Monday, December 19, 2011

Just trying to help....

So I took the day off, Noah had school and Dianne, well she just had energy.  So I was up early and then we got Noah to his Mom's house to take him downtown to school.  After a leisurely breakfast we had planned to go shopping when my cell phone rang. An electronic voice told me my Bank of America debit card had been reported missing and I had to push 1 to talk to security about reactivation.  Since I bank at the National Bank of Indianapolis and don't have a debit card I assumed it was a scam.  So I called Bank of America.  Of course I got a computer and after pushing several buttons and trying to avoid having to give them the account number I don't have with them I finally got someone.  After explaining the situation she seemed to question why I would call, so I explained that someone is using BofA's name to apparently fraud people she tried to transfer me to another division, she couldn't, then tried something else, only to have the phone cut me off.  Being the nice guy I am I tried again, called the fraud line, went through the phone menu, got ahold of someone who listened, looked up the number to make sure it wasn't a BofA number and then seemed to be clueless.  So I asked who would be contacting authorties to investigate.  He said he would pass it on to the right department.  What struck me was just how hard it was to report this.  This was not the first time I have had to investigate a phone call from someone who seemed to suggest that there was a problem with an account of mine.  But what really is amazing is how difficult it is to report such things.  I have called or emailed the Attorney General's office over calls received as we are on the no call list.  The form is mindnumbingly long and the only action they seem to take is to send a letter to you.  It doesn't stop the calls (but a low whistle into the phone does).  Law enforcement and the financial institutions want us to do our part about fraud and identity theft and many other crimes in which technology is used to glean information from others.  However it seems that when you want to help stop such things you are met with difficulties and red tape.  Why is it that they just don't make it easy to report such things.  If follow up is needed they could certainly call me.  But if someone were calling people, telling them he was me and trying to steal from them I know I would be interested in finding out who it was and if someone were to tell me I wouldn't play 20 questions to get the information.  Maybe BofA is just too big to be bothered with people getting robbed in their name.  Either way I may have to call the number that called me sometime from a public phone and see what I can find out.  You should too, the number is 701-509-8703.  Enjoy and stay legal. 

Thursday, December 8, 2011

Look deeper, it may give you more insight

This is another Torah minute I write for my families in the Religious School...please to enjoy:

Earlier this week, a viral email reminded me of a story from last summer that had a minute of fame and a lot of egg-covered faces around the world.  The original story was that a group of rabbis in the Mea Shearim neighborhood of Jerusalem had condemned a dog to death, thinking he held the soul of a former secular critic of the rabbis from twenty years earlier.   Reported in both the British and some Israeli press, the story was quickly found to be wholly untrue and in fact a very particular lie--a slam on the Orthodox who populate the neighborhood that is often called “ultra-orthodox” because of its adherence to strict and sometimes difficult to understand Chassidic practices.  The fact that this story, debunked over and over again, still has legs makes me question why.  Was it anti-Semitism?  Was it anti-Orthodox?  Was it simply a hoax played for fun?  Or was it, in a culture of instant communication and a telephone game-like media where reporters are “sources” for each other, that any story can find the light of day and be seen as true.  Let me be clear, no Bet Din, Jewish court, condemned a dog, but my guess is if you search certain anti-Jewish websites you will find references to it.  It doesn’t take much for a story to be set in the closed minds of people.   It is easier to believe a stereotype of a particular type of person than to question a story.
We can see that in this week’s Torah portion.  Part of the story is the triumphant return of Jacob to Canaan and the meeting with his brother Esau after a long absense.  When last we left Esau, he had threatened to kill Jacob over Jacob’s manipulation in taking Esau’s birthright and his trickery in getting his father’s blessing.  For more than twenty years the brothers have been apart, and Jacob is nervous.  Esau is coming with armed men.  Will there be war?  What happens is remarkable: Esau accepts Jacob’s apology.  They hug and kiss, and, by the end of the portion, they are together, like their father and uncle before them, to bury their own father Isaac.  But ask many people about Esau and he is seen as a enemy of the Jewish people, in part because his decedents become the classic enemies of the Israelites.   So Esau, who showed forgiveness and grew beyond his anger, is marked for all time as an evil foil to a good Jacob.  But Jacob had a lot for which to be forgiven.  Jacob had been not such a nice guy.  Arrogant and a bit full of himself, Jacob wanted the keys to the kingdom and is humbled, first by being tricked by his father-in-law, Laben, and later when his is crippled in a wrestling match with one of the Torah's most enigmatic characters.  I recently read a book on this very story in which the author wanted to have the good and evil be cut and dried with no shades of gray.  For this author, Esau was a stand-in for all that was evil.  In order to get around the seeming humble gesture in this Torah portion, the author said Esau poisoned his children with stories of hate of Jacob and that is why they didn’t believe the reconciliation was real and carried the hatred of all things Jacob (thus the Jewish people) throughout history.  Easy to believe, especially when we paint certain people to fit our understanding. 
The Torah is not that simple.  It is a book that requires a deeper look.  Rashi said there is nothing in there by mistake.  We as Jews need to figure out why something is in there.  Take some time with the stories.  I promise you will be surprised, and I can promise no dogs are going to be stoned. 
Have a wonderful Hanukah and happy and healthy New Year.

Sunday, November 27, 2011

War on Christmas

As the snows of winter come we can be certain of a few things, driving to and from work in the dark, sudden cold wet days when we expected clear and cool and of course the Fox News hype about the War on Christmas. For the last several years we hear about how secular progressives are battling Christmas in an attempt to destroy it. I have come to expect this at this time of year as much as Rudolph and A Charlie Brown Christmas.

Of course the only war I see Christmas in is one where Christmas fired the first shot. The war is with other seasonal holidays. It used to be that the Christmas season started after Thanksgiving but in the weeks leading up to a holiday where we are suppose to be thankful for all we have, we are bombarded with visions of things we must go out and buy. I mean I understand it makes sense that a holiday weekend a month before a major gift giving holiday could be the kick off of the shopping season, but lately the so called Black Friday has pretty much taken over the entire month of Thanksgiving and with shopping starting as early as 10pm on Thanksgiving night the family meal for the holiday has become an elaborate carb load for the hours of shopping to come. One seriously has to ask if the savings can truly replace the time spent with family and friends enjoying a little bit of down time to take stock of all we have and all mean to each other.

But this year Christmas went on a larger offensive, having conquered Thanksgiving in the past, Christmas has decided to take on Halloween. This year in October stores seemed to have more red and green than black and orange. At one point it seemed easier to find a candy cane than a pumpkin.

But when we dissect the war on Christmas what we find is a group of people who seem to want to control the language and application of this holiday in the larger society. It seems to stem from retail stores and public schools acknowledging that not everyone who is in their buildings in December celebrates Christmas. In fact other traditions have holidays and many simply want to enjoy the fact that they too can take advantage of retailer’s attempts to enhance the consumer aspects of this holiday. It appears however that phrases like Season’s Greetings and Happy Holidays are considered fighting words to some. It appears that trying to appeal to a diverse population that has been part of our culture for its entire existence is somehow seen as an attack on our culture. This has always baffled me but it appears those who see Happy Holidays as not an embracing of diversity but an attempt to stop American culture to remain as it was when they were kids. A time when we didn’t acknowledge those that might not follow the majority cultural practice and they were left out of many things Christians enjoyed. What these people seem to me worried about is losing not their religion or their culture but not having an exclusive hold on what it means to be an American. It is what leads to anti-immigration stances, English only laws and more recently statements like it should be legal to block Muslims from building mosques and that we should kick them out of the military. There is a real fear among the people who for 200 years seemed to be able to keep many people out of fully experiencing the American dream. Today, as a country people are freer than they ever were and that seems to scare people.

But what the people ginning up the war on Christmas don’t seem to see is freedom for non-Christians to fully express their faith or lack thereof allows them to know their ability to celebrate their own faith will remain intact. As a culture we should embrace this diversity and understand that wrapped in the words Season’s Greetings and Happy Holidays are an expression of Christmas but so much more. Our founders understood for their time that we are a nation of diverse religious traditions and our history has been series of attempts both by law and practice to be inclusive of all. We must continue to grow as a nation and our strength comes from expanding the ability for all those who honor our values to participate fully in this wonderful experiment called America. If those who feel Happy Holidays is an assault on a 2000 year old religious holiday and can destroy our culture as some have said then I pity their lack of faith in our system, our people and our country. Perhaps it is they that need to find a way to get their own house in order.

To all have a Happy Holiday season, enjoy whatever you practice and play at, and in the end find a time to enjoy the freedom that makes us all great.

Thursday, November 17, 2011

We are all responsible

Recently I was emailed a video of some of the most developed cities on the African Continent.  The attached language suggested that if the country have the kind of wealth to build up the luxury towers of Nairobi, Dar es Salaam, Cairo, Johannesburg, etc then why should we send money to help the starving children there.  It struck me as not only crass but so ignorant.  There are many reasons why the wealth, concentrated in a handful of people, many with ties to the west does not trickle down to the people in the rural villages of countries where HIV has devastated the population, where famine has destroyed the crops that sustained life for centuries and where colonization not only destroyed the tribal life that gave protection to all, but brought decades of racism that destroyed an ability for some to express their own social contracts.  But even if none of this was true and it was simply pure greed, why should we not reach out and help?  It is interesting to me that someone could think we should not be, "taken in", by images of hungry children in Africa as if it is a large scam to steal our money.

The disparity is real and powerful.  It is stunning to me that as we see city after city in our own country struggle with the Occupy movement raising the awareness of similar concentration of wealth here someone could be so unthinking.  As if because the Plaza Hotel exists, we should ignore the poverty that is endemic in places like the Bronx.  But in the video's analogy it seemed like if our country could build Las Vegas, they how could we possible have an Appalachia?  Yet somehow we should ignore the plight of the poor of Africa because of Western investment and towering buildings in a few cities.

There is a line that makes a powerful statement in the Jewish tradition and similar lines of text and commentary permeate many other faith traditions.  We should not stand idly by the blood of our brother.  It means we can't simply look the other way.  It doesn't matter why the person is poor or in trouble it is our duty to help.  Everyone is made in the image of God.  Why should we not try to find an excuse not to help, in fact I think we should look for an excuse to help.  We should be honored with the opportunity to reach across town, country or globe to feed the hungry, clothe the naked or heal the sick.

I was in a wacky play called It Takes a Wizard when I was a kid.  The 70s really was a boom for surreal theatre for children.  In this play an escaped prisoner and Robin Hood appear.  Robin Hood robs the King and gives the money to the prisoner.  The prisoner exclaims upon receive the treasure "I'm rich", so Robin robs her. I was reminded of that scene when I saw this.  The person, apparently angry with the fact that there are real 1st world cities in Africa feels duped by the poverty that is so much more prevalent there because the Cairo Hilton screams to him "I'm rich".  Perhaps we should take a bit of what the Occupy movement is trying to say and think about not where is the poverty but why is the poverty.  But still, when you see a truly hungry person offer food, someone who is sick, provide healing and the most important thing is that given them the skills and resources so they no longer live in that situation and then they can help their neighbors and the guy in the Penthouse becomes less relevant.

There are many ways to do this, regardless of where you are, hit me up if you want more information.  In the meantime, as we move into what it the most giving time of the year remember, you can always make a difference and you don't have to worry so much that someone else isn't.


Monday, October 17, 2011

Secret of Eternal life?

I am often asked if I believe in life after death. I say I don’t think about it but I do. I honestly do not believe in a life like the one we have now after we perish. If there is anything I don’t believe we would understand it in terms of time, place and identity. What really brings about eternal life is what we leave behind. Not the physical things we collect or build. Donald Trump for example is not the model to strive for. But it is the emotions, the feelings and the teachings that we leave behind. Yesterday I was starkly reminded of that.

I attended the funeral of a grandmother of a colleague and a friend. A woman who was known by both direct family and many others as Bubbe (Yiddish for grandma) she left behind a large and beautiful family. She was able to see 4 generations grow up around her and all the members of the family I know epitomize what it means to be a mentsch (another Yiddish word meaning someone who makes the world a better place). Her funeral was a as much a celebration of a long life as it was a sorrowful good-bye, the sadness of loss tempered by the memories that made her special.

After the funeral I returned home and later that day I happened upon the Indy Car race from Las Vegas only to see that a major wreck had stopped the race and a story of one driver, Dan Wheldon, had been airlifted to a local hospital. It wasn’t long that people knew what many suspected. Wheldon had died from his injuries. Almost immediately we saw a large number of people talking about this man and his devotion to family and to community. He was always seen as a nice guy in the highly competitive world of motorsports. Other drivers openly wept and spoke of both personal connections with Wheldon and his tireless work raising awareness of early onset Alzheimer’s disease, a disorder his mother was diagnosed with.

In both of these lives, one 3 times longer than the other, the steps these two people took left deep prints on the hearts of many. The sparks they left behind will live on and influence untold numbers of people in a positive way. That might truly be the secret to eternal life, leaving behind good feelings, a family who takes your lessons to heart and a legacy of adding goodness to the world while you are here. And even if it isn’t, don’t we all want our demise to be mourned by many and leave behind stories that we would love to hear told about us?

Saturday, October 15, 2011

Cults....what are they really?

Since Wednesday night Jews around the world are spending part of their day eating and sleeping in temporary shelters with roofs that are incomplete and with walls that rattle in the wind.  Each morning we will get up and grab a palm, myrtle and willow branch with a large citrus fruit that looks like a lemon on steroids and shake them in every direction.  This is the way of celebrating Sukkot, a festival that connects both to our ancient agricultural past, Temple times and a devotion to hospitality in the Jewish tradition.  Though it may seem odd to outsiders, to Jews this is a normal ritual. 

I have been thinking about this because religion has worked its way into the Republican nomination for the Presidency of the United States.  A preacher, close to Gov. Rick Perry called Mormonism a cult.  So I began to wonder what is a cult? Originally the word cult was a way to describe a a collective set of rituals and then generalized to the people who practiced them.  Today is is almost exclusively used in modern vernacular to be a people with a bizzare set of beliefs and rituals.  To call Mormonism a cult is an attack on the religious tradition.  I don't mean to apologize for the Mormon faith.  I don't fully understand it.  But I was thinking is it bizzare or misunderstood rituals that caused this Pastor to call them a cult?  Well he should visit a Jewish home this week, but of course he wouldn't call the Jews a cult, because his faith tradition grew out of the Jewish faith.  So maybe it is the fact that Mormons have an additional book of the Bible, a different form of revelation of God.  One could call it a New Testament but that was already taken by the very Christian tradition that the Pastor belongs to when in the 1st and 2nd century a New Testament about a new revelation of God started to take hold among people in the ancient near east and the Greco-Roman world.  So that can't be it.  It seems the Pastor just didn't like what Mormonism teaches and so leveled what he thought was an insult.  Funny the early Christians would have been considered a cult by the kinds of people this Pastor shares ideas with.

Religion will always play a role in Presidential politics and in some cases it should.  But attacks on an entire faith tradition to smear a candidate is not only wrong it is completely without basis.  In fact Gov. Perry has shown his Christian faith has influenced his actions in office to perhaps even violate the Constitution of both Texas and the United States, while Gov. Romney and Gov. Huntsman, both Mormons, seemed to have avoided their faith having such a big role in their actions.  Both Presidents Kennedy and Obama have had to justify the role of their religion in their governance.  President Carter was attacked for his devotion to his Christian faith as was President George W. Bush.  Oh so was President Thomas Jefferson.  But in the end what we find is that our faith is a personal matter that will influence everything we do but also does not have to totally control it.  If I became President I would build a sukkah in the Rose garden, but I would never make anyone take up the lulav.  Nor would it distract from the work of the day.   In fact it would remind of the fragility of life in general and might make me a more compassionate and thoughtful President.  And isn't that what religion should do?

Sunday, October 2, 2011

Herman Cain is he Palin 2?

