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Wednesday, July 18, 2018

The Magic is Still Here


The past ten days have found me spiritually road-tripping around the Berkshires.Some of it was planned; some spontaneous. And one piece was familiar territory that took my breath away anew – when I least expected it. To start with, just being in this beautiful part of our country is, as it has been for me since the early 1970’s awe-inspiring. From the gorgeous scenery, to the magnificent sunsets, and from driving and walking down new roads and paths, it has been quite a journey.

I knew that I was going to check-out the twice-weekly Mindfulness group that meets in Great Barrington. That was planned. I knew I would be leading a six-week study series on The Jewish Road to Character: A Taste of Mussar at Hevreh of the Southern Berkshires, where my friend and colleague Neil Hirsch is beginning his fourth year as Senior Rabbi. The unplanned stops on the itinerary included a visit to a Buddhist Retreat Center of which I had previously been unaware. Friends invited to join them as they were going to check the Center’s open Sunday Morning sit. It was quite an eye-opener – both visually and spiritually. The grounds of the Center are simple, and exquisite. Sitting in a diverse community of ages, genders and gender-identities, races and, I am certain, religious backgrounds, was inspiring.

I listen to books-on-tape and podcasts as I drive around the Berkshires. One day I received a notification from a Mindfulness teacher with whom I went on retreat several summers back at Kripalu about his most recent talk at the Insight Meditation Center of Washington, DC which he runs with his wife, Tara Brach. Though it has been several summers since I have sat with Jonathan Foust in person, I am constantly drawn to his teachings, talks and guided practices via his website and monthly email blast. Last week's talk was What Does It Mean to Really Forgive? It really struck me where I needed to be reached on this part of my journey.

The Berkshire Mountain Laurel Practice group, which I’ve now attended twice (and which I hope to visit again tomorrow) has afforded me two entirely different experiences. My first visit found me sitting in a circle of about twenty participants with a leader from the community.  When I returned for their Thursday evening sit last week there were just two of us who’d come to participate and a leader. Both were incredibly powerful opportunities for me to experience “sitting” with a new community and new teachers.

Each of these experiences became a stop along my journey, the dots of which would only connect for me as I sat with the Eisner Camp community on Shabbat. Eisner Camp first became a home for me in the summer of 1973 as I spent my first summer on the staff. I worked pretty consistently at camp through the mid-80's in a variety of roles. I then spent fifteen years away from Eisner (many of those summers were spent at other URJ camps and in Israel with NFTY groups.) I returned to Eisner in 1999-2000 as our family settled in Newton, and our family has found it to be an important place in our life and lives ever since. All four of my children have grown up there, as campers, and at virtually all levels of staff. Laura has been one of the Directors for upwards of 15 summers now. I think it's fair to say I am pretty much accustomed to camp Shabbat meals, services, singing and dancing. Yet, last Shabbat, the whole experience hit me with a force I had not anticipated. Perhaps the stops on my journey along the way in the week leading up to my first Shabbat with the camp summer. 

Worshiping with the second youngest unit, Bonim in the lead on Friday night, and the second oldest unit, Tzofim (in which I was first a staff member in 1973) on Shabbat morning, Most especially, I was profoundly Shabbat morning by Artist-in-Residence Alan Goodis and the campers and staff with whom he had created that new song which I know is already an Eisner standard, Stand Up.
moved by the new song introduced on Shabbat morning. I found myself deeply moved anew.  The beauty of Eisner's Outdoor Beyt Tefillah (prayer space) is breathtaking. And surely it felt comfortable and meaningful to be back "home" in that space. But it was not about the place. The readings, music, dance, and art created by the Eisner campers and staff were deeply moving and touched my soul. Hearing the voices of nearly 1000 participants gathering in that space was inspiring. For all the meaning I had found in the various stops along my journey last week, none touched me as deeply and poignantly as the Eisner Shabbat experience.

Yes, I found new ways and places to experience the majesty and magic of summer in the Berkshires. But coming home to Eisner lit my soul and touched my heart at a level I thought I'd long since come to simply expect. I left with a powerful reminder of how we should never take our communities and the moments of meaning we are able to live for granted. Thank you Eisner Camp for bringing me home, welcoming me home and lifting me once again.

