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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.

Tuesday, August 15, 2017

I Get It

(NOTE: This was written Sunday morning. Due to a lack of internet connectivity it has taken time to post it. After much thought, I decided to post the original piece as written, without altering it in light of Monday’s Presidential news conference.)

I get it. I totally get it. Friends and acquaintances have been telling me for years how you see the world differently once you have grandchildren. It’s been 5½ months since Ian’s birth. All I need to do is look at the most recent pictures his parents have shared or even better, answer the FaceTime call from his father which I know means Ian is available for chat. It is instantaneous delight. It immediately brings a broad smile to my face as it takes me away from whatever I was doing, transporting me to a better, more hopeful place.

This morning that was precisely what I needed. I’d been sitting with my morning coffee, reading the Sunday paper, catching up on what’s been going on, most especially yesterday’s events in Charlottesville, Virginia. This morning was my first real chance to sit down and try to get a fuller picture, as I often do, from various sites which offer a range of takes on the news of the day.

The events of Friday and Saturday are deeply disturbing. In the ever-widening rift that divides our nation, a right-wing, White Nationalist rally was alarming to contemplate even before it convened. In what I believe must be called domestic terrorism, one of the attendees at the rally drove his car into a crowd of counter-protestors. He took the life of a 32-year old woman while injuring almost a score of others. Two state troopers lost their lives later in the day in a helicopter crash, as they were assisting with crowd control. Three lives lost in an ugly scene that should leave a bad taste in all our mouths.

Voices calling for calm were heard. Leaders from both sides of the political spectrum responded, on Twitter and other media, to call out the evil and banality of the racist, hate-filled gathering. Even our First Lady, Melania Trump, tweeted (well in advance of her husband) a responsible message in reaction to the violence and hatred.  Our Tweeter-in-Chief, however, seemed to be missing in action. Even popular author J.K. Rowling noted in a tweet that it was an ironic time for our President to “forget how to tweet."

As it happens, perhaps it would have been better had he not spoken out. While the President did condemn the violence, he served up moral equivalency. This I believe, bespeaks his continued support for the hate-mongering and divisive climate that his candidacy, and now his presidency, have nurtured across our nation. It is true that fault can be found on “many sides” when it comes to the divisions and intolerance found in our nation. However, yesterday’s events in Charlottesville were a poor choice for him to choose as an example of the many corners in which hateful rhetoric can be found. The hateful rhetoric, the overt expressions of racism, anti-Semitism, and bigotry on display in the past 48 hours were not “on all sides.” They were on one side – that of White Nationalism, neo-Nazi, anti-Black, anti-Semitic, and a host of other expressions of hatred which had gathered for the “Unite the Right” rally. Indeed, one white-nationalist outlet, The Daily Stormer saw in the President’s remarks an affirmation of the central message they had hoped to trumpet in Saturday’s gathering – America belongs to White Christians.

I feel as if each week’s outrages, which arise from the blustery pronouncements and rapid-fire fingers of our top elected official, have been feeding a slow burn in the blood in my veins. I know I’m not alone. This weekend’s events provided the context for many on the right wing of the political spectrum, who hold and pronounce loud messages of hatred and bigotry, of prejudice and intolerance, to allow their rhetoric and actions to be on full public display. They claim that theirs is a righteous anger and that they are speaking out to help fulfill the President’s campaign promises and national agenda. Well it’s way past time for those of us who hold a different vision of our country and its values to feel our own blood boil – not into anger, violence and hatred – but into strong, peaceful,
non-violent protest. Our protest must not be limited to condemnation of these past few days. It is well past time to call for accountability from our elected officials in our nation’s capital, Republicans, Democrats, and Independents, at all levels. To those who still say, wait, the pivot is coming, I say forget about it. There will be no pivot. As I have written previously, this President reminds me of Maurice Ogden’s powerful poem, The Hangman in which the protagonist in the end proclaims, “I went no further than you let me go.” Let’s take our President at his word, for he does not mince them. Rather he fearlessly and irresponsibly speaks hatred and division, every day of every week.  Stop waiting for the pivot, or for the latest grown-up like General Kelly to rein him in.