I have been entertained recently by the growing interest in Herman Cain's candidacy for President of the the United States.  Cain, a conservative businessman from Georgia and a former radio screamer is Black.  In fact he calls himself a real black man, as opposed to Barack Obama.  If any of you knows what that means let me know.  But what is comical is watching so many on the right who used code words at times and overt statements at others falling all over him because he is conservative and black and calling people who don't like him racists.  Their reasoning is that when Obama was a candidate some on the right used racist tactics both overt and covert to attack the now President.  They were called on it.  The question of his birth, his understanding of "normal Americans" to quote Sarah Palin, and even those who called him "an articulate black man" like some of my friends on the left.  But no one I know is posting pictures of Cain as a witch doctor, questioning his understanding or feelings toward "white people or white culture" as Glenn Beck did, nor are members of the DNC sending out pictures of the White House lawn full of watermelons as was done when President Obama was President-elect.  And don't get me started on the attacks on Michelle.  But these same people who explained these things away or even encouraged them are now putting their arm around Cain.  As if to say once again, "See I am not racist, I have a black friend".  We have seen this before.  Only the last time it was about women.  When Obama beat Hillary Clinton for the Democratic nomination, within the McCain camp several people wanted to make sure his VP running mate would be a woman.  A woman with cred with the right wing, a woman who could talk to the evangelicals and fiscal conservatives who were leery of McCain and also one that could be used as a prop.  A prop to say any criticism of her was sexist.  You see right wing operatives were already sowing the seeds of this calling Obama's people sexist for attacks on the Clinton campaign.  They actually believed a woman on the ticket would draw in women voters for a McCain/Any Female Ticket.  I remember hearing Palin's name and thinking early on she would be the one.  Someone who hadn't come into her own yet, from a state off the radar and someone who had a reputation for being loud and challenging authority.  I think I was the only person in my circle of friends who wasn't surprised by her pick but it was simply cynical.  There were those who truly thought that women would vote for McCain/Palin because Palin had two X chromosomes.  They didn't, you know why?  Women have brains.  Palin represented a great deal of the opposition to the majority of women's issues they find important.  Beyond that the Hillary supporters were mostly moderate left to far left women.  Some strong one or two issue voters.  Palin was a traitor to them.  They didn't buy it.  But a by-product of this strange tactic is that it propelled other women to step forward and take leadership roles in the GOP.  Nickie Haley, who I disagree with a great deal but will some day be a strong leader in the party and Michelle Bachmann, who I truly wonder at times if she is over-medicated.  And many more.  Not all for the good of the party regardless of issues. Christine O'Donnell and Sharon Angle made the GOP look like complete idiots in the last election cycle losing a chance to take and important Democratic Senate Seat and defeat the Senate Majority Leader.  Both failed because the GOP didn't get it.  Women actually do think about who they vote for and it is not sexist to vote against a woman you don't agree with.  

So now we have Cain.  Now Cain has bounced up and down the polls and has tied his all-time high since the start of the campaign.  He is the new flavor of the month for the GOP who I am still convinced hate all the people who are trying to lead their party.  But what we have found is that we are now seeing blog posts questioning African Americans commitment to Black culture if they don't vote for Cain.  That is insane but it out there.  Do they think this will work?  Do they really believe they can propel Cain to the nomination and try to guilt Black people to vote for a man that has said that the President of the United States may not be black enough?  Who questioned his birth?  Who has argued that it may be Constitutional to block mosques from being built in the US?  That to me shows a real loss of touch to reality.  But there it is.  We will see.  My prediction is that Cain will say something or do something that will make him fall out of favor.  He may have this morning on the Sunday shows, I have watched them all yet as I write this.  What I do know is that the people who sent the watermelon notices and carried signs of Obama as a witch doctor are not likely to champion Cain for long.  This is not like making racist jokes in the board room when the one black director steps out to bathroom.  We will see the truth come out.  I mean when he ran for Senate a few years ago they called him a liberal.  Still can't find that audio of Neil Boortz, does anyone have it, surprisingly it is not on his website.

Tuesday, September 27, 2011

I'm Sorry

In the song “South Central Rain,” Michael Stipe belts out the words, “I’m Sorry” so often that it has become the unofficial name of this great REM tune.  The song is actually an act of contrition, or so I have been told,  as he is lamenting choices he has made that cost him the friendship of two people and broke up their marriage.  His call sounds sincere, and his efforts to create a chance to perhaps make up for his indiscretion can be found in between the words. Using his art he lays his emotion out for all to see.  In doing so he is making the case that he truly feels the hurt of hurting others.

 “I’m sorry” is a common phrase these days, or more precisely “I’m sorry if…”  Sometimes people think they are the same.  They are not.  A real statement of sorrow for one’s own actions does not need conditions.  I cringe when I hear a politician or media star say, "I'm sorry if".  When you know what you did was wrong atonement does not need a condition.

We are entering the time of year where we do a self audit and ask forgiveness of others.  Like Stipe who was not looking to parse his words, we must not feel sorry if and only if, we offended someone.  If we know our actions were inappropriate, the “I’m sorry” should be as much for our own recognized failure as for the person or persons we may have hurt.  We have once again been given an opportunity to seek our own heart and to discover our own failings.  We can learn by them.  If we only say , “I’m sorry if,” we are putting the burden on the person we hurt.  That is not what Rosh HaShanah and Yom Kippur are about. 

For all my Jewish friends may you have a wonderful and meaningful Rosh HaShanah and Yom Kippur, and if you are traveling or have friends and family who are, may all arrive safe. 

Shana Tova v’metukah.

Friday, September 16, 2011


    The train doesn’t always make it into the station.  Well, not as often as in the past.  But that is not from lack of trying.  As the engine has aged it finds it harder and harder to build up the steam to make it over the top of the big hill.  For a while we tried different engineers, but that really was only a temporary fix.  They found new ways to coax a little more out of it but in the end it was the lack of function over the novelty.  Today only one engineer takes the controls and has found the proper way to move the valves and work the shifts, but even then the percent of total success is still low.  Oh, I know this happens to older engines but it is still disheartening.  I mean it use to be the engine could not only climb the hill, fulfill the duties at the station and take off again.  It moved and unloaded tons of passengers.   Sometimes to the surprise of the engineers involved.  But with time and use each moving part gets worn, the steam just doesn’t seem to get hot enough and well we all have known it to just stay in the roundhouse with no amount of stoking to make it go.   What is amazing is that it still has its shine and luster and one would not recognize its age by merely a scan.  But no one can deny that once the controls are taken in hand it doesn’t operate like a brand new engine one might think it was.  But on rare occasions, when the moon seems right and the air is clear we can still see flashes from the past.  Those nights,  the train makes all the deliveries asked of it and it is those nights that one realizes that the train may have a history and on the down side of its journey, it can still be a shocker. 

 writers' week

Sunday, September 11, 2011

9-11 speech

A speech I gave at an interfaith service to commemorate 9-11 and link it to the tragedy of 9-11 with doing community and interfaith service as a response.  The theme was enormity and abundance.  Here are my words. 
Good afternoon, earlier we heard the sound of the Shofar, the Ram’s horn, blasting and calling us to attention.   Since ancient times the shofar was used to call people to act and to listen.  But it was also a tool of war, directing armies and in one famous story from our Bible the sounds of the shofar knocked down the walls of Jericho.  This imagery of collapsing walls has taken on more personal meaning in the last 10 years and that is one thing that brings us here today.  But today the shofar is not an instrument of destruction but one of hope.  Blown as we begin our new year in just a few days, the Shofar is a reminder that we have a responsibility to the world we live in.  It wakes us up from the day-to-day comfort and reminds us that we have a responsibility to each other.  
10 years ago on 9-11  terrorists used the planes as missiles and killed 3000 people.  But in those moments after the attacks people rose to the occasion and showed their ability to focus on the community they were part of, even if they were taking their community for granted earlier that morning.  Ordinary citizens helped carry less able people out of the burning towers risking their own safety for the safety of others, civilian workers crawled back into the fire to pull co-workers out of the Pentagon, and a handful of passengers knew their deaths were certain as they rushed the cockpit on one plane to save unknown people on the ground.  One story of a stock trader who longed to be a fire fighter, athletic and able to escape, decided to stay and clear floors, try to reach people above the impact zone in Tower One, and gave his life with bravery.  He, like so many, could have simply run, but saw this as his duty, his responsibility to the community.  He reached deep into himself, knowing the task was enormous he didn’t shy away. 
These people, and many like them, saw the tragedy as a call to action, like the shofar it was a blast to our comfort and asked us to reach deeper.   Today 10 years later the echoes of the tragedy are still with us, it calls us to build a better place in our own community. It challenges us to seek out neighbors and find common ground to work together and add to the abundance of resources we all share.  While America has 9-11, the Jewish people have long had 11-9, a day of mourning, Tisha b’av.  On the 9th day of the 11th month of the Hebrew calendar many tragedies were visited upon the Jewish people, tradition tells us that it was on this date that the Temple was destroyed in Jerusalem and after it was rebuilt, it was this date that once again and for the second time the Temple was sacked.  It is said that the second Temple’s destruction was due to unwarranted hate.  The kind of hate that often leads to attacks on others, the kind of hate that allows 19 men to value the death of strangers over their own lives.   It is that too we combat today, as we seek to share the voices of prayer from a variety of traditions, all different, all with value and all sharing a common goal of working to create peace, justice and security in our lives. 
The building we are in is not ablaze but it reminds us of a raging fire we do face, not one of jet fuel but one of hunger.  100s of our neighbors will go to sleep hungry tonight, but because of you and the Interfaith Hunger Initiative and Gleaners, many more will not.  Today you can honor those souls who gave their lives to save others by adding your energy and resources to the abundance that is our community.  The 9-11 attacks help us remember we are all linked as a nation.  We can acknowledge it is easier to ignore others, I know tonight I will eat and be satisfied, but I cannot truly enjoy my abundance when others are suffering.  The task is enormous, but when we set aside our differences, and rally around the work of saving our neighbors I believe we can continue to make a difference.  My tradition teaches that we don’t have to complete the task, but we must try.  Join me in the effort for I cannot turn away.   Let us pray today to our own source of strength and together our voices, our actions, and our efforts reach out and turn the tragedy of 9-11 into a touchstone for that which makes us a great community.  
We can learn from words of the poet  Jack Reimer:
We cannot merely pray to God to end starvation,
 For we already have the resources with which to feed the entire world.  
If only we use them wisely….
Therefore we pray instead for strength, determination, and will power,
 To do instead of merely pray.  
To become instead of merely to wish that our world may be safe, 
and our lives may be blessed.

Wednesday, August 31, 2011

Remembering Linda

Today is the anniversary of the worst day of my life.  The day that Jamie Morton took Linda Akers in a fit of violent rage that reached out to reek havoc on a society he felt wronged him.  24 years ago, half my life, I have lived without the woman I truly wanted to marry, to build a future with, to me together. As I read of my peers sending their children off to college, I think I could be in that same company today but my life was delayed by the actions of a man, mad and poised to make a mark.  But I have learned over the years that tragedy is a part of life and truly living is about acknowledging the good in the person you lost and finding a way to live beyond the hurt.  I won't say I have made the best choices since that fateful day, but here I am, a life time later.  Happy, in a new marriage, with a wide diversity of friends, a great job that has meaning and I think contributing to a better world.

In the next few weeks we will be saturated with images, stories and memories of a national tragedy.  It has been 10 years since 9-11.  The world is a different place but I recently read a small article that reminded us of the fact that grieving is normal, healthy and helpful.  But to truly get past and honor the memories of friends and loved ones lost to horror we must continue to live.  For the last 24 years I think I have done that, lived out a life, sometimes fully, sometimes sheepishly, sometimes in a haze.  I lost a piece of me that I am not sure can ever fully be recovered, but I do not honor Linda if I don't fully live and as a nation we can't honor all those lost as a result of terror if we don't embrace the freedom we hold so dear, if we don't enjoy the celebrations in our lives, and if we don't combat the hate that springs up around us so often, a hate like that drove 19 young men to kill themselves and almost 3000 others and wound a country.

The greatest way I can honor Linda would be to continue to fight hate, racism, the anti-Islam crowd as well as the Islamists.  To move us away from radical rhetoric that marginalizes an entire group for the sake of a few members who act with violent. I hope to both honor my dearly departed Linda and the memory of those lost on 9-11 by working to make the world a better place, join me.  Speak out, attend services this season that elevate the good of this country and not allow yourself to be absorbed by anger, fear and hate so seductive to a damaged soul.  Most of you knew not Linda, but if you know me you have seen a spark of her.  Take this opportunity to make her memory a blessing.

Thank you for this indulgence.  

Tuesday, August 16, 2011

Noah turns 15 today....

Fifteen years ago today I held my son Noah for the first time, seconds after he was born.  There are powerful moments in one’s life and I have been both lucky and worked hard to be able to fulfill some childhood wishes.  I have stood on the ruins of Urquhart Castle on Loch Ness, touched the Western Wall, seen the buildings at Petra and seen the splendor of the Grand Canyon.  All those moments combined cannot match power of holding my son.  And in those 15 years I have found myself feeling at times like a failure as a parent and at times I know I have helped him be the young man he is becoming.  Today is a double milestone as he starts high school officially this morning.  So I wanted to think about the 15 things that makes me glad that Noah is my son.
1.        He can quote Monty Python skits including the over the top British Accents, and not just the popular one.
2.       He has always appreciated good food, he often asks for duck fat French fries and Truffle Mac and Cheese.
3.       He loves a wide range of music, but in the car he says “Do you have your Ipod?  Can you play the Kid Delicious Mix? 
4.       He can daven the Shabbat and Weekday services and even though he doesn’t always want to, he can engage the service when asked.
5.       He cares about the feelings of others and is always ready to see what he can do to help them.  He recently asked me for his allowance to donate it to a cause he liked. 
6.       He has never been materialistic and even when shopping for something for him; he balances cost versus the value to him.  He doesn’t care if he has the next big thing.
7.       He makes Dianne feel like a mom, and makes sure that we consider her when having fun.
8.       He lets me win on the Wii since he is 10x better at most of the games and feels bad for me.
9.       He has a great sense of humor and lets it out in subtle ways.
10.   There are times I have to tell him to stop reading…he reads when he brushes his teeth.
11.   He thinks sushi is the greatest idea in food, ever.
12.   He is at home in a museum of art.  Loves Pollack and Kandinsky.
13.   He acts like “A Picker” at garage sales and at what we call The Crazy Goodwill.
14.   He is curious about the world.  He wants to know things…about lots of things.
15.   He doesn’t truly know what he wants to do in life, but he wants to make a difference. 

Noah has been a great part of my life, today he take another step into being more independent and more “grown up”.  Happy Birthday to my Noah.

Sunday, July 17, 2011

Making it all about the learning.

Last week I was able to spend a week learning from the wonderful people at the Jewish Women's Archive as they were teaching us how to use this online archive in our schools, especially the Living the Legacy curriculum.  The curriculum teaches about the role of Jewish women in the civil rights movement and by extention other Jewish participation in this amazing event that changed the world we live in it.  One statistic that struck me is that some estimates suggest nearly half the white women who went South to work for civil rights from the north had Jewish heritage as part of their family history.  These were mostly women of privledge who saw the injustice and wanted to change it.  This story is important and visiting the archive website and learning about these extraordinary women would be well worth you time. 

