In (and out of) synagogues, campuses, JCCs, summer camps and religious schools, people are developing opinions about hot-button issues. As a rabbi, I am painfully aware of how fraught discussions of Jewish identity, inclusion of interfaith couples, same-sex religious ceremonies, and Israel/Palestine can be. All too often, our communities erect a tense wall of silence around these issues. On many sides of the debate, people advocate for themselves on either side of this wall without the ability to truly see whomever is on the “other side.”
What does the rebellion of Korach against Moses have to do with the Confederate flag? Korach is a close relative of Moses who refuses to acknowledge his leadership. Korach leads a rebellion against Moses and Aaron. Moses challenges Korach to a sacrificial duel: whichever incense offering is accepted by God will indicate who is to lead Israel. In his anger Moses announces that Korach and his followers will be swallowed up by the earth, never to be seen again.
I had no idea that the day I met Ali Abu Awwad would signal a radical turning point in my life. Until that faithful juncture I had never ever met a Palestinian as an equal. As a soldier at a checkpoint – yes, I had had brief encounters with them. As a homeowner inviting laborers to come to paint or to fix the plumbing – yes, I had welcomed them into my home. But never had we met simply as human being to human being.
My wife makes fun of me when we watch Pixar movies, because whenever I see Up or the Toy Story trilogy or Monsters, Inc., I need tissues handy at the end — even if it’s the 12th time I’ve seen it. So when I went to see Pixar’s latest movie, Inside Out, I brought my tissues, and I definitely needed them. Yet what made this movie unique is that it also helped me understand why I laugh and cry…and why I often do it at the same time.
I was a 16-year old. My father (56), my younger sister (12) and I were walking home from the movies on a Saturday night along Eastern Parkway in Brooklyn. As we were discussing the film we had just seen, we were “jumped” by two young men.
Correction: The report of Rabbi Lerner’s retirement was greatly exaggerated.* T&V was celebrating his contributions to the Jewish People that will–I am grateful to say–continue into the future. Everything else I wrote in tribute to my mentor remains true.
While the model is generally that students learn from teachers, yesterday I was reminded that teachers learn from students as well. I had the opportunity this Shabbat to attend a bat mitzvah at Congregation Beth Adam in Cincinnati, where until recently I served as one of the rabbis.
In this week’s Torah portion, Hukkat, Israel is given an interesting law. We are commanded to give a perfectly red cow, slaughter it in front of the kohen, or priest, who then does the usual blood sprinkling for offerings. Then, in front of him, the entire cow is burnt to bits. Then, another person who is tahor, gathers the ashes, sets them aside in a tahor place, and those ashes are used to make other people tahor.
This past Thursday morning was a hard day to wake up to. It was a hard day for all who care about the sanctity of life. It was a hard day for all those invested in the dream that all people deserve to be treated with respect, compassion, love and integrity. On this Wednesday night nine lives were taken in the span of a blink of an eye. Nine individuals, created in the Divine image, were uprooted from their lives and their families and were torn from this world by a senseless act of murder and terror.
We are only a few days shy of Reb Zalman Schachter-Shalomi’s first yahrtzeit, and I miss him. To honor him I share this memory of our first meeting and what I learned about him and from him in that very brief encounter.