Rabbi's Message

On Tuesday night, May 9, HBT hosted a GBIO Legislative Forum on Criminal Justice Reform. Thanks to the successful organizing by temple members Judith Levine, Elana Wolkoff, and Sherry Flashman, the event brought together an unexpectedly large turnout of 70-80 people from a dozen different faith communities, including a dozen HBT members. Three local state legislators took part in the forum: Senator Mike Rush, and Representatives Ed Coppinger Angelo Scaccia, and were urged to stand with GBIO on four important areas for reform

  • Repeal mandatory minimum sentences
  • Reform pretrial and bail requirements
  • Reduce/eliminate fees and fines
  • Shorten the length of time in solitary confinement

Temple Hillel B’nai Torah is honored to welcome Senator Mike Rush and Representatives Angelo Scaccia and Edward Coppinger to our congregation tonight. We welcome our GBIO community, friends, and neighbors, for an open discussion of the work our Commonwealth urgently needs to pursue to bring justice to the criminal justice system.

For far too long, the emphasis in our system has been on “criminal” —and the fear and anger that those words inspire in the hearts of the citizens. Tonight, we lift up “justice” as the goal that we all share, regardless of political ideology.

The most powerful testimony to the injustice of this system that I’ve read recently is Bryan Stevenson’s book, Just Mercy. In the introduction, he tells us that the book

“is about getting closer to mass incarceration and extreme punishment in America. It is about how easily we condemn people in this country and the injustice we create when we allow fear, anger, and distance to shape the way we treat the most vulnerable among us….”

And he closes by saying,

“We are all implicated when we allow other people to be mistreated. An absence of compassion can corrupt the decency of a community, a state, a nation. Fear and anger can make us vindictive and abusive, unjust and unfair, until we all suffer from the absence of mercy and we condemn ourselves as much as we victimize others.”

His words remind me of the words that Jews around the world read this past week, the powerful words from the Book of Leviticus. In chapter 19 we read sacred text that outlines what justice requires:

You shall not render an unfair decision, judge your kinfolk fairly. Do not stand idly by the blood of another. Do not hate your fellow in your heart. Do not take vengeance or bear a grudge. Love your neighbor as yourself; I am the LORD.

These words are not simply noble aspirations. No matter what our religious affiliation, or lack of affiliation, these words speak to all of us as a manual for civil society. A community must be governed first and foremost by a moral outlook that treats each individual with fairness and compassion.

Why are we meeting in a religious space tonight? What does religion have to offer our elected representatives? This teaching from the Torah serves as the nexus between religious teachings and the practice of good governance. This is the basis for the values that our religious communities bring to bear on policy, because what affects one affects us all.

Modern-day prophet, Rabbi Abraham Joshua Heschel asked a question that rings true today,

“How many disasters do we have to go through in order to realize that all of humanity has a stake in the liberty of one person; whenever one person is offended, we are all hurt. What begins as inequality of some inevitably ends as inequality of all.”

May all of us hear the voices of morality tonight, from ancient sacred texts and from the families and neighbors of those deeply affected by the suffering and shame that mass incarceration inflicts on us all. May these voices bring our criminal justice system closer to a system of justice infused with compassion.

 

Posted on May 11, 2017 .

A Pesach Message: Speak up, Show up, Vote

“… I am convinced that if we are to get on the right side of the world revolution, we as a nation must undergo a radical revolution of values.”

Martin Luther King spoke these words 50 years ago, on April 4, 1967 and they sound as if he were commenting on America today.

One year from now, April 4, 2018, will mark the 50th anniversary of Dr. King's death. Thanks to the initiative of Rabbi Arthur Waskow and The Shalom Center, faith communities across the country will be marking the coming year as an American Jubilee Year of Truth and Transformation.

In his sermon at Riverside Church, “Beyond Vietnam: A Time to Break Silence,” Dr. King gave voice to a feeling we know today:

“We are confronted with the fierce urgency of now.”

Driven by that sense of urgency, I spoke this past Shabbat about Dr. King’s prophetic call 50 years ago, and how we must answer it today. You can read my message below. Excerpts from Dr. King’s speech can be found here.

Wishing you and yours Chag same’ach

A joyous holiday that brings us renewed courage and strength,

Rabbi Barbara Penzner

* * * * * * * *

This next year is critical for the survival of democracy, for the survival of our world. We have already seen the dramatic destructive tendencies of this administration and Congress. Executive orders. Congressional repeal of basic protections of women, of immigrants, of our environment. We are in for far worse. When that happens, we will be there for each other, a beloved community, a kehilla kedosha, to provide comfort, courage, and confidence in our cause. And together, we will continue to resist. Because we believe in moral bottom lines over corporate bottom lines. Because we believe in lives over profits. Because our Jewish tradition began with the Exodus, a moral revolution of values, a slave revolt against a self-aggrandizing tyrant. And because our Jewish tradition reminds us at this time of year, and year-round, of that moral revolution.

In the spirit of Martin Luther King, and in the spirit of Pesach, I offer three simple ways to bring that moral revolution into our present and shape a future that we can all share in equally.

Speak up. Show up. Vote. Speak up.

You don’t need to be MLK to speak up. The first to speak up in the Exodus story was not Moses. No one whose name we know. Not any one person. It was the cry of the Israelites. The liberation did not begin with Moses, but with the cry of the Hebrews themselves: “They were groaning under the bondage and cried out; and their cry for help from the bondage rose up to God. God heard their moaning, and God took notice of them.”

The Jewish tradition understands these verses to mean that until the people actually cry out, until they speak about their suffering, until they come together to say “we won’t take it anymore,” nothing changes. The midwives were ready to be leaders, Moses’ mother Yocheved and his sister Miriam were ready, Pharaoh’s daughter was ready, and Moses himself was ready. But no one could take the Israelites out of Egypt until the people were ready. Each of us has a role to play in the task of liberation; when we lift our voices together, we can crash through all obstacles to justice.

How do you speak up? Write letters. Call elected representatives. Urge family & friends in other states to write and call. Use your own words, don’t just repeat catch-phrases. Look people in the eye. Listen attentively and with curiosity. Connect.

Show up.

Jewish tradition may involve talking, discussing, asking questions. But in the end, it is through mitzvot, fulfilling our obligations, doing, that we live our Judaism.

"Rabbi Tarfon and the Elders were once reclining in the upper story of Nitza’s house, in Lod, when this question was posed to them: Which is greater, study or action? Rabbi Tarfon answered, saying: Action is greater. Rabbi Akiva answered, saying: Study is greater. All the rest agreed with Akiva that study is greater than action because it leads to action."  (Talmud)

The Rabbis all agreed that Jews are called to action.

How do we begin every seder?

“This is the bread of poverty, which our ancestors ate in the land of Egypt. Let all who are hungry come and eat. Let all who are in need come and celebrate Passover.
Now we are here — next year in the land of Israel.
Now we are slaves. Next year we will be free.”

