Thursday, June 23, 2016

The World We Want To See - Invocation for Temple Beth-El Las Cruces Board Meeting - June 23, 2016

Eternal One, 

We are watching intently events in the world around us

Acts of violence

Wars of words

Conflicts over ideology

In which people try to listen to one another

But their words move past each other as if they were never heard

Or the desire for power and control prevents the possibility

Of mutual understanding. 

Is this the world we want to see,

In which a lack of respectful dialogue 

Or the absence of a  forum for calm expression of personal views

Can lead to frustration

Or anger

Or hatred

Or violence 

Or, ultimately, suffering and mourning? 

What is the world we want to see? 

We want to see a world in which 

People will find a way to be 

Peaceful and Non-judgmental

Kind and Helpful

Compassionate and balanced;

A world where we are accepting and kind

Generous and caring;

Where differences fall away in the face of the need to be 

Embracing and considerate of everyone around us. 

We want to see a world in which Your Oneness, O God,

is reflected

in our oneness and unity,

where we acknowledge that there is a spark of You 

In every person and in every corner of creation.  

We want to see a world in which Your power of healing

will empower us to heal ourselves and family, friends, and neighbors

Wherever they may be

Who are in need of solace, support and comfort

Help us to use our words and our hearts

To make this world

Our world

A world that reflects Your love

And our hope.  

Tuesday, June 14, 2016

Invocation - Jewish Federation of Greater El Paso Annual Meeting - June14, 2016

Midrash Genesis Rabbah (100:7) states:
Chavurah u-mishpachah Mach hen domim l'chipat avanim
A community and a family are like a pile of stones
At noteil mimenah even achat v'chulah mit'ro-a-at
If you remove one stone, the pile will collapse.
At noteil aleha even achat v'chulah omedet. 
If you add a stone to the pile, it will stand. 

Eternal One, 
Be with us as we gather to demonstrate who we are
As a combined community
With long-time participants, 
Accomplished and insightful leaders with many stories to tell,
And newcomers to the organization
Who may offer fresh perspectives to an already strong foundation
Of wisdom and commitment. 
Remind us that we can strengthen the bonds that hold us together
As the rabbis suggested in Genesis Rabbah,
By adding new members into our circle
Who can enhance our collective expertise,
And by broadening our own horizons 
Through the connections we make with the entire Jewish world. 
Teach us that minor conflicts and even major disagreements
Need not prevent us from joining minds, hands and hearts
To care about Jews wherever they may live,
And to extend our assistance to people in need
Whatever their background may be
When their distress demands that we see their plight and act. 
Help us, Loving God, to spread your love at times of celebration
And in moments when individuals commit acts of violence
That disregard the divine spark in every soul.
Help us to be partners in sustaining creation, the human family, 
and members of Jewish communities wherever they may be. 
May we do this with a generosity of spirit
That will plant seeds of hope everywhere. 
Temple Beth-El Las Cruces contingent at the Annual Meeting

Thoughts shared at the Las Cruces (sponsored by the Las Cruces PFLAG chapter) Candlelight Vigil for the Victims of the Orlando Attack on June 12, 2016

It was a privilege to attend the Las Cruces Candlelight Vigil on 
 June 12 for the Victims of the Orlando attack. It was probably the most diverse gathering of community members I have seen in Las Cruces.  
        When it was my turn to speak, I decided not to read the statement from the Reform movement (which was VERY good) and, instead, talk about being on the front lines when a certain group of picketers in Topeka began their sign-carrying and appearances around town 25 years ago, and how my name ended up on a sign 22 years ago (F** KAROL with a swastika on the sign), which made appearances all around town in the years following.  I spoke of how I was trying, in the days after the sign made its first appearance, to come up with a positive take on the F** word by making it into an acronym for some meaningful phrase. Fostering Acceptance and Goodness sounded good, but the Rev. Paul Evans, minister at the Metropolitan Community Church of Topeka and our Temple keyboard player, suggested, "how about Faithful And Godly?" In light of this attack, I told the people gathered that we can remind ourselves, in light of this tragic attack, that faithful and godly people don't act out of hatred or commit violence, but, instead, they come together and act based on love (I defined godly as, on some level, "seeing that we are all connected"!).  
Pastor Jared Carson,
Peace Lutheran Church
   I noted that, in the statement from Rabbi Jonah Pesner, director of the Reform Movement's Religious Action Center, he said: "On this holiday of Shavuot, we engage in all night study and reflection of the words and lessons of Torah. No lesson is more fundamental than that which teaches that the spark of the Divine is
Radwan Jallad,
Las Cruces Islamic Center
present in every individual - gay and straight, Jewish, Christian, and Muslim.  In the face of tragedy, let us come together in a spirit of love and compassion for all and work together to create a nation that rejects violence and instead celebrates the holiness of every human being."

On the way home from the vigil, my 
odometer on our new Toyota Corolla gave me a message. "1818" it read. The Hebrew letters that, together, equal 18 spell the word life (CHAI). 1818 is double chai. Today, of all days, we need a double dose of life when so many lives were taken. So may we do what we can to preserve life and make it meaningful for everyone. 

