In Response to Hate

We were shocked.  Saturday night hundreds of gravestones at the Mt. Carmel Cemetery were desecrated.  Immediately people of all backgrounds - Jews, Muslims, Christians - ventured out to the cemetery to offer assistance.  Yesterday I participated in a gathering of close to 200 faith leaders that culminated in a press conference denouncing the vandalism on the Mount Carmel Cemetery. 

The Rev. Jay Broadnax, the president of the Black Clergy of Philadelphia who sat at my table, was among the many speakers to issue a statement.  He offered:   “We must stand together, we are one community here in Philadelphia. I’m reminded of how this community came together after the incident in Charleston, South Carolina, that affected my denomination, and how many of these people stood together with us. We’re proud to stand with you today condemning this act.”

Praying With My Feet

We studied the Shema and V’Ahavta last Tuesday at Hebrew School, exploring the commandment to love God with all our heart, all our soul and all that we have. This is a text that we are called upon to contemplate every day, as the Shema is part of daily prayer. I use the term “contemplate” mindfully, rather than using the terms chant or pray. This text falls in the part of the service that invites our questioning even more than our devotion. It asks us to consider, every day, what is it that God wants of us?  What does it mean to love God with all that we are, all that we do and all that we have?  Prayer is one response but as Jews we know that it is not the only response.  We are called upon to learn and called upon to act, to perform deeds of loving kindness every day.

Having just observed MLK day I am reminded of the words of the late Rabbi Abraham Joshua Heschel, who participated in the march from Selma.  When asked if he prayed in Selma, Rabbi Heschel responded that he prayed with his feet. So it is that many in our community, many around the nation and around the globe will be observing Shabbat this coming weekend by praying with their feet.

Thanksgiving, FUSE & Spreading Goodness

4Ever Grateful is the name of the talent show and community gathering that we will celebrate with our FUSE partners.  It will be held the afternoon of November 20th and will feature a group from each community offering a number for the show.   Kudos to our chorus for bringing a Beth Israel presence to this event.   We have also been asked to provide desserts - something at which we excel!

FUSE is the Fellowship of Urban and Suburban Engagement of which BI is a part, a partnership of congregations, community groups, and non-profits in Delaware County. The purpose of FUSE is to deepen relationships, to strive wholeheartedly to understand “the other” in our community and help others understand us, and together, create a shared sense of destiny and purpose. FUSE includes Christian, Jewish, and Muslim groups, as well as people of different races, genders, socio-economic status, and backgrounds.    FUSE leadership, of which I am a part, work to create opportunities to come together for all sorts of events:  those that are purely social in nature; venues for challenging dialogue on how to make our communities better; innovative projects to get us there. We believe that learning more about one another’s culture, customs, values, and beliefs can create shared understanding and build trust. We believe that through engaging with our wider Delco community, we can bring about tikkun olam (world repair) through the healing power of relationship.  Strangers become neighbors and friends, expanding our circle of concern and our hearts.  Anything is possible.

Comfort oh Comfort: The Work of Repair

“Comfort oh Comfort My People/My Nation” are the words of the Haftarah that we chant on the first Shabbat of consolation following Tisha B’Av, the most solemn day on the Jewish calendar.  They are from the 40th chapter of the book of Isaiah, a text that begins with a proclamation of hope and reconciliation.  “Speak tenderly to Jerusalem, and declare to her that her .. iniquity is expiated”. In other words, the despair and destruction and emptiness of exile will be reversed.

Writing this column a few days before the 2016 election, I am longing to chant these words of consolation to our whole community and to our whole country.   The 2016 election exposed and fomented such hatred and prejudice that many of us are feeling assaulted and worried.  The attacks and threats to our democratic processes and structures leave us in need of solace as well.  Whether you are celebrating or mourning the various election results, there is great work at hand.  We need spiritual comfort and soothing. We need to unite to heal the hatred and bigotry that has been exposed.  We need to recreate what it means to disagree in polite company.