Thursday, October 5, 2017

It's Not the Time to Talk About Guns

If you're at all familiar with me or my writing, you know that the proliferation of gun violence in our country is a major concern of mine.

In the wake of mass shootings such as the horrific attack in Las Vegas earlier this week, the NRA and many politicians (most of whom have pockets lined by the NRA) trot out the same sound bite over and over again: "Now is not the time to talk about reforming gun control laws."  "It would be disrespectful to the memory of the victims to politicize their deaths by having this conversation now."

As I process my manifold emotions that arise as more details about the shooting come to light, I;ve thought long and hard about this...
You know what?
They're absolutely right.

Yep, I'll admit it.  As much as I have come to loathe the NRA and many pro-gun politicians over the years, I have to concede.  They're right.  This is not the time for conversation about reforming our nation's gun laws.

That time for conversation isn't coming tomorrow.  Or next week.  Or next month.

That time is long past.

We should have had that conversation after Columbine.  After Newtown.  After Gabby Giffords.  After Aurora.  After Charleston.  After the congressional baseball game.  After any of the 273 mass shootings that took place in this country within the first 275 days of 2017.  After any of the shootings that have taken place since 1968- a number that has resulted in more American casualties than the combined battlefield deaths in all American conflicts since the founding of our nation.

There have been ample opportunities to have that conversation.  But each time, politicians under the sway of the NRA and its money/lobbying machine have prevented the conversation from ever getting off the ground.  Thanks to NRA lobbying, the CDC can't even research gun deaths as a health epidemic, which they quite clearly are, or collect any statistical data on the subject.

In Pirke Avot, "The Ethics of the Fathers," a section of the Mishnah containing brief words of wisdom from rabbinic sages, Shimon ben Gamliel teaches, "לא המדרש עקר אלא המעשה- lo ha-midrash ikar eleh ha-ma'aseh: the discussion is not the central focus; rather, the action is."

So enough waiting for the conversation.  Let's take action.  Here are a few suggestions; undoubtedly there are other things that can be done that will be equally impactful:

- Withhold votes from those who accept money from the NRA.  I'm not completely anti-gun.  I personally believe that there are steps that can be taken to ensure responsible gun ownership by private citizens.  But the NRA has steadily transformed itself from a group advocating on behalf of gun enthusiasts to a group that has lost all sense of logic and decency and has steadfastly opposed even the merest hint of dialogue on any meaningful reform.  So long as they continue to fund politicians, said politicians will put their financial self-interest over the interest and safety of their constituents.

- Offer financial support to advocacy groups such as the Brady Campaign to Prevent Gun Violence or Everytown for Gun Safety.

- Encourage your local law enforcement officials to participate in this campaign by the advocacy group Do Not Stand Idly By.  Law enforcement buys about 15% of the guns purchased in America; the military buys about 25%.  If these groups would commit to requiring certain safety standards from the gun manufacturers from whom they purchase, then this buying power could be used to have a major impact on the way guns are manufactured and sold in our country.

- Refuse to shop at sporting goods retailers that fetishize guns their advertising and/or derive a majority of their income from firearm sales.

- Support retailers who prohibit firearms on their premises.  Pro-gun groups have tried to organize boycotts of such businesses.  It is important for Americans who want sensible approaches to firearm safety to patronize these businesses and let management know that we support their decision to keep their establishments gun-free.

- Be that parent.  If your child is playing in a household where there may be a firearm, have the conversation with the hosting adult and make certain that the guns are fully secured.

Conversation and action aren't going to take place at the legislative level.  That's been made clear far too often.  Those of us who believe the time for change is far overdue must work at the grassroots level to make our voices heard.  We must make clear that we've had enough-- that the time for action is now.

Monday, October 2, 2017

Rob Ore: Yom Kippur 5778

Yom Kippur 5778

Following our services on Rosh Hashanah, nine people said they liked my speech, and one person said it was too long.  Being a scientist, I wanted to take an empirical approach in preparing my remarks for today, so I decided to shorten it by 10%.

For those of you who don’t know me, I am Rob Ore, President of Sinai Temple, and I’d like to welcome you all on behalf of the Sinai Board of Trustees to our special service today in honor of Yom Kippur, the holiest day in the Jewish calendar.  Let me begin by thanking our many participants in the services this morning and throughout the day.  Rabbi Alan, thank you for your thoughtful sermon; Jennifer Seeger, our guest Cantor, thank you for leading us in song; Larisa Chasanov, our pianist and Larry Adelston, our guitarist; Martha Alwes, our Music Director; all those who have read and will read later today; all those who have helped set up the sanctuary for the service; those who have ushered; and those who have prepared the break-the-fast we’ll enjoy later today.  We appreciate everyone.
I spoke last week of how we draw lines in our life between ourselves and others, and I suggested an experiment we could all participate in this week.  Briefly, when we encounter others in our daily life, how are we viewing them?  Are we judging them based on how they don’t measure up to the way we would like them to be?  Are we focusing on how they differ from our image of them?  What if we could turn that around and look for things we have in common instead?  That was the simple experiment.

If you performed this experiment yourself, how did it turn out?  What did you learn?  I learned how quickly I judge people based on appearance, and how important appearances are to me.  Even more, I noticed how much easier it is to see what I don’t like about the person, how quickly I close my circle to exclude them, if I don’t agree with what they say or how they act. 

I tried looking a little deeper to discover just one thing the other person embodies that I respect.  It’s not hard to find something.  Did you know that we humans share 60% of the DNA of the common fruit fly, 80% of the DNA of a cow, and 98.4% of the DNA of a chimpanzee?  And, of course, the difference in DNA between any two people is very small indeed.  So, biologically, we’re almost identical.  Why do the other differences seem so important to us that they obscure the considerable number of things we have in common?

So, assuming I can find something about the other person I respect, the hard work is bringing that respect to the front, when what I really want to do is criticize them.  Criticism feels good in the moment, but it doesn’t do us or the other person any good in the long run.  In fact, it can do considerable harm.  Look at what is playing out on the world stage if you have any doubts about the dangers of criticism.

What I’d like to talk about today is thresholds.  We as people create many thresholds in our lives.  You might call them our comfort levels.  They help us figure out what we’re comfortable with in our interactions with other people and the world.  In simple terms, what are we able to tolerate before we are moved to act?

I know this has been a difficult year for many of us, because of what is happening in our country and the world.  What tips the scale for us?  When do we say enough is enough?  And how do we decide what action on our part is appropriate?  Everybody has his or her own threshold and comfort level.  And these thresholds are dynamic:  They change with time and experience.

For the Temple, what is your threshold?  What could you live without?  If you see a need in our community, what does it take for you to get involved?  Our community at Sinai Temple depends on each of us pulling together to make the whole greater than the sum of its parts.  Whether that means a financial commitment and/or a commitment of time and energy, the Temple needs you.

Last year, we came together on a Sunday afternoon as a group to brainstorm a vision of how our physical space might be improved.  In response to your suggestions and the realities of our needs for the future, we selected Ratio Design Associates, a local firm of architects, to help us visualize the possibilities.  The initial result is depicted in the display showing in the lobby.  This display is intended to solicit further comment.  Take a moment to look at the slide show and let us know your feelings.  Whatever design ends up being chosen by the community, it will require a financial commitment on the part of our membership above and beyond our annual dues.  The amount we need to raise will depend on the scale of the project.  We hope to present a capital campaign to the congregation in the coming year to help realize this dream and ensure that Sinai Temple will continue to thrive and support the needs of our children and grandchildren well into the future.  Our current building has been in use for about 45 years.  What will it take for it to be here for another 45 years?

As for time and energy, we need everyone’s help to make this the community it deserves to be.  I urge you to get involved.  I would love to talk with you individually about ways you can be a part of our community effort.  You may not believe this, but giving your time and energy to the Temple can actually energize you further!  Service can be inspiring and broadening.  Give yourself the chance to experience it!

