A Tapestry of Colors

Oasis Songs: Musings from Rav D
Friday, November 6, 2020 / 19 Cheshvan 5781


Summary: This week, I reflect on Wednesday night’s Tichon class, what it teaches us about the unity which lies beneath our differences, and the hope it offers our nation.


A Tapestry of Colors

If you were around in the 1980’s you most likely remember the “united colors of Benetton.” It was a remarkably successful ad campaign for the clothing company, which pitched and celebrated diversity as its brand identity. Well, let me share with you the united colors of Neveh Shalom.

This past Wednesday, Tichon met as a large group to share the many ways this election has impacted our students and their families. Our goal was not to argue politics. Rather, it was to connect over our shared humanity and to be with one another in a very real manner. One of our activities was to share a couple of words or phrases that capture where we each are. The range expressed was stunningly large. With those words I crafted a blessing on the fly from the sentiments of our youth, with which we concluded our evening of learning.

Below you will find the thoughts of our students. What stands out is what happens when we allow our true voices to blend and meld. For looking at the virtual white board on which these emotions, worries and hopes were inscribed, everyone seemed quite far apart. Divided Yet when those same voices were woven together, a tapestry of unity was revealed. Perhaps America itself, with all her manifest differences, presents a similar tapestry that we her citizens are still struggling to see.

God, the breath of all life!
We your children seem to be growing
further apart not closer.
We seem to revel in our division.
God, I am so nervous.
Nervous that my rights to marry
to adopt—and so many other things—are at risk.
I want to say, F this, I’m out.
But then I remember my values.
I recall that you made the rainbow
to keep our hopes up.
I see kindness rise up before me
a reminder that we are on the right track.
God, inspire us to make peace, as you have,
so that our fears turn to kindness
and hope illuminates the path
and we bend your rainbow of love
just a bit closer.

Hopefully you are as moved and impressed by our youth as I am. When Brian Rohr and I held our debrief about the evening of learning we engaged in, we reflected on how our collective prayer had a certain kinship to non-violent communication.

If you are not familiar with the history or precepts of nonviolent communication, it was founded by Marshall Rosenberg in the 1960’s—America’s last momentous period of social upheaval and division. Rosenberg, like so many Jews, was driven by a certain utopian vision. Given the disruption of his era, he entertained the notion that we all have the same needs. He didn’t believe in a fixed pie notion of scarcity, but believed that our planet could provide for everyone’s basic needs. Because these needs are so fundamental, all our actions can be construed as attempts to fulfill our needs, and that our emotions often arise when some need is not being met. Although we all share the same needs, how we express them, and what action we take when they go unmet, is an essential aspect of our individuality. Most important to his thinking was how our social structures determine our sense of self. Indeed, he was an early student of family systems therapy, which looks at how the structure of family relations determines our role and thus our behavior.

I write these words to you when the 2020 election remains undecided. Perhaps by the time you read this, we will have greater clarity on who will lead our nation. Regardless of how long it takes to determine our next president, it should be manifestly clear to all that our country consists of two broad swaths of citizens and that we continue to talk past each other. From that systems perspective, we have created structures over the past decades that have locked our nation into two camps that must stand in opposition to one another. These structures convince us that we are in the right, while the other half of the nation is wrong. How blind this hatred makes us!

If we are to heal the many rifts that divide us, we will need to change those oppositional structures that threaten the republic. That’s a tall order, and I can’t claim to know what that will require of us—though it’s what occupies much of my thoughts and scholarship these days.

Perhaps it would be useful for us all to study or review the work of Rosenberg. For if we could muster a certain grand courage of compassion, we might gain the capacity to look at our fellow citizens, peer beyond our differences to the essential human needs that unite us. And maybe that would allow us to forge a new common national path?

Perhaps that sounds a bit utopian? Maybe. It was Sir Thomas More who, in the 16th century, coined the word utopia, which combines two Greek words meaning “no place.” Yet the utopian ideal, along with the idea of progress, are Jewish gifts to the world. As you may know, our Aleynu prayer is the source for the notion of tikkun olam. The central message of the Aleynu is a belief that we are moving toward a world of universal harmony. Our notion of Utopia is not “nowhere;” it is “not yet.” Within that “not yet” is a firm faith that we are moving towards it.

That utopian faith may seem out of view given our current conditions. I have to tell you, though, that as a minority faith, we have maintained our utopian faith under far worse situations. Let me invite you to be a utopian, to commit to an active faith.

May we all be blessed to step out of the structures of suspicion. May the orlat lev, the covering of our heart, be removed. May we see our national tapestry of colors, that rainbow which stretches between every blue and red state, bending closer.

Shabbat Shalom,

Rav D

Shabbat Table Talk

This weekend, perhaps you’d like to take a Shabbat off from table talk. Instead, enjoy a walk, meditate, chant a Jewish niggun, laugh with friends—even if it does have to be over Zoom. Breathe deeply. Enjoy a cup of tea. Just be. This weekend, that’s enough.

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