MY GRANDMA LIL

A fictional tale in honor of Grandma Lillian and all the amazing mothering aunts in my life.

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Let me tell you about my Grandma Lil. She was the best cook in the world, well at least I thought so, and that thought was shared by many others.

One day, my Grandma Lil thought she would do a Mitzvah and took some chicken soup over to Mrs. Roseman whose husband was ill. “I don’t feel right accepting a gift from you,” she said to my Grandma Lil. She insisted my Grandma take a few coins.  And Grandma Lil went home and put those coins in a little jar on a shelf in her kitchen.

The next week, my Grandma Lil baked too many rugelach cookies for Shabbat. She took some over to her friend Mrs. Bancroft. She insisted my Grandma take a few coins.  And Grandma Lil went home and put those coins in a little jar on a shelf in her kitchen.

The following week, Mrs. Barnett came to visit. “My daughter is getting married. Would you make her a beautiful wedding cake?  I will pay you for your ingredients and time.” My Grandma Lil was chuffed. Grandma Lil put those coins in that little jar on her shelf in the kitchen.

As time went by more and more people came to my Grandma Lil and asked her to bake and cook her delicious foods for them. It helped them out in their busy lives because they did not always have time to make something home-made. Didn’t I tell you that she was the best cook in the world? And those coins they paid her would go straight into what was now a big jar on her kitchen shelf.

One day my brother and I asked – “Grandma, what are you saving all the coins for on the shelf?”

“I am going to buy a whole new set of dishes for Rosh HaShanah,” she told us. “I’ve seen a set, a beautiful set of dishes, with painted rims filled with flowers and birds, just right for the holiday that celebrates the world’s creation. They remind me of the dishes my mother used in England to celebrate the holidays when I was a child”

The money in Grandman Lil’s large jar continued to grow and grow. When it was almost full, she counted the coins out carefully… even the pennies. She had $360, ten-fold double-chai, just enough for the set of beautiful dishes she had seen at the department store downtown, the with painted rims filled with flowers and birds that reminded her of creation and the set her mother had owned in England.

My Grandma Lil put all the money back into the large jar and decided to take the coins down to the bank to swap them out for some notes. Behind the counter was Mr. Davis. “That’s a lot of coins” he said. He adored my Grandma Lil who would often bring home-made lokshen noodles to his house for his wife to put into their soup. “What are you going to do with this $360, Lil?”

And my Grandma Lil told him all about the beautiful dishes she had seen in the Department Store downtown, that reminded her of the set her mother had in England. Just perfect with painted rims filled with flowers and birds, just right for the Rosh Hashanah holiday that celebrates the creation of the world.

The crisp dollar notes in her hand, on the following day, she set out for town to make her big purchase at the Department Store.

But when she got to the store…. there was not a single dish with the painted rims filled with flowers and birds to be found. You cannot imagine how sad my Grandma Lil was. She had been saving so, so long for these special dishes. And that Rosh Hashanah she was so looking forward to setting her table with those plates and cups and saucers.

“I don’t have new dishes, but I suppose I can fill my old dishes with the foods that everybody loves, and it will still be an amazing Rosh Hashanah. Perhaps no one will notice that the dishes are not the new ones if they are tasting my chocolate babka and honey cookies.” And with a sigh of resignation, my Grandma Lil made her way home.

As she came up her street she saw all these cars. “Someone must be having a party, she thought. And then when she entered her house – she saw that my brother and I and my Mum and Dad were there. Mr Davis with Mrs Davis. Mrs Barnett and her newly married daughter and their whole family, Mrs. Bancroft and Mrs. Roseman, and so many others. “Wow, I am the one having a party…” she exclaimed. And then she noticed. Every single one of us was carefully holding a dish, a cup or a saucer, a plate or a bowl.  Each dish was decorated with painted rims filled with flowers and birds, just right for the holiday that celebrates the world’s creation, the festival that marks the beginning of creation.

“Surprise!” we shouted. “Thank you!” we said.

As everyone all at once shared with my Grandma Lil how magnificent her cooking was, what it meant for our families, and how it helped make our celebrations and sad times and gatherings so wonderful. “Thank you, thank you, thank you,”– “Thank you for your food that so often has brought us all together.”

You know what my Grandma Lil did next?

She went into her kitchen and she began to cook. She invited all her friends and acquaintances to come back and join her on Rosh Hashanah eve for fancy breads and pickles and brisket and fruits and all the wonders that she created. She cooked the recipes she recalled that her Mum had made in England long ago. And she plated it all on those dishes with birds and flowers on the rim, which reminded her of creation and Rosh Hashanah’s past with her family.

What a sweet Rosh HaShanah that was – eating Grandma Lil’s food,  the best food in the world, on those plates with birds and flowers on their rims, that reminded us all of God’s creation on Rosh HaShanah, with the community brought together around Grandma Lil’s cooking.

 

Inspired by the story Grandma Roses Magic by Linda Elovitz Marshall

 

5779: A Year of Sacred Opportunity

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I think you might know this one:

 

Come gather ’round people

Wherever you roam

And admit that the waters

Around you have grown

And accept it that soon

You’ll be drenched to the bone.

If your time to you

Is worth savin’

Then you better start swimmin’

Or you’ll sink like a stone

For the times they are a-changin’.[i]

Ah. “The times’ they are a changin’.” Now this is a song that would have resonated with the Israelites about to leave Egypt.

William Bridges in his brilliant essay on transition management theorizes that the story of the Exodus is the archetypal transition-management project.[ii] Moses is the head of this organization called “Israel” who since the time of Joseph had lived in Egypt and were content with their power. But by the time Moses took up the helm, they were in bondage and needed change, and he began looking for ways in the system to “Let My People Go”.

Moses discovers that it is hard to move a system. The first reaction is for the system to tighten its grip, and that is indeed what happens, as the Pharaoh says: “No, no no, I will not let the people go!” And then he adds hardship to the Israelites daily lives.

Then as usually happens at the beginning of a time of transition, plagues of problems begin to develop that are disruptive to the organization’s life: blood, frogs, livestock diseases, darkness. The plagues are simply symptomatic of old ways that no longer work. Moses does the difficult task of a good leader managing transition – he lets the problems escalate, so it becomes clear that something needs to be done. By the time of the death of the firstborn it is BEYOND clear that the Israelites NEED to leave Egypt. Moses allowing this escalation of plagues, also works at caring for his people during the full impact of the outbreaks by putting a mark on their door. One must protect in the old system elements that will be needed for the new system to be built.

Then Moses gathered together pivotal people, Aaron, Miriam, Jethro, who will help build a new structure and a new vision for “A Promised Land.”

Our Holy Congregation, our Kehillah Kedosha, our Har Sinai Congregation, is at the cusp of change.

I am certainly no Moses. The last two years of my rabbinic leadership here have followed a prototypical healthy transition management story as set out by William Bridges.

Even before I became your rabbi, it was shared with me that challenging decisions needed to be made in this congregation for its financial survival and for its growth in this community.

We have as William Bridges would term it: our metaphoric Pharaohs who have wanted to ignore these realities, holding on tightly to “the old ways” and “old systems”. And there have been some plagues: those who have left, withheld their pledges, some staff turnover, and, well we are Jews… so some kvetching.

As in the William Bridges’ Exodus analogy, we are providing as this reknown re-organizational expert suggests, protection signs. They are symbolized in the biblical text by the paschal lambs’ blood smeared on the doorposts of the Israelites’ home. Here at our Har Sinai Congregation, the Cantor, the staff, lay leaders and I have sought firm and meaningful protective marks on the doorposts of our spiritual home. We have ensured preservation and celebration of our history, sacred services, simchas, programs, and a strong Posner JEM. These are essentials to take with us into our future.

Our President Anne Berman established two committees of pivotal people to work on alternate visions – one a merger with Temple Oheb Shalom and one to look at the continuance of Har Sinai Congregation in another form. One path has emerged as the stronger viability for multiple reasons – and the Futures Committee has reached out to you for your input into the vision of our Promised Land.

We are only part way on what is a typical path for a successful transition journey. We still need to get through the split of the Red Sea – to sell this building and find a new home. We still need to wander through the wilds of the desert as we figure out what the new structure of our Har Sinai Congregation is going to look like, but:

If your Temple to you

Is worth savin’

Then you better start swimmin’

Or you’ll sink like a stone

For the times they are a-changin’.[iii]

 

Once there was a couple that lived in a house who one morning found a pomegranate tree growing out of their living room floor. In their marriage, they had always been avoiders of hard conversation. Typically for them, they decided to ignore the obvious problem of a pomegranate tree in their living room.

The pomegranate tree grew. Its branches blocked the television, so the husband moved the TV and they continued to live their daily life.

The tree grew, its red seeded fruit smashed onto the couches, it’s trunk blocked access to the dining room table and made the floor buckle. Neither husband or wife said a thing.

They kept finding ways to avoid discussion about that ever-growing tree growing in their living room. They kept finding multiple solutions for existing around a tree in the living room however inconvenient these were.

The pomegranate tree grew, the roots effecting the plumbing and foundation, its branches began to lift off the roof of their house, and the walls began to fall.

This morning I want to name some tree branches in our spiritual living room. Let us talk about limbs that are bewildering within our synagogue in transition. Naming is powerful. It helps us understand. It helps us move on our journey. It helps us strategize.

This morning let me point out, that in our spiritual living room, we have a branch named: fear. Human beings are animals and we have a natural instinctual fear built in our beings. Elizabeth Gilbert refers to this animal instinct of fear in her book Big Magic[iv]:

“If you pass your hand over a petri dish containing a tadpole, the tadpole will flinch beneath your shadow. The tadpole cannot write poetry, and it cannot sing, and it will never know love or jealousy or triumph, and it has a brain the size of a punctuation mark, but it damn sure knows how to be afraid of the unknown.”

We all have fears. But as human beings we are able to reason and become greater than our fears.

Har Sinai Congregation is a place we love. Some of you are from legacy families who remember the beginning of this community 176 years ago. Some of you recall when this was an 800 plus household congregation when there was a lot more staff and a greater capacity for programming by the professionals.  Some of you recollect sitting down for High Holy Days under the beautiful dome on Park Heights Avenue. Others of you were instrumental in the plans to move Har Sinai Congregation here to Walnut Avenue and worked so hard so that our congregation could prosper in this locale. Some of you are new and have just found your spiritual place here in our walls.

Our future at this moment is unknown and hence a fear. What will a different locale mean, a smaller building or a shared building, new programming, and what does it mean for our “status” in Jewish Baltimore? The branches of fear grow naturally. But if we let fear run our lives we would never leave the door of our houses, we would never leave our parent’s homes, we would never have children or move jobs or create a painting or write a story or a song.

Yes, let us acknowledge fear and yes, let us dare to be brave and embrace reason. Some of the things we love about our beloved Temple will come with us on this new journey, and some of those things will be left behind, because “the times they are a changin’”

This morning let me point out, that in our spiritual living room, we have a number of branches named: mourning. As we sit in this beautiful sanctuary of Har Sinai Congregation we are aware that this may be the last or the near-to-last High Holy Day services in this space. Some of you built this building. Some of you have never known another spiritual building. Some of you have made this your community home because you were impressed by this building.

Those of you who have known the true nature of the finances of our congregation over the last ten years have recognized that these days have been imminent for a while. Others of you may feel that you have just heard the news a few months ago.

We are all at different stages, different branches, of a mourning process. We are in what William Bridges calls the of the “Neutral Zone” about to leave Egypt and the life we knew for a life in the wilderness, and we are anticipating what the Promised Land will be. We are in a difficult space that Pauline Boss labeled “ambiguous loss”.[v] A time of mourning with an undefined closure, we see no ending yet, though we know resolution will come.

In that uncertain wilderness each of us travels the circuitous path of the seven stages of grief identified by Elizabeth Kubler Ross – shock and denial, pain and guilt, anger and bargaining, depression and some of us may even be at the stage of the upward turn of reconstruction and acceptance and hope.

A healthy transition process will ultimately turn to reconstruction and acceptance and hope. But for now, our community members are all in different emotional places. And there is ambiguity as our Futures Committee investigates several viable paths of possibilities.

Eventually the pomegranate tree in our sacred living room will be uprooted, and we hope that you will journey with Har Sinai Congregation to our Promised Land, our synagogue of the future. That you will move with us from fear and loss, to the possibility of abundance. From scarcity to possibilities.

“How many seeds are in this pomegranate?” asked a facilitator in a workshop to a group of participants. She held it aloft for them to see.

The workshop broke into small groups to come up with how to answer this question. Each group had a different way of calculating this answer. One group quartered the pomegranate and counted the seeds. Others estimated based on the pomegranate’s weight. Another group tried to visualize the inside of the pomegranate. A predominantly Jewish group consulted Jewish text which said there were 613 seeds for each mitzvah in the Torah.

Each group were hundreds off each other’s estimates.
The facilitator asked the workshop if they wanted to know the exact answer?

Of course! Wouldn’t you? And then the facilitator revealed:

“The correct answer is: that there are enough. Enough seeds to save and plant next year, enough seeds to give to the neighbors so they have pomegranate trees, and enough seeds to create more seeds.” [vi]

We live in a moment which can be, if we reframe our fears and mourning, filled with abundant possibilities for our community. Our congregation can reimagine who and what we are to build a community of success for the future.

What lies before us in this year 5779 is a year of sacred opportunity.

On Kol Nidre eve, I will continue this important conversation as we move through this transitional moment in our history.  I will speak about my vision for Har Sinai Congregation’s future. On Yom Kippur Morning I will speak about why we need a congregational community. On Yom Kippur afternoon I have asked congregants to share with you their thoughts of what could be.

This is our message: We have abundance and sacred opportunity.

I am positive we have enough. I am certain that we can dream together a plethora of possibilities for success. I am sure we will traverse this wilderness of uncertainty and reach the Promised Land.

Journey with us.

