Oasis Songs: Musings from Rav D
Wednesday, November 18th, 2016 – 17 Cheshvan, 5777
Friends, this is a longer article. Part One outlines this past week on the local level. Part Two are my thoughts on the political state of our union. Given our community’s diversity and many people’s exhaustion from the news cycle, it seems best to mention that so you can make your own reading choices.
It’s Been a Week
It’s been a week. A painful, difficult week. An uplifting, marvelous week.
I’ve moved some major projects along, like the curriculum for a course on kashrut that I’ll be offering to congregants and those who want to become kosher supervisors for our kehillah (community), beginning in early 2017, and our in-house conversion course that Rabbi Posen and I will facilitate come February.
A lovely group completed a sweet unit of classes in the “Walking Our Talk: Musar Meander” series, where we studied Jewish ethical texts and took a stroll through nearby streets and woods. I was privileged as well to meet with numerous congregants, some of whom are evaluating their career choices and life directions, and to teach a group of Muslim students who visited us from Bilal Mosque.
A number of rabbinic colleagues met with Rabbi Kahn, formerly of San Francisco’s JCRC (Jewish Community Relations Council) to see how we might advance thoughtful and considerate dialogue around Israel. He was visiting our community at the request of Bob Horenstein at Federation. Israel is such a central part of Jewish identity, yet the complexities of its politics and global realities, combined with how our country struggles to discuss difficult topics, has meant that too many communities shy away from raising this crucial topic. We have some lovely plans in the works for that right here at CNS, by the way, so stay tuned…
There was the wonderful session on prayer with the students of the Oregon Board of Rabbi’s Introduction to Judaism. Probably 50 students filled Stampfer chapel with their curious and hungry minds. During these days, when fear seems to saturate many people’s hearts, we should all feel grateful that numerous individuals want to join their fate with that of our ancient and too often beleaguered people. What a testament! They give me courage.
And of course, we were so fortunate to learn with our scholar in residence, Arnold Roth, this past weekend. Kudos to the Suher family for memorializing the memory of Yoni Suher in this way–it is perhaps one of the remarkable peculiarities of the Jewish faith that we choose to remember someone by engaging in learning and scholarship. Mr. Roth’s hopeful messages about community and family, and his efforts to provide for Israel’s disabled children, sandwiched his searing accounts of terror victims, and how easily political leaders want to avoid addressing their needs.
These were some of the moments that lifted my spirits. But as I noted, it has also been a painful and difficult week.
By now, many of us have heard about the incidents of hate that occurred at Lake Oswego High School. If not, you can read about them here. I’ve been in conversation with their principal, Rollin Dickinson, offering to be a resource for him as he helps steer his school through rocky waters. As you can see from his letter, and as I felt in an extended phone conversation with him, he seems to be a good man committed to solid values. I am grateful for common decency, for at times it does not seem common at all.
Unfortunately, similar chilling events have transpired at Lake Oswego Junior High School that I only learned about this Thursday. Some boys have taken to making the ‘Hitlergrub’ (the Hitler salute) and chanting Heil Hitler during the pledege of allegiance. While I have also contacted their principal with a similar offer of help, that was late yesterday evening, and she has had no reasonable chance to respond.
With these disheartening episodes happening in our neighborhood, I want to share with you a message I composed for a group in Beaverton who are feeling quite fearful after the Bannon nomination. Apart from being addressed to a particular crowd, it outlines my current thinking on how we can influence others and appeal to their better natures.
It is with deep regret that I am unable to gather with you this evening despite my fervent desire to do so.
As we each wonder what this next period in the life of our nation means, gathering together in solidarity lends us all more courage than we could muster individually. It reminds us that we are not alone, and that therefore, we can and ought to maintain a posture of hope and optimism.
Like you, I have concerns, and that is as it should be. After all, Thomas Jefferson famously noted that “vigilance is the eternal price of democracy.” By that, I suspect he wanted to remind us that freedom is a collaborative process; so long as we all take part and continue to ensure that all voices are heard, the tendency of those in power to be tempted by tyranny can be checked by the will of the people. This gathering tonight IS the face of democracy in action; it is a statement of belief that we each can indeed affect positive change that will benefit the public good. Let no one ever call into question our motives for joining hands and speaking from our conviction. For those who do demonstrate a terrible ignorance of what democracy is.
Speaking personally, I labor constantly to understand people whose world views and politics are substantially different from my own. It is axiomatic that I do not possess all of the truth, and that there can be people of good will who hold commitments completely contrary to my own. For that reason, I have historically never used my pulpit to advocate for any given candidate or party. (This year has challenged that stance.) Rather, I have focused on issues upon which my faith tradition has some unique perspective to offer the national conversation.
Yet our effort to understand should never short-circuit the requirement we each have to fight the good fight. I do not know what will come of President-elect Trump’s tenure. I do not know enough to condemn Mr. Bannon as a racist at this point, and the ADL currently has no direct record of him making anti-semitic or racist statements himself. Breitbart’s record, however, shows a history of hate speech that ought to disturb people of good will regardless their political commitments. I do not know how or whether the worst words of the campaign trail will infuse this administration. I hope not, and may our new leaders find spiritual and material success that will be shared by all Americans.
What I do know is that hateful and denigrating language must always be met and resisted.
What I do know is that this country has been a refuge for immigrants throughout it’s long history. Starting with the Bering Strait land bridge thousands of years ago, everyone in America comes from somewhere else.
What rings in my ears are those timeless words of Emma Lazarus, incised on our grand dame, the Statue of Liberty herself. “Give me your tired, your poor, your huddled masses yearning to breathe free.” There is a promise in those words.
And I believe in capital A America as an ever burning beacon of freedom and equality and tolerance. Like all beacons, the light always shines toward us, to remind us that we are not there yet. For some, the light illuminates, for others, its brilliance sometimes blinds. Yet is shines for and upon us all.
And therefore, I need to make a very hard ask of those of us who have come together this evening: Fight with love! Raise up those who are blinded by hate so they too can see how this must be a nation of, by and for ALL OF THE PEOPLE. Remember that each of us also carries a bit of blindness, and labor to see with greater clarity.
Let us not get so wearied or discouraged that we turn to denigrate those whose positions and policies fly against all we hold dear. For hatred lowers us all, and it distances us from those whose minds and hearts we seek to change. Only through love and compassion can we reach into the soul of another and show them that our belief in the value of all people includes even those with whom we disagree.
Finally, take care of yourselves and pace yourselves. If Jefferson is correct, and vigilance is an eternal demand, then to be a true patriot and a true lowercase democrat requires that we all be prepared for marathons and not sprints. That is the sacrifice and the price America exacts from us all.
I send you my hopes, my strength and my admiration.
And with that, let me conclude by wishing us all a Shabbat shalom,
Shabbat Table Talk
- What was your moment of greatest moral courage?
- What was your moment of greatest moral failure?
- How do you endeavor to share your perspectives with people who think differently than you on a given topic? To what extent does your method work?
- How do you determine what is a fact? Do you have a methodology?