Thursday, April 19, 2012

The Stone Thrower, The Israel Denier and Me

I sense the existence of one Am Yisrael - one Jewish people - on Yom Hashoah/Holocaust Remembrance Day. It's a hard day for the Jewish people (as I hope it is a hard day for most people regardless of religion) for obvious reasons. There's a unifying quiet, not a lot of divisiveness on Yom Hashoah; most Jews aren't arguing politics on Yom HaShoah; Jews from the left to the right and everything in between feel the weight of this day together. Whether knowledgeable of the Kabbalistic tzom shtikah (fast of silence) that so many communities practice in some way on this day, or simply sensing the pressing need for silence because the utterance of words seems a betrayal of so much; whether their own family members were murdered or whether their family never rooted itself in Europe and so remained untouched from the Shoah's flames; whether observant or not, whether Jew by choice or Jew by birth, Jew and Jew co-exist together this day; Jew and Jew remember together this day. Whether it is me, the liberal, pro-Israel, pro-Peace, egalitarian, humanitarian, reform rabbi writing this on my iPad in my office, or the extremist-Haredi Jew who throws stones at an 8 year old girl in Beit Shemesh, or the vociferous anti-Israel Jew who uses his popularity platform to call for an end to the so-called "oppressor." And although I don't know for sure how they feel, I imagine that to both the stone thrower and the Israel denier, I am anathema; certainly, the actions of the stone thrower and Israel denier are anathema to me! And yet, for me, on this day, the stone thrower and Israel denier and I, like it or not, are brothers and sister in Am Yisrael, and we bear our pain together.

Many may not like what I just said. To tell you the truth, tomorrow, I will have a harder time stomaching my statement as well. But I wonder if that is not one of the challenges of Yom Hashoah? In our obligation, we are called to remember the horrific events of the Shoah and in doing so, assure it never happens again. Perhaps part of that beckons us to look at ourselves, this once remnant of a people now spanning through Diaspora and Israel, with practices and beliefs ranging across a wide expanse, still as one Am Yisrael. Part of that self-examination mandates understanding ourselves as part of the larger whole, who, even in disagreement, sometimes vehement disagreement, with each other, still understand themselves as one entity. Isn't that how we really assure Fackenheim's suggested 614th commandment, to not give Hitler posthumous victory? For when we separate ourselves from each other, to proudly proclaim "I am NOT like THEM! THEY are NOT a part of me!" we deny the truth that we all know deeply anytime we feel collective pain when another Jew fails. It is why I didn't just feel anger when I heard about the stone thrower and encountered the Israel denier; it is why I felt shame and sadness too. The truth is we are all, no matter how far apart we might seem geographically or ideologically, part of each other.

Yom Hashoah falls in between Pesach and Shavuot, along our journey from Redemption to Revelation with the Giving and Receiving of Torah. I take to heart what Torah teaches: not one of us was excluded in receiving it. I wonder if I might have been standing next the stone thrower and denier that day? I wonder if we brushed shoulders with each other in the crowd; if they made enough space for me and if I made enough space for them? I wonder if we caught a glimpse of each other's faces and saw in the other the image of God?
And then I wonder how today, so seemingly far from Sinai,  we might see that in each other once more?

I find guidance from 2 teachings about a different Pilgrimage Festival: Sukkot. I use these teachings in moments when I need to be reminded of these goals, and I will use them tomorrow, when Yom HaShoah is over.

The first is from Pesichta Rabbati 51:2:

The etrog stands for some people in Israel: even as the etrog has aroma and has edible fruit, so Israel has in their midst those who have knowledge of Torah and also have good deeds. Branches of palm trees also stands for Israel: as the palm tree has edible fruit but no aroma, so Israel have in their midst those who have knowledge of Torah but have no good deeds. Boughs of the leafy tree also stands for Israel: as the myrtle tree has aroma but does not have edible fruit, so Israel have in their midst those who have good deeds but no knowledge of Torah. And willows of the brook also stands for Israel: even as the willow has neither edible fruit nor aroma, so Israel have in their midst those in whom there is neither knowledge of Torah nor good deeds.

