The God of the Machzor vs. The God of Mother Nature

The God of the Machzor vs. The God of Mother Nature

By Rabbi Danielle Upbin

 
What is our way in to the High Holidays this year? How do we greet “The Father” “The King”, “The Shepherd” “The Judge”? After experiencing the eye of the Hurricane, either behind shuttered windows or in front of a screen, we all experienced the heavy handedness of nature – a force beyond our control.  We confronted our mortality either face to face or vicariously through images of perfect strangers wading through flood waters, waiting on rooftops. The voice of God in Harvey, Irma and Maria was not the still small voice we crane to hear on the holidays.  It was the overpowering voice of the Psalms – Kol Adonai Ba’Koach. – The voice of God in strength, Kol Adonai al ha’mayim, the voice of God in raging waters. Kol Adonai hover arazim, the voice of God shatters the cedar, the oak, the palm.

When we open our Machzor (prayer book) this year, how will we relate to the metaphors for the Divine found within those pages?  To whom will we ascribe our faith? I hope that we will feel shepherded, spared the evil decree, written for a good life in the Book of Life. But we will also have to reflect on those who lost everything. What is a few days of power in comparison. Some will still feel petty that the power didn’t come on soon enough.  I hope we choose to dwell in the space of gratitude, reflecting on the grand coordinated country-wide efforts of power companies who drove a long way to send the message of Florida Strong.

Likely, through this journey of prayer, many thoughts and emotions will rise and fall, come and go. The liturgy may feel comforting on some pages and alienating on others.  We will have to ask ourselves again and again, who was that God in the hurricane? Was God in the feeling of helplessness? Or was God in the caring response after the storm? We will be called upon to feel deeply about what it means to be human in a very unpredictable world.

As we open our prayer books, I know we will all have a lot of questions for The  Majesty and the The Judge. Should we feel unheard, we may choose to direct our attention to the other aspects of the Divine hiding in the text: Our “Rock” and “Our Redeemer” – Tzureinu v’go’aleinu, our “Support” Somech Noflim, “The One Who Hears”, Ha’Shome’a, andThe Architect and Craftsman”, Ki Hinay Ka’Chomer B’yad HaYotzer.

I pray that we will allow ourselves to be present and sit with all that is. When we struggle, may we find reconciliation. When we doubt, may our faith lead us to perceive a new angle.  When we feel isolated in our thoughts, may our family, friends and fellow congregants softly bring us back into the fold.

For all of us, I hope that the experience of frailty can lead into gratitude for the blessings we have and for the good that we allow to unfold. We can choose to focus less on power outages and more on the power helping hands.  Life can go on, without all our stuff, even without electricity (although we hate to admit it). Wherever we find ourselves in the aftermath of the storm, my hope is that the symbols and rituals of the season will awaken us to a sense of renewal, recharge and readiness for whatever the New Year may bring.

 

 

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How to Tame Your Fear in Elul

 

How to Tame Your Fear in Elul

By Rabbi Danielle Upbin

 

An interview with Carl Reiner and Mel Brooks as the “2000 Year Old Man”:

Reiner: …What was the means of transportation then?

Brooks: Mostly fear.

Reiner: Fear transported you?

Brooks: Fear, yes. An animal would growl — you would go two miles in a minute. Fear would be the main propulsion.

 

Today, we have many other modes of transportation, but fear still has a way of propelling us. No matter how far we try to run or hide from it, fear has a way of catching up with us. Only when we recognize its grip can begin to tame it.

Fear has many faces. My six-year-old is morbidly afraid of E.T. Yes, the cute 80’s era Spielberg movie star puppet. She only saw the movie once, many years ago, but the image of E.T. hiding in the closet with stuffed animals has been a problem ever since. It doesn’t help that her older brothers download photos of the adorable alien for her to stumble upon as a practical joke.  Brothers are like that. To be fair, they have their own fears to grapple with. Who doesn’t? I was a horror film enthusiast growing up. To this day, hockey masks make me uneasy.

