From the Desk of Rabbi David Lyon
We celebrated the last night of Hanukkah this past week. It’s always my favorite night because the Menorah is full of light. In a darkened room, the lights glow in ways that we don’t often appreciate anymore. Today, we take light for granted. In a city like Houston, the fourth largest city in America, the lights will always be on. There is no such thing as a dark night anymore. The glow of the city’s light can be seen for miles. Even observatories struggle to maintain darkness around their locations to be sure they can get an unobstructed view of the night sky.
It’s a sign of the times, but it’s not the only sign. For decades in Houston, it has been the trend that new homes and buildings replace old homes and buildings that are barely 30-50 years-old. It’s part of the culture of the west, to be on the cutting-edge and in synch with the pioneer spirit. Houston epitomizes it for better and for worse. We enjoy living in a city like Houston, where we live on the cutting edge of modernity. But, when we embrace our pioneer heritage, alone, we can’t always embrace a heritage that is bound up in bricks and mortar.
When we want to relate to the ancient or even the not-so-ancient, where can we go? For Jews, history is not only about 200+ short years of American history. To us, history takes us back to our Biblical roots. That’s where we find stories about the past, and insights into our future. We don’t glorify the past when we preserve it; rather, we honor it by learning from it. Insights into the future don’t foretell it, they inform it. It’s a perfect balance that permits us to have both our heritage and our modernity. To have it all, we have only to travel to Israel. In 14 hours, we can be in one place that is, at once, all about our past and our future. And both, at one and the same time, are exhilarating.
In Israel, we can see the remnants of ancient towns and the roots of Biblical events. We can visit the tunnels along the Western Wall that take us back to the time of Hillel. We can see the remains of the wars of independence and freedom. We can also see the centers of industry that make Israel a critical leader in technology in the world, today. We can see holy religious sites of great world religions. And, we can see that Israel is a vibrant place where Jewish life is truly thriving in the present.
On June 10-19, 2012, I will lead our Congregation Beth Israel trip to Israel, with chairs Marcia and Mike Nichols, Rabbi Adrienne and David Scott, and Cantor Daniel Mutlu. It will be a full experience from north to south, and east to west. It will be political, religious, social, technological, and cultural. Most important, it will be community building for all who attend. Registration is now open. You can review the itinerary and details on our Beth Israel website at www.beth-israel.org. Click the box on the right side of the home page and begin your journey that will bring you to Israel for the trip of a lifetime.
As the new year 2012 comes into view, give yourself a gift you’ll cherish the rest of your life: a trip to Israel. “Next year in Jerusalem,” is not just a saying at the end of the Seder; it’s a hope we can make real this year, right now.
From my family to yours, Shabbat Shalom and a healthy and prosperous 2012.
From the Desk of Rabbi David Lyon
Three days/two nights were on our itinerary for our wilderness journey to a Texas animal resort with our four children ages 13 through 21. In a Suburban and a sedan, we loaded up food to grill and games to play. Three hours later, we arrived after driving all morning in the rain. The long drought over the summer gave way to seasonal rains. The proprietor told us how lucky we were that it had finally rained. We weren’t so sure. We made several trips from our vehicles through the mud, up the stairs, and into the bungalow that sleeps six --- two comfortably. The bungalow’s deck overlooked the animals that came with our wilderness experience. Fairly up close and through one pair of shared binoculars we observed three pecking ostriches, one hyperactive zebra, one lost camel, one confused giraffe, and several prancing deer. It didn’t take long to anticipate their journeys as they wandered along familiar paths over the plains and into the woods. As dark fell, we settled in, started the grill, and looked forward to a night on the Serengeti.
We also anticipated the first night of Hanukkah. Who packed the menorah? I thought Lisa packed it; she thought I was in charge of all ritual matters. No menorah. But, I had my iPhone, and the iPhone had an app for a menorah. We gathered around the table, readied ourselves for the app to spring to life, and watched in hi-tech amazement as the menorah glowed with the light of the shamash and one light for the first night. Another push of a button and the music played to accompany us in singing the Hanukkah blessings! It was almost perfect and there was no way we could burn down the bungalow.
Our Hanukkah on the Serengeti folded into stories on the deck about the children when they were little. Some made them laugh and others made them turn red. To Lisa and me, they were all good stories. When it grew cold, we moved into the big room for charades that lasted the rest of the night.
Hanukkah began with only one small, virtual light; but even in the absence of candles and a menorah, we didn’t lose sight of the reason we were there. The winter holidays bring the older children home from college. And, while they still want to join us, we capture time with them by putting boundaries around the family for moments shared and special memories. It works for us.