When I agreed to be Vice President two years ago, knowing that I would be standing before you here today as President of the Temple, looking forward to at least four more years of service on the Board stretching out before me, I entertained some doubt as to my sanity.  I don’t anymore.  The surprise of it all is that I’m beginning not only to settle into my new role but even to enjoy it.  Often it is the things we dread the most that end up giving us the greatest satisfaction.  While I am still learning how to do this job (and I will be all the way up to May 31, 2019, when I turn over the gavel to Jake Sosnoff), I am already feeling the benefit of taking it on.  My life is richer for the experience.

I encourage you to take yourself out of your comfort zone.  Who, at the end of their life, ever says, “Boy, I wish I had spent more time sleeping and not been so busy!”  Nobody!  What brings joy in life is getting involved, and the Temple affords many opportunities of doing so.

As a matter of fact, you can start tomorrow!  We’ll be putting together, under the direction of Tony Soskin, our Temple sukkah just north of the Davis Chapel.  Come help us begin the next phase of our holiday season!  I mentioned some other holiday events coming up in the next week or two in my article in the monthly newsletter coming out this week.  I hope you can join us for them as well!

I’ll leave you with a bit of mysticism from the numerological art of gematria.  This is year 5778 in the Hebrew calendar.  This turns out to be an interesting number, equal to the product of 18 (chai, or Life) and 321.  Now, the number 321 can mean many things in gematria.  Since 321 = 40 + 200 + 80 + 1, one possible combination is Marpei, from mem, resh, pei and aleph, meaning “healing or refreshing of the body and mind.”  So, taking this altogether, may this New Year, 5778, bring us a healing and refreshing of our life!

I wish you all Shana Tova and Tzom Qal, a happy New Year and an Easy but Meaningful Fast.  And, of course, Shabbat Shalom!

Rob Ore: Rosh Hashanah 5778

Rosh Hashanah 5778

Good Morning, and shana tova!  First, I would like to thank you all for coming to our service this morning.  I am Rob Ore, the President of Sinai Temple, and, on behalf of the Sinai Board of Trustees, welcome!  I’d like to thank Rabbi Alan for his thoughtful sermon, our guest Cantor, Jennifer Seeger, for leading us in song, Larisa Chasanov, our pianist this morning, Larry Adelston, our guitarist, and our Music Director, Martha Alwes.  Thank you to all who have participated in the service this morning, whether reading, ushering or joining in the singing and prayers.  It is truly a community effort.  And, finally, thanks to everyone who worked so hard setting up the sanctuary and pods last Sunday.

So, to begin my speech, I have two questions.

What are you?  What are you not?  These are questions all people need to ask themselves.  Where does each of us draw the line between ourselves and others?

This question has many answers in many contexts, because each of us belongs to many categories.  In one sense, each of us is entirely unique and so the rest of the universe is “other.”  In another sense, we are all the same, a part of God’s creation, indivisible and indistinguishable from the rest, so there is no “other.”

Think about where you draw lines in your life.  There are lines of species, of race, family, religion, gender, ethnicity, and citizenship.  These are just the most obvious ones.  The more you begin to consider this question, the more categories and lines you discover.  For example, if you are a Jew, you probably also identify with one or another subcategory of Jews, like Reform, Conservative or Orthodox, and each of these has further subdivisions.  If you are an American, you probably also identify with a given region, dialect, political party or philosophy.  Human beings are multidimensional Venn diagrams.

We Jews have a special relationship with God as set out in the Torah.  This gives us special privileges and special responsibilities.  During this season, we are called upon to examine our relationship both with our Creator and with our fellow creatures.

The Days of Awe are our opportunity to examine where we fit in in all these hierarchies and categories and to examine whether our behavior this past year is consistent with who we are as people, as members of our communities and as children of God.  Are we living as our moral laws direct us, or are we letting our own self-interest and ego dictate how we relate to God and Humanity?

