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High Holidays 5776

November 3, 2015

Below are some of the contributions that Havurah members made to our 5776 High Holidays.

Psalm 19 (a new translation)
as interpreted by Andrine de la Rocha

The cosmos declare the grandeur of the One
The atmosphere itself speaks of Divine handicraft.
Day after day the notes are intoned
Night after night revelation becomes known
Without speech, without words
There is no whisper of voice
But the whole world echoes with the sound
To the very ends of the earth.
The Sun’s tent is hoisted in the sky
and from this chuppah, it strides out like a newlywed,
celebrating like a sprinter heading to the race
The lip of the horizon is the starting line,
And the track runs to the finish at the opposite brink
And nobody can hide from its heat.
The teaching of The Divine is faultless, refreshing the soul
The witness of The Divine is authentic, making the simple one wise
The directives of The Divine are just, delighting the heart
The mitzvah of The Divine is clean, illuminating the eyes
Amazement at the Divine is natural and timeless
Resolutions of the Divine are accurate, and completely fair
They are more dear than gold, than even the most refined gold
and are sweeter than honey and droplets from honeycombs
The devoted take great care with them
Because protecting them brings infinite abundance
But who can comprehend all our own mis-takes?
Purify me from my hidden faults.
And defend this apprentice from deliberate errors as well,
Don’t let them control me
Then I will be faultless, cleared of all charges
May the words that come out of my mouth
and the musings that I hold in my heart
be appropriate before the Beloved, my foundation, and my liberator.

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Read the Erev Rosh Hashanah Drash by Rabbi Joey and Rachel Duke.

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Rosh Hashanah Drash
by Iris Ellenberg

One of the main themes of the High Holidays is t’shuvah meaning “return” or “repentance”. We are meant to engage in t’shuvah throughout the 10 days between Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur. We are meant to come back to ourselves and our roots and reexamine our identities and values. For the High Holidays, over 1,000 of us return to this place and come together to observe the holidays. But why? What does it mean to us? What has kept us connected to the Jewish religion throughout our lives? These are very difficult questions to answer so I figured that if I was going to ask them to you, I should attempt to answer them myself.

For the first several years of my life the only thing really connecting me to Judaism was my family. My family is the reason I am technically Jewish and my parents were the ones fostering the tradition within me seeing as I didn’t even really understand it. As I began Shabbat School, I began to get a bit of an idea of what I liked and didn’t like about Judaism. I liked being creative with my friends on Saturday afternoons. I didn’t like not being able to eat or have irrelevant conversations in English during the Shabbas blessings. I liked eating delicious cultural food on holidays or otherwise. I didn’t like attending services.

Once I began Havurah Middle School and began preparation for my Bat Mitzvah, I became much more interested in the Torah and the potential wisdom it had to offer. I began to like to idea of being well-versed in Jewish tradition and blessings. I wondered if delving more deeply into the more traditional aspects of the religion would help me figure out where I stood on the whole God issue. After my Bat Mitzvah, I began reading my Tanakh every night before bed for a while. At first, my only real image of God was just as I’d seen in popular imagery, an old bearded white man floating on a cloud prepared to respond to my needs as they came….well not exactly, but basically. After a while I realized this thought was ridiculous and that it made more sense for God to be some sort of complex inexplicable entity.

As I neared high school, I grew increasingly cynical and came to the conclusion that I no longer felt that everything happened for a reason, and that God didn’t really have any real power over dictating people and their decisions, because if God did have this kind of power, there wouldn’t have been so many people who had experienced hardship, alienation and discrimination, right? As I entered Havurah High and started hearing the seniors say things like, “You know, I find it problematic that…” and “I’ve never really thought about it but it’s really messed up how….” and “I can’t believe our society has normalized…” I began thinking a lot about what aspects of Judaism had defined me, and which of its values resonated with me.

Now that I am a senior myself, my views on why and how I will practice Judaism in the future have evolved a lot. Especially over the last six months when I completed a leadership course, attended a diversity conference and spent this past summer as a counselor in training at a Jewish social justice camp called Camp Miriam. In the leadership course, we learned about the concept of “getting on the balcony.” Getting on the balcony becomes necessary when the leader notices a conflict, but doesn’t know how to handle it. If the leader is able to get up on the balcony and look down at the situation from a bird’s-eye view suddenly things become much clearer. While this strategy is generally applied to leadership situations, it can also be used by any of us wishing to evaluate the state of our lives and the world in which we live. We can ask ourselves, in the grand scheme of things, will whatever is stressing me out right now matter next month?

When people look back on 2015 in the future, how will they judge us, what will they learn, who will they admire? Using this strategy as a way to reflect can allow us to more clearly see the path for change. My second formative experience was a Youth Leadership in Diversity conference that I attended with other students attending independent schools. The theme of the conference was “telling our stories” and through hearing people’s narratives, my view on issues of privilege, disparity and inequity widened. I discovered the extent to which you cannot assume you know someone’s story and how important it is to take the time to learn more about the people in your life and what has made them who they are. I feel that this basis of genuinely caring what each and every human has experienced is a vital step towards peace.

And finally, my most recent experience was this summer at Camp Miriam, a Jewish, socialist, labor Zionist camp that prioritizes social justice and actualization. During my time at the camp, I discussed numerous texts by left-wing Zionist thinkers, examined the concept of racial identity, and unpacked the complex spectrums of gender and sexuality, with other teens my age. While these topics truly intrigued me, I was most struck by one of the films we watched. The film explored the events following the 1948 Arab-Israeli war that are now known as the Nakba. The Nakba, meaning catastrophe in Arabic, marks the day when the forced fleeing or expulsion of 700,000 Palestinians began. The Palestinians who were expelled experienced ethnic cleansing and murder, among other atrocities, performed by armed Zionist groups. While watching this film I wondered how it was possible that I hadn’t heard about these events before. As the movie progressed, the audience heard from numerous survivors of the Nakba who explained their struggle with being relocated and forced to live in refugee camps. Over 100,000 Palestinians were killed during this time, but that number hardly expresses the extent of the damage.

Unfortunately, the ramifications of these events are alive and well today. Many Palestinians believe that since then they have continued to have 67 years of Nakba, or catastrophe. It is still true that all Jews, worldwide, are welcome to try to gain citizenship and return to Israel, while Palestinians are barred from the opportunity to return to their homeland. Learning about these events caused me to think very carefully about being a modern Zionist. Yes, I believe that Jews deserve a home where they can feel safe, but should Jews really be making aliyah if their Palestinian counterparts do not have their right of return? I think the answer is yes, but only if these Jews are fully aware of the weight of their privilege to move to Israel and vow to work towards building peace in the region. Yet again, I uncovered so much that I didn’t know I didn’t know this summer and I am incredibly grateful that my counselors thought it was worth it for us to learn about these events because they reminded me how important the past is to the future.

Throughout all these experiences I learned a lot about my identity, my views, and the state of the world from a lot of new perspectives. All this new knowledge led me to the conclusion that as a people whose past is infused with oppression and prejudice, we especially should be among the groups who strive to fight for people that are currently experiencing extreme injustice and inequality. If you are someone who does not connect to the religious or spiritual aspects of Judaism, maybe you can relate to our rich shared history and encouragement of questioning. We just heard the sound of the shofar which serves as a call to action. Whether that means acting towards self-improvement, community-improvement or, if you’re really bold, world-improvement.

The Jewish religion is one of the least religiony religions there is seeing as there are countless members of our tribe across the globe, some sitting in this room, who identify as secular or cultural Jews. Because of this, getting back to my original question of “Why do we return?” we cannot honestly say that we are all here because we want to further our religious observance, even though that is one of the admirable causes bringing many of us here. However, the biggest reason, in my mind, is that humans are social beings who find comfort in being a part of something they believe in. They find safety in being surrounded by like-minded people who inspire them, support them and especially in this community, have the strength to disagree with and educate them. So, for me, I keep coming back to Havurah and the greater Jewish circle because it has helped shape who I am, and being someone who wants my Jewish identity to grow and change as I grow and change, I must stay connected to the people and communities who have helped me do that so far.

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Rosh Hashanah Drash
by Marty Kagan

Plutarch recounts a legend of the Spartan Greeks:

“The Republics were assembled. The Games were set to begin. The Sun glared down upon the Olympiad, brutal. Tempers were short. Surly Greeks exchanged surly words. An old man entered the arena. He was bent, this old man was. His every bone ached. He pleaded to the Athenians for a place to sit—and they ignored him. Leaning heavily on his walking stick, dizzy now, his knees quaking, the old man begged the delegates of Corinth, of Mykonos, of Naxos, of Thira. Each turned a deaf ear to his plea. At last, the old man staggered to the Spartan delegation – and before he could croak out a single word, every Spartan rose as one, and stepped aside. And the old man shook his walking stick at all assembled, his voice rising to a lion’s roar that rattled the very stones. “Every Greek knows what is right,” he bellowed, “every Greek knows – but only the Spartans choose to do it!”