The second day we set out for a nearby town. Lisa and I dragged our children through antique stores and old town squares. We found an old rotary phone and showed them how we used to dial it. Even they recognized that anybody with a “9” in their number required “a lot of work.” They thought the antique Royal typewriter was a torture device from the Middle Ages. Compared to keyboards, today, they might be right. By the end of the street and the last antique store, we had worn them down. It was time for lunch and everyone welcomed a sit-down restaurant and full menu.
Returning to the bungalow was not the highlight of the day, but we made it through another night and aimed for home when we awoke. We schlepped everything back to the vehicles taking care to walk our own familiar paths around the mud and through the grass. Before we left, we threw some feed over the deck railing for the pecking ostriches and took one last look through the binoculars at the animals as they showed up for work and moved to their familiar stations.
Hanukkah on the Serengeti is an acquired taste. Hanukkah at home on the second night with memories we brought home with us are something we will always treasure. I know you have stories to share with your children and grandchildren. You never know when you’ll need them to fill the hours with laughter and ways to remember the blessings that endure season after season and year after year.
From my family to yours, Happy Hanukkah and Shabbat Shalom.
Join us for Hanukkah Family Shabbat service at 6:30pm
December 23rd, Congregation Beth Israel Sanctuary.
Songs, lighting the menorah, latkes and fun for everyone.
From the Desk of Rabbi David Lyon
On the first night of Chanukah, December 20, 2011, in the darkness of the evening, one small candle plus the shamash (head candle) can hardly brighten the space around the Menorah. It reminds me of the rabbinic lesson, “All beginnings are hard.” Then comes the second night, and the third, and so on. The Menorah fills with light enough to brighten the space around it and the room where it proudly stands.
In the times of Zechariah the Prophet, the project of rebuilding the Temple in Jerusalem was getting underway. It was no small feat. Delays and overruns impeded progress. But, the prophet Zechariah spoke to Zerubbabel, the lay leader at the head of the community, “Not by might, nor by power, but by My spirit!” God’s promise inspired Zerubbabel. They all came to know that might and power were small matters compared to God’s spirit. Further, Zechariah said, “Zerubbabel’s hands shall complete it…Does anyone scorn a day of small beginnings?”
In addition to a victory over the ancient Greeks who defiled the Temple in Jerusalem, Chanukah unites the Jewish people in a unique covenant with God. Today, the Menorah still symbolizes our people’s victory over challenges to Jewish life in all ages. The prophet’s words speak to us at this season. “A day of small beginnings” marks the dim light of two small candles in the Menorah, and the small steps we take in new directions. Just because every beginning is hard, doesn’t mean that we can’t achieve new goals. Like the small glow of the Menorah on the first night of Chanukah, a new light of inspiration and creativity is sparked within us. As the lights of the Menorah grow, so do the skills and abilities we find ourselves enjoying as time unfolds.
Life changes fast. Events force us to acknowledge life’s blessings and burdens. More often than not, we are resilient in the face of life’s burdens and unexpected events. We don’t succumb to life’s hardships; we gather our resources and assemble a team to turn burdens into blessings. At first, small steps are taken and then bigger steps are made. Milestones are reached and resilience is replaced with fortitude. We look back and see how far we have come. Then, like the shamash lends its light to each candle, we share our strength with others now taking their first small steps.
God plants within us more than we know. The hard part about beginnings is believing that what we need is already in us. The Chanukah lights and the prophet’s words help us see and remember that God’s spirit is with us to illuminate our path and to inspire us along the way.
Tuesday night, December 20th , light the Menorah. The lights tell our Jewish story. We are a resilient people whose fortitude has permitted us to thrive in every generation. On Friday night, December 23rd, we will celebrate Chanukah together in the sanctuary at 6:30pm. With great music and the Chanukah story, we’ll gather before the Maltz Menorah and stand in the glow of all its lights. God’s spirit abides among us. May God’s gifts shine in us now and for ever.
From my family to yours, Happy Chanukah and Shabbat Shalom.
From the Desk of Rabbi David Lyon
If I asked you to describe a person of faith, you might describe a person of age and wisdom, because faith is supposed to come after years of seeking and sometimes finding meaning in life’s experiences. You might be right, but you could be wrong. Judaism doesn’t equate age with wisdom. They can go together, but it isn’t a perfect formula. Rather, Judaism identifies faith in anyone who regularly seeks greater understanding of who they are intended to be in covenant with their community and God.
