Would you be mine…Could you be mine…

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I just came home from watching Won’t You Be My Neighbor, the new documentary about Mr Rogers.  Sitting in theater, between tears (of which the movie brought many), I reflected that Mr Rogers influenced me as a rabbi and as a teacher, more than I realized.  I also remembered that I preached about him, on the Shabbat following his death 15 years ago.  It is actually a pretty good sermon (some of you may know that I tend to be rather critical of my early sermons).  It meanders a bit, but I think I have a good point.  In reading it, I was also surprised to read about a basketball player protesting the National Anthem!!! Amazing how relevant things from the past can be (also a running theme of the film).  I highly recommend that you go see the film–it was excellent on many levels.  And I share my sermon on him with you now.  

Shabbat  Evening Sermon

February 28, 2003      27 Adar A, 5763

A strong childhood memory: curled up on the couch in our den, covered in an afghan, my mother beside me with her needle-point on the bean-bag.  I would watch the PBS afternoon line-up with wide eye, eagerly anticipating every moment of Mr. Rogers Neighborhood, Sesame Street, and Electric Company.  My mother would fall asleep 10 minutes into Mr. Rogers, even though it was her favorite.  It was because of these memories that yesterday, when I heard of Mr. Rogers’ passing, that I immediately called my mom.  We reminisced about those times, long ago, when I learned so many important lessons from watching TV.

This is not to say that I was raised by the television set; my parents also instilled important values in me, and family activities were always more important than staring at the small box in our den, but I’ll freely admit that I learned a lot from watching tv.  And I enjoyed watching tv.  I still do.  But the lessons I learn from the small screen these days aren’t nearly as potent as those I learned when I was young.  From Sesame Street, I learned my letters, my numbers, a little bit of Spanish, and that no matter what color your fur—we’re really all the same; from Electric company, I learned grammar, phonics, that reading is fun, and that Spider Man is cool; and from Mr. Rogers, I learned how to be a good friend, that ritual is important, that it’s okay to have bad feelings, and that I can never go down the drain.  Looking back, I think that the lessons that Mr. Rogers taught me were probably the most important.  With his life, Fred McFeely Rogers taught generations of children how to be confident, feeling, good people.  

According to him, the goal of his program was to encourage in his audience self-esteem, self-control, imagination, creativity, curiosity, appreciation of diversity, cooperation, tolerance for waiting, and persistence.  There are few, if any, children’s programs today that claim such lofty goals.  Mr. Rogers’ Neighborhood not only set forth these goals, but persisted with them throughout its run as the longest running children’s show on television, and seems to have succeeded in fostering these qualities in its viewers.  Mr. Rogers was never cool, but so many loved him anyway.  Even Eddie Murphy, who lampooned the television program on Saturday Night Live with his recurring Mr. Robinson’s neighborhood sketch, is said to have hugged Mr. Rogers when they met.  That seemed to have been the reaction that many had to meeting the man who spoke to them through the TV.    

It’s not hard to remember what so many of us learned from Mr. Rogers through his life—for he truly lived the messages that he taught.  His life was a lesson for us all.  Americans mourn today the loss of one who was an influence on so many—we have lost a member of our communal family.  We learned from his life—but what can we learn from his death? Perhaps his passing can be a reminder to us of the lessons we learned so long ago.  While we all know these things on a certain level, some of these lessons are easy to forget—that it’s okay to be afraid, or angry, or sad; that every person is special; that each of us is special; and that friends are supposed to take care of one another.  Perhaps the lesson of his passing is the lesson of the sanctity of life.  

As we remember Mr. Rogers, let us each change our shoes, put on our cardigan, and go forth in order to bring these lessons into reality.  As he sang at the end of every episode, “It’s a good feeling to know you’re alive.”  Let us each appreciate life as the precious, fragile gift that it is.  Let us each teach each other and teach the younger generations of today the important lessons that we learned when we were younger.  And let us examine the lessons that are taught from today’s television.

