Thursday, February 16, 2017

Invocation – Board Meeting – February 16, 2017 Temple Beth-El, Las Cruces, NM

Eternal Creator,

God of all nations,

Our Guide and Helper throughout the generations,

Be with us in changing and trying times.

Help us to understand that our place in the world

As a light to the nations

Can direct us, if we so choose, to be exemplars

Of attentiveness to the blessings in life that we enjoy

Of gratitude for the gifts that come our way

Of strength, grace and dignity in the face of challenge.

Of a sense that, when we are placed in positions of authority, our approach can be one of seeing the awesome responsibility placed into our hands and hearts. 

Help us extend our hands to other people who,

Like our ancestors,

Have faced prejudice, uncertainty, hatred, and even violent attacks.

Remind us to stand tall when the accusations of the past

Return to the surface of society right before our eyes

So that we will join with many voices to decry canards that should have been put to rest long ago. 

Open our eyes and ears to those who would approach us with love and care.

Prevent us from ignoring or excusing seeming expressions of support that fall disappointingly short of their mark. 

May we respond with fortitude and with the tone of an educator

When others fail to understand how our past informs out present

So that we can identify the words of condemnation of bigotry we hope to hear from peers and leaders,

Bigotry not just against our community

But leveled at members of any group who, like us,

Seek to live the best of their values and teachings,

Whether they be represented by Ten Commandments,

Or a statement that demands that we treat others as we want to be treated.

Help us build bridges, Eternal God of all peoples, when we know that barriers and walls just won’t do.  

Be our hope; be our source of wisdom; and grant us, always, peace. 

Sunday, February 12, 2017

Welcoming the Stranger - A Faith Statement - Created for a February 3,2017 Press Conference and Interfaith Prayer Service by Pastor JaredCarson (Peace Lutheran Church, Las Cruces, NM), Rabbi Larry Karol(Temple Beth-El, Las Cruces, NM), Bishop Oscar Cantu (Roman CatholicDiocese of Las Cruces, NM), and Radwan Jallad (Islamic Center of LasCruces)

We come from different religious communities, each with a heritage of offering help and support to the stranger and to people in need.   The figure of Abraham/Ibrahim receives accolades in each of our traditions for his unabashed welcome of people who came to the family tent. One explanation surmised that the tent must have been open to all sides so that he could best serve the visitors who came his way. 

Proclamations about welcoming the stranger are expressed 36 times in the Hebrew Bible and constitute central principles in the New Testament and in the Qur'an.   The stranger might have been someone from another town or a person from many hundreds of miles away in a different country. In either case, hospitality was a sign of faithfulness to God and service to our fellow human beings.

Many of us have an immigration story that explains how we came to live in the United States.   The motivations then, were no different than those who are seeking to live here now: a hope for a better life, a desire to improve their family's lot, and a sense that our nation offers a pathway to a life of security and peace.   

Based on religious teachings and personal and family history, each of our faith communities has created programs to assist refugees from war-torn countries to provide them with safe harbor and a new life in countries and communities where their dreams can find fulfillment.   Organizations are working hand-in-hand with governments to assure that refugees are treated with respect and dignity throughout a tightly-monitored process before moving on to the nation in which they hope to live.  

We agree with the importance of keeping our country secure, as the administration stated in its executive order last Friday, but we are convinced that temporarily banning vulnerable refugees will not enhance our safety nor does it reflect the values we share. Instead, it has caused immediate chaos, separating families, disrupting lives, and denying safety and hope to those who have already suffered.   The promise that members of a certain religious group from regions of conflict will be given priority denies the humanity that they all share.   

We urge the current administration to allow these refugee programs to continue their work with citizens from nations that have been temporarily banned.   We also urge all people to exercise their conscience in contacting those in our nation's leadership to express the convictions of our faith traditions, whatever they may be, and to keep in mind humanitarian concerns as we consider the fate of those created in the divine image.   