There are plenty of ways to show up, and they don’t always demand major sacrifices. Yes to rallies and protests. Yes to town meetings and organizing. And yes to taking care of others’ children so the adults can go to actions. Yes to feeding people who are hungry and inviting people to your seder. No to sitting in front of the tv or the computer all day by yourself! Do one act of resistance every day, no matter how small.

Vote.

We proclaim the central message of Passover in the Haggadah: “In every generation, each individual must feel as if he or she personally had come out of Egypt.”

Every individual. Not men only. Not adults only. Everyone. It’s about participation in the story. Not just telling it, but being part of it.

If you believe in democracy, you need to participate. Voting is a combination of speaking up and showing up. Register voters. Help with Get Out The Vote. Insist that your kids, your friends, your colleagues votes. Not just every four years. Not just for president. Democracy is built on down-ballot offices.

Democracy can be dismantled when voters don’t pay attention to those elections.

According to The Hill, in the past eight years, Republicans have gained 1000 seats in state legislatures, leading to a growth from “just under 44 percent in 2009 to 56 percent” after the 2016 election. State legislatures have used that power to gerrymander congressional districts, entrenching incumbent House members with unbeatable majorities. If we care about divided politics, the place to start is making House districts less one-sided, and ensuring that members of Congress hear multiple opinions.

Vote in every election you can. Democracy depends on you.

Speak up. Show up. And vote.

Martin Luther King prophetically calls to us from 50 years ago:

“We must move past indecision to action. If we do not act we shall surely be dragged down the long dark and shameful corridors of time reserved for those who possess power without compassion, might without morality, and strength without sight.

“Now let us begin. Now let us rededicate ourselves to the long and bitter—but beautiful—struggle for a new world. The choice is ours, and though we might prefer it otherwise we must choose in this crucial moment of human history.”

 

 

Posted on April 5, 2017 .

WHAT ARE YOU BRINGING TO CREATE HOLY COMMUNITY?

“The people are bringing more than is needed for the tasks entailed in the work that the LORD has commanded to be done. Moses thereupon had this proclamation made throughout the camp: “Let each man and woman make no further effort toward gifts for the sanctuary!” So the people stopped bringing; their efforts had been more than enough for all the tasks to be done. (Ex. 36: 5-7)

This passage is a fundraiser’s dream! Does it ever really happen that way?

This past Sunday, our seventh grade “Leaving the Garden” group discussed the Jewish approach to tsedaka (the obligation to give). They learned that our priority is on the feelings of the recipient, rather than the feelings of the giver. Therefore, we should show compassion to someone in need, and do everything in our power to preserve the dignity of the receiver.

Our congregation is rich in our willingness to help others and to do it with dignity and compassion. Everyone is to be commended for this generosity, which is so fundamental to our Jewish values and to our world.  On Purim, we exceeded our goal of $250 for Yad Chessed, and raised over $400!

Sometimes, though, it can be easier to write a check to a food pantry than to our own synagogue. The verse quoted from Exodus reminds us of the holy work that goes on right here, and that the work depends on generous donors as well.

Saturday night is HBT’s annual Spring Fling, an opportunity to raise funds to support the holy activities of our temple as well as a time to enjoy each other’s company.

This Torah teaching reminds us that people brought many different kinds of gifts to create a holy space. Think about the different ways that our synagogue depends on the gifts of our members: those who teach, those who lead, those who speak up in the world, those who bring their children to learn, those who come to make up our minyan. These are all valuable gifts that, like gold, silver and bronze, threads of indigo, purple and crimson, precious stones, spices and oils, make it possible for us to live up to our highest aspirations.

This passage also demonstrates that our passion for giving is as important as what (or how much) we give. In Exodus, the Torah tells us that the gifts come from each whose heart is moved. That is, when we contribute to our community, whether in material goods, in volunteer effort or simply showing up, what matters most is that we give from the heart. Our greatest gift is to give ourselves fully to this task. This is what truly builds a holy community.

In a holy community, the business and the holy work are intertwined. When we give to the synagogue, we are doing more than disbursing funds. When we open our wallets, we support the daily workings of our synagogue. When we open our hearts, we create a space for the Divine Presence to dwell among us. This holy community then expands that open-hearted Presence, so that it can transform our broken world. What will you give?

Posted on March 23, 2017 .

Standing up to Anti-Semitism/Standing up to Hate

Standing up to Anti-Semitism/Standing up to Hate

I can’t recall ever being afraid because I’m a Jew. Until last year, Haman was a fictional anti-Semite. This year, he represents all those filled with vicious and unprovoked hatred.

The Southern Poverty Law Center, which has tracked domestic hate groups for decades, noted a dramatic increase in all hate crimes immediately following the November elections. In the first month, they verified over 1000 incidents of bias-related attacks. In just the first five days after the election, they documented over 400 attacks. Those attacks abated, but the threats have not disappeared.

Since Inauguration Day, over 100 JCCs and Jewish day schools have received phoned-in bomb threats. Three Jewish cemeteries, in St. Louis, Philadelphia, and Rochester, NY, have been the targets of massive vandalism and grave desecrations. 

Locally, the Newton JCC has been threatened more than once. The Solomon Schechter Day School in Newton and the local ADL office received bomb threats this week. Across the country, young children from day care centers and schools have been evacuated swiftly in a manner that undoubtedly causes them mental distress.

Last Friday, a 31-year-old man was arrested in connection with threats made to 10 Jewish and one Muslim institution. That only provides a measure of relief, given the larger continuing threat.

We remain grateful that these cowardly acts have not resulted in the killing or harming of living Jews. We know that hatred in this country has led to severe attacks on immigrants, Muslims, blacks, and the LGBT community, including violence against individuals and the burning of mosques and black churches. Nevertheless, all acts of vandalism are intended to inspire fear.

Anyone who has seen a swastika spray-painted on a home or Jewish building, stepped into a Jewish cemetery where loved one’s stones have been toppled and desecrated, or seen bullet holes in a Jewish school, like the synagogue building in Evansville, Indiana last week, can’t help but feel threatened.

We know that, as Rabbi Mark Sokoll of the Newton JCC has written, “Hate against any one group is hate against all.” When we stand up as Jews against anti-semitism, we demonstrate our pride and conviction to those who wish to frighten us. We must also testify to all victims of hate that these acts will not divide us.

It is up to us to be vigilant in our own Jewish community.

It is up to us to bravely come together as never before.

Here in our temple, our leadership is taking steps to increase our attention to security. We want to make everyone feel safe without creating an atmosphere of dread.

This week of Shabbat Zachor, the Shabbat before Purim when we recall both historic and mythical enemies of the Jewish people, let us contemplate how we can stand up to hatred for all people, and take pride in our community’s perpetual stamina, faith, and courage in response.

Rabbi Barbara Penzner

Rabbi Mark Sokoll offers these ways to show your support, and make your voice heard. Though he emphasizes the threats against JCCs, we can apply any and all of these to other Jewish institutions as well.

1)      SOCIAL MEDIA

Support the JCC on social media by using the #IStandWithTheJCC hashtag with supportive posts across your channels.