I don’t believe that all television is bad.  I don’t believe that the very act of watching television is destructive to children.  I don’t believe that we need to completely restrict the programming that is offered on TV.  I do believe, though, that we need to restrict our children in what we allow them to watch.  And that this is true for those of us who are parents, and for those of us who are not.  It is our communal responsibility to teach those younger than ourselves the lessons that we want them to learn.  We must instill in them pride, and confidence, and tolerance.  And we must instill in them Judaism.  We must teach them to place these lessons in their hearts, and to live them with every step they take.  We must make them aware of that which exists in our world, and of what should be important.  We must encourage them to stand up for themselves, and to fight for their beliefs.

I found myself very interested this week in the news story about Toni Smith, the Manhattanville College basketball player who turned her back on the flag during the National Anthem, in protest of, “the inequalities that are embedded into the American system” and “the war American will soon be entering,” according to a statement that she released recently.  While I may disagree with her beliefs, I applaud Smith for her willingness to not compromise that which she feels most strongly.  I certainly support those who have protested with American Flags of their own at each game that she plays—they, too, are standing up for that which is important to them.  Both sides have the right to protest—the right to peacefully demonstrate those ideals which we hold most dear.  I pray that our own young people are able to articulate their own beliefs and to behave accordingly.  If they choose to turn their own backs on the American Flag, I will be sad, but proud.  It is another sort of turning that concerns me more.  I pray that the young people who are my students never choose to turn their backs on Torah.

Hashiveinu Adonai, Turn us Eternal One, towards Torah and towards you, so that we may be able to help those around us turn, as well.  Traditionally, we never turn our backs on the Torah when it is out—we face it always, even during the hakafah, as we circle around the room with the Torah, as we remove it for reading.  We touch the Torah as it passes us, so that we may bring it close to us.  There are few sights that I like more during services, than watching a parent hold us a child, so that they may touch the Torah, as well.  May we always teach our children—all our children—that the Torah is theirs, and that it should always be near to us, facing us.  When the Torah disturbs us, when God disturbs us, we must not turn away, but we must face forward.  In order to wrestle, one must face the opponent.  When we struggle with tradition, we must face it, as well.  And as we raise a generation of young people who are not likely to visit Israel, let us encourage them to not turn their backs on Israel, either.  Let the news from Israel be as important as the news from America.  Let the voices of our children sing forth the words of Hatikvah, the Israeli National Anthem, “So long as still within the inmost heart a Jewish spirit sings, so long as the eye looks eastward, gazing toward Zion, our hope is not lost—the hope of two thousand years: to be a free people in our land, the land of Zion and Jerusalem.”  May we teach our children to gaze towards the east, facing the Israeli flag, so that the hope will always be a reality.

Mr. Rogers taught us that we all live in one neighborhood.  As Jews, we live, actually, in two: the worldwide community of the Jewish people and the global community, more real than ever in the Age of the Internet.  We must be active participants in both communities, so that these communities will be ones in which we will want future generations to live.  We must engage in tikkun olam, so that those broken pieces of the world are mended.   We must take the hand of the children beside us, leading them toward the future, and never letting them turn their backs on what is truly important.  

May we all recognize the lessons of Mr. Rogers: that every person in the community is important, even in the Neighborhood of Makebelieve; that our feelings are important, even when they are uncomfortable; and that when we care for one another, every day can be a beautiful day in the neighborhood.  And on that day, every home can be a mishkan, a tabernacle; every family a k’hillah kedosha, a holy community; and every person can be a B’tzalel, the artist who puts it all together.

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#BlogExodus 4 Nisan: The Ones Who Have Helped Me To Grow

Reblogged from RavBlog: Reform Rabbis Speak: http://ravblog.ccarnet.org/2018/03/helped-me-to-grow/

I’m at the CCAR Annual Reform Rabbi’s Conference this week and had the chance to write a reflection for the CCAR blog.  I wanted to share it here, as well.  It also worked as a #BlogExodus piece, as I prepare myself to welcome Pesach!

Yesterday morning, Rabbi Aaron Panken, President of Hebrew Union College – Jewish Institute of Religion (HUC-JIR), the school at which most of us here at the CCAR Convention—indeed, the vast majority of Reform clergy—went to seminary (and at which I am also currently in Cohort 6 of the Executive Masters program to get a Master of Arts in Religious Education) addressed the Conference at our annual alumni breakfast. We had the chance to study some text, and then we got to what is, to me, the best part.

