It takes time to integrate the experience of spending five days with 5000 Jews learning from our movement’s thought leaders and encountering our talented artists, collating wisdom from session after session offered by experts in Jewish text and culture, organizational psychology, and education. However, I can already say that this year’s Union for Reform Judaism Biennial was jam-packed with jewels. And while I’m not yet sure how all this will translate into an infusion of new spirit and action into our congregation’s life, I can share with you some personal highlights.
I was invited to participate in a training offered by Resettling the Table, an organization that has developed a highly structured technique for helping communities engage in difficult conversations. They observed that in the highly networked world in which we live, we rarely learn what personal experiences led a person to hold a position on a given issue. More likely, we are confronted by their deeply held beliefs before we ever know what events in their life mapped their coming to their particular viewpoint. Taking the time to find out why someone feels so deeply that immigration policy needs to be addressed, or why they feel so out of touch with Israel, is the route to creating receptivity on both sides of the table to having a deeper conversation, especially when we disagree. Consider inquiring after someone’s personal connections to an issue and when they came to understand what they do about it and see where the conversation goes.
In a Shabbat program, AJ Jacobs, author of “Walking the Bible”, spoke about his latest book, “Thanks a Thousand,” his quest to thank all the people responsible for his cup of morning coffee. While his five pieces of advice about becoming more grateful were sweet, the best part came when he invited us to share something for which we may not have offered enough gratitude. Suddenly the audience wasn’t hearing about what gratitude is, we were experiencing it. A woman from Hong Kong stood up and said, “I can’t ever say thank you to him, but I am grateful to the police officer who picked me up off the street and brought me to the orphanage. I’m literally a foundling.” In the sharing, a sixth lesson emerged for me: we can get the benefits of gratitude not only first hand by offering it, but second hand, too. I look forward to finding more opportunities to cultivate our collective gratitude.
Deborah Lipstadt, who spent forty years studying and fighting Anti-Semitism, was cautionary. After Pittsburgh, Poway and Jersey City, what we do as Jews should never be shaped by those who hate us. Rather, Jewish life should be determined by quality and merits of our rich tradition. It would be a shame, offered Lipstadt, if we cowered behind armed guards or worse stayed home altogether, but it would be equally wrong to become more “Jewish” in protest of those who hate us. We should be Jewish not because of what they do to us, but despite it.
As with all Jewish gatherings, there was the requisite handwringing about who we aren’t yet reaching (millennials), and who in our midst needs more or different attention (baby boomers). These remain the most challenging questions that our leadership will continue to address in the coming months and years. We welcome your continued partnership in building our temple into a home where all can nurture their highest aspirations, confront their deepest beliefs in community with others and shape their lives to be bearers of light and peace.
Previous messages from the Rabbi
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 … Continue reading Between You and Me December, 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
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
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
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
“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
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
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
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
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
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