Sample posts:

·         Threats against JCCs are threats against the entire community. #IStandWithTheJCC

·         We stand beside JCC Greater Boston. Antisemitism and hate have no place in our community. #IStandWithTheJCC

·         There is no room for hate in our community. #IStandWithTheJCC

2)      CALL YOUR LOCAL REPRESENTATIVE

Calling members of Congress is the most effective way to have your voice heard. Calls are tallied by staffers and the count is given to your representatives, informing them how strongly their constituents feel about a current issue. The sooner you reach out, the more likely it is that your voice will influence their position.

To find the phone number of your local congressman/congresswoman, please click here

Sample script for the call to your U.S. Representative.

Hi, my name is [NAME] and I'm a constituent from [CITY or TOWN in Massachusetts].

I’m calling to urge the Secretary of the U.S. Department of Homeland Security, the U.S. Attorney General, and the Director of the FBI to take swift action to address the bomb threats that have been telephoned in to Jewish Community Centers and schools across the nation, and the rise of anti-Semitic incidents in the last two months. We remind you that participants from all different backgrounds come to JCCs and synagogues and other Jewish institutions for activities, Jewish cultural and religious programming, and opportunities to come together as a community.

We stand together against anti-Semitism and against all hate crimes. Thank you for your hard work.
[IF LEAVING A VOICEMAIL: please leave your full street address to ensure your call is tallied]

Posted on March 9, 2017 .

WHY WE NEED PURIM

I admit that Purim is one of my favorite holidays. (Check out the chapter that I wrote about Purim in the Reconstructionist Guide to Jewish Ritual, Volume 3.) I know plenty of rabbis who don’t share my preference. Getting dressed up and acting silly make some serious scholars uncomfortable.

 It’s not that I don’t consider myself serious, or a scholar. And it’s not just that Purim is the best example that “being Jewish is fun.” I take Purim seriously, because historically, its creativity, humor, and play-acting provided a welcome antidote to anti-semitism. As such, Purim can also be just what the doctor ordered to sustain us in this time of activism and resistance, not to mention the increasing number of unprecedented acts of anti-semitism across the country.

 The biblical story of Purim is a kind of Jewish communal fantasy blown out of proportion. For Jews who lived under oppression and fear, or who experienced brutality and exile, the Book of Esther and the Purim holiday provided comic relief. The tables are turned on our enemies several times during the story, with some reversals more humorous than others.

 Mordecai Kaplan saw in the story of Esther a Diaspora tale about the oppression by a majority group of a minority, and the Jewish battle for equal rights for minorities. Kaplan saw Jewish spiritual value as the key to the resistance to oppression and the capacity to flourish as a minority people.  He saw Purim as a time to emphasize those values and to inspire creativity and compassion in Jewish life.

 Jewish communities in Europe during the Middle Ages instituted their own “local Purims” to commemorate actual deliverance from an anti-semitic threats. Where extermination and exile were the common practice of local and national rulers, such a deliverance was worthy of joyful celebration. As one on-line source tells it, “Rabbi Yom-Tov Lipmann Heller (1579–1654 and an ancestor of member Susannah Sirkin) of KrakówPoland, asked that his family henceforth celebrate a private Purim, marking the end of his many troubles, including having faced trumped-up charges.” (I kid you not.)

 Hitler also knew about Purim and, perhaps aware of the power of its humor, banned Jewish from observing the holiday. In words tempting fate in 1944, he mentioned in a speech that if the Nazis were defeated, the Jews could celebrate “a second Purim.”

The Chabad Hasidim tell a story that a Purim teaching by their leader, Rabbi Menachem Mendel Schneerson, mysteriously caused Joseph Stalin’s death on Purim 1953. That day, March 1,1953, was the day Stalin became paralyzed. When he died four days later, nationwide pogroms against the Jews were averted and the infamous doctors' plot was halted.

The celebration of Purim provides a rich variety of Jewish practices that encourage giving and sharing, dressing up and playing roles and, above all, approaching this one day with a sense of humor and self-awareness, so that we do not fall into the trap of taking ourselves too seriously.  It is for this reason, perhaps that we find in the midrash the idea that in a future messianic time, when all the other festivals are abolished, Purim will remain. Even in a perfect world, we will need to laugh, especially at ourselves.

 Given that our world is far from perfect, why not rekindle our imagination and revel in satire this year on Purim?

 ***Need a little humor to fuel your resistance? Come take part in HBT’s “Alternative Facts Megillah,” an adult-oriented telling of the Purim story for our times.

Saturday night, March 11, 7 to 9 pm. Come in costume and bring Pussy Hats!

Posted on March 2, 2017 .

Jacob, MLK and the Inauguration

One summer when I was in high school, I was concerned about the upcoming fall semester. In particular, I was worried about my driver’s ed class. Not wanting to be embarrassed, I wanted to know how to drive before I started taking the class. So I asked my father to teach me to drive. My father was a very pragmatic person, whose routine answer to “how do I do this?” was always “very carefully.” He refused to teach me. What I learned then is how uncomfortable it is to live in a time of transition.

This is a time of many transitions. Of course the inauguration is looming. Closer to home, in our synagogue this past Shabbat, we welcomed two dozen new member households. New members always contribute to our community in ways that change us. For these individuals and families, joining a new temple will also bring changes. And this past Shabbat, we read the end of one book, Breishit (Genesis); this coming Shabbat we will begin Shemot (Exodus). We ended with Jacob’s triumphant reunion with his son Joseph in Egypt; the next book opens with the enslavement of their descendants, generations later.

I have since learned something about the power of transitions, whether the beauty of sunrise, the mystery of twilight, or the growth that comes when children grow and move on.

Last week’s portion highlighted the transition from one generation to the next. Jacob knows he is about to die. He gives a special blessing to Joseph’s two sons, his grandsons Menashe and Efrayim. Jacob offers a last will and testament, naming each of his twelve sons. And late in the portion, Jacob dies and is embalmed, and Joseph fulfills his father’s fervent wish to be buried with his forebears back in Canaan. We also read of Joseph’s death, and his wish to be brought back to Canaan (fulfilled by Moses generations later).

The Hasidic teacher Rabbi Moshe Chayim Efrayim gives us a unique and surprising perspective on the value of this time of change.

“Joseph commanded his servants, the healers, to embalm his father. And they embalmed (vayachantu)” Jacob. (50:2-3).

Rabbi Moshe focuses on the word for embalming (vayachantu)—a sign of death—and connects it to a similar word in Song of Songs, “The fig tree has brought forth (chantah) its green figs” (2:13)—a sign of new life. That is, when we face a time when something dies, it is also an opportunity for something new to come about

Our teacher says “And this is what is hinted at by they embalmed (vayachantu), namely, the righteous heal us spiritually, and make us like new beings by causing our light to sprout anew.”

In this winter season, we understand that the death of last year’s flowers and plants makes room for new growth in the spring. What is true in nature, is true spiritually as well. When we face loss of any kind, by letting go we make room for something new to arise. When we perceive a light going out in one place, rather than straining to rekindle a dying ember, we should be working to bring new light into the world.

Dr. King wrote in March of 1958, “…It may be that our generation will have to repent not only for the diabolical actions and vitriolic words of the children of darkness, but also for the tragic apathy of the children of light. What we need is a restless determination to make the ideal of brotherhood a reality in this nation and all over the world.” (The Current Crisis in Race Relations)

This is a time of transition. We have had some time to mourn our losses. Now, with the new day dawning, it is our task to rekindle the light, to face the new day with our ideals intact, with our souls renewed, awakened to new possibilities, and with a newborn resolve that will make the light shine anew.

Posted on January 18, 2017 .

Wisdom. Power. Wealth. Honor. A Primer for our Elected Officials

When the Massachusetts General Court (House) opened its 190th biennial session on Beacon Hill on January 4 and the members of the House were sworn in, I had the privilege to give a blessing to the chamber.

As the session came to a close I shared a teaching from Pirke Avot, a 2000-year old Jewish text on ethical living. The passage that I chose is a classic Jewish upending of our usual assumptions, and speaks to the noble responsibility of those who hold elected office. Here is the teaching, and my blessing.

The ancient Rabbis ask four questions:

Who is wise? Who is powerful? Who is rich? Who is honored?

And they answer the questions in surprising ways.

Who is wise? One who learns from everyone.

Who is powerful? One who shows restraint over one’s impulses.

Who is rich? One who is content with one’s portion.

Who is honored? One who honors others.

We call on the Holy One, the Source of All, to bless these officers of the Commonwealth, their families, the staff, and all those who work in this building. Bless them all with your gifts of wisdom, power, wealth, and honor.

May these public servants gain wisdom by listening to others, to the thoughtful voices of experts and to the quiet voices of the poor and the needy, to advocates and plain citizens alike. May they gain wisdom from those with whom they disagree as well as those who share their views.

May these public servants use their power, first and foremost, to control their own worst impulses. May they be mindful to restrain the impulse to use power coercively and corruptly, and always to give their very best to the people of Massachusetts.

May these public servants enjoy the wealth that comes from knowing how blessed they are to serve. May they be satisfied with what they have and dissatisfied with what the people lack.

May these public servants be honored for their integrity, compassion, and commitment to justice and bring honor to their office, to this House, and to our Commonwealth.

Amen.

Posted on January 12, 2017 .

The UN Insecurity Council

The UN Insecurity Council

The upshot of last week’s UN Security Council vote condemning Israeli settlements has caused a great deal of insecurity in the American Jewish community. Too often, hurried statements from Jewish organizations (fueled by the Israeli government) increase the heat when what we need is light.

FB posts and tweets in response to events seem reckless, especially in comparison to the hour-long oration by Secretary of State John Kerry on Wednesday.

Listening to the entire speech on Wednesday, I found Kerry’s rebuttal to the claims made by Israeli Prime Minister Netanyahu and his followers in the US comprehensive and thoughtful. Giving the background to the vote, as well as an historical perspective on the all the previous Security Council resolutions and the US continued condemnation of settlements, Kerry’s words were balanced, honest, and based in both Israeli and American values. One headline in Haaretz today even called his remarks “superbly Zionist.”

It’s time for the leadership of the American Jewish community to pay attention to the power imbalance, the economic disparities, and the inequitable systems of justice applied to Palestinians on the West Bank. It’s time for American Jews to meet Palestinians, to visit their villages, and to see, in contrast, how well-developed bedroom communities for Israeli settlers are choking off Palestinian life and establishing what currently looks like a one-state solution.

This assessment does not ignore the challenges from the Palestinian leadership. The Palestinian Authority is considered corrupt by the average Palestinian. The PA has not succeeded in stemming terror attacks on settlers. The peace process has stalled for lack of leadership—on both sides.

Yet, short of signing a peace accord, the government of Israel could relieve much suffering. Instead, they have stifled the Palestinian economy, limiting Palestinian control over their own land, their own towns, and their own destinies. While Israelis build on land that they do not legally own, and are protected by the Israeli army, Palestinians are refused permits to build and their homes are demolished on a regular basis. Israeli powers prevent Palestinian entrepreneurs from establishing businesses that will create jobs. Roads that connect Israel and the West Bank, extending well into Palestinian-controlled areas, ease travel in and out for Israelis while Palestinians are stymied from traveling daily from home to work or school (often in their own neighborhoods) by closures and checkpoints.

While respecting the concerns of Israeli citizens and settlers for their safety, I find the current blind responses extreme and short-sighted. Thankfully, groups that support the voices of opposition within Israel, including Ameinu, Americans for Peace Now and JStreet have given American Jews a different way of looking at the situation, a middle way that supports the long-standing commitment to a 2-state solution while decrying tactics like boycott, divestment, and sanctions.

My personal position is most aligned with T’ruah, whose statement reflected what Kerry subsequently stated. The full text is also included below.

I offer a few other links to thoughtful posts to help us all move past the rhetoric and come to a deeper understanding of the Obama Administration’s decision to allow the Security Council resolution to pass 14-0. These posts probe both sides of the argument and raise interesting questions for us all to consider.

https://www.ipforum.org/2016/12/27/talking-points-unscr-2334/

http://www.matzavblog.com/2016/12/unsc-2334/

T'ruah Statement on UNSC Resolution

תניא, רבי אומר: איזו היא דרך ישרה שיבור לו האדם - יאהב את התוכחות, שכל זמן שתוכחות בעולם - נחת רוח באה לעולם, טובה וברכה באין לעולם,ורעה מסתלקת מן העולם

Rabbi Yehuda HaNasi said, “What is the correct path that a person should choose? Love tokhecha (rebuke/correction), for as long as there is rebuke in the world, comfort comes to the world, good and blessing come to the world, and evil departs from the world.”—Talmud Tamid 28a

Over the past few days, we have heard significant pain and anger from the Jewish community and from the State of Israel regarding the recent UN Security Council Resolution and the decision by the United States to abstain, thus permitting it to move forward. It is true that the UN has a history of paying disproportionate attention to Israel. In the past, T’ruah has spoken up against problematic resolutions, including the UNESCO resolution this fall that ignored the Jewish historical connection to Jerusalem and to our holiest sites there.

In this case, however, the tokhecha contained within this resolution simply reflects decades of U.S. and international policy that affirms the goal of “two democratic States, Israel and Palestine, liv[ing] side by side in peace within secure and recognized borders,” and decries settlements as an obstacle to achieving this vision. We encourage those concerned about this resolution to read it in full before responding.