In the book of Devarim (Deuteronomy) we are exhorted to treat the stranger as ourselves, to afford him the same rights and kindnesses we give to our own people.  That challenges us to learn to see ourselves in the stranger, to try as much as possible to erase the line between us.  There lies a closer connection with God.

In all the categories in which we place ourselves, we define self and other.  When we see an injustice perpetrated on someone, what is our threshold for tolerating that injustice?  Does it depend on how much we identify with the other person?  For most of us, if something happens to a member of our family, we are more willing to help than if the same thing happened to a stranger.  If I consider you to be inside my circle, I am more apt to empathize with your situation and react to adversity in your life than if I consider you to be an outsider.

This is not wrong.  If we all had the capacity to cure all evils of society and help all people, then doing so selectively based on self-interest would be unconscionable, but we as humans are limited in our resources and abilities.  We need to make choices in our lives.  The question is, how do we navigate this difficult landscape of self and other in order to do as much as we should without doing more than we can?

I want to suggest an experiment to you.  In the next week, notice how you think about people you meet.  Is your first reaction a judgment of how they don’t measure up to how you want them to be?  Are you focused on how they differ from you?  If so, try focusing instead on what you have in common with them.  When I do this experiment myself, I find that my circle expands, and I begin to treat other people with more courtesy and understanding.  See what happens for you!

Our spiritual calendar is based on the cycle of Torah, which begins each year with creation.  In a sense, our lives are recreated and re-energized each year at this season.  How horrible it would be if we were doomed to continue our lives unchanged year after year.  This renewal allows us to break the bad habits and routines we’ve fallen into over the year and remake our lives.  Of course, part of this process is recognizing our habits.  This is what we do symbolically when we confess our sins.  We ask God to forgive us for our transgressions and accept our promise to return to righteousness.  We ask that we be given this chance to reform, so that we may be written for good in the Book of Life.

Our Temple calendar is based on the same cycle.  That is why we ask people at this season of the year to reconsider their relationship with—and their commitment to—their Temple family.  Nothing in life is static and unchanging.  Our circumstances change and so do all our relationships, including our relationship with the Temple.  For this reason, it is necessary to update our commitments every year, to determine what makes sense for us. 

The Temple, as a living entity, is also not static.  Our congregation is constantly changing.  People’s lives bring them to our community, and they look to our Temple for a spiritual home.  Particularly in a university community like Champaign-Urbana, people sometimes leave to pursue opportunities elsewhere.  And, unfortunately, people also die.  The Temple must be able to adjust to these comings and goings and provide what its membership needs.

We ask that you, as a member of the Temple, consider how the Temple and its members fit into your life.  How does the Temple serve your family’s needs, and what are you doing to make sure it continues to be a vital part of the life of this community?  The Temple affords many opportunities for service.  I’d like to mention just a few.

Of course, what would a President’s Rosh Hashanah speech be without a plea for financial support?  The Temple does need money to support its many activities.  I think our current model of membership dues accords perfectly with the season of Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur, and it is entirely reasonable to take up this inquiry now.  We do not ask members to pay fixed dues.  Rather, we ask that you determine what contributions make sense given your personal situation.  This is akin to the work we do in placing our life and conduct under a magnifying glass during the Holiday season.  And this is something we all need to do at this season each year, because our circumstances are continually changing.  It is part of the stock-taking of our lives.

But more than just the financial, the Temple needs commitment of service from its members.  This includes working on committees, joining the Board, volunteering for events, etc.  There is no better way of connecting with others than joining together to accomplish a common goal.

In exploring your relationship with other people this week, why not also re-evaluate your relationship with the Temple?  Is the Temple inside or outside your circle?  And what about your relationship with yourself?  Is the way you view yourself and your abilities a reflection of reality or of habit?

At each stage of life, we have different strengths, abilities and capacities.  What is appropriate for you may not be so for anyone else.  By the same token, what is appropriate for you now may not depend on what you have felt capable of in the past.  We all grow and mature.  Service to the Temple is a chance to develop skills you might not be aware you possess.  And without making the effort, you may never know.  After all, I never imagined I would be standing before you as President of the Temple, but here I am!  To paraphrase Star Trek’s Guardian of Forever, “Many such journeys are possible!  Let the Temple be your gateway!”

