Oasis Songs: Musings from Rav D
Tuesday, August 11, 2017 / 19 Av 5777
Summary: Rabbi Kosak welcomes Cantor Bitton to his first Shabbat here at Neveh Shalom and reflects on Charlottesville.
SPECIAL SERVICE ADDITION: We will hold a special vigil that will take place this Saturday morning at approximately 11 am during our service.
Cantor Bitton is Here!
Tuesday I drove to the airport, and picked up our new hazzan. Cantor Eyal Bitton arrived with three suitcases, a guitar and much excitement for his new role in our community. What was not in tow with him yet is the rest of his family. Michèle is wrapping up many details in Hamilton, Ontario and will oversee the move. Miya is obliviously happy, though she misses her daddy.
Since then, he’s been working to get up to speed for his first shabbat with us. Of course, he has an endless list of chores, from getting a bank account and a social security card. There is a lot on his plate, and that doesn’t even address the high holiday preparations. Still, he is up to the challenge. I know I speak for many of us when saying how glad we are to have him join our synagogue family. In the months to come, you’ll have many opportunities to get to know him. Please make him feel welcome.
The Fire of Hate
Our eyes and hearts have been transfixed on Charlottesville. Our minds have reeled at the government response, at our president’s flip flopping from silence, to condemnation to equivocation. Watching the candlelight vigil held in Charlottesville, one couldn’t help but be shocked by the many forms fire takes.
We won’t soon forget the mis-purposed tiki torches used by the white supremacists. They were held not to illuminate but as a show of angry force. Their seething flames referenced the age of lynching when black men, women or even children could be beaten, raped or hung from trees. The riot gear, helmets and shields that many brought with them screamed out their bad intent from the outset. Chanting “blood and soil,” this cacophony of the demonic waved their swastika festooned flags. Thus they invoked the symbols of a Nazi past, in which Jews, gays, blacks, Roma (Gypsies) and so many other “Others” were incinerated.
And it doesn’t matter if the hate never disappeared. It doesn’t change anything if the number of anti-semites and racists has held steady over the years or if the news is only now waking to this cancer in the national body. For a short historical moment, we could imagine that these individuals were ashamed of their consuming rage and the beast within.
Shame, you see, can heal. It can alert us that we have acted poorly, or allowed our ugliest emotions to gain a controlling interest in the land of our souls. If we listen to that shame, painful as it may be, we can use it as a guide to help deliver us to a richer, fuller and more compassionate humanity.
But on August 11th, we learned that in the place where shame should have taken perch, pride took its place. Pride in the use of Confederate symbols. Joy in the swastika. In the flaming torches that once set black people’s homes on fire. A society where shame is dead is one unhinged from the possibility of self-improvement. A soul that is unable or unwilling to feel shame condemns itself to traverse a hell of its own making. It will take all those who cross its path along the same hellish journey. That’s where we all have been forced to march this past week.
These individuals believed they were engaged in a noble calling, preserving white culture against the forces of multiculturalism. They see the artifacts of their history being removed and they feel similarly unmoored–rudderless in a world of change. I have enough moral imagination to allow myself sympathy for their plight, even as I detest their means for protecting that legacy and therefore their place in the world.
But having a moral imagination that allows one to understand is very different from condoning the ugliness of their filth. You don’t build your cultural foundation by ripping down others. That way lies darkness, shadow and repression. Your own vision becomes something pallid and putrefying. Throughout the ages, my people has been murdered by that festering sickness.
Let me be clear. My life is dedicated to preserving, strengthening and transmitting culture. That’s what rabbis do. It’s not done with white hoods and Nazi death chants. It’s not achieved by claiming supremacy over others. Culture is preserved by love and hard work. It is passed on patiently, from one child to the next. It gathers strength by seeking words that uplift and inspire us to be the best versions of ourselves. Culture builds. It doesn’t tear down. Culture is nurtured and nourished by a thousand small acts of kindness and concern. It is the expression and product of a creative people. Theirs was a march of the living dead, of those who have lost their way so completely that they blame others for their spiritual blindness and seek shortcuts that don’t exist.
The Light of Love
But on Wednesday night, we witnessed a different use of fire as good people gathered again in Charlottesville to say–”that is not us!” The softer glow of a sea of candles communicated something vastly different. Hope. Healing. Love. A refusal to yield to hate. Those who came took back the night. Those who came were America at Her best.
And Heather, we will not forget your sacrifice. We dare not.
Rachmana Litzlan (May the Compassionate One Save Us),
Shabbat Table Talk
- When have you embraced shame and used it as a tool for growth? Alternatively, when have your feelings of shame paralyzed you? What accounts for the different responses?
- What’s the most hateful thing that ever happened to you? What’s the most hateful thing you did to another person?
- Where have you found hope when you were at your most discouraged?
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