Current events have provided us with a smorgasbord of widespread fright, stoked by the headlines and social media. Remember Skokie, Illinois? When I was a kid, that event was taught as the hallmark case of free speech in America.  Now can see that history really does repeat itself. The malignant rhetoric in our society has a way of seeping in to the subconscious. I would take reruns of “Freddy” any day over the images of Charlottesville holding me hostage.

So, what do we do to prevent ourselves from getting swept up in panic?  How do we remain level-headed and uphold the values of civil society when the world seems to be toppling around us? There is a beautiful Hassidic term for that: Hishtavut, a reflexive idiom that refers to “equanimity”. I love when Buddhism and Judaism speak the same language. Spiritual truths always find their way into shared religious discourse. Certainly, we need to continue to be aware, vigilant and protective, but it is also incumbent upon us to employ the spiritual tools that are available to us. When we feel out of control, it is critical to regain moral and spiritual centeredness. Easier said than done, but not impossible.

This week in the Jewish calendar, we begin the new month of Elul. Every new month is an opportunity for renewal and resolve – but the power of Elul is distinct.  In Elul, we are directed to awaken ourselves to the spiritual work of self-mastery (another cross-religious ideal). We take an account of our thoughts and deeds (Cheshbon Hanefesh). Elul marks the time when we begin the spiritual groundwork for the New Year, right around the corner. The Zodiac sign for Elul is Virgo, the virgin, connoting a clean slate. The sign for Tishrei, one month later, is Libra, signified by the scales of balance – two vivid visuals to remind us of the purpose of our spiritual work.

Throughout Elul, we employ two powerful tools to help us navigate the process of balancing and self-refinement: 1. the sounding of the Shofar and 2. the recitation of Psalm 27.  Each of these tools holds its own potential for transformation. The Shofar is the more obvious one. The clarion call is prescribed to “wake us up” to the work of repentance, recovery, and return. Many people show up on Rosh Hashanah morning, eager to hear the call and feel the resonance of the Shofar’s vibration. Indeed, there is often a palpable feeling of anticipation and appreciation of the Shofar service, felt even more strongly when standing together as a community.

But did you know that we sound the Shofar every day of Elul? The Shofar reminds us every morning to engage in the hard work of Teshuvah – to make a visceral shift toward claiming our better selves, toward owning greater compassion and forgiveness. The Shofar initiates a psychological and spiritual turning.  Change doesn’t happen overnight. It happens slowly and incrementally, with each blast, with each space in between the blasts, we are invited into a process of awakening.

The Shofar is the audible tether that binds us to a sense of fearlessness to be who we are in the best sense. In the Bible, the Shofar signaled the community to war. It is also a symbol of the ram that Abraham slaughtered in place of his son. It symbolizes the power of timeless faith and courage.

The daily recitation of Psalm 27 serves a more intellectual function; it is the Scriptural antidote to fear. The opening words:

“L’David – To David, Adonai is my light and my help. Who shall I fear?

Adonai is the stronghold of my life. Whom shall I dread?”

When evil people assail me to devour my flesh,

my enemies and those who besiege me,

it is they who stumble and fall.

Should an armed camp be arrayed against me,

my heart would show no fear. (Psalm 27:1-3)

 

Through the Spirit’s eye, we need not be afraid. Our enemies have no power over us.  As we read this Psalm, our fears dissolve into faith and fortitude. The Psalm reminds us that strength builds from within. It is developed over time through a steady course of action and thought. Courage emerges from the sense of the constancy that God has our back. A cross reference can be made to the more well-known Psalm 23:4: “…I will fear no evil for You are with me.” The Divine light illumines our path to help us determine our next step.

We read Psalm 27 throughout the month of Elul and beyond through the Fall holidays, as a spiritual practice to help us shift our perspective.  When we read these words, we are reminded that through our own light – expressed through our positive thought, speech, and actions, we experience God’s light. That light within us is stronger than torches in the night. It is stronger than the LED glow of hate speech.

My blessing for us this Elul, is that we take the words of the Psalmist to heart and confront our fears with the light of faith. Unlike the 2000 Year Old Man, we have nowhere to run. So, we might as well do the hard work.  I pray that we experience the Shofar as a wake up call to rise above the fray. Allowing the fear to get the best of us doesn’t help anyone. Instead, let’s confront it with equanimity and spiritual illumination, uniting us, people of all faiths, on the path of healing and transformation.

The Word

The Word

By Rabbi David Weizman

Have you ever been asked a question that left you speechless? That happens to me all the time, just because things take a few seconds to register. People tell me that I am supposed to say the words, “I’m thinking” so that the other person will know that I heard them. I’m working on that. The other day I watched an interview with Joe Kennedy III, and it happened to him too. He said, “I seem to be doing a lot of that lately,” coming up speechless. On the other hand, there are those who don’t miss a beat when asked a question or some event makes a big splash on social media. I wish I could be a little more like them, with the proper filters of course. We have a friend who always comes out with a prayer for the victims of the earthquake five minutes after it happens. I think he’s a prophet.

You know, back in the 70’s, it was more challenging to get your opinion out there, unless you were E.F. Hutton. But nowadays, it’s all about the followers. You can come up with some really kooky stuff or even the most mundane and meaningless YouTube gig, and the next thing you know, you have 50,000 followers. I could never take that kind of pressure, let alone keep up with the posting. My Instagram account has been dormant for about eight months. But lots of other people nowadays are getting the word around. Just in case you don’t want Neo-Nazis in the work force of your company, subscribe to “yesyoureracist” to see the guys on the right side of things in Charlottesville last Saturday. I didn’t see it yet, but there is probably an Instagram account that posts the photos of those counter-demonstrators, just in case you want to identify those bullies. What were they thinking, both sides, that they were going to have a nice little demonstration to express their opinions about some statue? I’m not so sure that you need all those guns and shields and helmets, we get the point with the torches: they’re coming for us. I think it took a lot of courage, actually, to counter the hate speech that our constitution so fully protects and upheld this past June in the Slants case. You can say whatever you want, but you can’t hit people with a flagpole in the head. OK, so maybe the police were not quick enough to step in.

Then there is this guy from Ohio, a Hitler groupie, who uses his car as a lethal weapon, and they are calling him “a domestic terrorist.” Does that mean that he is a separate case, like he came uninvited?

That is the whole point; he was invited. And so was that guy who shot those two Indian engineers, in Olathe, Kansas last February, and the guy who tried to intervene, oops. Because even though you’re allowed to say anything you want in this country, allowing words of hatred to go unanswered, validates the hatred, and that opens the possibilities for violence.

In Jewish law, we don’t have the Fifth Amendment. When the court asks you, did you transgress, you have to answer yes or no. If you say nothing, Shtika K’hoda’ah-Domya, silence means admission. The phrase is used in conversation as, silence means consent. There were a variety of people who stood up to those White Supremacists last Saturday in Charlottesville, Virginia, who stood for their own cause, but they were also standing up for the Jewish people, because we are clearly a priority on the agenda; “The Jews Will Not Replace Us.” And we should stand up for them too, whoever is a target of discrimination and such extreme prejudice.

When we begin our communal prayer in the morning, we stand for the opening of Pesukei D’Zimra, the verses of song that praise God through the Psalms. The opening poem begins like this:

“Blessed is the One who spoke and the world came into being. Blessed is He.

We are the beings, made in the image of God, who imagine a concept, and assign it a word.

Baruch Omer v’Oseh, Blessed is the One who speaks, and that utterance comes into being.”

This is the power of the word. Let us use it for a blessing and not a curse.

Shema – Hearing the Call in the Wild

Shema – Hearing the Call in the Wild

By Rabbi Danielle Upbin

 

There are many ways to pray and many ways to affirm the unity of God. While prayer is portable and can be done from just about anywhere, there is something magical about the backdrop of the mountain and the chorus of nature to uplift our spirit. With our ears more attuned in the natural world, our hearts can open to the words that have kept our people together for 3000 years: “Shema Yisrael, Adonai Eloheinu, Adonai Echad/ Listen (hear this, pay attention), God is our God, God is One”.

To fulfill the words of Shema in the outdoors, we sometimes need to become very quiet. Our silence is an invitation to hear the voice of God more clearly, to feel the unity of Spirit, and to rest in the Oneness of it all.