But what was interesting was I was the only man in a group of 25 Jewish educators from around the country and Canada.  While this was not an unusual position for me to have been in in my career.  I knew a couple of the people before I came, recognized a few more from other conferences, and many were complete strangers.  What was amazing was how quickly we became a community.  As an obvious outsider it would have been easy to be held responsible for the sexism of the past and in many cases the present.  (I did occassionally cringe when some spoke of their helpless husbands suffering back home).  But we represented what truly illustrates the theme of my multicultural workshop "The Diversity of a Dozen Eggs".  We were born Jews and Jews by Choice, Orthodox, Conservative, Reconstructionist, Reform, and Secular Humanist, we were Rabbis, lay synagogue professionals, lawyers, writers, and many professions I can't remember, we were Jews who kept kosher and some who loved bacon, we were Jews who love services and Jews who never attend, we were Jews who feel God in every tiny detail of the world, and those who are comfortable in their doubt of God's existence.  But we were all there for one thing.  We were all there to become better educators and we wanted to bring voice to the voiceless of history.  What turned out is that we all learned from each other, we all shared with each other, we all felt connected to each other.  So often the walls that separate us make it hard for us to access all we can be.  If anything was accomplished this week was to show me that when I think of my experiences for the week, I will always remember that teachers who think outside the box to instill the wonders of Judaism to the next generation. I will remember how we worked together to find ways to modify the curriculum for our particular setting.  I will remember the discussions of sustainable food and traffic on 128.  I won't remember where these women daven, or how they say the blessings, or if full kriah is important to them.  And that will always make me smile.  We came together in diversity and left in unity without compromising that diversity.  Hazah to all the women I learned from and to Etta, Judith and the entire staff of JWA.  Thank you for making my summer learning useful and reenergizing. 

Monday, July 11, 2011

Civility where did it go?

So I traveled to Boston for a conference of Jewish educators that the Jewish Women's Archive puts on.   I arrived at the airport in Indy and was greeted with an amazingly long line.  Since I didn't have a bag to check I stood in line and looked around for a USAIRWAYS attendent to see if I could skip the line and find a place to get a boarding pass.  Some horrible woman called to me and said I couldn't get ahead of her in line.  PS I was trying to help her because she too was not checking a bag.  Well let's just say the line moved well.  When we got to the counter the person who helped me was more efficent and I was done in seconds and I saw that she took a lot longer to get through security. 

So the line was long the whole time.  At one point a family of 5 walked up the counter, ignoring the line and started using one of the electronic kiosks.  When it was pointed out the counter guy asked him to stop.  He refused.  One of the girls in the family started begging and crying to the counter guy about missing their flight.  The counter guy canceled his check in and sent him to the line.  Someone let him in.  The whole time they were complaining.  In the security line, which moves surprisingly fast there was a fight of words between a couple of people...for the 10 seconds of difference between being first or second to get to the counter.  OH well, then at the gate there was the ubiquitous pushing and shoving to get on the plane first.  Once on the plane there was a bit of seat jockeying but after that things were quiet.  I had to change planes in DC.  There was a picnic.  When boarding there was a family with a child who had some form of brain disorder.  The girl was screaming like crazy and I couldn't figure out how to help.  I thought for sure that the guy at the counter would allow them on early....NOPE.  Then there was the FAA regulation that you can have only 2 carryons.  A woman had three and was yelling at the counter guy that she has to take them all on.  Then blocked the jet way to make sure someone she was traveling with would take it.  Then a guy kept trying to bump the line, then he stood behind counter guy and he had to physically move him.  Once on board the flight attendents had to repeatly tell people to power down their electronic devises, get in their seats and simply act respectful.  It was an amazing thing to watch. 

One interesting thing was our plane was met by a handful of Mass State Police, I wanted to see if they were there for any of the rude people.  Now this isn't the first time I have seen this but it was the first time it was so concentrated.  It was the first time it was so over the top. 

But now I am with a group of about 30 women, all of whom are smart, funny and ready to learn and teach.  The conference has started beautifully and we will all have a great time.  Now if we could just get this spirit out to Logan on Friday I would be happy. 

Wednesday, May 18, 2011

Hawking God

Steven Hawking has made the news again with a comment that not only is being reported wrongly but is not really surprising.  Hawking has become the physics darling of the media and as one of the smartest people in the world his words carry cache.  What I find surprising is how amazingly wrong the press got what he said.  Hawking called the concept of heaven and the God, as often defined by western culture a fairy story.  I would argue with his choice of words since in literature discussions the use of the words fairy tale and fairy story specifically exclude religious text.  But maybe he is correct.  The definition of God in our culture and certainly the concept of heaven prevalent in our society are not so much religious writings as they are extrapolations of what might be.  Drawn from ancient Greek and Roman concepts the ideas of heaven and hell are often seen as a place where we have temporal and physical existence as an individual.  That doesn't sound like any explanation in my Bible of life after death.  However when one is looking for a way to create a carrot and stick to explain the need for positive behavior, this is as good as any.  The Biblical formula of not getting rain in the proper season, for example, is only a good learning tool if in fact there is a connection for violating Biblical law and rain.  If there wasn't then how can one believe anything in the Torah.  This is what drives many away from religion and here is a prime example.  Hawking's proclamation is being held up by those who seem to make a career out of attacking religion any religion.  However what Hawking actually said was much in line with most modern religions.  Focusing on the here and now is far more important to modern Jewish thought and many Christian preachers than thinking about the world to come.  For them as for me, living a good life is a reward in itself.  I know, not the wonderful concept of the afterlife that would bring perpetual joy but trust me, if you do the math there are real problems with seeing heaven in its pop culture construct as joy.  

But what drove some people over the edge was Hawking's claim (though he did it last year and only now getting more traction) that the universe can exist without any God or gods and in fact is likely to exist without one.  "Hawking says there is no God" ran the banner headlines all over the internet.  But what in fact Hawking did was say the God of Newton, the mindful, purposeful creator God, who with intention and plan started the universe's balling a rolling or the every intervening God that picks winners and losers of life and football does not exist, or more correctly nothing suggests that that God does.  Again not a new idea, many modern theologians have written about a God outside of direct interaction with universe.  In fact Reconstructionist Judaism in fact is based in part on the theology of Rabbi Mordechai Kaplan who said God is what drives existence itself.  Not a separate entity.   God is not a celestial hall monitor looking for sins in humanity, nor a supernatural concierge to give us things asked for.  Reconstructionist Judaism sees a good metaphor for God as the electricity running through our wired homes, adding that we as humans must activate Godness for God to be part of our world as one flips a switch to turn on the  light.  This evolution of the God concept is seen in other faith traditions as well.  But many many cling to the older notions of God that Hawking can't rectify with reality.  

I remember an episode of West Wing where President Jed Bartlet was disclosing to the country that he has MS, something he kept quiet while campaigning.  His life-long secretary had just been killed in a drunk driving accident and the funeral had just ended. He stood in the middle of the National Cathedral to give a speech.  A devote Catholic he comes face to face in a way with his God...the words directed straight at this God.

Bartlet: You're a son of a bitch, you know that? She bought her first new car and you hit her with a drunk driver. What? Was that supposed to be funny? "You can't conceive, nor can I, the appalling strangeness of the mercy of God," says Graham Greene. I don't know who's ass he was kissing there 'cause I think you're just vindictive. What was Josh Lyman? A warning shot? That was my son. What did I ever do to yours except praise his glory and praise his name? There's a tropical storm that's gaining speed and power. They say we haven't had a storm this bad since you took out that tender ship of mine in the North Atlantic last year, 68 crew. You know what a tender ship does? It fixes the other ships. It doesn't even carry guns. It just goes around and fixes the other ships and delivers the mail. That's all it can do. Gratias tibi ago, domine. Yes, I lied. It was a sin. I've committed many sins. Have I displeased you, you feckless thug? 3.8 million new jobs, that wasn't good? Bailed out Mexico. Increased foreign trade. Thirty million new acres of land for conservation. Put Mendoza on the bench. We're not fighting a war. I've raised three children. That's not enough to buy me out of the doghouse? Haec credam a deo pio? A deo iusto, a deo scito? Cruciatus in crucem. Tuus in terra servus, nuntius fui. Officium perfeci. Cruciatus in crucem. Eas in crucem!