We are all, at times, reluctant to do what is right. Even with the best intentions, even as we commit ourselves to a life of Mitzvot, Tefilot, and Tzedakah, sometimes doing ‘the right thing’ feels difficult, inconvenient, expensive, exhausting, time-consuming, impractical. We have other priorities. We’ll get to it later. I meant to, but…

Sometime we are reluctant to do what we know is the right thing. I find it fascinating that in the long catalog of ‘sins’ documented in the Al Het and the Ashamnu confessions, we confess to running to do evil… but not to slowing down our steps on our way to do good.

This theme of reluctance pervades the Book of Jonah:

  • God’s reluctance to destroy Nineveh
  • Jonah’s reluctance to accept his calling
  • The sailor’s reluctance to throw Jonah overboard
  • My reluctance to accept Rabbi Joey’s request that I write a d’var torah for Yom Kippur …

In fact, the only character in story who acts without any reluctance or hesitation is the King of Nineveh, who, with surprising alacrity, commits himself and his people to a sincere and comprehensive societal transformation, based only on the half-hearted, five word prophesy of a guy still smelling of fish guts.

So – how does this theme of reluctance fit with the Day of Atonement? And what lesson can we take from this concept of a reluctant God?

The answer to the first is fairly self-evident, especially this late in the day. Our sages tell us to that God is reluctant to seal our fates in the Book of Life: “May our cry rise up to you at nightfall, and Your mercy be shown to us at dusk”. The premise and promise of the Neilah service is that God waits until the last possible moment, to leave open the possibility of atonement. In this way, the Book of Jonah serves as a reminder that it ain’t over till it’s over.

But it’s the second question that I find more interesting and challenging. What does it mean to have a reluctant deity? Jonah complains, “you are a compassionate and gracious God, slow to anger, abounding in kindness, renouncing punishment.”

Really? I find it very difficult to reconcile this with the depiction of God that pervades the Torah. In a cursory scan of the text, I found at least six incidents in which God spontaneously decides to wipe out the Israelites:

  • At Mt Sinai
  • When they complain about their manna-centric, vegan diet
  • When the spies report that the Canaanites have well-fortified cities
  • When Korah and his followers rebel
  • Again the next day when the Israelites complain about their death sentence
  • And two chapters later, when some of men begin hooking up with the local Midianite woman

In every one of these tales, God acts without any warning or hesitation, and is prepared to completely annihilate the Israelites on the spot, his wrath held back only by Moses’ clever hustling. At times, the book of Numbers starts to feel like a Zombie apocalypse: 14,000 dead here, 24,000 dead there. “Aaron stood between the dead and the living until the plague was checked.”

So from where does Jonah get this notion of “a compassionate and gracious God, slow to anger, abounding in kindness, renouncing punishment”?

At Sinai, just after Moses has talked God out of destroying the Israelites, he assures the people that God is “compassionate and gracious, slow to anger, abounding in kindness and faithfulness” — a statement completely at odds with what has just occurred. Later, after God has condemned the Israelites to die in the desert, Moses again describes God as “slow to anger and bounding in kindness”. It’s a reassuring view, but it appears to be more wishful thinking and positive reinforcement that objective description.

Personally I think it’s the King of Nineveh who hits the mark: “Who knows but that God may turn and relent?” Who know? Mi Yodaya? God’s mercy is arbitrary, unreliable, completely divorced from any defensible notion of cause and effect. Is this, then, the deep, dark lesson of Jonah? That God’s mercy is arbitrary and unreliable?
I am tempted to end here, and leave you hanging on this sour note, insuring that Rabbi Joey will never again be tempted to ask me to prepare a drash. But, in truth, I believe that there is more to the story that this nihilist view of redemption.

What, then, is the message of Jonah? Why do we read it on the holiest day of the year? My grandmother used to say, “If God could hear Jonah’s prayer when he was in the belly of a fish, deep in the sea, then God can hear my prayer.” But for me, the core of the story is its connection to the central High Holy Day prayer of Unetana Tokef: “The great shofar is sounded, a still, small voice is heard.”

Each of us yearns to know our purpose. Like Plutarch’s Spartans, we yearn to know what is right AND have the courage to follow through. I know who and what I should strive be this year, but like every year before, I’m still reluctant to listen to the still, small voice in my head. Like the angels, I tremble in fear. Is this the year I follow my passions, no matter how unprofitable they may be, or do I need to strive harder to find satisfaction in the accidental career I stumbled into twenty years ago?

Jonathan Sacks, the former Chief Rabbi of Great Britain, writes:

“That still small voice is what terrifies the angels. Not the big noise. If G-d whispers in your ear and tells you you’re an angel, that’s terrifying. You think to yourself, ‘Wow, I could be that big and look how small I am.’ God never gives up on us, so we can’t give up on ourselves. That’s what’s scary. God is calling us to greatness and all we have to do is listen.”

Jonah teaches us is that it’s ok to be reluctant. Our greatest prophets were reluctant heroes, and our God is a reluctant God. It’s only natural that we are a reluctant people, unable to truly listen to ourselves, even on the holiest day of the year.

Like the angels, we are scared. Like Jonah, we are grieved. Like the Athenians, we know what is right, but we do not choose to do it. Maybe – this year – we will be brave enough to listen, brave enough to overcome our reluctance, brave enough to do the right thing, to break off every yoke. Only then shall our light shine force like the dawn, and our healing spring up quickly.

G’mar chatimah tova.

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Read the Kol Nidrei Drash by Rabbi Joey.

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Listen to the song “Make Me Like the Vine” by Alicia Jo Rabins.

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Yom Kippur – Al Chet
by Ben & Beth Shreve

Both: “For all of these wrong-doings, O God of Forgiveness, forgive us, pardon us and grant us atonement.”

Beth: For judging others’ actions without considering their motive.
Ben: For judging those who act differently than me.
For having unreasonable standards for others.
For not believing people who say “it was an accident.”
For not following through on promises because I know no one will notice.
For ignoring what I need to do and doing what I want to do.
For checking my phone instead of my children.
For watching TV instead of doing homework.
For lying to my children to avoid difficult truths and
For telling my children unkind, unnecessary truths.

“For all of these wrong-doings, O God of Forgiveness, forgive us, pardon us and grant us atonement.”

For not thinking about everything in my life that is the result of other’s hard work.
For expecting my children to read my mind.
For expecting my parents to read my mind.
For getting to know only the neighbors who make an effort to know me.
For trying too hard to make others like me.
For letting Facebook make me feel bad about my life.
For being ashamed at not being the first to answer a math question.
For doing things for my children instead of teaching them how.
For making fun of my sisters for not knowing things instead of teaching them.
For expecting my children to think and behave like adults when I haven’t yet taught them.
For always wanting to have the last word.
For sitting when I could be standing.
For not cleaning up after myself.

“For all of these wrong-doings, O God of Forgiveness, forgive us, pardon us and grant us atonement.”

For speaking to my children in a way I would never speak to a friend or stranger.
For not playing with my sisters when they want to play with me.
For speaking to my husband in a way I would never speak to a friend or stranger.
For speaking to my parents in a way I would never speak to a friend or stranger.
For not listening to my mother.
For refusing the help of my parents.
For judging those who think differently than me.
For expecting my parents to solve problems I should solve myself.
For throwing away what can be recycled.
For replacing lost items instead of looking for them.
For throwing out perfectly good zip lock bags because they’re dirty and I’m tired.
For not composting.
For using zip lock bags instead of reusable packaging.
For not working hard enough for the things I want.
For avoiding people in pain and grief.
For not looking for belongings that I’ve lost.
For not reaching out to people who seem lonely.
For not being conscious of the things I waste and throw away on a daily basis.

“For all of these and for all our wrong-doings, O God of Forgiveness, forgive us, pardon us and grant us atonement.”

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Yom Kippur Drash
by Charese Rohny

Isaiah 58, the Haftarah portion we just read, is the core text connecting the ideas of justice and holiness. Judaism believes that one way holiness is brought into the world is when people act with compassion for justice. It is no accident we read it today.

Today we atone for what in Hebrew translates as “missing the mark.”

As Rabbi Mordecai Kaplan explained “[our] failures to live up to the best that is in us, means that our souls are not attuned to the divine, that we have betrayed God.”

We aren’t here for a pat on the back that we ‘can do better next time.’ We are here to collectively recognize our moral imperatives to live responsible lives characterized by justice and compassion.

Our faith tells us that social justice is part of who we are.

We are taught that we cannot speak ill against people or groups, that we cannot stay silent with the knowledge of truth and that we cannot help spread messages that destroys social justice because this is a value that connects to our souls.

We read the same stuff every Yom Kippur for decades, really for 1000s of years collectively. And, we realize we aren’t there yet. I’ve got a long way to go.

