Reflections from the Front Lines

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A year ago, the expected world contained a palette of possibility

Now the planet pulses and pounds against our indifference

Daily assaults on our sensibilities rattle our conscience

And taunt our deepest values as a nation and those

Forged in the near thirty years of our Mishkan Shalom’s communal foundry.

A year ago, many of us felt poised with hope and confidence in a new era of openness, caring and equity towards a more just and abundant society for all. We cheered that we had joined the global community to mitigate our ever-changing climate and deteriorating environment. However, different outcomes awaited us on the national and statewide scene.

But we have tools that help guide the way. Jewish values combined with our own  Statement of Principles, invite us to rise above cynicism or apathy and get involved in life with discernment, commitment and compassion, not despite our current circumstance, rather, even more so, because of them.

Hillel offered two millennia ago that, and I paraphrase, “it is not upon any one of us alone to handle every challenge our world faces, nor are we free to sit in the stands while the action plays out and our Jewish, and Human values and our democracy is tested.”

How do we move forward in the face of devastating natural disasters, hurricanes, unfettered gun violence, emotional and sexual manipulation of women by men in power, battering of our precious and fragile eco-systems, racial injustice towards people of color in particular, anti-Semitism, Islamophobia,  the continued oppression of Palestinians by an increasingly undemocratic Israeli Government, attacks on immigrants, refugees and those longing to build a life in this country as many of our own families did? The list seems endless and exhausting;indeed, how do we move forward?

How – we are already doing it. There are many powerful responses to recent and long-standing injustices that we have been participating in, especially since the new administration took control of the White House. You can click here to see the vast amount of opportunities available for engagement. We will not allow our core values and democratic ideals to be railroaded. As I said during the High Holy Days:

 Life's fragility

has perhaps never been more apparent

than in this moment.

Hear the silent longing we all hold-

Give voice- esa ayni- raise your eyes, claim a life-enhancing focus

Choose to love in the face of hate

Choose and not wait

You can live your life to be right

Or you can live your life to love.

One of my favorite exchanges of Yom Kippur occurred when our president, Ellen Tichenor (continued healing blessings your way, Ellen!), called out “…but I want to win!” in response to our discussion. I agreed, and in fact whatever cause, issue or program we are involved in- I want to win too. I did not drive in the wee hours to the airport over the last three years to bear witness to the struggle of airport workers to lose the fight for a bare living wage. And guess what? We DID win with thanks to a loving, enduring and strategic campaign

I have said, that ahavah or love in the Jewish tradition is not only a feeling of warmth, intimacy and connection. Love in the ancient Jewish and Rabbinic understanding means loyalty, follow-through, commitment, endurance, steadfastness, staying side by side for what is right, gathering those from the “four corners of the world” into our actions and hearts.  It’s what we do  with our tzitzit during the blessing of love in our liturgy that leads us into declaring Shma! - Pay Attention! - we are all One, part of the Whole of Life.

I want us to champion and transform ourselves, our city, country and world to get  a big soul-centered and planetary sustainable win! I am also vigilant about our tendency to justify collateral damage and make those who do not agree with us “other” “less-than” or “losers”.

As Rabbi Yael and I stated on the first morning of Rosh Hashana, and as Rabbis Mordechai Liebling and Nancy Fuchs Kramer echoed, we must keep our eyes and focus on what sustains our life, our alive-ness.

This New Year urges us to expand our vision and focus our energy and attention on the life of our planet, communities, our Mishkan, and own souls. We will reach for clarity and insight, so we can engage more fully with the expanse of life’s choices, blessings and challenges in clear, true and accountable ways.

And so how will each of us remain open and unprepared while being diligent, focused and passionately committed to what is life-enhancing?

We can become a hand to direct someone

to a fountain of support,

a comforting glance or embrace,

a knowing wordless look

that speaks volumes of tenderness.

We may struggle to cry out,

Yet let us find purpose in our outrage and compassion,

and let us not be consumed.


We are the blessings waiting

to be shared with each other in these days to come.

May the Source

that is Life itself,

be our guide to keep our focus

on what is life-sustaining and generating- this is the moment we were made for

And we are a sacred community among communities

in which we can rise together!

I look forward to continuing the dialogue as we study, pray, celebrate, eat and organize together in the year and years under the banner of spiritual activism and loving justice. Keyn Yehi- Let It Be!

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