Tuesday, July 31, 2018

Rice, Gum and Toothpaste - Column for Temple Beth-El Las Cruces August 2018 Newsletter

Rice. Gum. Toothpaste. 
That is what I bought at the store one day last week. 
I did not buy those items as groceries for home. They were for someone else. More correctly, they were for a number of “someones” who needed them. 
   We are hearing many reports about refugees entering the United States either at a point of entry or somewhere else. In a number of cases, they are leaving countries where there is rampant violence which, they fear, will specifically target them. 
    There are, in fact, some adults and children who have been processed by United States Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) and have been released to join relatives in other parts of our country. Two Las Cruces congregations have established formal ties with ICE to receive these individuals (and families) every couple of weeks. After a brief stop in Las Cruces, they continue on their journey. Each of these congregations collects supplies for their temporary guests. By the way, the gum is provided in case their trip includes airline travel to their next destination. I also took with me children’s books in Spanish (and bilingual books), provided by the Children’s Reading Alliance (arranged by Rhonda Karol). 
    Project Oak Tree is a similar program, managed by the Roman Catholic Diocese of Las Cruces, which collects supplies to support asylum seekers who await further proceedings related to their particular situations. I recently met with Bishop Oscar Cantu to speak with him before he moves to his new community of San Jose, California. He let me know that Project Oak Tree is active. 
    And so, for the aforementioned programs, I have donated on my own, from my own funds, rice, gum and toothpaste. 
    What I have discovered in my own study of American history is that newcomers to the United States were often seen by some previous arrivals as undesirable, unassimilable, and as people who would take jobs away from those who came before. That represented only one approach to those who were seeking freedom and a better life in our country. People have held many positions on this issue across a wide spectrum. That included the perspective expressed by Emma Lazarus in her poem, “The New Colossus.” Jewish immigrants who arrived from 1881 to 1921 quickly discovered that the “Goldene Medina” wasn’t as golden as they thought, but they worked hard, like those who preceded and followed them, to create for themselves a good life in America. 
I have written in the Adelante in past years about my paternal grandmother, Anna Karol, being required to report for an interview at a local post office in Kansas City to fulfill the rules set by the Alien Registration Act of 1940. She naturalized in 1941 (this was the basis of my July 6, 2018 Las Cruces Bulletin column). Recently, one of my younger relatives (her grandfather was my first cousin, and her great-grandfather, my uncle, was a member of the National Press Club in Washington, D.C. for 70 years) posed several questions to me in our correspondence on www.23andme.com: Where were my mom’s parents married? When did they come to the United States? And I would add: WHY did they come to the United States? WHERE did they meet? Did they have relatives here already? I am now engaged in a search to find some answers. 

    Since my maternal grandparents left Lithuania and/or Poland in the late 1880s, I imagine that the increase in attacks on Jews under Czarist rule was, very possibly, one of the reasons they came to America. Fear of being a target of such violence had to be, at least, in the back of the minds of many of our recent ancestors who made their way to these shores. 
   Once the restrictions on Eastern European immigration tightened in 1921, and again in 1924, Jewish arrivals were limited to a trickle as compared to the previous 40 years. There was strict adherence to the quotas set for the countries with the largest numbers of Jewish immigrants in the past. At times, there were many more spaces available within the quota parameters which American officials did not permit to be filled. 
    There are always issues of security and safety that are related to entry into a country and to border protection. Even at Ellis Island, not everyone was allowed to stay. No matter what the attitudes of American citizens and residents, it seems that people facing oppression or violence at home still look to the United States as a nation that offers greater safety, security and opportunity than did the countries where they have lived all their lives. 
    I am certain that Jewish immigrants —and those from other ethnic groups—did not have it easy when they first settled in their communities. If there was already prejudice against them here before they came, I can only imagine how difficult it must have been once they began living and working in American cities and towns that begrudged their presence. 
   Still, in the United States, newly–arrived Jews were free from state-sponsored anti-Semitism. They could speak Yiddish and/or English in their homes. They could work. They could raise their children as Americans who valued the Jewish heritage that had accompanied them here. 
    I find echoes of the desires and the journeys of my own family forbears in the new arrivals of today. 
    I am guided by Jewish teachings about hospitality, com-passion and welcoming. I will continue to provide rice...gum…toothpaste...and prayers for the well-being of American cities and towns as places that will continue to exude warmth, love and hope. 

Friday, July 27, 2018

Prayer for Va-etchanan - How do we love You? July 27, 2018

Eternal God, 

How do we love You

With all of our heart and mind...

