Friday, January 13, 2017

Shabbat-O-Gram for January 13

Abraham Joshua Heschel and Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. marching at Selma.  Monday is Heschel's yahrzeit as well as MLK Day, and we will honor their memory at services tonight and tomorrow.  If you can't be here tonight at 7:30, click here for the live-stream broadcast.  

Shabbat Shalom!

New Optimism on Pluralism in Israel

This week there is cautious optimism over an Israeli Supreme Court ruling on January 11, indicating that barring the state showing "good cause" at a final follow-up hearing, women may now read from the Torah at the Western Wall.   Who knows what next week will bring, but the Times of Israel's Jewish World editor thinks a tipping point may have been reached.  See her article "Is this Israel's Reform Moment?"

Heschel and King: Inextricably Intertwined

The messages of Abraham Joshua Heschel and Martin Luther King Jr have always been intertwined.  They walked together in Selma and greatly admired each other.  But this year, Heschel's yahrzeit falls this Monday, precisely on MLK Day.  So this year, of all years, we are called upon to study their prophetic messages and to hear their call.  We'll be doing that this Shabbat.  I'll look closely at Heschel's famous speech, "Race and Democracy" delivered at a conference in Washington on January 14, 1963 - fifty four years ago tomorrow.  I find it most relevant, particularly this passage:


Take a look at that speech, and we'll also explore King's Exodus-based sermon, "The Death of Evil Upon the Seashore," delivered in 1956.  In it, MLK wrote this:

"The death of the Egyptians upon the seashore is a glaring symbol of the ultimate doom of evil in its struggle with good. There is something in the very nature of the universe which is on the side of Israel in its struggle with every Egypt. There is something in the very nature of the universe which ultimately comes to the aid of goodness in its perennial struggle with evil."

While King leans in this passage more on God's assistance and Heschel on the need for human partnership, they are essentially saying the same thing: progress is incremental but certain; God will help us, but only if we join hands with good people everywhere and reject despair and complacency.   Heschel and King could easily have completed each other's sentences.  See this clip from an upcoming documentary on the two towering figures, "Praying with My Legs," and see what Heschel's noted daughter Susannah wrote about the theological affinities of Heschel and King.

Here's another quote from Heschel's "Race and Democracy" speech, where he refers to those who felt MLK overstepped his pastoral role by delving into real-world issues: 


Martin Luther King and his followers were particularly inspired by Heschel's seminal work, "The Prophets," in which he describes the prophetic mindset - an approach later reflected in the personas of MLK and Heschel themselves, as they fought injustice in American and unjust wars abroad.  You can find a number of important quotes from "The Prophets" here.  Here's one to ponder:

Why were so few voices raised in the ancient world in protest against the ruthlessness of man? Why are human beings so obsequious, ready to kill and ready to die at the call of kings and chieftains? Perhaps it is because they worship might, venerate those who command might, and are convinced that it is by force that man prevails. The splendor and the pride of kings blind the people. The Mesopotamian, for example, felt convinced that authorities were always right: "The command of the palace, like the command of Anu, cannot be altered. The king's word is right; his utterance, like that of a god, cannot be changed!" The prophets repudiated the work as well as the power of man as an object of supreme adoration. They denounced "arrogant boasting" and "haughty pride" (Isa. 10:12), the kings who ruled the nations in anger, the oppressors (Isa. 14:4-6), the destroyers of nations, who went forth to inflict waste, ruin, and death (Jer. 4:7), the "guilty men, whose own might is their god" (Habakuk. 1: 11).

In the midst of shopping, skiing and football (Go, Pats!), take some time this weekend to reflect on the powerful prophetic message of these two giants.
Jews and Muslims in America

On Monday, I'll be attending a groundbreaking day-long conference on Jews and Muslims in America, organized by the Shalom Hartman Institute.  The conference is filled, but you can watch some of the sessions via live-stream. You can connect to the webcast here and see the impressive list of speakers.  

Jos-Car Nominations: "La La Land" and Chagall


Last week I suggested that we look at this year's best movies from a Jewish lens.  In my op-ed, "Do the Jews Control Hollywood? No, but..." featured here and trending on the Times of Israel site, I proposed a new award, the Jos-cars, to determine the year's top film from that Jewish perspective.  This week, we look at "La La Land," a film whose composer is Jewish and the director is an honorary Jew.  But that's just the beginning of the Jewish connection.