What are the most important Jewish laws to live by? Are we following them? Sometimes we forget what we are aiming for. We compromise and make excuses.

And, that corrupt our insides.

The wisest among us can be corrupted….

We are told …that King Solomon was the wisest of men.

The story of Solomon’s wisdom

As a very young king, Solomon asked God for one gift – for wisdom. He wanted a discerning mind to listen, so that he could govern justly and distinguish good from evil.

God granted his wish – “lev shomey’a” – a “heart that can listen.”

We all know the story of how Solomon demonstrated that he was wise: it involves two women, one baby and a sword. Two women – each a prostitute claimed that she was the true mother to one child.

One woman tells Solomon other woman accidently smothered her own son while sleeping then swapped the babies. The second woman speaks out and says: That’s not so! So, Solomon asked for a sword and then said: “Divide the living baby in two, give half to one and half to the other.”

The true mother speaks out and says, “No, give her the living child, by no means kill it.” The other woman responds: “It shall be neither yours nor mine, divide it.” Solomon determined the real mother is the one who would give up the child instead of killing it outright.

There is an expression in law and in business negotiations that involves “splitting the baby” – describing a prudent compromise. Despite the use of the expression originating from this story, Solomon’s story is actually not about compromise. It is about identifying good and evil and choosing good – without compromise. It is a story about justice. Solomon discerned whose heart valued what was most precious.

The true mother’s heart and choosing good for the sake of the whole

We judge Solomon as wise because he judges the women’s choices – one woman’s choice is good, the other’s, truly evil. Solomon’s recognition of the goodness of the real mother’s choice is obvious it was her self-sacrifice to give up her child to keep it alive. Her speech is required to allow Solomon to listen with his heart. Not only does he discern good, but he identified the tall-tale of the imposter mother.

One way holiness is brought into the world is when we listen with our hearts and speak for justice. We know speech can be extraordinarily powerful — for both good and evil.
We have a duty to speak out on behalf of the common good, especially when it is threatened by harm. We are bombarded each day with speech that seeks to manipulate our actions, our beliefs and our morals.

We all choose to remain silent when we should speak out, sometimes, right? I do it. What causes us to sometimes remain silent? And more importantly, whatever THAT is, when and why did THAT become more important than our souls individually and collectively?

Truth requires courage

Truth does not require objectivity. It requires courage – the courage to follow our laws in a world where our communities are being divided in so many ways. To do so, each of us must engage in critical thinking and call out falsehoods and demagogues. But, we value impartiality and being polite, don’t we? That is what we teach our kids. I do. We teach compromise. These values alone do not allow us to follow our teachings…and…to heal the world.

History is often told from the perspective of the kings not the commoners, owners not the workers, the generals not the soldiers, the side of the invader’s not the invaded. Didn’t Columbus just take someone else’s “baby” and say it was his? He claimed he discovered China and King Solomon’s fabled gold mines. He didn’t discover the New World. He invaded it. He conquered it. He stole it. It was genocide. The more clearly we see the past, the more clearly we’ll see the present.

Fifty years ago, Rev. Martin Luther King, Jr. spoke up to the powers in control, he didn’t focus on the word compromise or tolerance or objectivity. In his “I’ve Been to the Mountaintop” speech, he delivered a message in solidarity for the common good, taking collective action with striking workers during the Memphis Sanitation Strike. The day before he was assassinated, King addressed the issue of tolerance head-on, saying, “True peace is not merely the absence of tension. It’s the presence of justice.” In Memphis, he called for non-violence, but he also emphasized the importance of direct action: speaking out in protests, boycotts, and challenging to the U.S. government.

In the story of Solomon’s wisdom, the real mother is the courageous, unsung hero – and she didn’t think about compromise for one moment….

Solomon turned away from his Jewish values leading to his downfall.

Solomon’s reign as a wise king isn’t the complete story. His reign is both a triumph and a tragedy. His fall is equally compelling. In fact, it may be where more of the lessons are found.

During his life, Solomon centralized control and steered away from the wisdom he was granted for the lure of personal power and greed. He took and was influenced by numerous foreign wives. Sure he built diplomatic relations and built the First Temple we all know about, but he compromised his Jewish values. The First Temple stood 20 stories high (his father King David, before his death, actually planned it and negotiated labor relations with the Levites based upon their duty in service of God). King Solomon’s reign spared no expense, incurred great debt, required forced labor. The Jewish people were used to being tribes and having autonomy and local control. Instead, they experienced indentured servitude to build lavish centers of power, influenced by compromised values of wealthy foreign ways.