Tuesday, July 10, 2018

The Mensch Antidote - Rx as per Dr. Salanter

It’s hard to believe that two weeks have passed since my fourth visit to Prague. I continue to find Prague a magical, beautiful and inspiring place. Over the course of my visits, beginning in 2005, I have never forgotten the painful side of the history of Prague’s Jewish community, especially in the last century. Nevertheless, her Judaic legacy and the magnificence of the city’s Jewish Quarter never fail to grab hold of my heartstrings, as well as my thirst for deepening my own Jewish learning. Now, two weeks removed from this most recent visit, I was transported back to Prague’s Jewish Quarter as I sat reading a biography of Rabbi Yisrael Salanter (1809-83), founder of the
Mussar Movement in 19th century Eastern Europe. It’s a book which has sat on my shelf for years. This summer I decided I had to seize that opportunity to finally read Immanuel Etkes’ Rabbi Israel Salanter and the Mussar Movement: Seeking the Torah of Truth. Reading it has proven to be a grounding and fortifying experience as I work to deepen and expand my own study and practice of Mussar.

I have written (and spoken) on previous occasions about my growing appreciation for Mussar and how I find its study and practice not only meaningful but in many ways, a spiritual antidote to the complexities of the times in which we are living. Borrowing from David Brooks’ 2015 book, The Road to Character which I devoured the summer after it appeared in print, I have taken to calling Mussar the Jewish Road to Character. I hope Mr. Brooks does not mind my adaptation.

This morning, my characterization of Mussar as the “Jewish Road to Character” was made renewed for me, as I read the following statement in Etkes’ biography of Rabbi Salanter in which he quotes Salanter himself as saying: “The MaHaRal of Prague created a golem, and it was a great wonder. But how much more wonderful is it to transform a corporeal human being into a mensch!”  Wow, I thought, as I read those words. The Founder of Mussar as a movement just reached through the centuries to connect my visit to Prague two weeks ago (where I visited the MaHaRal’s synagogue and burial site) and my study and practice of Mussar.

One cannot visit the city of Prague and her Jewish Quarter without the ever-present reminders of Rabbi Judah Loew ben Bezalel (known by the acronym MaHaRal – Moreinu HaRav Loew – “our Master and Teacher”) and his Golem (about which I have previously written here.)  The legend of the Golem – recreated time and again by one author after another, including Elie Wiesel, has resonance for our own times. Indeed, the group educator with the NFTY group with which I toured the Jewish Quarter offered that Rabbi Judah Loew was the forebearer of Jewish creators such as Stan Lee and Jerry Siegel who gave us so many of the superheroes who continue to fill our cineplex screens even these days.

But Rabbi Yisrael’s statement, that beyond the creation of (possibly) fictitious superheroes, more important is the creation of menschen – people of integrity and honor struck me as an important reminder for our times. No superhero (or political figure!) will ultimately lead us through the challenges and divisions of our times. Indeed, Mussar is a path through which our Jewish tradition facilitates an individual’s road to strengthening her or his own integrity and character. Part of what I most love about this authentic Jewish spiritual practice is that, in line with so much else in our tradition, it is most efficacious and meaningful when it is practiced and studied in hevruta -- with a partner.

In its fuller context, the Mussar journey is also grounded in the embrace of a Va’ad – a group that comes together to share the study and practice, to support and reinforce one another’s individual journeys. With each passing day, as I read the news and grapple with the ever-broadening rift in our nation, I find myself girded by the teachings of Mussar. My study and practice guide my heart, mind, and soul towards light in the darkness, and, I pray, integrity, lest I fall into the stream of invective and negativity. In recent years, I have deeply appreciated the sacred opportunity to facilitate  Mussar groups in various communities around Boston, as well as to bring a bit of its path and practice to teens, at camp, in my former congregation, and at NFTY Institutes. I am grateful that next week I will begin another new chapter in this journey with the honor of guiding such a group over these summer months here in the Berkshires.

Mussar by itself will not change the world. It can, I believe, impact those of us who study and practice it, so that we do not fall prey to the noise, clamor, and incivility of our times. Mussar can strengthen us and enable us to focus on the integrity and character we wish to embody, or at the very least, that which we strive towards. Practicing and studying in hevruta and community can create circles, which expanding outward can, I hope, spread the values our tradition teaches us to pursue. Mussar can help us refocus so that we can see the world as it is, and work to create the world we dream of, in which the integrity and honor of each precious reflection of the image of the Divine is protected.

Friday, July 6, 2018

Why Don't You Write Me?

So many times over the past year I have found myself humming the Simon and Garfunkel tune Why Don't You Write Me.  On any number of those occasions, I was drawn to my keyboard. Yet, for pretty much the last ten months I have refrained. It wasn't always easy. The easy times were those (many) moments when I really had too many other things to take care of which had real hard and fast deadlines. But the pause has not been merely because I was too busy to write. In truth, I have been writing, mostly journaling as part of my Mussar practice.

