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.