Oasis Songs: Musings from Rav D
Friday, November 4, 2022 / 10 Heshvan 5783
Summary: In a time of rapid change and upheaval, people sometimes behave poorly, so evil has a way of spreading. This week’s Oasis Song muses on this time we are in and offers suggestions for areas we can focus on to make a difference for ourselves and the community so that we don’t succumb to fear and anger.
Reading Time: Five minutes
When Things Get Real
An Israeli election in which a far-right demagogue gains power.
Upcoming American and local elections which will redraw assumptions.
Fear of crime and homelessness.
Skyrocketing gas and food prices.
A regional war in Ukraine that is spreading its impact to all corners of the globe.
Kyrie Irving, Kanye West, and the rising tide of antisemitism.
When things get real, who do we become?
When things get hard, how do we behave?
Which of our cherished values do we relinquish because we are frightened or enflamed?
Do we double down on our values and our freedoms, or do we feel the times are too dangerous to support those beliefs we once held dear? Are personal freedoms and respect for the dignity of our those with whom we disagree only possible when there are minimal threats?
When things get real, many of us change—some for the better, many for the worse.
This past Sunday was a day of interfaith activity for me. In the morning, I had been invited to speak about Israel at the West Hills Evangelical Covenant Church. Later that day I attended a coffee at the Bilal Mosque, along with CNS Board member, Ben O’Glasser.
Sometimes, when things get real and hatred accelerates, it can feel like the old habits of slow and steady relationship building don’t work or don’t work quickly enough to change the momentum. We look for quick or drastic solutions, actions that we hope can scale rapidly so that things stop getting so, well, real.
It should be no surprise to any student of Jewish history that levels of antisemitism are spiking. This is the pattern when life gets difficult. Humans always look for someone to blame, some proximate cause, a person or a group to attack. We Jews are the ancient canary in the coalmine of hate; when we get attacked, it is a sure sign that not only are things rough out there, but that the old myths are being disrupted. The old gods are neglected whenever the drumbeats grow louder.
What can we do when things get real instead of turning to hatred, giving up our old values, and seeking scapegoats? Here are three things I do.
First, breathe. Staying centered and calm is especially difficult during periods of upheaval, yet it is even more important to do so at such times, for without practices that keep us calm, we are more likely to end up agitated and fall into our fight or flight mode. We all know how difficult it is to think clearly when we go into survival mode. There are so many helpful meditation apps available if you are new to the practice.
You could also consider attending one of our new once a month Meditation Shabbats. Jewish prayer traditionally has been designed to lead us into deeper meditative states, but because of many sociological pressures, that is often not the case for many service attendees. These meditation shabbats are an experimental approach to rediscover or recover the ancient power of our tefillot prayer services.
I am also making myself available for small groups of people who want to learn about meditation in their homes or at the synagogue. If you have a group of eight or ten friends who are interested, please reach out to me and we can schedule something.
It’s much easier to learn and find new solutions to problems when we are centered. A quiet mind can absorb new information. As People of the Book, learning has always been a Jewish value. When things change rapidly, we can try to get a better grasp on what is happening by exposing ourselves to new thinkers and ideas. Simultaneously, it is always important to interrogate these new ideas, by which I mean to examine them from different angles and perspectives. That helps to ensure that we are not blindly buying into something that sounds good. In an era where mistruths and conspiracy theories are running rampant, learning is no longer a luxury but an antidote.
As one example, on Monday, November 14th at noon, our community will have the opportunity for a private Zoom meeting with Lahav Harkov of the Jerusalem Post, who will be speaking about “Making Sense of the Israeli Election.” In a time when all countries are reevaluating their past leadership models, this will be an important way to understand what these elections mean for Israeli Jews, what they mean for American Jews, and provide us more tools to think about the political changes happening in America and around the world.
Knowledge truly is power.
I put act last because when things get real, our anxiety levels increase. Often the first thing we want to do is get rid of our anxieties by acting and fixing. Yet the actions we take when we are not centered and when we haven’t informed ourselves of the issues tend to cause more harm than good. Yet act we must. In a world where hatred is increasing, we each can be a force for kindness and understanding. Please take a look at the many ways you can get involved at CNS and in the larger community. Perhaps consider attending the Interfaith Thanksgiving that Rabbi Posen and Cantor Bitton have been involved with for several years. Remember to vote and mail in your ballot. Now more than ever our small acts of kindness are essential acts of courage and positivity.
When things get real, our choices matter more than ever. Each choice has the potential to ripple out in ways we can’t always see. When things get real, who we are, and what we do, make all the difference.
Shabbat Table Talk
- Have you noticed any ways in which you are backing away from your old values or commitments because of contemporary events?
- As things get real “out there,” do you find yourself focused more on the day-to-day?
- What is your daily emotional state?
If you’d like to continue this discussion, follow this link to CNS’s Facebook page to share your own perspectives on the topics raised in this week’s Oasis Songs. Comments will be moderated as necessary.