Where does that lead a nation?

When Solomon died, people revolted; the country divided into two. The fall of Solomon caused the fall of the Golden Era for the Jewish people. We would never again have as much power. Solomon was our last king in a historically short monarchy in Jewish history.

The Torah does not usually present us with happy endings, but with the complexities, struggles, injustices and challenges of false messengers. Today, we have false messengers, don’t we? We admit to being impressed with demagogues who build shiny things at great costs. Without doubt our false messengers are the corporate leaders who have centralized their economic power. They have caused injustice creating a poverty level in this country that most of us don’t understand or want to acknowledge.

Corporate powers spread propaganda in every aspect of public life

The last couple of centuries have led to oligarchs controlling governments and consolidating power and control. Our corporate leaders are wealthier than at any other time in history. The gap between the wealthy and the poor keeps widening. The number of children who are homeless in public schools has reached a national record high, and has continues to increases since 2008 – a glimpse into the growing challenges public schools face.

Corporations and oligarchs tell their stories through lobbying, paid for academic studies, advertising. Their narrative and propaganda lead us – but to what?

Like Solomon we are being led away from our values and teachings to the corrupted social justice vision they have created. They have us believe public employees and institutions are a huge problem and need to be privatized. We fall victim to their false messages because we allow their false speech to be spread over the internet unchecked and unchallenged. How many of you have re-posted a Facebook post or tweet without checking on the facts? I have.

We know who our false messengers and “foreign wives” are: the wealthy, folks who create metaphorical weather patterns for most all things. Rupert Murdoch, Bill Gates, Warren Buffet, the Koch Brothers, the Waltons…. Collectively oligarchs impact us and public policy in every way. They speak. And…we listen.

The culpability in listening to falsehoods and our responsibility to speak out

According to the Talmud, there are three cardinal sins: murder, adultery and idol worship. But the sin of speaking evil is so abhorrent that it is worse than all three of the worst sins combined. According to Maimonides, someone who speaks ill of others helps destroy the world. But more notably….those of us who listen have even greater culpability than the speaker. Since if no one listened, the sin could not be committed.

Each day, we are challenged to look deeper and find “the rest of the story” beyond what our false messengers tell us. We have a responsibility, under our laws, to seek true wisdom and not to just listen to the easily found superficial soundbites. We have a responsibility under our laws to know when not to spread falsehoods on social media. We have a responsibility under our laws to look deeper than repeating MSNBC or Fox News talking points.

These laws bind our soul, and if we do not follow them, who are we?

We have a responsibility to know when to look it up & speak up. We know how to do that. We know how to question. We are Jews. We know how to find wisdom with our heart, and to dig deeper than mainstream media. We have to have the courage to speak out against false propaganda,

• to fight Big Oil for energy independence,

• to fight Big Pharma not to have the most corrupt and costly healthcare system in the world,

• to fight Big Insurance working to end access to courts,

• to fight Big Money and the Wall Street elite looting our nation,

• to fight Big Food Industry which contributes to the leading causes of death in the US – hundreds of thousands die due to heart disease and diabetes. The way we eat has changed more in the last 50 years than the previous 10,000 because of huge factories with brutal conditions abusing the workers and animals alike.

The new generation of super rich aren’t fighting to tackle offshore bank accounts and corporate tax avoidance. Tackling that would cut to the core of social injustice. And corporate philanthropy often (not always) hides or even entrenches structural injustices. It is a way for the wealthy to impose their agendas. Most billionaires corporations have not refrained from relocating companies abroad so that they can have cheap labor and sweatshops. Who was worse: the kind slave owner who perpetuated slavery or the cruel slave owner who allowed a revolt to happen?

We need to understand why billionaires care so much about reducing what happens at the ballot box and bargaining table.

A moral voice cannot tolerate children dying in poverty while corporate kings profit at record gains.

Teshuvah

You know, I use to say, it’s politics –we have to accept certain compromises. My personal challenge is to overcome too much tolerance. No one understands the dangers of appeasement more than any Jew slightly familiar with the Holocaust.

Can we reach a point as a society where there is so much silence in the face of widespread frauds that we cannot atone?

Do we get to live a life with blinders on and use that as an excuse for societal harms? I don’t think we get a pass for being ignorant.

We certainly don’t get to go through life selfishly, and compromise Jewish laws.

We need to walk the talk. What does it mean for us to be Jewish? And, if evil speech is worse than all three cardinal sins, how did we atone in a technological era?