This invitation to stop and listen occurs twice daily in Jewish prayer. The Shema is liturgically proscribed during the morning and evening services, as the biblical verse states: “when you rise up and when you go to sleep” /“u’v’shoch’becha u’v’kumecha” (Deuteronomy 6:7). The prayer has been described as the foundation of Jewish life because it conveys the primary belief that God is One. This was a new belief for our ancestors who dwelled among their ancient Near Eastern neighbors who believed in multiple gods or Animism.

In perusing Rabbi Isaiah Wolgemuth’s book, Guide to Jewish Prayer, I came across a passage that lends itself to the power of Shema, particularly, how the words are experienced in nature.

The author cites the Torah commentator, Avudrahom, who suggests that the word “Shema” itself contains a reference to several fundamental concepts in Judaism:

Shema (shin, mem, ayin) is an acrostic Se’u Marom Eynechem (lift up your eyes), which we should do Shacharit, Mincha and Aravit (morning, afternoon and evening).  The message is that Shadai Melech Elyon (God is the Supreme King). If you do this,  you will accept Ol Malchut Shamayim (acceptance of God’s sovereignty forever.) (P. 94)

I have been spending some time in nature over this summer at Camp Ramah in the North Georgia mountains. Joyful activities, as loud as they can sometimes be, are part of the spirit of Jewish summer camp. There are times, however, in Jewish life, when the human chorus gets quiet. At camp, the quiet is like a “rest note” in a grand symphony, creating a sacred silence that cedes to the crescendo of nature. Jewishly speaking, that “rest note” is sustained through the words of prayer, particularly in the Shema – the prayer that calls us to listen. Shema in the sacred mountain community, turns our full attention, not only to the glory of our surroundings, but also to the One who called it in to being.

This past week, I encountered two profound “Shema Moments” connected to this teaching. The first one occurred during Kabbalat Shabbat, a special service to welcome the Sabbath attended by 700 camp residents.  A phenomenon occurred. As we started to pray in the covered sports pavilion, a torrential rain hammered down on the tin roof above us, insistent and percussive, it drowned out our communal prayer. We tried to meet the power of nature by rising to our feet, clapping our hands, and singing on the top of our lungs. But how could we compete? Kol Adonai BaKoach – “the voice of God roars in might”. Ironically, we had just recited those words in Psalm 29 as part of our worship. On that night, these words meant something new. We realized that our collective voice had the power of one of those raindrops.

The rain continued for over an hour and eventually the whole camp lost electricity. In that moment, God’s voice was heard loud and clear, even awe-inspiring. In a way, it was silencing. With our eyes raised to the heavens, we knew that we couldn’t drown out the rain, but we could use the experience to create sacred memories while trying. By the time we reached the words of the Shema in the evening prayer, the pavilion was getting darker and the rain was getting louder.  By then, however, every voice was lifted in unity and pride.

Sometimes we can’t help but hear the voice of God. Other times, though, it calls to us softly and we have to quiet ourselves to listen. A few days later, I attended a morning service with a smaller group of campers who were gathered by the lake. While we waited for some participants to finish their silent prayer, a counselor prompted the group to close our eyes and listen to our surroundings.  On this clear, cool clear morning, we turned our full attention to what we heard: bird calls, leaves swooshing in a breeze, the babble of the distant creek, fish flopping around in the lake, buzzing insects – on that morning, the voice of God was a whisper in the mountainside.

While the words of the Shema are only proscribed twice a day, the invitation to listen is always available to us. Wherever we find ourselves in the chorus of nature, be it in the crescendo or the rest note, the thunder or the whisper, may our hearts and ears open to let the Voice in. May the serenity and the challenge of nature continue to inspire us and renew our spirits for generations to come.

 

 

 

“On a Wing and a Prayer”

 

“On a Wing and a Prayer”

By Rabbi Danielle Upbin

 

Generally, I enjoy travel – once I am on the way, that is. Preparing to leave, however, is another story.

A flag is raised by my packing routine: pack, shop for last minute items, repack, assemble a year’s supply of toiletries (even for just the weekend), and secure a triage bag for unexpected ailments. If the packing detail involves children – add an arsenal of car activities, electronic devices, accompanying paraphernalia, and another three hours of preparation.

Once the onerous task of packing has been completed, the “departure routine” begins: “Did you shut off the water? Unplug the electronics? Take out the trash? Set the alarm?” Add a few more last minute items to my bags and we are on our way. Even when I am traveling alone, the scaled down process can still be daunting.

The Jewish law codes stipulate that the “Traveler’s Prayer”, also known as the Wayfarer’s Prayer, (Tefillat Ha’Derech) can only be recited once one has already embarked on the journey (Shulchan Aruch 110:7). Some of us, however, need a version to be recited much earlier.  Be that as it may, the Traveler’s Prayer has accompanied the Jewish people on their journey for centuries.

One of the earliest iterations of this prayer can be found in the Torah: “Blessed shall you be in your comings and blessed shall you be in your goings.” (Deuteronomy 28:10). The Biblical exegete, Abravanel, states that this blessing refers to “safety in travel to and from the city, a common theme in descriptions of blessing and prosperity” (JPS Torah Commentary on Deuteronomy, p.259). Similarly, Isaiah 55:12 states: “For you shall go out with joy, and be led forth with peace…”  In greeting one another, one often recites, “Shalom aleichem!”/ aleichem shalom!” – “May peace be upon you!”, or when departing, “bo’achem l’shalom, tzayt’chem l’shalom-  “Go in peace and come in peace”, a familiar blessing from the Sabbath table hymn.

The rabbis of the Talmud were also concerned with the ordeals of travel, as discussed in Tractate Brachot 29b:

Rabbi Jacob also said in the name of Rabbi Hisda: Whoever sets forth on a journey should say the prayer for a journey. What is it? — ‘May it be Your will, O Lord my God, to lead me forth in peace, and direct my steps in peace and uphold me in peace, and deliver me from the hand of every enemy and ambush by the way, and send a blessing on the works of my hands, and cause me to find grace, kindness, and mercy in Your eyes and in the eyes of all who see me. Blessed are You, O God, who hearkens unto prayer’.

 ואמר רבי יעקב אמר רב חסדא: כל היוצא לדרך צריך להתפלל תפלת הדרך. מאי תפלת הדרך? יהי רצון מלפניך ה’ אלהי שתוליכני לשלום ותצעידני לשלום ותסמכני לשלום, ותצילני מכף כל אויב ואורב בדרך, ותשלח ברכה במעשי ידי, ותתנני לחן לחסד ולרחמים בעיניך ובעיני כל רואי, ברוך אתה ה’ שומע תפלה

Over time, the blessing was expanded upon and varied from culture to culture. The overall theme, however, remains – a plea to deliver the travelers safely to their destination, protect them from peril along the way, and when applicable, return them home in peace.

In modern times, the prayer has made its way on to amulets, keychains, pendants, and even luggage tags. Recently, the PJ Library sent out an endearing Tefillat Ha’derech project for children to learn about the traditional version of the prayer as well as prompt cards to create personalized wishes for safe travels.

Indeed, upon reflection, there are many modern hazards from which we need protection. Outside factors such as traffic accidents, road rage, overzealous TSA agents, or lost luggage can easily unhinge us.  Internal pitfalls such as anxiety, impatience and anger can be just as damaging. Our response to these triggers will “make or break” a happy trail. The Traveler’s Prayer reminds us that we have a responsibility to ourselves, as well as to our fellow passengers, to create a peaceful passage for all. It is good to remember that when our flight is delayed, the ticket agent isn’t to blame, no matter how loud we yell at her.  When we are stuck in traffic under the blistering sun on an interstate road, we can groove to the opening scene of “La La Land.” Who knows, maybe everyone will dance on their car rooftops. There is always the “high road”, as it were.

Where ever our journeys take us this summer: May we and those with whom we share the ride, be accompanied by the ancient blessing of our people. May we be protected in body, mind and spirit, ready to trail blaze, see new sites or be refreshed and enlightened. May we go in peace and return in peace with all of our wits (and luggage) intact!

