Do Not Despair: A Yom Kippur Sermon

There is cable news station that is often on in my house, or on my Sirius XM radio in the car… until someone tells me to turn it off. I don’t have a lot of time to listen or watch the news, but over the course of the last few years, I have almost obsessively turned on this station whenever I can.  It is actually problematic because the news often puts in a despair.

This has been a difficult couple of years in our country.  No matter which side of the political aisle you stand, the hate spewing, the lies, the harsh rhetoric of hatred of the other, the natural disasters, the images of toddlers alone in jail cells, and in our own lives, we grieve with the loss of a loved one, we’re faced with unemployment and worry about how to make ends meet, there has been recent diagnoses and health concerns, there is family strife, there is an uptick in teen suicide, of overdosing, of gun violence.  It is a lot to hold. It’s enough to bring on depression and despair.

Much of Jewish text and literature is devoted to despair. The psalmist writes of it, our history teaches it and our Sages speak on it from an intimate place of knowing. The trauma of despair is ingrained in our collective memory.

There are antidotes to living in depressing times. Today I see a threefold answer to despair.  One: celebrate life with gratitude and passion. Two: get involved in causes that matter to you and help others, and three: belong to a community of support.

To celebrate life with passion and gratitude does not mean to forget or ignore that which needs a tikkun, a repair.  Living one’s life, knowing that our life is of value and purpose is an answer to despair. To truly live means we experience both joy and sadness and we are able to see that our aliveness is enriching, miraculous and stunning!  Each morning when we wake up we are to say the words Modeh/Modah ani lefanecha—“Grateful am I! Thank you, God, for this new day of life!” When we engage in our life, we can find beauty even when we think there is none to be found.  Living as our best selves is how we survive in difficult times. We do not retreat, we do not hide. We answer life, even if whispered, with Hineini, “Here I am.”  We do our best to get out of bed and greet the day because it is ours and the alternative leads to further darkness and despair.

I am not so naïve to say that offering a “Here I am” to the day alone is the answer to overcoming despair. Some of us have great difficulty facing the day. We may be diagnosed with the medical condition of depression or anxiety or something else. And for this, the remedy is to get help from the professional community and seek care in order to live one’s life in the way one is able. This alone is a blessing in life.

The answer to despair lies in the foundational belief that we are created to live our life– to experience joy and pleasure, the mundane and yes, even the painful.  When we love and engage in our life, even as we might hold the pain, our despair is diminished.

I’ve often heard that the answer to our own pain, or to the societal and political ills of our time is that we have to have hope that things will get better.  I do not believe that the answer to despair is hope.  I think we have been sold a bill of goods when it comes to hope. Since we were children we have been told that if we have a positive mental attitude and show up with a smile, it will all work out for the best, that “we can if we think we can.”  The problem is the good guy doesn’t always win, the underdog does not always come out on top and believing this generally leads to frustration, self-doubt, and even more despair.

Take for example a close friend of mine’s terminally ill mother who is in hospice right now.  Hope for this woman is not helpful, yet she is very interested in living her life despite her fears and keen awareness that the number of her days is finite.  She is living her life, she gets her hair done at her home, her friends come over and bring dinner from the places that she loves, she hosts guests and she goes to the dentist, still.  She is not biding her time, waiting to die, succumbing to the depths of despair that she has every right to get to.    For her, response to suffering is to live as she is able.  She still is able to find passion in her days because as long as she has breath, she has life and the opportunity to have meaning.

Hope implies that things are going to get better. Sometimes that happens for sure, but as a rabbi who is with you in times of great need, and as a person who has suffered herself, I know we don’t have a fairy tale God. There is a God, a Higher Power however that will help us get up one day at a time, who will be there for us when we fall and who will pick us up to try again.  There is a God who helps us live and find meaning in our life on the best days and on the worst too.

Rabbi Nachman of Bratslav one of our greatest teachers, a Hasidic master, knew despair well.  He suffered from depression and despite that, encouraged us to have joy.   He was known to say, “Do not despair!” “Do not despair!” Because for every fall, or descent, there is an ascent and we get up.  He did not want us to live as though we were in exile and remove ourselves from daily living but rather he taught, “One must …constantly strive to free oneself from exile and to seek living conditions which are conducive to joy.[1]

We don’t live life and forget what is going on in our life or the world that needs our attention, but it is precisely because of what is going on that we must live life fully.  Emil Fackenheim, a post-holocaust theologian added a commandment to the 613 mitzvot that are in the Torah.  Fackenheim’s 614thcommandment is that we do not give Hitler a posthumous victory.  Meaning, we live and shout our presence and purpose to the world and we do good and we take care of each other and we continue to bring the Jewish values of righteousness and justice into our lives and into the world.[2]

We combat our despair through gratitude, passionate living and recognizing the value of the self and we combat despair in an age of challenge and pain by using our energy, passions, and resources to change that which we believe needs fixing.

There is so much that is wrong with our Country right now.   Whatever it is that you feel needs to be repaired, please, get to work!  We read in Pirke Avot, Ethics of the Ancestors: “If I am not for myself, who will be for me? If I am only for myself what am I? and if not now, when?”[3]  We belong to the Reform Movement in Judaism which has at its core the belief in the prophetic call to social justice, the need to make this a better world and we take welcoming the stranger, providing for the needy, being stewards of the land, protecting the climate, fighting for equality and the rights of all people, to heart.

We believe the words of our prophet Amos “Let justice roll down like waters and righteousness like an ever-flowing stream.”[4]  And we are with Isaiah when he demands,  “See that Justice is done: defend widows and orphans and help those in need.”[5]  Judaism demands that we pursue justice, “Tzedek tzedek tirdof” we read in Deuteronomy, “Justice, justice you shall pursue.”[6]

The time is now to pay attention to what is going on around us. To not “stand idly by”[7]but rather to pursue justice and to make our voices heard.  One tremendous way to accomplish this, to head the call of our tradition, is to use our inalienable rights to practice the great gift of democracy and Vote!

We live in a representative democracy and we have the power to change that which does not serve us. We have the power to elect smart and compassionate, action-oriented leaders that protect and defend and repair that which is broken and causing harm, distress, and despair.    In this regard, voter engagement is essential. Rabbi Yitzhak taught, “A ruler is not to be appointed unless the community is first consulted.”[8]   The Reform movement, through the Religious Action Center, the RAC, has taken on the righteous task of voter engagement and Beth Am is one of many congregations across the country that are joining together to “ensure that our voices and commitment to social justice are heard in the public sphere, [to do this we know that] we must educate ourselves on the voting process, register to vote and show up at the polls. We also have a responsibility to engage with our wider community to ensure that access to the vote is a reality for all.”[9]

There is voter registration information in the foyer and more information is and will be on our Facebook pages.  Beth Am is committed to being a congregation with 100% voter engagement and registration. We really want and need your help with this task. It is not only our civic duty, but it is also an answer to despair and what it means to be a responsible citizen in our great democracy.

I have offered two ways which I think help alleviate despair:  To live life with passion and to be involved in bringing about justice in the world. And thirdly, despair diminishes when you belong to a supportive community and are with others who care about you and of whom you care about.

One of the most powerful sections of Torah is when Moses is in great despair. The people are in the desert and they are crying out to him, they are angry and asking to be sent back to Egypt, where at least they knew where their next meal was coming from and where they felt they had better food!

The Israelites cried out to Moses,

“If only we had meat to eat! We remember the fish that we used to eat free in Egypt, the cucumbers, the melons, the leeks, the onions, and the garlic. Now our gullets are shriveled. There is nothing at all!  Nothing but this manna to look to!”  Moses heard the people yelling and weeping, everyone focused on him at the entrance to his tent. Our text continues, “And Adonai was very angry and Moses was distressed.  And Moses said to Adonai, why have You dealt ill with Your servant and Why have I not enjoyed Your favor, that You have laid the burden of all this people upon me? Did I conceive all these people, did I bear them?….Where am I to get meat to give all this people when they wince before me and say, “Give us meat to eat!” I cannot carry all this people by myself, for it is too much for me. If you would deal thus with me, kill me rather, I beg You and let me see no more of your wretchedness!”[10]

Moses—our Rabbi and the greatest prophet was in utter despair.  And God’s answer? We read, “Gather for Me seventy of Israel’s elders of whom you have experience as elders and officers of the people and bring them to the Tent of Meeting and let them take their place there with you…. [T]hey shall share the burden of the people with you, and you shall not bear it alone.[11]

God’s answer to Moses’s despair: ‘you do not have to do this alone.’  God did not exempt Moses from doing the work, but God did say, the task at hand is to too big for one person, even the greatest leader of our people.  We are commanded to do justice, we are told, do not despair and we are taught, you cannot do this alone.

In moments of despair, times when we think we can’t possibly go on, moments where we think we can’t take one more minute of the insanity or hardship or struggle, when we feel useless, or powerless or when the heart suffers or aches from loss, we are to seek the comfort, care and support of community.  Rabbi Abraham J. Twerski teaches us in his Introduction to Healing from Despair, “What kind of human communication can help a person in distress? Empathy, the feeling that there is someone who can identify with another person’s suffering.”[12] As a people of faith who has experienced a history of moments of despair and horrifying tragedies, we follow God’s teachings and we make sure to gather together.

Each of us comes to the synagogue on this, the holiest day of the year for a different reason.  Why are you here?  There must be some reason because we can be anywhere else, it is a Wednesday morning after all.  Whatever the reason, something drew you to sit with other folks on Yom Kippur,  a fast day that reminds us of the mistakes we made and the repair that needs to be done.  It is a day where we admit our sins, not as Al Chet—I have sinned, but rather, we say together, “we have sinned.”  We are in this life together—for better or for worse.  In the Talmud we are taught, “A prisoner cannot free himself.”[13] Alone we will not be freed from our despair, but together, we find ways to lift each other up and live! We are a people who seek connectedness and it has proven invaluable and a source of life to us and our people.

May we each be blessed with more joy than sadness, together may we lift each other out of despair, and May our life lived with gratitude and passion be for us and the world a blessing.

Ken yihi ratzon. May this be true.

[1]Chaim Kramer, Edited by Ozer Bergman, The Treasure of Unearned Gifts: Rebbe Nachman’s path to happiness and contentment in life.  Breslov Research Institute, Jerusalem/New York 1996, p.45.

[2]Emil Fackenheim first published this idea in an article, Jewish Faith and the Holocaust, a Fragment,

in 1968. https://www.commentarymagazine.com/articles/jewish-faith-and-the-holocaust-a-fragment/

[3]Pirke Avot 1:14

[4]5:23-24

[5]1:17

[6]Deut 16:20

[7]Leviticus 19:16

[8]Talmud, Brakhot 55a

[9]http://rac.org/sites/default/files/Voter-Engagement-Toolkit.pdf

[10]JPS translation Numbers 11:4-15

[11]Ibid 11:16-17

[12]Spitz, Rabbi Elie Kaplan.  Healing from Despair: Choosing Wholeness in A Broken

World. Jewish lights publishing, Woodstock, VT. 2008. P. xiv

[13]Brachot 5b

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Posted in civil discourse, Congregation Beth Am, Gratitude, High Holidays, sadness, sermons, Shana Tova, Uncategorized, Voting Engagement

Kol Nidre: You Have Permission

[To the tune of Mr. Rogers Neighborhood theme song] It’s a beautiful eve in the sanctuary, a solemnly evening in the synagogue. I’m glad you’re here, I’m glad to share, this holy day with you.

I was 36 years old when Mr. Rogers died. I hadn’t watched him in decades, but I did think of his loving messages from time to time, especially when Kyle and I were talking about raising our own family.  I remember watching Mister Rogers tie his shoes and put on his sweater while singing the Wont You be My Neighbortheme song. I believed Mr. Rogers was speaking directly to me. I believed he saw through the television set to see me and to speak to me.  I especially liked Daniel Tiger and Mr. Mcfeely, the delivery man and dear friend and did not like the rather stern King Friday XIII.     When Fred Rogers died of stomach cancer in 2003 I felt someone important to me had died. It was a loss, a dear loss, actually.

In countless ways, Fred Rogers helped me to feel safe and loved.  He said to me—and all of his audience, child and parent alike, “You are a very special person. There is only one like you in the whole world.  There’s never been anyone exactly like you before, and there never will be again.  Only you. And people can like you exactly as you are.” [1]

A version of this became the last line of the bedtime prayers we said to our children.  It goes like this:  “Your Mom and your Dad, your siblings, and the cats love you, your grandparents, your aunts, your uncles love you, your teachers and your friends love you, and God loves you…just the way you are.”

In the recent movie, Wont You Be My Neighbor, we hear Mr. Rogers talk about offering someone an unconditional ‘you are loved.’ He says, “The greatest thing that we can do is to help somebody know that they’re loved and capable of loving.

Mr. Rogers teaches us this and does the Torah and our tradition.

A story is told of a woman who went to visit the rabbi of a small a small school that was talked about from one side of the country to the other.  All of the school’s graduates were deeply engaged within their communities and all were said to be the kindest and most generous of souls. The school seemed to work magic on its students and the woman wanted to know why. So, one day she traveled to the school and when the rabbi who led the school opened the door, she said “I hear about your school everywhere I go. Everybody talks about it. They say you create magic here. What is your secret?” The rabbi, a quiet and gentle man, said, “There’s no magic here, and I don’t think we have any secrets.  But if you have a moment, I’ll be happy to give you a tour.”

They walked down the hall until they came to the first classroom. The woman peeked inside and saw that all the children in the classroom were waving their hands because

they wanted to answer some question that had been posed by the teacher. Every student was participating in the same enthusiastic way. Then, one of the girls turned her head and saw the face of the rabbi. And she waved her hands, both hands, at him and she smiled, and her face seemed to radiate with an almost heavenly glow.  The woman asked, “Who is this girl?” And the rabbi answered, “Ahh, this girl my bat yechidah, my only daughter.” And the woman understood why the girl was so enthusiastic and so excited.

As they walked down the hall to the next room, there was a similar scene – most of the students were waving their hands, hoping to be called on. There was one boy – in the back of the class – who was not waving his hands, not participating. He was bent over his desk, drawing in his notebook. And then, for some reason, he too, looked up at the door and saw the rabbi – and he straightened up in his seat and a big smile broke out over his face and he waved his hand at the rabbi and the rabbi smiled back.  So, the woman asked, “And who is this boy?” And the rabbi answered, “Ahh, this boy, he is my ben yachid, my only son.” And the woman smiled in understanding.  The rabbi said, “Let me show you one more classroom.”

In the next classroom, as soon as they stepped into the doorway, a young girl looked up, saw the rabbi, and she too gave a huge smile and a big wave.  The woman asked, “Well, who is this?” “This girl,” the rabbi said, “she is my bat yechidah. My only daughter.”  To which the woman said, “What are you talking about? You told me the girl from the first classroom was your only daughter; the boy from the second classroom was your only son.  How can this child also be your only daughter?  How is that even possible?” And the rabbi said

to her, “My friend, you don’t understand. None of these children are my biological children. In fact, I have no children of my own.  But still, each of these students is my ben yachid, my only child, and each of these students is my bat yachidah, my only child. And each of them is their teacher’s only son and only daughter too.  At this school we look at every child as if they were our only child. Perhaps that is the secret of which you speak.”

What does it mean to be a ben yachidor bat yachidah?

It means each one of us is loved.  There is enough love to go around for everyone.  The heart is capable of loving more.

To be a yachidor yachidahmeans that we each feel loved with a sense that we are innately good and uniquely special, created in God’s image to be just the way we are.

To be a ben yachidor a bat yachidah, means to know that we matter in the world. That we are seen for who we are and not what we are.

On this, the holiest day of the year, each of us is familiar with the assigned sacred deed of chesbon nefesh—taking an accounting of our soul; the task of reviewing our past mistakes, our regrets. This is also a time, if we are honest about it, when the mind is more likely to rehash all of our would-ofs, could-ofs, should-ofs of the past year.

It is a time when we or our children might ask, as Mr. Roger’s did in the voice of Daniel Tiger, “I’ve been wondering if I was a mistake. For one thing, I’ve never seen a tiger that looks like me. And I’ve never heard a tiger that talks like me. And I don’t know any other tiger who lives in a clock. Or loves people. Sometimes I wonder if I’m too tame. . . . I’m not like anyone else I know. I’m not like anyone else.

The days of awe are designed to fill us with Yirah—fear. Fear of God and maybe perhaps fear that we won’t be inscribed for blessing, that we are too far gone, that we must repent or face punishment, that we are people who miss the mark time and time again, and maybe deep down we fear that we will not be seen, that we are not loveable!

But this Holy Day is also designed to fill us with Yirah—awe, a sense of the pure, divine light that calls us from deep within to see our own exquisite beauty, worthiness, and love. No matter the mistakes, the missed opportunities and fears we may hold.   It calls us to see and feel the awesomeness of our own being, the divinity we possess because God sees it and God knows this to be true! God is the very creator of the holy sparks that are within us.

In our liturgy we look at the yirah—the fear of the closing gates and we offer up and admit our transgressions together by taking a fist to the heart as we say, Al chet, we have sinned.

We will do this several times together throughout the next 24 hours.

But what if we added something else during the Days of Awe and on this Yom Kippur Kol Nidre evening? What if we gently put our hand on the heart as we thought about the good that we did rather than on contemplating all the wrong we did? What if we spent time asking, “How am I bringing care and compassion to the world? Can we ask ourselves with genuine loving curiosity, as Rebbe Nachman of Bratslov asks, “What are the nikudot tovot?” What are my good points, my good qualities?

At this holiest of moments, can we give ourselves the permission to bring forth our voice of love and courage rather than solely our voice of judgment, criticism, and shame?

It is permissible to do this, you know. For the voice of love is the voice of God.  Rabbi Akiva wrote, “How greatly God must have loved us to create us in the image of God, yet even greater love did God show us in making us conscious that we are created in the divine image”[2]

God wants us to be God’s partner and bring love to the world and there is no better way to do this holy task than to show love to the self.  On a day where we return to the pure state of our soul and return to our essence and to the divine that is within us, there is no better a time than to feel the heart and fill it with love and compassion for our own self.

For many of us this task does not come easy, and some still, might not think it necessary.  I’ll tell you, I had a hard time believing the importance of the task of sending love and compassion to the self, and it did not, and still does not come easily to me.  But it is of utmost importance to know how to do this and do it, in order that we live the blessed life that we are entitled to and created to have.

For more than a few years now I have learned and practiced unconditional love for the self from my teachers and their teachers and it’s a work in progress. One way to begin this practice is to think back to a time when you felt loved and seen.  It doesn’t have to be a moment that lasted longer than a second or a minute. It could be from a long time ago, a while back in childhood maybe, or it could be as recently as the past week. This moment of feeling seen and loved could be either from either someone you know or from someone you don’t know–maybe a time you received a friendly smile or a kind glance from a stranger who’s path you crossed.  This moment of being seen, of feeling loved, could also come from a pet.  As we reflect on that moment, perhaps we can bring to our heart that feeling of love and care. For it truly is a moment of profound grace and goodness.[3]

It is a moment of love, a moment the Divine One created and it is forever embedded into our heart and soul, mind and body.

This memory of a loving moment is as important on this Holy Day as the awareness of Al Chet, ‘we have missed the

mark.’  We are human, and our humanity cannot be defined by our mistakes, regrets, wrongdoings, or our life circumstance, our age or our perceived usefulness.  Again, Fred Rogers teaches,

“What’s been important in my understanding of myself and others is the fact that each one of us is so much more than any one thing.  A sick child is much more than his or her sickness.  A person with a disability is much, much more than a handicap. A pediatrician is more than a medical doctor.”

In our prayer Avinu Malkanu, we pray, “Avinu Malkanu choneinu vaaneinu; Almighty and Merciful—Answer us with grace.”   Grace, God’s gift of unconditional love is what we seek on this Holy Day.  Grace which allows us to feel God’s abiding love which never departs from us, no matter the imperfections, no matter the deeds done.  This is the meaning of this day.  The gates are always open to receive God’s love and Grace.  This is the blessing of our lives.

May we be blessed with the feelings of being held and loved.  May we know and feel that God loves us just the way we are.

Ken Yihi Ratzon. May this be true.

 

 

 

[1]Rogers, Fred. (2005) Life’s Journeys According to Mister Rogers: Things to Remember along the Way,

Hyperion. p. 29

[2]Pirke Avot 3: 18

[3]Makransky, John. (2007) Awakening through Love.  Wisdom Publications and

http://www.johnmakransky.org

 

Posted in civil discourse, Congregation Beth Am, Gratitude, High Holidays, Love, Mindfulness, parenting, prayer, sermons, Teshuva, Uncategorized

Why I joined The Poor People’s Campaign: A National Call for Moral Revival

On a hot summer August day in 1966, Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. stepped out of his car and was greeted by a mob of 700 angry white protesters in Marquette Park on Chicago’s southwest side. Shortly after he stepped forward to greet that mob, he was pelted with a rock on the side of the head, the force strong enough to bring him to the ground. Undeterred, Dr. King rose up and continued his nonviolent direct-action call for an end to inequality and hate.

Later that afternoon he addressed the media and recalled, “This is a terrible thing. I’ve been in many demonstrations all across the south, but I can say that I have never seen—even in Mississippi and Alabama, mobs as hostile and as hate-filled as I have seen in Chicago.”

Chicago still, to this very day remains one of the most segregated cities in America.   There is an epidemic of gun violence and the rate of poverty, hunger and homelessness is staggering: “More than one-third of Illinois residents and nearly half of Chicagoans are considered low-income or living in poverty,” and extreme poverty grew by 384% from 2000-2015.

Dr. King preached an end to racism and poverty and militarism. Today, The Poor People’s Campaign: A National Call for Moral Revival, co-chaired by the Revs. William J. Barber II and Liz Theoharis continue Dr. King’s legacy and is a national movement dedicated to overcoming systemic racism, poverty, ecological devastation and the war economy.

The Poor People’s Campaign is currently in the midst of a 40 day direct non-violent action taking place in Washington DC and in over 30 states including Illinois.  The direct-action dates to join with the Poor People’s Campaign are May 14, 21, 28and June 4, 11, 18, with a culminating event in Washington, DC on June 23.

I joined the Poor People’s Campaign: A National Call for Moral Revival because the message of direct action to end racism and poverty, ecological devastation and a war economy is compelling and it is the right thing to do.

I joined the Poor People’s Campaign because I am answering the call of the One who calls me to act concerning the poor and disenfranchised.  We read in Deuteronomy:

If there is among you a poor person of your kin, within any of the gates in your land which the Adonai your God is giving you, you shall not harden your heart nor shut your hand from your poor kin, but you shall open your hand wide to them and willingly lend them sufficient for their needs, whatever their needs…You shall open your hand wide to your kin, to your poor and your needy, in your land.”(15:7-11.)

