadays, we don’t tend to put up stones when something amazing happens to us.  
   We might tell a story of the event, or write about it, or create an artistic piece that might reflect its impact on us. 
   Or, these days, our marker for remembrance might be photographs that we have placed in an album on our coffee table or in a picture frame. 
    That means that the collected photos of weddings, bar/bat mitzvah celebrations, special birthdays, or retirement parties, or other images that we treasure, enable us to relive memories of those events not just as milestones, but as HOLY moments.
 They are holy because we want to remember them, and even if we don’t take the photo album out too often, we still know it’s there. Framed images are all around us as reminders of someone special or an important time.  They are like the pillar Jacob put up at Beth-El.  
    Judaism teaches that God is with us at all times.  It may be that, at or after those special occasions, we feel a touch of the divine in our lives more keenly.  
But the story of Jacob has one more lesson for us about how special any particular experience or place can be. 
Think about the setting in which Jacob found himself.  He was likely concerned about his future after leaving behind an angry brother from whom he stole a birthright and blessing, and a father who was likely aghast at what had occurred.  Jacob was alone, or so he thought.
   He laid down for the night with a plain stone as his head-rest.  
    It was just a non-descript location outdoors along his journey.  
The Torah says VAYIFGA BAMAKOM – he came upon the place.  It was specific, but it was also generic.
It could have been anywhere. 
   But this story tells us that the stone was more than a routine rock, the place was unlike any other, and that what could have been a simple and mundane moment in the life of a patriarch bore pivotal significance in Jacob’s personal tale.    
  This passage uses the Hebrew word MAKOM for place. 
   The Rabbis turned that word into HAMAKOM, a name for God that means the “omnipresent One,” God who is in everyone, and in every seen and unseen location in our world.
   That means that, if we keep our eyes, ears, minds and hearts open, we will be able to see something significant happen at almost any moment, even if the full understanding of its meaning comes only later. 
Or, perhaps, our sense that God is with us wherever we are may lead us to make something special happen.  We, as God’s partners, always have the capacity to infuse sanctity into our little corner of the universe.
Every minute of our lives and every place where we find ourselves carry the secret and the promise of Jacob’s dream: that we are always connected to what is holy in the world and in ourselves. 
 And so, may we frequently seek and find what is meaningful and sacred all around us, and may those discoveries direct us to approach every place and every person in the world with gratitude, wisdom and joy, so that our mutual inspiration will take us to a holy place.      

Sunday, December 4, 2016

"I Am The Earth" - Original Meditation for Las Cruces Vigil for Standing Rock - December 4, 2016

I am the earth.
I have felt you tread upon me.
With whatever eyes I have in nature,
I have seen you struggle, survive, move, tear down, and build up.
I have felt you take from me, and I have sensed ways in which you have given back as well, although sometimes the taking seems more than the giving.
I have rejoiced in your moments of harmony and cooperation.
I have shuddered in times of war and conflict.
I have noted and appreciated peoples who have sought to respect and protect me.
I have felt inside me the passageways created by human tools and human hands to take the gifts of the earth from their original locations to distant places.  
Some of what I know you call resources remain within me in abundant supply.  
Others feel, to me, to be diminished, making me wonder when there will be no more to take.
I do understand your language, and I hear in your voices, as you stand upon me and plan and construct, whether or not a sincere desire to preserve me is there in how you speak, in the tone of your speech and the flow of your words.
My waters in the streams and rivers have told me that they do not feel as pure as they once felt.  
They are afraid that what you have made may not protect them from the disasters that have befallen the salty waters of seas and oceans.  
And that is why people who truly love me might even think of taking a stand for me, and for you as well, because they want to be sure that we will be together for a long, long time.
And so, I say to you, humanity,
Be careful.   Be wise.   Be humble.  
Don’t believe that the structures which you believe will not cause harm now
Will never cause harm. 
And believe in yourselves as partners with me
And with all that we share. 
You are precious humanity, and entrusted to you and all other creatures is the care of….me.

And I….I am…and will always be…the earth. 

