Saturday, December 23, 2017

One-word reflections from the Temple Beth-El Las Cruces community on Chanukah 5778 - 12/15/2017

One-word reflections from the Temple Beth-El Las Cruces community on Chanukah 5778 - 12/15/2017


Friday, December 22, 2017

Bring us together - A Prayer Based on Parashat Vayigash - December 22, 2017

Eternal One,
Source of wisdom for those who learn and teach,
Wellspring of hope for those who seek help,
Soul of the Universe who envelops all creation,
Bring us together.
As Joseph found his brothers again,
And as they learned to dwell close to each other,
To accept one another,
To trust that they would treat each other with respect,
Lead us to find each other.
When we have different views, open our eyes and ears to honestly speak about our perspectives.
When we come from different backgrounds, enable us to truly listen to each other’s stories to broaden our horizons.
When we see people putting up walls between each other, open our minds and hearts to realize that we cannot come together unless those walls are never created in the first place.
When we sense that that too many people are being written out of the human family, heighten our senses and our sensitivity to discover the divine spark in everyone. 
When we feel ourselves welling up with anger at the wrongs we witness around us, turn our rage into resolve to change the world for the better and to lead people towards one another in a spirit of understanding where disagreeing agreeably can move towards solutions not yet imaginable.
May You, Creator and Sustainer of us all, heal our divisions, dispel our doubts,
And bless us with faith in ourselves and in each other,
So that we can live and thrive in this world where we are neighbors
Fashioned in your holy image.  


Friday, December 1, 2017

What we learn, what we see...on Chanukah - Column for Temple Beth-El Las Cruces Adelante Newsletter - December 2017

What do we learn from the freedom that the Maccabees won in their time? 
• They resisted the tyranny of a ruler and regime that sought to impose one culture, one belief, and one approach to life on everyone. 
• They demonstrated that power that lacks inspiration and purpose, but only seeks control, will not last.
 • They turned the perceived need among some of their fellow Jews to acquiesce to cultural pressures around them into an affirmation that it’s all right to be different. 
• They acted with courage in the face of great odds and what might have been certain defeat. 
• They kept their vision focused on what was holy to them: their values, their tradition, their rituals, their community, and their God. 
• They persisted in engendering hope at a hopeless time. 

What do we see in the lights we light on the Chanukiah? 
• We first see the history of each chanukiah we light: when it came into our home, who lit the candles on it over the years, why that particular chanukiah design bore significance for the family, and, perhaps, photographs of lighting the candles from year to year, and how Chanukah itself marks the passing of our heritage from one generation to the next. 
• We see the joy that we know in our own lives that comes from warming relationships with family and friends. 
• We see connections between us and the Jews around the world who are also lighting their Chanukiot. 
• We acknowledge that our celebration is one of many in December, which provides us with an opportunity to build bridges of understanding. 
• We look into the lights on the Chanukiah and see the guidance and wisdom of Judaism that has sustained us until now and can still nourish us with its teachings about compassion, commitment, justice, hope and peace. 
• We learn from using the Shamash to light the other candles that service is crucial to assuring that the lights of any society or nation, in the form of well-being for all people, will burn brightly. 
• We see the various colors of the flames, reminding us of the diversity of humankind that has a way of moving people towards coexistence out of necessity and, ultimately, out of love. 
• We watch the candles burn and feel their warmth, knowing that we can exude that same warmth through hospitality and generosity of spirit. 
May our celebration of Chanukah in 5778 lead us to a special place in ourselves and with each other. As the lights of Chanukah are holy, may we reflect that holiness in our lives through all we do. Happy Chanukah! 

To be remembered as one of the good guys - Column for Las Cruces Bulletin - December 1, 2017

At a recent memorial service for a congregant, the program prepared by the family highlighted values that were central to the life and character of their loved one: kindness, patience, wisdom, optimism, and fairness. In their brief eulogies, members of the family explained how he had demonstrated these traits in a consistent way throughout his life. When the sharing of recollections was opened up to everyone present, one community member offered his comments in the form of a conversation with the man who died, telling him that he was “one of the good guys.” That is what made him so special.
We need people of good character to assure that our society, our nation, and our world will move forward in a positive direction.
The memorial service was held several hours after Temple Beth-El had hosted its annual pre-thanksgiving Interfaith conversation on the afternoon of November 19, 2017. This year, the theme was “People of Character: What Does It take to be a mensch (a decent human being)?” At the program, I shared the “Periodic Table of Character Strengths” prepared for Global Character Day, marked this year on September 13 and founded by film-maker and innovator Tiffany Schlain (featured in my September column).
What was most important about the November 19 program was that we had representatives of several faith groups speak on values which, we believe, are central to good character.
Pastor Jared Carson of Peace Lutheran Church presented his views on persistence. He used biblical examples (Jacob of the Hebrew Bible and Joseph of the New Testament) and shared a poignant personal story that reflected this value.
Deb Rodgers of the Baha’is of Las Cruces shared a personal experience that recounted kindness shown to someone in a communal setting who needed encouragement.
The Rev. Carol Tuck spoke about truth and its varying permutations in our society, seeking to uphold a reverence for honesty and forthright presentation of current events so that we can find a way to live with each other in a spirit of integrity.
Kelley Williams of the Islamic Center of Las Cruces spoke about law, justice, and mercy, noting how religion seeks to strike a balance between all three.
Sonoma Springs Covenant Church pastor Rob Reed spoke on perspective, using the New Testament image from Hebrews of life as a marathon race to be run, with eyes fixed on God and a pace that is holy, honest, humble and healing.
I spoke about compassion/mercy, beginning with the suggestion of the book of Exodus to adopt a positive approach towards the stranger and even to one’s enemy, and also addressing how Judaism seeks to give mercy an edge over an approach of strict justice.
When we broke into small groups for further discussion, attendees shared their impressions of the presentations and built on what they heard to engage in new conversations about how we can work together to encourage everyone to explore how to cultivate character strengths in themselves.
What most impressed us was that, amid the diversity of the teachings of the faiths represented, there was a definite resonance about what builds good character, about what it takes to be a “mensch.”
As we enter a month with important annual holiday celebrations, may our gatherings lead us to consider how our rituals and customs can teach us how to continue to be people of character who value kindness and goodness in a world that needs the best that we have to give.