In Torah, this Shabbat, we read about Jacob’s wrestling encounter with an angel. Before the encounter was over, Jacob’s name was changed to Israel, because he wrestled with a man, presumably an angel of God, and prevailed. Thus, we are all Israel, “Yisrael,” because we, descendants of Jacob, are also “God-wrestlers.” That is, we are prone to ask, demand, inquire and interpret our Torah teachings for greater and deeper understanding. And, through such inquiry our faith doesn’t wither, instead it thrives. In fact, our doubting and inquiry strengthen our faith. Through the exchange of information and the process of inquiry we arrive at important reasons to remain faithful to our covenant with God. Very few have been lost in the process of inquiry. More often, many have found meaning, and through it, faith.
If you ever wondered aloud or silently about God, mitzvah, ritual, ethics, or Torah, for example, then you could call yourself a faithful Jewish man or woman. If you were firm in your belief but questioned events that seemed contrary to a world filled with God’s creative acts, then you could also call yourself a faithful Jewish man or woman. Only one who claims to have perfect faith and never inquires of Torah or Jewish teachings for greater understanding of human inclinations or God’s ways, would fail to be a truly faithful Jew. Since Jacob, our Jewish heritage demands that we ask, doubt and inquire of it for many reasons, not the least of which is that the process enables us to make progress in our constant search for greater faith. We also owe it to the next generation to ask, so that they might benefit from our insights when they embark on their own search.
There are no slack days when it comes to our pursuit of faith. Jewish life is a constant rhythm of study, worship, good deeds, and rest. God willing, our week has been filled with good deeds that reflect our best understanding of Jewish ethics in business and community; we’ve spent some time examining Jewish insights into current events; and we’ve chosen the end of this week to make time for Shabbat. We’re all people of faith when we admit that, whether or not we are “observant” Jews, by definition, we are all people with “inquiring” Jewish hearts and minds. Our task today is to ask and inquire; our task for all time is to keep the faith!
From my family to yours, Shabbat Shalom.
Mark your calendars NOW for our Chanukah Family Service in the Sanctuary, December 23, 6:30pm. Come with your whole family and go home with Chanukah lights!
From the Desk of Rabbi David Lyon
Is it just a sign of the times? Over the holiday weekend, our house was full the way it used to be. All four children were home. My mother was visiting for the week. I walked into the family room where everyone was sitting, together. What I saw there was a sight I had never before seen. Everybody, including my mother, was staring into their laptop, iPad, or iPhone. The room was quiet except for the barely perceptible tapping sound of fingers on keyboards and screens. I stood in front of all of them and began to say, “I want you all to close your screens and devices; let’s watch TV…” and then I stopped. TV was just another bigger screen. I felt defeated, but not for long.
Bowed heads over computer screens and devices only appeared to be a bad sign of the times. But, it wasn’t. It was a sign of the way things are and where they are going. In actuality, the children were doing homework, window shopping and playing games; my mother was reading a book on her iPad2 (she loves to read and now the print is adjustable), and even I found a seat and began to play “Words with Friends” and “Scrabble” with unknown opponents and then with my son, who sat across the room waiting for my move. Ironically, the TV, once the mainstay of households, was ignored. The internet has become much more interesting, educational, and interactive.
Young people are taking to all the new devices like fish to water. In some places like the Shlenker School, they’re learning in classrooms on iPads. Imagine how these devices in their young hands will inspire the world they’ll build with increasingly changing technology. When they come of age, iPads will be like Model T’s in the auto world.
Older people are not far behind. Those who don’t resist it quickly find that the internet is a vital link to their family and grandchildren who live around the block or across the world. A “mouse” is already cumbersome and a desktop computer feels like a dinosaur to those who own a touch screen device. Today, connecting via the internet is an intuitive experience. It doesn’t make older people feel older; it makes them feel part of the world around them. The goal is to participate. If you don’t agree, then next time you want to change the TV channel get up and go to the set and turn the dial.
There are signs of the times all around us. If we’re merely bystanders then the signs will look like blurs to us as they move quickly past us. But, if we move with the times we’ll see that the signs are easier to make out.
By the way, at the end of the day my children and my mother closed their laptops and turned off their devices long enough to sit around the table and play an old-fashioned board game. We rolled the dice, moved our pieces, and read the cards aloud. Nothing buzzed, beeped or whistled and we had a lot of fun.
Being a Reform Jew is about being modern and Jewish at the same time. It’s my favorite part of being a Reform Jew. I love Judaism. I love modernity. What a remarkable time we live in. I want to read from my Kindle on Shabbat, and I want to tell my children in college that we can Skype or “Facetime” when I get home from services. Is there ever a time you and I don’t want to see our children? Especially on Shabbat! They’re all signs of the times. Thank God.
From my digital family to yours, Shabbat Shalom.
REMEMBER: Shabbat Chazzanoot, Friday, Dec 2nd, 6:30pm, Sanctuary.
Special Music service featuring Cantor Daniel Mutlu.
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