The Day After Kristallnacht/The Day After the Election

Oasis Songs: Musings from Rav D
Wednesday, November 9th, 2016 – 8 Cheshvan, 5777

Quick News: 
We have a chance to acquire a peace pole to be planted in April. 

Question for us: should we buy fair trade chocolate for our Hanukkah celebration this year? It’s three times the price, but no child labor is used. 

Finally, on Saturday night, November 26th, a handful of us will bring soup and sandwiches to the homeless on our Portland streets. Let me know if you want to participate.

The Day After Kristallnacht/The Day After the Election

Does anyone remember the book “Blue Highways: A Journey into America?” It was written by William Least Heat-Moon. As I recall, he was a divorced Native American English professor who converted an old panel van into a makeshift home, then traveled the small back road “blue highways” of America. I was quite stirred by his experiences and the stories he told of the people he met along the way. It was a book that moved and motivated me; along with “Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance,” it inspired me to take two cross country motorcycle trips in my early twenties.

Those trips and the summers I spent in the back hollers of West Virginia informed me about the vast geography of the American spirit. You see, unlike driving in a car, motorcycles connect one with the environment and the people of a place. Without a windshield or a protective metal cage, one experiences an intimacy and a vulnerability that lets one really sense where you are. The endless cornfields of Nebraska, the dry counties of Kentucky or that bar in rural Indiana which went suddenly silent when I entered. And what of the thick old world accents I encountered when riding south from the Upper Peninsula of Michigan down into Wisconsin?

Or the good old boys bad-mouthing the Jews they’d never met, while I sat a bar stool over, tight-lipped and drinking cheap beer. Then how that hatred was redeemed by a stranger in Wyoming after my bike chain’s master link popped loose, stranding me beneath big sky and gathering storm. He loaded my CB-750K on to the back of his pick up truck just as the rains let loose, then put me up at his place in Fort Collins. He dropped me off at the repair shop the next morning and my journey continued.

On one of those motorcycle trips, home base was a small village in Northern New Mexico where I was one of three gringos. My Spanish should really be better than it is. Then more recently, the four years my family and I spent in purple state Ohio. Perhaps all those experiences filtered through me, rubbing against and altering my New York mind into an American one.

In any case, on February 22nd, 2016, I woke from a vivid dream in which I understood that Donald Trump would be the next president. The rage, the remove, the eyes of those who live far from the ocean’s swell–they all cohered into a focused picture that helped me understand. I mentioned it to my emeritus, Rabbi Isaak, that morning in the morning minyan prayer service. I texted it to a transgender friend in Ohio. And then I mostly kept my mouth shut about it. About the dream that is.

What built in its place was a greater urgency around this work of dialogue and encounter in which Neveh Shalom is engaged. They say that the main endeavor of an artist is learning how to see; the visual remains of that process–what we call the art–is really just a vapor trail capturing the real work that went before. Dialogue doesn’t necessarily change policy prescriptions, but it can change hearts. It can teach us to respect difference. It is the art form, the vapor trail of the process by which we deepen our humanity. There is no kindness quite like taking the effort to understand another person and their peculiar pain.

If there is a human who doesn’t have blinders on, I’ve yet to meet them. In all this post-election talk of victory or despair accompanied by very real celebration and mourning, maybe that’s the compassion we all ought to nurture for one another and ourselves. 

With that February dream fueling me, I composed my high holiday sermons: about being a bridge and the kindness of mensching; about practicing contentment for what we have to counteract our fears of scarcity; about how the Ten Commandments can still teach us how to build a more just society and therefore a more perfect union.

So here’s my ask. On Rosh Hashanah, our ushers passed out the “Be a Bridge” game boards. I requested that we all complete the game board, then submit some reflections about doing so. I wrote that the first 18 people to submit an account of their experiences would get invited to a party. Well, let’s scrap the limit. Whoever completes this task–well, we’ll all party together. And then we’ll tell the world about what we did. It’s a small thing. But as they say, every oak tree was once an acorn.


Rav D

Reminder: Walking Our Talk with Rabbi Kosak continues next week!

email to reserve a place 

Dates: November 16th.

Time: 12 noon-1 pm

Lunch and learn: 12:00-12:30 pm

Meander: 12:30~1:00 pm