the Desk of Rabbi David Lyon
When I was a child in a sprawling Chicago suburb, I remember the farmer’s field at the end of our street. It was one of the last remaining empty soybean or corn fields that hadn’t been developed by home builders. That would happen years later. In the field, my brother and I, with our childhood friends, biked, ran, and jumped. At the bottom of a small hill in the field there was a stream, and for some reason it was always our job to cross it. From one side of the stream to the other, we would throw a found plank of wood or a fallen tree limb. It was never the perfect length. We’d take turns inching our way onto the fragile bridge and then dare each other to jump to the other side. Most of the time we made it.
In Torah, we come to a juncture, too, when we reach the end of a book of Torah. Positioned between two books is like standing at the end of one before jumping across to the next one. In that gap, we’ve been taught to say, "Hazak, hazak, v’nit-cha-zeik” Be strong, be strong, and let us strengthen each other (or let us be strengthened). Then we turn the page or the scroll and begin to read the next book of Torah. It’s a journey we take with our community of family and friends. It’s a journey during which we accumulate wisdom and insights that strengthen us. There’s no question but that we’ll continue, so as we end one book and say, "Hazak, hazak, v’nit-cha-zeik,” we begin the next book of Torah with confidence and anticipation, stepping onto secure ground with firm footing.
There are few ends that don’t require a leap to a new beginning. It can be a leap of strength, a leap of courage, or even a leap of faith. Then we jump. We land in a new city, a new job, or a new relationship. And, we keep on walking. Our ability to leap and thrive where we land may depend on what we bring with us. It might be old habits, old friends, or old ideas. But, it might be new habits, new friends, or new ideas. Our strength might come from a combination of what we must leave behind and what we must embrace for the first time.
As the first day of 2018 nears, let’s see it as a milepost we’ll pass on our way to a new secular year filled with life experiences. There will be a wedding this weekend; it will be part of two families’ joy. There will likely be family members or friends in the hospital or at home recuperating; we’ll work and pray for their health and well-being. There will be new babies in this their first year of firsts, ever. There will be deaths of loved ones; families will learn how to gain strength from memories of their love. There will be new jobs and homes, and new challenges and opportunities. How will we do it all?
Hazak. Be strong. Find strengths from the past. They’re lessons and models that served you well. They provided you meaning and success. They still can.
Hazak. Be strong. There are sources of strength in the future. Don’t go it alone. There are people, organizations and your congregation ready to support your next best steps.
V’nitchazeik. Let us strengthen each other. We need each other. Let go of grudges and past hurts. Embrace family and friends. Seize new opportunities.
As I recall, the plank of wood or tree limb my friends and I laid across the stream provided only a partial way over the water to dry land. The rest of the way was built on confidence we helped each other find inside ourselves. You never heard so much cheering when one boy and then the next made it over the water and we all kept on running, together.
Keep on running. In 2018, bring great expectations for joy, health, love and peace. From my family to yours, Shabbat Shalom and Happy New Year 2018!
You may contact Rabbi David Lyon here.
the Desk of Rabbi David Lyon
The last night of Hanukkah was my favorite night because the Menorah was 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 Houston, the fourth largest city in America, the lights will always be on.
It’s a sign of the times, but it’s not the only sign. For decades in Houston, it’s been the trend for new homes and buildings to replace old ones 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, but if we embrace only our pioneer spirit, we might fail to appreciate our heritage bound up in the enduring elements of bricks and mortar.
As Jews, we’ve always preserved the past so that we might learn from it. Those lessons never foretold the future; rather they prepared us for it. Respect for the past and lessons for the future permit us access to our heritage and our present. For us, both are easy to find. Today, we have only to travel to Israel. In 14 hours, we can be in one place that is past, present and future.
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.
On June 3-13, 2018, Rabbi Adrienne Scott, my wife, Lisa, and I will lead our next Congregation Beth Israel trip to Israel. It’s not too late to set your calendar and join many others who have already signed up. We generally are a group of about 40. Registration and an itinerary can be found at www.beth-israel.org. It will be a full experience from north to south, and east to west. It will be political, religious, social, technological, and cultural. Our goals are many, but primarily it is to inspire you as we explore where we are and who we are in this modern, ancient, western, Middle Eastern, democratic, Jewish, and culturally diverse land. This is not a vacation like you’ve spent anywhere else. This is a trip of a lifetime.
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 still darkness unlike any other anywhere else. It’s a darkness that awaits light and seeks illumination. It’s a light that’s kindled with each new insight we gain from inspired learning and shared experiences in the Land of Israel. It’s a light that’s waiting for us to reveal it. When we return from Israel, we’ll become ambassadors who shed new 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 2018. 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.ds
שַׁ֭אֲלוּ שְׁל֣וֹם יְרוּשָׁלִָ֑ם יִ֝שְׁלָ֗יוּ אֹהֲבָֽיִךְ׃
Pray for the peace of Jerusalem, "May those who love you be at peace.”
Chanukah is here. The Festival of Lights celebrates the old and new story of Jewish resilience and vision. Today, the Menorah symbolizes what it once did many centuries ago. It brings the Jewish people around the glowing lights to feel the passion we have always had for God, Torah and Israel. It stands for our people’s faith and strength to overcome challenges to Jewish life in all ages.