There was also a very conscious reason for my holding my silence. Just about a year ago I stepped away from my many years as a congregational rabbi as I set out to explore my next chapter. Part of my agreement with my congregation was that I would take a hiatus from congregational life and lay low. Yes, there were some life cycle occasions at which my participation was requested. So too, with some pastoral situations. However, I felt it was also important, as a part of my hiatus period, to be absent in other ways. This included absenting myself from certain Social Media groups in which I was a member. Along the way, I ended up taking an extended break from Social Media for other reasons as well. (Perhaps I'll write about that down the line.)  I also decided to pause sharing my blog writing, as I know that many members of my community follow my writing journey. No one asked me to, but I consciously decided to turn that voice off for the year, as part of my hiatus.

It wasn't always easy. Part of the reason I set up this separate-from-the-congregation blog site two years ago was to be able to express myself more freely without the imprimature of my posts appearing on an official site associated with the congregation. Indeed, at points this year, I have found myself channeling my desire to write and speak out by re-reading some of what I've written in the past several years. (I still hold some of those same beliefs today.)

We are not living through an easy time in our nation, in our world and in Jewish life. Many have been the times when I wanted to add my voice, my perspective, my reading of the events we are experieencing thrpough the prism of Torah, and especially the values of Mussar.  But I felt that this was a time for me to refrain, and I have.

A year has passed. My journey through this first year of my rabbinate, not grounded in a congregation, took me to many interesting places. It was most certainly a year of learning, in many forms. I worked for a national organization for the better part of the year, and I had the privilege of being part of an incredible team committed to a project I deeply believe in. I visited and worked, in and with communities in other cities on the East Coast. I learned about my strengths, and I also learned about skills I do not possess, and passions I do not hold. I also learned again and again of my deep thirst for learning and my desire to share what I am learning as a teacher.

This as-yet young summer finds my year of hiatus completed. I am now mostly on a different type of hiatus - freed from regularly scheduled meetings, appointments, and commitments, save for one teaching opportunity out in Western Massachusetts, where I am blessed to spend the summer ahead. I have returned to a study project I began last summer and which I had to set aside at the end of last summer as I took on new commitments.  I've now returned to that project, having truly missed it and the opportunities it affords me to learn and grow. And as I returned I found I am further along on that journey even though I did not touch it for ten months.

I have decided that nearly a year of silence in this vehicle, my blog, is enough. While so many aspects of my as-yet-unfolding new chapter remain undefined, I need to write. There are just some topics on which I need to express myself. Perhaps no one will be interested in what I have to say. But I have learned through my reading and study the importance of writing as a practice and discipline. I also believe that silence in the face of some of what is taking place around us is unacceptable and irresponsible.

So, in the weeks and months, and I pray, years to come, I will be sharing again. Sometimes it will be to address events in our nation and our Jewish world. Sometimes it will be more a reflection of my study and the spiritual journey I am on. I have been privileged to share pieces of that over this past year with new circles of students in communities around our Boston area. This was a critical part of this past year's journey as I was welcomed with warmth and embrace in new communities. I have already been invited to join circles and journeys in several other communities around Boston in the year ahead and I look forward to being part of more circles of Mussar study and practice.

One of the most powerful lessons of this "year away" has been about the importance of community. I have written, spoken and taught on that theme for a long time. Only in the absence of a steady community did I have the personal opportunity to step back and realize just how deeply I believe that on a personal level.

If you're interested I welcome you on this new phase of my writing journey. As always, I welcome feedback and conversation. My posts reflect my perspectives, most often filtered through my study of our rich tradition.

It's hard to believe that our new Jewish year is but two months off. In some ways, this return is an early beginning to my Elul work of preparing - not just for a New Year, but for the next iteration of my new chapter.

May summer bring refreshment, renewal, perspective and, most especially, peace.



Wednesday, July 4, 2018

From Darkness to Light

Friday, June 29, 2018, is a day I will long remember.

It started with an extra early wake-up and breakfast at our hotel in Krakow, Poland. Some two hundred and fifty sleepy NFTYites, their staff and those of us who were afforded the privilege of accompanying them on their trip through Eastern Europe tried to shake the sleep from our eyes. We boarded buses and began the trek to the Polish town of Oswiecim, some 40 miles away.  For the NFTYites, it was their first visit to Auschwitz-Birkenau, and you could feel the apprehension in the group.