English Text of the Traveler’s Prayer: May it be Your will, Lord, our God and the God of our ancestors, that You lead us toward peace, guide our footsteps toward peace, and make us reach our desired destination for life, gladness, and peace. May You rescue us from the hand of every foe, ambush along the way, and from all manner of punishments that assemble to come to earth. May You send blessing in our handiwork, and grant us grace, kindness, and mercy in Your eyes and in the eyes of all who see us. May You hear the sound of our humble request because You are God Who hears prayer requests. Blessed are You, Lord, Who hears prayer. (Translation from MyJewishLearning.com)

 

 

To Jerusalem and Back

To Jerusalem and Back

by Rabbi Danielle Upbin

I was eight years old when I fell in love with Israel. I know it had to do with those school posters with the varied landscapes, smiling Israelis with peculiar hats, The Land of Milk and Honey… and Jaffa oranges. In Bible class, I announced that one day, I would travel to Israel to see the pillar of salt that was “Lot’s wife”. The Israelis in my class gave me a funny look.

I had to wait a bit, but my first trip to Israel was the happy summer of ninth grade. After months of begging, my parents sent me on a six-week teen tour focused on the “Kibbutz experience”.  I was excited for all of it. Disappointed as I was that “Lot’s wife” would not be a stop on the tour… or any tour for that matter.

The bigger eye opener, however, was my first job on Kibbutz: cleaning pots of PORK from dinner the night before.  Really. Who knew that Shomer Ha’tzair (“The Young Guards”), the founders of that Kibbutz, were not even remotely observant Jews?  That didn’t come up in my Orthodox Jewish day school education. I had a lot to learn (especially about cleaning pots – a job I wasn’t asked to do again). Other than “Kitchen Duty”, Kibbutz life was amazing. The people were kind and strong. Every experience was new. I welcomed waking at dawn to plant seeds in the fields, working in factories that produced dog food and pharmaceuticals (not the same building). I felt like I was in an “I Love Lucy” episode!  And have you ever eaten pomegranates fresh off the tree? Oh Yeah. Eventually, I even got used to the stench of fertilizer.

That experience was so formative that I enthusiastically returned to Israel the next summer on a teen leadership seminar.

Throughout my teenage years, I had a huge crush on Israel. An Israeli flag prominently hung on my bedroom wall.  I couldn’t wait to live there one day.  I had it all figured out: I would join the Israeli army, rise to the ranks of a Mosad agent, and simultaneously serve in the performance corp (Le’hakat Tze’va’i). In this grand plan, I would go on to study international politics, become a diplomat and live in Herzaliya Pituach (a wealthy neighborhood outside of Tel Aviv). Yup.

After high school, I settled in Israel for a “gap year”, fully expecting to stick with the plan.  But as they say, “man plans and God laughs” – or however you say that in Hebrew.   For one thing, every Israeli I met, men and women, immediately discouraged me from joining the army (which pretty much gutted the rest of my diplomatic career…). Derailed as I was, I was still hopeful that the year ahead would yield incredible experiences and memories for a lifetime.

Where did I begin? I enrolled in an Israeli trade school for arts and technology. It didn’t seem to bother anyone that I couldn’t even draw a stick figure. While the Judaic classes were wonderful, I cried through every art period – except photography. So, with a new mission, camera in hand, I set out to capture the nooks and crannies of archeology, glistening olive trees and wizened faces in the shuk.

In turn, the city of Jerusalem captured my heart. It was amazing to experience antiquity and novelty through the same lens.  My travels took me to flourishing neighborhoods and some scary places along the way. I met tons of young people from all over the world, all of them, like me, gushing with ideology. All of them Ohavei Tzi-yon – Lovers of Zion.

I really did love life in Jerusalem – traversing Ben Yehudah street and the Old City. Preparing for Shabbat was unique for sure – like no other place in the world. I spent hours roaming in Mahaneh Yehudah, or sitting in cafes. I was humbled by the interplay of antiquity and modernity.

But at the same time, Jerusalem had a certain quality that was hard to bear.  As peaceful as some neighborhoods could be, there was a constant undercurrent: a rising din, a disharmony of religious life and culture clash, history being brought to bear on the present, political fury, debate at high decibels, right vs. left and everything in between.