There are few things that will get hundreds of rabbis, many of whom stayed up much later than usual catching up with friends, awake and eager at 7:!5 am. This is one of them. During the breakfast, as we do every year, we engaged in Roll Call, which Rabbi Panken described this morning as, “That interesting ritual that should be fun.” The origins of this ritual are a mystery, but are steeped in tradition: each year, a representative of the Alumni Association calls out each year of classes ordained from HUC-JIR, and everyone present from that class stands. From the current students who are present to those who were ordained through the decades (at least those who got up for breakfast). Each class stands, to applause from the group as a whole—from current students all the way to someone ordained 60 years ago. Many classes show spirit by waving to each other or cheering. Some classes are gathered together at a table or two—others are spread out, and you can see that some of them have only just seen each other. It’s amazing to see the generations of rabbis, gathered together through a collective memory, while celebrating the unique relationship of each class. We honor our own experience, as well as the chain of tradition that links every person in that room.

The night before, our class had also gathered for dinner (as many classes did)—those ordained in our year, as well as those with whom we shared our year in Israel. I hadn’t seen some of these people since our Israel year, 21 years ago. Others I see regularly. But all of us being together—that’s something truly special. All of us together at breakfast, a significant way to celebrate our connection.

Each year, this breakfast is a reminder: I absolutely come to convention for the inspiration and the learning. To learn from some of the great minds of our time. To gain wisdom from incredible speakers. To delve into text study and ideas in a way that I don’t often get to. To grapple with the challenges of contemporary life. To commiserate over challenges, and argue in debates for the sake of Heaven. To pray in a truly unique and holy community. But, really, if I’m honest, more than all that, it’s about sitting side by side with my colleagues.

It’s an amazing thing, this connection, and one of the quirkier aspects of what is, in myriad ways, a quirky career. As we train for this, we spend 1 year in a foreign country, engaged in an immersive learning environment, followed by 4 years with 1/3 of those people—in a really small and really intense graduate school program. And then we all get scattered around the country (and even further). Thanks to technology, we have a sense of what is going on in each others’ lives—and maybe we see some of these people at other times during the year at other events—but this is the time when we all come together.

The chance to see these classmates, these friends, once a year is precious. Some come nearly every year—others only occasionally. In each case, the convention offers a chance to have an annual reunion of sorts. To catch up with people who have been with us from the very beginning of our careers. To see how we have each grown (and how we haven’t changed). To laugh at old memories. To cry at shared sadnesses. To offer each other a sense of camaraderie and collegiality which is often hard to find.

And, yes, to make connections with those from other generations. To meet senior colleagues whose work we have admired…to see people we went to camp with…to see the rabbis from our own formative years—when we became inspired by Judaism in a way that made us want to become rabbis…to see students who have themselves followed this path.

It’s an amazing thing this annual convention and the conference that forms it. It’s a chance for us to connect to our own experience, to reflect on where we have been and where we are and where we are going, and to remind ourselves of all the folks with whom we get to share this journey.

#Oprah2020

Dear Ms Winfrey,

I have long admired you.  As a young person, I’d enjoy your afternoon talk show nearly every day, after General Hospital, at a friend’s house or my own–you were a vital part of our after school ritual. That was my introduction to you.  And I enjoyed you, and the way you connected with people, and brought out interesting stories.

But what really made me appreciate you was your work in the decades that followed: your amazing depiction of a character in the amazing story of The Color Purple; your raising awareness of so many issues; your sharing of your own struggle with body image and ultimate acceptance of the body you were meant to have, while also encouraging healthy lives; your helping people find their honest truth and live that truth; your getting people to read; your appreciation of the finer things in life.  All of these helped me to appreciate you.  Over the years, I’ve learned from you, been inspired by you, and admired you.

And tonight, as I watched your speech at the Golden Globes, as you won the Cecil B. DeMille Award, I was again in awe.  And as I listened to you, I recognized your wisdom.  And I realized you as the leader I have long known you to be.

By speaking up for racial justice, by speaking against sexual harassment, by speaking of the value of the press–you articulated the message that is so needed in our society right now.  You are the leader we need, as well as the one I hope we deserve.

I’m writing this because I know you are already a leader.  And I know you have spoken before on and off about running for office, and largely dismissed that idea (although you seem to have left room for the idea recently).  But this is me asking you to run for president.