It was a somewhat gray day, and a bit on the cool side temperature-wise.  In truth, that
added to the gloom that must inevitably be a part of a visit to these sites, which our Eisner group educator Sapir called "one of the most efficient factories in all of human history. Their product was death - most especially the death of Eastern Europe's Jews."  After several hours of walking around the massive Birkenau camp, a brief lunch break, and then several more hours at the Auschwitz museum, a tired, emotionally drained and dour group reboarded the bus for the return trip to Krakow.  Following some quiet time to decompress and prepare for Shabbat we gathered, some 300 of us for Shabbat dinner. Then it was back on the buses to return to Krakow's Jewish quarter. I immediately recalled last year's Shabbat evening experience during which we attended services at Krakow's Tempel Synagogue, an ornate, massive worship space which on that Friday night played hosts to thousands for a Shabbat service offered as a part of Krakow's annual Jewish Festival, an event I would love to partake of sometime down the line.  It was a mob-scene, and it was as much an "event" as it was a Kabbalat Shabbat service to welcome Shabbat.

However, this year's experience was different. We were still heading to the Tempel Synagogue. It was still as magnificent a worship space as I remembered from a year earlier. However, this time, we were to be the only ones present for a Kabbalat Shabbat lead by staff members for the 6 NFTY in Israel groups - representing alumni of five URJ Summer Camps as well as other NFTY in Israel participants. (An event connected to the Jewish Festival had taken places in the hours before our arrival.) Having already had a long day, with an early wake-up, the bus rides, and especially the visits to Auschwitz II-Birkenau, it would have been entirely understandable had there been a quiet, somber mood in the congregation.
Sitting in a magnificent synagogue which had seen its Jewish community decimated in the evilest act of human cruelty and banality in human history our teens responded in the most spirited, almost defiant way to the songs, readings, and prayers we shared together.  It was as if they'd formed a secret pact. It was as if they'd agreed that our worship that evening was going to be a living response to the horror that Krakow, Poland and the Concentration, Work and Death Camps scattered around Eastern Europe had seen in the mid-20th century.

I was sitting with a number of the other faculty chaperones. To a person, we found our breath taken away by the enthusiasm, passion and unbridled ruach (spirit) in that sanctuary. It was as if our teens were telling Hitler, his henchman, and all those who tried not only to crush but to completely obliterate the Jews of Eastern Europe. THeir unbridled joy and infectious spirit was a cry - we are alive! And we have returned to be a part of bringing Jewish life back to this long-silent community.

As a community, we were, after a long and full week bone-tired. Yet the energy in that sanctuary proved to be a spiritual stimulant like few I have experienced in my life. The heart, spirit, and soul in that community left me with a hope that I had felt had been dimmed by the day's earlier events. 

Click here for a video from Shabbat in Krakow

Our teens constantly teach me and touch me. On Friday evening, June 29th, they took me to a spiritual place of hope for our Jewish future and our people resilience I all-too-often find hidden in our complicated times.

Thank you NFTY - thank you to the Eisner, Crane Lake, Jacobs, Harlam, and Greene Family Camp groups and the other NFTY participants for this incredible opportunity. It is one I shall not soon forget.

Thursday, June 28, 2018

Our Newest Witnesses to History

We live in a complicated time in a complicated world. It only takes a glance at the day’s headlines, a listen to the news on television or radio, or even a passing glance at one’s social media feed to capture the vibe.  And, at least from how I hear and witness it, it’s not a good one.


I feel that even more keenly this week.  I write these words from Krakow, Poland in the midst of a week traveling with some 250 NFTY participants who are spending this week in Eastern Europe en route to their summer experience in Israel.  It’s a journey I have taken before, as recently as last summer. Yet, each time I have the privilege of accompanying our NFTY groups on this part of their journey, I find the experience hits me from another perspective. This year is no different. In part that difference comes from our complicated world. But it is always amplified and sharpened for me by seeing this journey anew, through the eyes of our young people. Their perspectives, their honesty, forces me to confront my own conceptions and my own assumptions.

Having made our way from the beauty and rich Jewish heritage of Prague to the nightmare and cruel ironies of Terezin, late last night we arrived in Krakow, Poland. Today we visited Krakow’s Jewish quarter with its many different and fascinating synagogues, and growing Jewish renewal. We also visited the remnants of the Krakow ghetto and the Umschlagplatz (the Square from which Krakow’s Jews were shipped by train to the concentration and death camps.) Today’s touring ended at the site of Oskar Schindler’s factory, where our young people spoke quite openly and passionately about what they had seen in just 48 hours, and about how it informs their vision of our time and today’s world.