I was intrigued by this study of the art of Marc Chagall and how it relates to a movie where a couple in love is portrayed literally dancing on air, floating among the stars in the Griffith Observatory.  Rabbi Jessica Brockman writes:

"While the world was engaged in war, Chagall found-with his wife Bella, whom he had married in 1915-the ability to float above the world's reality and portray a time of great love. This reality reflects in Chagall's painting The Birthday (1915), which shows him and his wife seemingly elevated by the love between them, able to float above the world's reality and experience a time of great love. This is in contrast to his painting, The Canopy (1912), a wedding scene painted during his time in Paris, where bride and groom are grounded under the huppah (Jewish wedding canopy)."

"La La Land" resonates as pure old fashioned Hollywood escapism, perfect for a time that many would classify as grim.  While Judaism is very much grounded in reality and the incessant need to confront evil and promote justice, there is also an innate drive for transcendence,  Shabbat is a perfect example - it's been called the Club Med of days, the antidote to civilization.  On Shabbat we float above the muck and grime of our everyday reality.  

Romantic love elevates us in the same way.  We have many relationships in our lives, but suddenly, in a flash, one "takes off."  Chagall was similarly elevated during a period of tremendous upheaval and personal displacement.

Judaism celebrates those relationships and those moments, which, far from being escapist, are in fact the bedrock foundations upon which our reality is based.  After all, for Jews, the bedrockiest moment of all was/is the revelation at Mount Sinai, where, according to a midrash, (based on the verse in in Deuteronomy 4:11 stating that the people stood "under the mountain") the mountain itself floated above the heads of the Israelites.  And even God - the foundation of all reality - hovers over the as-yet unformed void at the beginning of Creation.  Before there are any words, before there is even light, there is the hovering of God, a divine dance the likes of which not even Gosling and Stone could emulate.

Our reality is in fact aspirational.  We elevate instinctively.  Some scientists  have theorized that male moths are draw to flames because flames emit the wavelengths of light given off by female moths' luminescent pheromones.  In other words, moths hover out of love.  Similarly, in the midst of the darkness, we humans have the gumption to hover toward the light.  In the midst of earthly despair, we adhere to what one might call "the audacity of hope."

So "La La Land" is not escapist in the least.  Nor is Judaism.

Whitefish and Wahabi: We Can Fight Both


This week saw the ruthless and inexcusable murder of four Israelis in an act of premeditated terror, at a place of peace, a promenade that many of us have seen (I bring all our TBE groups there), where the placid, rolling terrain of Jerusalem creates a bucolic tableau, where minarets, synagogues and church steeples reach skyward in a breathtaking and deceptive harmony.  There they were mowed down by a deranged individual guided by a deranged and mutant ideology - one that hints of ISIS.

The four victims are 20-year-old Yael Yekutiel from Givataiym, 22-year-old Shir Hajaj from Ma'ale Adumim, 20-year-old Shira Tzur from Haifa and 20-year-old Erez Orbach from Alon Shvut. Hajaj was a commander in the Israel Defense Forces officer's course, while the others were cadets in the same course.

And this week in a place called Whitefish, Montana, a small Jewish community is under siege.  As described by this dispatch by the Jewish Federations of North America, the evil inspired by the emboldened alt-right hatred is spreading to all parts of our country:

In the Jewish community, we have been witnessing what seems to be an escalating number of anti-Semitic incidents-swastikas and hate graffiti drawn on houses, in schools, in parks and on signs, among other rhetoric and images directed against Jews. In the past few weeks alone, we have seen reports of an Arizona Jewish family's chanukiyah twisted into a swastika; a swastika scrawled on the sign outside Hebrew Union College in Cincinnati; an anti-Semitic message painted onto a headstone in an Indiana cemetery; and swastikas in six locations in Palo Alto, California. Just yesterday, 16 JCCs received bomb threats, prompting hundreds to immediately evacuate these community havens. We are so thankful that no one was injured-or worse.  In Whitefish, Montana, neo-Nazis have harassed the town's tiny Jewish community and are planning a march timed to coincide with Martin Luther King, Jr. weekend-a march, as its organizer says, "against Jews, Jewish businesses and everyone who supports either.

My friend and colleague Rabbi Francine Rosten moved to Montana from a large pulpit in New Jersey several years ago, and she has become a prime spokesperson for the Whitefish Jewish community.  Below is something she wrote to friends and supporters this week.  Before I present them to you in full, I want to emphasize that there is no difference between the hate propagated by ISIS and that that promoted by White Supremacists, and we should oppose each of them, and all who promote similar agendas, with equal ardor.  This is not an either/or proposition.  We cannot pick and choose, especially (though not exclusively) because both are targeting Jews in particular.  It is supremely ironic that racist, Kahane-ist Jews are defending the neo-Nazis here.  The silence of many Israeli leaders in the face of this full-on attack on American Jews by the alt-right is much more sobering.