May we all enjoy a happy, healthy and productive New Year!

Shana Tova!

Yom Kippur 5778: The God Survey

The God Survey
Rabbi Alan Cook
Sinai Temple, Champaign, Illinois
Yom Kippur morning 5778
September 30, 2017

An article online recently chronicled the demise of the fifty-year-old Dictionary of American Regional English, or DARE.  The work, now up to six volumes, was the brainchild of University of Wisconsin professor Frederick Cassidy beginning in 1962.  Over the last half-century, DARE engaged in fieldwork to chronicle new regional words and safeguard local words and phrases whose usage is dwindling.  But funding has run out for this wide-reaching project, which chronicled non-regional slang words and colloquialisms, and preserved regionalisms and dialectic differences throughout America.[1]  We run the risk that future generations will not be able to identify a “bizmaroon” or “doodinkus,” or know what it means to “acknowledge the corn.”[2]

It’s a natural part of human evolution that we continually find new ways to express ourselves, particularly in relation to complex concepts and amorphous ideas.  This is particularly evident when we begin to talk about God.  It is rare that one finds two individuals who have precisely the same conception of Who or What the divine is.  Even the great sage Maimonides taught that one cannot accurately define God from positive attributes; we can only state with certainty what God is not.[3]  No two experiences are the same.  Your mileage may vary.  Certainly, part of the beauty of progressive Jewish thought is that we are expressly given permission to determine for ourselves what our relationship with God will be, and to what degree a spiritual connection will play a role in our lives.

Over the past month, I invited Sinai Temple members to participate in “The God Survey.”  This enterprise was based on work done by Rabbi Mark Dov Shapiro at another Sinai Temple—in Springfield, Massachusetts.  Rabbi Shapiro designed a number of questions to help his congregation explore their individual connections to God or a God-concept.  Later, Rabbi Shapiro published a book about his findings, and Reform Judaism magazine shared excerpts of the questionnaire, inviting responses from across the movement.[4]  The survey we conducted here was adapted from those earlier questions.  Nearly sixty individuals responded—not a bad response rate considering the limited time that the questions were accessible.  That’s approximately ten percent of the congregation.  Respondents ranged widely across the various ages represented within our congregation.  About seventy percent of those who participated were born Jewish, while thirty percent came to Judaism later in life.

An old joke claims that if you ask a question of two Jews, you’ll receive three opinions.  So it comes as little surprise that the answers to the survey were wide-ranging.  But more than 86% indicated that they spend some time wondering about God, and 90% indicated that they felt close to God at times.[5]

To a large degree, our feelings about God are very personal, shaped by our experiences in life and our understanding of the world in which we live.  The poet Langston Hughes wrote:

In an envelope marked:
God addressed me a letter. 
In an envelope marked:
I have given my answer. [6]

In this short poem, Hughes states what many participants in the survey also sought to convey: that a relationship with God is inherently individualized.  Still, within the survey, some general trends emerged.

Those who completed the survey were asked to choose from a number of options indicating times when they have felt close to God.  By far, the most popular selection was, “When I have been outdoors and experienced nature’s wonders.”  Many people also found a close connection to God during worship, with nearly half of respondents indicating that they felt God’s presence during High Holiday and Shabbat services.  Others indicated that the heightened emotion of life cycle events helped them to find a sense of God’s nearness.  A handful also indicated that they occasionally felt distant from God— such as when viewing the current state of the world, or when helping a friend or loved one navigate through illness or setbacks.

More than half of the participants agreed that God exists and is present in nature.  By a wide margin, participants also feel that God directs us to engage with the world by feeding the hungry, nurturing the sick, and engaging in deeds of justice.