Tonight they are preparing for tomorrow’s visit to Auschwitz-Birkenau. It is, I know, a day which will hit them hard. I know in part because it was just a year ago that I paid my first visit to Auschwitz with last summer’s NFTY travelers. Tonight they are looking at photos, learning facts, and reading quotes from a wide variety of writers reflecting on the meaning of the Shoah (the Holocaust) for humanity.  The participants were asked to choose from among some twenty such quotes and share their own reflections on the meaning of the Shoah and the words they had chosen.  In some ways, I have known the group of participants with whom I have been traveling these past days since their early childhood.  I have watched them grow up at our URJ Eisner Camp and I have taught them in Limud (learning sessions) over the summers. I am deeply struck by the maturity and deep perspective they now bring as young adults to this mostly heavy week of touring and learning. I watch them grapple with the weighty history we are confronting, and I think back to a member of my first congregation, Temple Shaaray Tefila in New York City. 

Frederick Terna was a Holocaust survivor who came to speak one evening with my students about his story and experience in the darkness we call the Shoah. I can still hear Fred’s voice as if it were just yesterday as he concluded his visit with a plea to my students. “Years from now, if you remember little of of what I have told you, that will be okay. But I implore you, please remember that you met me and heard my story. There are already people in our world who seek to deny that any of it happened.  So long as you remember that you met me, you will be able to tell them that it did happen. You will be able to tell them that you know it happened because you met me, a survivor who lost his family, and very nearly, his life in that darkness. By the time you are my age, there will be very few eyewitnesses to keep the world honest about what happened.”  

That was some thirty-six years ago.  As I prepare to visit Auschwitz-Birkenau tomorrow with our NFTYites I am keenly aware that there are even fewer survivors left to tell their story. Yet, my travel companions are already grasping and grappling with the enormity of what took place in that dark time. And judging by their comments at Oskar Schindler’s factory earlier today, I am confident that they are aware of and growing in their sense of responsibility to make certain that we have learned the lessons of that dark time and that we will not allow them to be repeated.  There are days and nights when I, myself, am no longer certain how much our world still carries those lessons. My young friends give me hope - and that is good, for it is their world that will be changed by how we apply and live by what we have learned.

Tuesday, August 29, 2017

Anticipating Labor Day and the Season to Come

(NOTE: This was written in mid-August for the September edition of Fresh Day - a faith-oriented online magazine for which I write a monthly column. We were asked to write about Labor Day and the meaning of work. After this piece was submitted, the events in Charlottesville, SC took hold of our attention and our work was re-directed. You can find the September edition of Fresh Day here.)

 * * *

Much ado was made this summer about the Total Eclipse on August 21st. Every day’s news seemed to have an increasing number of watching guides and cautions for protecting one’s eyes with the advance of this rare astrological event.

For me, looking to the heavens in the summer is nothing new. Back in the late 1970’s-early ‘80’s I worked at a summer camp in the Berkshires of Western, Massachusetts. I still spend a lot of my summer in the Berkshires, but so much has changed over the decades. Every few nights or so, as counselors, we were called upon to stay back in the bunk area to serve “OD,” ensuring the wellbeing of our camper charges. This was way before cellphones – smart or otherwise, and even before portable electronics of virtually any type. So, we’d sit, weather-
permitting on the ground outside the bunks. There was considerably less lighting then compared with camp today. Less light pollution, fewer electronic distractions, we had only one another, and the heavens above, to pass the time. It was glorious. On a clear, cloudless night it was as if the heavens conspired to put on a show for us. We’d search for constellations.  We’d watch for shooting stars. On a really clear night, the Milky Way was arrayed before our eyes. It was awe-inspiring.
As the years passed, my roles at camp – and indeed my time at camp – changed.  I still find myself there for at least a piece of each summer. Since rabbinic school, from which I was ordained in 1983, looking to the heavens in latter part of summer took on a new meaning. Since the Jewish calendar is a blend of lunar and solar, the phases of the moon were the markers by which I, along with Rabbis, Cantors, and other Jewish professionals, would mark the oncoming Jewish Holy Days of Rosh Hashanah (the Jewish New Year) and Yom Kippur (the Day of Atonement) which comes just ten days into the New Year.  As the moon goes through its paces each summer I notice my sleep patterns shift and my awareness of the coming Holy Days intensifying with each passing day.
I still find myself gazing heavenward this August. Yet, because of the transition I have chosen to make – out of the congregational rabbinate, into a new, non-congregationally-based path, the moon’s phases aren’t as anxiety provoking as they have been for the past three and a half decades. Summers past would find me pleading with the moon to slow down. But this year, it is I who has chosen to slow down, to chance pace, and focus differently.
The Eclipse will come and go, as will Labor Day, marking for many the “end of summer.” For me, my place in the audience for this year’s celestial performance holds a different meaning.  While I too, look ahead to turning to work, my schedule and life will be different.  It is as yet in formation. Indeed, for me, the very meaning of “work” is in flux. Summer without my familiar pacing has been a revelation. As the end of summer draws near, I look ahead with curiosity and excitement to the new form that life and work will take as I build into my future. 