If your Temple to you

Is worth savin’

Then you better start swimmin’

Or you’ll sink like a stone

For the times they are a-changin’.[vii]

 

 

[i] Bob Dylan

[ii] “Getting Them Through the Wilderness” by William Bridges, 2006

[iii] Bob Dylan

[iv] Big Magic: Creative Living Beyond Fear” by Elizabeth Gilbert, 2015, p. 20

[v] “Ambiguous Loss: Learning to Live with Unresolved Grief” by Pauline Boss

[vi] Based on http://www.i-open.org/blog/the-tomato-story-and-shifting-from-scarcity-to-abundance-in-half-a-day

[vii] Bob Dylan

Creating Communities at the 5779 Frontier

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This is how it started.

In the beginning Abraham looked around his father’s idol store and said “What the heck? How can these be the power behind the universe?” He took up a broom and smashed the idols to smithereens.[i] And then he had to run from his father and his family. And when he wanted to worship the one and only God, he would just start up a conversation or make a sacrificial offering.

In the second era, his grandson Jacob, also running from home, built a cairn or altars in his encounters with God – for God was in that place and he, he did not know it.[ii]

In the third era, Moses and Aaron made the worship center portable so that it could travel with the Israelites through the desert. They called it the Tent of Meeting or Mishkan.[iii] At its center was the Holy of Holies, which contained the Ten Commandments, the original broken set and the whole complete set, that had been given at Mount Sinai.

In the fourth era, the Priests set about unifying worship in a holy building. They created the cult around two magnificent Temples in Jerusalem where it is said that God’s presence dwelt. There was pomp and sacrifices. Three times a year the people would pack up their families and make a pilgrimage to Jerusalem to celebrate the festivals at this centralized shrine.

In the fifth era, community centers emerged, small temples, then synagogues. Teachers known as rabbis, began to lead the people. When the Temple was destroyed, these houses of prayer and study became the centers of communal gathering – places of worship, study and celebration.

In the sixth era, our grandparents and great-grandparents and great-great grandparents, members of small synagogues in shtetls and shtetlach and cities, moved to suburbia. They needed to find their “people” for they did not live near each other anymore. They reimagined a synagogue center.

They invented a place you could drive to filled with Jewish stuff and called it their Temple. Home rituals like the lighting of candles were brought into centralized walls. Jewish study could be traditional or secular. Being Jewish was hanging with Jews as they swum, danced, played basket-ball. You could participate in Mitzvah Days and do communal good. The Brotherhood hosted a Shabbat spaghetti dinner in the building and there was a Sisterhood store to buy all the Jewish items you needed. A one-stop Jewish place of being.

In the seventh era… ah, the seventh era… here we are folks.  On the 5779 future Frontier, you, me, Har Sinai Congregation.  Here we are having to ask an old, important and essential Jewish survival question. The one our people have asked in all these eras: What does our sacred place of the future look like?

In their national best seller, Ros Stone Zander, a therapist, and her husband Ben Zander, the conductor of the Boston Philharmonic Orchestra, suggest some basic rules to foster “The Art of Possibility”. Their first rule is:

It’s All Invented.

And once you accept that all of life is a construct, and thus can be re-constructed, you get to the second rule:

Stepping into a Universe of Possibility.

This is an identical idea to the basic Rosh HaShanah myth, Genesis 1.

HaYom Harat Olam: Rosh HaShanah is the anniversary of the world’s birth. At first there was nothing, tohu v’vohu.  So, God Invented. Step-by-step, day one, day two, day three, through to – day seven. God created a Universe of Possibility.

On Rosh HaShanah we are urged to look at the Invention that is our lives, ask ourselves if we need to reinvent, and then step into the Universe of Possibility that the New Year brings.

It is the same with creating Kehillah Kedosha, A holy community of sacred meaning.

Our ancestors in different eras Invented what their holy communities looked like, stepped into a Universe of Possibility, and step-by-step creating an infrastructure that would sustain the generations ahead, taking with them from the past what they believed would sustain the future.

The reinvention of holy community has always been based on tradition.

Abraham, Jacob, the Israelites and the Priests still maintained sacrifices, even if the form and locale differed in each era. The order and names of priestly sacrifices became the underpinning structure of our synagogue prayer services we know today. The one-room synagogue and the house of study of the small contained Jewish communities of the shtetl and city, were absorbed into the large destination Temples built in the suburbs.

Like Tevye in “Fiddler on the Roof,” generations before us have keenly felt the pull of “Tradition” while realizing that the world around them was changing, and that they needed to open themselves up to possibilities to sustain Jewish continuity.

Congregants tell me all the time that they love our Har Sinai traditions. “We love this building, we gave money to this building”, they say. “My late wife’s name is on the wall.” “The rooms and hallways are named after my loved ones.” “Here in our halls there are plaques and pictures on whose shoulders we stand.” “There are programs we could not imagine doing any other way.”

Certain Har Sinai/MiSinai melodies tug on the heartstrings of our memories. The rhythm of Hebrew, or the poetry of an English translation, or a certain prayer book has a strong and important attachment. A Huppah makes a wedding. A Bat Mitzvah reading Torah and leading most the Saturday morning service is seen as essential. And the demand for our grandson to have a Brit Milah on the eighth day is deep in our religious psyche.  The emotional attachment we have for Har Sinai Congregation customs is real. These are powerful pulls to generations of congregants who are invested in these Har Sinai ways of doing Jewish. These traditions are what makes this community ours.

If you are entrenched in this Invention, that is now Har Sinai Congregation, you may be asking: “Rabbi, are we really standing on a 5779 Frontier at all?” To you I say, you do not need to look far afield to see that in our generation, and in generations to come, the sense of community is changing.

People today live within multiple communities and are juggling complex and diverse demands. The traditional family, friends, interest groups, volunteer committees and synagogue are still part of their lives.

Then there are the new communities they are members of. They are constantly on the road between different groups, listening to the podcast or radio show that has also become a community for them too.  They email and text and tweet and put a picture on Instagram, and instantaneously find connection to a wider community.

How many of us here are on Facebook, and have “friends” whose lives you are part of virtually? How many of us at work no longer travel to meetings but rather use Zoom or Facetime or Skype to conference across cities or the world? How many of us met our partners not by introduction by family or friend, or at a party or a bar, but rather on an on-line dating service? How many of us have attended a rally or meet-up organized out of electronic air?

Stores like Apple and Starbucks are built around creating town-square community experiences and JC Penny is just about to experiment with that new format too.[iv] Our children play games with their friends while sitting in different houses and they text each other even when in the same room to communicate. You can even now worship online at Har Sinai Congregation, you just need to tune into our streaming from our webpage.

These are all communities we are part of and that we juggle in our lives.

Try telling someone who participates in these newer community experiences that this is not a community. Or that what they are participating in does not have meaning. Our technology, our mobility, and our world view has widened the walls of what we understand connection and interconnection to be.

And ultimately, my friends, it cannot help but impact what our kehillah kedosha, our holy communities looks like.

On the 5779 frontier of the Jewish community we need to ask: How will we structure the community of the future that will expand to encompass these ever-widening walls of connection? We have difficult and emotional questions we need to ask and seek answers for.

Do we need a huge campus for the community to gather, or a smaller space that can be ours, or at least our center? Do we need a traditional synagogue, or can our center be a house or a store-front, or a restaurant, or a club? Can it be a shared space with another synagogue or holy community?

Do we even need a physical place, or can we be without walls? Can our community be made up of non-traditional meeting places like coffee shops and people’s homes and a museum, a conglomeration of virtual and moveable meeting areas?

What sort of programming can connect us into being Jewish and works in the new ways that community is created? What sort of leadership is needed in such a community? How will that leadership meet? What is the membership model and the investment model of this new emerging entity?

And it is also important for us to ask: What is essential to bring with us? What is indispensable to our continuity, our chain of tradition? And what are we able to let go of, and what might hinder us from creating the new Har Sinai Congregation future?

It is time for us to apply ourselves to thinking about community on the 5779 Frontier. This is the first of a series of sermons this High Holy Days that will do so. I have more questions than answers, and need you, need us, to help find the way forward.

It feels like an oh, so risky conversation.  It is a hard topic for the builder generation and the legacy generation sitting here that has invested in this special congregation. It is risky and personal for me. It is my job, the Cantor’s job, the way we staff, our employee’s future. It is a hard discussion for the people in the pews that were dragged here by their families, because we are asking them to re-engage, to think about reinventing with us, to create a community that does mean something to them. It is a hard dialogue for those who have chosen not to come and be here, because we are asking them to identify what is wrong with something we hold precious and help us figure out how to make it work.

Yes, risk hangs here, right here, right now, in this moment, in this place that we have Invented.

On the 5779 Frontier, I am reminded of a beloved 1981 Debbie Friedman song.  She begins with the quotation from the book of Joel, a prophet that looks at what was invented in his time and advocates for a Universe of Possibility. “That the old shall dream dreams and the youth shall see visions.”[v]  Debbie Friedman echoes that idea in her present:

Today’s the day I take my stand, the future’s mine to hold.
Commitments that I make today are dreams from days of old.
I have to make the way for generations come and go.
I have to teach them what I’ve learned so they will come to know.
That the old shall dream dreams, and the youth shall see visions,
And our hopes shall rise up to the sky.
We must live for today; we must build for tomorrow.
Give us time, give us strength, give us life.

All is Invented, and the future demands that we step into a Universe of Possibility. We are at a transitional moment in history where our conceptions of community are changing. We must manifest sacred community with meaning for now and lay the creative groundwork for the future.

Steeped in the very meaningful history of Har Sinai Congregation of the past, we can re-form the Har Sinai Congregation of the future, step-by-step.

It is our time to invent. “We must live for today; we must build for tomorrow.”
Let us step into the world of possibilities.

Bereshit. Beginnings. L’Shanah Tovah.

[i] Gen. R. 39:1

[ii] Genesis 28

[iii] Exodus 25–31 and 35–40

[iv] https://www.retaildive.com/news/apple-plans-to-transform-brick-and-mortar-stores-into-town-squares/428570/

[v] Joel 3:1

Open the Door: Towards the Future

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A true story. Sort of.

Grandpa Solomon put up the Mezuzah hanging it straight up-and-down.

“Look Jacob. See how straight I place the Mezuzah.

At Passover, we remember how in Egypt when we painted blood on the doorposts of our house God guarded us from the angel of death. The Mezuzah reminds us of that night.

Have I told you the story about a king who sent a pearl to a rabbi and and asks for a present of equal value in return? The rabbi sent him a mezuzah but the King was angry. He felt that a Mezuzah could be purchased by anyone. So, he wrote an angry letter to Rav.

The rabbi wrote back to the King: You sent a pearl. Now I require guards at my house. I sent you a Mezuzah. Surely that is more valuable? The Mezuzah guards your house!”

“This Mezuzah” said Grandpa Solomon, “guards our house!”

“Grandpa really? A box on the doorpost guarding us from harm? Do you believe that?” said Jacob.

His grandson always seemed to question everything.

“Ah little one, now in real life you disagree with me! I dream about you disagreeing with me! We have traditions little one. Ours are not to change the traditions.”

“But what if they don’t make sense? What if they don’t mean something to me? countered Jacob.

“Shush! Jacob. It is tradition!”

Jacob grew up to be a great scholar whose teachings were so beautiful that they touched people’s hearts. He was always looking for meaning and a way to love God.

One day he was putting up the Mezuzah with his daughter Fleur.

“Look Fleur, see how I place the Mezuzah on the door lying flat.”

“Why Papa? Everybody else places the Mezuzah up and down! Why do you need to be creative? Why do you lay it down?”

“Little Fleur. You ask such good questions.

When we carried the Ark in the desert we placed the Ten Commandments and the teachings flat on the bottom of the Ark.  That way they could not fall as we carried them around the wilderness.

I love putting up the Mezuzah this way. It makes sense to me. It shows how much we love God and God’s teachings. We give the Mezuzah a kiss each time to remind us how much we love Torah.”

“But Papa, everybody else hangs their Mezuzah up and down. Why do we….”

“Shush, Fleur. We must play with Judaism so it makes sense to us. It should be beautiful.”

Fleur grew up. She and her children and their children’s children loved being Jewish because Jacob had taught them creativity beauty. To honor her father, she hung the Mezuzah flat  to remind them of the love of God’s teachings.

Others in their family followed the tradition of Grandfather Solomon. Tradition! They honored the idea that God guarded their door.

Who do you think was right?

What is more important?

Tradition?

Creativity and a a love for Judaism?

The members of Solomon, Jacob and Fleur’s family followed different customs down the generations.

One hundred and fifty years later they took they went to a Rabbi from outside their family and asked: Which practice is better? Should the Mezuzah be up and down – guarding tradition? Should the Mezuzah be flat – displaying creativity and love?

The Rabbi came up with a great solution.

Both ideas were right!

He suggested that we place the Mezuzah slanted, pointing forwards into the room. Rooted in tradition but pointed to creativity and love.

That way the people could choose, Sometimes, they could see the Mezuzah as upright, honoring the tradition. Sometimes they could see the Mezuzah as lying down, reminding them to be creative to find ways to feel their love of God and God’s love for them. Sometimes they could see both as important.

The Mezuzah teaches us that we can choose.

We need both tradition and creativity that expresses our love for being Jewish to be true.

Let us say a blessing. A blessing for affixing the Mezuzot of our lives on a slant. Rooted in tradition. Searching for meaning. Searching for love.  Towards the future.

Barukh Atah Adonai Eloheinu Melekh ha’olam, asher qideshanu bemitzvotav vetzivanu liqboa’ mezuzah.

We bless You, Adonai our God, Channeler of Universes, who gives us awareness of holiness through Mitzvot and directs us to affix a mezuzah.

Note for our adults in the room.

I began by telling you that this is a sorta true story. The people of this story were real people in Jewish history and rabbinic texts. RaSHI, Rabbenu Tam, Fleur de Lis Kolonymos, the Tur. The argument is a real Jewish argument.

If you want to know the emet, the truth, the multiples sources, the midrash, and more behind this tale… feel free to come and study it with me! An open invite through the door of Jewish learning!

 

 

 

 

Let’s open the door with a story.

(open the door)

A true story.

Sort of.

 

Grandpa Shlomo[1] placed the Mezuzah on the door vertically.

“Look Yaakov,[2]  see how straight I place the Mezuzah.

Grandpa put on his rabbi-yalmuke. After all Reb Shlomo bar Yitzchak was known for his teachings. Everybody read RASHI. “The Mezuzah, little Yaakov, represents the blood of the lamb smeared by our ancestors on that night when they stood between the doorway of slavery and the doorway of freedom. God guarded us from the Angel of Death as we went forth from Egypt.

The Mezuzah continues to guard all of us who put it on the doorpost. It stands upright. It reminds us that the God up in heaven, protects us here down on earth.

Once king of Parthia once sent a pearl to Rav and asks for something of equal value in return. Rav sent him a mezuzah but the King was not pleased with this strange gift. He felt that a Mezuzah could be purchased by anyone. It could not be of equal value.So he wrote an angry letter to Rav.

Rav writes back to the King that the pearl he sent requires him to set up protection at his house at great expense. But the Mezuzah he gifted the King, is actually a more valuable treasure, as it will offer protection to the King when he is at home.”[3]

Shlomo felt especially proud that he could tell a midrashic story his grandson Yaakov would understand and remember…. “The mezuzah, my Yaakov, guards us from harm.”

“Grandpa really? A box on the doorpost guarding us from harm? Do you believe that?” said little Yaakov.

His grandson always seemed to question everything.

“Ah little one, now in real life you disagree with me! In my dreams, I held you as a baby and you touched the Tefillin on my head and I saw that in the future you would disagree with me about the order in which we place passages in the boxes on the Tefillin.[4] We have traditions little one. Ours are not to change the traditions.”

“But what if they don’t make sense? What if they don’t mean something to me or to my generation? Shouldn’t we make them meaningful?” countered Yaakov. “Are we to be guards, standing firm in a tradition that does not mean anything, resistant to change?”

“Shush! Yaakov. It is tradition!”[5]

Yaakov grew up to become a great scholar like his grandfather Shlomo. Like his mother Yocheved, his father Meir[6] and his brother Shmuel[7]. He was called Rabbeinu Tam by those who knew him. Rabbeinu Tam meaning “our straightforward teacher” because his teachings touched the heart of those in his generation. His reputation spread far and wide.

Once, Rabbeinu Tam, also known as Papa Yaakov, was standing outside the door of his house with his daughter Fleur de lis.[8]

“Look Fleur, see how I place the Mezuzah on the door horizontally.”

“Why Papa? Everybody else places the Mezuzah vertically! Why do you do we do it differently?”

“Little Fleur. You ask such good questions. Fleur de lis, in the days of the Temple in Jerusalem, we showed our love of God, by laying God’s teachings flat in the Ark, the Torah scrolls and the Ten Commandments. Flat to keep them safe, so they were less likely to fall or be harmed. When we affix the Mezuzah horizontally on our doors, we remind ourselves of our love of God’s teachings in the Temple, how much we cared for them, and the preciousness of God’s teachings in our lives. As you enter the door, give it a kiss each time to show your love of God and God’s teaching.”[9]

“Why Papa, why do you always need to be Jewish differently?”

“Not differently, little Fleur, we need to make being Jewish meaningful. The horizontal Mezuzah teaches us about God’s love for us and our love for God. Isn’t that a beautiful thought?”

“Yes Papa, it is beautiful like your poems that everyone recites, but what about tradition? Everybody else says that we are changing Judaism!”

“Shush, little Fleur. It is important for Judaism to make sense and mean something.”

Fleur grew up. She and her children and their children’s children loved being Jewish. And they always looked for meaning in their practice. They affixed the Mezuzah horizontal for love, as Fleur’s Papa had taught.

Others in their family felt that the rules of tradition came first. Like their father and grandfather and great grandfather RaSHI, they affixed the Mezuzah vertically to remind that God is the guardian of our door. They’d always done it that way. Without rules, without boundaries, Judaism would not be the same.

Who do you think was right? Is the tradition more important than touching the heart? Is touching the heart more important than the tradition?

  • What is more important? (Some examples… if you need to draw them out)
  • Keeping the rules of Shabbat or finding things that feel Shabbastik to you?
  • Eating Kosher or being aware that eating is holy?
  • “MiSinai melodies” that remind us of Jewish history or contemporary tunes that you identify with?
  • Reading Hebrew or praying in a language that you understand?
  • Reading the Haggadah or making the story your own?

 

A hundred and fifty years later, Rabbi Jacob ben Asher also known as The Tur, asked the same question. Some people were hanging their Mezuzot vertically. Some people were hanging their Mezuzot horizontally. Is the tradition more important than touching the heart? Is touching the heart more important than tradition?

Which will open the door to our Jewish continuity?

He could not decide… the tradition gave Judaism roots and authenticity. The creativity and touching the heart allowed Judaism to speak emotionally.

So the Tur split the difference. He wrote in his book that we should place the Mezuzah on our doorpost slanted, pointing forwards into the room.[10]

Our Jewish continuity always stands at that place. The Mezuzah hangs on our doorway between tradition and meaning. We incorporate tradition for roots and authenticity. We search for heart-soul connection for Judaism to have a  meaningful future.

Let us say a blessing. A blessing for affixing the Mezuzot of our lives on a slant. Rooted in tradition. Searching for meaning. Towards the future.

Barukh Atah Adonai Eloheinu Melekh ha’olam, asher qideshanu bemitzvotav vetzivanu liqboa’ mezuzah.

We bless You, Adonai our God, Channeler of Universes, who gives us awareness of holiness through Mitzvot and directs us to affix a mezuzah.

[1] The first name of Reb Shlomo bar Yitzchak (RaSHI) who ruled that the Mezuzah should be applied to the doorpost vertically.

[2] The first name of Rashi’s grandson, Rabbenu Tam, son of Rashi’s daughter Yocheved.

[3] Sefer Haagadah (check reference

[4] Traditional legend

[5] This tradition is according to the opinion of Rashi, Maimonides and the Shulchan Aruch. It is still the custom among Sephardic Jews to hang the Mezuzah vertically.

[6] Meir ben Shmuel

[7] Shmuel ben Meir (Rashbam), 15 years his senior.  His other borthes were Isaac (Rivam) and Solomon the Grammarian)

[8] The children of Rabbenu Tam were: Yitzhak TzarfatiShlomo TzarfatiMoshe TzarfatiFleur de lis Klonymos, of Falaise and Yosef Kalonymus-Tzarfati. You know I picked the daughter because of her gender! We need to write women back into history.

[9] The origins of the custom of kissing the Mezuzah are obscure. It may have been introduced much later by the Arizal. It is custom recommended by some rabbis and vilified by others. I have taken the liberty here of attributing it to Rabbeinu Tam.

[10] Arbaah Turim, Yoreh Deah, 289

Open the Door to Justice

A creaky door. EEEEEEE!

Once there was an elderly man who spent his whole life carrying an oil can.

Whenever he heard a door creak, it would aggravate him. So, he would take out his oil can, and pour oil on the hinges of the door, so that it would open and shut without a squeaking noise. Sometimes he would come across doors that were annoyingly difficult to open. The latches did not unlock smoothly as expected. So, he would take his can, and grease the latch, until the door would work without a hitch.

Thus, he passed through life lubricating the hard places, making it easier for those who came after him.[1]

Yom Kippur Eve.  We enter a door this day as we measure our deeds in reflection and prayer.

We look back on 5777, the last year. It has been one where too many doors of injustice seemed to have opened again and again.  Doors of unfairness, prejudices, inequalities, discriminations, seem to open daily in the news.

Pitchu Li Sha’arei Tzedek – Open for me the gates of justice, I will enter them and sing your praises – expresses Psalm 118.[2] The last ten days we have stood, poised, in the hallway of a new year. In the corridor of these ten days, on each side, are doors of injustice, and doors of justice. Can there even be a question which doors we should lubricate? Making it easier for those that come after us?

The Talmud teaches, “If you see wrongdoing by a member of your household, and do not protest – you are held accountable. And so, it is in relation to the members of our city. And so, it is in relation to the world.” As Jews, it is our responsibility to reproach those that transgress in our homes, our countries and our world. The medieval commentator teaches us that we must be chutzpadik, speak out truth to power: “the whole people are punished for the sins of the king, if they do not protest the king’s actions to him.”

This High Holy Days, hundreds of Reform Rabbis across this country have agreed, in one voice, to speak out, as is our sacred obligation. We are not being political, we are honoring the call and imperative of Jewish tradition. Like the prophets before us, we are speaking about opening doors of justice, we are propelling and supporting each other, to deliver a stern warning against complacency, and we are offering a call to action. If our President, Senate, or House of Representatives, will not open doors to justice, if they choose to open doors of injustice, we will speak out.

As proud Jews and Americans, we must say to our President and to our government: “You cannot dehumanize, degrade and stigmatize whole categories of people in this nation. Every Jew, every Muslim, every gay, transgender, disabled, black, brown, white, woman, man and child is beloved of God and precious in the Holy One’s sight. We the people, all the people, are created b’tzelem Elohim, in the image of the Divine. All the people are worthy of life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness.”[3]

We must open the doors of justice by speaking out: Against white supremacists carrying Confederate flags, emboldened, to think that they once again can terrorize and intimidate those of color.

We must open the doors of justice by speaking out: To those who do not understand that black lives matter, and that we have created a system of injustice in this country, where African-Americans are discriminated against.

We must open the doors of justice by speaking out: Against Nazis, open-carrying torches and guns, shouting “Jews will not replace us,” and who reminded us, blatantly, that anti-semitism still lives behind doors that just need to be re-opened.

We must open the doors of justice by speaking out: When women are cat-called, demeaned and harassed, when they do not receive equal pay for equal work, or are denied opportunities to progress in the workplace because of gender.

We must open the doors of justice by speaking out: For the Dreamers, who know nothing but the American way of life, and just want an opportunity to give back to the country that has raised them.

We must open the doors of justice by speaking out: Advocating for refugees, who deserve to be welcomed in this country, for we too, have been refugees in Jewish history, even in the most recent of pasts.

We must open the doors of justice by speaking out: When discrimination and rights are denied our gay, lesbian, bi-sexual, transgender, queer, and agender citizens.

We must open the doors to justice by speaking out: When health coverage becomes a matter of debate, when preconditions preclude coverage, or make coverage unaffordable, when legislation will put lives of Americans at risk.

We must open the doors of justice by speaking out: Advocating for those who need our help and support through natural disasters and humanitarian crises.

We must open the doors of justice by speaking out: When we see corruption, and hear lies.

We must open the doors of justice by speaking out: By calling our elected representatives, writing them letters, texting their offices, attending their open forums, and engaging in conversations with our friends, families, and community.

We are standing in a hallway where too many are pouring oil on squeaky door hinges of injustice. Lubricating them carefully, so that they will open more easily than ever before. Let us work to slam those doors shut, to lock them up.

We must open the doors of justice by, as Abraham Joshua Heschel expressed it: praying with our feet.  The banners provided by the Reform Judaism’s Religious Action Center, at peaceful protests this year, read a riff on the prophet Micah: “Do Justice, Love Mercy, March Proudly.” Let us walk by the doors of injustice, speaking truth, outside them and through them, and open doors of justice by using our right to protest.

Soon after the last US election, some of us joined a Women’s March upon Washington DC, to advocate, and to make sure that the social causes, close to the hearts of women, their male and agender allies, were high on the radar of the current administration. Signs were colorful to say the least.

“Women’s Rights are Human Rights”

“The earth will survive climate change. We Won’t”

“Flint Michigan has not had Clean Water in 1001 Days”

“So Bad Even Introverts are Here”

“My arms are tired from holding up this sign since the 1960’s”.

An enormous movement shining the light on open doors of injustice, crossed the United States, and spilled into countries beyond our own borders, concerned for the American soul.

This August, several months later, Cantor Rhoda Harrison and I went to Washington DC, to join the Ministers March for Justice, to commemorate Martin Luther King Jr’s march on Washington 54 years ago. We joined over 3000 Ministers – rabbis, cantors, priests, nuns, reverends, monks, imams, Sikhs – dressed in a multiplicity of ritual garb – speaking out for voting rights, healthcare, criminal justice reform, and economic justice – issues that have been a pox on our society for too many years. Like M.L.K., we have a dream of a better America and, we came out in force to hold Attorney General Sessions accountable, for all people’s civil rights.

Cantor Harrison and I marched in the tradition of Rabbi David Einhorn, founding rabbi of this congregation, who spoke out as an abolitionist. We marched in the tradition of Rabbi Abraham Schusterman, who walked alongside the Revd. Dr. Martin Luther King. They in their time, sought to lubricate and open the doors of justice by their protests. In our time, so must we.

We must open the doors of justice not just nationally but locally.

There are multiple stories in the world how one person can make a difference. The man who picks up starfish by the sea shore. The seamstress who sews notes of encouragement into orphan’s clothes. Why? Because there is indeed truth to this notion that through our individual actions, each one of us, can change this world.

I am inspired by our Bar and Bat Mitzvah children, who live out this idea with their Mitzvah projects. From our own congregation: Carly Sacks who collected canned goods for the Reisterstown Crisis Center.  Julian Hammer, who collected swim gear for under-privileged children, that he was working with at the pool. Nikki Nudelman, who volunteered her time at Future Care Nursing Home assisting the residents. And so many more that share with you their Mitzvah projects in The Connection newsletter.

These kids stepped out of the corridor of their own lives, and opened doors of justice through their actions. Let us ask ourselves, how we as adults can also open the doors of justice, by our deeds, and make a difference in a world that needs us, now, more than ever?

Our Social Action Committee provides amazing opportunities for you to open doors on righteous acts. From participating in the High Holy Day food drive (have you brought your bags back yet?);

O the school supply drive;

To making hundreds of casseroles at Holy Casseroley that feed the hungry at Paul’s Place;

Or feeding children and their families dislocated by illness at Ronald McDonald House.

Our Social Action Committee is always looking for volunteers to clean up roads in their Adopt-a-Highway program.

They raise money for pancreatic cancer by participating in Purple Stride.

Right now, at this season, they are collecting gift cards for those effected by the recent hurricanes.

They partner with the Women of Har Sinai Congregation, to empower the women at Har Sinai, and women from Paul Place and Chanah at the annual Women’s Seder.

Have you read up on the amazing partnership they have with Owings Mills High Schoo,l to tutor and nurture under-served populations such as immigrants? You too could volunteer to become a mentor and make a difference.

Whether within our wonderful synagogue, or with some other worthwhile justice organization, now is  the time to open a door to justice, as our Jewish tradition commands us to do.  Now is the time, to find your passion to repair the world, to make it a better place. If each of us as individuals just picked up one cause, and dedicated ourselves to that, collectively we will all make a difference.

It is overwhelming to listen to the injustices in our news right now.  Too many doors are being pried open, swung open, and are being built into the fabric of our societ,y that create unfairness, disconnect and societal chaos. Elie Wiesel, of blessed memory, sounded the warning: “We must take sides. Neutrality helps the oppressor, never the victim.  Silence encourages the tormentor, never the tormented. Sometimes we must interfere.”

Last week, a congregant, about to walk out of the door of this building, in praise of my sermon, told me that it was a success because they did not fall asleep! It reminded me of this story.

A large crowd turned out to hear a rabbi, including one man who was reputed to be a great scholar.

The following morning the rabbi met the man on the street. “How did you like my sermon?” he asked.

“Your sermon made it possible for me to sleep all night,” was the reply.

“Was the subject matter so deep, or was it my delivery?” was the next question. “Neither” was the answer “but when I sleep during the day, I can’t sleep at night.”[4]

This past year, 5777, was a year in which during the day, there was much in the world that has kept too many of us up at night. So many doors of injustice are being oiled and are opening in front of us. The beginning of the year 5778 is already shaping up to be a year of challenge.

What are you going to do to make a difference?

A creaky door. EEEEEEE!

Let those who come after us look back on this time of our history, as not just a time when the doors to injustice were being opened, but when a dor tzedek, a righteous generation arose, and lubricated doors of justice, spoke out, protested, and worked to make a difference, for those that will come after them.

Pitchu Li Sha’arei Tzedek – Open for me the gates of justice, I will enter them and sing your praises – expresses Psalm 118. Pitchu Lanu Sha’arei Tzedek –  Let us open the gates of justice, let us be a Dor Tzedek, so the generations to come  after us will sing our praise.

 

[1] From Stories for Public Speakers compiled and edited by Morris Mandel, p. 171

[2] Vs. 19

 

[3] One Voice for the New Year, 2017 co-authored by Rabbis Elka Abrahamson and Judy Shanks and many members of the CCAR.

[4] From Stories for Public Speakers compiled and edited by Morris Mandel, p. 263

 

Open the Door: Doors into Loving the Land of Israel

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When you visit Jerusalem, the white limestone buildings of old and new, rise out of the hills of the Judean desert. Buildings that are rooted in centuries of history. That have weathered wind and storm. Buildings that glisten with golden hue in the hot desert sun. Buildings which create a uniform vista of cohesion, that belies the religious and political tensions that have permeated eons.

Amongst the judiciously assembled stone-block upon stone-block, each structure, whether it be a house, a shop, or an office, is bestowed personality by perhaps a few architectural features. To my mind, none are more attractive than the doorways of these edifices.

Jerusalem doors are quite remarkable. Often photographed for their variety and beauty, you can find them on posters, on cards, in travel brochures, because of their individuality and craftsmanship. They are set in door frames – square or domed or arched. Sometimes the entrances are single doored. Sometimes two doors meet side-by-side.

Some doors are plain wood. Others are painted in Mediterranean hues of blues and greens and turquoises. Some are a mixture of middle eastern color.

There are doors adorned with intricate carvings of flora and fauna, others carved with swirls and scrolls, some with the infinitude patterns of Islamic art, others with a biblical scene or story. One passes doorways with simple black or copper metal work. One sees doors with intricate iron patterns and nature scenes, which could only have been welded by an expert craftsman.

There are doorways plastered with posters containing announcements in black Hebrew, Cyrillic, English or Arabic script on white paper– a meeting, a death, a proclamation. There are the metal roller-doors of the Shuk, the market, covered with graffiti and art that close at night to reveal their imprints. And there are wooden doors purposely painted with a picture or pattern.

Such are the beautiful entranceways into the buildings of the capital city of Israel, Ir HaKodesh, the holy city, Jerusalem. Beautiful doors that beckon us entry into their insides, just as Israel has always beckoned the Jewish community towards her midst.

Israel is an inextricable part of the Jewish conversation.

In the Talmud,[1] Rabbi Zera we are told, was desperate to enter the Holy Land, and he searched with no avail to find a ferry to cross a river to make his way there. Finally, he grasped a rope bridge, and crossed the water, in order to reach the land at the center of his soul. Rabbi Abba loved Israel so much that he would kiss the cliffs of Akko. Rabbi Hanina would take time away from his studies to repair Israel’s roads. Rabbi Ammi and Rabbi Assi, when they would learn together, made it their custom to move from the sun into the shade, so they could avoid complaining about Israel’s weather. And, Rabbi Hiyya ben Gamda, rolled himself in the dirt of the land, because he took so much pleasure in her stones and dust.[2]

There are multiple unique doors through which we connect to Israel. Some doors open easily for us. Some doors open slowly for us. Some doors need a good, steady push. And sometimes, a door is so stuck, that we feel it may never open for us, or it would take a miracle to unlock it. These Israel doors line the streets of Jewish experience through millennia, till today.

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For some, the door of love of Israel comes from Religious School or Hebrew School experiences. There we learnt about the land tracing her waterways – the Mediterranean, the Kinneret, the Dead Sea, the Jordan–  marking out her cities – Jerusalem, Haifa, Nazereth and Eilat, on maps we colored. We sang the songs of her pioneers and her musicians, emphasizing the beauty of the land and the specialness of her history. Strains of the melodies of Zum Gali Gali Gali and Yeruslayim Shel Zahav, can be melodically recalled in our musical cortex. Our hands remember building the model Kibbutz out of popsicle sticks, and tasting Jaffa Oranges, and those “foreign” falafel balls. We learned a few modern Ivrit words as a lure to make the Hebrew of our prayers more relevant: Echad, Shtayim, Shalosh…

For others that door of learning about a Jewish homeland, in the black and white, either/or, concrete-operational world of childhood, evoked feelings of disloyalty to the America we loved. Could we be patriots if we felt an emotional bond to a land that was not the United States? The relationship to Israel tore into our young conscience.

45fe1a9f77d1eabeb1dd7d03195da2f2For some of us, a door was opened to love of Israel in youth group activities or camp.  We re-enacted Biblical history alongside our friends.  We played out the arrival of the pioneers, as they fled to Israel’s shores to find freedom. We visited a supermarket using Hebrew words for food items. In youth groups and camps contemporaries learned Israel dances. We built bonfires out of wood collected from the surrounding landscape like they do in the land of Israel on Lag B’Omer. On Tisha B’Av we mourned the historical destruction of Jerusalem.

For other members of the Jewish community, whose teenage years were a time of angst, the enthusiasm of peers relating to a country so far away made them feel all-the-more distanced, not part-of the group. For idealistic teens who held values high, and were being bombarded by stories of an Israel that was not ideal on their TV sets, questions about the land arose, and were struggled with. Could they be in relationship with Israel, a land that did not seem to live up to the ideal of being “a light to the nations”?[3]

20161117_092503-01For some, a door which opened a love of Israel was a trip to the modern State – Birthright, NFTY in Israel, a planned congregational tour, or a visit to relatives. As their plane landed, a demonstrative outburst as El Al passengers clapped, setting the scene for emotional connection. Suddenly they were immersed in the guttural sounds of Hebrew which they vaguely recognized – Shalom! Baruch HaBa!