In another year, you might not be the right nominee.  You aren’t a typical candidate, for many reasons.  But, that’s exactly why you are the candidate we need right now.

Because you have the skills, and the albeit non-traditional experience, and the wisdom, and the ability to speak with people, and the compassion, and the judgement, and so many other skills that are those that we need in the leader of our country.

I hope that you will consider this idea.  We need you.

Yom Kippur 5778: Doing Better

Here’s my sermon from today–didn’t get audio and waiting for the live stream to be up in the archive to share the video.Screen Shot 2017-10-01 at 11.12.10 PM

When I was in sixth grade, a classmate of mine drew a swastika on the cover of one of my text books.  I’m not going to name him, because it doesn’t really matter.  And because I don’t think he really understood what he was drawing.  And because he’s a nice person.  And because we’re facebook friends and I don’t want to shame him.  I saw him at our last high school reunion and had a great conversation about religion and our own personal journeys.  I think that, at the time, when we were in sixth grade, he wanted to pick on me, knew I was Jewish, and knew that drawing that particular symbol was a way he could accomplish that—I doubt he really knew why.  I don’t really remember how I responded.  I think I erased it and tried to move on.  I’m fairly certain that I didn’t tell a teacher or my parents.

The phenomenon of victims of hatred based acts, due to any kind of hate, no matter how small or large the act, not saying a thing, is a common one.  More than half of hate crimes go unreported, according to the Department of Justice.  Perhaps because those who are the receivers of such acts don’t want to make waves, or are embarrassed that something happened to them, or because they don’t think anything will realistically be done about it…too often, things happen and no one says a thing.  Which has the effect of the perpetrator of the act never learning that what they did was wrong.  And of any sort of real, systemic change being slow, because few realize or recognize the reality of what happens to individuals.

For this particular instance I shared, I think I just wanted to move beyond it.  Maybe to pretend it didn’t happen.  I’m fairly certain that this man does not recollect this incident—I don’t think it was a defining moment of his childhood, and I don’t think he did then or does now actually hate Jews.

But quite frankly, the fact that this was a fairly innocent act, and not a hate fueled statement, actually makes the whole thing all the more frightening to me.  Because it shows that a swastika is a common enough symbol, that even someone who was neither Jewish nor a Nazi knew that it was antisemitic.  Because casual antisemitism was a thought that crossed the mind of this boy in the mostly white middle class suburb where we grew up.  Because such an act of hate was not something that likely had a lasting impact on him.  Because while I understood that this symbol on my book would worry the adults in my life, I wanted to hide it.  Because, to this day, I still think he’s a nice guy.  A nice guy who drew a swastika on the cover of my text book.

Antisemitism, prejudice, various forms of hatred have existed in this country since the beginning of its history.  But we’ve been able to largely pretend that they no longer exist, or that they aren’t at all wide spread.  Until recently, at least.

When our JCC had repeated bomb threats earlier this year. When news of swastikas defacing all sorts of places became regular news stories, including some drawn on message boards outside of some dorm rooms at my alma mater, Brandeis University, just this week. And this summer, when we all watched images of torch bearing white nationalists, wielding confederate flags and nazi flags, marching in the streets of Charlottesville, VA.  Shouting, “Jews will not replace us.  YOU will not replace us.”  Forcing the members of a synagogue that was along the path of their march to leave Shabbat services through a back door, sneaking the Torah scrolls out to keep them safe, as well.  I don’t need to go into the violent details of that day,  which woke a lot of us to a realization that racism in this country is a real and present problem.

For many of us, the color of our skin does not mark us as different, so we often don’t think of ourselves as victims of racism.  But, in fact, by virtue of our connection to Judaism, our whiteness is conditional.  We, of course, are able to hide our Judaism—we are able to pass as white. But our passing whiteness doesn’t remove the hatred that exists. Charlottesville made it clear that racism and antisemitism not only go hand in hand, but are one in the same.

We live in an odd time, in which Jews can and have risen to the highest of positions, but at the same time, face roadblocks and hatred.  While the glass ceiling may have been shattered for us, we still exist within glass houses, and have been taught not to throw stones.  Which, when stones are cast in our direction, becomes challenging.  And when stones are cast at others—because of their difference—we may want to help, but we don’t want the hatred to spread to us.  And we’re not the ones who are hating.   And we’re not sure what to do.  And, all too often, we do nothing.

