Wednesday, August 29, 2018

A Wellspring of Compassion - A Prayer/D’var Torah for Yom Kippur Morning 5779 - September 19, 2018

In the silence,

Even in the tumult of our daily lives, Eternal God, 

may we find our true voice. 

In the depth of our introspection, 

May we discover our humanity. 

May we sense the shape of the words we utter on this day.

May we hear the declarations of our achievements 

Acknowledging that we human beings sometimes succeed 

In acting with honor and respect

In practicing fairness and justice

In proclaiming equality for high and low

Rich and poor and people of moderate means

In listening intently to the needs of people 

Who call for Your help, O God,

And in extending a hand that gives selflessly and generously 

to enable those who have fallen 

to stand on their own feet and to walk forward with pride and hope. 

We do, with You as our guide and inspiration, remember 

that the teachings that can direct our way are in our mouths and hearts, and we can do them;

We can, when we truly try, choose life and good.

Hear also the sound of our confessions, 

God of Forgiveness, 

As we declare that we fail

We denigrate

We dehumanize

We disrespect based on definitions we set 

so as to limit the scope of our concern for others. 

We shut out people whom we deem undeserving of our care and aid. 

We sometimes trust those in power who say they have our best interests at heart, 

who claim that their beliefs are like our beliefs.  

They assert that their faith resonates with the teachings 

which we learn from Your Torah, O God.

Yet we know, Eternal One, what our rabbis have declared: 

“Beware of those in power, for they bring people close 

only to fulfill their own needs; they act friendly when it benefits them, 

but they do not stand by someone in the time of their need.”

In our fasting, God of all Ages, 

as we focus on what is inside of us, 

on how we will become exemplars of Torah in the coming year, 

Make our hearts and souls a wellspring of compassion. 

Turn us away from death and evil towards life and good. 

Do not let us forget the darkness 

in which our ancestors once walked and lived, 

the hunger and poverty they knew, 

the expulsions that upended their already fragile existence, 

the prejudice and hatred they endured and that we still endure. 

Direct us, O God, to apply the memories and experiences 

Which our people has accumulated 

of defeat and then triumph, 

of accusation and then enlightenment, 

of genocide and then rebirth, 

so that we can see reflections of ourselves 

in the eyes of those 

who are now seeking freedom, equality, and a secure life 

in communities that will offer calm rather than violence, security rather than constant threats to their well-being, understanding and acceptance of difference rather than rejection because of difference. 

Remind us not to build walls but to tear them down

So that when hands are extended in friendship 

We can reach back in love 

Leading us not necessarily to full agreement 

But to informed cooperation that can enable us 

to walk side-by-side along a path of peace.  

When our hearts and souls are a wellspring of compassion,

 then our light will shine in the darkness

Midnight will be as bright as the sun at noontime. 

We will be Repairers of the Breach that has kept us apart, 

Restorers of the paths that will lead us to godliness

Connecting our hearts one to another. 

May we reach beyond divisions 

that prevent us from seeing our commonality. 

May we sit down with one another

With nothing to make us afraid. 

May our acts of righteousness and justice

 lead us to peace

Bringing calm and confidence forever.

May this, Eternal One,  be the light in which we will dwell

In this new year and in the years to come.   

Friday, August 24, 2018

Looking forward with equity and hope - D'var Torah (in the form of a prayer) for Parashat Ki Teitzei - August 24, 2018

Prayer for Ki Teitzei 5779-August 24, 2018

Eternal God
Support of those in dire straits,
Beacon for people whose hearts are turned to those in need, 
Lead us to take responsibility for our actions,
To treat one another fairly, 
To refrain from taking advantage of anyone 
Who might have no recourse if they are deprived 
Of goods, food, payment or wages due to them. 
Remind us of those times when we may have faced
Unjust treatment,
False accusations,
Difficult times, 
Or a lack of appreciation for what we were contributing
Through our dedication and commitment
To our work. 
As we look back into our own past, 
Engender in us the wisdom to look forward
with a sense of equity for all people
Who freely apply their talents and skills in their chosen occupation
Who complete their tasks with competence and creativity
And respect for everyone they serve. 
When some people in our society feel that they have nowhere to turn
For assistance or hope,
May we be Your eyes and hands 
Providing a safety net through our own giving
And in cooperation with others in our community
So that those dealing with hard times can, eventually, 
through their own work, 
acquire all they need to live. 
And may we be inspired by Your love and care
To open our hearts
To feel for those who require us to extend a hand
So that we can all look to a time
When all humanity will share in the bounty of this life and this world. 

