Rabbis in photo (left to right): Heidi Hoover, Rebecca Sirbu, Michael Bernstein, Pamela Gottfried, Ruth Abusch-Magder and Rachael Bregman
There is a story in Jewish tradition about a man who insults another man without realizing that the man is a prominent rabbi. When he does realize it, he is horrified and tries to apologize. He asks what he can do to make up for it. The rabbi tells him to take a feather pillow to the top of a hill, tear it open and let the feathers blow away. The man doesn’t understand but he does it, then comes back and says, “Now what?” The rabbi says, “Now go and gather up all the feathers.” The point is that once words are out there, they cannot be retrieved—we should take care what we say, because we won’t be able to control it or take it back, like the scattered feathers from the pillow.
I went to the local town hall meeting with our State Representative, Buddy Carter. The small theater at the local college overflowed with people but not by a lot. Maybe 30 people were standing while another 150 were seated. It was 10 a.m. on a Thursday morning when most people in my largely working-class city are out working. Someone asked if Mr. Carter would vote to defund Planned Parenthood. He sidestepped the question, and the crowd began chanting — yes or no? Yes or no? He paused, waited for the din to subside. As he began speaking, someone shouted out, “If you want an abortion shame on you!” To which someone else responded, “Shame on YOU!”
To what are we enslaved? How does our slavery hold us back, nailed to the doorpost? And what would we hear if we freed ourselves from the comforts that swaddle us, muffling the still small voice of or souls, of our dreams beckoning us, of God calling from the Mystery?
What does it mean to be an “elite?” Recently, the term has come to be much derided by people on both ends of the political spectrum. For those on the right, it conjures up snobs, people who have college educations, who look down on the rural parts of our country as backwards, who turn up their noses at manual labor and don’t value long ties to a particular region or town. On the left, it dredges up the idea of corruption and the uber-wealthy, who are out only for their own gain.
Here on the west coast of Canada we live in a chain of port cities. People from all over the world land here; we bring with us our languages, our foods, our clothing, our music. We bring the religious traditions that emerged from our previous ways of life. As my friend Amar Singh – a musician, a practicing Sikh and a great optimist – says, “Wherever you come from, you can find your ethnic community here to help you get started.”
I was just diagnosed with breast cancer. So, there’s that. In some ways, it’s hardly a surprise since my mother died from breast cancer and one of my sisters was diagnosed when she was 40. There are 5 women in 3 generations in my family, now including me, who have or have had breast cancer. The good news is I have every reason to believe that I will be a survivor. They caught the cancer early. The mass is small. It’s an excellent prognosis. I believe I will follow in my sister’s footsteps and have a long life ahead of me with my husband and children. Please, God, I continually pray.
Many of us are feeling buffeted by politics, angry dynamics in public discourse, and fears of what may lie ahead. In the midst of unsettling times, our congregation, like many, have been navigating these waters and asking ourselves what role a faith-based community can play in providing for the needs of our people. There is more than one answer to that question, and different communities are charting different paths. In my congregation, we’re placing the practice of kindness at the heart of our deliberations. While that might sound like a rather obvious, or even simplistic affirmation, it is, in fact, so much more.
Most of us live in a bubble – the bubble of our friends, our family, our workplace and our community. Last night, I had the opportunity to go outside of my bubble and break bread with a group of recent Syrian refugees. As a member of the New York board of Rabbis, I was invited to participate in a friendship dinner through the US Fund for UNICEF. I was part of a small group of Jewish and Christian clergy who were there to welcome these immigrants to our country.