Category Archives: tikkun olam

An act of conscience: standing against oppression

Dear Congregation Beth Israel members and friends,

Y’all know that I am honored and humbled to serve, with my dear friend and colleague Rabbi David Evan Markus, as co-chair of ALEPH: Alliance for Jewish Renewal. CBI is part of the ALEPH Network, and I wanted to share with y’all a resolution and petition that ALEPH put forward recently. The full text of the resolution appears below, followed by a link to a petition that I hope you will consider signing.

The resolution urges us to stand with our Muslim neighbors if they should be targeted by religious oppression under the Trump administration, and calls on all Americans to stand with the oppressed. In this way we signal that we stand against bigotry. When we say “never again” about the Holocaust, we must mean not only “never again for us,” but “never again for anyone.”

Blessings to all —

Rabbi Rachel

 

slider-standing-with-non-jews-against-oppression

RESOLUTION BY MAJOR JEWISH ORGANIZATIONS ON DIRECT ACTION TO THWART ANY U.S. GOVERNMENT ACTION REQUIRING REGISTRATION OF MUSLIMS

As initially proposed by ALEPH: Alliance for Jewish Renewal 

WHEREAS:

President-Elect Trump repeatedly has advocated and expressed his intention that Muslims resident in the United States will be required to register as such with the United States government; and

The First Amendment to the United States Constitution bans state action in respect of any establishment of religion, including tests and other qualifications on the basis of religion; and

Article II of the United States Constitution obliges the President of the United States to take care that the Constitution and laws of the United States are faithfully executed; and

Incitement and tolerance of invidious discrimination on the basis of any religion, ethnicity, race, gender, nationality or sexual orientation cultivates a civic climate that countenances all such discrimination, including anti-Semitism; and

Incitement and intolerance of religious discrimination have no place in any civil society; and

The Jewish people have living memory of anti-Jewish legislation and other official discrimination in Nazi Germany, including civic disqualification and registration with the government, preceding the Holocaust; and

Core Jewish spiritual values teach that one must not stand idly by the blood of one’s neighbor (Leviticus 19:16), and that one must love one’s neighbor as oneself (Leviticus 19:18); and

Principles of deep ecumenism  view all religious traditions as potential paths to the sacred; and

Rabbi Zalman Schachter-Shalomi  z”l (of blessed memory) professed faith with the Sufis of Hebron to exemplify the spiritual principle that Jews can and must stand in faithful co-religionist solidarity with Muslims;

NOW THEREFORE BE IT RESOLVED THAT:

If Muslims are required to register as such with the United States government, then all Jews — and all other persons in familial or communal relationship with Jews — are urged to register as Muslims immediately; and

All Jewish clergy associations based in the United States — including OHALAH (Renewal), Central Conference of American Rabbis (Reform), Rabbinical Assembly (Conservative), Reconstructionist Rabbinical Association (Reconstructionist) and Rabbinical Council of America (Orthodox) — as well as the Conference of Presidents of Major Jewish Organizations, its constituent organizations, all Jewish seminaries and other institutions of learning, and all other Jewish organizations, are urged to adopt, implement and publicize this resolution by all available means; and

All other clergy organizations and other faith-based organizations operating or having influence in the United States are urged to adopt, implement and publicize corresponding versions of this resolution most suitable to the tenets and contexts of their respective faith traditions; and

If Muslims are required to register as such with the United States government, then a goal is established that every United States resident promptly will register as a Muslim; and

Each ratifying organization will transmit a copy of this resolution to the official government office of Donald J. Trump as of its date of ratification; and

This resolution will be publicized by all available means.

SIGN THE PETITION!

Consultation on Conscience Conference next spring

The Religious Action Center of the Reform Movement will be sponsoring their next Consultation on Conscience conference April 30-May 2.