Friday, December 2, 2016

"Humility" - Column in the Las Cruces Bulletin on Friday, December 2, 2016

   I have discovered, over my many years as a rabbi, that there is one aspect of our lives that has the potential to bring us together: our values. While there are some tenets that people and different faith groups may interpret differently, there are other principles that lay at the foundation of creating community that may offer a common language. 
    We tested this notion at a program at Temple Beth-El on Sunday, Nov. 20. Entitled"Humble Enough? An Interfaith Conversation," the event featured presentations by speakers from a number of faith traditions (Methodist, United Church of Christ/Disciples of Christ, Society of Friends, Muslim, Orthodox Christian, Unitarian Universalist and Jewish). Each speaker offered his or her perspective on humility, sharing teachings from past and present, parables and personal stories. 
    When it was my turn to speak about humility, I focused on specific insights that have emerged from my tradition over the last 3000 years. I noted that Abraham and Moses were both considered humble.
     The prophet Micah’s call for people to "walk humbly/ modestly with God" is more than a religious principle. 
      Author and Rabbi Joseph Telushkin has explained that not to walk humbly means to go to the other extreme, arrogance, which might lead a person to think that ONLY his or her views, beliefs and positions must be right and true. The 12th Century Jewish philosopher, Moses Maimonides, taught that, for most character traits, it was best to try to stay in the middle, keeping an even disposition, except when it came to humility. Maimonides insisted that extreme humility was the best approach to lead us to gain self-respect and the respect of others, and to enable us to appreciate the gifts life has given us. 
     Following the statements by the panel members, participants engaged in small-group discussions on several questions presented to them about what it means to be humble. These insightful responses might help us understand what it means to give and to receive in the coming weeks and throughout the year:
 • Be willing to be vulnerable. 
• Recognize that we are interdependent with all that is 
• Listen intently to others. 
• Approach life and the world with a sense of awe and wonder. 
• Accept your limitations and be sensitive to the limitations of others. 
• Choose to learn from adversity and grow from it 
• Look at people as human beings, past differences 
• Each of us is not better or worse than anyone else. 
• Recognize the blessings we all have and, in turn, help bring blessing to others. 
• Say little and do much. 
• Start everything in the name of God. When an opportunity comes your way, say to yourself, "God let me do this." 
• No person should put himself/ herself above anyone else. 
• Find and respect the divine in every person. 
• Don’t presume that we know all there is to know. 
• Open your heart. 
• Serve others. 
• Accept yourself as you are. 
    Many of these statements remind us to "keep ourselves in our place" with a feeling of pride and confidence. There are, however, times when we need "a lift" when we find ourselves in a place of despair. Over 200 years ago, Rabbi Simcha Bunem said, "Everyone must have two pockets, with a note in each pocket, so that he or she can reach into the one or the other, depending on the need. When feeling lowly and discouraged, one should reach into the right pocket, and, there, find the words: ‘For my sake was the world created.’ But when feeling high and mighty one should reach into the left pocket, and find the words: ‘I am but dust and ashes.’" 
If we are able to strike that balance, we may well be able to intently listen to each other, to understand the respective truths by which we live and to realize that our humility has the power to keep us together in ways we cannot yet imagine. May we be open to that possibility. 

Wednesday, November 30, 2016

Thoughts on leadership - well beyond the moment.....November 29, 2016

Leadership in a public position (that includes a public position in your occupation/profession) that requires your full attention and full-time commitment should be just that.  
That means: 
1) Set your sights on the tasks at hand.
2) Fully understand the laws, rules and constitution/by-laws which provide the foundations of your leadership 
3) Do what is necessary to assure that you have no conflict of interest possibilities because of your past or current work (this applies to many organizations). 
4) Remember that when you speak or release a statement, whether short or long, you are speaking for more than yourself, and acknowledge that when you speak/write, your words will take on a life of their own.  So be careful. 
5) Remember that you are serving everyone, both allies and what we can still, hopefully, call "loyal opponents."  Build bridges to everyone and anyone and do what you can to be sure that everyone and anyone builds bridges to each other. 
6) Approach what you do with a sense of humility at what you have been charged to accomplish.  It is about responsibility, not power.  
7)  Jettison grudges if you can - it will make your leadership more vibrant and much more positive.  

Just a few thoughts for the moment that any leader should consider..

Friday, November 25, 2016

Prayer for Parashat Chayei Sarah - November 25, 2016

Eternal God,
Source of Wisdom,  Teacher of Kindness,
We read in the Torah of Rebekah's compassion and support
In tending to the needs of Abraham's servant Eliezer. 
He prayed that a woman would provide water for him and for his camels
Without him having to ask
When he reached his destination. 
Rebekah gave him water without being prompted, and, by her own volition, drew water for all of his camels, 
Demonstrating the type of kindness
That Eliezer knew would make her a good wife for Isaac. 
Guide us, God of all generations,
To recognize the needs of people around us without them having to ask. 
Remind us of the help and assistance that we need to give 
To fellow community members whom we know
And those in need whom we don't know
To whom we can give direct or indirect support. 
Enable our leaders, our legislators, and our citizens 
To see beyond themselves enough
so that they will extend a hand when necessary
Knowing that when they do so
Their kindness may find its way back to them 
Through unimagined opportunities to come
And the gift of hope that will emerge 
when it seems only despair surrounds them.  
Make us partners with one another
Across any gulfs that may separate us 
So that we may extinguish the flames of hatred and disrespect
Whatever form they take.  
May our generosity towards one another 
Be like water that will ultimately sustain our lives and our world.  

Friday, November 18, 2016

The Visitors' Journey? A Midrash for Vayeira - November 18, 2016

Abraham brought the three visitors who had come to his tent all the food that had been prepared.  He  stood over them under the tree, and they ate.           
One of them began to speak. 
“Abraham, I am R’fael, and these are my companions Michael and Gavriel.  We have something very special to share with you.  But before we do, we need to tell you about our journey.” 
Abraham was intrigued.  He said, “Please tell me your story.   I am so glad that you have come our way.” 
       R’fael continued, “We have traveled many days and miles to get here.   But this is not our first visit throughout our travels.  
      We first stopped at a tent that was three times the size of your humble abode.   We were ready to tell the head of the household that he would be blessed with abundant flocks over the next year.  We approached his tent as we did yours.  He came out from his place and said, ‘Stop!  Who are you?’   I said, ‘We are visitors from far off with a message for you!’   The man said, ‘You cannot come near my tent unless you first pray to my gods! Otherwise, you must leave at once!’   
    We were startled at his hostile response. I said, ‘My lord, we have our own God to whom we pray. We cannot do what you ask.’  He lifted his arm, pointed away from his tent, and said, ‘Leave us!   I do not need to hear your message!  Please, go, you are not one of us!’ 
    And so we continued on our journey.  We were commanded to tell a man who had many olive trees that his harvest in the coming season would bring him great wealth.   We approached his home next to his large grove, but he stopped us as we entered his property.  ‘Who comes to my home!  I have not seen you before!’   I introduced myself and my companions, and assured him, ‘We have a special message to give you about your future. It is good news!’   The man replied harshly, shouting, ‘I don’t know you!  You don’t look like me and the people I know!  How would I know you are telling the truth?  I only listen to my family and my friends, not to strangers!  Leave me!’ 
      I persisted this time, ‘But sir, the message! You will want to hear it, and if you don’t, what is laid out for you will not happen.’   The man was insistent: ‘I would not believe you, no matter what you say.  Go!’    And so we left. 
     We went to another man, whose wheat fields had suffered in the previous season.  We were commanded to tell him that his crops would recover in this new year and he would prosper once again.   We approached his farm with confidence that he would listen to our promise.  But he, too, stopped us.  ‘Come no closer!  You are not welcome here!’    I said to him calmly, ‘My lord, we have a message for you. It is about the year to come.’  He stopped me as I spoke, “I don’t want to hear from you!  You look suspicious to me.  I see three men before me with no animals on which they are riding, no servants, no possessions.   You cannot possibly have anything that you could give me that would bring me good news!'
     I thought for a moment, and said,  ‘My lord, perhaps you shouldn’t judge us by what we look like, or what we have, or what we don’t have.  We have something to tell you that will bring you joy.’    The man lifted his hand and pointed away from his home, ‘Leave me!   You cannot possibly have anything to give me or tell me!’   We went on our way, without giving him his message.  And he will not receive those blessings.  The One who commanded us was clear in our instructions: Only those who accept your presence, those who show you hospitality and consideration, are worthy of receiving any blessing I could bestow.’”
“And so, now, we are here, Abraham, and we have good news to bring you.  Do you want to hear it?”
Abraham replied, “I have welcomed you into my home. I have fed you, I have waited on you as if you were members of my household!   I am ready to hear what you have to say!”
R’fael was eager to share the special news.  “Abraham, this is about you and Sarah. And this comes straight from the   God that you call One.  You may not believe it, but do, please do.  By this time next year, you and Sarah will be blessed with a son!” 
Abraham, for his part, was happy, of course, and astonished because of their advanced age.  And Sarah? She just laughed. 

Turning our Values into Action (and being like God) - Invocation - Temple Beth-El Las Cruces Board Meeting - November 17, 2016

Invocation – Board Meeting – November 17, 2016

God of our days and years,
We look at the times in which we live and consider
How the gift of our heritage can guide us in our lives.
We call You our Creator.   What can we do to help preserve the natural world around us?
We call You our Teacher, the One who has revealed to us knowledge and wisdom through the Torah and other values that have come down to us.  How can we gain enlightenment from that learning, and how can we teach others what we have learned in a way that will resonate with them?
We see You as our companion throughout the course of history.  How can we hear Your voice and recognize Your presence in ourselves, in the wisdom that others share, and in the events that shape our times?
We call You Compassionate One.  How can we apply our own approach to compassion and mercy in a way that will touch all of humanity and offer them help and hope?
We call You the Author of Freedom and the True Judge.  How can we work with others to find the middle road that will sustain freedom and justice for all people? 
We believe in You as One who remembers what all people say and do.  How can we write upon the scrolls of our lives thoughts and deeds that will deserve to be remembered in centuries to come?
We see You as our partner in celebration. How can we better find the joys that have been given to us, and how can we create moments of contentment for ourselves and our community?
Be with us, Eternal One, every single moment, and take us forward to where we need to go to make a better life for ourselves and for all humanity.

Friday, November 11, 2016

Going Forth - Abram, Sarai and the American community in a week like this - November 11, 2016

Eternal God,
Beacon of light, love, truth, and hope,
You set us on our paths from day to day,
From year to year
To live in this world
Giving our highest selves to humanity,
Seeking ways in which to apply our values to
our community and our nation.
As we and our fellow citizens chart a path for our future
Every four years
through our voices and our votes,
We sometimes witness discussions on ideology and policy
Taking a secondary place to visions of power and control.
The language of responsibility may get lost in the heat of the moment
In the rhetoric of disagreement and partisanship.
The aftermath of every national day of decision
may not be a time of coming together as it should.
There may be wounds left unhealed from turbulent conversations, passionate public pronouncements, and disrespectful discourse.
We know, from witnessing the history of such days in the past,
that  a measure of listening and healing
could offer us some recovery of mutual respect. 
So many of us have seen these transitions and changes
From one administration to another that have been accomplished smoothly
Without violence. 
And we can remember flashes of greatness on the part of some leaders,
the successes and the failures, and the times when cooperation across ideological lines actually led us forward as a nation.
So, at this juncture in our national story.
we are like Abram and Sarai at this moment,
who went forth from their home so that they could become a great nation, and a blessing to all the families of the earth.  
As their descendants, may we look to our tradition for the values we are committed to uphold about which we pray in every worship service:  love, freedom, justice, recognizing from whence we have come, compassion, extending our hand to those in need of help, a sense of the holy in life, equality, reverence for creation, gratitude, and creating and preserving peace.  
If this is who we are, may we share that essence of being and action with the world
With conviction and with care for where we will go in the days to come.  

Monday, November 7, 2016

A miracle, a dove, a tree, a song and a rainbow… Reflections on Shabbat Shira 2016 (at Olin-Sang-Ruby Camp in Oconomowoc, Wisconsin on November3-6, 2016)

   As I drove down to El Paso on Wednesday, November 2 for an overnight stay near the airport before an early morning flight, I was intently listening to the last inning of the 2016 World Series.  The call and commentary Dan Shulman and Aaron Boone vividly portrayed this miraculous victory in well-crafted word-pictures that matched and, perhaps, even surpassed the video that I saw later.   The next morning, I flew to Wisconsin for Shabbat Shira, the fall worship/music workshop presented by Olin-Sang-Ruby Camp (OSRUI) in Oconomowoc, Wisconsin.  There were many Cubs fans among the participants who were still beaming with pride and joy.   It seemed appropriate to bring that long-awaited baseball miracle into the beginning of several days together that would be filled to the brim with learning, meaning and a special spirit!
Tzofim Inaugural Session - Olin-Sang Union Institute Camp
June 1967 (Seated, all the way to the left, is the 12 year old
version of the author of this blog) 
      As we read the Torah portion for the week on Shabbat morning at Shabbat Shira, we heard of the release of the dove to find dry land, an effort that eventually met with success.  The dove’s flight brought to mind, for me, my first time at OSRUI in 1967.   It was there and then that I spent my first days ever away from home at the inaugural Tzofim session.  Tzofim (Scouts) took the camp’s approach to community building and Jewish enrichment and placed it into a new context of tents instead of cabins, with a small outdoor sanctuary right by the big tree in our area, and an outdoor kitchen.   As I look back to that summer at camp, I think that each of us in Tzofim was like the dove.  We were not only leaving our homes to taste the awesome responsibility of independence.  We were also demonstrating to the camp that this new program worked.  I returned for more of Tzofim the next summer. Much later, I began attending the Hava Nashira songleader workshop in 1999.   The very place where I first spread my wings to independently grow as a Jewish individual became a site for new growth as an adult.  Hava Nashira, and now Shabbat Shira, enable and encourage us to build community, to develop new friendships and connections, and to find the joy of collegiality with my fellow teachers, singers, songwriters and songleaders.   And there are always moments of being overwhelmed by the sound of spontaneously-generated harmonies on almost everything we sing.   That is but one of the reasons people call this their “happy place.”  
    During the Friday morning service, faculty member Shira Kline asked us to pick up one of the fallen leaves at our feet during a service held just outside the Bayit, one of the original camp buildings.   She asked us to find personal meaning in the leaf we held in our hands.   I looked at the veins of the leaf I picked up.  The vein system in the center of the leaf signified, for me, my story, talents, knowledge, and my family.  There were four other smaller systems of veins, two on each side.   I saw those as a symbol of the webs of relationships that emerged from wherever my family and I have lived and from the many conferences and workshops I have attended that created ongoing networks in the Jewish world. It was just a leaf that I was holding in my hand, but it was as if it alluded, in some way, to everything about my life.   
Lac La Belle from the OSRUI waterfront
    That leaf was loosely tied to an activity in my Shabbat afternoon session, led by faculty member Julie Silver, about the creative process.   She directed us to create images with colored pencils and paints, and to write about what we created.  One of my pictures was of the “Tzofim tree” that was at the center of our section of camp.  I depicted the tree with the small ark in front of it, a tent off to the side, logs and tree stumps on which to sit by the tree for worship, meetings and song sessions.   I was amazed that my mind’s eye could still picture that spot.  At that tree, we engaged in prayer, sang Jewish songs, and discussed Jewish life (just three weeks after the Six Day War of 1967).   Those activities still form the foundation of Jewish communal life all over the world.
Camp Director Jerry Kaye pays tribute to the Shabbat Shira
Faculty: Ken Chasen, Merri Arian, Shira Kline, Julie Silver
and Josh Nelson
       Open mic at Shabbat Shira (and Hava Nashira) always presents an opportunity to share something original or to perform a favorite Jewish or secular song. Informal song sharing at Hava Nashira and Shabbat Shira almost always reveals the common repertoire of secular songs that participants share, no matter the decade in which they were born. My Saturday night 1966 Medley for Open Mic included  songs like “Poor Side of Town” (Johnny Rivers), “Cherish” (The Association), “If I Were a Carpenter” (the Bobby Darin version), and “You Can’t Hurry Love” (The Supremes) plus 7 other songs from that year.   1966 was the first year that I listened to top 40 radio, so those songs formed a musical foundation in my life.  As I sang the medley, I realized that I wasn't the only one for whom this was true as I heard “50 part harmonies” easily flowing from the audience to make these oldies come to life!  That response demonstrated that music IS, without question, a powerful unifier. Josh Nelson pointed out, in his session on Spiritual Music and Contemporary Culture, that music is the single most effective way to reach a large group of people at once, and that music experienced in person has the greatest power to move a community. Songs that have stood the test of time, sung in a communal context, have the potential to generate enduring “Good Vibrations” (pun intended!). Our late night musical jams this year engendered a similar spirit, as we revisited some of our favorite songs from the past with singers, instrumentalists, and dancers all adding something to the mix!
And...the rainbow?  I caught a glimpse of a fading rainbow in Las Cruces on Wednesday, November 2, just hours before I made my way to El Paso to catch my flight early the next morning.  It was fortuitous for me to see a rainbow 3 days before I was slated to read the verses in the Torah about the rainbow sign in Genesis Chapter 9 during the Shabbat morning service at Shabbat Shira.    During the Shira Kline/Ken Chasen “Storahtelling” interactive presentation on the Torah reading,  the rainbow was described as an indication of the compassion God would show the world.   From that time on, God would be a Creator and Ruler who would lovingly establish for humanity a path which would guide us to be merciful to one another and supportive of each other, so that we can get through the best days of our lives with heartfelt celebration and endure the hard times with love and caring that could enhance, on a fundamental level, the character of the diverse communities in which we live.   The rainbow is a promise and a beacon of hope.   It carries with it dazzling colors that bring us momentary amazement.   A rainbow is the result of the intersection of all of the right conditions to make it happen.  Our charge and responsibility in our own lives is to create “rainbows” for ourselves and for people around us through all that we say and do. 
    Many thanks to faculty, staff, colleagues and friends at Shabbat Shira for their part in fashioning an overpowering rainbow of inspiration, wisdom, interconnection, new memories, spontaneously-generated musical textures, mutual support, and the realization that there is so much we can do to bring the rainbow back home.


Thursday, October 20, 2016

D'var Torah - Temple Beth-El Board Meeting - October 20, 2016 - Our Diversity, Our Purpose

Eternal God, 
We find ourselves
Every day in this world
Searching for partners
and community members
With whom we can share our perspectives
And find affirmation 
From our discussion.  
Or, if we have the persistence,
And the courage,
We can engage in a conversation
With people who may not share our ideology
Or positions
But with whom we may agree on a common hope
For Contentment
for Personal subsistence
for a modicum of prosperity
That would fulfill the statement of the rabbis:
Who are rich?  Those who are happy with what they have - with their portion in life. 
Take us higher, Holy God,
To reach for some measure of holiness in our lives. 
Guide us to work for
And Justice that is blind to who people are 
In their personal heritage or background
But a Justice that hinges on determining which actions 
tip the scales of humanity towards goodness or towards evil.
Remind us, Compassionate God,
That You hope that we will find our own compassion and act upon it in the presence of others.
Lead us, God of all creation, 
To show consideration to this universe and this world, respecting all that You have made.
Inspire us, O God, Author of Freedom, 
To look deeply into ourselves to  understand what constitutes freedom 
For us, for our fellow citizens, and for people of the world,
May the memory of the slavery we left behind so long ago
Enable us to find ways to work together for liberty in the four corners of the earth. 
And may our concern for freedom and justice, lead us to make peace for all the inhabitants of the earth
As You make peace in the highest heavens.  
And we say, Amen. 

Wednesday, October 12, 2016

"Is Justice Pursuing Us?" - A "Rabbi Tale" for Yom Kippur morning - October 12, 2016