I joined the Poor Peoples Campaign because I hear Isaiah’s call which we at Congregation Beth Am and other reform synagogues read together each Yom Kippur and so I know what God requires of me:

Is this the fast that I have chosen, a day for a person to afflict their soul? Is it to bow down their head like a bulrush, and to spread out sackcloth and ashes? Would you call this a fast, and an acceptable day to the Adonai? Is this not the fast that I have chosen: to loosen the bonds of wickedness, to undo the heavy burdens, to let the oppressed go free, and to break every yoke? Is it not to share your bread with the hungry, and that you bring to your house the poor who are cast out; when you see the naked, that you cover him, and not hide yourself from your own flesh? Then your light shall break forth like the morning, your healing shall spring forth speedily, and your righteousness shall go before you; the glory of the Adonai shall be your rear guard. (Isaiah 58:5-8)

I joined the Poor People’s Campaign: A National Call for Moral Revival and will travel to Springfield, IL on May 28 and extend an open invitation to all and hope you will join me on the 28th and in June! 

See the Illinois Poor People’s Campaign for more info and to learn more about The Reform Movements’ commitment to meeting the urgency of now with moral leadership through congregational and community-based action, and our involvement in the Poor People’s Campaign visit, Religious Action Center.

Blessings ~

RLSB

 

 

 

 

 

 

Posted in Congregation Beth Am, Hate, Love, Uncategorized | Tagged , ,

Celebration

On our last day, we went to Masada and the Dead Sea.  We rode camels and will soon have a festive dinner together on our last night in Israel 2017.  On Masada we offered mourner’s Kaddish for a dear relative of one of our participants, we gave a Hebrew name to another and we officially welcomed a member of our tour into the Household of Israel.

What an incredible pilgrimage to the Holy Land!  For most of us, visiting Israel has been on our minds and in our hearts for a very long time.  We arrived!!  We climbed mountains (and tons of stairs!), walked on 2000-year-old streets,  said prayers at the Kotel, the Western Wall, saw calm where there was once war. We learned about the complexities of a small land that so many of different beliefs, opinions, actions and traditions treasure and love with all their hearts and souls. Together we heard about the struggles for freedom.  We laughed a lot and also cried. We began each day on the bus together with the blessing Modeh/Modah Ani…Thank you God for a new day, with love and compassion You give us this day. You have with great faith in us and we have faith in You.

What a blessing this trip has been.  We are all so very grateful.

 

 

Posted in Congregation Beth Am, Gratitude, Israel, Uncategorized

Out of Darkness

On the short bus ride to Yad VaShem (The Jewish People’s living memorial to the Holocaust), Lana asked us to imagine a room that would fit 100 people, then think of a space that holds 500 people, a 1000 people and maybe you have even been to a football game where 150,000 were in attendance, keep going and see if you can imagine a space that would hold 1,000,000 and then 6 million.  It is mind-boggling, right?  Our tour of Yad Vashem was certainly filled with darkness but on today’s tour I did not only feel the darkness of such a painful period of our history.  I felt our history.  Lana Zilberman shared with us facts about the Holocaust but more than that, our tour was about the people–the mothers, fathers, grandmas, grandpas, sons, daughters who LIVED a life before it was cut short. We were reminded that if it were not for the decision of our ancestors to leave their homes to come to a new land, our lives would have been very different.  Perhaps it would have been us we were memorializing today.  Yad VaShem ends on a note of hope and light and sends us off with the clear message that we are responsible for each other and “never again” means nothing if we don’t do our share or even more than our share of working to end hatred and prejudice.

After lunch, we went the Hertzl museum (which was fantastic) and toured Mt. Hertzl, visiting the graves of Hertzl, the founder of world Zionist movement, Golda Meir, Yitzchak Rabin, Shimon Peres and other founding fathers and mothers of the State of Israel and we lit a yahrzeit/memorial candle at the graves of fallen soldiers.

