Thursday, March 26, 2015
Candlelighting time 6:55 PM
Torah Portion: Tzav – See Torah Sparks here
Mazal tov to Gail G. Trell as she celebrates a special birthday with us this Friday evening, and to Matthew Cohen and Jungmin Song, who will celebrate their ufruf here on Shabbat morning!
CATCHING UP ON SOME READING?
See recent Bar/Bat Mitzvah commentaries by Sarah Broder, Sam Teich and Hannah Bushell. And for your Pesach perusing pleasure. see the haggadah I created for last night’s interfaith seder, with theme of embracing the stranger. Lots of readings there that you can incorporate into your Seders. See also the Rabbinical Assembly Passover Guide for help in your preparations, and the extensive Passover offerings at My Jewish Learning, including articles, games, haggadot, you name it! And download the sale of hametz form and either bring it in or fax or scan to me before next Friday. In addition to selling your household leavened items, according to some rabbis, it is acceptable to “sell” your pets in order to be able to feed them non Passover pet food. So don’t forget to include Fido in the hametz sale.
LETTER FROM NETANYA
It’s always nice to hear from Jan Gaines in Netanya. This week she sent me
this dispatch, passionate as always, and a perspective we should hear and understand. You can read her letter here, along with my response.
LETTER FROM CHEROKEE
At last night’s Interfaith Seder, I quoted from a sermon given at a campus interfaith healing service by my son Dan (yes, like father, like son). Dan, who will graduate from American in May, recently spent a week at a Cherokee reservation in North Carolina. He took off from the verse in Leviticus calling on all of us to love our neighbors and then discussed how that week had changed him. With his permission, I share it here:
In this busy, hectic world, it is easy to go through a day just focused on yourself and what you need to accomplish. But have you ever taken some time to think outside the box you’re confined in and consider what else is going on around you? Have you ever looked around and thought about what the person next to you has to go through on a given day? Sure, you may have an exam you’re stressed about or a rigorous internship, but have you ever thought about the person sitting next to you on the Metro who may be disabled, or worried about how to afford a mortgage?
As children of God, it is not just a suggestion, but it is our responsibility to think about others. In Chapter 19 of the Book of Leviticus, God presents us with one of the fundamental commandments of Judaism. וְאָהַבְתָּ לְרֵעֲךָ כָּמוֹךָ, You shall your neighbor as yourself.
God doesn’t care about skin color. God doesn’t care about sexual orientation. God doesn’t care about gender. If you are a child of God, you are loved.
This past week, I went to Cherokee, NC for spring break. This was my first time going to a Native American reservation, and initially I thought I had a good idea of what I was getting myself into.
To my surprise, Cherokee, NC was not as unusual as I expected. There was poverty, undoubtedly, as well as an apparent sense of disdain toward Andrew Jackson and the white settlers who took their land and continue to disregard them. However, that was not the underlying thought I took out of this trip. My underlying thought was how normal these people were, and how much I could relate to them. Yes, these folks had distinctive Southern Christian identities, and I’m just a nice Jewish boy from Connecticut. But I was able to connect to them in ways I never expected. How could I have known that when going to an Indian reservation I would be able to talk about country music, fried chicken, and traveling? Even less so did I expect to meet a Native American about my age and discuss our mutual loves of pizza and Disney movies, two of my largest obsessions.
One of the most fulfilling aspects of this trip was how much I was able to learn about myself. I learned that I have a tendency to form judgments before meeting someone and truly immersing myself in an experience. In this case, all of these judgments turned out to be false. This experience taught me to be open-minded about new experiences, and to not judge a situation before you can understand it.
Going to the Cherokee boundary also taught me to appreciate the little things in life, because all things in life have value. One of the hymns we are using tonight, written by a Sioux Indian, proclaims to God, “All things belong to you -- the two-legged, the four-legged, the wings of the air, and all green things that live.” From this hymn, I was inspired by the idea of calling animals four-legged creatures and comparing them to humans. This notion creates the sense that all of God’s creatures are equal and special, and both humans and animals have valuable things to offer. This hymn does not only describe humans and animals, of course. By mentioning the “green things that live,” the hymn also emphasizes the valuable role nature plays in our lives. Indeed, we should all take it onto ourselves to recognize that every rock and tree and creature; has a life, has a spirit, has a name.
After spending a week living in such an isolated and inspiring community, it has been difficult to go back to reality. Now that I am no longer there, my mission is to take what I learned in Cherokee and become an advocate for this community and all ostracized communities in need of support.
We all know what it’s like to be a stranger in a new land. When I first arrived in Australia, I was in a completely new place knowing absolutely no one. If it wasn’t for the kindness of people I just met, I would have been totally lost and alone. In order to fulfill the wishes of God, we all must commit to giving kindness to all who need it and comfort those who are in need of care.
Soon approaching is the Jewish holiday of Passover. On this holiday, my people are commanded to relive the Exodus from Egypt. At the Seder table, Jewish families around the world will remember the harsh conditions of slavery and the joys of freedom. At this time especially, it is crucial to remember that there are many in the world who still feel those conditions and have yet to taste those joys.
We are so fortunate to be in a community that loves and accepts us for who we are. None of us need to change anything about ourselves to feel part of this community, or to be granted God’s grace. Let us hope and pray that such inclusion can someday be granted to all peoples, including the people of Cherokee, so God’s wish can truly become a reality.