Thursday, June 21, 2018

Guide of the Seeker - A Prayer for kindness and hospitality - Invocation for Temple Beth-El Las Cruces Board meeting on June 21, 2018

Eternal God,

Guide of the seeker, 

Protector of those fleeing the danger in their homes, 

Beacon to wanderers, both parents and children, winding their way to freedom, 

Provider for our needs who works through us to offer hospitality to the destitute, the traveler, the refugee, the lover of liberty looking for security and safety, 

Open our eyes to a world where there is enough kindness to give

To overcome the violence that others perpetrate in places far and near. 

Inspire in us the resolve to view others with compassion rather than suspicion, 

With understanding rather than rejection, 

And with a desire to work together rather than focusing on ways to drive us apart. 

Remind us of those who came before us,

Who prayed to You along their journey

As they faced an uncertain future in a land they were told was golden, 

A nation that likely looked a little like paradise compared to the villages from whence they came. 

Help us to make this country a little more like the paradise our ancestors sought out

Through promoting greater respect, support and openness 

In the place of fomenting fear and hatred towards people whom we really do not yet know. 

Reveal to us the best that is in us so that we will approach our fellow human beings

With trust, with a heartfelt welcome, and with sincere smiles.   

May the borders of our souls be open enough

To enable us to extend a hand

To seekers

To wanderers

To travelers

To the destitute

To the refugee

To the lovers of liberty 

Who believe that love is something we can share 

That will cause the divides between us to disappear

So that we will finally truly reflect the Oneness

Of the One

Who made us to be 



And whole.

Sunday, June 17, 2018

It's the law? When our standards may not be SO absolute.... - another reflection on current approaches to immigration laws

About 35 years ago, I was on a panel at Wright State University in/near Dayton, OH speaking about the religious views on sexuality to a class in religion and culture. I remember that a minister on the panel was trying to illustrate legal and moral absolutes by using the speed limit (then 55 mph nationally) as an example.  
I didn’t point it out to him, but I should have, that 55 is not an absolute. During the years 1973-1987, when oil prices skyrocketed due to the whims of OPEC, the speed limit was 55, but the rule of thumb for drivers, especially on long trips, was that you could drive up to 62 mph and likely not be charged with speeding. 
That changes these days based on local authorities, especially when driving on a 2-lane road that runs through a small town where there is a quick change from 55 mph to, say, 30 mph. If you are traveling at 40 mph after passing the “reduce speed to 30 mph” sign, you are, technically, breaking the law. Otherwise, there may be 5 mph leeway above a set speed limit. 
How many of us drive exactly 55 mph in a 55 mph zone? Or 65? Or 70? 
I am sure that some of the very people talking about the need for “zero tolerance” in regards to immigration do not stick to the EXACT speed limit, and might exceed it accordingly. These may be two different arenas of law, but I don’t see the comparison as invidious at all. It is about consistency, moral and legal.
Consequently, I have little tolerance for zero-tolerance, unless it is zero-tolerance towards hatred and fear driving national policies. Sometimes the rules are their as targets, not as absolutes, to be enforced reasonably.

Echoes of the Past, hope for the future - Thoughts on immigration in 2018

In 1940, the United States Congress passed the Alien Registration Act (also known as the Smith Act).  This image is from my grandmother’s copy of the document.  The rest of the form with her information was filled out, apparently, by my dad (I recognize the handwriting), in preparation for a trip to the post office for an interview.  Anna Wolf Karol had arrived in the United States through Ellis Island in 1904, brought to this country to join relatives already in Kansas City .  Her cousin Freda Itzkowitz (Shalinsky) may have come at the same time, and her mother Lena appears to have come a couple of years later, all likely from Poland.  

  Anna did not become a citizen until 1941.   It is likely that this change in 1940 in American policy, which, if you read the document, changed her status from resident immigrant to potential subversive/pariah, spurred her on to naturalize.  That happened on September 22, 1941.   

    I share this because it shows that an arbitrary policy change can turn someone from being a treasured community member to a near-criminal.  And the fact that Japanese-Americans were likely identified because of this act (and then put in internment camps) is maddening to me. 

    I am grateful that my immigrant grandmother was able to come to this country at a time when there were NO QUOTAS and, by and large, immigrants were WELCOME.    It was her journey that made new generations of Karols possible.   Thanks, Bubby.

Friday, June 15, 2018

Standing for Leadership - Parashat Korach - June 15, 2018

Korach, Dathan and Abiram

They are certainly not remembered for good 

From the perspective of the Torah

Or from the viewpoint of the leader of the Israelites, Moses, 

Or from the standpoint of most commentators. 

Korach was a Levite who was dissatisfied that his family

was not eligible for the inner circle or priesthood. 

Dathan and Abiram objected to Moses’ civil authority, wondering what made him so special to be their leader .

Moses responded to each challenge

With humility, but also with firmness. 

There could only be one set of established priests, 

and those, like Korach, who had supporting roles in the offering up of sacrifices

Were still as holy as they claimed to be. 

The rebels, however, sought to be more than they were, and  their motive seemed to have been to gain prestige and power. 

They likely hoped to gain followers among the restless Israelites, many of whom had not stopped complaining. 

Korach, Dathan and Abiram hoped to take advantage of the mounting disappointment 

that the people had not yet reached their destination under Moses’ guidance. 

What is clear to some of us who read this tale now is that prestige and power may seem glamorous and affirming of one’s ego if a person can win a major position of leadership. 

Leadership, though, carries with it authority AND responsibility. 

It is about making decisions.   It is about caring for the people one leads. 

It is about providing security.   It is about preserving peace. 

It is about committing oneself to truth and honesty

It is about engendering kindness where community members support each other from the depth of their hearts.

It is about establishing justice and fairness through thoughtful decisions of trusted magistrates 

It is about offering sustenance for body, through food and shelter. 

It is about presenting to the people a message of hope, even when immediate obstacles may make success seem out of reach. 

It is about rejecting cruelty, hatred and vindictiveness as a basis for policies towards people of any age. 

It is about seeing strangers and foreigners as allies and friends, when they show respect, seek rapprochement or sincerely ask for assistance

And it is about causing divisions among the people to melt away, allowing a shared sense of purpose and even love to result in an overflow of goodness and unity. 

These are aspects of leadership that Korach, Dathan and Abiram did not take into account because they were thinking only of themselves. 

So as we choose our leaders, and as we evaluate those already in positions of leadership,

May we wisely consider how we can present either support or, when warranted, strong challenges 

That reflect the values that WE believe  should be at the center of our lives 

In our community, our nation, and our world.

Tuesday, June 5, 2018

A Volunteer’s Prayer - June 5, 2018 (revised) - for the Jewish Federation of Greater El Paso Volunteer of the Year Awards

A Volunteer’s Prayer (By Larry Karol - revised on June 5, 2018) 

Eternal One, Creator and Sustainer of all life,

help me to serve

with a sense of selflessness and a generosity of spirit.

Teach me that even the small tasks that I do can be great

and that every time I step forward,

I am seeking to raise myself to a higher place

as I join others in creating and shaping a sacred community.

Help me to see that healing comes

from the patience and forgiveness

that I offer to others and to myself,

and that warmth is generated when I willingly extend an open hand

to a newcomer who seeks a sense of belonging

or to a member who hopes to deepen

his or her commitment to our heritage.

Remind me that, as I serve, I set an example

of what our community can and should be:

a place that reflects the best values of our tradition,

including unity, equality, cooperation, mutual respect,

compassion, and humility.

Enable me to understand that what I do is for Your sake,

that the reward for my volunteerism

is the overwhelming feeling of connection that I derive from giving.

Instill in me a sense of gratitudefor the opportunity to give. 

Imbue in me  a desire to show others how grateful I am

that they, also, have been willing to serve, to give, to help,

and to create lasting partnerships and friendships among members of all ages.

Grant me the wisdom to see 

that I need to be present in many ways for my fellow community members

in times of sorrow, offering support and hope.

Give me the insight to foster a sense of celebration and joy

when we mark life’s milestones

and when our collaboration yields new ideas,

ongoing successes and growth.

May I join with my community to create a culture of honor

which will always highlight how the intangible gifts

that each of us can bring to our community

will make others want to join us along our common journey.

L’chayim – to life – for all of us as we seek the One

who keeps us alive, who sustains us, and who brings us

to each new chance to serve and share.