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211
11/21/2014 11:30 AM Posted by:

From the Desk of Rabbi David Lyon
November 21, 2014

 

A few years ago, a young man visited me in my office. He explained that he was in with a group of friends who broke the law and dealt drugs. After a few of his friends died as a result of drug overdoses and violent crimes, he was afraid it was going to happen to another friend soon, if not to him. He was feeling anxious and fearful every day. During the course of our conversation, I helped him understand that it was likely going to happen again. Not that I’m a fortune teller, but how could the same pattern of drugs and violence lead to any other outcome most of the time? What made him think that running drugs and hanging with thugs was going to produce a better life he was beginning to imagine for himself? He needed a new circle of friends, a new way forward, and only he could make that choice for himself. Thankfully, I learned some time later that he did find a new way forward and he’s thriving.

                I thought about his experience, because it can teach us something about our anxiety and fear regarding the Middle East crisis and the rise in anti-Semitism. We, who are Jewish, western and modern, need a new set of friends, too. But, we can’t completely separate ourselves from anti-Semites, terrorists and barbarians, and we don’t wish to live behind walls for safety. However, like the young man who chose a different path, he began by recognizing the difference between himself and others. He chose not to see in his friends any virtue; not because they couldn’t be virtuous, but they consistently chose not to be. Their values and their choices stood in contrast to a lawful world and the future that the young man decided he wanted to seek for himself. Ultimately, he chose a future that was more consistent with his values for meaningful work, a positive place in the community, and family who liked him, again.

                Likewise, ISIS (ISIL), Muslim terrorists in Gaza and the West Bank, Hamas terrorists and nuclear-prone Iran are not our friends. They are not virtuous and they choose not to be when they use tactics that are an affront to humanity, western-style values, and modern sensibilities. I believe this, because horrors like the recent attack on the synagogue in Jerusalem, crudely reported by news sources, are going to happen again. We’ll always be horrified by the attacks, but we shouldn’t be shocked that it keeps happening. When will it end? I can’t say for sure; but, I can say that until and unless western nations and allies in the Middle East admit to each other who the real terrorists are, coalitions of so-called like-minded, peace-loving nations and their leaders will fail to pursue and destroy terrorist targets. The groundwork for coalition building against terrorist targets, and not Jewish scapegoats, is failing to quell growing anxiety and fear among Americans and their real allies.

                I am proud of the young man who found his way by seeing the truth about people he thought were his friends. When he discovered that they weren’t his friends because they could never see the same future, together, he found new friends and a new path. He didn’t kill his friends or condemn them. He merely let them choose their own way while he chose his. Examples for right-living can be found in the annals of history, but it can also be found in the struggles and strivings we face every day. Yes, life can be hard; but, it’s also possible to find even in its challenges all the meaning we need to find our way forward again.

                Pray with me that the world we’ve been entrusted to serve for the short span of our life will sustain all who seek its future and its peace.


You may contact Rabbi David Lyon here.



210
11/14/2014 12:00 PM Posted by:

From the Desk of Rabbi David Lyon
November 14, 2014

From 1975-1999, Rabbi Samuel E. Karff served Congregation Beth Israel as Senior Rabbi. With extraordinary intellect and pulpit presence, Rabbi Karff led the congregation in many ways, especially through his sermons, or Shabbat Messages, as they were called. As a rabbi who listened from my pulpit seat as he spoke, I can still remember Rabbi Karff’s careful choice of words, the tempo with which he spoke, and the impression he wanted to make on every congregant who came for new understanding and inspiration. Many of you remember, too.

                If you were a regular, then you also remember that every August, when Sam and Joan returned from Charlevoix, Michigan, their summer retreat for many decades, Rabbi Karff’s first sermon was a retelling of their summer, the experiences they shared, and the people they encountered. It was more than a travelogue; it was an invitation to join him where they were. In effect, the friends they knew every summer in Charlevoix became our friends, too. So, every August, we returned to the sanctuary to catch up with them and learn about how they were getting along. In Rabbi Karff’s unique style, he told a story we couldn’t wait to hear and never wanted to end.

                In recent weeks, I learned that Sam and Joan sold their cabin retreat in Charlevoix, Michigan. Though they will return there when they can and stay in a rental home, the transition from those long-awaited days and nights north of Houston’s summer heat means that the years have gone by and some reflection on them is warranted. So, I asked Rabbi Karff if he would speak again from the pulpit to tell us once more about Charlevoix, and to teach us how to make mindful transitions from the way things were to the way they are. He gladly accepted.