As much as I loved the idea of Jerusalem, actually living there gave me a headache.

So, one Friday morning, on a whim, a friend convinced me to hop on a bus to the northern city of Safed.  We didn’t have a plan, just an idea. On the bus, I sat with an unexpected angel, disguised as a friend from long ago, who told me to move there, that I would love it. She said living in Safed would fulfill dreams I didn’t even know I had.  A mystical city with powerful blue doors, wadis to hike, holy cemeteries of saints. She was “living the life” in a habitable cave writing children’s books.

I told her about my conflict with Jerusalem, and she explained what was going on. She said, “In mystical thought, the four Holy Cities correspond to the four elements:  Jerusalem is “fire” – originally from the ancient Temple, but now from the “high energy” that runs through its inhabitants. Safed, on the other hand, is associated with “air”, because of the elevation (a city literally set in the clouds) and spiritual eccentricities of its past and present. Hebron then, is likened to “earth”, the holy site of a prominent biblical burial plot.  Tiberius is obviously the element of “water”, built up along Lake Kinneret.”

It struck me that I was literally traveling from fire to air.  I took a deep breath (maybe I should have waited until I got off the bus…) and immediately felt relieved.

I took my angel’s advice and after that weekend away, I returned to “the fire”, packed up my stuff and kissed the art school good bye. I decided not to live in a cave, and instead enjoyed many months in a beautiful seminary for women.  Everything about Safed was magnificent – the mystics, artists, hikes, landscape, and especially the estimated “one-thousand-year-old” trees in front of my building.

Eventually, I was called back home. Not Jerusalem home, but all the way back home to New York City.  The spiritual eccentricity had gotten the best of me and my parents through it would be “better” for me to re-integrate to American college life. Far from my original plan anyway, I obliged. Safed was a blast, but I had served my time there. I would never forget the feeling of making my home in the sky.

Jerusalem, on the other hand, would never leave my heart. I have been back there many times since. Her winding streets are a testament to my own personal narrative: the constant hills, stray cats, scrumptious pastries, the stillness of the Sabbath coming. No wonder Jerusalem is the subject of so many love letters.  I often wonder what the rest of my life would have looked like had I gotten used to the “heat”, had I not heeded to the voices that told me to change my course.  Mostly, though, when I think of Jerusalem, I think of her future, wishing her calm and security. I dream of her name’s sake – Jerusalem – Iru Salem – “The City of Peace”.

May 24th (28 Iyyar) commemorates the 50th anniversary of the reunification of Jerusalem, “Yom Yerushalayim”, the victory of the Six Day War in 1967. It is understood by many that this victory was nothing short of a miracle. Nevertheless, the “City of Peace”, in many ways is still in pieces. She continues to pay the price of war, as religious and political discord tear at her seams.

In the spirit of reconciliation, I invite us to pray, with deep and humbling intent, for the Peace of Jerusalem, today and every day.  In the 14th prayer of the daily Amidah, we recite:

Have mercy, Lord and return to Jerusalem, Your city. May Your Presence dwell there as You have promised. Build it now, in our days and for all time. Reestablish there the majesty of David, Your servant. Praise are You, God, who builds Jerusalem.

וְלִירוּשָׁלַיִם עִירְךָ בְּרַחֲמִים תָּשׁוּב. וְתִשְׁכּן בְּתוכָהּ כַּאֲשֶׁר דִּבַּרְתָּ. וּבְנֵה אותָהּ בְּקָרוב בְּיָמֵינוּ בִּנְיַן עולָם. וְכִסֵּא דָוִד מְהֵרָה לְתוכָהּ תָּכִין

בָּרוּךְ אַתָּה ה’, בּונֵה יְרוּשָׁלָיִם

 

I pray that Jerusalem will soon be built up with stones of joy instead of tears.

I pray that God’s sheltering Presence will return to her, as promised,

bringing tranquility and wholeness (shalem) to a city still divided.

May Redemption come in the form of harmony and understanding among her inhabitants.

And may the “Fire” of Jerusalem, burn again, with love – not strife – for all humanity.

Bimhera b’yameinu – Speedily in our Days.