Ours is not a faith of individual salvation; it is about how each day we shape ourselves through self-sacrifice and conviction to community.

In an age of corporate power, it is everyone’s duty to become educated about when a sword is being used against our social institution and the heart of our community. Solomon’s sword created a crisis. But, the true mother’s compassion was mightier than the king’s sword.

Today we return to the correct path – “Teshuvah – the return” – a turn that Solomon didn’t make.

My intent is not to cause reflection. The rabbi will help with that. Sometimes all I do is reflect. And, that is part of the problem… sometimes we only reflect. My intent is for each of us figure out individually how to self-sacrifice to make things better.

To vote to raise taxes, to choose not to take money from the elderly retirement funds to work on a meaningful campaign, to research more to make informed decisions. Are we willing to do what it takes to prevent suffering and to find solutions for all?

It’s a challenge for each of us to create our own personal scavenger hunt. Maybe start with a movie by Jewish activist and film maker Robert Greenwald such as: Outfoxed-[How Murdoch has taken over media]; Koch Brothers Exposed, or his latest Billionaires vs. Kindergarten Teachers. Start with what moves you.

We have to think critically, we have to connect the dots, and we have to see when we are doing harm to the whole of what we care about.

Each of us has the heart and courage to cry out against swordsmen

We listen to their speech – and we feel betrayed. We have let our hearts harden.

Right now, we know there can be no moral or holy ending to our story, without each of us choosing to use what we have all been granted: “lev shomey-a” – a heart that listens.

We face overwhelming challenges in protecting our common good, protecting our environment, and in avoiding “split-the-baby” choices that help some, but harm others.

Now is not the time to give-up the fight for justice. Instead it is a time to take a moment to consider how we will be judged for our failures to cry out against the modern day incarnations of the swordsman.

Sometimes we’re scared to feel like a fool. But only the fool will see us that way. As Jews we are not people of conformity. We are people of conviction.
All of us here, collectively, are the unsung heroes who can write the rest of the story of our era. We have the power to deconstruct lies and choose justice. We need to embrace our roles as heroes…then responsibly engage our collective power.

And, you know what – we all have this power in equal amounts. We have to use it to do things that we never before imagined we could.

Regardless of who or what God represents to each of us individually, we all agree that our connectedness to each other, and with Adonai, as one – is what makes us holy. Whether you’re an atheist, agnostic or a believer, we share a belief in the reality of human connection.

Today we read aloud together in the Machzor: “Give us the honesty to call a sin a sin” and “teach us to cherish the good we have abandoned.”

What connects us is the common good. What will move us forward is hope.

We must have the heart and courage to boldly cry out for it.

We must protect what is precious for all.

We must protect who we are as Jews.

It is the wholeness of all that will make us ALL holy.

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Yom Kippur Poems
by Frances Payne Adler

The narrative about the suffering of the Jewish people joined together the names of great teachers over time, as if they were all felled on the same day. It all began when Rome occupied Judea in the first century and the ‘siege’ lasted, at least in the minds of our ancestors, through the period of the Crusades and the repeated expulsions across Europe. It was a collective ongoing catastrophe that was inscribed in the Mahzor and in our hearts, the memories of people of deep conviction – from the days of Rabbi Akiva and Bar Kochba, to the years of the Holocaust. What they have in common is the courage and wisdom that human beings take precedence to the state that oppresses them.

When I think, today, of the brave men & women who never gave up, even in the face of cruelty and death, I want to support them when they’re not dead, I want to look around me and notice them wherever they are alive, wherever they call on us to join them.

So, today, instead of us reading an account of Jewish teachers who went tragically to their deaths, let us transform this tradition, and celebrate two people who are vibrantly alive, two Israelis, among many, putting their lives in danger, standing up for their belief in human rights, and in peace between Israelis and Palestinians – modeling courage, wisdom and compassion, and love for a land that has been home for many peoples.

I’m going to read you two of my poems that honor them in their brave work for peace.

The first poem is about Rabbi Arik Ascherman, of Rabbis for Human Rights, and his work in the West Bank, titled “Law and the Rabbi.”

The second poem is about Hagit Ofran, Director of Settlement Watch, for Peace Now, and her work in Jerusalem and in the West Bank. I call it, “Cartographer.”