Friday, June 10, 2016

Counting Everyone In - D'var Torah - Parashat Bamidbar - June 10, 2016

In the beginning of the book of Numbers,God commanded the Israelites to take a census  of the people,  primarily, the men who could go to war if fighting was necessary.
That was then.  This is now. 
We don't count just men anymore.   
The Jewish people have come a long way forward
with both men and women taking leadership roles 
in organizations, in congregations. 
In the State of Israel, women have become leaders 
in the government, in the armed forces, and in other realms of life. 
 There is, sadly, one central Jewish ritual still forbidden to women in the eyes of the Orthodox rabbinate. 
Earlier this week, on Tuesday morning,
Police saw fit to enforce a rule that women
cannot read from a Torah scroll in the Western Wall Plaza because the Orthodox officials who run the site consider women reading Torah at that place as a "desecration."
Many ancient and medieval rabbinic texts saw “the honor of the community” as applying to men.  Women were not counted. 
    There are texts which encouraged women to take roles in the Torah service and even, in some cases read from the Torah scroll if the opportunity arose. 
     Such lenient positions did not survive among Orthodox authorities in more recent times.   Women do not count and are essentially invisible when it comes to reading Torah in public worship. 
    Consequently, Lesley Sachs, executive director of Women of the Wall, was detained for carrying a Torah scroll into the Western Wall women’s section for the service for the New month on Tuesday.   
    Apparently, the Women of the Wall had agreed to refrain from taking a Torah scroll to that site while negotiations were in progress for an agreement to create egalitarian prayer space over the archaeological site near the southwestern corner of the Temple mount.   That process of negotiation broke down, giving way to negative statements from government officials and Orthodox officials.   A compromise almost admitted that both women and men would count equally, at least in one place near the Western Wall. It didn't happen, at least, not yet.  I would not blame Women of the Wall for changing their view of the agreement they had made.  They decided that they would not pass up an opportunity to demonstrate their love of Torah in any place or setting. 
    That was Tuesday.  
     Then came Wednesday night.  
Men, women and children were sitting together in Tel Aviv's Sarona Market,  enjoying the moment.   Everyone there counted as valuable customers and part of the community. 
A terror attack shattered a peaceful evening which those two perpetrators could have enjoyed as well, had they chosen to do so. From the perspective of the staff of the Max Brenner restaurant, when these two men walked in and sat down, they deserved to be treated like everyone else, with kindness and competent service.   No one knew what they had in store for everyone there. 
In the eyes of the terrorists, no one at the market counted as a person deserving of life and dignity.
They murdered four, wounded many others, and shocked a nation and at least some people in the world who were concerned enough to watch.  
   These acts of violence make us wonder and ponder.  How can anyone do such a thing?   
And when it comes to our own attitudes and approaches to community life: How should we, as human beings, count other human beings?
Do they have to be like us? 
Do they have to agree with us? 
Do they have to believe the way we believe?
Do we treat them with kindness even if they don’t return that kindness? 
We are taught to be respectful towards our neighbors and our enemies. 
We may not reach that goal at all times, but we try. 
We hope that no one will take advantage of our generosity, and our assumption that the respect we show will be returned in kind in the moment. 
The acceptance that allowed the two terrorists to sit down at the restaurant without suspicion was lost on them in their single-minded hatred.  
The lessons of this week are many, especially based in a notion of not letting down one’s guard when it comes to security.
But another message that can come through loud and clear is that every person of any age, not only in Israel, but everywhere, needs to count in our eyes and hearts.  
In Israel, that includes the women who treasure Torah so much that they would like to read from the scroll itself in a public place. 
It includes, in Israel, all Jews, Christians and Muslims, some of whom find ways of making common cause towards dialogue and peace. 
Tonight’s Torah reading, at its beginning, could have only said that there would be representatives of the tribes to help in taking the Israelite census without giving their names.   
But their names WERE included to emphasize that every person, every life has value. 
Beginning with our community, may we grant each person an opportunity to be counted as significant.   
The rabbis said – There is no person who does not have his or her time and no thing that does not have its place.   
Women who read from the Torah in a holy place, these four victims of the latest horrific attack, as well as those who survived, all have names.     
And even more, all people in this world deserve to be known by name, accorded respect and dignity and granted the right to be counted and to have a chance develop, throughout a life long on years, a legacy all their own.    
Everyone can count if we make it possible.

Thursday, June 9, 2016

Necessarily non-partisan reflections on the 2016 campaign - June 9, 2016

May 30, 2016
I have spent this whole campaign of 2016 refraining from saying/posting anything about a candidate or candidates.  
    I realize that my "rabbi-ness" connects me to the community and congregation I serve, although I am also a private citizen with views of my own.    I refrain from  making endorsements due to my position. 
    Still, I listen to what candidates and their supporters say and watch what they do.    And, this year, I am very concerned.    
   This is not a perfect world with perfect people. People have flaws.   People have strengths.  People who are leaders or potential leaders may be scrutinized on the basis of how they make decisions, how they approach other people who work with them,  how they listen to and respond to their constituents, and how they seek to unite people rather than sow division based on fear (especially if they are running for a public office like POTUS).  
   I scrutinize candidates for public office, even those whom I might support, by looking at their strengths, weaknesses, their sense of fairness, their potential for team building and  bipartisanship, and their fortitude and endurance in the face of challenges and criticism. 
     And I will continue to do so.  I believe that is what I am supposed to do as an American.