Friday, February 10, 2017

Walking with Courage - D'var Torah - Parashat B'shalach - February 10,2017

   I am currently participating in a weekly book discussion group sponsored by Peace Lutheran Church that is focusing on Dr. Jonathan Sarna's watershed work, AMERICAN JUDAISM.   Dr. Sarna, who was one of my professors in rabbinic school in classes on Jews in America,  did not simply chronicle the stories of Jews living in our country in his book.  He explored the development of Judaism in the context of American Jewish communities.   Beginning with the first settlements on the east coast prior to the Revolutionary War, he outlined the processes by which Jews banded together in congregations.   Jewish life began in American cities with one synagogue as the gathering place for meeting and worship.  Eventually, due to differences in worship preferences and countries of origin, new congregations formed.   The original model of a one-synagogue community turned into each city's Jews being organized into a community of synagogues.   That is not to mention the secular organizations, like B'nai B'rith, that were founded as well to add a new dimension to Jewish society.  And there were many Jews who lived far from those larger centers of Jewish life, seeking to preserve their faith and tradition against all odds in isolated towns and rural areas. 
      What impresses me about the first two hundred years of open Jewish settlement in North America, going through the time of the Civil War, is that it happened at all.   The Jews who left Brazil to flee the inquisition in 1654 and arrived in September of that year in New Amsterdam did so at great risk and were almost expelled as soon as they came.  With the support and insistence of Jews in Amsterdam who were prominent investors in the Dutch West India Company, those 23 Jews were allowed to remain.  
      And many more came.  It may not seem like the 200,000 Jews who lived in the United States in 1865 represented such a significant sub-community of the United States.  Through their occupations, their leadership in local communities, and by raising their voices on their own behalf and on national issues of the day, they made their presence known.   There were disagreements in the Jewish community going back to whether or not to support the revolution and on attitudes towards slavery.   In the Civil War, there were members of the same extended family who fought on opposing sides of that conflict.   
    What held them together?  Likely, it was their sense of being different and their desire to preserve something of their heritage, even if they did not consider themselves religious.  It was their thirst for freedom, knowing that, in the United States, they could practice Judaism as much or as little as they wanted while still identifying as Jews.  More importantly, though, freedom meant that they could be considered full citizens.   The prejudice they faced in this country, such as laws that did not allow them to serve in public office for a time in some states, did not stop them from taking  courageous stands to insist on equal rights to which they were entitled in this land of liberty.  
    As we read about the Israelites crossing the Sea of Reeds in this week's Torah portion, I think about the long history of Jews taking uncertain steps towards freedom from oppression.    We hear the voices of the Israelites doubting the miracle that was about to happen to them, but they moved forward, knowing that walking with purpose on the dry ground between the waters would be better than allowing themselves to be captured by the approaching Egyptian army.   
    The midrash about Nachshon Ben Aminadav and the parting of the sea offers a metaphor for Jewish life throughout the centuries.  The rabbis said that the waters would not have parted until someone from among the Israelite people was willing to take first steps into the water.   Nachshon did just that.   In another interpretation, the rabbis imagined the people walking in the water until it reached their necks.  At that point, they had shown themselves to be brave enough to risk their own lives for the cause of their own freedom.  God saw that they were ready for a miracle.  The waters parted, they walked across, and they experienced their first taste of liberty as individuals and as a people. 
    In the coming weeks, the book discussion group on American Judaism will move into conversations on the chapters that outline the hundreds of thousands of Jewish immigrants from Eastern Europe and Russia who arrived here between 1881 and 1921.  Some of us can trace our family history to that wave of movement.  They came for new opportunities in this Golden Land, but they also came to escape the hatred and prejudice back home that might have otherwise cost them their lives.   It was not easy for them to move, for sure, but they did.    They believed that life in America would offer them something better, not only for them, but for future generations. 
    And so, as for me, I thank Wolf and Pearl Glazer, who arrived in the United States in 1892, and Mendel and Anna Karol, who came by 1905, for being like the Israelites crossing the sea.   I can't imagine what it was like to create a new life in a strange place, but I know that they had the courage to do it.  
     And now, I, as their grandchild, and all of us, as part of the community they helped to build and sustain, continue to attempt to walk, in some way, in their shoes, to preserve the freedom that they craved, to uphold the values of the Judaism and Jewish culture that they and their ancestors had carried with them for centuries.  
    Like the Israelites, and like their descendants, the Jews who bravely came to this country for a better life, may we continue to live the values articulated by the prophet Micah and often quoted by the members of the founding generation of our country: that we will do justly, that we will love performing acts of kindness and mercy, and that we will walk humbly and courageously with God.  
    So may we do, always.

In the photo: Joseph and Ruth Karol, standing on their
wedding day, August 31, 1941.
Seated: Anna and Mendel Karol and Pearl Glazer.

Saturday, February 4, 2017

Leadership, Humility, Holiness - Article for Temple Beth-El Las Cruces Adelante Newsletter February 2017

   I have been thinking a lot lately about leadership, and about humility.  That usually happens when new national leaders take the helm and  a pattern emerges of how statements are issued and policies are created.        
     I have also been thinking about leadership as a member of Temple’s Leadership Development Committee.  Temple president Ellen Torres has been reporting in her articles on this group.   To stimulate thought and discussion on this topic of leadership, we all read materials from the Union for Reform Judaism and responded to particular ideas that were presented, creating our own individual reflections on what it means to be a leader in a congregation.   
    Each of the statements had something different to add to our “leadership landscape.” I want to share with you my piece on leadership and add some comments as well.   

"Being a leader and a role model"  
  I believe in a collaborative leadership approach that places leaders in a position to guide, to suggest, to develop ideas without judgment, to listen to new perspectives, to engender partnerships with other leaders and, in a congregation, with the rabbi.   Sharing a vision that will enable the rabbi and Temple leaders to grow together would be the goal, with congregants offering a foundation through their participation.   Being a role model in a congregational context, for me, comes from how I experienced my parents' leadership in their many years of service in Temple life, as well as other individuals I have known who have served congregations with distinction.  
My role model criteria list, in the ideal, would be:
*Commitment to the congregation's goals/vision  
*Persistence in making Judaism come alive in the com-munity 
*Trying to engender a feeling of spiritual uplift for all who enter, including for oneself *Integrity 
*A sense of the holy, whether within the tasks them-selves performed as a leader, or in applying to volunteer service an understanding of Jewish teachings that grow out of the holidays (rest from “doing the business of congregational life" for Shabbat, freedom for Passover, dedication for Chanukah, restoring relationships to equilibrium for the High Holy Days).  
*Being welcoming to every soul who walks into the building or attends community events so that others will do the same.     

     Humility is an integral part of leadership.  At the Temple Beth-El Wednesday breakfast on January 26, I presented Jewish views on “Humility,” a topic that was discussed at our annual Interfaith conversation sponsored by the Adult Education Committee in November.  As I prepared for the Wednesday breakfast talk, I was reminded of the great value of the Musar Movement in Judaism of the 19th Century (and earlier), which developed the concept of “measures” (Middot) of character that people could study in order to develop and strengthen their own integrity.   In his book Everyday Holiness, Alan Morinis, a contemporary advocate of exploring the principles of the Musar movement, placed humility at the foundation of personal character development.   Some of the practices based in humility that are cited in Musar literature are:  deference, forbearance (being slow to anger and refrain-ing from responding to a slight directed at us), appreciation of the time we have on earth, habitually honoring others, attention to the blessings that have come our way, and honoring the One who provides us with those blessings.         
     When I asked those who were present at the break-fast about the traits of people whom they consider humble, they produced the following list, which includes traits and approaches that any leader should consider in his/her practice: thinking of “we” instead of “I”; putting the needs of others first; making others feel valued and appreciated; using discretion; being a good listener; being a facilitator/negotiator who sees his/her partners as full equals; being able to laugh at oneself; being open-minded; showing respect to everyone; seeing something superior to you in every person; doing/giving for the love of doing/giving; recognizing one’s limitations; exhibiting modesty (including about one’s accomplish-ments); and acknowledging God as the source of everything and as a reason for our humility.     
   We often speak of the word “spirituality” in our conversations about religion and faith.   I believe that it is a sense of the holy, of living in our own time or in our own Jewish perspectives, as well as an approach to life that identifies a divine presence as a constant companion, that is the beginning of a spiritual life.   Whether one is a leader or a member at this particular moment, all of us have the potential to lead, teach, listen, learn and seek to better ourselves as a part of a caring community.  That is the task that we can humbly take on with a sacred sense of responsibility for the present and the future.  

Discussion of values is key in finding common ground - Las Cruces Bulletin Monthly Column for February 3, 2017

As a citizen and clergy person, I always try to find common ground with a wide range of community members through discussion of values that we live by. Some principles do cause division, while others have the potential, and even power, to bring people together in ways they may not have expected.      
     Now, as much as any other time, a discussion of values in America can take us to a place where we can determine what we can do together. Such conversations remind us to listen to one another, further defining what we can do for the betterment of our community and our nation as a whole. 
     Surveys from the last several years attempted to identify values that most Americans still prize. In 2013, Andrew Kohut and Michael Dimock, in a report on resilient American values for the Council on Foreign Relations, found that more than 50 percent of Americans endorsed involvement in community activities to address local issues, volunteer work for charitable causes and personal expression through prayer and some connection with God (with half of Americans doing so through a religious community). 
     From America’s beginnings, faith communities have infused values into our national culture. Sacred texts have the potential to lead us to consider what it means to be honest, hard-working, caring, generous, welcoming, considerate, decent, supportive, respectful and peaceful. Following the 2016 election, Andrea Weiss, associate professor of Bible at Hebrew Union College-Jewish Institute of Religion (HUC-JIR) in New York City, believed that this moment in our nation’s history called for "guidance, inspiration, and a reaffirmation of what it means to be an American." 
     Weiss envisioned a diverse group of religious scholars sending a letter a day to the newly elected officials for the first 100 days of the new presidential term. Through her own teaching of ancient biblical texts, Weiss realized they could be a source of both comfort and wisdom for the here and now.    
      Working with an advisory committee, rabbinic interns from HUC-JIR and project designers, the "American Values/Religious Voices" ( Campaign was created, developed and brought to fruition. Since the first day of the new administration, a new letter has been added each day to the website, which offers readers the opportunity to receive each letter as an email. 
     I spoke on the phone with Weiss last week to find out more about this campaign. She said part of this effort was about learning from other people. America has been a place where people learn from and listen to each other, and she hoped people would learn and listen through reading and reflecting on the letters. She was proud of the page on the website that shows the faces of the 100 scholars, illustrating the diversity of our citizens. Through their letters, these teachers of religion are linking the principles they discuss in their classes with what it means to be an American. 
    The Values and Voices Advisory Committee’s "Letter 0" on the website noted that the letters intend to "contribute constructively to our national discourse, reaffirming who we are as Americans and modeling how we can learn from one another and work together for the common good." 
     I read these letters every day and consider the values on which they focus and how they can become a greater part of American life. I hope you will do the same, both on your own and at a local discussion series that will begin soon. I believe that local conversations on these letters could lead us to renewed and much-needed common ground.

Friday, February 3, 2017

"Welcoming the Stranger" - Message at a Las Cruces Interfaith Prayer Service - February 3, 2017

      This week, a reporter was interviewing people in lower Manhattan who were about to board a boat to visit the Statue of Liberty. 
      She asked the passengers on the boat, "Who was Emma Lazarus?"  
        Some had heard her name, some hadn't. 
       When the reporter said, "Give me your tired, your poor," she added, "Emma Lazarus wrote that."  
     Then they realized that they knew at least one thing about this woman who wrote a timeless poem. 
      Emma Lazarus was born in 1849 and grew up near New York City's Union Square in downtown Manhattan.   She was from a Sephardic Jewish family.  Her ancestors originally came from the area of Spain and Portugal. They had lived in America for some time. 
     While her family sought to become part of the mainstream of society, people often called her "Jewess," reminding her that she was different and in the minority. 
     Still, Emma Lazarus made a name for herself. She was an accomplished poet from her teenaged years.   
Her writing often focused on the plight of her people around the world and in the United States. 
     She was horrified when Joseph Seligman, a prominent member of the New York Jewish community who had emigrated from Germany, was refused entry to the Grand Union Hotel in Saratoga, NY in 1877.   
    The owner of the hotel explained that Jews of Sephardic origin, like Emma, were welcome, but not those "German Jews."  
     Emma Lazarus knew that, at that time, there were many Jews coming from Russia and Eastern Europe, both to escape anti-Semitic attacks to which they were subjected and to find a better life here. 
    She became a passionate advocate of Jewish refugees from Eastern Europe.   And she could see people from many backgrounds seeking a place of safety and opportunity in the United States, and she thought it was important to welcome them, too.  
     So she wrote her poem THE NEW COLOSSUS for a fundraiser for Lady Liberty in 1883.   Emma Lazarus died in 1887.  It wasn't until her poem was rediscovered in 1901 by a friend that her poignant words were thought of again.  Her poem was inscribed onto a plaque and placed on the premises of the Statue of Liberty in 1903.  
    Here we are, 114 years later, still looking to the words of Emma Lazarus for inspiration and guidance.  
     To Muslims, Christians, Jews, Baha'is, Buddhists, Sikhs, and people of other faiths and beliefs, our country has offered a welcome - and a process by which immigrants could ultimately become citizens.     
     We need a system that works, a path that recognizes our role in helping refugees find a new place to live, using the same system of extensive vetting that has already been employed in recent years. 
    We need to open our minds and hearts to the stories of everyone around us, from Native Americans who have a long heritage on this land, to those who journeyed to America from other countries.  
    We are mindful that people all over this nation - in the heartland as well as on the coasts, have immigration stories that they could share, tales that could instantly create common ground.
     And we need to listen to the stories of those who want to stay here but who have no opportunity due to legislative inaction. 
    I hope and pray that the words of Emma Lazarus can direct us to maintaining  policies that demonstrate wisdom and compassion.  
    It was that type of welcome to immigrants that allowed my grandparents, Wolf and Pearl Glazer, and Mendel and Anna Karol, to come to this country from Eastern Europe, making it possible for me to stand here today.  
    It is that approach that can generate good will to people who would face danger if they went home.  
    It is that perspective through which our country can affirm the great strength that so many people from so many places have provided to our nation.  
    May we look into each other's eyes and see a vision of goodness and Oneness, realizing that an Eternal Presence will preserve our fellowship and faith if we continue to stand together.