……………………

Law and the Rabbi
Rabbi Arik Ascherman
Rabbis for Human Rights, West Bank

Whereas the law says it’s illegal
for the rabbi to help with olive
harvests in Area A and parts of B
(referring alphabetically to ancient
hips and thighs of lands beloved
by both peoples). Whereas laws
say it’s illegal for the rabbi and
his car to clock 300,000 miles
carrying friends to help re-build
bulldozed homes, to re-plant
poisoned trees, even to pack pita
and plums to help shepherds
hold on (or so the soldiers said).
Whereas the law says it’s illegal
for the rabbi to help the teenager
tied to the soldiers’ jeep, to unravel
rope lashing him to the hood, to release
the boy being used as a human
shield against stone throwers.
Therefore, soldiers head-butt
the rabbi, and carry him off.
Four soldiers, each lifting
a rabbinical leg, rabbinical arm.

– Fran Payne Adler, from Dare I Call You Cousin

Cartographer
Hagit Ofran, Director, Settlement Watch
Peace Now, Jerusalem

The Woman Who Mapped the Spread of Settlements
counted clues, in the West Bank, of each early outpost,
tracking them in her truck – a bullet casing, cigarette
butt, a glove, a car, perhaps a gate, a padlock.

She kept accounts, This Woman Who Watched,
settlements growing from a few settlers on a hill
to a city with electric wires, water heaters,
furnaces, gardens guns schools sewers, sometimes
a swimming pool and always soldiers to protect them.

The Woman Who Marked the Miles
of settlements in the West Bank,
counted three hundred thirty
thousand settlers, taking Judea
and Samaria, one hill at a time.

And in East Jerusalem, The Woman Who
Worried for Peace and the future capitals
of Israel and Palestine, saw settlers take over
homes, and excavators dig, find ancient
walls, bus in students, soldiers, and tourists,
binding their hearts to ruins underground.

The Woman Who Warned beamed her sightings
on blogs, across cities, countries, the globe.
Some of us took to the streets with protest signs,
Enough already. Some of us turned our eyes away.
Some of us, silent, watched.

Hagit, Who Would Not Stop Counting,
tallied shekels spent on settlements,
found them scattered in polite piles
across government files, flown in
from overseas in blue and white tin tzadakah
boxes. And on her apartment stairwell walls,
threats, slapped in red paint, Rabin is waiting for you.

– Fran Payne Adler, from Dare I Call You Cousin

……………………

Let us send Rabbi Arik and Hagit our thoughts, to support their courage when they’re alive, when they need it most. May they, in their courageous and compassionate acts be a guide for our own pathways of peace.

– Fran Payne Adler, Sept. 23, 2015

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Yom Kippur Drash
by Robbin DeWeese

My parents, J.E., Julius and Babs, Babette Stern Isaacson proudly lived in New Orleans. I was fortunate to care for them during their final illnesses last fall as even then they continued to enjoy memorable meals with so many dear ones. Our home cultures form us in so many ways. Southern hospitality and New Orleans cuisine shaped the home I grew up in.

I realize that at this point on Yom Kippur mention of fine cuisine may be challenging to our fasts, so please forgive me. Just let my reflections transport you to joys of shared moments around the table with loved ones.

Meals were a focal point of life in my parents’ home. Daddy used to say, “Some people eat to live. I live to eat.” On Sunday nights, Mama would sit at the white oval table with her box of recipes indexed on cards and a steno notebook and pen in hand. First, she wrote each day, leaving enough space between to write what would be for dinner that night. Do y’all want pot roast Monday? What about on Thursday? From that, she would have her list ready to make groceries Monday morning.

This past June, going through their papers, we found stacks of Mama’s old steno pads. After the kids were gone, the lists evolved into the dates, occasions, and names of the many guests invited. Of course, then, each menu: gumbo, étouffée, chicken stew, red beans & rice, chocolate ganache torte, bananas Foster.

Serving had its rituals. Daddy insisted on carving the meat or turkey at the table. Never in the kitchen. He was a surgeon. He would stand at the head of the table, and ask each guest to name a preferred thickness. My Daddy could slice your roast beef thin as paper, or thick as you’d like, but always with elegance, and often a joke. Food was served with conversation and intense interest in the participants. You’d better be prepared to explain yourself, providing details

More than anything, I was struck by the many, diverse names on the lists. There were family at all extensions, friends I’d known all my life, like the Poker Crowd they dined and played with every other Wednesday for sixty years, Daddy’s patients, who’d become devoted friends, all kinds of people Mama met through her community service work.

My parents delight in welcoming and nourishing people is a legacy Jan and I treasure emulating in our home.

 

Fri, May 24 2019 19 Iyyar 5779