The words of Martin Niemoller echo in our heads:

First they came for the Socialists, and I did not speak out—
Because I was not a Socialist.

Then they came for the Trade Unionists, and I did not speak out— 

Because I was not a Trade Unionist.

Then they came for the Jews, and I did not speak out— 

Because I was not a Jew.

Then they came for me—and there was no one left to speak for me.

A message both powerful and troubling, speaking to the need to speak out for others—and yet limited to speech and so focused on inaction, that they serve more as a confession than as an inspiration.  Earlier this year, my friend and colleague, Rabbi Michael Latz wrote the following in response to Martin Neimoller (z”l):

First they came for transpeople and I spoke up — because God does NOT make mistakes!

Then they came for the African Americans and I spoke up—

Because I am my sisters’ and my brothers’ keeper.

And then they came for the women and I spoke up—

Because women hold up half the sky.

And then they came for the immigrants and I spoke up—

Because I remember the ideals of our democracy.

And then they came for the Muslims and I spoke up—

Because they are my cousins and we are one human family.

And then they came for the Native Americans and Mother Earth and I spoke up—

Because the blood-soaked land cries and the mountains weep.

They keep coming.

We keep rising up.

Because we Jews know the cost of silence.

We remember where we came from.

And we will link arms, because when you come for our neighbors, you come for us—

and THAT just won’t stand.

Indeed, the hatred we see in our world cannot stand—we must speak out and we must stand up.  Whether the hatred is against us because we are Jews, or against others because of the color of their skin, racism is real and we cannot stand for that.

We can do better.

We can start by listening.  To noticing hateful acts when they occur.  And to really hear when others point out racism that they’ve seen or experienced.  To not argue against it but to accept that the person experienced it, and consider how we can help them, or even how we ourselves can act differently.  And maybe even ask questions so that we can learn more. And enter into dialogue to better understand.

It’s been virtually impossible this past week to not be aware that something is happening with the NFL, other than football games, as some players from every team knelt or stood arm in arm with teammates during the National Anthem, in solidarity with Colin Kaepernick, who started kneeling during the anthem last year, to protest racial oppression.  At first, he sat during the anthem.  But then, Nate Boyer, a former green beret and NFL player, wrote a public letter to Kaepernick, in which he expressed, “Even though my initial reaction to your protest was one of anger, I’m trying to listen to what you’re saying and why you’re doing it.”  Kaepernick responded by inviting Boyer to sit down and have a conversation—and then the men talked.  Eric Reid, another player, joined them.  According ESPN, “Boyer, Kaepernick and Reid agreed that the divided nature of the country right now is making it difficult to communicate clearly about complicated issues. They hope that people see and understand their conversation, and that it will lead those who can effect change to have similar discussions.”  It was out of that conversation, honoring the views of each of the 3 men, that the 3 men collectively decided that Kaepernick should kneel instead of sit—an act still problematic to many, but one that was formed out of 3 people having a complicated conversation, which can lead to others having such discussions, which is the only way that we can see change.  And they’re right.

Change needs to happen.  And change is difficult and sometimes messy.  But change is necessary.  And we can only see that change when we hear each other, when we listen to each other, and when we try to understand the perspective of another.  To learn to use the experience of others in order to notice and respond to the racism around us.

We should do better.

Let us be aware that this is a problem that exists even within the walls of synagogues.  A rabbinical student, my friend Eric Uriarte, in his recent student sermon at Hebrew Union College in Los Angeles, spoke about his experience as a Jew of Color.  He said, “When we take off our Jewish garb, our skin color and our ethnic markers continue to make us the target of white supremacists.  But when we put them on, I’m sorry to say, those same elements can make us feel excluded in Jewish spaces.”  His experience is not unique.  For many Jews of color, they have been welcomed into Jewish spaces with questions of their legitimacy as Jews—what they are doing there, what their Jewish background is—or assumptions are made that they do not know how to follow a service.  That they must be at the synagogue for another reason, other than to pray.  That because of their color, they must not be Jewish—or not really be Jewish.

None of these stories are ones that I have heard about this community.  But I’ve heard enough such stories—and even witnessed some—that I recognize Jews of color not feeling included is an ongoing challenge for the Jewish community as a whole.

We must do better.

I am not suggesting that racism is the fault of any of us.  I am not suggesting that any of us are racists.

But let us remember that the Hebrew word for sin, het, actually means missing the mark—it’s an archery term.  And that definition recognizes that even when we are trying our best, even when we are aiming to get things right, sometimes we make mistakes.  We must be open to that idea, and we must determine to continue to try.  We must know that even though we are not racists, we might sometimes do something or say something that has been perceived by a person of color through the lens of race.  Just like we can name moments at which someone innocuously said something to us or around us that we experienced as antisemitic, even though they didn’t mean it, we must be open to the idea that sometimes we have unintentionally participated in racism.

And I do believe that we bear a communal responsibility.  Our liturgy on these High Holy Days reminds us of that with the plural language of our confessional prayers; words that we all read, even if we ourselves have not committed a particular act.  We have gone astray.  We have sinned.  We have done these things.  We might not have acted through hatred based prejudice, but we still confess.  We might not be racists ourselves, but we know that there are others who are.  We may not be the cause, but we still participate in, and sometimes even benefit from, a system in which racism is inherent and bias is real. Al chet shechatanu l’faneicha—for all the ways through which we have missed the mark in ending racism, we pray for forgiveness.  And we resolve to change.

We will do better.

We must speak out.  Just as thousands are marching against racism in Washington today, as Rabbi Robinson spoke about last night, I am protesting racism through my words today.  I hope that we all take our place in the chain of Jewish tradition of Kivie Kaplan and Andrew Goodman and Michael Schwerner and Abraham Joshua Heschel, and speak out against the systemic racism that still exists.  This is the prophetic voice that must inform us.  This is the fast, as Isaiah reminds us, that is demanded.

We must speak out and we must also speak up.  We must not stand for racist comments—and let it be known when we observe racism happening.  And we must do this for ourselves, as well.

Allie Gurwitz, a student of mine from San Antonio is now at Georgetown University.  In response to swastikas being painted around her campus, she recently posted the following:

I don’t normally post things like this on Facebook but as Elie Wiesel said, “Neutrality helps the oppressor, never the victim. Silence encourages the tormentor, never the tormented.” To whatever individual or group is responsible for the growing number of swastikas being painted in different locations on campus: I am not afraid. We are not afraid. The Jewish community at Georgetown is strong and proud. Your hate has no place here and will not be tolerated. Spread love today.

She’s right.  We must speak out.  We must not be afraid.  And we must combat hate through love.  And darkness through light.  To pursue justice is our sacred mandate.  Our holy task is to bring the light of justice into our world.  We are taught so many times in the Torah that we must care for the stranger, for we were strangers in the land of Egypt.  Through our communal history, and through our personal experience, we must remember that we will not stand for hatred expressed towards us nor towards anyone else.  We must act in accordance with building the world that we want to see—to be the light for justice so that we can know a world of justice.  A world of righteousness.  A world of peace.

Ken Y’hi Ratzon, may this be God’s will.

Ken Y’hi Ratzeinu, may this be OUR will.

#BlogElul Speak

I had the distinct joy yesterday of being at a NFTY event.  The Pennsylvania Area Region held its Leadership Training Institute, and I had the chance to attend, along with our synagogue’s Director of Youth Programs and 3 of our teen leaders.  I’ve been deeply involved with NFTY for decades–first as a participant and later as an advisor and rabbi.  I even worked for the Youth Division of the Reform Movement at 2 different points in my career.  Yesterday was no different in that it inspired me, reminded me of my own experience as a Jewish teen, and helped to reframe my own thinking about Jewish leadership.

In one workshop I sat in on, about Public Speaking, the following video was shown:

It’s a brilliant video.  It makes a lot of points without overly describing those points–a lesson I think many of us can learn.  It uses humor.  And it pokes fun of what successful presentation looks like, while also pointing out what is effective public speaking.

It’s a great lesson in how we teach–and a reminder in making sure we have something to teach, beneath the presentation itself.  It’s important to know how we are presenting learning, but it’s even more important to know what we want that learning to be.