To me, our President is man-child and a self-absorbed, self-promoting, shallow person. I look at pictures of my young grandson playing with a stuffed New England Patriot’s football which his parents recently gave him. The images and videos make me smile. But then reality calls me back and I want to scream – somebody get that man-child in the White House a stuffed football, and let’s get that national security “football” (about which he has also been irresponsibly ranting in the past week) out of his reach.

I get the grandparent-grandchild connection and joy. I absolutely do not get why our nation, across the political spectrum, is not more alarmed and responsive to the rantings and damage our highest elected official is wrecking upon us. It’s time we all get it – and act, before it’s too late.


Friday, August 11, 2017

Torah All Around

The Berkshires of Western Massachusetts are a sacred place to me. Ever since my first summer working at the Eisner Camp, all the way back in 1973, the Berkshires have held a special place in my heart and my life.  That has become more profound as our family all claim this beautiful place (both the Berkshires and Eisner Camp) as a precious anchor in our lives.

But it is not just the beauty, or the cultural banquet table of this part of New England that is special. All the way back to that very first summer, this has been a place or Torah for me. To be sure there are many other “Torah places” I hold dear in my life – the communities in which I have served as a rabbi; Jerusalem in particular, and Israel more broadly; and the many coffee shops, batei midrash (learning spaces) and public libraries in which I have sat to share words of Torah with a colleague, friend or student.

But the Berkshires and Eisner Camp are high on my list. This past week has offered me at least two concrete examples which reinforce that sentiment. Having pondered why this is so over the course of four-plus decades, I am convinced that this “place” is extra special for me as it is not solely a place of learning Torah. Beyond the learning there is the living of Torah. 

Most people have long since forgotten (or perhaps never knew) that full name of Eisner Camp is the URJ Joseph Eisner Camp-Institute for Living Judaism. It is a place where campers and staff come together anew each summer to form a nurturing and nourishing organic community based upon Jewish learning and living Jewish values. Eisner offers the full array of what one expects at a summer camp: sports, swimming, lakeside activities, campcraft, arts and crafts, music, dance, drama and so much more. Watching my four children grow and develop into the people they are is in no small measure due to their experiences within what is lovingly referred to as “the Eisner bubble.” For each of them, camp has not only been a place where they were nurtured as campers.  Each, in his or her own way, has risen through the ranks of staff and leadership. This means a lot to me as I believe that so many of my own leadership skills and my important learning took place at Eisner in the 70’s and 80’s when I served for many summers on full-time staff.

Last night I had the fortune to be present for the closing events of camp’s annual Maccabiah, a three-day festival which allows campers of all ages to participate (and yes, compete) in events spanning the full gamut of camp’s activities.  What inspires me each year is the ways in which the campers, and staff stretch themselves in a supportive and nurturing way to allow each participant to feel accomplished, in spite of the outcome. The perennial chant of “it just doesn’t matter” after the identity of the winning team is revealed speaks volumes about the higher goals and ideals of camp and this part of its programming.  It’s hard not to feel that all are winners, even after one of the four teams has been declared victorious. The community has won as a whole because of the learning and living of Torah and Jewish values. Last night was a powerful reminder of why this place is so sacred for me in my life and the life of my family.

This past Sunday I had the good fortune to be on the lawn at Tanglewood for the Boston Symphony Orchestra’s performance. I relish the opportunities to attend concerts each summer. I especially enjoy the confluence of my ability to attend when the concert includes a performance by master cellist and musician extraordinaire, Yo-Yo Ma. Last Sunday was one such occasion.  I have used Mr. Ma’s artistry and skills as lessons, “Torah” if you will, on numerous occasions in my past High Holy Day sermons. This past Sunday, Yo-Yo Ma lifted it to a new level for me. He played with the BSO in the second of its three selections for the afternoon, Schumann’s Cello Concerto. While I could not see the orchestra nor Yo-Yo-Ma from my vantage point on the lawn, from past experiences I knew he was totally immersed in the piece.  Friends who were sitting in the Shed confirmed, noting that they had never seen a soloist interact with the different sections of the orchestra as Ma had that afternoon.

