Sunday, June 29, 2014

Tourists: A Reflection On Our Trip To Israel

This was my sermon from this past Friday night, reflecting on our Israel trip...

Tourists by Yehuda Amichai
Visits of condolence is all we get from them.
They squat at the Holocaust Memorial,
They put on grave faces at the Wailing Wall
And they laugh behind heavy curtains
In their hotels.
They have their pictures taken
Together with our famous dead
At Rachel's Tomb and Herzl's Tomb
And on Ammunition Hill.
They weep over our sweet boys
And lust after our tough girls
And hang up their underwear
To dry quickly
In cool, blue bathrooms. 
Once I sat on the steps by a gate at David's Tower,
I placed my two heavy baskets at my side. A group of tourists
was standing around their guide and I became their target marker. "You see that man with the baskets? Just right of his head there's an arch
from the Roman period. Just right of his head."
 "But he's moving, he's moving!"
I said to myself: redemption will come only if their guide tells them,
"You see that arch from the Roman period? It's not important: but next to it, left and down a bit, there sits a man who's bought fruit and vegetables for his family."
 I had planned to speak about Israel tonight. To reflect on our trip that just ended, a spiritual journey by three congregations, three rabbis and thirty-three people just experienced, from the Haas Promenade in Jerusalem to dinner in Tel Aviv only two nights ago. But that was before Eyal Yifrach, Gilad Shaar and Naftali Fraenkel, were kidnapped from their families while tremping home, before Muhammad Qaraqara was killed on the first day of summer vacation helping his father in the Golan, before the Presbyterian Church decided to uphold the values of antizionism and anti-Semitism, all the while insisting it’s for our own good with the kind of smug self-righteousness that only comes when one is truly, authentically na├»ve. 
On Shabbat last week in Jerusalem, at Har-El and Hebrew Union College, we prayed for Eyal, Gilad and Naftali with other Israelis.  We travelled up to the Golan Heights the day after Muhammad was killed, We received news of The Presbyterian Church’s decision while traveling in the holy land, But more than that, we met and spoke with people: at moshavim and Kibbutzim, at services, in the street, at Lifeline For The Old, in cities and hilltops, singing Shir HaShalom at Rabin Square, at schools in Ibellin and Haifa. More than Masada, or the Wall, more than archeological ruins or jeep tours, we met people, heard their voices, felt what they felt, were with them and each other in a deep and rich way. 
There is a Hasidic story – of the rabbi who asks his good friend, “Do you love me?” and the friend responds by saying: “Of course I love you.” To which the rabbi responds: “Do you know what gives me pain?” To which the friend replies: “How can I know what gives you pain?” To which the rabbi replies: “If you don’t know what gives me pain, how can you say that you love me?”If we didn’t know before, we know what gives the Israeli—Arab and Jew—pain. We know and we love deeper than we did before. Would that that brought about redemption, but for now, it will have to be enough.

Saturday, June 14, 2014

A Shavuot Flower Offering

I'm off to Israel tomorrow with our Wilmington Community trip, but before I depart I figure I'd share Sonia Sloan's article on our Shavuot Flower Offering Service Alternative:

We want to share with our Beth Emeth family news about the exciting and wonderful new program we held on Shavout on Wednesday June 4th. Shavout, in addition to commemorating the giving of the Torah at Sinai, is the festival of first fruits, the 'Chag Ha-Bikkurim, which we have traditionally celebrated with a flower offering. This year, we decided to do a different kind of flower offering. So we chose to celebrate this holiday by planting flowers at Harlan Elementary School, just a few blocks from our synagogue. Thirty-one of our congregants and about twenty-five fourth graders filled the planters around the school with a myriad of beautiful flowers, donated by Old Country Gardens and our congregants.The children and teachers joined in prayers and songs in Hebrew as Rabbi Robinson and Cantor Stanton led a short service, explaining the meaning of Shavout and why we were sharing our holiday with them. We had a very attentive and engaged group who were having a good time and it was a delight to see the children interacting with our Beth Emeth folks in such a beautiful and meaningful way. The children read poems and writings about flowers and gardens that we had prepared for them. We ended the day with cookies and ice cold water and every child got to take home a plant. It was a wonderful, meaningful experience for all of us and the weather was spectacular!
We followed this with another planting and service at a small Community Garden in Hedgevile in the inner city.
This exciting project came out of a suggestion from Cantor Stanton and Sonia Sloan at a meeting of the Ritual and Choir Committee in discussing a different way  to celebrate this lovely holiday,
Our goal was to build bridges between our Beth Emeth community and the city community and we most certainly achieved that goal. We now plan to make this a yearly celebration of Shavout, with the children and staff at Harlan.
We want to thank Rabbi Robinson, Cantor Mark Stanton, Esther Timmeney and Sonia Sloan for planning and arranging the service and enlisting the volunteers. Thanks too to Wilmington City Councilwomen Sherry Dorsey and Maria Cabrera, and Stacey Henry of Harlan School for their help and support.