With all of our soul and with our very life

And with all of our might and from the depths of our being? 

The commandments that shape our commitment to You

Direct us to keep Your teachings close to us 

To pass them on to a new generation

To act upon them throughout each day.  

Which of your instructions do we follow? 

What do we impress upon our hearts?

How do we serve as Your eyes as we look at the world?

How do our hands become Your hands in our service to our communities? 

When we pray for peace every morning, 

We ask You to grant us 

Completeness and well-being, 




Kindness based in love,

and compassion.   

So may we show that we love You

Through opening our hearts to all humanity

Through seeing creation as a blessing to preserve and nurture

Through scaling the walls that separate us to do even one act of kindness. 

Through forgiveness that can keep us together 

Rather than driving us apart. 

May these be the values that we inscribe on our doorposts 

 And that we see before our eyes

May these be the principles that will wittingly or unwittingly

Move us to act in a way that brings to this world

Your love, Your Spirit, and Your hope

When we sit at home, when we are out in the community,

When we lie down, and when we rise up. 

Gift us with Your light, Your insight and Your truth 

As we continue to move along our life’s journey.  

Tuesday, July 24, 2018

I am a stone that fell - July 24, 2018

I fell.
I didn’t realize it at first.
I had been in that cozy spot on the wall for two millenia.
Then, I realized, below me, was a structure that was not stone.
Then I remembered a short flight through the air
And that took me back
To my beginnings.
I was hewn from rock outside a shining, beautiful city, and transported slowly to my destination.
I could sense thousands of stones around me
Ready to be added to the next row
As the structure ascended to the top. 
I was put in my spot, affixed with other stones above, beside and below me.
There was a time that I could hear the horns sounding
And I could feel the vibrations of footsteps
Ascending the nearby stairway to a place above me.
There was singing, rejoicing, not just during a few times
When many people gathered there
But a small steady flow, every single day.
Then there was a sudden upheaval.  
Stones above me fell.
Some remained below me ever since their displacement.
New ones were added above me.
There were new and different sounds. 
Different languages.  
New names for the recipient of the prayers that were offered.  
There was majesty, and conflict, and majesty again
In this city that was a flashpoint among the people
Who sought to lay claim to it.
I knew that my builders were long gone,
But came to hear a cacophony of pronouncements
That, to me, sounded like a symphony.
You see, I couldn’t take sides
In the battles that raged around me
I could only do my best to maintain my place
In this wall that had lasted so long.
I understand that people wonder if walls have ears.
For that, I have no answer.
I only know that I, myself, have always heard
The prayers
The debates
The declarations
The edicts
The protests
The misunderstandings
And the attempts to bring
As part of a wall
And a community of stones
That had stood for so long
I was always pulling for the latter – cooperation, harmony, and peace.
Only lately, I realized how tired I had become to hold up this wall
Which became difficult
Without the full support of those walking above, below, and near me
Who mostly approached me with parallel appreciation of my presence
Rather than in a shared wonder at how long I and my comrades had endured. 
It was enough for me to have lasted this long.
So I fell.
I leave it now to others to finish the work
Of binding the people together, somehow, some way
So that they will join in repairing this wall
Without accusation,
With coordinated action.
With love.
And with hope
For the millenia to come.

Friday, July 20, 2018

"Because it is hard" - D'var Torah - Parashat Devarim (Deuteronomy 1:11-18) - July 20, 2018

