All posts by rabbiedw

A New Book!

I’m excited to share the book I contributed to, Seven Days, Many Voices: Insights into the Biblical Story of Creation<https://www.ccarpress.org/shopping_product_detail.asp?pid=50388>, with you! This collection gives us a lens into a wide range of creative and inspiring thinking about Creation. Midrash, biblical criticism, literature, theology, climate justice, human rights, history, and science are just some of the lenses through which the Creation story is examined.

CCAR Press offers a special 40% discount for my family and friends. To order, please visit the book page online by clicking here<https://www.ccarpress.org/shopping_product_detail.asp?pid=50388>. Add the book to your cart and use promo code Creation40 at checkout to receive your 40% discount. Offer expires August 18, 2017.

Intersectionality Means Never Having to Say You’re Antisemitic

 

 

 

 

 

This week’s Torah portion, Vaetchanan, contains two very famous passages, the Shema and the Ten commandments. But this Parasha also includes Moses’ final request of God before he dies. As you know, even though Moses had led the Israelites from Egyptian bondage and through the desert for forty years, he was not allowed to enter the Promised Land.

Therefore he begs of God: “Let me please go over and see the good in the land” (Deuteronomy 3:25).
The Kotzker Rebbe (a 19th century Chassidic Master) explains that Moses’ request was more than just to see the land of Israel; rather it was a prayer that God should enlighten his eyes to always see the good in the Land of Israel despite what may seem on the surface to be blemishes and shortcomings.
Ironically, Moses who spent much of his life shepherding the Jewish People and preparing them to enter the Holy Land was denied entry himself.
In modern times, almost no Jew is denied entry into Israel. It is a safe haven for all Jews and almost anyone who wishes to travel to Israel is free to do so. Recent Israeli government announcements suggest that those on BDS lists may not be allowed into the country but that is relatively rare.
And yet, while all Jews are free to visit or make Aliyah to Israel, sometimes the words of the Kotzker Rebbe resonate with us because there are many people who may be consciously aware that Israel is a major force for good in the world, but who still have a difficult time “seeing the good” which is so much a part of Israeli society.
Economically, culturally, scientifically and in so many other ways Israel is a leader and a light unto the nations. Yes, Israel certainly has its challenges and sometimes needs to take extreme measures to protect her citizens. But with all of her imperfections, Israel is the one and only democracy in the Middle East and one of the greatest democracies on earth.
That is why it was so painful when under the banner of intersectionality – a term I will define shortly — some perceived victim groups declare Israel to be evil.
As you may know it was not that long ago that the Black Lives Matter movement issued a platform which was virulently anti-Israel. They called Israel an “Apartheid State” and “genocidal.” Only moral blindness could account for such a characterization against Israel, particularly given the abysmal humans rights records of every one of Israel’s neighbors about whom Black Lives Matter had nothing to say.
As Jews, we both cherish that homeland and yearn for the day when Israel will live side by side with Palestinians in peace and security. We continue to work toward the day when this dream is a reality and the dignity and well-being of all Jews and all Palestinians are safeguarded by peace.
There is no greater measure of our humanity than to know the pain of the other.
And yet, developments in the cultural playing fields of our country have me greatly concerned. I speak specifically of the rancorous desire to label bullies victims and victims bullies. The technical term is “intersectionality”.
Before I define the term here is an example of it in action: When Heather Mac Donald’s “blue lives matter” talk was shut down by a mob at Claremont McKenna College, the president of neighboring Pomona College sent out an email defending free speech. Twenty-five students shot back a response: “Heather Mac Donald is a fascist, a white supremacist . . . classist, and ignorant of interlocking systems of domination that produce the lethal conditions under which oppressed peoples are forced to live.”
Their response was play-book intersectionality. According to Christina Hoff Sommer’s, writing in Commentary Magazine, intersectionality is the source of the new preoccupation with microaggressions, cultural appropriation, and privilege-checking. It’s the reason more than 200 colleges and universities have set up Bias Response Teams. Students who overhear potentially “otherizing” comments or jokes are encouraged to make anonymous reports to their campus BRTs. A growing number of professors and administrators have built their careers around intersectionality. What is it exactly?
Intersectionality is a neo-Marxist doctrine that views racism, sexism, ableism, heterosexism, and all forms of “oppression” as interconnected and mutually reinforcing. Together these “isms” form a complex arrangement of advantages and burdens. For example a white woman is disadvantaged by her gender but advantaged by her race.
A Latino is burdened by his ethnicity but privileged by his gender.
According to intersectionality, American society is a “matrix of domination,” with affluent white males in control. Not only do they enjoy most of the advantages, they also determine what counts as “truth” and “knowledge.”
But marginalized identities are not without resources. According to one of intersectionality’s leading theorists, Patricia Collins disadvantaged groups have access to deeper, more liberating truths. To find their voice, and to enlighten others to the true nature of reality, they require a safe space—free of microaggressive put-downs and imperious cultural appropriations.
Here they may speak openly about their “lived experience.” Lived experience, according to intersectional theory, is a better guide to the truth than self-serving Western and masculine styles of thinking.
So please don’t try to refute intersectionality with logic or evidence: That only proves that you are part of the problem it seeks to overcome. Very convenient, that.
A question you might be asking: How could comfortable college students be open to a convoluted theory that describes their world as a matrix of misery? Don’t they flinch when they hear intersectional scholars refer to the U.S. as an “imperialist, white-supremacist, capitalist patriarchy”?

