Monthly Archives: November 2016

Grit

I have very few memories of Thanksgiving as a child. Passover has so many memories attached to it: from my grandmother’s house and later, apartment, in Pittsburgh. A long table, lots of noise, the smell of chicken soup and brisket, sweating bodies of relatives I did not really know: that I remember

But I don’t have an inventory of Thanksgiving images. This is likely due to a variety of unpleasant realities that formed my childhood. I won’t go into those details. Suffice to say that I wasn’t a happy camper.

We can have terrible childhood experiences, moments that scar us, physically and psychically, for life. Images we see, sounds we hear, smells, and so forth, can set off a round of anxiety and discomfort that can shut us down. This is a classic description of PTSD.

It can take a lifetime to uncoil from bad PTSD, hours and hours of therapy that is usually grueling beyond imagination. It ain’t easy. Despite the quixotic claims of modern neuroscience, there is no cure for trauma. Once it enters the body, it stays there forever, initiating a complex chemical chain of events that changes not only the physiology of the victims but also the physiology of their offspring. One cannot, as war correspondent Michael Herr testifies in “Dispatches,” simply “run the film backwards out of consciousness.” Trauma is our special legacy as sentient beings… The best we can do is work to contain the pain, draw a line around it, name it, domesticate it, and try to transform what lies on the other side of the line into a kind of knowledge, a knowledge of the mechanics of loss that might be put to use for future generations.

The lack of Thanksgiving cheer in my childhood has not robbed from me the possibility of a terrific celebration in the present. Whatever did and did not happen then does not interfere with what I have now. I love Thanksgiving now! I prepare a spread of delectables, a 20lb turkey, and all the traditional and not-so-traditional fixings. I create a songbook filled with all sorts of traditional American melodies and we sing! I used to recite Alice’s Restaurant, but I was told that I was hogging the spotlight. Moi?

Being able to unabashedly embrace Thanksgiving serves to remind me that we can break on through to the other side. Perseverance, looking into the future and believing we will somehow get there, is what they call grit. Without it we can’t draw the lines around the pain.

I am so grateful on this Thanksgiving for a warm and loving family and friends who shower me with love and joy and laughter. I am so grateful for the men and women with whom I work, selfless and inspiring people who devote themselves to the Jewish people. And I am so grateful for my congregation, my large and beloved ‘other’ family. You inspire me every day. There’s a lot going on out there. It’s good to know that we provide a place where the door is always open and the light is always on. Thank God for all of you.

Let’s Go!

This week’s Torah portion is Lech Lecha. All of a sudden, with no introduction or prologue or Producer’s Notes, poof! Here’s Abram (not Abraham yet – same guy, different name), and God’s telling him to pick up and go. Leave everything that you’ve ever known and trust Me, God says. I won’t tell you where you’re going until you get there. So you’re walking blindfolded into the future. But if you listen to Me, the reward will be nothing short of revolutionary. Abram, without pause or question or ambivalence, obeys. “Abram went forth as the Holy One had commanded him.” Gen 12:4. Just like that.

I’ve often wondered the extent to which Abram is either out of his mind or deeply pious or a visionary or a mix of all three traits and maybe more. How could he so resolutely step into the great wide open?

Oh, I know. If almost anyone got a direct message from God it would be hard to say no. Still and all, there’s no side bar, no analysis of the offer; that’s striking. I want Abram to get out a piece of papyrus and a pen and do a pros/cons comparison chart. I want him to ask at least a few questions. I want him to be at least vaguely curious about his final destination. But Abram hears God and obeys. He “just went forth as the Holy One had commanded him”.

In the end, it just may be that Abram’s determination to move forward is pragmatic. What else is he supposed to do? Why not dare to do something? It’s not as if you get to live a longer or better life by standing still. In fact, health experts insist that standing still is bad for our health. This means that there’s some physiological imperative that wants to drive us forward. So why not listen to that body truth?

I’ve been hearing the lech lecha imperative in my head since election day. So here we are.  Nothing happens in the past. The action is in the next step. We’re moving on.

God’s promise to Abram is loud and clear. If you go, if you trust in me and follow my lead, you will become a great nation that will teach the world what it means to be  faithful. You will teach the world what it means to be just and compassionate. You will take all the curses and abuse heaped upon you and you will not become embittered and vengeful. You will not resort to nihilistic acts of wanton savagery and terror. You will not use the name of God to justify killing children.  You will feel the pain of hatred and antisemitism and you will take that pain and it will inspire you to empathize with others who feel the lash of hate speech and prejudice and violence and death. You will stand with those who, like you, have been oppressed and beaten and humiliated.