    I remember it well.  I am sure that some of you do, too.
On July 20, 1969, late in the evening, there was nowhere else to be but in front of a television screen, watching Neil Armstrong and Buzz Aldrin take humanity’s first steps on the moon.
    Somewhere in the Karol family photographic archive are slides which my Dad took of our television that night of the images that we were viewing with a sense of amazement, wonder, and pride.
    Our nation – and humankind – had met the challenges made by President John F. Kennedy in a speech on September 12, 1962 at Rice University: “We choose to go to the moon. We choose to go to the moon in this decade and do the other things, not because they are easy, but because they are hard, because that goal will serve to organize and measure the best of our energies and skills, because that challenge is one that we are willing to accept, one we are unwilling to postpone, and one which we intend to win….”
Perhaps it was somewhat ironic that the President of the United States who made the call to the Apollo astronauts at Tranquility Base was President Kennedy’s opponent in the 1960 election, Richard Nixon. 
    For those of us who, maybe, didn’t like President Nixon all that much, we knew that it was right and appropriate that he make that longest long-distance call ever made between members of the human family.   I believe that record still stands.   
     President Kennedy was right.  The Gemini and Apollo programs did organize and measure the best of our energies and skills.   And, not only that, the world was united, ever so briefly, in that time of Apollo 11’s triumph and, less than a year later, in the trying moments when the world prayed that the expertise of engineers and scientists would find a way to bring Apollo 13 crew members Jim Lovell, Jack Swigert and Fred Haise safely home.
We still relish those moments of unity when we encounter them.  
   The Torah portion this week portrays a moment of unity among the Israelites, as they listened to Moses begin to deliver his farewell speech, recounting all of their experiences over the course of 40 years since their liberation from Egypt. 
   And I believe it is significant that within the first 20 verses of his oratory, Moses explained the beginnings of the system of justice created within the Israelite community.    He told the people that, soon after they left Egypt, he had said: “How can I bear unaided the trouble of you, and the burden, and the bickering! Pick from each of your tribes representatives who are wise, discerning, and experienced, and I will appoint them as your heads.’ You answered me and said, ‘What you propose to do is good.’ So I took your tribal leaders, wise and experienced representatives, and appointed them heads over you: chiefs of thousands, chiefs of hundreds, chiefs of fifties, and chiefs of tens, and officials for your tribes. I charged your magistrates at that time as follows, ‘Hear out your fellow Israelites, and decide justly between anyone and a fellow Israelite or a stranger. You shall not be partial in judgment: hear out low and high alike. Fear no one, for judgment is God's. And any matter that is too difficult for you, you shall bring to me and I will hear it.’”
   Deciding justly meant showing impartiality and fairness, and accepting the basic equality of all people, not just the Israelites, but also the GER, the stranger who was living among them.
   Deciding justly meant that, because judgment came from God, no undue pressure from any person to influence decisions one way or another would ever succeed.           
   Deciding justly meant being humble enough to admit when a higher authority needed to be consulted. 
    This high standard for justice remains with us today as an inspiration to seek that level of fairness among people in nations and across borders, where there is, hopefully,  mutual respect and acceptance of one another’s humanity.   
   Mentioning President Nixon’s call to the astronauts on the moon 49 years ago today as we read this portion from the Torah raises yet another irony.   The misjudgments, mistakes and cover-up now known to us all as Watergate demonstrated how our system of government could bring to justice individuals, even leaders, who violated the law and the trust of the people.  President Nixon resigned and was pardoned by President Gerald Ford, which gave some measure of closure, but some people felt it wasn’t enough.   The David Frost/Richard Nixon interviews several years later, in their own way, created a context in which a semblance of an apology during those programs further concluded that difficult time in our nation’s history.
   We still do long to see shining examples of fairness and justice today.   Unfortunately, instances illustrating an apparent lack of justice surface all too often.
   Early this week, a Conservative rabbi living in Israel, Dov Haiyun, received a summons from an Ultra-Orthodox rabbinical court in Haifa demanding that he explain his officiation at weddings in Israel not approved by the rabbinate.    Haiyun was planning to participate in an event yesterday at the home of Israel’s president, Reuven Rivlin.    Yesterday, local police came to Haiyun’s home, arrested him, and detained him for several hours over his apparent “rogue” officiation at weddings in violation of a statute passed in 2013 that outlawed such ceremonies. 
  For many years, non-Orthodox rabbis in Israel have stood under the canopy with wedding couples who had been married in another country beforehand, thus bearing legal proof of their union that did suffice for the State of Israel’s civil standards for marriage.   I know this first-hand.   I performed such a ceremony south of Tel Aviv ten years ago.  It was an honor to do so.   Now, what I did that day would be punishable with a sentence of up to 2 years in prison. 
   Rabbi Haiyun was detained for a good part of the day yesterday until Israel’s attorney general, Avichai Mandelblit, declared that Haiyun be released.    The rabbi did make it to President Rivlin’s residence to teach as he had planned. 
   This was the first time that police had enforced the law and arrested a rabbi who had performed so-called “unacceptable wedding ceremonies.”   The law itself constituted a power-play by a sector of Israeli society that would like to see non-Orthodox Judaism fail or disappear.
   In this case, and in our own country, we are seeing laws of all types that are being enforced – or not enforced – based on the particulars of a situation.  There are people who are, in the words of Torah, on the “low” end of societal privilege who are being arrested and detained.  In other cases, there are leaders on the “high” end of a  communal and national hierarchy who are not being held accountable for their actions. 
  You can come up with your own examples of who does or does not benefit from selective enforcement.  
   The Torah still demands that we be fair to citizens and strangers alike, and that we do what we can to resolve conflicts in order to create a feeling of unity that can only serve to draw us together.
    In his book, THE SOUL OF AMERICA, author and historian Jon Meacham took a look back on our nation’s history to describe how American citizens and leaders were able to act with integrity and generosity even in the face of division and bigotry.   Meacham quoted a speech given on Lincoln’s birthday in 1905 by President Theodore Roosevelt, words that can still speak to us today:   “Our effort should be to secure to each man [or woman], whatever his [or her] color, equality of opportunity, equality of treatment before the law….Every generous impulse in us revolts at the thought of thrusting down instead of helping up such a person. To deny anyone the fair treatment granted to others no better than he/she is to commit a wrong upon him—a wrong sure to react in the long run upon those guilty of such denial. The only safe principle upon which Americans can act is that of “all people up,” not that of “some people down.”
    We can, as human beings, do great things when we overcome our differences and find what can lead us forward together.   May that vision be a beacon for us, and may we reach that goal, not because it is easy, but because it is hard – but still very much within our grasp, with God’s help.

