Israel 2020

Tom O’Brien and I are excited to invite you to join us on an interfaith Israel experience that we will lead in late April 2020.  

We have worked hard to make it inclusive for those of you who have never been to Israel before and diverse for those of you who are returning for another time. 

Our lens is the faith and life of Jesus and his followers and the traditions and culture of Judaism and the Jewish people.  We will see Israel as a thriving modern country struggling with its multi-cultural identity and as a place where history and stories of miracles and Biblical heroes merge. 

We will not forget the food, the wine, the art and the beauty of Israel as well.

Our dates are April 18-30, 2020.

We have lots of information and particulars – just email me at hshapiro23@me.com – We would love you to join us.

Howard in orange jacket not walking on water: Sea of Galilee

Tom (carrying blue jacket) with Howard: Western Wall

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A Ball Drops

A Ball Drops

The end of year’s New York Times magazine section is my favorite. Since 1996, it has been dedicated to “The Lives They Lived”, people of some fame whose lives impacted the world they colored and enhanced. They choose an interesting mix of people. Some famous; some people who struggle through life with ups and downs, successes and failures, repeated attempts to resolve something unfinished in their lives. Always striving these are people of accomplishments but not necessarily the kind that leads to the fame or fortune we expect of front-page New York Times obituaries.

Among the people I am drawn to is Sylvain Bromberger. In 1940, a 15 year old Belgian Jew, he and his family were granted visas to travel to Portugal by the then unknown Portuguese consul general named Aristides de Sousa Mendes. Mendes defied the Portuguese’s government’s directive and saved tens of thousands of refugees fleeing Hitler. Severely reprimanded by his government Mendes died in poverty and disgrace in 1954. Over the course of his life as a professor at MIT and a philosopher of science, Bromberger wanted to know “why”. Why was his family saved? Why is the earth’s circumference 24,901 miles? Why questions he teaches us uncover the hidden and reveal the unknown, link what is seemingly unconnected. Bromberger dedicated one of his books to Mendes.

The people remembered don’t live perfect lives. Who does? But somehow their accomplishments are tied to their challenges; their successes are bound up with their defeats. One thing they all teach me: there are so many ways to make a difference. These people take the raw material we call living, shaping and fabricating it into a story only they can tell. Well that’s not 100% true. Sometimes the raw material of life formats them. And the plot is not always pretty.

When I was a young rabbinic student I remember taking inspiration from a traditional source and writing: “Everyone is born unique into this world; every soul is sacred.” I still believe that. We all have a purpose whether divinely ordained or a combination of genetic material modified by our environment, or both.

Anne V. Coates was a film editor. She won an Oscar for “Lawrence of Arabia”, discerning through her art that Peter O Toole’s blue eyes are an oasis in the desert and the Arabian sun is as much a star as Omar Sharif. She worked through more than than 30 miles of footage. Her genius was finding the right cut and freezing it into eternity.

There is a reason we are alive. Tonight a ball drops in Times Square at midnight. It will finish its descent with the numbers 2019. Sylvain Bromberger would ask us to find time this year with why questions that would help us discover the hidden arc of our lives. Anne Coates invites us to run the footage of however many years we have lived and find the clip worthy of an Oscar. Not melancholy but celebration. Not disappointment but enchantment. Not sadness but joy. Each of us is on a journey towards infinity. The lives we live are the most precious gift the universe bestows.

Turning the Clocks Back

Fall BackLast night we turned the clocks back an hour. And people celebrate with an extra hour of sleep. I am not that lucky. I am up early every morning no matter what time I went to bed or what time the clock says. So I did what I love to do on Sunday mornings – put on some music and read the Sunday Times. The music I choose often depends on my mood but it has to be readable. Today I chose my Vietnam era music playlist.

It probably has something to do with the image of an African American Pastor from Emanuel Church in Charleston, SC and the Tree of Life Synagogue’s Rabbi standing face to face, arm in arm, in the three-column picture on the front page of the paper. But the music did not resonate. I picked two other playlists and then resigned myself to the one I call “folk music I like”. It has a lot of Simon and Garfunkel. You know: “Hello darkness … Where have you gone Joe DiMaggio … Like a bridge over troubled waters …”

I haven’t finished the paper yet but I have seen at least three articles on anti-Semitism and two full-page ads. The ADL leads with “Never Again. Never is now,” while an article not very far from it asks: “Is It Safe to Be Jewish in New York?” So I hate to say this and I hate to think this but I ask, what is turning back in America? It isn’t just the clocks. It is the sense of complacency and comfort that it can’t happen here. I used to say: America is different. America is an experiment in understanding. America is one of the only countries where there has never been a pogrom.