No act of terror should be tolerated, nor should any hate-filled statement, Tweet or troll, be accepted as "normal."  As Martin Luther King wrote in his "Letter from a Birmingham Jail":

"We will have to repent in this generation not merely for the vitriolic words and actions of the bad people but for the appalling silence of the good people.  We must come to see that human progress never rolls in on wheels of inevitability.  It comes through the tireless efforts and persistent work of men willing to be coworkers with God, and without this hard work time itself becomes an ally of the forces of social stagnation."

Here is Rabbi Rosten's dispatch:


"This is a time of great anxiety for our Glacier Jewish Community and the city of Whitefish. This is also a time when we have experienced over and over again the kindness and support of our neighbors and supporters around the country and around the world. We continue to receive letters of support every day. This past weekend, the "Love Not Hate" rally brought out almost 500 people in sub-freezing temperatures to stand together against hate. My comments from the rally are pasted below. 

Many supporters have asked what they can do to help now.  First, we can tell you what will NOT help: There should be no effort to engage in a counter-protest rally should the extremists decide to come to our community.  

We have been in constant contact with law enforcement and other government officials, as well as Secure Communities Network, Southern Poverty Law Center and the Anti-Defamation League, all of whom have significant expertise in monitoring and dealing with extremist individuals and groups. They are emphatic and unanimous in their belief that any such counter-rally would be counterproductive; a bad idea that would only serve to feed the extremists' craving for attention and legitimacy.  We live in a small town and creating a bigger conflict or larger demonstration is only disruptive to our lives. 

There are things you CAN do - actions that would mean a lot to us. First, while at this time we do not believe that the hate rally will actually happen, you can support efforts such as the initiative that encourages people to pledge money for every minute the haters march should their rally materialize. The funds will go to the Montana Human Rights Network, which supports diversity throughout Montana. This is a wonderful way to turn lemons into lemonade.  Indeed, even if there is no march, this organization is worthy of your support.

Second, the increased costs for security measures are significant for the Glacier Jewish Community - specifically, to protect people and property from the remote risk of physical attacks.  Therefore, we are working with Secure Community Network, a not-for-profit that is overseen by the leadership of The Jewish Federations of North America, and the Conference of Presidents of Major American Jewish Organizations. 

They have agreed to accept contributions on our behalf, and pass them through dollar-for-dollar as security grants to the Glacier Jewish Community.  

To contribute gifts to the "Glacier Jewish Community Security Grant" and SCN, you can mail contributions to: Secure Community Network, c/o JFNA, PO Box 157, NY, NY 10268.  You may also make contributions through various donor advised charitable trust programs (tax ID 20-1437733).  Smaller contributions may be made electronically via their online system.

Last, you can use the Whitefish story as a way to engage individuals, organizations and schools in your own communities in positive discussions on how to stand up to hate. 

We never expected to be the target of a hate campaign, but this experience has made it clear to us that today no one is immune from cyberterrorism, trolling, doxxing, and other manifestations of hate online.  There are many ways we can each combat hate. 

Talk with your family, friends and neighbors and take action. Consult ADL and the SPLC for educational materials and program ideas. 

Our neighbors have rallied support for the Jewish community and defense of Whitefish businesses with many different civil actions. They passed out "Love Lives Here" signs and the pictures of Montana State with a Menorah for businesses and residents to post in their windows. They gathered cards and gifts and distributed "Baskets of Love" to the three Jewish families who were threatened in the cyber-attacks. They showed up in frigid weather to stand together for Love Not Hate. And, at the advertised time of the proposed nazi march, the community will be gathering in a safe location for a movie party featuring popcorn, hot cocoa and matzah ball soup. 

And this Shabbat the Glacier Jewish Community/B'nai Shalom is gathering for Shabbat morning services as we do each month. Shabbat and Torah study, mitzvoth and acts of gemilut hasadim-they are always available to us no matter what is happening in the world.

Thank you again for your concern, your support, and your willingness to stand up and not be bystanders when anti-Semitism and all forms of prejudice, bigotry and hate surface.  Our community is stronger because you have been there for us."

Secrets of the Warsaw Ghetto

Save the date of Feb 9 for a fascinating talk by Dr. Samuel Kassow, who discovered a hidden archive of material from the Warsaw Ghetto (see flyer here).  Kassow also helped to design the exhibitions at Warsaw's new Polin Museum of Jewish history, which we will be visiting on our Jewish Heritage tour this summer. The registration deadline is fast approaching:  For more information on the trip, see the group's website.
Shabbat Shalom!

Rabbi Joshua Hammerman

No comments: