26 April 2013

Should Rabbis Date Non-Jews?

Should rabbis date non-Jews?  asks the Forward.

Um, no.

That's my answer to one of the latest issues to distract the Jewish community from more pressing issues at hand, like making Torah relevant, preserving the Hebrew language, engaging Israel in a meaningful way, connecting to God, and strengthening people's connection to Jewish history, culture and civilization where spirituality doesn't satisfy.

But using the pulpit to say that rabbinical students are being discriminated against because their spouses have not converted to Judaism?

Give me a break.

Rabbi-to-be Dan Kirzane has been making the rounds with this argument which frankly, embarrases me as a rabbi who represents both an open approach to intermarried families as well as a principled approach to representing the Jewish tradition more broadly among all the Jewish people--not only Reform Jews.  More succinctly, Kirzane's position makes us look bad.

Like a lot of people who choose the rabbinate, Kirzane confuses his role as a Jewish leader, not able to avoid the pitfall wherein lay leaders and clergy live by the same rules.  We don't.  Rabbis are supposed represent the aspirations of the tradition and living Jewish lives as Jews is one of them.

One core principle of his argument--that there exists a "double-standard" between Reform synagogues that allow lay leaders to be intermarried and HUC-JIR, which trains rabbis, cantors and educators and does not--is most illustrative of the flaws in his thinking.

While it's true that Judaism's core values of Shabbat, Torah, Hebrew prayer, and mitzvot can, in theory, be performed by anyone in a family regardless of religious status, the rabbi is expected to model another value:  the Jewish people.

A potential rabbinical student married to or dating a non-Jew needs to have the courage and the principles to state unequivocally to his or her partner, "Please become a Jew.  Being a Jew is the most important thing in the world to me and I want you to share that destiny with me."

That statement to a loved one is, to my mind, the most compelling form of "outreach" we possess.

17 April 2013

Jerusalem/Tel Aviv Day Four

Monday night Seymour Zeises and I called our friend Naomi Levine, who was celebrating her 90th birthday.  It was Yom Ha'Atzmaut and we were in Jerusalem on a UJA mission.  Naomi was in her apartment in New York, working.  Which is what you'd expect from Naomi on her 90th birthday.  Not only should we all be so lucky; we should all be so brilliant, committed, determined and successful.  And tough and funny and charming.  Never, in all the years that I've known Naomi, have I not learned something.  Her wisdom grows with time.

This morning President Shimon Peres came to address our UJA mission.  He was brilliant, charming, resilient and funny, too.  One person commented about how in the last few years he's really turned up the "Yoda Effect."  I guess that means his wisdom is deep and cute and iconic--all at the same time.

One marvels at having lived to reflect upon the past century of Jewish life.  And for Peres, born in Poland, the great-great grandson of the great Rabbi Chaim of Volozhin, who as a child also had an audience with the Chofetz Chaim, another great sage of the late 19th century who lived well into his nineties.   Clearly, knowledge extends life.

This is a Jewish value:  wisdom extends life.

On Yom Ha'Zikaron I went for a run late in the day.  From downtown to Jerusalem, out along the old Jerusalem-Jaffa rail road, out to Beit Safafa.  On the return leg, as I passed by the memorial site of a suicide bombing, covered with wreaths and yahrzeit candles remembering the dead, I recited the Kaddish as I ran by.  The memories of souls I never knew but by sheer force of familiarity--I've passed that site dozens of times--I knew they hovered there, physically absent, spiritually present, an ephemeral testimony to Jewish strength and resilience.

And I imagined--with the street aptly, hauntingly named Emek Refaim (Valley of Ghosts) paralleling the track, the hundreds of lives taken in suicide bombings during the terrible years of the Second Intifada coming back each year on Memorial Day to stand guard over the promise that their lives were not lost in vain.

I heard so many stories this past week about "that time" of suicide bombings, a time which, increasingly, is coming to represent a time that Israelis will never return to.  The will and determination that I see--even among those jaded by the death of a peace process, rightward turns of Israeli governments and increased radicalization among Palestinians--this will and determination is pushing the new reality we now see.

And it's best understood by the wisdom refracted through Peres' life--an optimism that in balance life is getting better; that democracy is "on the march" as he said; that the world is opening up and equalizing; and that in Israel in particular, the achievements of a small nation with precious few resources and surrounded by hostile powers has accomplished more than anyone ever could have imagined.  When you're 90 and you look back over that horizon of having lived your life, so fully, created a state and fought in every war and then, late in your career, seen your comrade assassinated before your eyes, your nation almost fall apart and then, revive with strength, unbridled creativity and innovation?  Well, you've earned the right to say what you think.

So Peres implored optimism.  To hope.  To have faith in Jewish civilization's eternal teachings to do good, to bring justice and freedom to those who seek it.  And, as he put it so humorously, to never be satisfied with enough.  This is the drive to continue the march.  "What can I say?  To be dissatisfied is so...Jewish."  It rang true.

As our day unfolded, we met a general in an elite intelligence unit of the IDF who spoke about fighting enemies with the mind while understanding that the conventional wisdom past generations was always in need of refinement and adaptation.  This was the Jewish way.  We met a young man who is determined to win the Google contest to put the first Israeli spacecraft on the moon, leading a scrappy R & D effort that insists on non-profit status, raising space-age proportion dollars in order to inspire a new generation of Israelis to study math and science--if only to open new vistas of discovery and possibility.    Even at Citibank's center for innovation in North Tel Aviv, one was struck by the positively optimistic sense that while the turmoil and recklessness of a comatose peace process languished on the burning hills of Canaan, a determined center was without question forging ahead.

A well-crafted talk in the evening by US Ambassador Dan Shapiro left our group with the sense that the White House and the Prime Minister's office had made great strides in restoring order and friendship to an alliance; and Yair Lapid, the leader of Yesh Atid and the current great white hope of Israeli electoral politics (shining, charismatic and handsome but let's face it folks--with no legislative achievements yet to hang a hat upon) wowed us with his words of democracy, the middle class and pluralistic Judaism.

Forgotten perhaps was Dalia Rabin, the late Prime Minister's daughter, who built from the blood and radical injustice of her father's immoral assassination the Yitzhak Rabin Center, which was yet another structure of stone and glass to rise from the destruction of the Second Intifada.

All day long we kept hearing about "start-up nation" but never did those words pass from the lips of Dalia Rabin.  Rather, she spoke of her father's vision, his quiet strength, and his fatal belief that we Jews are obligated, as a measure of the strength of our character, to seek justice and peace.

Some gain wisdom with age; others gain wisdom through suffering too much before their time.  In a land which has produced more than its share of justice and wisdom and blood and violence for the whole world, here's to our hope that justice and wisdom will prevail.

Jerusalem Day Three

I start at the end of the day.  During the Yom Ha'atzmaut celebration last night at the Barkan Winery on Kibbutz Hulda, just down the road from one of the first JNF forests planted in the Land of Israel--a forest named for Zionism's founder Theodor Herzl--we heard a stirring and inspiring testimony from Noam Gershony, the gold medal paralympian, who spoke quietly, humbly and with incredible strength about his return from a fatal helicopter crash to reclaim his life on new terms.
This young man's determination to live, to not succumb to despair, was one of the greatest stories I had ever heard.  Looking out into the dark and distant night, to the forest of Herzl's trees in the distance, I thought of Herzl's compatriot Max Nordau's concern for the development of new Jews--of muskeljuden, whose bodies and new found strength would represent a physical triumph over diaspora weakness--and added Gershony's narrative to the complexity of a day that had us examining varieties of forms of strength and resilience.

Moments after Gershony's emotional talk, while leaning on the crutches he uses to walk, the conductor of a singing troupe of Holocaust survivors surrounded him with a bear hug and kissed him on the cheek.  The chorus of Holocaust survivors sang Yiddish songs and turned some impressive dance moves, a joyous expression of resilience.  The conductor's hug was a mildly stunning off-stage disturbance that was as rich as it was complicated.  One survivor embracing another survivor.  A man in his eighties having made it through unspeakable historical horrors and genocide grabbing hold of another man, a survivor in his early thirties, the generation of the realization of Jewish strength in his homeland, who leans on crutches because of a helicopter crash on the way to provide air support during the Second Lebanon War in 2006.  Hezbollah was launching hundreds of rockets on Israel that summer and its terror vanguard in Lebanon, fueled by Iran's insidious rhetoric and support for extermination of Jewish life in the Land of Israel, here was a young man not rounded up and threatened but manning a fighting machine that hit the ground, took his friend's life and brought his to the age.

The survivor embracing the survivor on crutches for having survived a crash on the way to fighting for survival.

My mind drifted back to earlier the day.  We had gone to visit Moshav Netiv Ha'Asarah, on the Gaza border, to learn about how this community copes with the traumas related to terrorism and rocket fire from Gaza and the work of the Israel Trauma Center, which has trained dozens of local residents in the delivery of trauma services to their fellow community members.  We met Tali Levanon, a social worker whose own family descended from Italian and Polish diaspora communities who is married to a man whose family descends from the Jews of Beirut, and, as we spoke, was a student of my father-in-law's mentor from Hebrew University, Dr. Avraham Doron, recipient of the Israel Prize and Holocaust survivor.
Communities members in Netiv Ha'Asarah are in the first inner circle next to Gaza and so when a terror attack begins, there are less than 15 seconds to make it safely to shelter.  The trauma of this experience and what it does to anyone--from the smallest to the youngest--takes deep root and requires enormous work to undo, to heal, in order that a person is not held captive by fear.  Off in the distance, through the bright sun, one could see Gaza City and Jabaliya.  In the foreground, a young Palestinian on the other side of the smart security fence, armed by remote electronics and maintained virtually by female soldiers at an alternative location, was collecting scrap metal and hauling it away on his donkey.  He'll sell the scrap metal, I thought.  And maybe it will become one of those primitive rockets; or maybe not.  But what a life on both sides of the fence.  Since it's certain that the young man on the Palestinian side has surely suffered his own traumas, inflicted upon him by Israeli rockets and guns, brought about in response to terror, the result of a fatally stupid and intransigent strategy of the terror leadership in Gaza.
The land in Gaza is the same land as that in Netiv Ha'Asarah.  It can yield the same flora; draw the same birds and animals; produce the same fruits and vegetables.  This was equally evident when we drove in to Sderot.  Just beyond border fences the land was a mirror image of what we were seeing in Israel.  Marginal communities living in direct proximity to one another.

In Sderot we went to the police station to see the macabre display of Qassam rockets and other primitive tools of terror that have wreaked havoc on Israelis and drawn devastating fire not only upon the Palestinians who fired them but the many thousands who live among them.  The absurd disparity of looking at the simple, man-made tools, welded in garages and underground tunnels, sourced by Iran via Lebanon, being countered by complex military technology deployed by Israel with the support of the United States, left me depressed.

It had me thinking in biblical terms--of Cain and Abel; of Isaac and Ishmael; of Jacob and Esau--and of the seemingly endless ways in which the inflictions of traumas sometimes come not from far away but from close at hand, from the family.  And how generation after generation we suffer from the tragedy of leaders and interpreters of narrative traditions who get it wrong.

I found myself furious at Palestinian leaders for perpetrating lies about Jews (denial of Jewish connections to this land; Hitler-like fantasies about the Jewish thirst for blood and mendacity) while simultaneously troubled by our own Jewish internal denials.  Driving back from the Gaza border we took a short cut through the West Bank, blithely gliding past lush Jewish settlements, secure, well-watered and generously supported by infrastructure, across the road from Palestinian towns wrapped inside a wall that certainly keeps Israelis safe but equally if not more important, keeps Palestinians "in."

It's the hardening that troubles me.  I fully understand and support Israel's own efforts to protect itself and its people.  As a tourist here each year, I surely benefit from such safety and don't begrudge it one bit.  But it is critically important to do so with eyes wide open, with an insistent sensitivity to the effects of such traumas on one's ability to see and understand the plight of the other.  Especially in our deeply cynical world, when there is an obviously devastating lack of brave spiritual or political leadership on the Arab side, we Jews, despite the temptation to look the other way, must demonstrate a sensitivity and understanding that is has always been a pillar of our uniqueness as a people.

These are impressions.  These are incomplete thoughts.  They are culled from a day in which I couldn't help but conclude that one of the challenging lessons of seemingly miraculous survival is that it's not miraculous at all to survive--rather, those who do often do so because of interminably complex weaving of lives, resiliencies, hopes and deep wells of generosity.  

Yesterday during our morning prayers, we recited the "al ha'nisim" prayer, words dedicated to thanking God for the miracles of surviving those who sought our destruction--Hanukah, Purim, and Yom Ha'Atzmaut.  Yesterday I refused to say them.  My mind was still darkened from thinking of soldiers who died in Israel's wars; and as immediate, my heart torn from the images of obliterated bodies and dead innocents in Boston; and more, from the continuing smoke and ashes that rise from God's absence when six million Jews and countless millions others died during the Holocaust and the Second World War.

How can I thank God for the miracle of Israel's founding after bearing witness to God's manifest physical powerlessness during the Shoah?  My faith wouldn't tolerate it.

But yesterday, in the resilience, I saw light.  A tennis champion in a wheelchair; a chorus of survivors; a team of trauma specialists; and maybe, just maybe, a young man searching for scrap metal, to beat it into a plowshare.

This is Isaiah's image, forged nearly three thousand years ago and "miraculously" remains relevant today.

16 April 2013

Jerusalem Day Two

I look back over our second day in Jerusalem on this UJA Rosenwald Mission through the complex lens of having traveled the emotional journey with Israelis yesterday--the journey from Yom HaZikaron to Yom HaAtzmaut made even more complex by the horrible and tragic news from Boston about the bombings at the Boston Marathon.

This morning, as I write, before hearing from the head of the Jewish Agency, Natan Sharansky, we gathered for silence in solidarity with Boston, the many victims of this senseless and evil act, and with the families who have lost loved ones.  Hopefully, law enforcement will quickly find the perpetrators of this cowardly act and bring them to justice.


Our Monday morning began with an extraordinary presentation from the JDC--the Joint Distribution Committee, the Jewish community's long-standing humanitarian aid agency.  Three compelling stories from an Ethiopian woman who has benefited from a JDC education and integration program; a young Haredi man who has joined the IDF and is getting a valuable education that is an example of the kind of necessary integration that thousands of Israeli Haredim will need to experience in order to transform this country's economic and religious landscape; and finally, an incredibly inspiring young woman who made aliyah, was one of the first females to serve in a combat unit, was injured and paralyzed in a random car accident, and is now a leader in the crusade for equality and access for the disabled in this country.

Soon we were off to the Israel Supreme Court for an all too brief presentation by Noa Sattath, head of the Israel Religious Action Center, the Reform movement's social justice arm here in the country that advocates for justice and religious equality, fights racism, sexism and homophobia, and has played an integral role keeping Israel's Declaration of Independence true to its intention of rooting this country in justice and freedom for all its citizens.

We also heard from Tamar Herman, a sociologist at the Open University and the Israel Democracy Institute.  Tamar echoed Noa's message and also underscored the necessity of shedding light on the great discrepancies that remain in Israeli society--both social and economic--that on such an important and somber day of Remembrance and preparing to celebrate Independence reminds us of the long and vibrant road ahead.

A lunch at the Botanic Garden with several entrepreneurs who have benefited from some interesting new loan programs was enlightening and it was soon followed by a security tour of East Jerusalem with a retired army intelligence officer named Avi Melamed, which was then complemented by a sobering talk from Danny Seidmann, who, fortuitously featured in the Daily Beast yesterday.  Danny has been mapping Jerusalem for his entire career and his message about the necessity for compromise in this complex and beautiful city is a message that is not always easy to hear but is even more necessary to hear--especially now.  Our shul always avails itself of Danny's tours when we are in Jerusalem and it was good to see him again!

I had some time between returning to the hotel and dinner, so took an hour long run out along the Jerusalem Rail Road path that now is one of Jerusalem's great new public parks.  Along the route families and individuals were preparing for the transition from Remembrance to Independence and along the route were Israelis and Palestinians from all walks of life.  The path was rich and redolent with springtime, history, and tenuous coexistence.  Religious and secular Jews bumped against one another in celebration and Palestinians mingled comfortably as well.  The sky was mercy-filled with this amity.  The soccer fields of Beit Safafa were busy, mosques silhouetted against this canvas of hope.

After dinner I walked into the Old City to watch celebrations along the paths leading to Jaffa Gate and then inside at David's Tower.  The strength of pride in this young state's accomplishments so evident.  While security was surely tight at the perimeters of the city, the young Palestinians mingling among the young Israelis was a tiny, fleeting glimmer of hope for what future celebrations may one day be.

I thought of this idea as fireworks blasted in the celebratory sky, thinking back to dinner as Micah Feldman, the "Abba" of saving Ethiopian Jewry, addressed our group before introducing Yityash Aynaw, the country's first Ethiopian Miss Israel.  When the young woman took the microphone after Micah's jaw-dropping description of the tens of thousands of lives saved, the hotel's Palestinian wait staff came out to see this newest pop culture icon.  The smiles on the faces of these young men were radiant and I couldn't discern if they were so happy to see a celebrity (and their reactions were certainly no different from all the yuck-yuck Catskills comments from the Jewish men in the room about the tall beauty) or if, in some way, they saw in Yityash Aynaw's ascent as a minority as a symbol of hope for themselves.

Maybe it's just another case of Jerusalem Syndrome--I'm forever looking for glimmers of hope during my visits.  Nevertheless, I maintain this view that there are far more people than we ordinarily hear about, hungry for peace in this city.


Today I am off to Sederot near the Gaza border.  More reports later tonight.

14 April 2013

Yom Ha Zikaron: Jerusalem

foreground:  Jerusalem sandbox.  background:  King David Hotel
Landing in Tel Aviv on Sunday late afternoon, we boarded the buses quickly for the climb to Jerusalem and the beginning of Yom HaZikaron, Israel's Memorial Day for fallen soldiers and others who died in service to the Jewish state.

I am with 200 New Yorkers as part of the UJA Federation Rosenwald Mission--and am very honored to be here.

It's a somber, muted day, heavy with memory and song and reflection on the sacrifices we make in order to be free.

Haaretz carried a couple of interesting stories about the ways in which the language of Israeli national bereavement has shifted from the national to the personal in the past generation, something writers have been talking about for some time.  And it was an interesting complement to a general feeling that I've had coming to Israel so often in the past few years--that the center of the country is coalescing around the idea of digging in, building the core identity of the state, and waiting for another moment to make peace.  The danger of this approach, says one side of the debate, is that avoiding making peace at all costs will cause more trouble down the road.  Hence, others gathered in Tel Aviv last night--Israelis and Palestinians--to mourn the dead on both sides and to insist on peace.  It's an uphill battle to keep that flame alive.  On the other hand, with so much turmoil all around the region, it makes for a very destabilizing environment in which to settle borders.

Hence, economic issues, equal rights, religious pluralism, Haredi army service--and many more issues--rise to the top while the waiting game between Israelis, Palestinians and the rest of the region settles down.

I see the wisdom in strengthening the core, a view I'm sometimes surprised by.  But it's an evolution which is not itself settled so I watch and listen, even to my own troubled soul.

As our bus wound into Jerusalem, flags were being handed out and sold; music on the radio shifted; and at dinner at the hotel, Sallai Meridor spoke in low, personally anguished tones about family, friends and neighbors lost in past wars and terror attacks.  Back in my room, I watched memorial concerts on television, mournful songs, family testimonies, a nation stilled and united.

It's cliche to say so but nevertheless, I couldn't help myself from feeling that commercialized shame one feels (does one feel that or is it just me?) of being an American on Memorial Day when the big excitement might be a sale at Macy's.  But with a volunteer professional army, how many Americans--despite more than a decade of war---are really any longer intimately connected to the valor and value of sacrifice and national service.  What do we really know?

Of course, one could argue that not sending our children off to fight wars en masse is a good thing (leaving aside the deeply problematic schism between those who put their lives on the line to defend American democratic values and others who do not.)  But the question of volunteer versus mandatory army service really ought to make us face the idea of service in general and its value as the great unifier in a democratic country.

Here's where I land--given all the great flaws and economic divisions that remain a reality both in the United States and Israel:  mandatory service is better than no service at all.

When I arrive here each visit--however distanced I may be from the day-to-day realities of Israelis and Palestinians--I am immediately overcome with powerful grip of a collective narrative, a personal identity rooted in a national idea.  Unquestionably, it's what drew me to Israel as young man, feeling rather alienated from an increasingly individualistic America in the 1980s.

I calculated on the plane Saturday night that this is my sixteenth trip to Israel.  The pull is as strong now as it was in 1985; the country, old and new, never stands in one place.

But on a day of memorial and remembrance to honor those whose blood truly makes this possible is as humbling an expression of citizenship as one can imagine.  Americans, lost in our pursuits of the self, would do well to listen.

03 April 2013

Shame On Us

relatives of victims of gun violence  (photo:  NYT)
The Gun is the Golden Calf of American Politics.  It's made of precious metal; it drives people mad; they worship it like a god.  And so far our nation lacks the unified leadership that Moses and God were able to muster in knocking back this idolatrous obsession with individual rights, forming militias, and supposedly protecting a particular American value.

Connecticut, ahead the rest of the country, passes the most comprehensive gun legislation since Sandy Hook and what's the response?  A flood of gun buyers bum rush the gun stores to arm up.  The perversity is mind-blowing.

A few months after Cerberus (named for the hellhound who guards the Gates of Hades) and its gun-hawking CEO Stephen Feinberg, bowing to pressure from investors, offers to sell the cynically named Freedom Group but so far, no major bank will even come close.  Who would want to buy the major conglomerate of gun manufacturers knowing what we know about how they distort the Constitution, intimidate Congress, and peddle the most dangerous and insidious arsenal in the nation with a shamefully high murder rate for a supposedly advanced civilization.

We check resumes and references when we hire someone in the workplace--it's a principle of business acumen that sure makes a lot of sense.  We have to register to drive and allow ourselves to be subjected to government scrutiny with our finances when we pay taxes.  In more dire circumstances, we have lists of registered names of sex offenders so that their distance from children can be maintained.

So why don't we check on the background of individuals who would like the privilege of owning a weapon and arming it with ammunition that can kill people?  If you're of sound mind and have nothing to hide, a background check is totally routine.  And yet, it appears that even background checks are running into trouble in Congress.  If we cannot set up the most basic of regulations that ensure our safety, we certainly don't merit our claim to being an exceptional representational democracy.

Call Senator Schumer.  Call Tom Coburn.  Call Harry Reid.  Call Joe Manchin.  Call Mark Kirk.  They are all in the United States Senate.  Let them know they need to get something done.

In one of the most cynical displays of our broken political system, a former U.S. Representative, Asa Hutchinson of Arkansas, touted a newly released study paid for by the N.R.A. that advocates arming teachers, administrators and security guards at schools across the country.  A little Golden Calf for each and every guardian of every girl and boy across the Land.  What a shameful exercise we are being subjected to.

Our Gun Control Working Group at CBE has been working hard since Sandy Hook.  Mostly writing letters, making phone calls, building a coalition of others who feel strongly that something must be done to curb the use of guns.

We cannot fund studies but I'd bet on a Mall in Washington, DC or at Grand Central Station or Central Park in New York, we can show up en masse, over and over again, and demand real legislation to stop this madness.

Before we get fooled again--and then, as the saying goes, and as the President stated clearly, it's 'shame on us.'


More advice from my FB friend Jonathan Kopp:

Andy, here's some very specific, actionable information your CBE gun group can take this week, straight from Senator Feinstein's office:
A vote in the Senate on gun legislation is scheduled to occur during the week of April 8th. Leader Reid has filed a base package that includes provisions designed to combat gun trafficking, require universal background checks, and improve school safety. The Assault Weapons Ban will be considered under two amendments:

· An amendment that reflects the full Assault Weapons Ban (i.e., a ban on assault weapons and large-capacity ammunition magazines); and
· An amendment to ban large-capacity ammunition magazines.

This week and next will be critical in persuading Senators to vote in favor of these two amendments. We need to generate calls/e-mails/letters to Senators’ offices, particularly those Senators we are targeting (listed at the end of this e-mail). Please consider the following action items from your organization and let me know what you are able to do so we can update Senator Feinstein:

· Ask your membership to call/write/visit their Senators to support the Assault Weapons Ban (through sending e-mail “action alerts” and other means of communication);
· Have your organization’s leadership personally call or write to targeted Senators;
· Have your organization’s leadership submit an op-ed or letter to the editor to a major newspaper on the importance of banning assault weapons and large-capacity ammunition magazines; and
· Have your organization’s leadership issue a press release or hold a press event on the importance of banning assault weapons and large-capacity ammunition magazines.