In the land of Israel, they were surrounded by people who have our body shape and hair and faces, who use Yiddish phrases in amongst the Hebrew, and have a wry Jewish humor. Connection was created with their tour guide, and bus driver, and the young Israeli guards who accompany them.

For others though, such a trip caused hesitation. Jews carrying guns, lots of guns. Soldiers stopping mothers and children at borders. Governments that do not treat the inhabitants in the land with full equality. Witnessing of religious Jews intolerant of secularism or other streams of Judaism. The door opened on difficult scenarios that alienated rather than attracted.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAFor some in our Jewish community, the entrance way to Israel is through the door of history. Israel is replete with where we came from, who we are, values and our conundrums. As we found ourselves at the road dating to the time of our patriarch Abraham, leading up to Abraham’s Gate at Tel Dan, we realize our feet may be standing on the same stones as our father when he was there to rescue his nephew Lot.  In Hezekiah’s tunnel under the city of David, the Siloam inscription provides archaeological proof that David was the King of Israel. At Masada, the Jewish spirit to live a Jewish life with integrity is emphasized in martyrdom. At the tombs of Rabbi Akiva and Maimonides in Tiberias, we know that our rabbinical tradition loved Israel so much, that our rabbis could not bear to be buried anywhere else. In the Ari Synagogue in Tsfat, we understand that the mystics believed they were closer to the Shechina, by relocating to the Holy Land. In the Kibbutzim, we hear the struggle of the pioneers who made Israel bloom again. And in the center of Tel Aviv, we visit Independence Hall, and put ourselves into that historical moment of the UN vote, and the signing of the declaration of the new Jewish state.

For others, that door of history is marred with doubts, because we are unsure about the veracity of biblical claims, we find distaste of the multiple accounts of conquering and reconquering, beginning with Joshua, continuing in the stories of the corruption of the Hasmoneans, and in our learning that the re-establishment of a modern state is in a land, once inhabited by Palestinians and other groups. Do we have rights? Have we been right? Have we done right?

door-old-city-of-jerusalemFor some, a door of myth and prayer is the entrance that opens their hearts to Israel. Our spiritual literature talks of an ideal Jerusalem, Zion. In the Psalms David cried: “by the rivers of Babylon, we sat down and wept as we remembered Zion… If I forget you Jerusalem, may my right hand lose its cunning…”[4] In our daily central prayer we pray for the return to the land of our ancestors, not just a physical return, but a return to a spiritual ideal: “Blessed are You God, who builds Jerusalem.” And Judah HaLevi in his beautiful poem, Songs to Zion, sings out this yearning for return to the Jewish homeland, even if its physical reality is not that hospitable: “My heart is in the east, and I at the furthest west”, bemoaning our exile.

For other members of the Jewish family, these prayers and these mythical yearnings seem like an extension of a story that does not speak to us. Some of us born into Judaism, and some of us who become part of the Jewish community later in life, struggle with such a connection to the homeland. We are willing to forgo this line of thinking because it is not part of the spirituality we innately feel in our own lives. What has Israel got to do with our connection to the Holy? Isn’t holiness everywhere? Surely Judaism, should be more universal, than a particularistic loyalty to a land in this modern day and age?

Some find a door to Israel because it is the native environment for Jewish religious expression. There, in the land, the agricultural resonances of our Holy Days finally make sense, as the first rains fall at Sukkot, or the almond trees blossom at Passover. How wonderful it is to be in a place where everyone celebrates Chanukah with menorahs burning in window boxes by the door. And on no place on earth can you find more of a variety of Jewish religious expression than in the land of Israel, with the multicultural mix of diasporas that fed it, and the richness of the cross pollination of that Jewish expression.

For others, the intolerance of religious pluralism alienates. Where Orthodox does not acknowledge Reform, or Conservative, or Reconstructionism. When women are tormented for wanting to pray at the Wall wearing Tallit and reading Torah. When instruments cannot be played on Shabbat. When restaurants must be closed on sacred days to maintain their Kashrut license. A door is created that is closing or slamming on their connection.

sta50585Some in the Jewish community find their door to Israel through Jewish pride. The amazing technologies that have been developed by our people, such as machines that can extract water from the air, cures for cancer, or upright wheelchairs that allow greater mobility. They appreciate the strategies of the Israeli government and army, that is committed to protecting a Jewish people and keeping Zion safe for all Jews. They beam with a broad smile when an Israeli, Gal Gadot, acts on the screen as Wonder Woman, a symbolic representation of female strength and, (for the Jew) Jewish power in the world.

Yet others see in Israel a door of shame, because the land does not live up to the ideals of humanitarian needs that we would want from a Jewish state.  The Knesset is not always motivated with our ethics. The soldiers of the IDF sometimes act questionably. Our social conscience begs us ask difficult questions about the placement of settlements. Arab towns located within Israel borders do not receive enough money for basic infrastructure such as roads and water and basic health. And we question the oppression of others even though we acknowledge that the safety of each Israeli and tourist is important too.

Some Israel doors open easily for us. Some Israel doors open slowly for us. Some Israel doors need a good, steady push. And sometimes, a door is so stuck, that we feel it may never open for us or it would take a miracle to unlock it.

Through some doors, one of us notices one detail and others of us concentrates on another detail.

As we walk through the alleyways of our Jewish life, what is certain, is that the doors of Israel are ever present. We cannot avoid them in the streets of Jewish life and existence for they are evident at every turn.  They are part of Jewish tradition. They are part of Jewish reality.

As a Jewish community, we need to engage and open the beautiful doors, the scarred doors, the welcoming doors, the scary doors. We cannot choose to ignore the doors for they are a stunning architectural feature of who and what we are.

shuk_art_maimonides

At the end of this High Holy Day season, at the final service of Yom Kippur, Neilah, we are told that the door closes on our repentance, yet the door is never truly locked. The multiple, varied doors on our connections and disconnections to Israel should never be locked.

What if we used the opportunity of this season to share the view from our door with others and extend that opportunity throughout the year? What if we were to engage in respectful conversation of the details which we see, and seek to understand the opinion of those who see the details in a different light? What if we were to listen to the multiple conversations outside the door, under the doorframe, and inside the doorways?

The discussion on Israel needs the fullness of each of our stories, each of our views, each of our joys, and each of our concerns. We must be impelled to examine the lines, the carvings, the decorations, the ironwork, the handles, where the doors lead, where the doors shut. And figure out, which doors can we walk through with comfort? Which doors can we walk through with discomfort? What doors must we push open so that the conversation includes all individuals as part of this Jewish conversation? What doors do we need to enter and speak our truths to impel change?

In listening to the fullness of our dialogue, we might just begin to open new doors. New doors for connection to each other and new doors for connection to the state of Israel. Doors which might bring the ideal Israel, closer to actuality, in the world in which we live.

That would be a door worth opening.

[1] Ketubot 112a

[2] Psalm 102:15

[3] Isaiah 49:6

[4] Psalm 137