What is Consultation on Conscience?
Consultation on Conscience is the Religious Action Center of Reform Judaism’s biennial social justice leadership conference. Held over three days in Washington, D.C., Consultation empowers the Reform Jewish Movement through leadership development; opportunities for network and community building; and active dialogue culminating in an afternoon of advocacy on Capitol Hill. It is open to Congregational Delegations as well as individuals looking to build relationships and deepen their engagement in the fight for progressive social change in North America.

In 2017, there will be a special focus on issues of racial justice, including conversations on how to better organize to combat voter suppression and the staggering problem of mass incarceration in America.

To sign up, go to http://www.rac.org/consultation-conscience-2017-registration — and there is a discount rate if you register before 11/22. Rabbi Pam Wax and Chaim Bronstein are planning to go, and hope that others from CBI will do so as well.

The gates are closing – short words for Ne’ilah

Neilah-art-wohlThe gates of this awesome day are closing.

For twenty-four hours we have gathered together in song, in prayer, in contemplation. We have knocked on our hearts, imploring them to open. We have admitted to ourselves and to God where we habitually fall short. We have tried with all our might to forgive ourselves our mis-steps, our missed marks.

And now the gates are closing.

If there is something for which you still don’t feel forgiven; if there is a hurt, whether one you inflicted or one you received, still heavy on your heart; the penance I prescribe is this: work it off with the labors of your heart and hands.

 

As Yom Kippur ends, the first thing we do is light a candle.

Then we feed each other at the break-the-fast.

And then we put the first nail in the sukkah, connecting Yom Kippur with Sukkot which will begin in four short days.

Light. Sustenance. Shelter. These are our calling in the year to come.

 

Bring more light to the world: combat ignorance, homophobia and transphobia, fear and mistrust of Muslims and of immigrants, small-mindedness of every kind.

Bring more sustenance to the world: feed the hungry in our community and everywhere.

Bring shelter to those in need: welcome Syrian and Iraqi refugees to Berkshire county. CBI’s tikkun olam committee will be working with me in the new year to discern how we can best extend ourselves to support refugees. I hope that everyone in our community will take part.

The verse most oft-repeated in Torah is “love the stranger, for you were strangers in the land of Egypt.” And in more recent memory than the Exodus, many of us have parents or grandparents who fled war or persecution. It’s incumbent on us to act to care for those in need.

This morning we heard the searing words of Isaiah:

“Do you think that this is this the kind of fast that I want? A day for people to starve their bodies? Do I want you to bow your heads like the reeds, to mortify your bodies with coarse cloth and ashes? You call that a fast, a day when Adonai will look upon you with favor?”

“No! This is the fast I want: unlock the chains of wickedness, untie the knots of servitude. Let the oppressed go free, their bonds broken. Share your bread with the hungry, and welcome the homeless into your home.”

This is the work to which Yom Kippur calls us.

 

The gates are closing. This is the moment when we make the turn — teshuvah, turning our lives around, re/turning to our highest selves and to our Source — to build a world redeemed.

More light. More sustenance. More shelter.

For those in need. For refugees. For everyone.

 

[Image source.] Also posted to Velveteen Rabbi.

I Seek Your Face… In Everybody Else, Amen – a sermon for Rosh Hashanah 5776

One of my most consistent childhood memories is saying my prayers before I went to sleep. I can still remember the pattern of the wallpaper on the ceiling of my childhood bedroom, and the gentle dip of the bed from where my mom would sit next to me.

I would sing the one-line shema, and then say my litany of “God bless.” I began with “God bless Mom and Dad,” then named my grandparents, then named my siblings and in time their spouses and children. At the very end, I would ask God to bless “all my aunts and uncles and cousins and friends, and everybody else, Amen.”

I’m not sure what I thought it meant to ask God to bless someone. But clearly being blessed by God was a good thing, and I didn’t want anyone to accidentally get left out.

There’s a blessing called Oseh Shalom which appears throughout our liturgy. Here are the words as you may have learned them:

עֹשֶׂה שָׁלוֹם בִּמְרוֹמָיו הוּא יַעֲשֶׂה שָּׁלוֹם עָלֵינוּ וְעַל כָּל יִשְׂרָאֵל, וְאִמְרוּ אָמֵן:

“May the One Who makes peace in the high heavens make peace for us and for all Israel, and let us say: Amen.”