Tuesday, August 21, 2018

Into the Future - A Prayer for Congregational Legacies

In honor of Temple Beth Sholom, Topeka, Kansas, on its 90th Anniversary

And Temple Beth-El, Las Cruces, New Mexico, on 64-plus years 

Eternal God, 

Source of wisdom and spirit, 

Inspiration for our work in the world, 

Help us to sustain our congregation 

As it builds upon its long history

And adds new vitality 

For a bright and secure future. 

Remind us of what has sustained this community

In past and current generations: 















And hope. 

May all of these approaches and qualities

Stay with us in days and months to come

As we add to the dreams of founders who came before us

Our own special touches and ideas

That will enable us to keep the world standing 

Through learning, worship, loving deeds and friendship 

That we will extend to our members and our neighbors alike. 

May You, God of our years, add many more years

To the history of our congregation and community

And may You continually bless the good work of our hands. 

Thursday, August 16, 2018

Invocation - Board Meeting - Temple Beth-El Las Cruces, NM - August 16, 2018

Eternal Source of Wisdom, 

Guide us as we fulfill our responsibilities. 

Teach us that authority means making decisions 

Based on our own creativity, ingenuity, accumulated knowledge, insight, and our sense of the people we serve. 

Remind us that those who see authority only as power

Have often denigrated, dehumanized, isolated and event eliminated their opponents

As a way of solidifying their position

And in order to stir and deepen the hatred of their supporters and admirers. 

Open our eyes so that we can distinguish between those who offer promises based in self-serving desires

And those leaders who eschew the idols of our day and favor the higher values

Of integrity, compassion, honesty, decency, fairness and dedication. 

As the Torah commands us, “justice, justice, shall you pursue,”

May we continue to follow after justice as we exercise our own leadership, 

Modeling the importance of cooperation and respect,

Giving ideas and suggestions offered with constructive intent

Thoughtful consideration. 

In this month of Elul that leads us to the beginning of a New Year, 

May we prepare to inscribe ourselves once again, for goodness, kindness and peace in the Book of Life.   

And we say amen.  

Sunday, August 12, 2018

Invocation - Board and Leader Orientation - Temple Beth-El, Las Cruces, NM - August 12, 2018

Invocation - Board Orientation - August 12, 2018


Eternal God,

Our companion and inspiration throughout our history

Our Guide as we work to sustain our community, 

Be with us as we share our wisdom and insight

And strengthen our commitment to one another.

Through our leadership, enable us to engender

Within our congregation








Common Purpose

A resonance with our heritage and its message

Presence in times of challenge and need


And hope.  

May we rejoice at our opportunities to be together

And may we foster greater connection with our neighbors 

Of all faiths and backgrounds

So that we can build a world based on decency, justice, and peace.  