Technically that is probably still true. (A pogrom is usually associated with an organized or government sponsored massacre.) But a massacre this was and I believe that some responsibility lies with how much vicious hate rhetoric spews out of the head of our government. The clock is teaching. We are falling back into racial and religious divides. We are falling back into anti-immigrant rifts. We are falling back into the rule of violence and we better wake up. It can happen here. It did happen here. The question is what do we do about it.

By not being complacent.

By being aware.

By examining ourselves and our unspoken prejudices.

By forging alliances.

By breaking down walls.

By breaking the silence.

By talking about it.

By calling out hatred and prejudice whenever we see it or hear it.

By calling our elected officials to task.

By exercising our sacred civic duties and getting involved.

By not taking anything for granted – neither our faith, our freedom or our future.

 

Don’t Let Apathy Win

post_standtog_vigil_1220x838This is not a criticism; this is not judgmental. This is me just saying the truth that is in my heart.

So many of us are posting Facebook pictures of different stripes and colors that all share a similar message – we are proud Jews; we are one with the Jewish people; we stand against anti-Semitism; we grieve with the martyrs of Tree of Life Synagogue; we thank the First Responders and honor them for their bravery. We change our cover pictures. We put up Stars of David that say how proud we are and sad we are and how much we need to vote. (And that includes me.)

And it is all-good.

I mean that.

But it is not enough. Tonight I am attending an Interfaith Vigil at Temple Beth Am in Jupiter. If that is too far from your house or place of work our Jewish Federation and community is offering another one at Temple Shaarey Shalom in Boynton Beach. They both take place at the same time: Tuesday, October 30th from 6:00 – 7:00 PM.

I am going because I believe we need to be together. I am going because I believe we need to be in a Synagogue even if we don’t believe. I am going because I believe I need to stand with my non-Jewish neighbors and say with my body and my presence:

There is no place for hatred in this America.

There is no place for racism.

There is no place for homophobia.

There is no place for xenophobia.

Muslims are welcome here. Jews are welcome here. Christians are welcome here. “This land is OUR land…”

And I could go on. Facebook and Instagram posts are good. But they don’t take the place of face-to-face, shoulder-to-shoulder, hand-to-hand meetings.

All this: Find the right place for you and go. Meet me at Beth Am tonight.

Don’t let the haters define our country. Don’t let apathy win. We know what happens when good people stand idly by and believe it can’t happen here.

History teaches. Are we listening?

 

 

The Painting on the Wall – VOTE

Version 2We came to Gerona to walk the old city and visit one of the most intact of the Jewish ghettos in Europe. But it is the painting on the wall outside of the bridge that leads to the enclosed city that welcomed me and highlighted my visit.

The ghetto dates from the 12th century and you can see narrow streets, the last Rabbi’s house, a few stones with indentations for mezuzot, a Jewish museum and bookstore but no Jews. That is much of the story of Jewish sites in Spain and Portugal. (Although we did meet the Chabad Rabbi of Gerona – a different blog, a different time).

In the 12th Century, Gerona housed one of the most important schools of Kabbalah in all of Europe and one of the most renowned Rabbis of Gerona was Nahmanides or the RAMBAN. He was an author, philosopher, kabbalist, scholar, activist. One slice of his life: Called in July of 1264 by King James (Not the Bible one) to debate with the apostate, Pablo Christiani whether Jesus was the messiah or not in what is called the “Disputation of Barcelona”, Nahmanides was awarded 300 gold Dinar by the King who proclaimed it the “best defense of an unjust cause”. King James had promised Nahmanides freedom of speech but the Dominicans disagreed and initiated legal proceedings against him for abuses against Christianity. Even though the King extricated him from the pending trial, Nahmanides left for Jerusalem a few years later. It was there that he wrote his famous letter to his son, which also brings me back to the painting on the wall.

The painting has everything to do with voting and the Catalonian referendum on independence from Spain. But for me, it was a call to arms and a call to speaking out and an echo bouncing off the centuries. I don’t know what Nahmanides knew about his son but his letter talks about humility, distancing yourself from anger, and greeting each person with kindness and respect. Its language is not my style but as I filled out my ballot this morning, his words reverberated in my pen. It was so easy to let my frustration and anger at the politics of deceit and deception color the broken lines I had to complete in order to indicate my choices. And I knew that this was not the way for change to happen.