Most don’t mind because such views are now commonplace in high-school history and social studies texts. And the idea that knowledge comes from lived experience rather than painstaking study and argument is a great relief to many undergrads who never could measure up if their worth still was measured by academics.
Silencing speech and forbidding debate is not an unfortunate by-product of intersectionality—it is a primary goal. How else do you dismantle a lethal system of oppression? As the protesting students at Claremont McKenna explained in their letter: “Free speech . . . has given those who seek to perpetuate systems of domination a platform to project their bigotry.” To the student activists, thinkers like Heather MacDonald are agents of the dominant narrative, and their speech is “a form of violence.”
When free speech equals violence then the challenge to free speech in this country is obvious. But intersectionality is also a fertile breeding ground for antisemitism. It would be funny if not so potentially tragic: the Jewish people – victims for time immemorial – are now too privileged to speak about anything. Somewhere in Hell Goebbels is laughing.
Our task as Jews – not because we are better but because we see ourselves as called to be a light to the world – is to work for peace and justice. But sadly we have also learned that no one will take responsibility for protecting us but us.
And so therefore the groups that reject our right as Jews –including those of us who support the State of Israel – must be called on for what they are doing. They are peddling antisemitism pure and simple.
We saw such antisemitism at the recent Dyke March. We see it all too often in the political left. We see it at the United Nations. We hear it in the self-hatred of many of our Jewish friends and family who would hold Israel to an impossibly high standard while ignoring or forgiving the crimes of other countries.
The only response for such antisemitism is to vocally call people out for their hypocrisy and to make sure the First Amendment is protected. When a victim acts like a bully they need to be called out. When a hater refuses to engage an opponent claiming trauma they need to be called out. And when Israel is held to an impossible standard for any nation it needs to be labeled what it is: it’s not anti-Zionism; it’s antisemitism.
The intersectionalists are right about one thing: words matter. And that’s why the words they use must reflect the emotions they carry. This is not trauma. This is truth.
And this I know: when truth no longer matters, Jews will be persecuted, and Jews will die.
My friends, I use Holocaust metaphors carefully. But it’s starting to feel a lot like Weimar these days.
And the best news is that it’s not too late. Let’s fight intersectionality. Let’s fight the bullies who pose as victims. Let’s protect Israel. Let’s defend the First Amendment.
And let’s wake up to our responsibility to speak the truth and hold people accountable.
To paraphrase Mordecai’s appeal to Esther: Who knows, maybe for this very reason we were placed here in the first place.

 

 

 

 

Seeing the Israel-American Jewish Reality Through a New Lens

 

The Bible is filled with quotes, someone once said. But of course, often what we think is a quote is in fact not.
For instance, Sherlock Holmes never said “Elementary, my dear Watson.”
Neither Ingrid Bergman nor anyone else in Casablanca says “Play it again, Sam”;
Leo Durocher did not say “Nice guys finish last”; Vince Lombardi did say “Winning isn’t everything, it’s the only thing” quite often, but he got the line from someone else. …
William Tecumseh Sherman never wrote the words “War is hell”; and there is no evidence that Horace Greeley said “Go west, young man.”
Marie Antoinette did not say “Let them eat cake.”

Everyone distinctly remembers Michael Douglas uttering the words “Greed is good” in Wall Street, just as everyone distinctly remembers Ingrid Bergman uttering the words “Play it again, Sam” in Casablanca, even though what she really utters is “Play it, Sam.” When you watch the movie and get to that line, you don’t think your memory is wrong. You think the movie is wrong. …

Quotations are in a perpetual struggle for survival. They want people to keep saying them. They don’t want to die any more than the rest of us do. And so, whenever they can, they attach themselves to colorful or famous people. …

–Louis Menand, “Notable quotables: Is there anything that is not a quotation?” The New Yorker, February 19, 2007.

 

This week gives us a Torah portion and a Haftarah passage that offer famous lines to quote.

 

Our first prayer when we enter a synagogue is a line from this parsha: Mah tovu ohalekha Yaakov – “How fair are your tents, Jacob!”

And then there is the Haftarah, finishing with Micah’s message: Higid l’kha Adam mah tov – “He told you, oh man, what is good.” Great quotes!

 

We can also find a powerful political message in these readings.
The king of Moab sees swarms of aliens entering his country. This is not good. There goes the neighborhood, right? These aliens will “lick up the land,” he says. They’ll take away jobs, housing, public facilities.
So what does he do? Build a wall? No. He sends for a sorcerer named Bilaam. “Come put a curse on them,” he says. “Keep them out of our country.” It’s also clear that this curse is worth money to the king.

Bilaam invites the delegates to spend the night while he consults with a Higher Authority, seeking a message from the Divine. God says don’t go.
Of course, Bilaam is thinking with his pocket. If he shouldn’t go with this committee of PR men, then maybe a more important committee will be different, meaning more money. So he doesn’t go with Balak’s first group, but he does go with the next group.
The story continues with the tale of Bilaam’s journey by donkey, his repeated forced stops along the way, and his projected curses which all turn into blessings.

So how do we think of Bilaam?
He certainly had an evil streak – greed and cunning and a deep desire to destroy Israel.
And yet he found himself unable to utter the curse.
He himself could not see what the donkey saw – an angel blocking his way.
What’s angel? Literally a messenger! He’s more than that.
Perhaps the angel with the drawn sword is the consequence of Bilaam’s action.

It takes a lot of wisdom to see the consequences of what we plan to do. Bilaam couldn’t see those consequences, but the donkey could. The third time she sees the danger, the donkey squats down on the ground for safety, whereupon Bilaam blows his stack and beats his donkey with a stick. Only then does the donkey speak, saying, in effect: “You think I’m only a jackass, but I’m smarter than you are. Open your eyes and look what you may be getting us into!”

Isn’t that what any political leader, in fact any responsible human being needs to hear? Sometimes it takes the talking donkey in our midst to open our eyes.
You can discriminate against people. You can keep them down. You can exploit them. You can even praise them while you’re doing it. That’s what Bilaam did when he said Mah tovu, isn’t it? Praise the aliens for building nice tents. But his real objective was to get those tents for himself, or to destroy them.

Sooner or later there’s an avenging messenger to deal with.
And here’s where the prophet Micah in the haftarah portion comes in, to tell us: Look ahead, and see the real purpose. What does God require of us? Asot mishpat – DO justice, don’t just talk about it.

Secondly: Ahavat Khesed – love mercy. Know the difference between love and seduction.
Bilaam wanted to be seduced by Balak’s riches. When that didn’t work, he stirred up some seduction himself, and spread disease among Israel. Sex passed as love.
So Micah comes preaches: Ahavat Khesed – love mercy. More than passion is compassion.
Third: And always, whether you lead a nation, a city, a family, a local organization, or a chapter of a global movement – or just lead your own life – Hatzneya lekhet – walk with humility.

Humility does not mean to be timid and always take the back seat. Humility means, be ready to listen – listen to the message of your heritage, and even be ready to listen to somebody you may think is only a talking donkey. Just be careful. Don’t confuse the talking donkey with the prophet.
Today, we need to listen to the Prophet Micah.
Especially today.

As you know I have just returned from more than two weeks in Israel. During the time there the Netanyahu government bent to the will of the ultra-orthodox and reneged on its promise to build a permanent prayer space at the Western Wall for liberal groups. He also backtracked on a conversion process that recognized the rights of non ultra-orthodox Jews.

He did this for one reason, politics. His coalition government depends on the support of a small number of Jews who wield great power. In response there has been righteous indignation which is not helpful. But there has also been among some liberal leaders a new way of seeing (like Bilaam’s donkey) in which the truth is apparent. Politics in Israel is a serious game and the other side plays it better than we do. The response is not to boycott Israel but to engage in Israel even more and to play our cards much better.
Speak to the consul general as I have will be doing next week.
Meet with the Israel minister of tourism and express your disappointment in his current approach to non-Israeli Jews.
Attend a rally at the prime ministers house, as I did last Saturday night.
Write and tell people the real truth which is that the ultra-orthodox are on the defensive. That’s why they are fighting so hard.
And let’s remember that Israel is not just a political state. It is also the Jewish homeland. We have a stake in its survival and its improvement. But Israel doesn’t need lectures from us. Israel needs engagement and tough love. That’s how it works.
Micah in the end is right. Love mercy, do justice, walk humbly with God. But also fight for what matters most. To repeat: Humility does not mean to be timid and always take the back seat. Humility means, be ready to listen – listen to the message of your heritage, and you have a great one…listen to the voice of your conscience…even be ready to listen to somebody you may think is only a talking donkey. Just be careful. Don’t confuse the talking donkey with the prophet.

This is our way forward.

Temple Sholom Israel Trip Officially Begins!

Shabbat on Tel Aviv Beach
At Tel Dan in the North
The Border with Syria
In a Wadi (river bed)
Camel Riders in the Negev

Our bus

Wine tasting in the Golan
Chocolate Bakers in the Golan

A wonderful Friday in Jaffa and the heart of old Tel Aviv.

The view from our Tel Aviv Hotel

Carolyn Bronstein brought the shekel note her mother gave to her to bring to Israel after decades away. A 1980-era shekel!

We had a wonderful Yemenite Dinner tonight in classic old Tel Aviv and many of us walked back to the hotel. Tomorrow bright and early for our first full day!

Six Day War, Fifty Years Later

I am here in Washington, D.C., with many members of the congregation and the wider Chicago Jewish community, attending the annual Global Forum of the American Jewish Committee. The 2500 attendees are here to learn from top scholars and politicians on matters of world justice and continued engagement in the State of Israel. Since the Six Day War began exactly fifty years ago today (June 5), the war and its aftermath is a prevalent concern at the conference and has been a lot on my mind as well.

I remember the war, at least the religious school party we had when the war ended and the State of Israel was still standing, stronger than ever. I also remember the relief that people felt, as well as the pride. The pride was because Jews were able to defend themselves so well. The relief was because the rhetoric leading up to the war was so evocative of the Holocaust era. A great foe (Nasser) was calling for the destruction of Israel. The head of the nascent PLO warned that all Jews would be driven into the sea. The American State Department was vocally neutral and the churches of America offered a deafening silence.

Recent literature on the war tends to argue that the existential crisis was not real and that the war was waged by Israel because zealous Israeli generals wanted more defensible borders. There may be some merit to this argument but it only tells one small part of the story. Occurring some twenty years after the Shoah, it is not fair to accuse Israel of irresponsibly giving into hateful rhetoric in the lead-in the war. We still – even now – do not have the luxury of not taking the statements of our enemies seriously.

Unfortunately the aftermath of the Six Day War has led to moral and demographic challenges for a country that was not created to control the lives of non-citizens and disputed territory. As far-fetched as it may seem today I hope – as does the American Jewish Committee – that there is still a chance of a two-state solution. In short, it is in Israel’s long term best interest for there to be a Palestinian state of some kind.

As American Jews we cannot make this happen. Indeed, the hardest work will have to come from the Palestinians themselves. Nevertheless there are a few points to remember. We should feel comfortable voicing our dissent with Israel when we disagree with her policies but the de-legitimization of Israel is off the table. And, we should remember that the reason there is no State of Palestine today is because of the myriad of times their leadership refused to accept the generous peace agreements proffered, beginning as early as 1947 and most notably shortly after the Six Day War.

The best way to support Israel is to get to know the real country. I am so pleased to be leading a trip, along with Melanie, to Israel, beginning in a couple of weeks. (Please check the Sholom blog for updates.) For those without travel means or plans then please consider other avenues to support Israel through education. Read the books. Meet Israelis. Consider diverse media outlets. Educate yourself on the facts not the propaganda. Most importantly, engage in understanding the bigger story of Israel and the struggle of our people to live with both peace and security.

One of the speakers at the conference, Dr. Steven Bayme, taught that recently he was confronted with many hostile questions after suggesting that the best solution in the Middle East is two states. A Russian man, who immigrated to the State in 1990, was especially critical, calling Dr. Bayme’s view naïve. In response Dr. Bayme said that, if in 1985, someone would have said that in 5 years this man and others would be allowed to leave Russia, he would have been laughed off the dais. And yet that is exactly what happened.

The moral: fifty years after the Six Day War, let’s not forget that history has its own surprises for us. And so we Jews are permitted a little naïve hope. We have earned it.

With sholom,

Rabbi Edwin Goldberg

Making the Most of Our Time

 

Chag Sameach! A Quick survey: How many people in the congregation regularly wear a wristwatch?
{Ask for a show of hands of those who use another device to tell time and the youngsters will happily pull out their cell phones (be advised that you may lose them for a minute while they check their Snapchat account).}

Regardless of what timepiece you carry, it’s clear that we live in a world obsessed with time.
Rarely does anyone sidle up to you in the grocery store anymore and ask, “Do you have the time?” because everyone has it attached to their body in some way.
We have multiple apps for tracking our calendars, managing our deadlines and even timing our walk to the office. We have time staring at us from the corner of our computer screens, from the dashboard of the car and from the digital clock on the bank sign down the street. I can always look at the old Marshall Fields clock down my street.

In some cities, in fact, telling time is literally a big deal. If you’re in Mecca, Saudi Arabia, for example, you can’t help but see the Abraj Al Bait Towers clock just about anywhere you go. Its clock face is 43 meters in diameter, roughly the size of a luxury yacht, built on a tower that’s 601 meters (almost 2,000 feet) tall. By comparison, Big Ben, arguably the most famous clock in the world, is just over 6 meters in diameter on a 96-meter-high tower on the bank of the Thames.

Other cities around the world have similar “big time” clocks to help residents and visitors track the time, some even assisting with chimes or bells when the clock strikes the hour.

You’d think that the plethora of clocks in our world would make us better at managing our time, but the truth is that time management is one of the biggest stressors in our culture. We work too many hours, we have too many distractions, and we’re trying to squeeze in more work in less time.

Procrastination is often the result of being so overwhelmed with tasks that we keep putting things off, only to find that we’re now even more squeezed for time.
True story: The first-grader asked his mother why Daddy brought home a briefcase full of papers every evening.

She explained, “It’s because Daddy has so much to do he can’t finish at the office and has to work nights.”

“Well, then,” said the child, “why don’t they just put him in a slower group?”
One of the iconic images of the silent-film era is that of funny-man Harold Lloyd hanging from the hands of a giant clock on the side of a big-city building, many stories above the street. The scene is from the 1923 comedy, Safety Last.

The man in the picture is Lloyd himself. There is no safety net. In those early days of cinema, stunt doubles were only just emerging as a specialty, and CGI effects were completely unheard of.

Perhaps the reason that scene is so memorable is that a man dangling precariously from the hands of a giant clock seems to capture our ambiguous relationship with time.
As we prepare for Yizkor it is hard not to be aware of that relentless ticking of time.

The relentless ticking of the clock (or, in their case, the movement of the shadow around the sundial) is what the ancient Greeks referred to as Chronos time, from which we get “chronological” time.

If you buy an expensive watch today (either to actually tell time or to make a fashion statement), the jewelry store will likely refer to it as a “chronograph.” It keeps the time that we’re always tracking, managing and running out of.

Another kind of time is Kairos.
Kairos is the brand of time most often mentioned in the New Testament, but there is nothing particular un-Jewish about it. You won’t find it on the hands of the dial or the digital numbers on a screen. Instead, kairos refers more to a decisive time — the right time, the appropriate time.

The writers of the New Testament seem to understand kairos in relation to the moment when God intervenes or is about to intervene in human history.

Life in the Spirit is life in kairos time, and religious people set their watches and calendars by that standard.

These days we might have atomic clocks in our homes that are accurate to the second because they synchronize automatically by radio frequency with the National Institute of Standards and Technology atomic clock in Boulder, Colorado. The watch on our wrist or the clock in the bell tower might be fast or slow, but the NIST F-2 clock is always right.
But knowing the time is not the same as how we use our time.
How we “make the most of the time” is thus a function of how well we use our chronos to focus on the kairos. How does your calendar reflect time spent cultivating your relationship with God? Does your daily rhythm include time dedicated to the spirit?

Rather than just letting time tick away, what would it be like to endow our time with more spiritual uses?
If you regularly carry a timepiece of some sort, be it analog or digital, consider the practice of saying a short prayer every time you check the time. Wherever you are, whatever you’re doing, pray for whatever is happening or whomever you’re with at that moment. Coupled with a disciplined and regular spiritual life, it’s a practice that makes the most of the time in a way that allows the spiritual to work in us and through us.

Yizkor is about memory but it’s also about seizing each day as an opportunity for deep and real experiential living. It’s about being 9n 6he moment because that’s all we actually have.

A friend once came to Harold Kushner, author of the book, When Bad Things Happen to Good People, and said to him: “Two weeks ago, for the first time in my life I went to the funeral of a man my own age. I didn’t know him well, but we worked together, talked to each other from time to time, had kids about the same age. He died suddenly over the weekend. A bunch of us went to the funeral, each of us thinking, ‘It could just as easily have been me.’
That was two weeks ago. They have already replaced him at the office. I hear his wife is moving out of state to live with her parents. Two weeks ago he was working fifty feet away from me, and now it’s as if he never existed.
It’s like a rock falling into a pool of water. For a few seconds, it makes ripples in the water, and then the water is the same as it was before, but the rock isn’t there anymore.
Rabbi, I’ve hardly slept at all since then. I can’t stop thinking that it could happen to me, that one day it will happen to me, and a few days later I will be forgotten as if I had never lived. Shouldn’t a man’s life be more than that?” (When All You’ve Ever Wanted Isn’t Enough, p. 20. )

A story that comes from Rabbi Eli Schochet. It is a childhood memory of his.
Rabbi Schochet grew up in Chicago. His father and grandfather were rabbis there. And Eli tells this story:
One Shabbas afternoon, when he was about 8 or 9 years old, he was at his grandfather’s house, when a Cadillac pulled up,–on Shabbas!
3 burly guards got out. You could see that they had holsters in their inside coat pockets. And then the back door of the Cadillac opened, and a famous Jewish gangster got out. He walked up the stairs to the porch, took out an envelope, laid it down on the table next to Eli’s grandfather, and said, “Nem far de yeshiva kinder, iz mein mama’s Yahrzeit.”
Take this for the yeshiva kids, its my mother’s yahrzeit”.
With that, he turned around and walked down the stairs.
Eli said, ” At first, I was angry, that a man would dare bring money to my Zeidi on Shabbas. That a gangster would dare bring money with which to salve his conscience? And that my grandfather would take it”?
He didn’t know if he was angrier with the man or with his grand-father.
Eli kept that anger, that shame, that embarrassment inside him for many years, and never told anyone about it. And then, one year, when he was much older, the-incident somehow came up in the conversation when he was talking to his grandfather.
He said to him: “Zeyde, how could you have done such a thing? How could you have let him get away with such a thing? How could you have let a gangster give you money for charity on Shabbas?
His Zeyde answered him: “Don’t you understand what happened that day? Here was a man who had lived a certain way all his life, who lived in an ugly, criminal, wrong way. And then, one day, he happened to look at a calendar, and he realized that it was his mother’s Yahrzeit, and he remembered the dreams that she had once for him, the dream that he would grow up to be a mentsch, the dream that he would grow up to be a Jew, and for one brief minute, he wants to live up to that dream, for one brief minute, he wants her memory to live within him, and so he did what he did. That’s not hypocrisy. That is a moment of truth, and whether it lasted or not doesn’t matter. It was a sacred moment”.

We could say chronos became kairos.
The right moment was realized.
I challenge — actually Yizkor challenges us — to do the same.
Chag sameach.
It’s later than you think.

Open The Gates

“For you have known the heart of the stranger….” (Exodus 23:9)

The picture above shows my mother, Regina Ohringer, mostly hidden by the man in the white suit in the middle. You can see on the right my Aunt Lottie. They were with their parents on the SS Flandre, a French ship that in May, 1939, along with the German ship, the St. Louis, was trying to bring its Jewish refugee passengers to freedom in Cuba. When Cuba changed its mind and would not let them disembark, the ship went to Miami Beach. President Roosevelt instructed the Coast Guard to block the ship from docking. My mother and her family were forced to return to France, where a few weeks later the Nazis overran the country. Fortunately, due to the combined efforts of generous Chicagoans like Grant Pick, Sr., Sam Block (of Jenner Block Law Firm), and William Paley (of CBS) my mother and her family were able to get to America in 1941 by Pan Am flying boat.

Because of this personal history I cannot stay silent when I see what is happening to legitimate refugees who are coming to America for the same reason my family and maybe yours arrived, so well captured by the Emma Lazarus poem on the Statue of Liberty. If we stop being a country that welcomes the poor, tired and frightened, then we no longer are serving our famous mission that President Reagan liked to call “the city on the hill”. Obviously we are required to protect ourselves from terror. But think of the countless Jewish refugees not allowed into America during the Holocaust because they might be Nazi spies. Think of the cruel American Japanese internment camps. Have we not matured as a country in 70 years?

When, in the 1970s, my mother was well established in this country she began taking me and my twin brother with her to furnish the homes for Russian Jews who were fleeing the USSR and being welcomed in the U.S. I know in her way she was trying to give back for the belated gift of being welcomed in this country. I hope all of us feel a debt to help others, just as we or our ancestors were helped.

My synagogue, Temple Sholom of Chicago, had planned to welcome a refugee family this spring. Our Sholom Justice group will be doing whatever they can to keep us ready for the time when we can enact our plan.
In the meantime, I cannot stand by and let our country sink into cruel xenophobia. We are better than that.

Included in the poem on the Statue of Liberty are these words: A mighty woman with a torch, whose flame is the imprisoned lightning. Imprisoned lightning? Perhaps this refers to the latent power in each of us to redeem the world though righteous acts of kindness for others. If so I hope we find a way to release this lightning, through pressure on our government to open our gates to the needy and persecuted, and through welcoming the tired and poor, the huddled masses yearning to breathe free.

My mother has passed away but her voice is still strong. It says to me: “Take care of these people!”

marching

This week the Jewish People read in the Torah about the enslavement of our ancestors.
The daily fare of the Jewish slaves in their Egyptian exile was cruel. What began as forced labor steadily degenerated into acts of unspeakable brutality and horror, leading to Pharaoh’s decree to murder all newborn male infants.
While the physical labor was backbreaking, the moral toll was similarly bitter. The family unit was shattered, wives separated from husbands, who were forced to remain at their work sites in faraway fields. The people were demoralized and depressed, stripped of any of their former dignity or self-respect. Under the daily terror of the slaver’s whip, it appeared that any good future was hopeless.

One group of slaves, however, did not give in – this group continued to hope. They preserved their human dignity; they continued to dream of a better life.
This group of slaves was the Jewish women.
“In the merit of the righteous women of that generation, our forefathers were redeemed from Egypt.” So says the ancient Jewish text, the Talmud.
The Talmud explains: After an exhausting day of excruciating labor, the women would polish their mirrors and use them to beautify themselves for their husbands.
At night, the women would sneak out to the men’s camps, bringing hot, nourishing food. They would heat water in the fields and bathe their husbands’ wounds.
The women spoke soft, soothing words. “Do not lose hope. We will not be slaves to these degenerates all our lives.”
Many women conceived during these visits, subsequently giving birth to the children who would ensure the continuity of the Jewish people.

How appropriate that we learn of these women in connection with this week’s Torah portion. As you know many thousands of women will be marching in Washington and elsewhere – including downtown Chicago – on this Shabbat. The reasons for the marching are many. The anger is real. But so is the hope that says we cannot give up on our country’s ability to find the right tone of civic discourse, to reach out to those who have been unlucky in life, to those whose fight each day is filled with despair and disillusionment.
Politics aside, the reality in our country these days cannot be ignored. There is much anger, argument, refusal to listen, and lack of respect. There is genuine inequality and needless suffering. But there is also hope that we can reorient our society based on mutual respect and that indescribable but genuine American spirit.
And so I ask that, whatever our mood or politics this weekend, we remember the ancient courage of Israelite women, who would not settle for a life of despair. Such courageous women saved us before and they can do so once again.
With sholom,
Rabbi Edwin Goldberg
PS Please join us for worship this Friday night, January 20, where the sermon will not be about the Inauguration.

Words of Comfort in a Dark Time

The Journey to a Better Tomorrow Begins Today
A Message from Rabbi Edwin Goldberg

November 9, 2016

This morning many of us in this country and congregation feel as though they are in mourning. I certainly feel that way. This is not because of Democrats or Republicans but because our country has been through a horrific experience in which our language has been debased and our old hatreds, once thought to be diminishing, have returned. For those bothered by the uncertainty of the election, the uncertainty of the future is far worse.

I am comforted nonetheless by this week’s Torah reading in which Abraham (and Sarah) are called upon by God to go on a journey to a new land. As the late Rabbi Alan Lew once pointed out, in the Bible no one ever goes on a journey willingly. Either they are commanded (in Abraham’s case) or fleeing for their lives (see: Jacob and Moses). Or maybe their brothers have sold him out (Joseph). But the journey happens and the true self shines through. Were it not for the journey they never would have known their true, resilient selves. Think of what President Kennedy said when asked how he became a hero in WWII, saving his crew from drowning. He said that he had no choice once they sank his boat.

So moving forward we are on a journey as a country that looms with terrifying uncertainty. But I pray that, like Abraham and Sarah, we will embark upon this journey with faith in God, the ultimate goodness of humanity, and the calling to make the world a place of justice, compassion and peace.

I also hope that you will join your congregation for worship this Friday night (6:15 p.m.) so we can come together as a community of hope and support. Please know this: we are not alone. You are not alone.

If you would like to have a member of our clergy team speak with you, please reach out. We are always available.

One final thought: a few weeks ago, as our late Kol Nidre service ended, Melanie and I walked by the security desk and were told the Cubs were losing to the Giants. It was the ninth inning. People were surprised when I smiled and said, “The Cubs will win this game.” I knew they would win because this team – when things seem to be going wrong late in the game – starts to go to work. That is their comfort zone. (As game seven of the World Series amply proved.)

So here is the point: the months ahead will determine whether or not those of us who care about respect, decency, compassion, and justice for all are ready to fight for what we believe. Will we fold or will we suit up and play the game of our lives?

I want to believe in the best that is in us. I hope you can too.

With sholom,

Rabbi Edwin Goldberg

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