Thursday, July 19, 2018

Invocation - Temple Beth-El Las Cruces Board Meeting - July 19, 2018

Eternal God, 

We remember. 

We recall when our ancestors made pilgrimage to a beautiful Temple to worship You together

While knowing also that they could sense Your presence accompanying them along every step of their journey.  

We have learned that the Temple was destroyed not only because of the totalitarian dominion of Rome, but because of the baseless hatred that divided the Jewish community two millennia ago, when mutual acceptance and respect was overtaken by fear and arrogance, leading to a loss of harmony and trust. 

We know that You are with us in every generation as we attempt to successfully undertake a spiritual and moral trek back to Your vision for human community. 

We read in the Torah portion for this Shabbat of the guidance that Moses communicated to the people: 

“I charged your magistrates at that time as follows, "Hear out your fellow Israelites, and decide justly between anyone and a fellow Israelite or a stranger. You shall not be partial in judgment: hear out low and high alike. Fear no one, for judgment is God's. And any matter that is too difficult for you, you shall bring to me and I will hear it."

Eternal God, in challenging times, we bring matters to You through prayer and through studying Torah to gain insight and wisdom.   

We seek Your help now

To respect and listen to our fellow human beings

To decide between them without partiality 

To approach people based on the equality inherent in the belief that we are all created in Your image.

To move beyond the bigotry and trepidation that marginalizes people in policy, attitude and law. 

To understand how we, every day, can reach the part of You that is in every person

Which might direct us all towards greater unity and peace. 

May You, our Creator and Sustainer, continue to be our wellspring of love and hope.    


Saturday, July 14, 2018

A Prayer for This New Week - July 14, 2018

A Prayer for This New Week 
July 14, 2018.
Rabbi Larry Karol

Creator of Land and Sea, Mountain and Valley, 
Sustainer of the processes that renew our world, 
Inspiration for our impulse to enhance our lives with 
Song, story, meditation, and deeper connection with our surroundings 
And with each other,
Heighten our ability to empathize with our brothers and sisters of all ages. 
Help us to recognize and call out hatred when we see it, 
 Bigotry when we experience it, and prejudice when we realize how its long-term consequences diminish who we are. 
Spread kindness when cruelty and hard-heartedness sends lives into chaos without cause. 
Lead us back to hospitality when some would belittle our desire to offer a warm welcome to community member and stranger, friend and guest.
Refocus our vision of reality so that we will better fathom the truths of our society. 
Provide us with the tools to tear down hastily-constructed barriers intended to prevent us from seeing what we still have in common.   
Teach us how to fashion bridges that will overcome wide gulfs of difference and disagreement.   
Look into our souls, reach in with Your caring hand, and open our hearts to the love that is still very much a part of us.  
As You, Eternal God, are the source of light and hope, share them with us generously so that we can positively look forward to the future, always seeing Your light in one another’s eyes.

Friday, July 13, 2018

Not because of hatred - D'var Torah - Parashat Matot-Mas'ei - July 13, 2018

There is a lot of hatred going around our country and the world. 
Why does it seem like more than usual? 
People have always had opposing opinions. 
There are many stories of duels that emerged from interpersonal conflict and insult from the earliest days of American history.  
There was ridicule of major political figures going back even before the founding of our nation. 
   Lately, in just the last week, two videos came to light. One focused on 92 year-old Rodolfo Rodriguez of Los Angeles, who was beaten with a brick and told to go back to his country.  He is a legal resident of the United States.   And Mia Irizarry, looking forward to a birthday party in a Chicago area park in mid-June, was harassed by a man who told her that she couldn’t wear a shirt bearing the Puerto Rican flag in the United States.  He has been charged, and the police officer who stood by and did nothing while that was happening has resigned. 
   There are candidates for congress expressing white supremacist and Neo-Nazi views, while at least one candidate on the other end of the spectrum considers herself anti-Zionist.  
   American citizens have, historically, expressed prejudice, suspicion, and, eventually, hatred towards every wave of newcomers that have arrived here.   What is forgotten in those pronouncements of disdain and contempt is that those already here came to this continent for similar reasons as those more recently attempting to enter and be part of the American experiment. 
   People with different ideologies have sometimes been able to sustain a modicum of respect for those who disagree with them.   However, the notion of the “loyal opposition” has a way of getting lost in the midst of ridicule, accusations, and narrow declarations of truth that are all intended to solidify power instead of fostering cooperation. 
      Xenophobia – the fear of strangers – rises to the surface in tides of public opinion that target immigrants and people who are different as the cause of most or all of a nation’s troubles.      The burning of one of the Women of the Wall prayerbooks by the Kotel this morning is a function of an internal hatred and xenophobia, because the ultra-Orthodox community in Isarel sees the women who pray together out loud at the Western Wall as “other,” almost like foreigners to the Jewish tradition. 
   Or it may be xenophobia that seeks to denigrate and minimize the claims of asylum seekers when they explain that they cannot return home, but they are told they cannot stay.  
   People are not only being challenged for the opinions they espouse.  Some believe that holding any strongly-held view prevents an individual from being objective. Some of our citizens and leaders think it is unfathomable that anyone could suspend his or her political views in order to be able to fulfill non-partisan tasks.  That was evident in the hours of questioning yesterday of one FBI agent by leaders who do have opinions that clearly indicate their own bias.   
    However, sometimes conflict and even tragedy can happen in a way that is not due to hatred.     Chapter 35 of the book of Numbers described the eventual establishment of cities of refuge where a person guilty of an accidental killing – involuntary manslaughter – could go to escape the avenging relative of the victim who would automatically come to seek out and take the life of the guilty party.   Number 35, verses 22 and following outlined the procedure in such a situation:  “But if [a person] pushed without malice aforethought or hurled any object at [the victim] unintentionally, or inadvertently dropped upon [the victim] any deadly object of stone, and death resulted - though not being an enemy and not seeking to harm – in such cases the assembly shall decide between the slayer and the blood-avenger.  The assembly shall protect the killer from the blood-avenger, and the assembly shall restore him to the city of refuge to which he fled, and there he shall remain until the death of the high priest who was anointed with the sacred oil.”   
      In a case described a few verses before this section, it had been assumed that if these two people hated each other, that could constitute an incontrovertible motive for the killing.    What our current national moment calls to mind for me in relation to this Numbers passage is this:  What if the person guilty of involuntary manslaughter did dislike the victim?   Would the community have assumed that the killer should be released to the blood-avenger because of his hatred? 
     In my own internal debate on this, I refocused my thoughts on the words used to describe and characterize each possible action:  “pushed without malice,” “unintentionally hurled,” “inadvertently dropped.”    And I wondered: If an action itself was unintentional and inadvertent, would it matter if the two people were enemies?  Would it make a difference whether or not one had truly sought to harm the other?    It is likely that it would be known if two people bore enmity and animosity towards each other.  It would be harder to determine if either person in the conflict would want to turn those hard feelings into hurtful actions or even murder.    
    So what would the community decide, judging between the manslayer and the blood-avenger, if the manslayer and victim were known not to be enamored with one another?
     If there had been a twitter feed in ancient times, I can see it all now.  There would be assumptions that the animosity between the two must have been a cause of the inadvertent and fatality-causing action on some unconscious level.   There would also be assertions that unintentional is exactly that, and that a negative opinion would not necessarily have to  serve as the root cause of an inadvertent and tragic act.   
     Such a case would require the community to listen to the story of the relationship between the two parties.  They would need to hear testimony from the manslayer that he – or she – would never have acted on any bad feelings towards the victim.  There would need to be a strong statement that no threat of violence was ever made by one party against the other.   Would the community have believed this declaration?   
     Perhaps they would have, especially if that person had demonstrated, for the most part, some level of personal integrity that had won him or her respect among people in the community and family members.    
     And sometimes a consistency of good character can be the most powerful proof that what a person might say or do on the outside is a true reflection of what he or she is on the inside.  
      May we strive for this level of goodness, respect and trust and do what we can to create a society that still sees these values as central to who we can be as a community, a nation and a world.