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.
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. We enjoy living in a city like Houston, where we live on the cutting edge of modernity. But, when we embrace only our pioneer spirit, we can’t always appreciate our heritage that’s bound up in the enduring elements of bricks and mortar, too.
When we want to relate to the ancient or even the not-so-ancient, where can we go? For Jews, the past isn’t only about the relatively short years of American history. For us, we go all the way back to our Biblical roots. We don’t preserve the past in order to glorify it; rather, we honor it by learning from it. Insights into the future aren’t meant to foretell it; at best, they inform it. Respect for the past and hope for the future permit us both our heritage and our modernity. To have it all, today, 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 are exhilarating.
In Israel, we see remnants of ancient towns and the roots of Biblical events. We visit the tunnels along the Western Wall that take us back to the time of Hillel. We see the remains of the wars of independence and struggle. We see the centers of industry that make Israel a critical leader in technology in the world, today. We see holy religious sites of other world religions. We see that Israel is a vibrant place where Jewish life is truly thriving, and we see the work that still needs to be done, which depends even on us. You and I can make a difference there.
On May 29-June 7, 2016, my wife, Lisa, and I will lead our next Congregation Beth Israel trip to Israel. May and June 2016 are a long way away, but it’s not too soon to set your calendar and budget for the trip. Details will follow in the early spring. 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. Ask anyone who has gone with us in the past and they’ll tell you that it was a trip of a lifetime. We generally are a group of 50 or less; and, our goal is to inspire you as we explore who we are as much as we explore where we are.
The lights that burn in Israel’s city centers have been burning for thousands of years. They tell stories that are part of our heritage and they light the way for stories yet untold. Between the lights, there is a darkness that is unlike any other anywhere else. It’s a darkness that awaits light and seeks illumination. It can be a bulb that burns brightly or it can be new insights waiting for us to reveal. When we return from Israel, we’ll become ambassadors who shed light on ideas and hopes for Israel and the Jewish people. Next Year in Jerusalem.
Best wishes to you and yours for a prosperous and healthy 2015. May you and I and all who are touched by our lives find blessing in the presence of the Source of blessing.
You may contact Rabbi David Lyon here.
From the Desk of Rabbi David Lyon
For three days, I visited Methodist hospital this week to see a family member. Parking in garage #1, making my way through the large lobby, waiting for the elevators in Dunn Tower, and walking around to the room on the 8th floor, all became part of a familiar journey. Thankfully, it ended on schedule and I won’t have to return to visit again until professional duties call me there. Ordinarily, I’m not there long enough to take note of more than my hospital list and the members of the congregation I come to see; but, this time was different.
Perhaps it was the general fatigue I felt or the haggard look I shared with fellow travelers up and down the elevator, but there was a palpable kinship between us. One morning on my way up to the 8th floor, I was the only one waiting for the elevator without something in his hands. I patiently held the elevator doors opened, asked for everyone’s numbers, and punched them in one at a time for those whose hands held trays laden with breakfast, drinks, flowers, and what-not. One person said, “Aren’t we lucky you’re here to push the buttons.” As each floor was reached, the commuters remarked to all of us, “Have a blessed day” or “Be well now.” When my floor was reached, I exited with kind regards and gratitude.
Later that day, when I felt like an afternoon cup of coffee, I headed down to the Starbucks kiosk. Whoever thought of installing a Starbucks in Methodist hospital’s lobby deserves a medal. The young lady who took my order was kinder than any barista I’ve ever met at a Starbucks store. Her head-band with Santas and reindeers standing at attention on it didn’t even look ridiculous; it reflected the genuine joy she served up with her drinks and scones. Coffee ready, I returned to the elevators. Fellow guests and hospital employees kindly filled the cars, called out numbers, made small talk that didn’t sound small, and exited on their way with warm good wishes.
Ironically, there were no signs anywhere in the hospital that urged anyone to be kind, to hold the elevator doors, or to wish each other well. The only posted signs pointed newcomers in the right direction and where to find more information. What caused perfect strangers with worry and concern on their minds for loved ones in the hospital to extend extra kindness and compassion? I don’t think I’ve ever experienced the same graciousness in a shopping mall, a professional building, or even an amusement park.
Such kinship must grow out of an unspoken but shared understanding of what it means to be concerned for one in the hospital. Minor or major, the circumstances that require a hospital stay for one night or many find us in a shared place where we confront how precious and fragile life can be, all at once.
Life is precious. Each sign of recovery and renewed strength provides glimpses into the wonders of the body and how it can be prompted to heal. The combination of nutrition, medicine, and hope draws on resources we should never take for granted.
Life is also fragile. Once each day, we heard the intercom throughout the hospital announce a “Code Blue” alarm. Somewhere in the hospital, doctors and nurses scrambled to save a life, and loved ones grew anxious while they waited for news. We never knew the outcome.
Returning home is always the greatest joy and reason to feel blessed. Healing continues but so do compassion, kindness and goodness. There are many more places beyond the elevator lobby in the hospital where real people like you and me still hurt, feel lonely, and seek kinship. Compassion doesn’t wait for the holiday season; it waits for us. As the holiday season arrives, enter it with good wishes, helpful hands, and kind words. Who knows, perhaps we might even see a glimpse of a healed world.
You may contact Rabbi David Lyon here.
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 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 true to the heritage of Judaism. 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 meaning. 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 meaning. 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 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.
Mark your calendars
Completion of our People’s Torah in honor of our 160th Anniversary
Sunday, December 14th, 10:30am, Sanctuary
Presentation and Dedication of our People’s Torah
and Chanukah Family Service
Friday, December 19th, 6:30pm, Sanctuary
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