Then came intermission. People all around us were standing up to stretch when suddenly a voice came over the loudspeakers. “Excuse me. I don’t if I’ve ever done this before . . .” It was Yo-Yo Ma  asking for our attention. It was not for himself. Rather he was sharing that the afternoon’s conductor, David Zinman’s dog had gotten lose from the home in which he and his wife were staying. Ma was calling attention, not to himself, nor to the orchestra. He was enlisting the help of the audience, which as he noted, surely included many who’d be returning to Stockbridge and Lenox neighborhoods in locating the Zinman’s beloved pet. Seemingly a simple matter, yet as pet owners know, and share in common, a beloved pet is a cherished family member. We were all stunned. Though with whom I was (now) standing and I noted, here is a man who could have asked for our attention for a million different reasons. His request was totally selfless, totally an act of kindness and, I would say, of menschlikiht. To me it was Torah values come alive, from a teacher, not Jewish himself, from whom I have learned many Torah lessons over the years, simply by sitting in his audience and watching this incredible human being make music, and live life.  It’s a moment of kindness and the best of humanity that will long remain with me.

Friday, August 4, 2017

Summer Light

It’s mid-summer! It’s been quite a ride on my annual readathon.  Summer always affords me more time – and brain-space for reading.  As always, I’m reading a pretty diverse set of books, somewhat simultaneously.

I returned from Israel almost three weeks ago with a copy of my teacher Micah Goodman’s newest book. I was determined to challenge myself to read it by reading Hebrew for 30-45 minutes everyday. So far, so good. In English, its title would translate to “Catch-67.” In this profoundly thought-provoking work Micah delves into Zionist history, Israeli identity, the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, Jewish values and more. The last thing I expected from the book was a page-turner. But I am tearing through it – and loving the Hebrew.  (Micah tells me the English edition is at least a year away. You might consider adding it to your list.)

For “fun” I’ve been listening to a series of audiobooks on my car treks to and from Newton and the Berkshires, mostly mysteries. And I’m reading a book given to me by a friend back in early June. It’s called The Bottom of the 33rd -Hope, Redemption, and Baseball’s Longest Game, by Dan Barry. The author recounts the story of the epic Pawtucket Red Sox game on the Saturday night before Easter Sunday in 1981. Given the book’s title, the game obviously ran to an incredible, historic length. It’s a delicious peek behind the scenes of baseball, mostly smaller town, minor league baseball. I’ve enjoyed the minors since my years living in Jackson, Mississippi.  We loved taking in AA Jackson Mets (and then Generals/Astros) games.  Berry’s book has been a fun addition to my summer dose of baseball.

I always set as a goal reading some books that I think of as weightier. (Certainly Catch-67 fits this bill.) Ofttimes this is both a matter of intellectual pursuit as well as what we rabbis call chomer l’drush, which I’ll render as “sermon material.” I won’t be delivering sermons during the upcoming Holy Day Season. Nevertheless I treasure the exercise in terms of reading and thinking. In my time of transition, this has been especially meaningful. One book which has me thinking is Henri Nouwen’s Aging: The Fulfillment of Life. It was recommended by a colleague and, I have to admit, it has me thinking a lot about life and the changes I am pursuing. In one sense, Nouwen’s book follows other books about later life and career transitions I read during the Spring. What I especially finding meaningful in Aging is Nouwen’s gift of rendering facets of life through a spiritual prism. Though he writes from a Christian perspective, he touches the human soul without regard to doctrine. Writing primarily about life’s later stages and the life of elders, Nouwen talks a lot about “letting go.” It’s a powerful message for me as I let go of one bar and look for the next one ahead of me.

In one section of the book, Nouwen offers a selection of vignettes under the heading of “Aging as a Way to the Light.” So often, our visions of the latter part and the end of life, are shrouded in darkness. In a bril shift, Henri Nouwen makes it about light and speaks of the importance of hop, humor and vision. These themes spoke powerfully to me as I look for where I might share my light and benefit from that of others.  Some examples of what has brought light to the path for me:

“Every time life asks us to give up a desire, to change our direction, or redefine our goals; every time…. we start a new plan, we are invited to widen our perspectives and to touch, under the superficial waves of our daily wishes, the deeper currents of hope.” Yes, I thought. These words I want to carry with me in the months and years ahead.”

“I have found it very important in my own life to try to let go of my wishes and instead to live in hope. I am finding that when I choose to let go of my sometimes petty and superficial wishes and trust that my life is precious and meaningful in the eyes of God something really new, something beyond my own expectations begins to happen for me.”