The Latin is :

Am I really to believe that these are the acts of a loving God? A just God? A wise God? To hell with your punishments.(actually to the cross)   I was your servant here on Earth. And I spread your word and I did your work. To hell with your punishments. To hell with you!" (again literally to the cross with you)  

Later in the episode he is confronted by the memory of his secretary, Mrs. Landingham. 
He dialogues with her:

"I have MS and I didn't tell anybody." 
        "Yeah. So, you're having a little bit of a day." 
"Are you going to make jokes?" 
         "God doesn't make cars crash and you know it. Stop using me as an excuse." 
"The party's not going to want me to run." 
          "The party will come back. You'll get them back." 
"I've got a secret for you Mrs. Landingham, I've never been the most popular guy in the Democratic Party." 
          "I've got a secret for you, Mr. President: Your father was a prick who couldn't get          
           over the fact that he wasn't as smart as his brothers. Are you in a tough spot? Yes. 
           Do I feel sorry for you? I do not. Why? Because there are people way worse off 
           than you." 

They go on to discuss the state of society and work still needed to me finished.  She concludes with the following. 

". . . . You know if you don't want to run again, I respect that. But if you don't run cause you think it will be too hard or you think you're going to lose, well, God, Jed, I don't even want to know you."  

You can see here the struggle between the concepts that embody the old world idea of what God is and the more modern idea that we have a role to make Godness grow in the universe.  A struggle that Hawking probably has been living with for quite some time, a struggle that is clear in the work of Hawking's predecessor Einstein and of course many many modern people who take their faith seriously.  But the message I would give to Hawking is that he is right there is no sense of worrying about an afterlife, but if we work hard together, honor the simplest of tenets of most faiths, and engage Godness in this world we can build heaven here, and while it will not be an eternity, it will make the short time we have better for all. 

Wednesday, April 27, 2011

Am Yisrael Chai

I wrote this for my weekly Religious School newsletter and thought I would share it. Please comment on it as I would like to know what you think.

Sunday is Yom HaShoah a day to remeber the Shoah. Yom HaShoah is a powerful holiday to commemorate the tragedy of Nazis’ rise to power and their efforts to wipe our European Jewry and Hitler’s plan to do that eventually to Jews worldwide. Every year we lose more people who can give us firsthand accounts of this time period, and so this holiday takes on a new importance, especially for educators of young Jews.
Part of the story must also be about survival. I was once at a conference to discuss Righteous Gentiles, non-Jews who saved the lives of Jewish people in the occupied countries. A survivor was there to speak of the man who saved her life. As she told her story of living underground in farmers’ fields, moving at night through thick forests and tricking the not-too-bright border guard who her family ran across I noticed that her poster on the dais was not of Nazi-era horrors but of her son’s wedding, Purim at her synagogue in Florida, her granddaughter’s Bat Mitzvah. Her story was about what she lived through as a child, but it was not about the horror she faced but of the survival.
Her theme was that because a man risked his life and lives of his family to save hers, she should celebrate the life that was saved in the most powerful and to her meaningful way. She saw the importance of bringing Judaism into the next generation and beyond. As she told me this, we both at the same moment we whispered, "Am Yisrael Chai," (the Jewish people live.) It reminded me that we must all remember the the Shoah, the Holocaust, even as time moves us further from it. We must pray it never happens again. We say Kaddish for the lives lost and wonder about what the lives that never got started would be like. We must fight those who wish to hurt us because of our traditions and heritage and stand for those who are suffering the same fate today. But we must too also remember Am Yisrael Chai, for the Jewish people live and life is a blessing.

Monday, March 28, 2011

Truth is a difficult thing to see.

So this weekend I was privileged to teach the Confirmation Class in my Religious School and we started talking about God and the Bible. It was an intense conversation with some surprising and I must say really surprising comments by the students. When Rabbi Sandy came in the discussion got more intense and in the end we realized the simple truth that the Bible and our understanding of God was never meant to be a static thing, but we define our contact with God, holiness and our understanding of the Bible by who we are as individuals and as a people. We seek a truth not THE TRUTH. We can see the myth of Adam and Eve are powerful stories but do we have to believe that the earth was created in 6 24 hour days in last 6000 years for it to have power. Of course not. The truth comes through. Our perspective plays a role.

I lived with the students' words as I ventured down to the Indianapolis Repertory Theatre's production the The Gospel According to James. The play is based on the story of an August 1930s lynching in Marion Indiana. There was one survivor and he went on to spend time in jail, got out, get educated, work for civil rights, create a museum for African Americans to remember the history of lynching in the US and later get a pardon. The play centers around the dialogue of two people. Mary Ball and James Cameron. You see the story told was that James and two friends Thomas Shipp, 18, and Abe Smith, 19. were out to stick up someone for some fun money. Found Mary and her boyfriend Claude Deeter in a car. Tried to stick them up but James knew Claude and couldn't do it and ran off. The rest is unclear. But Deeter died, Abe, Thomas and James were arrested. A crowd formed and pulled the first two from the jail, murdered them and hanged them. When they went to hang James, then 16 years old, a voice from the crowd saved him. Someone, one voice, stopped the lynching. We can talk about the power of that voice some other time. However the play has Mary and James telling very different stories. Each remembers the night but remembers it differently and each has a real good reason for the difference. Their recollections are discussed 50 years after the event. Most of those present that night had all passed on. There was a sad reality that in the heart of the play was that we remember and think what we need to or want to get out of the story. James, for example, until his last day saw the voice that saved him as that of an angel. Others think it was a member of the crowd who while in the midst of horror found his humanity.

But the over riding message to me yesterday was that truth is an elusive thing to nail down, especially when strong emotions are involved. Our connection to God, the horrors of murder both require our perspective. Go and see the play and it will help you understand what I mean. Remember what we see in life is always interpreted based on who we are. So much more so of our memory. With Bible, God or a horrific event who we are constructs meaning far more than the actual events and words. With that in mind we might see everything differently.

Saturday, March 12, 2011

The Still small voice

Again the world is reminded that the earth is not a calm solid rock but a dynamic and ever changing and sometimes violent system. Our life is a gift of the same system that allows for the earthquake to destroy so much of what we have built and cause so much devastation. We are thankful that the Japanese over the last 50 years have become expert in dealing with both earthquake and tsunami warnings and the death tolls will be far fewer that similar events in other regions. Of course those who must attribute a cause to nature will look to this as a sign of something from a supernatural force. God's punishment for some reason or a sign of the end times. Writers will connect the revolution in the Middle East with this event, the earthquake at Christ Church and perhaps even the local cold that seems to last for weeks. God does not throw storms, tsunamis nor earthquakes at people. God, in my opinion and by historical evidence, does not intervene in that way. The universe is a creation with rules, rules that I dare say bind even God. While the Bible and other Jewish texts are full of stories of God bending the laws of nature I dare say those a simply meant to illuminate the more important lesson in the story. If we look for a God that does it all then where is our place. In fact one could argue that if this is God's doing why should we be involved.

In the first book of Kings gives us a different way to think about this as we see an interaction with Elijah.

And God said: Go out and stand before ME on the mountaintop. Then the The Holy One passed by. A furious wind split mountains and shattered rocks in the presence of the Eternal, but the Eternal was not in the wind. After the wind, an earthquake -- but the Eternal was not in the earthquake. After the earthquake, fire -- but the Eternal was not in the fire. And after the fire, a still, small voice.

That still small voice is the one telling us to reach out, to share what we have, and to help those in need recover. We are partners with God, and my guess is that God would be in the mix helping too, if God could. But maybe that is why humanity was created.

Tuesday, March 8, 2011

Ain't it America

The Supreme Court the other day rendered a decision that said the funeral protests of the Westboro Baptist Church are Constitutionally protected speech. This church, which is basically the family of one man, Fred Phelps, is known for their hateful rhetoric that suggests that the death of young military personnel is God's punishment because of the fact the the US tolerates homosexuality. This is the church with posters that say God Hates Fags and their website has a clock on it counting the days Matthew Shepard, the young man brutally murdered for simply being gay, has been in hell. I know a lot of Christians including those who see homosexuality as a choice, a sin, a destructive "lifestyle" who never level this kind of hate. They would never agree with Phelps and his ilk but they share a basic foundation of their faith, the Christian Bible. Hard to see them and Phelps share a meal though they share a Bible. Is it fair to lump them together?