                On Friday evening, December 5, 2014, Rabbi Karff will speak on “Transitions: Remembering Charlevoix, Michigan”. On the same evening before services begin, Rabbi Karff will also be happy for you to purchase his new CD, “Words Spoken from My Mind and Soul”. Eight sermons are on the CD including, “Duty or Inspiration”, “Growing Older”, “How Free Are We”, “One Rosh Hashanah Eve”, and “One of My Favorite Teachers”. It’s a magnificent collection, personally chosen by him, and a cherished gift for you and your family.

                Sermons or Shabbat Messages have a lot of competition, today. Without much effort, we find the messages that we want or need on TV, radio and the internet. But, the synagogue pulpit remains a unique and vital source of messages, which are closely tied to the wisdom of the ages and their teachers. Rabbi Karff was and is an exemplar of that place and that purpose. I don’t know any rabbi, today, who doesn’t emulate Rabbi Karff, at least in his or her effort to convey what he or she feels must be conveyed. In his inimitable way, Rabbi Karff made it look effortless. It was and is his gift. It was the essence of his active rabbinate, and we, his congregants and colleagues, looked forward to Shabbat and Rabbi Karff’s words, every week.

                Like you, I look forward to December 5th, not only to hear about Charlevoix, Michigan, but also to learn how, after all these years, he and Joan bid farewell and yet retained the best part of a place they knew so well, and, we, avid listeners, came to cherish, too.


You may contact Rabbi David Lyon here.

209
11/07/2014 10:30 AM Posted by:

From the Desk of Rabbi David Lyon
November 6, 2014

 

Post Komen. Two weeks after Yom Kippur, I was joined by ADL Board members in a meeting with members of Komen Houston’s Board, including their executive director and president. The meeting was cordial. It opened with small-world remarks as we identified common acquaintances. What followed was an honest conversation about Jewish priorities and community responsibilities.

                To my mind, the meeting succeeded in conveying important lessons between us. Here are the highlights of our remarks:

 

  • The High Holidays in Judaism are akin to Christmas and Easter in Christianity, not for their religious messages but for the importance they play in Judaism, however one might define his or her level of observance. Other holidays or Festivals are less concerning and wouldn’t pose the same issues.
  • While the Christian community is larger by far, the matter was never and should never have been about demographics. In many ways, the Jewish community’s contributions to Houston are disproportionate to their numbers, having given generously to the arts, culture, medical and business communities, to name just a few. Rather than quantify their roles, we urged Komen to use the ADL calendar of religious holidays to plan for success with every faith tradition in Houston.
  • In its season of repentance, the Jewish community was open to receiving an apology that was personal, specific and contrite. Komen’s only effort, until we met personally, failed to meet those criteria. Offended cultural or religious communities should be addressed according to their norms, respectively.

 

Here are the highlights of Komen’s remarks:

 

  • They determined that the dollars they raise from the Race were critical; they have seasonal obligations to beneficiaries whose work goes directly to research to end breast cancer. Postponing the Race would have jeopardized those funds.
  • Communications will improve as new relationships were created between Komen board members, ADL and rabbis.
  • Determined to beat breast cancer, they urged us to share with you that Komen is serious about their mission and welcomed everyone to help them in our mutual goal to find a cure.

 

As you recall, the alleged infraction was exacerbated by Komen’s ill-fated attempt to apologize to the Jewish community. Now that a proper apology and explanations were exchanged, it’s possible for all of us to move on from this point. As Judaism teaches us, the only real demonstration of one’s repentance (teshuvah) is never to repeat the same offense again when faced with the same set of circumstances. The Jewish community should feel assured that Komen will regard the high Holidays and the holy days of other faith traditions with respect; and, Komen should feel renewed support from those who regard Komen as a means of finding a cure for breast cancer. A disease that afflicts thousands and thousands of people every year, particularly Jewish women of Ashkenazi descent, should benefit from every effort to join hands to champion the health of the women and men we love and need in our lives.

                Finally, thanks to Komen Board members who shared in an open and mutual conversation with us. And, thanks to the Houston Chapter of ADL for their unwavering support of all people who feel discriminated against. They never fail to bring everyone together in the interest of an enduring Community of Respect.


You may contact Rabbi David Lyon here.



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