Our Torah portion for this afternoon, from the Book of Leviticus, contains the so-called “Holiness Code.”  In it, we are challenged, “kedoshim t’hiyu, ki kadosh Ani Adonai Eloheichem.—be holy, for I, Adonai your God, am Holy.”[7]  In order to strive toward fulfillment of this sacred call, we must understand what it truly means to be holy, to live in emulation of God.  The responses to the survey suggest that many of us are taking the time to think about what such an endeavor entails.  Yet it is clear that some questions remain.

I often wonder if the grass is greener in other religious traditions.  When I interact with my Christian colleagues I marvel at the ease with which they can share their faith convictions.  Remember those “WWJD” (What Would Jesus Do?) bracelets and bumper stickers from a few years back?  At least superficially, it would seem that they and their parishoners know exactly where to turn, exactly what is expected of them anytime they have an ethical or theological conundrum.  I am aware that I’m likely oversimplifying, and of course, throughout our history, we Jews have embraced the idea of poking and prodding at the mysteries of the universe.  We are Israel, those who are willing to wrestle with God, and so inquisitiveness is part of our birthright.

In the open response section of the survey, there were many fabulous statements and questions.  The responses were so heartfelt and insightful that they just may have given me sermon fodder for the next twenty-five years!  Here are some of the questions that were recorded:

Do You listen at all?

What could we do to further support Your presence?

How do I handle it when bad things happen to good people?

How should I live my life better?

Should we proselytize?

Where were You during the Shoah?
Where is the reset button for the universe?

What happens when we die and why is it such a mystery?

Why is the sky blue?

While I certainly don’t claim to have the definitive answers to any of these questions, I think they are worth exploring.  I’ll begin to address possible answers to some of these in our weekly email blasts.  As Rabbi Abraham Joshua Heschel taught, “We are closer to God when we are asking questions than when we think we have all the answers.”[8]  If we desire to heed the call of the Holiness Code, to lead holy lives in imitation of God’s holiness, then we should be exploring these sorts of questions.

Significant numbers of respondents to the survey agreed that evil exists in the world and that innocent people suffer without explanation—not because of God’s presence in the universe, but despite it.  This theological conundrum, known as the question of theodicy, which I spoke about a bit on Rosh Hashanah, has long dominated religious conversation.  Addressing this dilemma is an important aspect of responding to the call of the holiness code.

We know that God did not create water crises in Flint, Michigan and in Puerto Rico.  Human beings did that.

We know that God did not attempt to remove health care protections from millions of American citizens.  Human beings did that.

We know that God did not create the nuclear weapons with which a belligerent North Korea is threatening the world.  Human beings did that.

We know that God did not manufacture the guns used to terrorize Congresspersons at a baseball game, or students at school, or worshippers at church.  Human beings did that.

We know that God was not the founder of the Ku Klux Klan, Stormfront, or any of the other fascist groups that have fomented racism and white supremacy within our country and throughout the world.  Human beings did that.

And because humans bear the responsibility for creating these problems within our world, it’s up to us to seek solutions.  As my colleague, Rabbi Michael Latz has noted, “Blaming God for all the bad stuff in the world is immoral.  Convenient, but immoral.  If we’re truly partners with God in the ongoing work of creation, then it is time to stand up and act like partners.”[9]  In other words, part of our pursuit of holiness requires that we lead the struggle for justice and kindness in our society.

That being said, striving toward holiness is not the same as working toward a Boy Scout or Girl Scout merit badge.  As one response to the survey noted, “We don’t have a God score.”  Now, I think the original commenter meant that, in his opinion, as good as we may and should be, humans can never become “Godly;” we can never attain a god-like status.  Still, he writes, “being better people is good enough for me.”  Another survey participant quoted a familiar statement from the old Gates of Prayer: “Pray as if everything depended on God; act as if everything depended on you.”[10]  We may look to God for moral guidance, but ultimately the day-to-day work of upholding society and performing acts of social justice falls to us.