In many communities around the Jewish world today, including this one, another phrase is now added. That phrase is וְעַל כָּל יוֹשבֵי תֵבֱל — “and all who dwell on Earth.” Adding that phrase to Oseh Shalom is a little bit like what I did in my childhood bedtime prayers: “and everybody else, amen.”

Why am I so invested in praying for “everybody else, amen”? Continue reading

D’var Torah for Kedoshim: Holiness and Baltimore

This is the d’var Torah which Reb Rachel offered yesterday. (Cross-posted to Velveteen Rabbi.) An abbreviated version of these reflections were published on Friday in The Wisdom Daily.

“Y’all shall be holy, for I — Adonai your God — am holy.”

At first blush, this seems like a pretty tall order. I get that we’re supposed to be holy because God is holy, but to compare ourselves to God seems like a recipe for falling short.

But the Jewish mystical tradition offers a different view. Rabbi Moshe Efraim of Sudlikov teaches that when we’re holy, our holiness percolates upward and enlivens God. There’s chutzpah for you: to think that our actions and choices give strength and holiness to divinity on high!

In a funny way, it means that God needs us. God needs us to be striving toward holiness, so that the energy of our striving will enliven the highest heavens. And we need God as our beacon, our reminder that holiness is possible. We need God, who needs us, who need God. Holiness unfolds and grows in the space between, that space of relationship.

Whether or not you believe that God’s holiness derives from ours, it seems to me that God manifests in the world through our actions and our choices. What should those actions and choices be?

This week’s Torah portion gives us some suggestions. Feed the hungry. Treat your parents with reverence. Keep Shabbat. Don’t render an unfair decision; treat both rich and poor as equal human beings. Don’t hate your fellow in your heart. Love your fellow as yourself.

This week as I’ve been studying the Torah portion, I’ve also been reading stories about the death of Freddie Gray in Baltimore. Freddie locked eyes with a police officer. Freddie ran, but the officer pursued him and caught him, then radioed for a police van for transport.

By the time the police van reached the police station, Freddie had three broken vertebrae and a fractured voice box. He died of spinal injuries shortly thereafter. It seems clear that the injuries took place while he was in police custody, in the van; his death has been ruled a homicide.

In the wake of Freddie’s funeral Baltimore burned, though already a coalition of local leaders, clergy, and even gang members are working together to end the violence. I’ve seen some people decry the rioting. For my part, I empathize with the viewpoint that riots can be an expression of hopelessness and grief, and that we should be angrier at those responsible for Freddie’s death than at those who have smashed windows in despair.

I find myself thinking about Eric Garner, who died in police custody in New York after being placed in a chokehold and gasping “I can’t breathe.” I find myself thinking of Michael Brown, shot by police while walking down the street in Ferguson, Missouri. I find myself thinking about what it must be like to live in this country without the privileges with which my skin rewards me.

It’s facile, and often problematic, to claim that Torah justifies any given political position. People can and do use scripture to justify every political stance. But I do think that this week’s Torah portion can speak to us today.

“You shall not pick your vineyard bare, or gather the fallen fruit of your vineyard; you shall leave them for the poor and the stranger.” Fifty percent of those in Freddie Grey’s neighborhood are unemployed. There are whole communities living at or below the poverty line, and a disproportionate number of those living below the poverty line are non-white. Do our social systems provide for them the way the Torah’s system of gleaning aimed to do?

“You shall not render an unfair decision: do not favor the poor or show deference to the rich.” Do residents of Freddie Grey’s neighborhood trust the police and the justice system to live out that instruction?

“Do not stand idly by the blood of your fellow.” What can this instruction mean to those who fear that no matter what they do, they and their fellows will still be systemically mistreated and undervalued because of the circumstance of their birth or the color of their skin?

