Friday, July 10, 2015
Friday, July 3, 2015
We are supposed to enter the sanctuary reciting the words, "How lovely are your tents, O Jacob, your dwelling places, O Israel!"
Careful readers of text will know these words come from this week's Torah portion, Balak. They are the words of the non-Jewish prophet Balaam, who is paid by the king Balak to curse Israel. Despite his intent, He looks out over the Israelite encampment and proclaims these words instead.
As you might imagine, the rabbis have a field day with this text in their commentaries; but for me, the very fact that we recite a non-Jew's words praising our tents, our houses strikes me as powerful.
How often does it happen that someone enters our home and praises our decor or yard or some other aspect, and all we can see is the crooked picture, the dust, the faded and nicked paint? Likewise as Jews, how often do we see our house in disorder, wring our hands over synagogue attendance or this or that program? And I have seen it when a new person comes and says "what a lovely, warm congregation!" our members fumble with words of gratitude (and there may be some psychology behind that).
I'm not talking about resting on laurels, or being naive. But sometimes we need to hear praise from someone outside our own circle; we need to be affirmed by the one we least expect it from. And perhaps, when we hear that praise, we can see not only the nicks and the dings but also the love and devotion; not only who isn't at a given event, but who IS.
There's plenty that needs to be done in our house. And God knows there is much work to be done in our neighborhood. But there's also a lot to love, a lot that is praiseworthy, and the more we do, perhaps the more we'll feel it is deserved.
So think in your own life: what is worth praising? What is beautiful in your house, what is lovely in your dwelling-place?
Thursday, June 18, 2015
Friday, June 5, 2015
Friday, May 29, 2015
Friends: below you will find the sermon i delivered at Tower Hill's Baccalaureate service last night.
It is a joy and a tad surprising to be able to stand here with you this day. Not because there aren’t Jews among your student body—of course there are! And not because I get to speak to you from this pulpit which, while beautiful, isn’t exactly what I’m used to! It’s because my high school experience was so very different from your own.
You see, I went to a large public high school, the only game in town, and if you graduated at all, it was as likely you’d end up at the state penitentiary as the state university. This is not to say I didn’t have friends or supportive teachers, and I certainly learned a great deal; but I couldn’t wait to get out of there! My goal was to achieve escape velocity and never, ever look back.
And you—you have been a part of this group, many of you for your entire childhood and young adult lives. You have teachers who have nurtured and supported you, who have helped create, as Megan spoke about in her remarks, a real community, one that accepts and lifts up your differences as much as it provides tools for the future, all in an environment of joy. Has this place been perfect? Of course not, and I’m sure many of you are reflecting tonight not just on moments of support but also some rough moments. As with any family, it is among the people we care about the most, the people we feel safest around, that we also feel the most hurt. And this is a family.
So what does it mean to leave this place of safety? What does it mean to step into a new place, whether that place is geographically far away or only twenty minutes up the road? For one thing, it means learning other people’s stories. Most of you have been together for years; now you are going to meet people whose stories are very different from your own. They don’t know your narrative and you don’t know theirs. And they may or may not be especially interested in hearing your story, or sharing theirs. You will encounter people who seem to have lived gilded, perfect lives compared to your experience, and people whose economic, personal and familial experience is too terrible to contemplate, and people in between. The old assumptions and dynamics you so easily fit into now will be gone, for better and for worse.
You will have to take your experience with you and learn to internalize it. You know what it means to be supportive and supported; what it means to be nourished and to nourish others. You have done everything asked of you; now you will have to take all of that and learn to carry it with you, inside. I had the chance to visit your school a few weeks ago; it’s a beautiful space. But if it were merely a beautiful space then it would have no value. No, you have to take the best of Tower Hill with you and learn to share it with those around you. You will have to learn to be leaders; which doesn’t mean being in charge—it means owning your experience.
I know many of you have been to a friend or relative’s bar or bat mitzvah, sometimes even at my synagogue. And you’ve probably marveled that a 13 year old kid could get up and read from the Torah or lead the service. They don’t do that because it’s a special, one-time thing, their one chance to do what the rabbi does. They do that because that’s what Jews do; to be a Jew is to be counted not just to do what is asked, but to step forward and take ownership because it needs to be done. So it is with each of you; yes, carry Tower Hill within yourself, but don’t just hoard it for your own use, share it with those around you. And bringing forward your experience isn’t, or shouldn’t be, a complex thing. If your teachers and classmates have done their jobs, then it should be right there, as close as they are right now. As the text of Torah we read from says, it’s not across the sea or in the sky, nor is it for someone else to do. It’s in your mouths; it’s in your hearts. It’s in your actions. It’s in your choices. They matter, and when your voice, your actions and your choices align with what you’ve learned here, well, I can’t promise that taking your experience and sharing it with others will make the world perfect or your college experience perfect. But it will make it better. And sometimes better is enough. Your experience matters.
Your story matters. Your choices matter. May they bring you strength, and hope, and especially, Joy. Amen.
Friday, May 8, 2015
‘Pray as if everything depended on God
But act as if everything depended on you!’
I have given you the tallit and book to pray
The rest is up to you!!
My grandfather asked me to carry on our tradition,
I am asking you to do the same.
Please do not disappoint me.
May God continue to bless you with His most precious gift of shalom (inner peace)
I loved you when I held you in my arms during your brith
I loved you during your school years &
I will always love in the future.
With eternal love from
Your proud poppy.”