ZACHOR – How Can We Forget

How Can We Forget?

by Rabbi Danielle Upbin

My niece attends a large Mid-Western public high school. Just yesterday, she discovered that the boy next to her in biology class had drawn a Swastika on his hand. When all 5’1 of her got up the gumption to ask him to remove it, not surprisingly, he told her to “Get lost” (in a less polite manner).  Now, as an engaged parent, my brother is on a campaign to fight the rising sentiment of anti-Semitism in his daughter’s school. Yes, it has been over 70 years since the end of World War II, but reading the paper and hearing about these kinds of stories makes one think otherwise.  In a letter to the principle, by brother wrote: “I have to believe for my own sanity that the boy did not realize that the swastika represents the torture and deaths of 6 million Jews, 250,000 disabled persons, 220,000 Gypsies, along with thousands of Jehovah’s Witnesses, Homosexuals and Serbs.  Are any of us surprised that the boy did not think to write “KKK” on his hand or “White Supremacy”??  – or maybe we’re not surprised?”

Around the country, Anti-Semitism is popping up on hands, on sidewalks, on college campuses, and in public discourse. Having been previously pushed to the dark side of the internet, senseless hate is now out and about – seemingly more than usual. A colleague of mine moved from the spot light of a large East Coast Conservative synagogue, only to find herself embroiled in the national spot light in Whitefish, Montana. There is no rest for the weary.

Judaism has a response to hate. We say: Zachor. Remember! It is more than a word. It is a prayer. A plea. Remember! because the world is rapidly forgetting, or willfully not knowing, I am not sure which one is worse. Zachor is the paradigm of Jewish peoplehood. Through memory we become stakeholders for the future, affirming our journey, passing along our narratives along with our rites.

We have been remembering for a long time.

Long before the Holocaust, we held the injunction to Remember the gruesome surprise attack that Amalek launched upon Israel after their escape from Egypt (Deuteronomy 25:17-19).  Amalek’s crime was exceedingly audacious in that they victimized the weaker population – the stragglers in the rear. The Torah records many unpleasantries along our wondering way, but this particular occasion struck a nerve. So the Torah warns us – “Remember: Don’t Forget”.

We continue to remember this event and the many atrocities committed against the Jews since. The Inquisition, pogroms, and exiles dot our history books and have become a common litany on our yearly Tisha B’Av observance.

But our collective memory is scorched by the events of a closer hate-history: The Holocaust.

It was recently mis-stated in the public forum: “Not even Hitler gassed his own people”, or something like that.

Well, actually, he did. With Zyclon B.  The “showers” are still on view today in Concentration Camp museums in Poland. You can see them with your own eyes. You can travel to Europe right now to see defunct ovens and piles of ashes and bone. You can walk on areas paved with Jewish tombstones. And where the vestiges of war have been covered and re-developed, you can still take in the visual testimony, art as witness, and memorial plaques. You can do these things.

But, to actively Remember, you don’t even have to leave your room.  You, too, can (and should) bear witness to the memory of the Holocaust through thousands of personal accounts, books, documentaries, and survivor interviews. You can visit education centers and museums around the country.

As much as I would like to “forget” the kid next to my niece in biology class, and the rest of the – at best, un-enlightened or at worst, hate-mongers, I realize that my job is to continue to Remember and to remind others to Remember with me.

This year, let’s cry out Zachor in all the ways we can. Yom Ha’Shoah (Holocaust Remembrance Day) is observed on Monday, April 24th. Remember by lighting a candle for those who perished in the Shoah. Bear witness by reading or watching a survivor account, speak to a WWII Vet, teach someone who has no clue. Let’s make it a priority to wipe out hate.

Zachor – Don’t forget.

Further Educational Resources:

Florida Holocaust Museum        https://www.flholocaustmuseum.org/

Yad Vashem                                     www.yadvashem.org/

United States Holocaust Memorial Museum   ttps://www.ushmm.org/information/visit-the-museum/admission-tickets

USC Shoah Foundation                   https://sfi.usc.edu

Federation of Jewish Men’s Clubs Yellow Candles:  https://www.fjmc.org/content/yellow-candles-home