T’ruah has long advocated for an end to occupation, which violates the human rights of Palestinians while threatening the safety and security of Israelis. The expansion of settlements involves land theft, as well as the blocking of access to land and of freedom of movement for Palestinians. Within Area C of the West Bank, where the settlements sit, Palestinians and Israeli citizens living side-by-side are governed by two different systems of law, in contradiction of international law and of the biblical principle, “You shall have one law for citizens and strangers alike.” (Leviticus 24:22)

The settlements and the entrenched occupation also threaten the well-being of Israelis, including those soldiers who risk their lives to defend an ill-fated policy; the Israelis who see their tax dollars diverted from needed health, education, and welfare programs in order to allocate disproportionate funding to those living in settlements; and Israelis and Jews around the world who face increasing isolation as a result of the policy of occupation. No less a figure than Rabbi Ovadia Yosef ruled that the return of territory may be permitted--or even obligatory—for the sake of pikuach nefesh—saving life.

Despite accusations that the resolution is one-sided, we welcome the call to the Palestinian Authority for “confronting all those engaged in terror and dismantling terrorist capabilities, including the confiscation of illegal weapons” and the condemnation of “all acts of violence against civilians, including acts of terror, as well as all acts of provocation, incitement, and destruction.” T’ruah has always condemned terrorism and rejected any claims that political aims justify violence against civilians.

The capture of East Jerusalem during the Six-Day War restored Jewish sovereignty over our holiest sites for the first time in modern history. We pray and work for a two-state solution that will preserve Jewish access to these sacred sites. However, the continued policy of demolition of Palestinian homes;  the lack of permits for Palestinians to build in the East Jerusalem neighborhoods where they live; the expansion of settlements in these neighborhoods, often by shady legal tactics; and the failure to provide basic city services to East Jerusalem Palestinians living on the wrong side of the wall that cuts through the “eternal undivided capital of the Jewish people” simultaneously violate human rights, fly in the face of Jewish law and values, provoke anger among the Palestinian population, and make the goal of peace harder to achieve.

The rhetoric on the part of the Israeli government and some segments of the Jewish community that caricatures the UNSC resolution as an erasure of Jewish history or as a rejection of our connection to Jerusalem only blurs the distinction between Israel and the occupied territories, and reinforces the perception that standing up for Israel requires defending occupation. In fact, we should celebrate the resolution’s distinction  between Israel within the Green Line and the occupied territories, and its rejection of the one-state solution increasingly called for by many in the BDS movement. Standing up for the future of Israel and for the safety of Israelis and Jews around the world requires distinguishing between our commitment to Israel and the current policy of occupation, and working toward a two-state solution.

We affirm the call by the UNSC resolution for “all parties to continue, in the interest of the promotion of peace and security, to exert collective efforts to launch credible negotiations on all final status issues.” The expansion of settlements, including so-called “natural growth” changes the facts on the ground before territory can be negotiated. Even the areas that, according to most maps, will end up in Israel must be negotiated as part of a final status agreement. We also affirm the call to Palestinians to end the terrorism and incitement that frightens Israelis from taking bold steps toward peace, as well as rejecting “Price Tag” attacks and other violence and incitement on the part of Jews.

Much of the Israeli and Jewish communal response to the UNSC resolution, as well as to all tokhecha regarding settlement growth, has emphasized the failure of Palestinians to accept past agreements, or focused on terror as the primary obstacle to peace. While there is certainly reason to find fault with both sides—as the UNSC resolution does—Zionism, ultimately, is about taking our future in our own hands, rather than waiting for someone else to determine our future. This means both accepting responsibility for the misguided and dangerous policy of settlement expansion, and taking it upon ourselves to do what is necessary to bring about peace.

In permitting the hotly contested peace agreement with Egypt, including relinquishing land captured in war, Rabbi Chaim David Halevy wrote:

We have great doubts regarding this peace agreement. That is to say—it’s possible that it will be temporary until the Arab world gathers the strength necessary for another round.

But it’s also necessary to remember that it’s possible that it will continue for a long time. . .Therefore, it is incumbent on us, without considering their ultimate intentions, to cultivate this peace, and to do whatever is in our power that it should develop and set down roots, out of hope and faith that time will heal all wounds, and that a new generation will rise that has not personally suffered the defeat of war and the humiliation that follows. (Aseh L’kha Rav 4:1)


The obligation to pursue peace weighs especially heavily as we approach the momentous fiftieth anniversary of the Six Day War. Just as the biblical yovel year—the fiftieth year of the agricultural cycle—brought liberation and a fresh start, we commit to using this moment to move forward toward peace, a two-state solution, an end to occupation, and a better future for both Israelis and Palestinians.

Posted on December 29, 2016 .

Invocation Electoral College

We pause in this historic moment as we witness as these esteemed electors fulfill their democratic mission. These electors are representative of the diversity of our people and of the values of this Commonwealth. We take a moment to express our gratitude to the Holy One, the Source of All, for bringing us to this historic moment. We give thanks for the good that has come from the historic administration of the first African-American president of these United States. And we give thanks for the goodwill of the American people, for these leaders, and for all who are committed to the highest ideals of this democratic republic, for the ideal of public service and good governance, and for the ideal of working together for the common good.

In the Jewish tradition, we mark the end of reading a sacred book by standing as a community and proclaiming, in Hebrew chazak, chazak, venitchazek, meaning “be strong, be strong, and we shall be strengthened.” As we close the book on one era and prepare to open another, we speak to one another as a sacred community and say “I pledge to be strong, you pledge to be strong, and we will be stronger together.”

We pledge to be stronger together to resist the forces that seek to divide us.

We pledge to be stronger together to support one another when

faced with bigotry and hatred.

We pledge to be stronger together to preserve our planet’s life and health.

We pledge to be stronger together to defend the Constitution.

We pledge to be stronger together to protect human rights.

We pledge to be stronger together to sustain our democracy.

Chazak, chazak, venitchazek. Holy One, Source of All, give us all the strength to stand together through adversity and challenge as we have stood together through prosperity and progress. Stand with us, Holy One, and make us stronger as we face the days ahead.

 

Rabbi Barbara Penzner

December 19, 2016

Posted on December 22, 2016 .

Why Do Hanukkah and Christmas Come On The Same Day This Year?

Hanukkah falls on Kislev 25, just as it does every year.

This year, incidentally, the Hebrew month of Kislev coincides with the month of December.

And that’s how we end up lighting the first candle on Erev Christmas.

Which means, you have nine more days to prepare for Hanukkah.

I’m thinking about how best to light up Hanukkah in eight different ways.  “We have come to banish the darkness” is a contemporary Israeli Hanukkah song that speaks to the darkness many of us may be feeling (whether due to personal issues or anxiety about our country and the world).

Here are suggestions for bringing more light into the world for every night of Hanukkah. Read them all now so that you’re ready to welcome the lights of Hanukkah next week!

Night 1 (Saturday night, December 24)—lighting up the world for 65 million refugees

When you say the blessings for the first night and say the shehecheyanu to give thanks for being alive to celebrate this holiday, add this prayer from HIAS for the world’s refugees.

Night 2 (Sunday night, December 25)—lighting up our intergenerational community

Second Night Light promises to bring light to HBT members and friends of all ages with fun, joy, family, and friendship. Come spin the dreidl with our youngest members and hear stories of Hanukkahs past. Discover the magic of the HBT community. Bring your own hanukkiyah (Hanukkah menorah) to light up the social hall.