This is our imperative. And it hasn’t changed. We keep following Abram’s lead. We keep stepping into tomorrow, not knowing what we’ll face. All we can know is that we go forth with confidence in who we are and what we’re willing to do for others who need us. We bring with us our tools: a belief in justice and equality, courage to do the right thing, and a clear notion that what matters in the end of the day, no matter where we end up, is to be a mensch.

So if and when someone asks you, “What’s going to happen now in this major transitional period in American life?”, you can tell them that, from a Jewish point of view, we follow Abram. It worked for him.

 

Lech lecha! And Shabbat Shalom

 

rebhayim

Pray for Us All

I am a hardcore news junkie. Throughout the day and into the night I will check in on the NY Times, the Washington Post, the Boston Globe, and Haaretz. I get obsessive about it. I want to know as much as I can. I believe that it’s my personal and professional obligation to be informed, or what others might call, hyper-informed.
Over the past few weeks, I have pursued my media addiction with caution and trepidation. The Trump-Billy Bush Access Hollywood pushed me over the edge. How much more of this can I take?, I asked myself as I listened to the deeply offensive dialogue. What kind of an election year is this? And then for Hilary to have another round of email revelations hinted at by the head of the FBI?
I can feel my blood pressure mount with every article. I begin to go into a real paranoia jag as I read Adam Gopnik’s stuff in the New Yorker.  Next, I read, ill-advisedly, today’s Times article about the militias in the great American heartland getting ready to resist violently if their candidate loses. And just when I’ve had enough, Anthony Weiner shows up.
I have no solid advice about what to do for this acute anxiety. Maybe just stay away from the news until Wednesday morning…? Stick to fiction and escapist movies? I already voted, but that did not do anything for my nerves.
Then I realized that perhaps a prayer or two might help. What follows is some prayers from a variety of sources and faiths. I hope that, as you peruse them, you find something that soothes you. I hope they will remind you that serving the people as a public official is an awesome and honorable calling. I hope they will inspire you to hope and dream for a better future. I hope they will lift this election cycle out of the slop.
Take them along as you stand in line to vote. And pray. Pray that wisdom and decency will prevail. That people might rise above pettiness and self-interest to amity and purposeful living. This nation means so much to me. I couldn’t bear to see it degenerate into hatred and strife and civil unrest and violence.
I can’t suggest who you should vote for. Whoever you do choose, make sure your candidate believes in defending the welfare of the least empowered. Vote for dignity and peace and shalom. Just VOTE! And, while you’re at it: say a prayer.
Shabbat Shalom,
rebhayim
 **********
For Wisdom During U.S. Presidential Elections
God of Justice,
Protector and Redeemer,
Grant guidance to our nation
As we select leaders,
Senators, Congresspersons and a President,
The men and women who promise
To uphold the Constitution,
To uphold our values,
To serve and to govern,
To bring prosperity to our land,
To protect our homes and secure our future.
Grant wisdom and courage to voters
To select a visionary President
And steadfast leaders,
People who will serve our citizens,
And all who reside within our borders,
With honor and integrity
To forge a flourishing and peaceful future.
Bless our future President with
Wisdom and strength,
Fortitude and insight,
Balanced by a deep humanity
And a love of peace,
Leading us to a time
When liberty and equality will
Reign supreme throughout the land.God of Truth,
Source and Shelter,
Grant safety and security to all nations,
So that truth and harmony will resound
From the four corners of the earth.
Let the light of our U.S. democracy
Shine brightly,
A beacon of hope
For every land and every people.
*****
Prayer for Voting  Rabbi David Seidenberg
With my vote, I am prepared and intending
to seek peace for this country, as it is written (Jer. 29:7):
“Seek the peace of the city where I cause you to roam
and pray for her sake to God YHVH, for in her peace you all will have peace.”
May it be Your will that votes will be counted faithfully,
and may You account my vote as if I had fulfilled this verse with all my power.
May it be good in Your eyes to give a wise heart to whomever we elect today
and may You raise for us a government whose rule is for good and blessing,
to bring justice and peace to all the inhabitants of the world
and to Jerusalem, for rulership is Yours.
May You give to all the peoples of this country the strength and the will
to pursue righteousness and to seek peace as a unified force
in order to cause to flourish, throughout the world, good life and peace,
and may You fulfill for us the verse (Ps. 90:17):
“May the pleasure of Adonai our God be upon us,
and establish the work of our hands for us; may the work of our hands endure.”
*********
Before a National Election Reverend Peter Marshall

Dear God, we ask You to guide the people of this nation as they exercise their dearly bought privilege of franchise. May it neither be ignored unthinkingly nor undertaken lightly. As citizens all over this land go to the ballot boxes, give them a sense of high privilege and joyous responsibility.
Help those who are about to be elected to public office understand the real source of their mandate – a mandate given by no party machine, received at no polling booth, but given by God; a mandate to govern wisely and well; a mandate to represent God and truth at the heart of the nation; a mandate to do good in the name of all the people.

We ask You to lead America in the sacred paths where You would have us walk, to do the sacred tasks which Thou hast laid before us. So may we together seek happiness for all our citizens, all of us who are created equal in God’s sight, and therefore all brothers and sisters.

**********
For the Leaders of Our Nation Reverend Peter Marshall
Dear God, bless the leaders of this nation. Strengthen the courage of the representatives in Congress assembled – sincere men and women who want to do the right, if only they can be sure what is right. Make it plain to them, God.

Forgive them for the blunders they have committed, the compromises they have made. Give them the courage to admit mistakes. Take away from us as a nation and as individuals that stubborn pride which, followed by conceit, imagines itself to be above and beyond criticism.

Save our leaders, O God, from themselves and from their friends – even as You have saved them from their enemies.
Let no personal ambition blind them to their opportunities.
Help them to give battle to hypocrisy wherever they find it.

Give them divine common sense and a selflessness that shall make them think of service and not of gain.
May they have the courage to lead the people of this Republic, considering unworthy the expediency of following the people.
As You inspire this nation, so now mold us into a people more worthy of a great heritage. In Your strong name we make these prayers. Amen.
 ************************
Prayer Before an Election  Reverend Peter Marshall
Dear God, as the election approaches,
we seek to better understand the issues and concerns that confront our nation.
We ask for eyes that are free from blindness
so that we might see each other as brothers and sisters,
one and equal in dignity,
especially those who are victims of abuse and violence, deceit and poverty.
We ask for ears that will hear the cries of men and women oppressed because of race or creed, religion or gender.
We ask for minds and hearts that are open to hearing the voice of leaders who will bring us closer to a sacred understanding.
We pray for discernment
so that we may choose leaders who hear your word,
live your love,
and keep in the ways of your truth.
Amen.
 ******************************
 A Prayer For Election Day    Mark Sandlin
In Proverbs, we are reminded
that Wisdom is a thing
in which you delight daily,
that loving others
is one and the same
as loving you.
As our nation,
a nation who boldly proclaims
across the face of our currency
that “In God We Trust,”
approach yet another
election cycle,
we ask that you
might inspire in us
a deep seated desire
to delight in wisdom
rather than focus
on party lines.
May we be moved
to a compassion for others
as a way of expressing
our love for you.
May our hearts and minds
teach our eyes to see
the voting booth
as a way to express
our undying devotion
to a better world –
a world less cluttered
with the unnecessary
pitfalls of the powerful –
a world less littered
with the entrapments
of consumeristic competition –
a world less defaced
with the bastardization
of the beautiful diversity
your Creation contains.
Prayerfully we hope
to be moved into action.
Knock us out of our
sometimes overly complacent
perspectives of the importance
of an individual vote.
Compel us toward
a fully engaged electorate
who demands an equal
engagement from those elected.
Plant in us
a seed of biblical justice.
Teach us to nurture and grow it.
Teach us to never hide it
under a bushel.
Inspire us to plant it
in our town squares,
publicly proclaiming the value
of every individual
in our society.
And with it
grown in us
and in our nation
an expectation that our
elected officials
be active reflections
of that same justice.
Keep all of this in our hearts
as we approach
the voting booth this week.
May our choices
be predicated on
a desire to build
a better nation,
a true light on a hill,
a nation that holds these words
to be self-evident
that all people were “created equal
and that they are endowed by their Creator
with certain unalienable Rights,
that among these
are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness.”
May we not forget
that in the creating of this nation,
our Founders were inspired
in its establishment to remind us
“that whenever any Form of Government
becomes destructive of these ends,
it is the Right of the People
to alter or to abolish it,
and to institute new Government,
laying its foundation on such principles
and organizing its powers in such form,
as to them shall seem most likely
to effect their Safety and Happiness.”
Never let us forget,
that the voting booth
and an active electorate
are our first line of defense.
In a nation that has created
people out of corporations,
and “voice” out of dollar bills,
remind us that,
for now,
our Declaration of Independence
and our Constitution
still tip the balance of power
to “We The People.”
May we wield that power
with grace and love
and biblical justice
based in equality,
but…
may we wield it
boldly,
assertively,
and on behalf of all people.
May we do so in numbers so massive
that our voices be heard
and in standing up
may we alter the course
of this great nation –
re-establishing the pursuit
of Life, Liberty and Happiness
for ALL
rather than solely for the powerful.
Let us not leave these words
on this page,
heard only in our hearts
and never put into action
in our lives.
Rather let us be
the voices in the the Wilderness
that the United States as become –
let us be the ones
proclaiming a higher way
where all flesh may know
that it is valued,
it is cared for
and it is loved.
Amen.