The following is a list of senators who we believe may be open to supporting the Assault Weapons Ban and whose support we will need to pass the bill.

Ayotte (NH), Baldwin (WI), Coats (IN), Collins (ME), Corker (TN), Fischer (NE), Hagan (NC), Heinrich (NM), Hoeven (ND), Johanns (NE), T. Johnson (SD), King (ME), Kirk (IL), Landrieu (LA), Manchin (WV), Merkley (OR), Portman (OH), Reid (NV), Sanders (VT), Scott (SC), Shaheen (NH), Toomey (PA), T. Udall (NM), Warner (VA), Wyden (OR)

We also believe the following conservative Democrats may be open to a ban on large-capacity ammunition magazines. Although our primary message is to pass the full Assault Weapons Ban, advocates that would like to contact these offices should focus on the ban on large-capacity ammunition magazines.

Baucus (MT), Begich (AK), Donnelly (IN), Heitkamp (ND), Pryor (AR), Tester (MT)
Let's do this!

02 April 2013

Touching Base

I wrote to wish Reverend Daniel Meeter a Happy Easter on Sunday morning, figuring he'd pick up the text on his walk through Prospect Park to worship on Sunday morning.  He wrote back, "God bless you and thank you.  Psalm 114."

That's my favorite from the Hallel.  Seas flee; rivers turn backward; mountains skip like rams, hills like young sheep.  What's not to like?

In the midst of the Matzah Fast, it's important to remember the joy associated with the Festival and the particularly monumental and engaging texts the Sages chose for framing the experience of remembering the Redemption from Slavery.

Part of Passover's particularly American expression is that families will often invite non-Jews to the Seder as a symbol of Elijah's message of welcome.  Of course, the Medievalists initiated Elijah's coming to the Seder as an expression of messianic hope to free the Jews from the evil and violent persecutions of the Crusades  ("Pour out Your wrath on the nations that do not know You and on the kingdoms that do not know Thy name") but in America, where religious freedom is encoded in the Constitution, Elijah gets to channel less wrath and more love.

In Rachel's family, their non-Jewish friend Roger Peterson, a lapsed Protestant turned atheist intellectual, of blessed memory, used to love to read and laugh at the metaphor of hills skipping sheep.

Psalm 114's opening line, "When Israel came forth from Egypt, the House of Jacob from a people of strange language, Judah became His sanctuary, Israel his dominion."  The Sages, in the Midrash to Psalms, have a good time with this.  "There are those who say that Egypt was happy when Israel left.  Rabbi Berachiah said, "It's like when a man is riding his ass.  The man says, 'When is this trip going to be over,' and the ass says, 'When is this guy getting off of me!'  When they finally reach their destination, I can't tell who was happier!"

Sometimes people are just happy to be rid of one another; and sometimes, centuries later, they become best friends.

This year I was particularly taken with the beauty of Song of Songs, which Rabbi Akiva claimed was merely channeled eroticism offered up as metaphor for God's love of the people Israel.  But watching men and women of different ages, at different stages of relationships of their own, read it aloud made me think it's also a text about love, and renewal of vows, and how the Jewish calendar invites the Jew to "touch base" (hey, baseball season opened yesterday so let's go with that metaphor) with himself and those implicated in his world.

 Toward the end of the Torah reading for the Shabbat during Passover, the community hears the end of the story of the Golden Calf, when Moses asks to see God's face and when the people receive the second set of tablets.  In one particular place, the line "you must not worship any other god" has the scribal innovation of enlarging a letter--כי לא תשתחוה לאל אחר--where the "resh" is enlarged so that it not be confused with a "dalet," which would make one read the line as, "you must not worship *one* God."

There's humor in that.  Since everyone knows, certainly in my shul, that most people barely have time to worship only One God, let alone two or three.

I marveled at the Haftarah that Shabbat morning--Ezekiel's stunning vision of resurrected bones, of dust re-animated, of a people returning to its land.  While a huge believer in keeping religion out of Zionism, read as a purely historical text I am continually in awe of the Jewish people's facility with making ancient words come alive and renew, year after year, an ancient people.

Maybe this is just a way of saying to you readers out there--even if you don't believe, it's an excuse for coming to shul and reading while others are praying.  The insights are stunning and filled with surprises.