    It was two days after Rosh Hashanah as the rabbi was taking advantage of some peaceful time following the New Year. It was gratifying to see congregants, long-time community members, extended family and guests come together for prayer and celebration. Fortunately, the rabbi’s Yom Kippur evening sermon was already complete, so he could begin to focus on the “home stretch” of High Holy Day sermon creation – his D’var Torah for Yom Kippur morning. He appreciated that the Torah and Haftarah readings for Yom Kippur day are overflowing with significance and meaning.  There would be much to discuss. 
     In the morning, the passage from Deuteronomy Chapters 29 and 30 speaks of how divine guidance – in the form of the Torah’s commandments – are not far away from us, but in our mouths and hearts, so that we can easily find a way to practice them.   We read every year in that section the command to choose life and good over death and evil.   The proclamations in the morning Haftarah, from Isaiah Chapter 58 remind us that ritual is important and valuable especially when it moves us to action.  Isaiah asserted, in his own special way, that participating in worship and community celebrations can and should lead us to apply to our lives moral principles such as kindness, appreciation of nature, freedom, learning, understanding, combating hatred and providing all people with a sense of hope for the future.    
    On Yom Kippur  afternoon, the Torah reading from Leviticus Chapter 19 characterizes what it means for us to be holy, culminating in the goal of loving our neighbor and the stranger - all people - as ourselves, always recognizing our common humanity.   Finally, the afternoon Haftarah portion from the book of Jonah tells the story of a man that some commentators call the quintessential “anti-prophet.”  Jonah had no compassion for the people of Nineveh, to whom he was directed to deliver a warning to repent for societal wrongs.     He refused to carry out his prophetic mission of telling them to change their behavior because they were not Hebrews like he was.   Yet, as a prophet, he HAD to do what he was told to do. Against his will and through unplanned transportation provided by a very large fish, Jonah found himself where he didn’t want to be – near the city of Nineveh, the very destination he was trying to avoid. At that point, he had no choice but to speak to the people there, who did listen to his warning and change their ways.   
    All of these portions combine to encourage us to think carefully about what we do every day, calling on us to choose life and good, compassion and understanding, holiness and honesty, forgiveness and love.  
      Now back to the rabbi.  He had been reading in recent months and discussing with his congregation books that shed light on what it means to be a responsible member of the human family.    He had especially focused on the issue of social justice, and how certain rabbis interpret the teachings of our heritage as a guide for the work we could do in the greater community.    
    In his book THE SOUL OF JEWISH SOCIAL JUSTICE, Orthodox Rabbi Shmuly Yanklowitz highlighted Jewish values that might inspire us to work for justice in the world.  He identified tenets of our tradition that direct us to embrace God in our efforts toward building a just and righteous society.  
Those principles included the belief that all people are created in the divine image; remembering that the position of God has already been filled, so we should strive to be good and humble human beings; the sense that our ancienthistory as slaves calls on us to be liberators of the oppressed; a notion of obligation to heal the world; embracing God in a way that empowers us to look evil in the face and combat it with love; and a vision of the perfection that we can make real and enduring here on earth.  
    In her book, THERE SHALL BE NO NEEDY, Conservative Rabbi Jill Jacobs expounded on what Judaism demands of us in caring for our fellow human beings.   She cited underlying principles of biblical and rabbinic tradition about how we are expected to approach and assist people in need.  She noted that, because everything belongs to God, what we own is temporary.   The fates of the wealthy and the poor, she said, are inextricably linked.  The bible and the Talmud instituted controls to make sure that the gap between the rich and the poor does not become too wide.   Even the poorest members of society possess inherent dignity, and each member of the community is responsible for preserving the dignity of everyone, no matter what their station in life may be.  Judaism teaches that the responsibility for poverty relief is an obligation, not a choice.   Finally, the eradication of poverty is viewed within our heritage as an essential part of bringing about a perfected world.  
  Rabbi Jacobs outlined the many meanings of the word that we often use for justice, TZEDEK.    TZEDEK, in Hebrew and related languages, could mean legitimate, loyal, true, courageous, dependable, competent, right, responsible or doing one's duty.   She explained that TZEDEK is a term that applies only in the context of a relationship with another person. To speak of God’s TZEDEK means that God pursues a relationship of responsibility and loyalty in partnership with us.  We are commanded to do the same with each other.   
    Again, back to the rabbi, who who was sitting in his office at the end of the day, pondering all of these insights from Jewish tradition. He also reviewed responses he received from congregants about how they would define justice.   With all of this on his mind, he was, for the moment, overloaded and exhausted.  If he could only close his eyes for a few minutes, maybe he could think more clearly….
   Suddenly,  he heard the Temple doorbell ring.  He must have dozed off for a few moments, he thought.  He ran to the door and opened it. There, he saw a man with jet white hair and a short beard, wearing a t-shirt and jeans and boots, waiting patiently to enter.  His t-shirt bore the words, "Bringing light in the darkness." 
   “Sorry, sir, I was asleep for a few minutes and finally heard you ringing the doorbell. Welcome!  How can I help you? By the way, I like the message on your shirt!” 
   The man looked around for a moment and said, “Oh, thank you.  Well, I came here to talk to you.”
    “Really?  To talk to me?”  asked the rabbi.  “How could you possibly know that I am someone you might want to talk to?”
    “Word always gets around.  You are the rabbi, right?   After arriving in your area, I had to go the public library so I could get directions to find my way here.   Sorry, no smartphone for me.  Nice website, by the way!”  
    “Thank you!  So, what’s your name?”
     “My name is Shai.   I come from rather far away, but that’s not really important.  I didn’t come for help for myself. I came to help you.”  
   “Me?  What would make you think that I need some help?”
“Well,” said Shai the stranger, “You are a rabbi, and it is between Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur – and you still have one sermon to go, don’t you?   I looked at your blog and found some of your past writings.  Not bad.   I imagine you have been doing a lot of searching lately for new ideas.  Have you found the wisdom you were looking for?”
  “It wasn't just wisdom I was seeking,” said the rabbi.  “I wanted to find some rules to live by that could lead to doing mitzvot and showing kindness and compassion in the community.”   
   “Well, I know something about that – did you take a close look at the Haftarah for Yom Kippur morning?” asked the visitor.