What do we want our learners to come away with?

What do we want them to remember?

What do we want them to do with that?

As the Director of Youth Programs and I took the kids home, we facilitated a conversation about the day.  And what the kids said was amazing–on several levels.  They got it and were able to articulate it.

At one point in the conversation, one of the teens said something about part of leadership being getting others to act.  I was reminded of one of my favorite leadership lessons.  That of the First Follower.  This idea teaches that as much as the leader is important, it is really the first person to follow that leader who has the greatest authority.  It’s counterintuitive, but true. Watch:

It’s important to know how to get others to follow.  But it’s also important to inspire others by being the first person to do the action. Both roles are important–either role is arguably more important.

As we enter this school year and this Jewish year, I wonder who our leaders will be.  And who will be the first to follow. There are so many lessons to teach, so many lessons to learn–how do we figure out how to balance it all?

#BlogElul: Pray Awaken Ask

Tomorrow, I will awaken. And I’ll take a moment and notice the colors of the early morning sky, as the sun begins to rise. And I’ll take a moment to realize that it’s that time of year again, during which I see that sky each week. And I’ll take a moment to realize that the year is upon us, and the holidays are soon behind, and that it’s really and truly here.  And I’ll take a moment and remind myself to breathe.  And I’ll take a moment to, indeed, breathe.

And within that breath, will be this prayerThat :

Thank you, God, for this day.

I pray for those living through the eye of the storm. May they have strength.  May they know comfort. May we all be able to offer help, just as we have.  Too many times.

I pray that my day will be ok. That the kids will be safe and feel loved and know the sweet taste of the joy of learning. That I’ll be able to answer the questions I’m asked and answer the demands that the day will present.

I pray that the young people of our congregation will use their passion and creativity and skill and ideas to lead their peers towards a year of excellence and engagement.

I pray that I’ll get it all done.

I pray that the sound of the shofar will actually awaken me to that which I need to listen to in the world. That the loud blasts allow me to hear the still, small voice within my own heart.

I pray that I’ll be able to lead–through my preaching and my teaching, to help other understand the still, small voices of their own universes.

For these things I ask, as my prayer.

And I ask, ask, as well, what I even mean by prayer. If these prayers are limited by the idea of an interventionalist God, or if these thoughts can transcend a theology I don’t believe in, and become a hope, or perhaps an aspiration, even an inspiration.

For all these things, come morning, I pray.

#BlogElul Catch Up: I missed a few numbers

So, as life happens, I’ve missed a few days of #BlogElul prompts: Remember, Learn, and Intend, to be specific.  Today is Pray.  I’ll get to prayer later.  But in the meantime, I want to share my thoughts.  What follows probably covers all of these topics, but more than that, it’s what is on my mind at the moment.  And definitely ties into considering my life and what I want it to look like as I step into the next year.  So, as a make-up post, here is my offering.

I attended the funeral yesterday for a 96 year old woman, an elder and matriarch of the synagogue.  Many, if not most, synagogues have at least one person like this: the person who is ever present…who comes to services even in their last months…who everyone knows, even the newcomers…who everyone has a story about.  Who have accomplished much in their lives, and have continued to accomplish in their final years.  The folks who are naturally role models for everyone–not only because they have lived so long, but because they have truly lived throughout those years.

Sitting in the funeral, I couldn’t help but wonder about my own eventual end.  Perhaps because I was just in that kind of mood, or because of the time of year, or because I recently wrote a paper that contained my future retirement speech, or just because it was one of those days.  That was where my mind wandered to.  And I wondered who would come to my funeral.

God willing, I’ll live to my 90’s.  But will there be a crowd there of people, not just who remember me for what I was and what I did, but for what I continued to do and who I was at that phase of my life? Even if I live so long, I find it hard to fathom that the things for which these elders are remembered will be even metaphorically true for me: I won’t be teaching either piano or yoga into my 90s.  I’m not sure I’ll be at services nearly every Friday night.  And I can’t be sure what my continued legacy will look like. I’m not even certain who will come to my funeral.  Or who will speak.  Or what words will be said.

