Wednesday, March 25, 2015

A 1 State Solution?

I subscribe the Religion Dispatches e-letter/blog. It's often got some interesting material in it, even if it often leans so far to the left that it even makes me uncomfortable (and that, my friends, is saying something). I disagree with it often, but never moreso than when someone writes in it about Israel.

It happened again today. They posted an article which was ostensibly about the idea of a shared, side-by-side 1-State solution. But, mainly it was a blatantly biased, sometimes distorted diatribe against Israel. I was tempted to not even post about this, because it's a minor blog, and so why draw more attention to it? But, the article got under my skin, so I wrote a (much shorter than I wanted to) response.

I could have done a much more detailed take-down of the article, but I frankly don't have the time or energy right now (seders must be planned!). And, I'm hoping that my response will create some decent dialogue; rambling on and on, refuting every point probably makes that less likely to happen. We'll see.

Read the article if you like. Here's what I wrote in response:
The core idea of this article--that it's possible to create a hybrid, 1 state solution, with two people living side-by-side (mixed together, actually) with autonomous governments, sounds unrealistic to me. I'd love to learn more about it, but it's hard for me to imagine that actually working (in any situation, not just one as fraught as Israel/Palestine).
Unfortunately, the author takes an awfully long time to get to that interesting, yet controversial idea. Before that, he spends quite a bit of time unfairly putting all of the blame for the situation on Israel. It is not "alleged" that the Palestinians have long rejected Israel's right to exist. It's a pretty clear fact. And, no mention is made that the decades-old rejectionism of the Palestinian leadership is, almost without a doubt, one of the primary reasons for the rise of the right in Israel. The peacenick left was eviscerated in large part because their attempts to make peace were either undermined or cynically exploited by the Palestinians.
It's also a convenient distortion to lump Israeli-citizen Arabs in with the Arabs living in the Occupied Territories, thus coming up with the 27% voting eligibility statistic. Of course non-citizens can't vote; in what country or situation can they? And, again, isn't it important to mention that the reason for the Occupation has much to do (especially in its first few decades) with the absolute refusal of the Palestinian leadership to compromise or negotiate in any way? Ever since the '67 war, the majority of Israelis were in favor of a land-for-peace deal, at least in principle. Has there even been a parallel among the Palestinians?
You use Gaza as an example of how bad Israel is, but fail to mention that the blockade only began after Israel pulled out (uprooting settlements along the way) only to see Gazans elect Hamas (which is still openly and explicitly dedicated to destroying Israel) and turn Gaza into a launching pad for endless terrorist attacks. And so on.
I'm no fan of Bibi, and I am, at my core, still a Peacenick. I long for a day when Israelis and Palestinians can live together in peace. But, pretending that Israel is the willing, evil oppressor while the Palestinians are nothing except for victims of Zionist Imperialism is not true, and it's not helpful, either.

Tuesday, March 24, 2015

Mental Illness and Judaism

This past Shabbat, our member Irma Polster gave a beautiful sermon about Mental Illness and the Jewish community. It was an important start to a conversation that we don't have often enough at Congregation Beth Am, or at many of our synagogues.
We are all here for the same reason--- to draw near to God, to find holiness regardless of our physical or mental health. Congregation Beth Am is already a kehilat chesed, a caring community. We welcome strangers, we visit the sick, we attend shivas. With a little more effort we can be mindful of each other and be kind and accepting and become truly inclusive. Let's take that extra step and become a kehila kadosha, a holy community.
Please take a moment and give the whole sermon a read. And, yasher koach to Irma!

Tuesday, March 17, 2015

The Reverend's Call to Justice

[I'm currently at the annual CCAR (Reform Rabbis) conference in Philadelphia. I was asked to write a guest blog for the CCAR's blog. So, this is written for other Rabbis, but I hope you'll find it interesting, too].

So, when I was asked to write a blog piece for this conference, I happily accepted. There are always things to write about after a couple of days, right? What I failed to account for is how busy I would be this time. I can’t remember a conference where I had so little down time. The sessions are coming rapid fire, and there hasn’t been a moment where I haven’t wanted or needed to be somewhere. I’ve barely had time to breathe, let alone write!

So, in these few minutes in between the State of the CCAR address and dinner with friends, let me share one moment with you.

For the past two years, I’ve been involved with Rabbis Organizing Rabbis (ROR) [ed: it's a group of Reform Rabbis using a Community Organzing model, focussing on Social Justice issues] , but not as much as I should have been. The urgent has far too often gotten in the way of the important, and Justice hasn’t been at the forefront of my Rabbinate, as it should be.

