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, and following the commemoration of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr’s birthday were both incredibly simple and infinitely complex.
Simple was the joy we felt both welcoming and being welcomed by St. James African Methodist Episcopal Congregation over the weekend prior to Dr. King’s birthday. Our choirs seemed to blend effortlessly to offer devotional song in both houses of worship. Both Reverend Edwards and I had a chance to speak to our congregations as we joined in Sabbath prayer on Friday and Sunday. Some of our youth children went to church and some of their youth came to temple. In my experience nothing felt forced, people met the unknown with openness and everyone came away moved, wondering whether reaching out across social, racial and religious lines to find friendship, healing and reconciliation can be as simple as that was.
Concurrently, during those same weeks I was part of a group of Jewish and African American leaders who were preparing for the very high-profile visit of Tamika Mallory, activist and leader of the National Women’s March, who was invited to speak at UNCA to honor Dr. King’s legacy. The event drew national coverage as it came to light later that Mallory’s relations with the Jewish community became strained over anti-Jewish remarks she allegedly made as well as her refusal to distance herself from ties to Louis Farrakhan, who is known not only for his organizing and support of vulnerable African American communities but also for his extreme hate speech against Jews. Whether or not the allegations against Mallory were true, the layers of identity politics that required navigating that were instigated by her visit were anything but simple. People who are not friends of the Jews often point a finger at us for our privilege and our economic and political power. When members of the Jewish community were insisting that nothing short of Chancellor Cable rescinding Mallory’s invitation to speak would suffice, that unfortunately played right into that harmful stereotype. And yet, in the current climate of division and hostility against Jews, how could the Jewish community turn a blind eye?
As I write this, we are still preparing for that visit. But here’s what I know ahead of it all. I know that the truth is complicated and people are complicated. Some things are easy for us to agree on, and some actions are easy to take. Others are difficult and the way forward isn’t clear. But I do believe that right now, people sitting down together, in dialogue or in prayer, gets us closer to where we hope to be. In the words of Kohelet, “There is a time for everything under the sun.”
Previous messages from the Rabbi
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
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
…we cannot reach any higher if we can’t deal with ordinary love. -Bono I read a lot of high holiday sermons…other people’s. It’s nice to see what other rabbis choose to speak about when so many are present and listening. This year, I also read a flurry of news articles on the subject of whether … Continue reading Between You and Me – November 2018
This month, I was late in turning in my Menorah article. After the volume of writing and thinking I was engaged in to prepare for the High Holidays, I just kept putting it off. I’ve even procrastinated on adding procrastination to the list of qualities I must address in myself this new year. In their … Continue reading Between You and Me – October 2018
Rabbi’s Highlights of the 2018 CBHT Trip to Israel Thursday June 21, 2018: Meditating at 6:30 AM on our first morning on the Tel Aviv beach for 23 minutes with Asa Harris who said afterwards, “Meditation is like yoga, except without moving!” In that moment I know I’m in for a treat with this group … Continue reading Between You and Me – September 2018
You may remember the NPR audio series called This I Believe that aired a decade ago. They were short, personal essays written by various guests about a core conviction borne from an impactful life experience. I will never forget one called, “Always Go to the Funeral.” In it, the author recalled how her father insisted … Continue reading Between You and Me
Two weeks after the school shooting in Parkland, Florida, in February, I accompanied 12 students to the March for our Lives in Raleigh. Shortly after, one of our teens organized a rally for students here in Asheville. Inspired by their passion for change, their stories of being afraid at school and a deep conviction that … Continue reading Between You and Me
Years ago, rabbis everywhere were writing sermons on the intrinsic wisdom of the instructions one hears in advance of every airplane flight you’ll ever take. “In case of emergency, oxygen masks will drop down in front of you. Place the mask over your mouth and nose. If you are traveling with a child, please attend … Continue reading Between You and Me
At services recently, I shared that this is the third year I’m renewing the same New Year’s intention: to create more space in my life to experience joy. In these challenging times, experiencing an abundance of joy seems ever more elusive. Rebbe Nachman of Bratslav, a well-known Chassidic personality who suffered from severe depression, some … Continue reading Between You and Me
Excerpted from a sermon delivered February 9, 2018 Thich Naht Hahn, a world renown Vietnamese Buddhist monk and teacher, wrote: “The first time I tasted peanut butter cookies, I was in California, and I loved them! I learned that to make peanut butter cookies, you mix the ingredients to prepare the batter, and then you … Continue reading Between You and Me
We are taking a break, a thoughtfully considered, time‑sensitive break from singing music penned by the well-known Jewish Rabbi and musician, Shlomo Carlebach. After a thoughtful discussion with the Sacred Music Team, we came to the conclusion together that in light of this moment, when the abuses of artists are becoming public and the wider … Continue reading Between You and Me