The second is from Yalkut Shimoni 188a:
Just as one cannot fulfill their obligation on Sukkot unless all four species are bound together, so Israel can only be redeemed when all Israel holds (themselves) together.

None of this is to excuse personal accountability; none of this is intended to suggest that we ignore or stand silent when anyone commits an act of violence or hate, especially our brothers and sisters; but in each of our own turning and returning to the best of who we can and are meant to be, we have to remember that all of us were there from the beginning and all of us are on this journey - the stone thrower, the Israel denier, you and me, all of us - together.

Thursday, April 12, 2012

You Are What You Eat!

You Are What You Eat
I'm writing this on the 6th day of Passover, thus I find myself thinking a lot about food! The conscious choice to eliminate all things leaven for 1 week (7 or 8 days depending on your tradition) and to make sure to eat matzah each and every day is something that stays with me, both in my mind and my tummy! It's not without purpose. Eliminating leaven and eating matzah is supposed to remind us, in a most primal sort of way (you can't do much without food) that eliminating the "puff" and getting back to the most basic of things, can help us not only center our own lives, but make a difference in the lives of others too. But this being day 6, after 144 chametz-free hours, the visioning of all things leaven kicks in. Food is on my mind, but am I being mindful about it? Only another 48 hours will tell.

The first time I actually ever thought mindfully, I mean really mindfully, about food was when my first child was born.  Up until then, I never truly understood or behaved in a way supporting the notion that the food I put into my body was more than something to immediately satisfy my palate and its various cravings.  That the food I consumed could determine not only of my own, but my children’s health on all levels (physical, emotional, even spiritual) completely escaped me up until that point.  A light went off (as I imagine it does for so many) when, while nursing my son, I realized that if I chose to eat something made primarily of "ingredients" that ended in "ide", "ate",  "ose", or frankly of anything more than 2 syllables, my son would be "nourished" by that same "stuff."  And regardless, something that requires that many "quotation marks" probably isn't ok.  So, I began to seek out whole, organic produce and protein sources for my family.  Through that experience, I realized something else: that the food we consume actually impacts the health and balance, not only of our own bodies, but of our local community, and even the larger world as well.  When we make choices to consume locally produced foods, in-season, we assure that our local food economy is sustainable.  When that happens in each community, sustainability becomes possible all around.  People are healthier, and happier as it turns out. 
The downside: organic produce and protein are expensive.  It is not something that everyone can do.  But it doesn't have to be all or nothing either.  Even making small choices makes a difference.  Puchasing locally produced, in-season produce intentionally, once a week, is a great start.  Planting your own garden is another.  Another great idea is to support a CSA. 
Starting this Summer, my synagogue will be the delivery sight for a CSA (Community Supported Agriculture) through Angelic Organics.  By purchasing “shares” of vegetables and/or fruits, local family organic farms harvest and then deliver organic fruits and veggies to be picked up. 
Supporting a CSA is a great idea because it helps provide local farmers a secure market and in turn, you receive tons of organic fruits and/or veggies in season and as fresh as they can be – literally from farm to you!  It is an easy and great way to support those who literally live off the land as well as get in tune with how, when and what the land actually provides. 
If you go to NSCI or live near it, join my family in this.  A half veggie share (meaning a box delivered to NSCI every other week from mid-June through October) costs only $340, which you can divide in two payments of $170 each.  Full veggie and fruit shares are also available, as are extended season shares.  To get started, just go to:
They'll even give you $20 off if you use coupon code NS20. 
If you don't live near NSCI, you can search local CSAs in your town on the internet or check out your local farmer's market.

You know, Passover also marks an ancient agricultural time for planting. It precedes the major harvest that occurs 7 weeks and 1 day later on Shavuot. Tomorrow or Saturday night, Passover will end. But the work of the land will just be beginning. Our ancestors travelled to Jerusalem on Passover and Shavuot to pray and give thanks for a bountiful harvest that would sustain them and the entire community for the coming season. Perhaps their ancient ways can inform our choices and actions today.