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.”
Saturday, April 25, 2015
Last night we talked about Hatikvah, The Hope, the anthem of the Jewish State, sung repeatedly this week at Yom HaZikaron and Yom Ha'atzmaut.
Most of us know the lyrics by heart. But an interesting debate is taking place in Israel. For us, it will always be a Jewish State, as it should be, but we also want it to be a democratic state. And a democratic state protects its minorities. Indeed, it embraces them and welcomes them into civic life.
Increasingly, Israelis are aware of this. An Israeli Arab participated in the official Yom Ha'atzmaut observance. Arab victims of terror were recognized. Druze and Arab soldiers who died protecting the state were remembered. Israelis take pride in the fact that Arabs serve in Knesset, in the Supreme Court, in civic life at every level. And yet, these citizens of Israel can't Sig their national anthem, which doesn't include their dream, their longing.
Hatikvah originated as a poem, Our Hope, written by Naftali Imber, a 19th century Zionist. Originally nine stanzas long, the settlers of the Yishuv adapted the first stanza and refrain and set it to music. But as has been pointed out, the original poem would actually be more inclusive.
So last night, we explored what it would mean to create an Israeli anthem, not only a Jewish one. We talked about how going back to Imber's language actually strengthens the Jewishness of Israel, by allowing the state to live an important value, that of being truly welcoming. And we sang Hatikvah with the changes suggested.
As Jews, we've rejoiced at the opportunities provided to us living in a democracy. It has allowed our Judaism to flourish. Surely we and Jewish Israel owes it to their minorities to create space for them to flourish. It doesn't threaten Israel's Jewish identity; it strengthens it.
So, what do you think? What would it mean to go back to Imber's original language? Should Israel change Hatikvah? Can Israel make it truly all of our hope?
Wednesday, April 15, 2015
You who live secureIn your warm housesWho return at evening to findHot food and friendly faces:
Consider whether this is a man,Who labours in the mudWho knows no peaceWho fights for a crust of breadWho dies at a yes or a no.Consider whether this is a woman,Without hair or nameWith no more strength to rememberEyes empty and womb coldAs a frog in winter.
Consider that this has been:I commend these words to you.Engrave them on your heartsWhen you are in your house, when you walk on your way,When you go to bed, when you rise.Repeat them to your children.Or may your house crumble,Disease render you powerless,Your offspring avert their faces from you.--Shema, Primo Levi
Tonight begins Yom HaShoah, Holocaust Remembrance Day, or "The Day of Catastrophe"). It is a day filled with meaning for Jews. For some, it is a painful reminder of what it means to be a people always chosen (as if the most recent antisemitism on American campuses and in Europe don't accentuate that idea). For too many, it is their primary mode of Jewish identification. For non-Jews as well, as if they are more comfortable with us as victims rather than active, joyful, principled partners in God's efforts of creation. And for some, it has become an excuse to be dismissive of identity, or a cudgel wielded to stifle dissent, or at least feared as such.
Nevertheless, it is there. It is present in the life of the modern Jew, even one removed by three generations from the Holocaust. It is present, and it demands something of us, not only as a community, but as individuals as well.
Tonight, the Hebrew School students will gather in our Holocaust garden at 5pm to light candles and say prayers and reflect. Tomorrow, our community (Jewish and non-Jewish) will gather at the Carvel State building in downtown Wilmington to learn and share and remember. All are welcome to both. And, as you sit in your homes, secure and warm, consider that this has been. Consider what these men and women, and their memories, demand of us.