Night 3 (Monday night, December 26)—lighting up with an inspiring book/video

Snuggle up and enjoy Ezra Jack Keats’ The Snowy Day. Did you know that Keats was Jewish? Read the classic book that changed children’s literature in 1962,celebrate the author’s 100th birthday, and watch the streamed animated special with a Hanukkah twist.

Night 4 (Tuesday night, December 27)—lighting up with Guilt-Free Gelt

No, it’s not calorie-free. T’ruah offers fair-trade Hanukkah gelt (in milk and dark chocolate). Read this kavvanah and enjoy your chocolate while lighting up your conscience!

Night 5 (Wednesday night, December 28)—lighting up our own spirits

Maybe you can’t escape those feelings of fear, anxiety, and loss. Maybe candles aren’t enough. RitualWell offers prayers and rituals to find healing in hard times. Have you ever visited a mikveh? If you haven’t watched it, see the Mayyim Hayyim video that features HBT, Rabbi Penzner, and member Forbes Graham. Or watch it again.

Night 6 (Thursday night, December 29)—lighting up the baseball diamond

Spring training is just eight weeks away!

Get a taste of spring by celebrating baseball—Jewish style.

Remember, relive, or become acquainted with Hank Greenberg. Not only was he the first famous Jewish player in the major leagues, but he had a social conscience, too. Watch the film, “The Life and Times of Hank Greenberg” (a terrific present for Hanukkah fans and baseball fans alike!)

Night 7 (Shabbat, December 30)—lighting up the spirits of people who are alone

This short essay in Hadassah magazine can inspire you to be with someone who might be alone right now. Invite them for Shabbat and candlelighting, or bring Shabbat and Hanukkah to them. Cherish the moment. (Full disclosure: a FB friend drew my attention to this article because the author quotes me in it. Besides that, it’s a very moving piece.)

Night 8 (Saturday night, December 31)—lighting up the New Year with rededication

That’s what Hanukkah means, after all. How will you pick yourself up after 2016 and bring your light into the world? Start off 2017 with resolve to recommit yourself to live the values you espouse. Will you add an hour or two each week or each month to write letters, volunteer, show up at a rally? Will you add a little more to your donations to the organizations you believe in most? Will you add an act of kindness every day? Will you come to HBT one more time each month to support and sustain our community and nurture your soul? Make a list and put it somewhere where you will see it every day.

Hag urim sameyach! Happy Hanukkah!

Rabbi Barbara Penzner

Posted on December 15, 2016 .

Avoidance or Confrontation: Is there another way to have an enjoyable Thanksgiving?

AVOIDANCE OR CONFRONTATION: IS THERE ANOTHER WAY TO HAVE AN ENJOYABLE THANKSGIVING?

With Thanksgiving falling just two weeks after the election results came in, it’s hard to imagine the presidential race not becoming a topic—and potentially explosive focal point—during the holiday. Even if everyone around the table voted for the same person, this topic may distract everyone from the benefits of being together.

For those who are dreading talking to relatives and friends (or invited strangers) about the election, here are a few options beyond confrontation or its equally unhealthy counterpart, avoidance.

Start with chesed (kindness).

Before a word is spoken, do a kind act. Establish yourself as a caring person. Surprise those who expect that you are a crazy, self-centered, or deluded supporter of X. Bring a gift, write a note, offer to help. Most important, smile. Allow yourself to feel generous and sincere.

Set an intention to overcome the divides.

What is important to you about being with these people? It’s not likely to be arguing over politics. Instead, remember that there was, is and always will be something else besides politics. Go to a movie. Play games. Sing. Cook together. Wash the dishes with music in the background (remember “The Big Chill”?) Prepare to have fun, to enjoy being together, and to share something you have in common.

Tell (and listen to) stories.

Have you ever enjoyed “The Moth” or StoryCorps? Everyone has a story. Maybe you’ve heard Uncle Bill’s stories over and over, but perhaps there’s a back story you haven’t heard before. Thanksgiving can be a time for learning family history or going beneath the usual chit-chat to find out what people really care about.

Set groundrules, if necessary.

Ok, the latest news continues to bombard us and many of us need an outlet for our fears. Yet some of you might agree to a moratorium on political conversation. If that’s not going to happen, then stick to discussing issues, not attacking candidates (or voters). And if everyone is comfortable talking about the election, then establish some basic rules of respecting others, using “I” statements instead of “you” accusations, not interrupting. Don’t ask a question when you know the answer will make you angry!

I suggest approaching people individually in advance to establish common ground. Whatever you can agree to will help you and everyone else feel more comfortable.

Practice patience.

When confronted with something unpleasant, be prepared to sit quietly without responding right away. A relative makes an offensive remark. Someone else tries to provoke you. Someone else shares what they believe is an innocent observation. Be prepared with your response: attentive listening. Not listening with one ear while preparing your counter argument. Try not to interrupt, but to wait with attention, and take time to absorb what you’ve heard. And remember the ground rules you agreed to.

Practice curiosity.

When engaging with someone who you find objectionable, or simply has a different view of life than you do, curiosity is a way to demonstrate good faith. “I’m curious about…” is a welcoming way to ask about a position or an experience that you don’t understand. Give the other person the benefit of the doubt. Perhaps you will hear something that you don’t expect.

Make your purpose invitation, not persuasion.

Stating the obvious…

1.    Watch the alcohol consumption. Have an escape plan, whether you’re drunk or Aunt Sally is drunk.

2.    If you are the person who is determined to share your opinions and to persuade your deluded, crazy, self-centered family members that they are wrong, think twice!

We need each other for the long haul. If we are to overcome the hatred and polarization and scapegoating that this campaign has fostered and that will surely continue, it’s important that we maintain existing caring relationships with those who think differently.

Remind yourself what is most important to you about Thanksgiving.

Is it being with people you rarely get to see? Creating memories for the future? Helping your children get to know their relatives better?

Keep focused on the good that you hope to happen.

And most of all, this Thanksgiving, cultivate gratitude. That is the richest soil for growing healthy connections.

Posted on November 21, 2016 .

Vigilance and Compassion

“Relax and breathe,” the nurse instructed me just before giving me my flu shot. “Boy that was easy!” I responded.

What good advice for all of us these days. Relax and breathe. Just as I needed that flu shot to help me face the threat of the flu virus, we need to be healthy in mind and body to face the challenges ahead.

On the one hand, we cannot remain in a constant state of fear or perpetually poised for action. We cannot afford to neglect the basic needs of our lives and our families. This is not indulgence. Basic self-care is essential to carry us through the coming days, weeks, and sad to say, possibly years of adversity. We do need to relax and breathe and feel gratitude and joy for what is still good.

And on the other hand, we dare not become so complacent, so comfortable, that we lose sight of the fear that has overtaken our Muslim neighbors, the immigrant community, people who depend on Obamacare, and so many others who are nervously waiting to find out how this new administration will affect us. We need to reach out to those who are isolated and alone in their pain, and respond appropriately. 

Several gatherings in the past few days opened my eyes to the wide range of emotions people are feeling in the aftermath of the election and the many coping mechanisms available. At the Moral Revival Service of Hope and Transformation, I heard a clear call from people of faith to hold onto a vision of a better world, held together by a love that unites, rather than divides.  It was a call for compassion.

At a gathering of political activists, I heard the heartfelt desire of many to take action in response to the violence we are already witnessing, and to be prepared for destructive policies yet to come. It was a call for vigilance.

Here at HBT, we want to provide the spiritual and communal resources to help us all be our best selves in the days to come. Here within our walls, we seek to create a holy space for safe sharing, for hearing one another’s pain, for grounding and rejuvenation, and for engaging in effective action.

Finally, a warning. We are all subject to fear and anger. These emotions reside in that part of the brain that functions independently of reason. Even in our own like-minded communities, our anxieties can overtake our better natures. With the world feeling so out of control, we might recklessly hold on to anything that restores a sense of control. Without attention, we might harm our closest family members, friends and allies. We must resist turning on one another, much less attack those with whom we disagree!

Just as we need to remain vigilant to safeguard fellow citizens, immigrants, and democracy itself, so we must be vigilant to resist our own worst instincts. Such vigilance need not be exhausting, if we take the time to relax, breathe, and pay heed to our own inner turmoil.  I offer this excerpt from Psalm 33, translated by Norman Fischer, for guidance from those who have faced, survived, and overcome adversity in the past.

Happy is the one who is forgiven

Whose wound is healed

Happy the one restored to your harmony

In whose spirit there is no more deceit

 

When I held my silence

My bones grew brittle with crying all day

For by day and night your hand lay heavy on me

And my life’s moisture dried up

Through the long droughts of summer

 

But then I turned toward my mistakes and shortcomings

Knew my unworthiness, did not cover it up

I said, “I will confess all this, since it is so”

And you forgave me for what I am

 

Therefore let all the faithful

When they find their confusion find you

And pray that the waters of self-delusion

Won’t crest to crush them in their time

 

You are my shelter

You help me withstand my suffering

I endure it warmed in the winds of your exultant songs

 

I will instruct and I will teach the way to go

I will counsel, my eye is on you….

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Posted on November 17, 2016 .

What to do after the election

Shock. Disbelief. Fear. Anxiety.

We woke up this morning in what at best is an alternate reality and at worst is our greatest nightmare.

This presidential campaign came to a different end than most of us expected, and that many reading this desired.

To those who voted for President-elect Trump, I pray that our country does live up to your best hopes. I also ask that you pay attention to the grief and mourning that others feel today.

Had Hillary Clinton won, I would hope that her supporters would also respect the sense of loss on the other side.

This is a day for grieving. We grieve the loss of a dream. We grieve because we fear that the world will never be the same.

Posted on November 14, 2016 .

Rabbi Penzner's Kol Nidre 5777 Sermon

BREAKING DOWN WALLS WITH LOVE

Walls are going up everywhere. Great Britain wants to create a virtual wall from Europe, and European nations want to erect walls to keep out immigrants. Not to mention the wall that Mexico is going to fund to keep immigrants out of the US.

There are other walls inside our country. We are walled off from people who are different from us. In detention centers, walls separate families. Those in prison are surrounded by walls. These walls divide prisoners and their loved ones. In solitary, walls divide one human being from the entire world of experience, human connection, human touch, life. These are walls that sap the strength and deaden the lives of human beings. Human beings who need to be tended and mended are buried alive behind walls.

We could take hammers to smash the walls that divide us. That might feel good in the moment. But violence doesn’t bring walls down. Violence only helps erect new ones. How we take down the walls is related to how we make peace.

Posted on October 14, 2016 .

Rabbi Penzner's Rosh Hashanah 5777 Sermon: A Moral Revolution for Change: Ten Things we can learn about teshuva from the election, and vice versa

A story from an earlier time. Imagine a Norman Rockwell painting:

A young boy walks into a drugstore to use the pay phone. He dials a number and asks to speak to Dr. Bergson.

“Hello, Dr. Bergson, would you like to hire someone to cut the grass and run errands for you? Oh you already have someone? Are you satisfied with him? You are? Ok. Thank you. Good bye.”

As he is about to leave, the proprietor of the drug store stops him and says, “Listen, if you’re looking for a job, you can work for me.”
“Thank you,” the boy replies, “but I already have a job.”
The proprietor, confused, asks, “but didn’t I hear you ask Dr. Bergson if he needed someone to work for him?”
“Well, not exactly,” answersthe boy, “you see, I’m the one who works for Dr. Bergson and I was just checking up on myself.”

Posted on October 4, 2016 .

Creating A Culture of Equity and Inclusion

As we are coming to a New Year, we are reading the final portions of the Torah. The 40 years of wandering in the wilderness are coming to an end. And yet, the Children of Israel do not actually enter the Promised Land in the Torah. (Read the Book of Joshua for what happens next.) On Simchat Torah, we will roll back to the beginning, the very beginning, B’reishit, Creation.
40 years is a powerful image for how long change can take. It took forty years for a band of slaves to turn into an independent people. Think back to 1976, and consider the changes you have seen (if you’ve been alive that long!). We have come so far in so many ways. And in many ways, there’s no apparent progress. Notice how this makes you feel: grateful? frustrated? despairing? hopeful?

Posted on September 22, 2016 .

Responding to the Platform of the Movement for Black Lives

Since the publication of the Platform of the Movement for Black Lives, the Jewish social justice world has been roiled with conflict. In the 40+ page platform, dedicated to the liberation and restructuring of American life in pursuit of equity in all realms, the Invest/Divest section of the platform identified the racism here in America with the suffering of Palestinians. That alone might not have caused such controversy, but, the word “genocide” was used to describe Israeli oppression of Palestinians.

For many of us who consider ourselves allies with this movement, that word caused deep pain. Reacting to that pain, several Jewish individuals and organizations made public statements that, in turn, created pain for other Jewish activists. Quickly taking sides condemning and supporting the platform, Jews voiced the fear and anger that lurks beneath the surface of American Jewry (particularly regarding Israel and Palestine), threatening to rend us asunder.

Desiring to support the movement and simultaneously feeling pushed away, I’ve spent this week confused and anxious.

In troubled times, how many of us know the best action to take, the right direction to follow, the way of truth?

In this week’s top-ten Torah portion (believe me, it has everything:  the Shema, 10 Commandments, one of the 4 children of the seder, loads of verses that we quote in services), perhaps we can find some guidance:

It has been clearly demonstrated to you that the LORD alone is God; there is none beside God. (Deut. 4:35; the Rabbis chose this as the opening line of the Simchat Torah service)

In the Hasidic tradition, commentators read this text to mean “there is nothing beside God.” There is nothing but God. All is God.

From this idea, we can begin approach the divisions in our world, in the political realm, in our lives, even in our own minds, with more compassion. From this belief in ultimate interconnectedness, we can search beneath the surface to discover the truth that unites us. Even when we disagree.