And finally, “Humor is knowledge with a soft smile.”  As I read these words I thought about how often I could have used those words in recent months, even as I mark them so I can recall them on the journey forward.

Summer marches on. I still have many books on the pile I yet hope to tackle. Each one – fun, serious, thought-provoking – offers its gifts for this season of renewal and introspection.

May the “rest” of summer bring you hope, humor, and vision!

Sunday, July 30, 2017

Wanted: A New Reality

I’m no technophobe.  Yet, as comfortable as I may be with our ever-expanding digital world, I’ll never be what my friend and colleague, Rabbi Neil Hirsch calls a “digital native.” I was an early user of America Online, back in the days of dial-up modems that ran at 300 baud (I’ll let you look that up on Google.) I was an early owner of a VCR back in the day. I was even able occasionally to successfully program it to record something I was going to miss. I’d watch it “later.” Later came to mean countless tapes I never got around to watching. I am playing some "catch up" this summer as I’m finally watching The West Wing. I can’t count the number of friends who’d told me that I’d love it. I even purchased the complete series on DVD when it came out, which one of my sons quickly made off with. So I’m seizing the moment. I am deep in Season 2 – and I am loving it - for more reasons than the simple artistry of this highly acclaimed television series. The writing is smart, and the acting is excellent. It’s no surprise that the series garnered over 275 nominations and won almost 90 awards. Better late than never – I’m catching up.

I am enjoying The West Wing for more than its artistry. As this summer and my viewing winds on, this fictitious American reality is better and more tolerable than the real one in our nation’s capital and our current Administration. This series, which went off the air in 2006, is proving its staying power and it’s strengthening my faith in our long-running experiment in democracy. As I traveled abroad this summer, spending time in Prague, Krakow, Warsaw and Israel, it was interesting to listen to folks living in the cities I visited share their perceptions of our country and our President. It was often not pretty. I did not hear much admiration. My casual interactions, as well as my time with longtime friends who cover a broad spectrum of opinions, were no echo chamber. Neither have I been isolating myself since returning home. If anything, I have broadened the scope of my online news sources. In the less than two weeks that I have been back home in Massachusetts, I find myself surrounded by disbelief as we seem to keep sinking to new lows. I no longer leave the tv tuned to one or another news channel as background noise. DVDs and online streaming are providing me with alternatives which cushion me from the bizarre reality that is our government in the summer of 2017. At least when the credits role, I know I’m watching fiction. But too much of today’s true reality is beyond incredible. And yet, it is reality.

Last summer, when I launched this new blog, I stated that I had "chosen to launch this new Blog on which I can more freely share my musings, thoughts and questions, in ways which might be inappropriate on a site linked to my congregation.” At this point last summer, I remember trying to wrap my brain around the reality of our current president as the nominee of one of our two major political parties for our nation’s highest office. I wrote last summer about Maurice Ogden’s poem, “The Hangman” as a cautionary message for our time. I mused about how far a candidate could stretch the boundaries of our political system. I wondered then, and still wonder now: How far can the limits of what is tolerable and intolerable, or what is true and what is a lie, be extended? It’s now a year later. I am still thinking about what I wrote a year ago as I paraphrased the Hangman’s words to his final victim, for whom there was no one left to turn. They still echo loudly in my ears: “They have done no more than we’ve let them do!” 

I am trying hard not to view this through the prism of Republicans, Democrats, and Independents; women and men; gay or straight – and I could go on . . . At what point do we rise up and declare that our President’s words and actions are unacceptable? How low will we allow our stature as a proud nation to go before we cry, “Enough?”  A year ago, I could not imagine the reality in which we find ourselves. I was not alone then and I know I am still not alone. I am alarmed at the lessons our children may be learning from the behaviors of our Administrations, and many of our elected officials. I am concerned by our President’s words and actions. I am concerned about where he will yet take us given the power inherent in his office, and the reality that being created daily through his words and tweets.

It’s still summer. We all seek a bit of escape in summer, at the beach, in the mountains, in books and at the movies. My summer escape is being fed (and nourished) by The West Wing. But as a nation we can ill afford total escape. Our reality is too fragile and too important to continue unfettered. May we – and our leaders in our nation’s capital awaken – now, before reality is too far gone for rescue.