At Congregation Beth Israel, in Houston, Texas, we are steadfastly dedicated to the welfare and security of the modern state of Israel, its land and people. We acknowledge and laud President Trump’s recent announcement on Jerusalem, Israel’s capital, as a restatement of facts on the ground, and a new starting point for reasonable heads of nations and peoples to pursue peace in the Middle East. Though this recognition isn’t part of a comprehensive or larger strategic plan, which would have been preferable, it doesn’t preclude our hope for a two-state solution.
The facts are clear: Jerusalem is the capital of Medinat Yisrael, the State of Israel. To the rest of the world, Jerusalem is an international capital and host to three Abrahamic religions, among others. Last week, President Trump clarified for the world that Jerusalem is more than a debated international capital with claims on it from many foreign lands and other peoples; now, America and Israel define Jerusalem as the unquestionable capital of the sovereign state of Israel, and will make plans in the future, even years from now, to move the American Embassy from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem.
To Jews around the world, this is a significant step for Israel’s strength. Notably, the President also made clear that America is committed to Israel’s Middle East neighbors and their allies who recognize Israel’s right to exist, and whose interests include regional peace. However, future peace talks will now begin with one new condition, namely, that the subject of Jerusalem as Israel’s capital is non-negotiable. Wisely, the President’s statement did not preclude, as part of future peace talks, negotiated boundary lines that a two-state solution would require.
Though the president asked for "moderation” and "tolerance” from Israel’s neighbors while pledging support for their peace, too, it shouldn’t surprise anyone that violence and terror would accompany his announcement. It also shouldn’t surprise anyone that different opinions among Jews will affect the unity of world Jewry at precisely a time when we should stand together.
At Congregation Beth Israel, we stand with world Jewry and will continue to advocate for Israel’s peace and security. Other significant issues concern us as Reform Jews, but this week’s announcement gives us reasons to believe that there will be a time and place for broader political, social, and religious agendas in Israel to be realized, too.
As Chanukah lights glow this week, let’s dedicate ourselves to the reason for our season, namely, the sanctification of Jewish hopes founded on our 3,000 year-old relationship with Jerusalem. Today, let us stand together and pray for the peace of Jerusalem!
Rabbi David Lyon
Chanukah Family Service, Friday, December 15th, 6:30pm in the Sanctuary!
Delicious Oneg Shabbat follows immediately with latkes, sufganiyot (jelly doughnuts) and more!
Resources and Commentaries:
Below you’ll find links to Jewish organizations. Navigate their websites to find statements and commentaries on this and other news about Israel and the world. For more, search for daily news on Israel.
You may contact Rabbi David Lyon here.
the Desk of Rabbi David Lyon
Getting ready for the holidays requires more than stocking the refrigerator and tidying up the guest room. It has been said that holidays are times when you leave the ones you love being with, to spend time with your family. It sounds cynical, but it can be true. We spend many more hours every day with co-workers and friends than we do with family members who might live many miles away. If it’s the case that you’re going to spend more time with family this season, then maybe it’s time to prepare more than the refrigerator and the guest room. Take special note of these preparations, too, for the sake of a Shalom Bayyit, a peaceful home:
1) Everyone likes to talk about themselves. Ask your family members about themselves. Resist the urge to make the conversation about you. Show interest and avoid judgment. They’ll be impressed by your interest in them and they’ll enjoy your company more.
2) Pay them a compliment. Compliment your host’s home, the accommodations, the meal they prepared, and even their jokes and opinions. Everybody likes a compliment. Say it with a sincere smile and without judgment.
3) Use supporting language. Rather than saying, "You’re a ____ for saying that” say instead, "When you say that it makes me feel ____.” Labeling others creates friction as they struggle to remove the label you put on them. It’s better to identify a feeling that you both can address. And, when you can’t be certain about a family member’s intentions, say, "Help me understand what you’re trying to accomplish when you do/say that.” Don’t jump to conclusions, and if you must agree to disagree, do it respectfully.
4) Please and Thank you. Manners count at any age. If you’re among family, manners matter even more than they do between friends. Lead by example and set the tone you want to enjoy with your family.
5) Bring a small gift and send a short thank-you note. This needs no added emphasis. Bring a token of your thanks to the home you’re visiting, and send a short thank-you note to express your gratitude for their hospitality.
The goal is to achieve a "Shalom Bayyit,” a peaceful home. Holidays don’t last forever. They’re a day or two you spend with others who share your name or family tree. Make the most of it and aim to be remembered as the one whose company is so easy to enjoy. The likelihood is that you’ll be in a class of your own. Even if it’s a home you visit only once each year, it’s important to leave a positive impression. Returning next year will be that much easier to do.
One home that will always welcome you back is Congregation Beth Israel. It’s surely a peaceful home and one that has lots of room for family and friends. Mark your calendars now for our Shabbat Family Service on December 15th, at 6:30pm in the Sanctuary. We’ll light the Maltz Menorah, sing Chanukah songs, hear a great story, and eat delicious foods for Chanukah.
As the winter holiday season begins, take note and make peace.
You may contact Rabbi David Lyon here.
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