Tuesday, August 26, 2014

Trying to Come Back ...

Rabbis are just people ... we develop new interests, and try new things.  We become disappointed by our lack of effort.  We start projects and we step away from them ... just like anyone else.  I realized recently that I've been away from this blog for a long time, and considered whether or not to start fresh, or to simply begin again.

As the sun set tonight, I decided it was time to begin again as Jews everywhere enter the month of Elul, the month before the Jewish New Year.  I decided that I cannot give up on something that I previously committed myself to and, while blogging isn't necessarily something that makes or breaks my life, it is a platform to share my outlook on this world.  It was sometimes therapeutic.  It was sometimes stress-relieving.  It was sometimes a safe place to share, in an almost anonymous, yet public, space.  

I think it is time to figure out again what my little space in a far away corner of the Internet can be.  Let's find out what happens.  : )

Monday, December 31, 2012

Interesting Resource Regarding Jewish Views on Guns ...

I published my sermon on guns and violence here and wanted to follow up with an article which details different views on how the rabbis of old addressed issues similar to gun violence ... consider what the article says and make your own choice regarding how to respond.


And, as today is December 31st, may we each have a safe, healthy, and meaningful (secular) new year.   : )

Monday, December 24, 2012

I'm Struggling in the Aftermath of the Connecticut Tragedy ...

Sermon Delivered at Temple Israel of West Palm Beach on Friday, December 21, 2012 

Shabbat shalom.

I have been struggling this week … struggling to understand the pain of the Connecticut tragedy, and struggling to understand what lessons should come from it.
I have listened to clergy of other faiths talk about evil and sin in the world in response and I am shattered by the thought that this is the meaning taken from the event … because it is not as simple as “there is evil in the world” and "being a good person will eradicate evil."  We humans are much too complex to think these simple ideas will solve our problems.
I have been forwarded news articles and sermons regarding the tragedy.  I have read and I have sat in silence to contemplate … I have written … and I have cried ... and I am worried that I will too soon reach the point of being burned out from compassion fatigue.
As many of you know, I have chosen to be without cable since Yom Kippur and, last month, I even went on what I called a “Facebook Diet.”  Yes, I receive the Sunday paper each week and I have access to the Internet, and I listen to the news pretty much every day on this old-fashioned thing people used to call a “radio,” but I have intentionally been trying to reduce the amount of information I receive for a while now … because, frankly, the news is disturbing and overwhelming.
I say "disturbing" because there is gossip included in what we call "news," because the race to be first reporting something has trumped the ideal that whatever is reported should be double- and even triple-fact-checked … so perhaps we should change the name from "news" to something different … perhaps we should all sit down and watch the “6 O’clock Speculation.”   This is reckless.
Worse, sitting down to watch the news soon becomes repetitive, even though I gather my news from very limited sources ... and the problem is, hearing it over and over, and seeing it over and over ... this repetition can make us immune … but, in a weird way, thankfully immune, because, if we weren’t just a little bit immune, if our hearts weren’t hardened just a little, we couldn’t make it through the day.

            I hear about the prayer vigils that have been occurring around the country and, again, I am disturbed … I am not disturbed by the well-meaning people who come together to express their faith and support for the victims, but disturbed because I am concerned that this is where their actions will end. 
I am concerned that people will believe that their prayers are sufficient to heal this broken world.
I am concerned that their hearts will somehow be relieved of the burden and responsibility we all share to ensure that this does not happen again.
I am concerned that, once the victims are finally all buried, since the gunman is dead and there won’t be a trial, I am concerned that we will just all "move on" without the urgency of making sure it never happens again … just like when we moved on after Columbine, even though we talked about the shooters being outsiders and mentally ill … just like when we moved on after Gabrielle Giffords was shot and 6 people were killed by 22-year-old Jared Loughner … just like when we moved on after the theater shooting in Colorado, just 5 months ago, where 12 people were killed and 58 people were injured … just like when we moved on until last Friday when 20 children and 7 adults died.

I was told last night that this is not a new phenomenon … it turns out that, on May 18, 1927, 38 elementary schoolchildren, 2 teachers, and 4 other adults were killed, along with 58 other people injured in Bath Township, Michigan, by Andrew Kehoe, who was angry after not being re-elected to public office … but his weapon of choice was explosives.
That was 1927 … it’s 2012 and sick people are still aiming for schoolchildren.

            I'm tired that violence seems to be a recurring response to anger.  I’m tired that  violence is still acceptable … and, yes, it is still acceptable because we haven’t done anything real to address the cause.

You should know that I’ve been going back and forth all week regarding preaching on gun control … I grew up in Georgia and my parents owned guns.  In fact, when my parents worked nights for their business when I was a teenager, I slept with a gun under my mattress … of course, I always tell people I couldn’t have lifted the mattress fast enough to ever use it, so I’m not sure why we put it there. 
And then there’s the story that, when my law school roommate woke up one Sunday morning to a man breathing in her window, the window which her bed was under, the first call that morning was to the local gun shop because she wanted to buy a gun.  I told her we could have one in the apartment as long as we both took a gun safety course … and I have never been so thankful for California’s ten-day waiting period. 
By the way, you should know that the most powerful thing about taking that course was when we went to the shooting range with the San Diego Police Captain who taught the course to try out different kinds of guns.  He had us shoot at a moving target coming at us from 21 feet ... so I want you to imagine the distance 21 feet.  [Walk to a distance of approximately 21 feet.]

You should know that, no matter how good a shot we were, not one of us could hit the target ... and that was in spite of the fact that the gun was in front of us on the ledge, that was in spite of the fact that we were all wide awake and all of us could see it, that was in spite of the fact that the target was farther away than the distance from most beds to most bedroom doors, and that was in spite of the fact that the lights were on.  Not one of us could hit that moving target.  That was a pretty powerful exercise.
So, yes, I’ve been going back and forth on the problem. 

There's a part of me that says we need more gun control, that we need longer waiting periods, and that we need more background checks ... and then there’s the part of me that understands the reality that the criminals will still have guns if we make it harder to get them and there is always a way to get a gun.
I’ve been going back and forth on the idea of mental illness being focused on as the sole cause … I’ve been going back and forth on the bumper sticker that says, “guns don’t kill people, people kill people.”  I’ve been going back and forth on whether the violence we experience via the movies and video games cause the problem.
I’ve been going back and forth on it all … I’ve been struggling with how to solve the problem and am sad that the only easy solution that makes sense to me comes from a comedian, who said that we will solve the problem if we charge $5,000 for a bullet.
I’m struggling with the idea that this is a difficult problem and there is no right answer and that we will, yet again, become so overwhelmed with the problem that we end up doing nothing. 

I’m struggling with the realization that we are so worried about offending someone’s right to own guns that have magazines that can shoot 10 or 11 or 12 or 13 or 14 or 15 bullets at a time that we forget that there was no such thing as a magazine that held 10 or 11 or 12 or 13 or 14 or 15 bullets at the time the Second Amendment was written. 

I’m struggling with the fact that mass shootings and mass murder is almost exclusively American … you don’t hear too much about Canadians shooting each other in these mass shootings, you don’t hear too much about Europeans doing it … in fact, pretty much the only time you hear of a mass shooting somewhere else is when it is related to another crime, like drugs, being committed.

I’m struggling because violence is how we Americans respond too often to things we don’t like.  Violence has become too American.

And I’m struggling because I know this will happen again and again until we actually do something … actually, until we do many things to address the problem.  This is not simple, it will not be magically cured with a new gun control law, it will not be magically cured with more money for the treatment of mental illness … both of these, by the way, I believe are truly valid responses to what has been happening. 

I’m struggling because I know that prayer vigils are not enough.  Judaism is a religion of action and I am still trying to figure out how I can make a difference to do my part to make the world safer for all our children, and for all of us. 

I am struggling because I’m working to make sure my heart doesn’t harden to this tragedy ... and the next ... and the next tragedy that is sure to come ... I'm struggling because I know that whatever compromise we end up with will not be enough.

Shabbat shalom.

Friday, November 30, 2012

Learning How, and Who, to Trust in this Crazy, Mixed-up World ...

Sermon delivered at Temple Israel of West Palm Beach on November 30, 2012.

            Shabbat shalom.
            I think one of the most difficult life skills to learn is to know when you can trust someone … and when you can’t.
            Unfortunately, it seems like we learn this mostly via trial and error, and it’s usually most effectively learned when we are "burned" by trusting someone we later figure out that we shouldn’t have trusted … and it’s these kinds of lessons that parents want their children to learn, hopefully without too much pain.  
            For a long time, one of my nicknames was “Little Mary Sunshine” because folks thought I was too often looking for the good in people and, even as a grown up, I’ll never forget the time my dad was telling someone the differences between me and my brother … he said, "she got the book smarts and he got the street smarts" … hearing him say that really cut to the core, because I took that to mean that he thought I wouldn’t succeed in life.  
           When we talked about it later, he explained that he worried that someone might take advantage of me because I always tried look for the good in others, and he thought that going through life always, and only, looking for the good in others, without being at least a little wary, without being at least a little bit on guard, without being at least a little bit not trusting, could be dangerous.
This week, I’ve been thinking a lot about the need to trust people … how we must trust others in order to get along in this world … and, in particular, this week, I’ve been thinking about the need to trust people when it comes to politics. 
What you are about to hear took place on November 29th.
            [Played audio file of UN vote.]
            What you just heard took place on November 29th, 1947 – it was the United Nations vote on the creation of not only the state of Israel, but also for the creation of a state that would be known as Palestine.  You just heard  the vote by the United Nations General Assembly on Resolution 181 that would partition the area controlled by the British and create the two-state solution we are still seeking to this very day.
            But that was 65 years ago. 
            The Jews accepted this map [showed map from 1947], which was smaller in area than they wanted and the Arabs (as they were referred to at the time), as we all know, did not …  since that time, there has been war after war after war, or conflict after conflict after conflict, or intifada after intifada after intifada, or whatever name you want to give it.
            Take a look at what the Jews agreed to accept … and consider how different it is to what the map of Israel looks like today.  Jews would have gratefully accepted this map, without lives being shed, back in 1947 [showed 1947 map alongside current map of Israel].
            So you might ask:  "Rabbi, why did you start tonight’s talk with a discussion about trust?
            Yesterday, 65 years to the day since Resolution 181 was passed by the United Nations, another vote took place dealing with Israel and the people we now call Palestinians, the vote was 138 in favor, 9 opposed, and 41 abstaining with regards to the Palestinian people being granted Permanent Observer Status, or as President Mahmoud Abbas referred to it, "granting a birth certificate to the state of Palestine."  Please know that I am not opposed to a two-state solution … in fact, I’m in favor of a Palestinian state … but I’m also incredibly gun-shy.
             You see, I’m gun-shy because I lived in Israel from 2003-2004, during the second worst year of the second Intifada, when crazy fundamentalists were blowing things up on my street … and, please note that I choose the phrase "crazy fundamentalists" very carefully when answering people’s questions regarding my feelings on what is happening in the state of Israel.
            I tell people right up front that I am 100% biased when it comes to my views on Israel.  I tell people that crazy fundamentalists were blowing up buses right down the street from school and up the street from where I lived, and that I went through metal detectors every single day to enter into every single store, every single coffee shop, every single time I went to the mall, every single time I entered any kind of establishment open to the public.  
           And I tell people that I walked the 5-minute walk up the hill from school to my apartment  one day to find the bomb squad in front of my building sending a little robot to poke at an unattended package, which they eventually blew up … right next to the entry to my apartment building.
            I tell people I’m biased by my experience of living in fear the year I lived in Israel … I tell people I’m gun-shy about demands regarding free access into Israel, without checkpoints ... which is why I made myself go visit the West Bank and met with a Palestinian farmer and helped him pick grapes in his fields so I could see a checkpoint and so I could hear his story.  And, yes, I always tell people that it was easier for me to go through the checkpoint because of who I was than a Palestinian to go through because of who they might be … I definitely acknowledge that, but I believe that Israel has a fundamental right to keep its citizens safe.
But when I tell people I’m biased, I also tell people that, while I have hope for a peaceful solution, I don’t know who Israel can trust to make sure it happens.
I tell people I don’t know who has control over the crazy fundamentalists that blow people up ... I tell people I don’t know who has control over the crazy fundamentalists who want to wipe Israel from the face of the map … I tell people I don’t know who Israel can trust … .
Yesterday, I heard the President of the Palestinian Authority, Mahmoud Abbas, say the following to the UN General Assembly:  “The moment has arrived for the world to say clearly: Enough of aggression, settlements and occupation.”  He continued, saying, “We did not come here seeking to delegitimize a state established years ago, and that is Israel; rather we came to affirm the legitimacy of the state that must now achieve its independence, and that is Palestine,” he said, continuing by saying:  "We did not come here to add further complications to the peace process, which Israel’s policies have thrown into the intensive care unit; rather we came to launch a final serious attempt to achieve peace. ... Our endeavor is not aimed at terminating what remains of the negotiations process, which has lost its objectivity and credibility, but rather aimed at trying to breathe new life into the negotiations and at setting a solid foundation for it based on the terms of reference of the relevant international resolutions in order for the negotiations to succeed.”
I am skeptical, but there is still a bit of “Little Mary Sunshine” in me … I want Israel to find someone it can trust, but I don’t know who Israel can trust.  Until the right people are sitting together talking with it each other, trying to figure out how to create a viable two-state solution that allows both sides to feel secure in their independence, I am unsure where this will go.
But still,  I am hopeful.
Tonight, as you enjoy dinner, I hope you will debate both sides’ actions and inactions … talk about how you feel about Abbas’ statements that he was not at the UN to delegitimize Israel … and, yes, talk about Israel’s decision to move forward today with permitting additional housing units to be built in East Jerusalem as if nothing happened yesterday at the United Nations.  
Talk about what it would feel like if you could not feel secure in your home and what you would be willing to do to protect your home and your family … and talk about why what you would do should be any different than what any Israeli should do.
Talk from the left and from the right … and when you go home tonight and all through the weekend, read everything you possibly can about what is happening in Israel, from both the liberal media and the conservative media, and intentionally try to see, and argue, both sides.
Ask youselves, what do both sides want .. what do both sides need … what is standing in the way?
Could it be something so simple, as yet so complicated, as trust?
Ask yourself, how can we build that?  What has been missing in the equation for these 65 years?
If you were in charge what would you do?
I’m not sure what I would do … but I still do have hope.
Shabbat shalom.