What draws people to come to religious services?
I was woken up last week, early Tuesday morning to be told by television producers for the news program on which I was to appear that my segment had been postponed because of yet another round of unbearable and unfathomable terror in Europe. I am sickened and frightened; especially for the world in which my wife and I are raising our children. May we wisely work towards peace and maintain clarity of mind and spirit on our treacherous path forward.
“It’s not serious,” the doctor tells me. “In fact, it’s fairly common. One week on antibiotics will knock this right out of your system.”
I was sitting with a member of the Palestinian Liberation Organization’s Committee for Interaction with Israeli Society, Dr. Fathi Darwish, when my friend and cofounder of Roots Ali Abu Awwad approached with plates of food for both of us. I remarked to Dr. Fathi that I learned from Ali not only about Palestinian identity and life. I also learned from him graciousness and manners. In response he told me that Yasser Arafat used to host many guests at his compound in Ramallah, and that no matter how many people were seated around the table, Arafat used to get up and serve each one individually. And he said it with great fondness and admiration!
This week’s Torah portion, Tzav, ends with a ceremony consecrating the first Israelite priests, Aaron and his sons. The blood of a sacrificial ram is smeared on an ear, a hand, and a foot. With this, their bodies are sanctified and their sacred work begins. As paradigms have shifted, we don’t mark our own service as a Kingdom of Priests with animal blood. Still, the Talmud debates just how many paces we may walk from bed, upon awakening, before washing our hands, renewing their dedication to serve as God’s arms in the world.
Like many who grew up in a synagogue, I can probably say that I had more opportunities to hang out with the custodian than the rabbi. As a 4-year-old preschooler at my synagogue in the early 1980s I just assumed that Earl Winfrey was the most important person in the congregation. As a young kid I knew that he was the guy who kept the place clean, made sure there were treats for Kiddush after services, and he had what seemed like a thousand keys hanging from his belt loop. Mr. Earl, as I still address him to this day, would put his large hand on my shoulder and wish me “Shabbat Shalom” when I would come to shul with my grandfather in elementary school. He would tell me stories about my mother when she was a Hebrew school kid at the old shul building in the old neighborhood. He was there at my bar mitzvah and he was made sure the building was clean for my wedding too. When I think of those who had a major impact on me, I would include Mr. Earl along with the handful of rabbis and teachers in my life.
Last week I had a nasty bout of stomach flu. One of those batten down the hatches, no food for two days, self-quarantined episodes that wiped me out for a solid two days. But as queasy as I felt for those few days, it was nothing compared with how sickened and nauseous I felt last night (March 21, 2016) watching Donald J. Trump be received with applause and fervor at AIPAC.
If the wrong candidate wins, you’re moving to Canada.
Judaism and justice go hand in hand. The Jewish value of tzedakah (charity, from the Hebrew word for “justice”) underscores that to “be Jewish” is partly to “do Jewish,” and to “do Jewish” means to give generously. Judaism asks tzedakah not only as charitable acts of support for others, but also as defining acts of identity for ourselves.