And as I consider all that, I remind myself that I need to be more intentional about my relationships, especially my friendships.  I love my friends and I count on them and they give me immeasurable gifts.  I hope they know that.  But I don’t always show it.  As an introvert, it doesn’t always strike me that I haven’t talked to someone in months.  And when I do remember, it’s usually around 4 am.  I know I take many of my relationships for granted.  And I know that I can do better–and that I need to do better.  My friends deserve it.  I deserve it.

This past weekend, I had the pleasure of having dinner with 2 different sets of friends whom I’ve known for decades (2 different dinners).  Neither couple had I seen in longer than it should have been.  And with both couples, we easily settled into the conversation of true friendship–sharing honesty, sharing our truths, sharing ourselves.  And, of course, laughing a lot.

Both of those dinners reminded me of how much joy friendship brings me.  And of how much I miss out when I don’t nurture the friendships I have.

As I swim through Elul, trying not to drown in the weeks of preparation, I realize that I need to continue to cultivate the friendships that I have.  I can’t count on the occasional text.  I can’t assume that our history will preserve the present.  I need to intentionally continue the building of these friendships–because even when the foundation is strong, the exterior always needs work.  I need to do that work.  I know that.

Doing that isn’t always easy for me.  At times, it’s decidedly difficult–not because of the friendships but because of me.  That’s something for me to work on.  And I can.  And I will.  And I will look forward to a year full of friendship, overflowing with the blessings that overflow when those friendships get the attention they deserve.

#BlogElul 11 & 12: Trust & Count

When we trust others, we count on them.

When we count what we have, or count time, we trust that we have enough.

 

Both of these can be challenging.  It’s hard to trust people, and truly count on them. It’s hard to trust that we truly have enough of what we need, and that we will continue to have it.

And it can be just as challenging to count on ourselves. To trust that we will be able to do all of the tasks that we count on our to do list.  A list that (at least for me) never seems to get shorter.

We look at the world, and it can be difficult to trust that everything will be ok–violence, hurricanes, illness…we see these things and we struggle with considering that we can trust in the universe.  Even when we see that people who help others–who do extraordinary acts to counter difficulty–it’s hard to imagine that we can count enough people out there to make up for the destruction.

For those of us who struggle with God–who have trouble believing, who have trouble with faith, who have trouble with ideas that are counter to rational thought–it is a struggle to trust that there is anything we can count on.

And yet, we persist.  We learn to trust ourselves.  We learn to count the patterns of nature and rely on the fact that they mean that the universe will continue.  We learn to have trust in the idea that good is stronger than evil, and that the good that is within any of us will be the stronger force for most of us.

And, at this season, we count our days and we count our own acts and we place them in trust.  So that when we need to count on ourselves, we will, ourselves, act.

#BlogElul 9 & 10: See and Forgive

Sometimes, I see things around me and don’t do enough to respond.

Sometimes, I see things that I don’t need to look at and they blind me to what I really need to notice.

Sometimes, I see too much and I don’t know what to look at first, much less what to do about it.

Sometimes, I see only the shadows and miss what is real.

Sometimes, I need to find a way to see forgiveness.  To forgive myself for missing out on the important sights.  To see a way towards allowing myself to see what is in front of me. To embrace the vision laid out before me, and walk towards it.  Into the future.

#BlogElul 8: Hear

 

The sound of the shofar is designed to wake us up.  Not just physically (although, for some, who don’t get much out of services, it serves that purpose, as well), but spiritually.  The shofar calls us to awaken to the world, to our selves, to the possibility that exists in the world to come.

But there are certainly other sounds this time of year that call us.  This year, I think of: the sounds of children returning to school, the sounds of souls moaning as their homes and community are flooded, the sounds of voices joining in shouts for justice, the sounds of women trying to pray at Judaism’s holiest spot and drown out by whistles, the sounds of love drowning out the hatred of those who march in the name of bigotry, the sounds of people just trying to do their best, the sounds of people engaged in conversation.

I invite you this month, to hear the sound of someone who sounds different from you.  Maybe they are from a different background.  Maybe they look different.  Maybe they speak a different language.  Maybe they believe differently.  But, maybe, you can hear each other–and you can learn from each other.  And, together, you can create a new sound–that ushers in a new age of a different kind of peace.

Perhaps that can be what the shofar calls to us this year.