Our Haftarah this morning is drawn from the Book of Isaiah.  The prophet scolds the Israelites, whom he accuses of adopting false piety—going through the motions of prayer and fasting without turning their hearts and minds and hands to deeds of goodness.  He reminds his audience that what God truly desires from us extends far beyond prayer and sacrifice:

This is the fast I desire:
To unlock the fetters of wickedness,
And untie the cords of the yoke
To let the oppressed go free;
To break off every yoke.
It is to share your bread with the hungry,
And to take the wretched poor into your home;
When you see the naked, to clothe him,
And not to ignore your own kin.[11]

We may never be able to attain holiness at a level equivalent to God.  We may never be fully worthy of the appellation “godly.”  But we can take action, guided by God’s instruction, to make God’s presence be felt amongst us.

Author Mary Blye Kramer converted to Judaism from the Baptist faith about twelve years ago.  Her journey was not without difficulty, she notes: her husband of 30 years left her, she was called a “heretic” by a radio show host, and she lost friends and work opportunities.  In particular, Kramer had to resign from three committees with which she had volunteered at her church.

The hardest community for her to leave behind was the “homebound community,” made up of elderly members deeply entrenched in the church.   Kramer tells of the difficulty she anticipated in saying goodbye to her friend Estelle, a vivacious member of this group who had been the church’s first female deacon. 
Kramer writes:
As I sat beside her to tell her the news that was shattering my world, I stuttered. “Estelle, I know this will be tough to hear. I know you love Jesus and I know that you believe that Jesus is the way to heaven, and I know...."
Estelle interrupted me and I froze. She apparently had already heard I was converting.
"Let me tell you what I believe," she said, "I believe in you. Now let's move on. Tell me all about your spiritual journey and where you'll be converting and how you're feeling and how your family is treating you and what you've been doing this week."[12]
In this holiest season of the Jewish year, when we are thinking about our personal spiritual journeys, when we are taking stock of our lives and examining what room we have left within ourselves for a relationship with God, perhaps Estelle gives us an important starting point.  Perhaps we cannot develop our own theologies, and forge our own paths to truth, unless we first learn to believe in one another.

Rabbi Danya Ruttenberg, the campus rabbi at Northwestern University, reminds us that as we explore our liturgy throughout these High Holy Days, the “language of the liturgy is in the plural, not the singular. We're not praying for our individual selves, but for all of us.”[13]  If we continue to pray for one another, to embrace one another, to believe in one another regardless of race, class, gender, or faith, then we can strive toward holiness and draw nearer to the messianic age.

May this be our goal in the coming year, and in working to this end, may we all be deemed worthy of being inscribed in the book of life, blessing, and peace.

[1] Katherine Brooks, “An American Dialect Dictionary is Dying Out.  Here Are Some of Its Best Words.”  Published August 18, 2017 at
[2] Per the DARE dictionary, “bizmaroon” is a bullfrog, “doodinkus” is a gadget, and to “acknowledge the corn” is to admit to being drunk.
[3] See George Robinson’s article, “Maimonides’ Conception of God,” found at  Retrieved September 28, 2017.
[4] See for a story about Rabbi Shapiro’s original project.
[5] Including responses for “a little,” “a lot,” “rarely,” and “frequently.”
[6] Langston Hughes, “Personal,” originally published in 1947
[7] Leviticus 19:2
[8] As quoted in Zohar, Danah and Ian Marshall, SQ: Connecting with Our Spiritual Intelligence (New York: Bloomsbury USA, 2001)
[9] Rabbi Michael Adam Latz, “Endless Pilgrimage of the Heart: The God Sermon.”  Delivered at Shir Tikvah Congregation, Minneaplois, MN, Erev Rosh Hashanah 5773.  Found online at .  Thanks also to Rabbi Latz for inspiring the framing of the “human beings did that” section of this sermon.
[10] Found in Gates of Prayer, p. 157.  The companion book Gates of Understanding states that the source of this phrase is unknown; some sources attribute it to St. Augustine.
[11] Isaiah 58:6-7
[12] As found on the Facebook page of Mary Blye Kramer,  July 14, 2017.
[13] Twitter comment, posted on September 24, 2017.  Rabbi Ruttenberg’s twitter feed can be found at @TheRaDR