From the Desk of Rabbi David Lyon
Less than a week from now, we will be gathering for Rosh Hashanah and wishing each other a happy New Year 5772. It’s an ideal we wish for each other; we’re quite sincere and hopeful about it. Naturally, there are extenuating circumstances that get in our way. Not the least of which is what is happening in the Middle East.
Writing this piece a day before the vote in the UN on the matter of a Palestinian state doesn’t make it easier for me to comment, but it doesn’t prevent me, either. There is no question in my mind that the vote is an unnecessary and complicating strategy. While no one disagrees that negotiations for peace could be going better (when have they truly gone well?), bringing the issue to the UN, rather than directly to opposing sides, is simply wrong.
I listened to portions of the President Obama’s speech to the UN in the time that I had in the car. It was compelling in some ways and disappointing in others. While I listened carefully for inspiring and hopeful sound bytes, I must admit that there was one sound byte I truly wanted the UN and the world to hear from our President; but I didn’t hear it. I don’t believe he said it. In addition to expectations that Palestinians and Israelis deserve to build a future founded on important and particular principles dear to each respective people, the Israelis have been denied by the radical factions in Palestinian leadership the very right to exist. Enough banter and diplomatic-speak; it is time to tell the Palestinian radical leaders that they must eliminate the annihilation of Israel from their speeches and plans. Why can’t our President say it? It should be a game-stopper in any expectation that the UN and the world will ever work with Palestinian negotiators. And, though Netanyahu has been tougher than necessary in some areas of negotiation, why should he let down his guard and his people’s security if his negotiating partners want nothing less than the destruction of Israel?
First things first. We should identify as radicals any person or group that denies Israel the right to exist. Measure your neighbors and your co-workers against this standard. There are many roads to peace and the U.S. and Israel have described many over the years. But, no one in their right mind has ever described a solution that is predicated on the destruction of Israel. So, when you ask your neighbor or your co-worker if they believe that Israel should be destroyed, let it serve as a common denominator that either puts you and them on the same heading towards peace, or it doesn’t. It could be the beginning of deep conversations about the myths and facts on the Middle East. Many people believe they understand the sentimental cause conveyed by the Palestinian leadership, but they don’t understand its more sinister underpinnings.
Second, Israel and the Jewish people will live. Even a simple song is fundamental to our hope for peace with our enemies. We purposely and thoughtfully learn to sing songs like “Od Yavo Shalom Aleinu,” We Don’t have Peace Yet (loosely translated) which includes the words for peace, Shalom and Salaam, in Hebrew and Arabic, respectively. Our children sing the hopes of both peoples. But, we also sing, “Am Yisrael Chai” the people of Israel lives. I don’t expect our enemies in the world to sing with us, but they should know that we will never stop singing it for ourselves.
Finally, as the New Year comes, I will be speaking on Erev Rosh Hashanah about the Middle East situation and our congregation vis-Ã -vis Israel. There is never a last word but there is always more to say on the subject. Let’s include in our prayers this year a hope for Israel’s peaceful future and for the reasonable minds that our world desperately needs for the confidence, security and goodness we want to share with everyone in the New Year 5772.
From my family to yours, Shabbat Shalom.
From the Desk of Rabbi David Lyon
We’re getting close to that time of year when we arrive at Temple early to get a good parking spot and the best seat for services. For most of us it’s a familiar time of year that’s filled with great expectations for beautiful music, meaningful messages, and personal contemplation. For some of you it’s also the most confounding time of year. Separate from every other day of the year, you suddenly find yourself compelled to attend worship; Compelled, because it still feels foreign to you even after all these years. Why?
Among the reasons is the simple fact that praying to or with God is not necessarily consistent with your ideas about faith, in general, and Judaism, in particular. So, before you arrive, let me suggest that it’s time to revisit your image of God in your life.
I want you to read my book, “God of Me: Imagining God throughout Your Lifetime” ( www.JewishLights.com , 2011). It’s not about me; it’s about you and your relationship with One larger than you. If you’re seeking God who hears you, lives with you, honors you, and strengthens you, then there’s a reason for taking time before the High Holidays to prepare. The dormant God image from childhood isn’t going to satisfy you as an adult. Your needs for faith and hope are much larger than they were years ago.
To begin, you have to imagine that God is everywhere. In the familiar Torah story about the Burning Bush, God appeared to Moses from the midst of a bush that burned unconsumed. It was an unusual sight. The rabbis-of-old posed the question, “Why did God appear to him from a thorn bush? Why not something more beautiful like a sycamore tree?” They taught, “If God could appear in a lowly thing, then God could surely appear anywhere, including something spectacular” (p.13). It applies to physical locales like the beautiful mountains and personal moments with your families. It also applies to times when you feel blessed or grateful, and when you’re feeling lonely or abandoned. God is there.
In Judaism, God is not found. God is sought (p109). It’s a covenant that finds us seeking and needing one another. It’s also a covenant that is never broken; more often it is only in need of some repair. Like coming before a parent, God loves unconditionally. Now, at this time of year, we all come as far forward as we can, and God comes the rest of the way. Yes, we can encounter God anywhere. And, on the High Holidays, you and I encounter God in the congregational setting where shared wants, needs, hopes and ideals are expressed in liturgy and song. It’s the most unique hour of the year and it welcomes us all to turn what is unfamiliar into that which is more special than anything else we have known.
The High Holidays give you room to reach with your heart and our hands to be more and to do more. Now, God of YOU is part of the plan that helps you find within yourself what you were created with from birth --- strength, gifts, talents, courage, faith and hope.
From my family to yours, Shabbat Shalom.
From the Desk of Rabbi David Lyon
Ten years ago, on 9/11/2001, the country sat in shock as it watched or lived through the destruction of thousands of lives and the lives they touched. It was gruesome and horrifying. Years followed with enumerable questions about the event and wars to seek answers. We thought we would find justice along the way. I don’t believe that we’ve found answers or justice yet. Not even the death of Osama bin Laden has satisfied me. My feeling is that it hasn’t satisfied you, either. It’s a start, but it’s far from over.
In retrospect, our country has never fully recovered from it. In 2001, we were told by George W. to pretend that we were normal. We were told to go shopping, to go to school, and to travel as usual. It was abnormal behavior for anyone involved in a tragic life-changing event. We should have mourned more. Then we should have participated in rebuilding our nation’s psyche. Every faith tradition teaches their members to sacrifice something in order to rebuild a broken family or community. We all contribute money, time and energy to make a positive difference. But, ten years ago, we weren’t asked, urged or invited to pay taxes for the wars we were going to fight, or volunteer for national service beyond the armed services, or learn more about our neighbors whose religious faiths we didn’t know enough about.
Imagine if we had done more. Our country would have been rebuilt by scores of young people able-bodied and invigorated by a call to help their country. Our wars would have been paid down by appropriate taxes to fund it. And, Muslims, especially, would have been welcomed to our communities as the neighbors they have always been. Their houses and mosques didn’t just pop up after 9/11; they, like we, have been part of the American fabric for a long time.
My political appetite is growing sick of partisanship. I hope yours is, too. On this tenth anniversary, it’s hard to believe that we are committing what Emil Fackenheim once taught us about the years following the Holocaust. He taught us that the 614th Commandment (there are 613 in Torah) should be not to grant Hitler a posthumous victory. Our commitment to a Jewish future would forever deny him what he sought. In the last ten years, we have become a brooding, back-biting country tearing apart the very concept of what it means to be American. We should stop checking our shoes at the airport and begin bringing our 64oz sodas through security; because, economic impasses, social exploitation and political logjams will be the posthumous victory we give our enemies.