The rabbi responded insistently, “Why, yes!  I know that Haftarah nearly backwards and forwards.   Isaiah, Chapter 58 – it features some of the most important principles in the whole Tanakh.   Not many passages strike the right balance between ritual and responsibility.  This is one of the best – ‘Is not this the fast I look for: to unlock the shackles of injustice, to undo the fetters of bondage, to let the oppressed go free, and to break every cruel chain?  Is it not to share your bread with the hungry, and to bring the homeless poor into your house?  When you see the naked, to clothe them? And never to hide yourself from your own kin – which means any human being!  If you do this, then your light shall blaze forth like the dawn.’  That passage presents a series of reminders, Shai, for what we should be doing here in the community.   At our congregation, we are already collecting non-perishable items for the local food pantry and we are doing a food drive right now.  Members of our community serve at the local soup kitchen.  We collected donations this year to support a tent city that provides shelter for people who don't have their own homes.   One annual fundraiser contributes to an organization that builds homes for community members in need of assistance.  We organized a series on how we can address and ease poverty in our area.    Our members give individually to many worthy causes and do good work as a congregation.”
    Shai the stranger was impressed, “You have done a lot to bring this biblical passage to life, to live out the teaching of that prophet.    I think your members understand that their religion teaches that every single person is a manifestation of God, made in the divine image.  No matter what your status in society, people who have more or less than you, or the same as you, are part of the same human family.  The more you recognize God’s presence – God’s face – in the face of other people, the more God will be present within you.” 
  “I have thought about that a lot in relation to working for justice,” said the rabbi.    “Shai, I know that we are commanded to follow after justice - like it says in Deuteronomy, TZEDEK, TZEDEK TIRDOF - justice, justice, shall you pursue.   Why do I feel sometimes that justice is running after us and can't catch up?  You know, I recently asked my congregants about what justice means to them and what they might do that would bring justice to the world." 
   "So, rabbi, what did they say about justice?" Shai was intrigued.
"They said that justice could be a balance in society between right and wrong, between tyranny and freedom, between acceptance and oppression.  It could be a set of standards we hold for everyone on an equal basis.   Another view suggested that justice is a commitment to refrain from revenge disguised as appropriate punishment.  Still another comment claimed that there is only revenge, and no real justice."
  Shai hesitated, "No real justice?  You know, I have felt that way sometimes, that there is only injustice that has to be stopped or curtailed.  Some people have told me I am a dreamer.  I simply replied to them that I would always hold on to my optimism and deliver my message of working for justice to anyone who could hear.  So, rabbi, what did they say were actions they could perform that could bring Justice?"
    The rabbi was eager to share this list. "Well, there were some encouraging suggestions: Tutoring students for better achievement, working towards rehabilitation for inmates in jails, doing what is right even if it means taking a risk, and acknowledging people with a smile to recognize their humanity.  They suggested that we could work for justice by being a good listener without judging what we hear, learning from our mistakes, making a commitment to love each other no matter what, and speaking up for those who are afraid to ask for the respect and consideration they deserve.”
   Shai thought for a moment and said, “So I know that Isaiah Chapter 58 speaks a lot about keeping the Sabbath as central to your faith and practice.   I believe that your Sabbath offers an ideal that points to many of these aspects of justice that you mentioned.  The Sabbath has at its core the values of freedom, rest, encouraging creativity, and preserving equality.    The Sabbath teaches the importance of taking time to consider and develop new ways of improving the world. You said that you feel like justice is pursuing you, instead of the other way around.    Perhaps resting even a little on the Sabbath would give justice a chance to catch up with you.  If you do that, you would give yourself an opportunity to realize that the memory of the ancient experience of slavery places the Jewish community here and around the world in a special position to advocate for freedom for all people who are oppressed and to show mercy to people who may be stuck in a difficult place in life for one reason or another.   When we are inspired to work for justice, to make the world as fair as we can make it, then light can blaze forth, and the night can become as bright as noon.”  
   The rabbi was enraptured by what he heard.  “Shai, maybe you can give my sermon on Wednesday morning! That was amazing!”
   “No, I will leave the rabbi’s task to the rabbi.   There is another thought I should share that you might want to include.   I have been following in the news about people within the public realm calling each other names and using some rather unfortunate and extreme imagery.  Remember what Rabbi Shmuly Yanklowitz said in his book that you read and discussed: "The effect of social intimidation and mockery truly is lethal.... Shaming another is considered a life and death issue. The Gemara teaches that “Whoever shames his neighbor in public, it is as if he shed his blood” (Bava Metzia 58b).  Maimonides taught that “It is forbidden to call someone by a name they dislike” (Deot 6:8).
    The rabbi expressed his gratitude to his guest.  “Shai, thank you so much for that reminder and for all of your wisdom and encouragement.   I have a sermon to finish, I suppose.  I should probably get back to it.”  
“You will,” answered Shai, “but first you have to wake up.”
“Wake up….what do you mean?”  
“Rabbi, ask me my full name….”
“Your full name- let’s see, Shai – Y’sha-yah – Y’shayahu – that would be….Isaiah – THE ISAIAH?”
“I knew you’d get it – yes, it’s Isaiah…..time to wake up.” 
The rabbi was awakened abruptly by the phone ringing.  It was an assisted living facility.  Someone was in need of a visit.  The rabbi knew there were other tasks to which he needed to attend.    So, even if it was only a dream, there was something crucial and urgent in what the rabbi thought he had heard – in a land of freedom, we have a golden opportunity to help people in need, to ease hunger for people all over the world, to provide relief and shelter, and to find common ground and foster civility with everyone because there is much to be accomplished.    Isaiah’s words echoed in the rabbi’s mind – and heart, “If you remove…the menacing hand, the malicious word, if you make sacrifices for the hungry, and satisfy the needs of the afflicted, then shall your light shine in the darkness, and your night become bright as noon.  God will guide you always.”      
     Those are words we need to hear again and again, the rabbi thought, not just on Yom Kippur, but every day.  So, for a new year, it was and is his hope that every congregation could unite behind a banner of compassion, humility, selflessness, justice, and peace.   So may WE do, once again, in 5777.