Having spent a lot of time this summer in Israel and Palestine exploring what it means to live there, I witnessed ways that life under occupation resembles the problems of race in America. I also understand that they are very different situations, with Israel and Palestine entrenched in ongoing, mutual warfare. In addition, while I am not opposed to using the analogy to apartheid in regard to practices in the West Bank, within its borders, Israel is not “an apartheid state.”

More problematically, the word “genocide” is a trigger word for Jews. I disagree with all my heart that it describes what Israelis are doing to Palestinians.

However, the Movement for Black Lives has a noble and expansive purpose that is not targeting Jews or the Jewish state. The essence of the platform is a sound call to action. It is worth a full discussion of its points. Jewish disagreements with the language should lead us to share our pain, ask questions, and continue to talk and work honestly with leaders of that movement to advance equity and justice in America.

Searching beneath the surface takes a lot more work than issuing statements. I do not condemn the Jewish leaders who spoke their pain or the writers whose pain was expressed in the platform. Nevertheless, to find the truth that surely resides in every person requires deep listening by all parties.

I invited Miriam Messinger to add her thoughts about this week’s controversy. Though we have different stories and have come to these issues from different vantage points, I believe we arrive at similar conclusions. Statements build walls; relationships tear them down. At the heart of the eternal covenant of the Jewish people is the commandment to find Oneness: to reach out and to listen and to discern the truth that we hear from others, uncomfortable as they may make us feel. Difficult as that is, that is the only viable path to Tikkun, healing and repair.

 

My support for a black-led liberation movement that asks us to transform how we as a society see, think about, and treat Black people within and beyond the boundaries of the United States and, more important, enact policies that can transform a violent history against African Americans is strong. It is even stronger after the release of the platform of the Movement for Black Lives. It is an in-depth, thoughtful document that names problems without apology and lays out clear strategies at all levels to address inequity and anti-black violence. 

 

I see the focus by the media and some Jews/Jewish organizations on the small piece about Israel-Palestine as a distraction from the platform and the work we as a country, and particularly white Americans, need to do. The attention to "the" Jewish reaction is actually an example of how privilege (in this case of Jews) amplifies one’s voice. There has been more focus on the Jewish response to the platform than on the platform itself. And we, as a community, could be doing a better job of sh'ma, listening. 

 

I support people struggling with language and concepts that feel uncomfortable; leaning into discomfort is the only way to begin to dismantle racism. There is much in the platform besides the critique of Israeli government policies that probably make many white people uncomfortable. This is an opportunity to do the pausing and reflecting, with friends and in community, to examine our discomfort and to work through it so that we can be true and effective allies.

I am pained, however, that people are calling a critique of Israel anti-semitic. I am pained, however, that this has been used by some Jewish leaders and groups as a time to say who and how we stand or don’t stand with a movement for Black Lives. Even if one disagrees with one or two words (genocide and apartheid), it is only privilege that makes it legitimate to then distance from a collaborative and massive change movement.

I believe it is our obligation to get in the work and be in relationship with individuals –it is through those relationships that we will learn and transform and be in more equal relationship. In fact, at this moment, I believe that just remaining silent or focusing only on the Israel/Palestine component of this impressive call to action makes us complicit in the anti-Blackness the the Movement is lovingly calling on us to shed.  I don’t pretend that anti-semitism does not exist in the world but I prioritize right now the movement that is addressing daily and deadly outcomes of anti-Black violence and policy that affect me and us as a community, and affect my family directly. 

Miriam Messinger

 

 

Posted on August 18, 2016 .

Rabbi Penzner from Israel 2016

Rabbi Penzner participated in the Rosh Hodesh (new month) celebrations at the Kotel today with Women of the Wall in the Women's Section, and with the egalitarian minyan on the public plaza. Despite taunts, loud disruptive whistles, and pushing by some ultra-orthodox women, both services went along peacefully, including reading Torah for Rosh Hodesh. No one was arrested.

The egalitarian minyan was held in protest of the decision not to implement a government agreement to open up a portion of the wall to egalitarian and women's services.

 

kotel 2 2016.jpg
torah at kotel 2016.jpg
Posted on July 7, 2016 .

What are we to do after the Pulse Nightclub Massacre?

In 1969, there were very few places where gays and lesbians felt they could gather safely. “Coming out” brought pain to many relationships, and created unbridgeable chasms in families. Gays and lesbians were targets of unstoppable bullying. They also suffered harassment by those who we depend on for protection:  the police.

It’s been 47 years since the Stonewall Riots in New York City catalyzed the LGBTQ community to demand their human rights and civil rights in this country. On the first anniversary of the Stonewall Riots, the first Gay Pride parades were established across the country in Los Angeles, Chicago, San Francisco and New York.

Looking back forty years, this weekend’s Gay Pride festivities in Boston had a lot to celebrate. The Supreme Court upheld gay marriage across the nation while striking down the Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA). Anti-sodomy laws been stricken from the record. The President is ordering schools to protect transgender children’s right to choose their bathrooms. And unlike 1969, gays and lesbians, bisexuals, transgender, and queer folk are afforded the protection of law enforcement.

But it wasn’t enough to stop one hater in Orlando.

Today, we learned the identities of the 49 victims of the massacre at the Pulse Nightclub. They range from 19 to 50 years old. Each one had a full life ahead of them. Each had parents, friends, loved ones. And for each of them, we can imagine the name of a child, a student or coworker, a friend or neighbor, as the target of hatred.

First, we cry. Cry for this shameful loss of life.

Then, we pray. Pray for healing. Pray for the survivors. Pray for our country. Pray that love triumphs over hate.

Then we take the horror and anger. Feel it. Own it.

We should be angry that the assault weapon that took innocent lives in Newtown, Aurora, and San Bernardino, is still available (and promoted gleefully by the gun industry).

We should be angry that a man who was identified by the FBI was permitted to purchase such a weapon.

We should be angry that any person needing mental health care is stigmatized in this country, and that health care coverage does not provide adequate support for behavioral health.

We should be angry that the rhetoric of hate continues within our political discourse, as if leaders have no responsibility for the actions that their words inspire.

Then we use that anger to create hope.  Without hope, the cycle of violence will never end. Without hope, hate will always defeat us. Without hope, we should all be very afraid, because the haters do not stop with one vulnerable population. As the Midrash teaches, the “Mashchit” (Destroyer), once unleashed, cannot discern between the innocent and the guilty. Those who kill innocent people in schools, in movie theaters, in shopping malls, in churches, or in nightclubs endanger us all.

Cry. Pray. Get angry.

Then, create hope.  

                                                                                                                                               

When evil darkens the world, give me light.

When despair numbs my soul, give me hope.

When I stumble and fall, lift me up.

When doubt assails me, give me trust.

When nothing seems sure, give me faith.

When ideals fade, renew my vision.

When I lose my way, be my Guide,

That I may find peace in Your presence,

And purpose in doing Your will.

  (from Service of the Heart, British Liberal prayerbook, 1967)

Posted on June 14, 2016 .