The way forward requires so much more than we are currently experiencing in our country. The arc of history has taught us more than the brief knowledge demonstrated thus far by some of our current politicians and by most of our political candidates, or nit-wits, as someone recently described them to me. Our nation is starving for a statesman or woman to speak to us intelligently. Honesty would be welcome; so would transparency, but they don’t come without intelligence, first.
September 11th is a day to remember. But, just as we’ve learned from so many other tragic and remarkable events in our country’s history, it is also a day to honor. Building a memorial to 9/11 is good. Building our country for the future is better. Let’s build together. Let’s serve together. Let’s know each other. Let’s demand from our political leaders in office and vying for office that mediocrity is not enough. The sweetest victory is a solid opportunity for every American to feel confident in America. That’s justice. That’s the answer I want. I think you do, too.
May God bless our people; May God bless us and all God’s children with a week of peace. From my family to yours, Shabbat Shalom.
From the Desk of Rabbi David Lyon
When the Israelites crossed the Red Sea, they sang to God (Exodus 15:1ff). Ever since, song has expressed our thanks, hopes, desires, and praises to God. In Hebrew, “song” and “poem” are the same words. Thus, Moses also recited a poem to the Israelites in one of his last orations to them (Deuteronomy 31:30ff). And, in Psalms there are many invitations to “sing” to God. Imagine the harp, lyre, and flute bursting with sound to express the Israelites’ blessings.
Psalm 96, begins, “Sing to the Lord a new song, sing to the Lord, all the earth.” On Friday night, August 26th, in our sanctuary, 950 people sang new songs to God. Imagine hundreds of individual worshipers quickly becoming a worshiping and singing congregation. It felt like we touched all the earth.
Jazz Shabbat was a celebration of our prayers enriched by the music of our times. Cantor Daniel Mutlu, who joined our clergy team at Beth Israel on July 1, 2011, chose musical settings, arranged many of the pieces for choir and instruments, and prepared an hour of worship with our rabbis. It was relaxing, inspiring, and engaging.
Lecha Dodi welcomed the Sabbath into our hearts and our homes. Mi Chamocha, from the Song of the Sea, was triumphant. It lifted our spirits as Cantor Mutlu reached each note with care and finesse. The choir was “hip” and the instrumentalists provided perfect accompaniment. V’shameru was stirring and many worshipers sang openly. Others closed their eyes to hear the notes and harmonies that brought new color and meaning to their favorite prayers. Shalom Rav was a perfect entrée to silent prayer. It set us down in a moment where personal reflection on the blessings of this Shabbat came into focus. Then Cantor Mutlu eased us out of our silent meditations with a soft and stirring Sim Shalom.
When I came to the pulpit to share a Shabbat message, I explained to the congregation that my prepared words were no longer suitable. I was inspired to share my feelings about the evening’s music and prayerful setting. In the Torah portion of the week, Re’eh, which means “see”, I taught that we can see in many ways. Not only with our eyes, but also with our ears we can hear and understand. But, some of us also shed tears that we wiped from our eyes. I saw it around the sanctuary. In the midst of God’s creative acts, God said to the Israelites, “See, this day the blessings and the curses…” In effect, God said, wipe away your tears of awe so that you might see the blessings before you. And, if you don’t wipe them away and see, then you won’t avail yourselves of God’s blessings. Instead, you’ll come to know a life without them; a life of curses. Music on Jazz Shabbat awakened us to the blessings of Cantor Daniel’s gifts. We saw with our eyes and with our ears, and felt it in our hearts and our souls.
At the conclusion of Jazz Shababt, we sang Ein Keiloheinu, to a rousing version by Shlomo Carlebach. And, before the benediction when I thanked Cantor Mutlu, choir and instrumentalists, a spontaneous applause broke out. The congregation said, Thank you Cantor Mutlu for a memorable Shabbat evening and for the promise of many more beautiful moments in Jewish music, together.
Now enjoy the Cantor’s Corner on the Beth Israel’s website to find audio clips from Jazz Shabbat and other musical pieces. From my family to yours, Shabbat Shalom.
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