Friday, August 10, 2018

There are human beings among us - D'var Torah - Parashat Re'eh - August 10, 2018

“There shall be no needy among you.”
   I have been thinking, for many years, about this declaration from Deuteronomy, which is contained in this week’s Torah reading.  
   Most commentaries interpret this statement in light of what we should do to care for those who are in need, whose poverty has become so pervasive, due to their own particular circumstances, that they can’t shake it.
    Moses Maimonides, in his eight degrees or levels of Tzedakah, identified ways in which we can give.  The ultimate and most effective approach to giving, he said, is to offer whatever is necessary to help the person in need be come self-supporting.   
    This passage which I am about to read from Chapter 15 of Deuteronomy requires that we not harden our hearts – calling to mind Pharaoh of the Exodus story, the main purveyor of cruelty in the Torah.
    Rather, the Torah says, we should open our hand and provide what is sufficient to meet the needs of people who are in dire straits.
    We live in a time now when communal programs and policies, which could fulfill the commandments in this section, are looked upon with disdain and contempt by some people in our society.  There are those who proclaim that everyone should be able to take care of their own needs.   No programs of assistance are necessary to raise up those individuals and families who have come upon hard times through layoffs, changes in home values, the high costs of medical treatment and prescriptions, and other challenges.   
    There are some members of faith communities who believe that a person is assigned a particular lot in life by God, and that giving more than modest assistance to them may counter that divine plan.     I would admit, though, that most religious groups teach their members to do what they can to provide assistance when they can.
     All of this is relevant to the plain meaning of this passage from Deuteronomy about helping people caught in poverty.
      Today, something else occurred to me – another level of significance of this passage that I had never thought of before.
       My new insight likely derived from the upcoming first anniversary of the “Unite the Right” rally in Charlottesville, Virginia. Last year’s right-wing protests resulted in one death and the sounds of hatred and definite anti-Semitism being chanted on the streets of that city.    Neo-Nazis and white supremacists who called out “Jews will not replace us” and “you will not replace us” as they marched through the center of town defined their place in society.  First, they made it clear that they begrudge the persistence of a vibrant American Jewish community, represented well in Charlottesville.  Don’t think that the rally last year didn’t give Jews in that community concern.  It did, enough that several local citizens who were not Jewish came to offer members of the congregation visible support outside their synagogue during and after their Shabbat morning service.
     “You will not replace us” was a phrase that expressed an all-encompassing contempt for our society that accepts in our country the humanity, presence and participation of people of all races, faiths, and backgrounds.     Yes, these “unite the right” demonstrators first dehumanized Jews, but then, they did the same to everyone else who was not part of their movement.
     I don’t think many people in our country realized that they, too, were being targeted.   On August 24, 2002, a White Unity Rally at the Kansas Capitol building in Topeka brought a handful of participants and Neo-Nazi activists together.   I was among the many peaceful counter-demonstrators standing outside a fence placed on the Capitol grounds to prevent any direct physical confrontation.      We who were outside the perimeter knew on which side of the fence we wanted to stand, and we were proud that we were standing there together. 
     My realization about Deuteronomy Chapter 15, verse 4, “there shall be no needy among you,” somewhat relates to the dehumanization expressed in these “unite the right” rallies.   It is about labels and how we think and speak about people.  It is about which side of the fence on which we choose to stand: lifting up all people with respect and compassion or taking them down and isolating them with words of denigration and prejudice.
      “Needy’ is a word that describes a person’s socioeconomic status.  I think we would all agree that the term has the potential to rob people of their dignity or to create a stigma about them.  I believe that part of the message of this verse in Deuteronomy was that we should not see people as “needy.”  We should consider them to be fellow society members who could benefit from our concern and our help.   They are people like us, who have fallen on hard times. Their difficultie could be alleviated if we followed Maimonides teaching of helping them find a way to support themselves. 
     With a “Unite the Right” rally planned for Washington, D.C. this weekend in Lafayette Park near the White House, I believe that this is a time when Americans need to choose the side of the fence on which they will stand.   Some may join with those who claim that only they have the proper solutions, while their proposals may not actually address the dire situations in which some people find themselves, all the while accusing people facing challenges of creating their own plight.   Some may decide to stand with fellow community members who seek to create approaches than can benefit everyone and raise up every individual as a person of value who can contribute something unique to our world.
      We are members of a community and tradition that values every person, every life.  Let us conclude with the passage from the Mishnah on the handout, one that includes one of Judaism’s central declarations about what binds us together.  It reminds us that we can transcend our differences so that we can see what we continue to hold in common as move forward on our life’s journey:
This is why humanity was first created with a single human being:
to teach you that whoever destroys one life, Scripture accounts it as if he had destroyed a full world;
and whoever saves one life, Scripture accounts it as if she had saved a full world.
And for the sake of peace among people, a single human being was created in the beginning so that one should not say to his or her fellow "My lineage is greater than yours."
And a single human being was created in the beginning to declare the greatness of the Holy One, blessed be God: for when one human being stamps out many coins with one die, the coins are all alike,
but when the Sovereign, the Ruler of rulers, the Holy One, blessed be God, stamps each person with the seal of the first human being, not one of them is like his or her fellow, [yet they all still come from the same place].  (Mishnah Sanhedrin 4:5)
   May we always remember what brings us together every moment of our lives.