Sunday, August 27, 2017

Blog Elul 5, 5777: Accept

In the musical, "You're a Good Man, Charlie Brown," based on the beloved "Peanuts" characters, Charlie Brown goes to visit Lucy in her "psychiatrist's booth."  He proceeds to list all of the things that are wrong with him, all of the things that bother him about life.  Of course, the ever-helpful Lucy is all too glad to help him expand on this list!

But after spending time knocking him down, Lucy helps to build Charlie Brown back up with one simple, but sweet statement: "You have the distinction to be no one else but the singular, remarkable, unique Charlie Brown..."

As we are in this season of self-reflection, it is natural to examine ourselves and perhaps find faults, or past behaviors of which we are not proud.  But the first step to living a good life, a life that both we and God can be pleased with, is self-acceptance.

May we each come to recognize and appreciate the innate goodness with which God has endowed us.  May we accept that we are who God created us to be.

...That'll be 5 cents, please.

Saturday, August 26, 2017

Blog Elul 4, 5777: Choose

Remember these books?

The Choose-Your-Own-Adventure series allowed (allows) readers to determine how the story would unfold for them.  The fate of the central character (whose shoes the reader fills) depends on the reader's decision, presented at the bottom of every page or two.

Judaism, in a sense, operates much like this series.  We are not prisoners of our fate.  Rather, we have the opportunity to grow, to evolve, to learn from past behaviors and to incorporate our reactions into new approaches to how we lead our lives.  The choices are in our hands-- how do we want our story to unfold this year?

Friday, August 25, 2017

Blog Elul 3, 5777: Prepare

When you make a recipe, you check to see if you have all the ingredients on hand.  You read through the instructions, set the oven temperature, and get out the pots, pans, bowls, or other equipment you'll need.

Getting oneself ready for the High Holidays requires the same amount of attention and preparation.  Do you have all the tools you need to be at your best?  Have you readied yourself physically and emotionally for these Days of Awe?

Thursday, August 24, 2017

Blog Elul 2, 5777: Search

My musical tastes sometimes encompass songs that some (uncharitably) might consider "cheesy."  An old favorite is this one:

But Judaism's theology offers a bit more complexity than Survivor's lyrics.  For us, the search is never over.  As long as we are making conscious efforts to be on the "proper path," then God has promised to meet us, and accept us back in love.  This is what the month of Elul promises us: the opportunity to make (or maintain) the search and do the necessary self-examination so that we may be the best we can possibly be.

Wednesday, August 23, 2017

Blog Elul 1, 5777: Act

Following the events of August 11-12, when white supremacist and neo-Nazi protestors marched in Charlottesville, VA, many organizations I support issued condemnations of these actions and criticisms of Donald Trump's response.
I am professionally affiliated with a number of these organizations; there are other groups who issued statements to whom I have no formal connection, though I support their ideals.  For groups that have thousands of members or constituents, such statements are undoubtedly important to "rally the troops" and assure them that such affronts to decency do not go unnoticed.  But many of the statements, as well crafted and strongly worded as they may be, merely sit as words.  Beyond the condemnation, a formal call to action may be lacking.
In the 1940s, the Union of American Hebrew Congregations (UAHC), the umbrella organization for Reform Jewish Congregations in the United States, hosted the "American Jewish Cavalcade," a series of tent meetings featuring rabbis such as Abba Hillel Silver and other orators of his ilk who spoke to Jewish and non-Jewish audiences in major cities about the tenets of Reform Judaism. It was apparently very successful in helping to double the number of movement congregations, and--most significantly-- in educating curious non-Jews about the Reform movement.
It seems to me that it is time for a new cavalcade.  Not to promote Reform Judaism (though that could be a side benefit) but to expose individuals to the ideas and ideals of people different from their own backgrounds.  A bus tour or the like could go into rural communities with the promise of an opportunity to meet Jews, Muslims, African-Americans, and others with whom the local citizenry had never had a chance to interact. Not for lectures or platitudes but for real relational conversations. I don't in any way mean to be an apologist for the vitriolic hate that is being espoused in Charlottesville and elsewhere, but how many of those folks joined up with those groups in the first place and swallowed their hogwash without ever having met a Jew or an African-American or a member of the LGBTQ community?
There are organizations and individuals who are already doing similar things.  For instance, click here for a great story about a jazz musician named Daryl Davis, who befriends Klan members and has convinced more than 200 to drop their affiliation. 
Condemnations and retweets and Facebook posts are all good (and sometimes, honestly, all that we have the time or energy for).  But if we ever want to see change come to our world, we must learn to ACT.  As the sages teach us, "It is not up to you to complete the task, but neither are you at liberty to abstain from it." (Pirke Avot 2:15)