Now we turn to Peter King, the head of the House Homeland Security Committee, has started hearings on the American Muslim Community. In part he is looking for radical infiltration. He has even suggested that the American Muslim community has not been as cooperative with police and other law enforcement. This of course is odd since nearly 1/3 of the intelligence we have gathered since 9-11 to stop Islamic terror has come from the Muslim community. So in effect King is putting all of the American Muslims on trial for the actions of a few, many of that few do not even live in the US. Is it fair to lump them together?

King is doing something that should be an outrage to people. He is questioning the loyalty of Americans who only share as devotion or love for the same text with SOME terrorists. He doesn't question whether they share the same understanding of the text. My guess, just like my most evangelical Christian friends can't find a place in the Bible that promotes Phelps' protests and hate speech, the vast majority of American Muslims are just as confused as to how certain Islamists find words in the Quaran that encourages suicide bombing. Yet while many Christians are not ask to explain Westboro Baptist nor do they get soiled by the dirt they throw it seems easy to do that to any Muslim. Especially an Arab American Muslim. We should not be making anyone who follows the faith of Islam a suspect. It is not American.

Ironically, the Supreme Court got it right with Westboro. As much as I hate their speech, it is the cost of living in a free society to have the right for them to say what they say. Too bad Peter King doesn't understand that some ideal. I wish the GOP would stop him.

Sunday, February 20, 2011

A Visit to the Creation Museum

So this weekend we packed up the car to finally visit the Creation Museum, a building dedicated to the position of a group called Answers in Genesis that evolutionary theory is wrong and that the Bible explains all one needs to know about the 6000 year old earth. Now I have been highly critical of the organization behind this museum. I think the hardest thing for me is that the focus of the organization and of course the museum is to take the Torah text of the Book of Bereshit (Genesis) and make it their own, decide what it means, and build a tradition around. Any questioning of their vision is met with accusations of being either brainwashed by atheist science or closed minded. Now I have no problem directly with people who want to take the Torah try to build a theology around the words, but when someone takes a sacred text from one tradition, twists it for their own, and then tell everyone they have the only answer, I tend to be upset. So I will begin my story with the full admission that I walked in with bias. I was not disappointed.

From the first display I was met with both a lie about science (saying that scientist view the world through evolution and thus discount everything else) and admitting that what they are doing is not science while calling it science. You see the theme of the museum is that both evolutionary biologists and the rest of the scientific world and they look at the same evidence, just have different starting points. The starting point of the people who run this museum is that the Bible as they read it is completely infallible, accurate and 100% true. So anything that contradicts the Bible must be wrong. Of course this is not science, as anything that is discovered in science that contradicts evolutionary theory would be studied to see if it could replace the current ideas in part or whole. Darwin's theory has been refined over time. But the simple fact that evolution exists and there is a theory that explains it is not the end of the discussion. For those who see the Bible as the end of the discussion fail to take reality into account. One example is the idea of thorns found among dinosaurs. Since Genesis 3 seems to suggest that thorns only came into existence after the fall of Adam so any dinosaurs found with thorned plants means dinosaurs existed at the same time as people. Thus no millions of years old. This is just ridiculous as a way of trying to do science. But there it is.

But what I found most disturbing is the political message that the horrors of the world are the direct result of evolution and science being taught in the schools as opposed to their brand of religion. At one point I turned a corner to come face-to-face with a poster that included a picture of a lynching of a black man and piles of dead bodies from Nazi death camps. The image was to suggest these two events would not happen if we all embraced their brand of religion. However, history clearly shows that the KKK saw itself as religiously mandated and the Holocaust (the Shoah) had its roots in European Anti-semitism that was fueled by the Church. But ignoring all the horrors of history that were clearly the result of Christian aggression made me sick.

The museum also uses some Jewish imagery to suggest that Judaism would back their position, including a video of an apparent Rabbi discussing the meaning of the word "yom" day in Genesis. Throughout Jewish tradition the Bible is seen as poetry to help explain the unexplainable. Even great sages and rabbis argued that Genesis was to be understood at a deeper level, not just the words on the page. Evolution does not truly stand at odds with the vast majority of the way the Jews have understood Judaism.

Over all it was a good trip but I think it is disturbing to me to see so many people not understand basic science and those that do are ridiculed as close minded. We will see what the future holds. I have always believed that the universe is a puzzle that we have been given to tools to unravel. The Bible is not the stopping place but the beginning place. We must now go and study.

Thursday, February 10, 2011

When a Man loves a Man

The General Assembly in Indiana wants to pass a Constitutional Amendment that would outlaw same sex marriage. Now this is already illegal in Indiana by law but the push for an amendment to the Constitution to define marriage as between one man and one woman is fear that the law might be struck down by a court. I find that to an interesting argument as if the law is so bad that it might not hold up in court truly questions whether the law should exist in the first place. But more so I am struck by the lack of good arguments for defining marriage as such. I mean there is the religious argument but that shouldn't enter into the civil discussion. Basically what this law and amendment will do is have the government decide what kind of contract two consenting adults can enter into. Beyond religion, I see no rationale reason for denying the right of marriage to the person of their choice to anyone who happens to love someone with the same physical appearance.
Now the religious argument is powerful, but not always fully formed. Too often the argument relies on "The Bible says so". When talking about the passage in Leviticus that is a hollow answer. Jewish Biblical tradition would, in almost all cases, look for deeper meaning than the literal words on the page. In fact the deeper meaning is often the more prominent view of the text and this is clearly seen in a Jewish understanding of the famous "eye for an eye" text and the not quite so famous "do not place a stumbling block before the blind". For many centuries Jews view the text of the Torah as a lesson, not to be merely read as a document of fact, but as a poem giving one a deeper understanding of live we live. To think the Torah text is simply to be examine on one level is to assume William Carlos Williams had a remarkable wheelbarrow and so...

In a society that understands that love is not about morphology but about emotion, that we can't simply rely on the 3000 year old text to define all of morality, and that even if we could our country was founded on liberty from any kind of specific set of understanding of a creator or that creator's vision for us, we must all stand together and say outlawing same sex marriage and writing it in our Constitution is not who we are as Americans. Someone said the other day that in 50 years students will look at today as the time we debated the silliness of same-sex marriage. Let's not let history laugh at us to harshly.

Friday, January 28, 2011

On Death and Hope

I went to the funeral of my ex-wife's grandmother today. I went because I liked Libby, the woman who died, I like my former in-laws, and mostly I went for Noah. Noah has gotten to know his great-gram over the course of the last several years and he wanted to be part of the mourning process. As I arrived I found him sitting with his mom, detached, and sad. Apparently someone in the receiving line told him that he should be strong, this is the first of many. I am not certain that I would have allowed this man to simply smile and walk away. I think I know who it was, a stranger so no one I could regularly encounter, but on the off chance I do, I will, in my way, address the issue. That had me in a sour mood. A mood that was brewing since earlier today. Little things had cause to annoy me this morning. A person who couldn't seem to pick a lane on Michigan road, the fact that my special order I have been waiting all week for has been in at the local grocer and no one called, my computer gave me a hiccup this am and didn't download all my email right away, then I got a deluge, a drink exploded in my lunch as I was going to eat on the fly before the funeral and the nagging concern that I have forgotten something important. But that changed.

At the funeral I watched Noah, receive people again with poise at times, I watched the Rabbis speak of the "kiss of God", Libby slipping into death as she slept, a preferred way of the Talmudists, and I watched my ex speak of being grateful for the opportunity she received doing a simple task for her mom. Bringing her grandmother to services one Friday night and watching the joy in her grandmothers eyes as she sang the Hebrew melodies, followed along in the prayerbook and shook the Rabbi's hand. It was a touching moment too when she shared a story of Noah as a three-year old hellion running around her apartment. Libby first asked if he could calm down and then realized that this spunk was inherited from her.