June 7, 2016 
I have just a little experience speaking both from a prepared text and speaking impromptu/spontaneously.   A couple of years ago, I gave my usual prepared sermon on Yom Kippur morning, but I also took the opportunity to add a few comments during the service on the spur of the moment from my head and heart.  One congregant came up to me and said, "I like your sermons but I REALLY like when you speak from your heart when you are in the moment."   I had to think about that, but it did remind me that I can speak respectfully and meaningfully without a written-out text in front of me.  The point is, though, that, either way, the "real me" comes out. 
   Just because someone uses a prepared text once or twice and sounds more "measured" than he/she does when speaking "in the moment" doesn't mean that the person has changed.  I see that as a reflection of someone being inconsistent.   
    I believe that, ultimately, we hope for consistency in our leaders, whether we agree or disagree with them.  And we do want to know who they really are so that we can choose our leaders wisely.

Find yourself a teacher, get yourself a partner for study, see everyone positively - comments on a song marking 35 years in the rabbinate

     This past Monday, the 35th anniversary of my rabbinic ordination at Hebrew Union College-Jewish Institute of Religion came and went.   There had been some marking of that milestone at Temple Beth-El of Las Cruces, New Mexico, my current congregation, this past weekend, with a treat after our Shabbat dinner and a cake at a "Songs of 1966" program the next night at which I shared some of the hit songs from the first year that I actually paid attention to "Top 40" radio.   
     I also gave this landmark time in my rabbinate a nod in my annual message to my congregation on May 10, 2016.   I used this statement from the Sayings of the Rabbis, Pirkei Avot, by Rabbi Joshua Ben Perachyah as the focus of my remarks, the same saying that I had featured in the essay that accompanied my first official "rabbinic resume" in 1981:  "Find yourself a RAV/teacher, and acquire for yourself a study partner/friend/colleague, and judge/view everyone positively (or give everyone the benefit of the doubt)."  
    What I already knew then, was that I was (and am) someone who likes to share knowledge and important moments in life with community members.   That is what rabbis do, but that is what I had always done while growing up at my home Temple in Kansas City (B'nai Jehudah), in my participation in camp programs at the Reform Jewish camps in Wisconsin (OSRUI) and Warwick, New York (National Torah Corps at Kutz Camp in 1970), and at University of Illinois (Champaign-Urbana) Hillel Foundation.   I found this as well in my student congregation, Temple B'nai Moshe in LaSalle/Peru, Illinois, where I served for three years before my ordination.    
      So the first resume led me to Temple Israel of Dayton, Ohio, where I served with Rabbi Irv Bloom and where I met Rhonda Marks, director of Children and Youth Services at the Dayton Jewish Center.  Rhonda and I married after my first year in Dayton, in August of 1982.  Our journey has taken us to Topeka, Kansas, Dover, New Hampshire and now Las Cruces.    
     The melody for the Hebrew saying by Rabbi Joshua came to me yesterday (June 8) at the end of a long lunch.  As I wrote the verses last night and this morning, I wanted to reflect in a "compact lyric package" the values of sharing, learning from others, compassion, and humility which, I believe, strengthen and deepen relationships in congregational and community life.   
       The first verse expresses the essence of the first part of Rabbi Joshua's saying: 
There is a time to sit and listen
We'll never learn all there is to know
Whenever we share our own wisdom
We'll understand there's always room to grow. 

I still feel that there is much room to grow at this point in my career and at age 61.   The potential for growth keeps me thinking in a youthful way!    

The next verse posed the challenge of getting the last two parts of the saying into four lines, because I felt that two verses would be enough.  So, the result was this text: 
Side by side, we search with wonder
Accepting every question we may raise
Through compassion, we find the answer
Guide our hearts, God of all our days. 

This verses characterizes just about every study session, touring group visits to Temple, and religious school class context in which I have found myself.   All questions are in-bounds.   The point about compassion as the answer is that the "destination" of study and working together within a community is the development of relationships.   "Guide our hearts, God of all our days" is a reference to a Talmudic blessing (Berachot 17a) which ends with declaration (Rabbi Lawrence Kushner's translation): May your lips speak wisdom
and your fulfillment be in righteousness
even as you ever yearn to hear the words
of the Holy Ancient One of Old.

As a songwriter, what I have found is that I write for myself as an expression of what's inside me.  Whether others appreciate what I create or relate to my songs (I do have that hope every time, of course!) isn't as important as just putting my thoughts and feelings into words and melody.   I always hope to touch one person, and, in the the spirit of Rabbi Joshua's saying, that one person would become my study partner or, even, potentially, my teacher.
Here is the link to the first performance of "Asei L'cha Rav" from this afternoon, an hour after the song's creation: