Sunday, January 29, 2017

A Prayer for All of Us - Based on Parashat Vaera January 27, 2017

 Eternal God,
Source of comfort for those in despair,
Source of strength and courage for those who must resist hatred and prejudice,
We read in this week’s Torah portion that the Israelites could not hear 
The hopeful message of Moses 
About deliverance from slavery 
Because of their broken spirits
And their harsh labor. 
 In our day, God of our freedom,
Help us to lift each other’s spirits 
When we feel that our voices are no longer heard. 
Enable us to stand when we think we might fall 
Because of the burdens of our own lives
Or due to a sense of defeat 
That what we have worked for throughout our lives
Could disappear all too easily. 
Help us to remember those who were at Auschwitz who were liberated on this day in 1945
Survivors of diabolical hatred, abuse, cruelty and harsh labor 
that echoed the unfortunate situation of the Israelites in Egypt. 
May we also remember those who had died at Auschwitz, other camps and in other communities who did not live long enough to experience freedom once again. 
May we be their voices 
Their eyes
Their ears
Their hands
So that such atrocities will not happen again to anyone in our time 
as it did to Jews and to members of other groups of people 
whose existence the Nazis begrudged and whom they marked for certain death. 
May our words ring out against discrimination
And narrow-mindedness
May our declarations of liberty 
Resound with all the citizens in our nation
And throughout the world.
As you bring us healing, O God, may you also inspire in us 
Optimism and fortitude
So that we will know that practicing Your compassion and Your mercy
Will bear fruit within the human family and throughout the world.

Saturday, January 21, 2017

Three Expressions of Free Expression - Prayers at a Crucial National Historical Moment - on Exodus Chapter 1 and statements of the day

A prayer for Shemot and a crucial historic moment 
January 19, 2017
Eternal God,
Who led the Israelites to freedom,
The Torah reminds us of the consequences of forgetfulness
As the new Pharoah who did not know Joseph
Saw fit to enslave an entire population of people
From which had come the very man who had led the people through a difficult time of famine and despair.
The Torah reminds us of courage, as the midwives Shifrah and Puah found a way to save one special and important male child
Born after Pharaoh’s tragic decree to deny life to all infant boys to live born among the Israelites.
The Torah reminds us of awareness, faith, and a sense of holiness,
As Moses turned aside to see a bush that burned but was not consumed and heard a voice calling for him
To lead his people out of slavery to a new beginning.
Seeing the appearance of fire did not elicit fear in Moses, but wonder, and determination and hope.  
Moses was told that he stood on holy ground at that moment, but even when he eventually approach Pharoah at his palace, Moses’ presence made the ground holy
Because he sought freedom for his people.
Moses declared, before Pharaoh, the call from a God of freedom and compassion
Who heard the cries of suffering from among the Israelites.
He spoke God’s instruction to him so that it could resound
through all Egypt to reveal the crime of enslaving an entire people and forcing them to engage in hard labor.
So help us, God, today and at all times,
To walk with courage, to remember the good that has come to us from all types of leaders and workers on behalf of all people, to keep our eyes open to wonders that might inspire us to be advocates for freedom, and to hear the cries of those in need so that we can lead them to a better place which will, in turn, take us to a better place as well.

Eternal God, 
You are hearing everything we say,
Watching all that we do, 
Wondering when we are going to start talking in positive terms about the here and now, not just future greatness. 
We learn from the Rabbis to "look at each other in the most positive way."   
That includes the way in which we view our nation in the moment.    
There could be a more positive outlook if we could see the good in where we are now along with the challenges 
And the best parts of ideas from left, right, and center, 
So that there might actually be some respect generated among us.  You are said to love stories, Source of knowledge, Companion in our experiences along the path of life. 
Help us to create more stories of acceptance, understanding, and even partial reconciliation that can lead us forward....because we know how ridicule and revenge can only bring us down to where we should not go.    
Lead us to sit down and listen to one another. 
Remind us of the values of our national community and the tenets of any faith that we might follow that can lead us to the unity we so sorely need.   
Be with us on our journey.....

Benediction at Temple Beth-El – January 20, 2017

A Final Reflection on Sh’mot - and a response to the "Fractured Faiths" exhibit at the New Mexico History Museum that portrayed the migration of Crypto-Jews to this continent - and how the Inquisition found some of them.....a lesson for today


God of all peoples,

We approach you in prayer with the hope that our words will inspire us

to reach out in friendship to members of the human family representing all faiths and all backgrounds, all cultures and all ideologies.

We know, however, that at times, the fear of the other

Can overtake leaders of nations and their citizens

Resulting in programs of enslavement, expulsion and execution

Carried out to the point of obsession

As if nothing else in life mattered

As if the ability to see the divine image in every person

Had been lost to the detriment of a community or nation.

The Israelites in Egypt,  the Jews of Spain, Jewish communities in Europe during World War II and even Crypto-Jews who came to this continent several hundred years ago,

some seeking escape from tyranny or seeking just to survive,

Eventually found no refuge, gained no respite from hatred.

Rulers and community members forgot the good those people had done

And The contributions they had made to knowledge, to culture, and to the richness of faith.

Who knows what was lost from those who were put to death

Because their firm commitment to the heritage of their birth persisted

And they were discovered by those seeking to root them out?

Who knows what the world would be like today

If faith officials and national leaders had sought to be inclusive and open-hearted

Rather than inflexible and fixated on those people whom they saw as a threat

But were only trying to live their lives with treasured beliefs intact?

Guide us today, Eternal One,

To keep our eyes and ears open

So that we can combat ruthless targeting of enemies,

Bullying of ideological opponents,

And the perpetuation of hatreds that should have ended long ago.

When we recite the words of the Psalmist,

“How good and how pleasant it is when people dwell together in unity,”
Help us, God of all ages, to teach others that it will not be because of the victory of one perspective over another that we will thrive –

It will be through reaching understanding, encouraging open discussion, and achieving meetings of the mind and compromise that we can move forward not only as a nation but as a worldwide community. 

Help us, Source of compassion and justice, to always put humanity, created in Your image, first in our minds, in our hearts, and in our work to heal the world.


Friday, January 13, 2017

Preserving our Legacy - Parashat Vayechi (a tribute to Martin Luther King, Jr. and to Jacob) - January 13, 2017

“Like anybody, I would like to live a long life. Longevity has its place. But I'm not concerned about that now. I just want to do God's will. And He's allowed me to go up to the mountain. And I've looked over. And I've seen the Promised Land. I may not get there with you. But I want you to know tonight, that we, as a people, will get to the Promised Land! And so I'm happy, tonight. I'm not worried about anything. I'm not fearing any man! Mine eyes have seen the glory of the coming of the Lord!”
     Many of you will recognize that excerpt from Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.’s last speech, delivered in Memphis, Tennessee on April 3, 1968, the night before he was assassinated.    
     I still wonder how he could offer thoughts and words so timely, as if he knew what was going to happen the next day.  What is more likely is that his awareness that he was a walking target led him to make that declaration publicly at least once.  What was important about what he said was that he knew that his legacy was intact.  He had developed a movement.  He had galvanized the desires and hopes of people who needed faith and optimism.  King realized that while he was a leader in the struggle for expanded civil rights, he could not be the only voice if goals for equality were to be reached.  We can see today that there are many people who pay tribute to Martin Luther King, Jr. through their work for civil rights and voting rights, which are political battles that are not yet totally won in a way that acknowledges everyone’s place in society.    The poverty that King hoped to alleviate still is with us.  The peace in the world that he sought has not come to fruition.  It was apparent from what he declared in his last speech that King knew that there would be others to take up the mantle of his dreams and his vision in the future. His words reverberate in our minds when we consider what we still must do.  
    Like Martin Luther King, Jr., each of us has dreams, aspirations and a vision not just for ourselves but for life in the human community.     We act on those values in our relationships and as citizens who have an opportunity to make an impact on our corner of the world.   Last night, in our discussion session on the book WISE AGING (by Rabbi Rachel Cowan and Dr. Linda Thal), each participant drew, on a sheet of paper, a depiction of a “river” of his or her life, noting the most important events along the way and identifying people who were present at those moments. Each of those visual life reviews identified what was meaningful and significant throughout the years, both in terms of personal achievement and in work that touched others in a way that left a lasting impact.    Looking at the sweep of a lifespan, even on paper, can invokes a sense of awe, amazement and satisfaction, if we allow ourselves to see what we have done as a complete legacy at any given time.
Twelve Tribe Window
Temple Beth-El
Las Cruces, NM
Twelve Tribe Window
Temple Beth-El
Las Cruces,NM
    In the Torah reading for this week, Jacob, who was nearing death, realized that he needed to leave his children and grandchildren a legacy in the form of a blessing, words that would stay with them and be passed on to future generations.    Jacob had received a spiritual inheritance from his parents and grandparents,  and he wanted to be certain that the next generations understood how important they were as the descendants of Abraham and Sarah and as Jacob’s children and grandchildren.   When Jacob first arrived in Egypt, Pharaoh met him and immediately asked how many years he had lived.  Jacob responded: “The years of my sojourn [on Earth] are one hundred and thirty. Few and hard have been the years of my life, nor do they come up to the life-spans of my fathers during their sojourns.”    After seeing Joseph for the first time in many years, it was clear that Jacob wasn’t quite ready to convey or even feel relief and joy at the reunification of his family.  Eventually, he would find that contentment after living for a time in Egypt.    Jacob would bless his sons with individual characterizations that conveyed their personality, expressions that are portrayed in the stained-glass windows here on the bimah.   My favorite statement from Jacob is his blessing of his grandsons, “May God make you like Ephraim and like Manasseh.”  At that moment, Jacob could have told them all about himself and focused on his own life experiences, recounting his challenges and the travail that he felt when he spoke to Pharaoh.  Instead, he was ready to look towards the future.  When he brought the two boys close to him, he created a memorable encounter that solidified the link between them and their family, all the way back to their great-great grandparents.  In telling them that future generations would offer blessing using THEIR names, Jacob thrust Ephraim and Manasseh into the spotlight, a central position that would require them to visibly preserve the heritage that was being handed down to them.   They would need to discover God as Jacob had at Beth-El.  They would need to wrestle with God or with themselves to reach their highest potential.   They would also, hopefully, retain and nurture the faith that began with Abraham’s realization that the existence of one God could lead them to a vision of one humanity that would, one day, find peace.
    Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. and Jacob in the bible left something significant to their followers and their family that would stay with them for the coming generations.   As we consider our own legacies, who will carry on our mission?  Who will take our achievements and add their own enhancing touch to them in a way that honors us? Who will learn from our wisdom and values?   Who will be inspired by our vision of a promised land to the point of engaging in action that will make real the goals for which we have worked throughout our lives?   There are likely people whom we know or whom we don’t know who share our values, who will apply those principles in a way that will spread kindness, goodness, understanding,  and a richness of spirit that constitutes a promised land that will offer many members of the human family help and hope.  Like Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. and like Jacob,  we will not fear, because all we are and all we do will offer blessing to everyone around us.  May that be the legacy we leave. 

Thursday, January 5, 2017

Our light - column for the Las Cruces Bulletin on January 6, 2017

   It is likely that the symbol that most people would identify with the Jewish community and Judaism from ancient times would be the six-pointed star or hexagram, widely known as the Star of David. 
   Actually, the oldest symbol of Judaism and the Jewish community is the 7-branched candelabra, called in Hebrew menorah.   
    The biblical book of Exodus records the command to fashion a "lampstand of pure gold," with seven branches.   Each branch of the menorah featured on top ornamentation in the shape of almond blossoms.  This was significant because the almond tree blooms early (in January) in the land of Israel, so early that it was viewed as having an eternal quality.  It was a short "leap" to link the almond tree to the Tree of Life (in the story of the Garden of Eden).  
    A symbol bearing light, which can light up the darkness at any time of year, was created in the shape of a tree that represented the endurance of life itself. 
    At this writing, lights are still up around town (and in many, many more places) as the celebration of Christmas continues to its conclusion, following the kindling of lights during Advent leading up to the holiday.  Many find these lights, in whatever form, captivating. 
     The lighting of a new candle on a kinara each night from December 26 to January 1 to observe Kwanzaa highlights values based in African traditions that reflect both particular and universal messages.  The glow of these candles offers inspiration to strengthen personal character and a sense of communal responsibility. 
     When most people hear the word menorah, they think of the candelabra that Jews light on Chanukah, an eight-day holiday that celebrates a victory for religious freedom by Jews of Judea against their Syrian Greek rulers.  Led by Judah Maccabee and his brothers, the Jews reconsecrated and rededicated the Temple in Jerusalem as a place of Jewish worship.  They celebrated their victory for eight days, lighting the Temple menorah which had not been lit for three years.   
     The story of a container of oil being found that was expected to last for one day, but burned for eight days, added a touch of drama and sanctity to the holiday.   In Jewish tradition, Chanukah is not a major holy day, but the light on the 9 branched Chanukah menorah, also known as a Chanukiah, is considered to be holy.  With each additional night, the glow of the candles increases in intensity.   There is beauty, wonder, spirit, history, determination, strength and hope contained in those lights.  
    Perhaps similar values are brought to mind for many people as they behold the lights that are a part of their own traditions and cultures at this and other times of the year. 
   Recently, at Temple Beth-El, we dedicated new front doors which bear a stylized menorah.
    At the recent ceremony to consecrate these new doors, I offered this interpretation:   "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, and hope 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." 
    There is light inside of each of us that we can share.  There is light outside of us that, if we welcome it, can lead us to personal growth and new understanding, and bring us closer to one another.  Our combined light can, if we will it, illumine any darkness we may encounter.