Monthly Archives: November 2012

Some Thanksgiving Questions

As I write this on Thanksgiving morning, there are many things to be thankful for: health, peace, family, community. I am, as one might expect, also a bit nostalgic, thinking about the Thanksgivings I remember from my childhood (there is nothing like Thanksgiving in New England) and a yearning for simpler days.

These last few days have been anything but simple as we have watched the conflict in Gaza unfold and now we have another thing to be thankful for this morning: a cease fire that has restored, at least temporarily, some calm to people on both sides of the border. No one knows how long this cease fire will last but we can hope that it is long enough for more lasting steps to be taken to make, if not peace, at least some form of tense calm take hold.

But, as I look back on this week, I still have some nagging questions. There are so many that can be asked but these are the ones that come to mind.

 

Why have we, as lovers and supporters of Israel, found it necessary to flood social media like Facebook and Twitter with constant statements of support for Israel? It is truly heartening to see so much support but what need is it fulfilling and what role is it playing as war moves from the battlefield to the Internet?

Why is it, as some have argued, inappropriate for those who love Israel to mourn the deaths of children in Gaza? Why do we not include the numbers of  children killed by Israeli bombs as fatalities when we talk about the war? Especially if Israel, and I believe this is the case, took great effort to avoid such tragedies, why do some people react so negatively when those who support Israel show sympathy for these innocent victims?

Why, almost 20 years after the peace treaty signing on the White House Lawn are we still, it seems, no closer to a two state solution which would end the occupation and give Palestinians a state of their own? Why are settlements still being built and why has Israel shown reluctance to do more to foster relationships with more moderate Palestinians?

And,of course, if there are questions for Israel and its supporters to answer, there are also questions for others:

Why is there still the need to argue “Israel’s right and responsibility to defend itself”? Why isn’t this just a given and why would anyone contest this point?

Why, seven years after Israel “disengaged” from Gaza, has  Hamas and other factions constantly fired life threatening rockets into Israel instead of building their own society and working peacefully with Israel to allow for more access and less restrictions?

Why do parents and leaders still raise their children to believe that the most important mission in life is to destroy their neighbor?

And, for both sides and their supporters, why do we keep going back and back in history to find the roots of this conflict? 2008?, 2005? 2000? 1967? 1948? 1918? We can go all the way back to this week’s Torah portion and the conflict between Jacob and Esau if we want to but, while context is important in addressing conflict, why can’t people start with today and look ahead?

Let us all take this Thanksgiving to cherish what we have and hope that others around the world will have those same blessings of peace and comfort. Happy Thanksgiving!

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Being Part of the Religious Community

At this moment, the thoughts of so many in the Jewish community are focused on Israel and the conflict with Palestinians in Gaza. At this moment, I will simply offer a hope that a cease fire can be reached before there is more fear and more death. I certainly believe that Israel is justified in responding to the incessant rocket attacks on communities in the South. But, I also believe that this response is by no means a long range solution to the issues facing Israel and I hope that a cease fire will come sooner rather than later and somehow can lead to a Middle East free from pain and suffering. My thoughts and prayers go with those who are suffering and those in fear. May the new week bring new commitment to peace.

But, I have another topic in mind as I write this on the Saturday evening before Thanksgiving. I’m thinking about the other connection we as synagogues should be concerned with. In addition to feeling part of a Jewish community, we should feel part of the community of faith in the city in which we live.

As Jews, we have many issues which concern us and many reasons why we identify with a Jewish community. For some, religious faith, ritual and spirituality do not enter into the equation. But, for many of us, this is the primary reason for our connection with our Jewish community and if that is the case, it is critical that we feel part of a larger community of faith as we have so much in common with others, so much to learn from them, so much of our tradition to share.

Tomorrow evening, our Congregation is hosting the annual Interfaith Thanksgiving Celebration sponsored by the Interfaith Round Table of Washtenaw County. I love this event. It is truly a remarkable evening which has been carefully crafted over the years to produce an educational and inspirational experience which does not require anyone to compromise their own religious principles. The communal hymns and readings are chosen carefully to be comfortable for all. But, the highlight of the evening is the sharing of chants, song and readings from religious traditions, each chosen by the individual participants to reflect his or her religious faith’s tradition of giving thanks.

When Beth Israel hosted this celebration some 15 years ago, it began with a native American sharing a spiritual chant from our bima. Tomorrow evening, Hindu, Muslim, Christian, Sikh and Jewish representatives will share of their faith. And, in doing so, we will all be elevated.

I love our Jewish tradition. That goes without saying. But, I am fascinated by other faiths and love to experience that which is offered by others. If you’re in Ann Arbor, I invite you to come to the celebration at 7 pm. If you are not in Ann Arbor, perhaps there is a similar program in your community. I urge you to attend.

I am not naive about the conflicts that religions have with each other and I certainly know that one communal evening won’t end those conflicts. But, for one night, instead of concentrating on the conflicts, we will think of how blessed we are to live in a diverse country with so many different approaches to religious faith. And, we will realize  how blessed we are to live in a community in which we, as Jews, are respected and embraced as will be clear tomorrow evening when the entire community will come to our home to share a celebration and the reception which will follow.

I pray for  peace in Israel and Gaza. I pray for the children, the innocent on both sides who live in fear and  I pray for safety and security for our brothers and sisters in Israel. And, I pray that throughout our community and throughout the world, the different faiths will be able to share moments of mutual respect as we seek to transform this world.

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A moment of excitement

This is my 50th posting on this blog and it could not come at a more exciting time. I will admit to being a newshound or whatever one might call it and will admit that I find elections, particularly presidential elections, enormously exciting. While I do not believe that clergy, those that serve congregations in particular, should “endorse” a candidate and I steadfastly refuse to do so, I also know that it is not difficult to make assumptions about the voting preferences of a person who, through their profession, has to take stands on particular issues or reveal a particular philosophical perspective on the world. Still, because I believe that a person’s vote is a private matter and because of how I and we at our congregation interpret the tax laws, I will not reveal my choice. However, it is true, that I like all of us, I’m sure have hopes for how the election plays out.

This is such an important moment for our country. There are many critical issues that have been placed on the table and many others which have been given less attention than they should (climate change being the most apparent). Whether the issue is the economy, health care, a woman’s right to make decisions in the issue of birth control or abortion, future supreme court appointments,  foreign policy in general and for many of us, relationship with Israel being critical, or so many others, we have a choice to make and we, as a nation, will do so tomorrow.

But, today, my excitement for tomorrow is tempered by real concerns about the electoral process here in the United States. Even if we set aside the fear that one party or another will attempt to in some way tamper with results or succeed in attempts to intimidate or exclude voters, our process is so unwieldy, with so many different types of ballots- and I should say here quickly that I miss pulling the lever that closes the curtain and flipping the switches on the machine but that’s another matter entirely- with so many legal questions swirling about early voting, absentee ballots and so many different methods to count votes, it is reasonable to be concerned that the election results will not be clear for many days or weeks. That is cause for great concern. Our nation needs to explore ways that our elections can be fair and open to all citizens who are registered or desire to be. I hope the fears are unfounded and that the election produces a clear winner so that we can get on with the business of addressing the issues of importance in our country.

I plan to get to my polling place well before it opens tomorrow morning. We have a very long ballot here in Michigan and I’m sure the lines will be long and slow moving- even then. But, it is not only for convenience that I want to get there early. There is a beautiful thought in Jewish tradition that we should be  zerizim lamitzvah- we should be eager to perform a mitzvah. Is voting in a presidential election a mitzvah? Absolutely- and not only in the sense of a mitzvah being a “good deed”. The word means commandment or obligation and I believe without question that even if we are not commanded to vote, it is an obligation to do so. So, I plan to show my eagerness by being there  right at the beginning and, as I do every four years (and should do every time but I leave it for the presidential elections), I will say shehecheyanu after depositing my ballot. It is an honor, a privilege, a sacred duty to vote and I hope that all who can will be at the polls tomorrow.

May our nation be blessed with peace, harmony and opportunity for all.

 

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