Friday, August 18, 2017

Finding Glimmers of Light in the Darkness

This morning, in the midst of a torrential downpour, with fog and clouds blanketing Massachusetts’ Berkshire Mountains I found rays of sunshine.  And if there was ever a time when I needed light, it was this week.

I’d been invited to the Union for Reform Judaism’s Crane Lake Camp in West Stockbridge to lead an hour of learning with the nearly 150 teenagers who’ve gathered for their annual Summer Institute. These teens, from Reform Jewish congregations through the Northeast devote some of the final of their summer vacation to join with other youth in 5 days of song, prayer, learning and fun. That they choose to spend a piece of the end of their summer before the school year starts itself is always inspiring to me.

Given the events in Charlottesville, Virginia of last weekend, and the chaotic week of response to those events and the discourse arising from them, I thought that my time with the teens might be well spent in reflecting on Jewish tradition and values towards we might turn in challenging times, if not on a daily basis. As I was preparing for this morning’s session I came across a new trigger film from filmmaker Tiffany Shlain whose work always provides rich food for thought about character and values. Her new film, Engage runs a brief two minutes or so. Its message is deep, immanent and I found it a worthy way to open this morning’s session.

From Engage we moved into a discussion of our reactions to the film, and a selection of value concepts from the Jewish Mussar tradition. My teacher Alan Morinis teaches that Mussar allows our minds to learn the lessons our hearts already know. Given the tumultuous discourse of this past week, I can’t imagine that many of us have not been wrestling with what our hearts know, and we wish our eyes and minds would see as living values in the world around us.

Shortly before the session I was leading began, I also had the opportunity to join the teens in their morning worship, which in this case was led by a young woman from my home congregation. In choosing to invite her peers to reflect on our connection and responsibilities to one another, Laura quoted a teaching from the Rabbis of the Talmud: It is taught, “When the community is in trouble, a person should not say, ‘I will go into my house. I will eat and drink and be at peace with myself.” (Babylonian Talmud, Tractate Ta’anit 11a) Wow, I thought! What a powerful teaching for a week such as this past one. Facing summer’s end, none of us can afford to tune out the unfolding drama across our nation. Our nation’s values and future are being debated. None of us can close ourselves off and “be at peace” with ourselves in the midst of this conflict. Hatred, wherever it comes from, must not be tolerated. I believe we are at a pivotal crossroads in our nation. It will impact us, regardless of our political persuasion or other differences.

We can debate our philosophies and ideals. At the same time, evil, hatred, bigotry, racism, and anti-Semitism are just plain wrong. Hatred of the other because of racial, ethnic, religious or other differences, especially when it leads to incitement and violence is wrong. The march in Charlottesville last Friday night with its hateful rhetoric, and the events of the next day are deeply troubling. There may be room to note that some on both sides of the divide on last week acted inappropriately. But there can be no equation of Neo-Nazi, White Supremacist, and other expressions of hatred and division with those who came to protest against the hatred. Freedom is speech is a cherished American value. But with our freedom comes responsibility to the other.

As I reflected on the past week with the teens this morning, we explored some of the core values of Jewish tradition, among them wisdom, social responsibility, compassion, patience, as well as many others. I was deeply moved by the serious reflection and deep thought evidenced by the teens. In what has been dreadfully dark and disturbing week, during a morning on which nature conspired to make the darkness seem that much heavier, the prayers, thoughts and sensitivity of these teens brought so much light. I pray that they will spread their light even as I pray that all people of good will and open-heartedness across our nation will stand up, speak out and work peaceably for the betterment of all. As our various faith communities face Sabbath/Shabbat, may we find the light within – within ourselves and within one another so that together, as we face the days ahead we, like the teens, will share and spread light.