I needed to vote and you need to vote and your friends and neighbors need to vote. But we also need to lower the rhetoric, speak softer, allow for differences, greet even the people we disagree with gently. Listen to how Nahmanides  ethical challenge begins: “Get into the habit of always speaking calmly to everyone. This will prevent you from anger ….” There is too much anger; there is too much rhetoric. We need to find a way to disagree effectively and it is hard – Nahmanides knew it was hard – he told his son to read the letter weekly.

One of the ways is to vote.

Written the first day of early voting, Florida October 22nd 2018.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

America Is Calling

IMG_5774I shouldn’t be even starting this till my High Holy Day sermon is done, but the New Year is beginning with so much drama and so much mystery and I haven’t written in such a long time that there is no stopping this from just flowing out as my fingers do the talking.

I’m amazed. If you follow the news, we probably all are. I feel bombarded. Every minute a new revelation and a new tweet; every day we just stare at the TV with our mouths open. I have a series of questions, none of them so profound that you haven’t heard them already. But I ask with the rest of the country who wrote the anonymous Op Ed piece in the Times? Is it true? Should we be worried? Will the White House demand lie detector tests? Is the spirit of Watergate coming back to haunt us? Will the American people care? Is all of this chipping away at the President’s base or do people get inured to 24/7 “breaking news” and say “a pox on all their houses”. Will they just not be concerned about what happens in the White House or will they say – enough: I’m living my life for my family and me.

I can certainly understand the frustration. But this is not about partisan politics. This is not about one side of the aisle verses the other. This is about honesty and decency; this is about American values; this is about the Mitzvah of doing and acting; this is about believing you can make a difference. This is about the words John McCain told his supporters and the country as he ended his Presidential aspirations with a truly inspiring concession speech.

And I call on all Americans, as I have often in this campaign, to not despair of our present difficulties but to believe always in the promise and greatness of America, because nothing is inevitable here.  Americans never quit. We never surrender. We never hide from history. We make history.”

Those words are New Year words. Those words are a celebration of our individual and collective power. Those words are worthy of prayer status. To believe that you matter is faith. To believe that the New Year is filled with promise and potential is what Rosh Hashanah is all about. The Shofar is about to proclaim: Rise and Awake. The future belongs to you. We make our own history; we shape tomorrow.

Shana Tova – A Good Year, sweet and true.

 

 

 

 

Blue Grass

bluegrass

We were at a blue grass concert the other night in an outdoor venue. It was one of those Western North Carolina evenings with thunderstorms popping up and dissipating as the night air began to cool everything down. The Steep Canyon Rangers were playing with a full orchestra behind them, great evening, great music.

The fireflies were out, hovering two rows in front of me. I first thought it was a floater. (An age related change in your eyes that causes shadows that glide in front of your vision.) I only have one. (So far, my Ophthalmologists tells me.) At first I saw it maneuvering in and out of my vision constantly. But like almost everything, you get used to it. (Except of course now as I think and write about it.)

They flashed independent of the music. They created sparks of light, softly and chaotically announcing there was more there than there was there. It was the evening after the Supreme Court announced that the administration’s travel ban on Muslims was constitutional. The banjo is quarreling with the violin. Their dueling creates a vibrant sense of contentious harmony. It is wondrous; it is beautiful. More fireflies find their way into my field of vision. I feel they are speaking a truth to me about my country and its future and I am concerned.

It isn’t that I disagree with every policy. It is that I hate the triumphalism and the language and the promises that all of this is going to solve all our problems. Keep them out; Build a Wall; Ship them back immediately – no recourse to judges or courts. We don’t have enough judges anyway: Where will we get them, from the barbershops?

Which brings me back to harmony. The mandolin and the bass each sing their own variations of the melody. But there is one song; there is one vision; there is one united presentation. And the differences between them are celebratory. You can feel the strength that is building as they each tell their own story and interpret the anthem in their own unique way. I don’t get that with this government. I don’t sense that from the way our leaders situate their personal beliefs and/or their political positions. It is as if everyone is playing his or her own song and no one is looking out for the band.

The fireflies are still doing their thing. I’m a symbolic thinker. Are they going on or are they flickering off? And what about the lamp beside the golden door? Perilous times.