After the funeral I drove to Target, I really needed a Fix-A-Flat. There I wandered around the store and checked my phone for news of Egypt. I am torn, violent protest is never a good thing. But the people want to get rid of a dictator and maybe, just maybe bring about democratic rule. My fear is that democracy in the land of the Muslim Brotherhood might be much like what democratic elections brought to Gaza. But I have hope that the players will find a compromise and seeing Noah try so hard to be grown up and hearing Tracy's words and dear love and sadness over her loss I knew the world had great things. Then it was reinforced. As I walked to my car, fix-a-flat in hand, I walked behind the vehicle next to mine as the women with two kids was pulling her van out. We did the dance of you go, no you go. I walk around her and opened the back of the car. She pulled out and stopped behind me. Rolling down her window I was ready for anything. Perhaps she noticed my kippah and had a Jewish question, or worse a slur to hurl. Both have happened in this town. Perhaps she was going to tell me that I should be more careful walking to my car and that she might have hit me, or maybe she just was lost looking for directions. None were true. She had noticed my soft tire and on a cold day, in a Target parking lot, with two children in the car, she stopped to write me a note to tell me my tire was low, and now she stopped once again to point that fact out so I would not miss it. On a day that I would have much rather been home doing anything else but standing in a Target parking lot this women took a few minutes to write me a note and a few more to draw my attention to it. I know my response was not adequate to her kindness. I hope she knows I did appreciate it and more so the fact that it made me realize the every day kindness we miss out if we don't watch.

Tonight the people of Egypt sleep uncertain of the future of their nation and people I still think of as family and my own son mourn the loss of a matriarch. But I will rejoice this Shabbat because I know, every day, every where, gemilut hasadim (acts of loving kindness) are being done by everyday people, people like you.

Sunday, January 23, 2011

The death of a child is not about me

This is one of the many things two high girls told us they learned on a 4 month trip to Kenya. I heard this on Friday night at a celebration of the connection between Indianapolis and regions of western Kenya. The girls, took part of their senior year, to live apart from family and friends and see how they can help in an area of the world devastated by HIV/AIDS and poverty. Hunger, disease, and lack of opportunity permeate the community. So these two teens went there to help and to learn.

The line about the death of a child came as one related the story of her preparation to go. Knowing the statistics there was a good chance that they would see the death of a child. She fretted over how she would react, how she would feel, how would she get over it. Then the girls met Wellington.

She told the story of meeting Wellington at a Children's home they stayed at and worked with the children. Wellington arrived because of severe malnutrition and a father that couldn't take care of him. The girls played with him and gave him a sticker that said WOW. While Wellington didn't speak much he did learn to say WOW. A few minutes of connection brought joys and smiles.

However, Wellington could not be saved. His body was unable to recover from the effects of lack of food. He died. It was that moment that a young woman who fretted about her potential reaction learned that this death had a face. The face of a small boy. It wasn't about her reaction, it wasn't about how she would recover, it wasn't about how she would feel. It was about the young boy who learned the word WOW who will never again be able to use it. She was able to share that story with us and teach us to keep that in mind.

This quote has stayed with me all weekend. I want to be profound but I can't, I have nothing. All I know is that a boy I will never meet, who had a brief interaction with two girls from Indianapolis, will always live in my awareness as go through my life. Problems will become smaller, working to help others will feel more real, and hunger will never seem the same. At least I hope this is true. Beyond that when I think about these girls and what they taught me all I can say is WOW.

Wednesday, January 12, 2011

I need to write when there isn't a hot issue.

I have neglected this blog but I think I will go ahead and write on what is the hot topic of the week. My hope is to write more if I know people are reading.
When I first heard of the attack in Arizona I was stunned but not completely surprised. But my first thoughts were not of who's rhetoric might be behind this tragedy but about the people I knew in Tucson and the family of the then unknown victims. I knew a Congresswoman was hit, some initially and falsely said dead, but I didn't want to try to start making this about politics. I was struck by the scrambling of 24 hours news trying to one up each other and the failure of some so-called reporters to realize that reporting is not just repeating what the guy in the crowd was saying. That said I was not prepared for the tidal wave of blame, counter blame and idiocy that followed. As the parents of a 9 year old girl were struggling with the new gaping whole in their life bloggers and pundits started talking. At first we heard a few ramblings about tea party rhetoric. There were veiled threats in the movement's leadership and rank and file. A Senate candidate looking for 2nd amendment solutions and the now famous "Ballots or bullets" sign calling apparently for armed insurrection if polls don't go their way. But it escalated to someone or many someones attacking the most visible person on the planet to represent the tea party. She is not at all innocent so let me be clear and I think she is the greatest example of what is wrong with our current political state, but it seemed like there was an army of people trying to find anything to link her to something that might have pushed this young man to shoot a Democrat. Oh and people found things. Targets on the districts she wanted to challenge candidates using what looked like the image of a sniper scope. Her silly "don't retreat, reload" comment that made her sound vacuous to me but folksy to the minions that follow her. What we had was the start of the pissing contest. Right wing nuts including prominent members of the club like the radio gurus we all know started looking for quotes of Democrats with "violent rhetoric", others tried to link this kid to left wing ideology including interviewing and quoting anyone who even said they knew him. An old girl friend said he was a lefty but she hadn't seen him in 5 years, another high school classmate said he was a pot smoker and what ever the fuck. The young man had some mental disturbance and a stressor that caused him to feel the need to shoot someone and chose a Congresswoman.

But it doesn't stop there. While some on the left continued, long after it was clear that he wasn't a tea party robot, to beat the drum. The right took a new tactic. Attack everyone and everything good coming from this. The Speaker of the House would not go to Arizona with the President (opting to attend a fundraiser instead). Immediately following the ceremony of commemoration of the dead, hope for the injured and celebration of the living and heroes, some on the right looked to criticize everything from where people were sitting to the opening benediction. How big do your balls have to be to be critical of a faith tradition that is meant to inspire healing at a memorial service? I truly am speechless on that. I want to make a joke..but it is easier to just say the people who did this are bigots and hateful or remarkably dumb.

It is time to heal. Finding a way to do that will be easy for many of us. The new news cycle starts and the GOP in the House will tackle the Health Care Reform Act and the Senate will do whatever it is they do lately. The President will continue to learn how to balance politics with leadership and each of us will still have our daily struggles. It will be harder for the members of Congress who may look over their shoulders a little more often, for the people of Tucson who have to add their name to the list of places that Democracy was attacked and especially the families of those who will help families members struggle with recovery from injuries and those who will wake up every day for the rest of their lives with a piece of them missing. Stolen by a man who made a decision that still puzzles me today.

I have tried to avoid using names in this post. I think I have been successful. The reason is while some will try to use this to further their own careers and others will use the fallout as a way of claiming the mantle of victimhood or even calling out what was said a 'blood libel" (I may address that later) the names we should all know are the names of the victims. Those who on a Sunday day were participating in what makes this country great. Direct contact with those that Represent US. For those that died may their memories always bring a blessing and for those that are injured may the Holy One bring them a recovery of both body and spirit.

As Shabbat comes again let us remember the victims of shooting in Tucson:
Names of 13 victims shot, injured and wounded in the Arizona shooting massacre
1. Susan Hileman, 58
2. Mavanell Stoddard, 75
3. Pamela Simon, 63
4. Ronald Barber, 65
5. Gabrielle Giffords, 40
6. James Tucker, 58
7. Kenneth Veeder, 75
8. George Morris, 76
9. James Fuller, 63
10. Randy Gardner, 60
11. Mary Reed, 52
12. Kenneth Dorushka, 63
13. Bill Badger, 74
Names of the six fatalities killed in the Arizona shooting tragedy
There were six fatalities in the deadly Arizona shooting. They are as follows:
1. Christina Green
2. John Roll, 63
3. Gabriel ‘Gabe’ Zimmerman, 30
4. Dorwan Stoddard, 76
5. Dorothy Morris, 76
6. Phyllis Schneck, 79

I Don't Wear My Kippah at WalMart

Several years ago I was sitting in a cafe with someone who suggested I take off my kippah.  The neighborhood we were in was a predominantly...