Rabbi’s Monthly Message



Between You and Me December, 2019

Last month, I was one of 30 people Carolina Jews for Justice gathered to make pilgrimage to Montgomery, Alabama.  Among the sites we visited were the Rosa Parks museum, Freedom Riders Museum, Dexter Street Baptist Church and the Equal Justice Initiative’s Legacy Museum and the National Memorial for Peace and Justice, all living testimonials dedicated to the process of truth and racial reconciliation that I believe are essential to our country’s healing and our collective future.

Here are a few immediate reflections:

Montgomery lives in infamy as a hub where the horrors of the slave trade thrived and the ugliest of segregation prospered.  Today, the streets are filled with markers and museums telling that story, a credit to the city in and of itself.

At the Legacy Museum, I meandered broken-hearted and teary through exhibits tracing the progression of racial violence that began with slavery and then continued on in the practice of convict leasing and then morphed into Jim Crow segregation and then evolved into the practice of mass incarceration that persists today.  Part of the experience is that no matter where one stands in that space, one can hear voices raised up in song, reminding us that music is one of the deepest and most powerful forms of organized spiritual resistance and survival.

The Memorial for Peace and Justice is an extraordinary memorial for the 4,075 documented victims of mob lynchings from 1877 to 1950.  Eight hundred and five casket sized steel pillars stand or hang, engraved with the names (when known) of victims from the 805 counties in twelve southern states in which known lynching crimes took place.  Sadly, a pillar with the names of John Humphreys, Hezekiah Rankin and Bob Brackett, who were brutally lynched in Buncombe County stands among them.  The sheer size and scope of this monument to people who were murdered for asking for a drink of water, leaving work without permission or looking at a white person, dispelled any notions I may have held previously that this form of gruesome racial terror was perpetrated on the fringe and out of public view.  In most cases, the opposite was true.  In fact, there were lynchings that were planned spectacles and drew as many as 15,000 onlookers.

Some of my fellow pilgrims are hard at work in our county fulfilling the Equal Justice Initiative’s larger vision for their monument: to engage communities in which lynchings took place in a process of education and racial reconciliation after which time they will send a duplicate pillar to them to remember this painful shared history.  I hope that we in Buncombe County will rise to that challenge and aspiration.

As if by design, the Dexter Street Baptist Church, where Dr. Martin Luther King started his civil rights career alongside Rosa Parks with the bus boycotts, left a final, hopeful impression on me.  I’ll not soon forget the enthusiastic hug with which the docent welcomed us at the door and then how she sang and preached her own King-inspired gospel about love and service to others.  I couldn’t have agreed more when she said, “Love...is a way life.”  Deep in my heart I must believe, we shall overcome…someday.  We still have work to do.


Previous messages from the Rabbi

Between You and Me- November 2019

“It is impossible to do deep Rebbe-work if you have to be the shammes (caretaker) at the same time.  If you are expecting deep teaching from someone, you have to give them the time to get there, to connect with the shalshelet, with the chain of their transmission; you have to support them in their … Continue reading Between You and Me- November 2019

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Between You and Me- October, 2019

You may remember the opening words of the Ne’ila service in the old, red Machzor (High Holy Day prayerbook): “Open the gates. Open them wide…” In the twelve years I was a rabbi BC (Before CBHT), this was the most reviled of all moments in the Days of Awe for me.  For the four years … Continue reading Between You and Me- October, 2019

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Between You and Me- Sept 2019

Recently, I was told its name is Joe Pye Weed. But since I’ve been living in Asheville, I know it to be the wildflower that bursts forth each year to tell me I’d better get a move on and write my High Holy Day sermons. I had to laugh when I learned that Joe Pye … Continue reading Between You and Me- Sept 2019

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Between You and Me – August 2019

The Talmud tells the story of a man called Honi the Circle-Maker, a Jewish Rip Van Winkle, who went out for a walk, sat down to rest, and fell asleep for 70 years.  When he awoke and returned to his village, no one recognized him.  Separated from his former companions, he died of loneliness, at … Continue reading Between You and Me – August 2019

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Between You and Me

“If you stop doing hard things,” she said, “you’ll stop being able to do hard things.”  That was what my health instructor said during class a couple of weeks ago.  She was lamenting how her mother, who used to be on her feet all the time while she was working, had retired, joined the YMCA … Continue reading Between You and Me

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Between You and Me – May 2019

Carpet Story A story from Iran: When a certain Muslim had been swindled by a Jew in business, the angered party went to the regional governor and prevailed upon him to issue an official edict requiring the conversion of every Jew by a certain date, upon pain of death. As the deadline approached, the Jewish … Continue reading Between You and Me – May 2019

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Between You and Me – April 2019

The Hagaddah does a great job telling the story of the Israelite’s enslavement at the hands of the mighty Pharaoh.  How with an outstretched arm and with signs and wonders, God redeemed us from captivity. Many of us will reflect at our Seder tables about those who are victims of tyranny today at the hand … Continue reading Between You and Me – April 2019

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Between You and Me- March 2019

There is a folk legend that King Solomon, the wisest person ever to have lived, once posed the following riddle: What can you say to a happy man to make him sad, that will also make a sad man happy?”  Solomon took a gold ring from his pocket upon which were engraved three Hebrew letters: … Continue reading Between You and Me- March 2019

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Between You and Me – February 2019

A foundation of spiritual practice is the truth that we can hold two opposing feelings all at once. We can feel joyful as we grieve, we can experience hope in our despair, we can be certain in our uncertainty and, if we are wise, always be uncertain in our certainty. The weeks leading up to, … Continue reading Between You and Me – February 2019

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Between You and Me – January 2019

An appeal to fellow Americans following the Pittsburgh Shootings The deadly attack on the Tree of Life Congregation in Pittsburgh on October 27, 2018 was by far the worst anti-Semitic incident in our nation’s history. But it was hardly the only one. According to the Anti-Defamation League, the number of reported anti-Semitic hate crimes rose … Continue reading Between You and Me – January 2019

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Between You and Me – December 2018

Light the lights…but replace them with LEDs! Hunkering down for the dark, cold winter, our ancestors knew we needed to add light and warmth to our lives. Today, light and heat come to us at a high cost – in dollars and in impact on the world. I invite you to consider these easy ways … Continue reading Between You and Me – December 2018

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