“You shall love your neighbor, your Other, as yourself.” This verse is at the heart of the Torah, both metaphorically and literally. This week’s Torah portion instructs us to be holy as God is holy. If this passage is a set of instructions for that process, then holiness means loving others as we love ourselves; wanting for them all the things we want for ourselves; ensuring that they live within a social system and a justice system which are as dedicated and lofty as we would want for ourselves.

In the original context of Leviticus, the word רעך — “neighbor” or “other” — meant Israelite neighbor, your fellow who is like you and is part of your tribe. But I think this moment calls us to live in a spirit of post-triumphalism. Ours is not the only path to God, and in this interconnected world, we are all neighbors.

Every citizen of this country is my neighbor, deserving of equal rights and equal opportunities. Every citizen of this world is my neighbor, because each of us is enlivened by the same spark of divinity, and because the myth of our separateness has long been dispelled: what happens on this part of the planet impacts that part of the planet, and vice versa.

May the Torah’s voice call us to an honest accounting of our obligations to one another, and may we work toward the day when all human beings are truly afforded respect, dignity, and justice. Kein yehi ratzon.

 

Va’era, freedom, and Reverend Martin Luther King

Martin-Luther-King-I-have-a-dream_0Here’s the d’var Torah I offered yesterday at my shul for parashat Va’era. (Cross-posted to Velveteen Rabbi.)


God spoke to Moshe saying: go and tell Pharaoh, King of Egypt, to let the Israelites depart from his land. (Exodus 6:10)

This week we move deeper into our people’s central story: we were enslaved to a Pharaoh in Egypt, and God brought us out from there with a mighty hand and an outstretched arm. This year, our reading of this holy story falls on the weekend when we prepare to observe Martin Luther King Day.

The Reverend Martin Luther King Jr — alav hashalom / peace be upon him — was a man in the mold of Moses. He worked tirelessly to end the injustice of segregation. He led the 1955 Montgomery Bus Boycott. He organized nonviolent protests in Birmingham, Alabama, which attracted national attention because television crews captured the brutal police response. He dared to dream of a world redeemed in which the evils of racism would be a thing of the past.

As Jews, we twice a year recount the story of how we were slaves to a Pharaoh in Egypt — during the weekly round of Torah readings, and at the Passover seder. We also thank God for our liberation from slavery in daily prayer and in the Friday night kiddush.

Our liberation is spiritual, not literal. None of us here today were actually slaves in Egypt. And many of you have heard me say before that it doesn’t matter to me whether or not that story is historically true. What matters is that it’s the story we tell about who we are.

But for Martin Luther King, the story of liberation wasn’t about freedom from internal constriction, the “narrow places” in our lives or in our hearts. His ancestors were slaves to plantation owners and overseers in the American South. Not in the mythic mysts of ancient history, but a short few hundred years ago. And the unthinkable injustices of that system which treated Black human beings as subhuman chattel have not yet been wholly rooted-out. Continue reading

Celebrate Human Rights Shabbat at CBI

imagesThis coming Shabbat — December 6/7, Tevet 3/4, parashat Vayigash — we will observe Human Rights Shabbat here at CBI.

Now in its 6th year, Human Rights Shabbat is an initiative to commemorate International Human Rights Day by educating Jewish communities about the intersection of Jewish values and universal human rights. Nearly 150 communities around the world will come together and pledge to manifest the value of k’vod habriot (human dignity) in our synagogues, schools, and homes.

“Human Rights Shabbat gives synagogues across the nation the opportunity to shine a light on some of the most pressing human rights issues of our time, through prayer, sermons, educational panels and more,” says Rabbi Jill Jacobs, Executive Director of T’ruah: The Rabbinic Call for Human Rights. “These communities are committed to the shared value that all of us are created in the image of God, b’tzelem elohim, and that this fundamental human equality requires us to work for human rights both around the world and in our own backyards.”

We will take part in Human Rights Shabbat by experiencing some new liturgy, readings, poems, and prayers during our Shabbat morning service (9:30am) and studying texts relating to human rights during our weekly Torah study (11:15am.) Join us!