But then, late in today’s (very well attended) meeting, Peter Berg got up to speak, and he referenced the amazing speech (sermon, really) we heard yesterday from Dr. Reverend William Barber [ed: he's the founder of the Moral Monday movement in North Carolina, and one hell of a preacher]. It was a firery, passionate call to justice. But, as Rabbi Berg pointed out, it didn’t really contain any new information. We all knew, more or less, about all of the issues he raised; we all know how terrible they are. What we forget is how deeply we have to care. And, as Rabbi Berg said, what we really forget is that this is why we became Rabbis in the first place. We didn’t become Rabbis to help kids with their Haftarah blessings (as important as that is), or to work with the House Committee (as important as that is). We became Rabbis to change the world. We became Rabbis to inspire people, to move people, to challenge people, and to help people. We became Rabbis to bring more justice into the world.

For me, it’s time to draw a line. It’s time to stop letting the urgent take center stage, and to start making time for what is truly important. And, for you? Will you commit to ROR, to do a little, or a lot? Will you commit in some other way to bringing more justice into the world? Will you commit, will you re-commit, to the vision and ideals which brought you here in the first place?

The good Reverend helped me to remember why I’m really here (with an assist from Rabbi Berg). Hopefully, he can inspire us all.

Thursday, March 12, 2015

Passover Seders Really Shouldn't Be Boring

We've all sat in this kind of a seder: the leader reads a passage, with a lot or very little enthusiasm, and then the rest of the table kind of drones the next paragraph together. Maybe, just to make it more participatory, we go around the table, taking turns, but always from the text.

Of course, we're crammed around a table not designed to fit everyone there, and we're smelling delicious food coming in from the kitchen, while we get to enjoy a lovely sprig of parsley, dipped in salt-water. Awesome!

Well, not really. Pretty awful, actually. But, what can we do? This is tradition, right? The amazing thing is that that kind of a seder isn't actually proper. This is one of those cases where people are so obsessed with "doing it right" that they actually are doing it very wrong. Because, the whole intent of the seder is to have an actual, engaging, fun conversation, not to read an ancient, ritual text.

Last Shabbat, I held a brief workshop on how to make a seder more enjoyable. I'm not gong to try to include everything here (especially since that was a much quicker version of a class taught by my teacher Rabbi Larry Hoffman), but here are a few things you really need to know, if you're hosting a seder next month.

First of all, you don't have to run the seder at your table. Feel free, up until the main meal, to be seated comfortably in some other room. That alone will make people more relaxed, and more engaged. And, you don't need to starve--the "dipping" to which we refer in the seder ("Why on all other nights do we not dip, but tonight we dip twice?")  was actually a full appetizer course. Raw veggies were dipped in flavored water--a kind of ancient crudite. So, put out lots of yummy snacks (especially cut veggies and dip), and stop torturing your guests!

But, more important is the seder itself. And, here is the big revelation--there is no mitzvah (no commandment) to read the Haggadah (the book containing the text of the seder). The original seder (as described almost 2000 years ago in the Mishna) was actually modeled on the Greek symposium--it was meant to be a chance to lean back (literally and figuratively), have a drink and talk about interesting topics--in this case, the topic is freedom. There were some required components (you had to tell a story that went from degradation to glory; you had to talk about the Torah passage that begins "My father was a wandering Aramean"; you had to explain the 3 main symbols on the table--the sacrificial lamb, the matza and the maror), but those were meant to be the starting points and framework of the discussion. The real seder was contained in the discussions which flowed from those starting points. And, those discussions could go on and on, in any direction they might flow. Most of the text of the Haggadah is actually just examples of digressions and associations made by our sages and ancestors--kind of a greatest hits of seders past, and a cheat-sheet if you don't know what to talk about. But, it was never intended as a rite--something which must be performed exactly right, year after year.

Much better is to create your own text, and to create your own discussions. Rather than just read from a static text, ask a serious, thought provoking question about what we just read. Find an alternative reading or poem which might spark someone's own ideas, or at least generate a reaction. Create an actual living, breathing seder, not a ossified, robotic ritual!

Does that sound difficult? Well, it does take some work and preparation on the part of the leader. But, not surprisingly, there are lots of great resources to help. I've compiled a list of a few of my favorites and put them on our website, but there are so many more. Feel free to share some of yours in the comments, as well.

In each and every generation, each of us is supposed to see ourselves as if we, personally, were brought out of Egypt. The seder is not our night to read, the seder is our night to remember, and to pretend, and to think, and to wonder, and to talk, and to talk, and to talk. May your seder be lively, and may your seder be alive.

HaShanah HaBa'ah b'Yerushalayim -- Next Year In Jerusalem!