It was a rough day. It was an inspiring day.

My son at Hertz’s tomb:Hertzl's Tomb

 

Posted in Anti Semitism, Congregation Beth Am, Israel, Uncategorized

Shabbat

Shavua Tov! Just landing from a truly wonderful Shabbat and pre-Shabbat tour.  Friday morning we went to the Ayalon Institute near Rehovot.  The website explains it best: “Next to the Rehovot Science Park, on Kibbutz Hill, stands the Ayalon Institute, which tells one of the fascinating and mysterious stories in the history of the struggle for the establishment of the State of Israel. Here, beneath the ground, and right under the nose of the British, a factory was created for the production of 9mm bullets for the Sten submachine gun, which was the personal weapon of Palmach fighters. The factory lay eight metres below the ground and was the size of a tennis court. The task was assigned to the members of the Scouts A group, who were joined by others, a total of 45 young men and women. The site operated under complete secrecy from 1945 until 1948, a period in which over four million bullets were produced.”  Amazing!!

Then we headed to Machne Yehuda–the fruit, vegetable, nuts, halva, and anything else you want or need  market and where Nathan was happy to have a chance to put on Tefillin.  Lucy was proud to tell this Hasidic gentleman that she had her Bat mitzvah with her brother but does not want to wear tefillin….

After lunch at the very crowded market we made our way back to the hotel and then off to share Shabbat with a reform congregation, Kamatz. Our tour guide Lana is on the Board of Director’s and her congregation and Rabbi Alona Nir warmly welcomed us into their beautiful sacred home.  They are a special community, and I loved praying with them.  They explain on their website:

“A Reform Jewish presence is crucial for the future of Israel. Between a fully secular Israel completely detached from its religious roots and values, and an uncompromising Halachic state, lies a middle ground, a third way- an Israel rooted in the prophetic Jewish values of social justice, equal rights, compassion, pluralism, and tolerance. This is our Jewish and Zionist vision.
Our egalitarian, upbeat and joyous services create the sacred moments necessary to balance the tensions inherent in Israeli life and offer you, our friends and partners from around the world, a home away from home whenever you are visiting Israel.”  I hope you will visit them.
IMG_0682Lana introducing us to her community.
Dinner was back at the hotel with two lone soldiers (IDF soldiers who do not have family in Israel) and then to sleep.  Today was spent with dear Israeli friends whom I have known for close to 35 years!  And finally, tonight was another fun evening.  We walked to downtown Jerusalem and on Ben Yehuda Street ran into two of Beth Am’s finest, Simon, now a rabbi who is also visiting Israel and Erin a 1st-year HUC student living in Jerusalem for the year.  Pride and Joy!!  And still, we met others we know too.  It has been a wonderful two days.  Feeling so fortunate.
Shavua Tov! To a good week!
Posted in Israel, Uncategorized

A Divided City

A call for a day of rage, a tekes/graduation ceremony for tons of Israeli soldiers, a walk on a 2000-year-old sidewalk, a stop to get free WiFi and a toasted cheese bagel. Women standing on chairs, peering over to the men’s section to see a Bar Mitzvah, a reform Bat Mitzvah nearby at Davidson’s arch, melodies, drumming, clapping all merging as one.   An Arab selling bagela, a Jewish orthodox elderly woman wailing while holding on to the wall.  An old Armenian monk sitting on the steps of the Church of the Holy Sepulchre. We stood today in a section of the Old City that is holy for four religions. The very same spot!!!

Connection, fear, bewilderment, awe, tears, prayers, disbelief, faith… Jerusalem…the City of Peace is hardly a city of peace.

Pray for the Peace of Jerusalem. And then go and work for it.

Today…a most remarkable day.

Blessings from Jerusalem.

Posted in Israel, Uncategorized