Monday, July 24, 2017

The Ache in My Heart

It has been nice coming home - to the US, to Massachusetts, to the Eisner Camp community, and most especially, home to my family. My three plus weeks in Europe and Israel were terrific. But it’s a long time to be away.

Yet, even in coming home, there is some unsettling in my heart and soul. I left Jerusalem and Israel just days after the events at the Temple Mount in Jerusalem’s Old City erupted. Now, a bit over a week later, I find myself anxiously reading the news from Israel. As happy as I am to be home, I also feel a little like I’ve abandoned my friends and family in the cauldron that is Jerusalem in these days.  In my final days in Jerusalem I could feel the tension rising.  My apartment-mate, Rabbi Howard Jaffe, and I heeded the warnings to avoid the Old City. We’d planned a visit for our final days but understood that the authorities were eager to keep anyone who did not “need” to be there away. For both of us this was likely our first time in Jerusalem without even a brief visit to the Old City.

Now I watch from a distance and my heart aches. The precipitating incident, in which three Israeli Arabs charged out of the Temple Mount complex guns blazing, and their murder of two Israeli Police officers was horrific. For Israeli security forces to pursue the attackers should make sense in any civilized society. The subsequent decision, to place metal detectors at the entrance to the plateau, sacred to both Jews and Muslims, seemed sensible. But it is not uncommon for the seemingly sensible to make no sense in the volatility of the Middle East. One colleague left Israel to travel with his family in Italy before returning home. In a post on Facebook a few days later he captured a bit of the irony and complexity of making sense in a perplexing place: “A little reminder to my cousins protesting on the Temple Mount. (I’m) visiting the Vatican today. They have 4 Million visitors every year. Each one passes through a metal detector. Each one.” Additional security in the aftermath of a terrorist attack might seem sensible. But Jerusalem and its Holy sites may be exempt from sensibility. It’s hard to listen to a seeming lack of perspective about security needs at that holy site. But I am watching from my perspective, a Jewish, pro-Israel perspective.

Since my return I have been engrossed in reading my teacher, Micah Goodman’s newest book, Milkud-67. In English, this translates as “Catch 67.” I first heard Micah address the topic with the group I brought to the Hartman Institute in December during our Israel trip. I heard him speak at greater length in Jerusalem a few weeks ago. I set myself the goal of reading his book once home - an exercise in both expanding my Hebrew skills and reading this important addition to the ongoing debate over Israel-Palestine and the future in that tense region. Just this morning, I was reading Micah’s analysis of the conflict through the prism of early Zionist history. Though in this morning’s chapter he was only discussing the divides in the Israeli community, in his "Introduction" he makes it clear that he sees divides on both sides of the conflict.

Sadly the events of the past 10 days have thrown the conflict into a more complicated and fragile state. The precipitating act was one of violence initiated by Arabs against Israeli police officers (who ironically were Druze - a cognate faith group related to Islam.) Yet, the outcry from the Palestinian leadership, and Arab leaders more broadly, seems to ignore that fact. The silence from Palestinian and other Arab leaders about the heinous attack on a family sitting to Shabbat dinner in their home this past Friday night is also difficult to comprehend.  Furthermore, it is also a sad commentary on the state of affairs in our own country, that our president seems to be oblivious to the events of the past ten days. While the Administration is involved, I still want to believe that we can expect moral leadership in the face of world events from our top leader.

Daily I pray that the spiral of events can be brought under control. No one in that fragile place needs the sacrifice of more blood and lives. While I do not presume to have “the answer” to this current violent episode, I pray that the leaders - on all sides will bring the best of their thinking and leadership to calming the city, the region, and the peoples who share it.  In the meantime, my heart aches and breaks as events continue to spiral. While I am thrilled be at home with my family, there is a part of me keenly focused on where I have been.

Micah Goodman writes in the Introduction to Catch-67, our Rabbis teach that “Torah scholars increase the peace in the world.”  He notes, that they are not meant to create that peace, but through their actions, to increase it. Micah writes that it may be time to give up on the notion of complete peace and focus on how we increase peace. May all who so desperately need greater peace find it – through the actions of our leaders, through their own individual actions, and through what I continue to pray will be a more broadly held commitment to increasing the peace.