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For the Sin of Technology by Rabbi Judith Schindler

4 Feb

image

 

Inspired by a Joined In Education presentation by Dr. Catherine Steiner-Adair at Providence Day School

Technology — an addiction.

Technology — taking it to bathrooms, to bed,
to behind the wheel  
(it can wait).

Technology — not only a problem for our kids,
it is a problem for us.

Technology — I’m just checking.
I’m just checking out
and missing
moments, time, play,
learning, love, and life.

 

 

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I Will Sing by Rabbi Judy Schindler delivered at Antioch Missionary Baptist Church

26 Jan

Psalm 133 states – Hinei mah tov umah naim shevet achim gam yachad. Behold, how good it is for brothers and sisters to dwell together.

How great it is to be here with all of you, the congregation of Antioch Missionary Baptist Church. For more than 20 years we, Temple Beth El and Antioch Missionary Baptist Church, have marched together in the Martin Luther King parade. So many times over the past 17 years, your gifted Pastor Garis has inspired our Temple Beth El community from our pulpit serving as our Martin Luther King Shabbat speaker as he did one week ago. What a powerful preacher he is! Our congregants are still talking about the spectacular sermon he gave.

Your Pastor leads you well not only within these walls, but in the community. For many years we have served together on the CMS Interfaith Advisory Council.  His wisdom and partnership make a difference. His courageous voice speaks loudly and guides our community. My colleagues who worked with him at RAIN were deeply appreciative of his inclusive vision.

How great it is for brothers and sisters to dwell together. How great it is for brothers and sisters to sing together. How great it is for Regina, Pastor’s wife, to be here. How great it is for my deeply supportive husband, Chip, to be here.

Your Missionary Antioch Baptist Church choir is awesome. You lift our prayers heavenward on the wings of song. A Jewish mystical text called the Zohar teaches that “There are halls in the heavens above that open only to the sound of song.” Your choir has opened those heavenly gates.

We thank you for welcoming some of the members of our Temple Beth El choir. I need them here this morning for I do not sing well. God did not bless me with the gift of singing in key. You can ask my husband, Chip. I do no sing and he would add that I should not sing – except when I am alone at home, in the shower, or in the car with no one else is around. I certainly should not sing on the pulpit when a microphone is near.

There is a Chasidic teaching from 18th century Eastern Europe: “When a man is singing and cannot lift his voice, and another comes and sings with him — another who can lift his voice — the first will be able to lift his voice, too. That is the secret of the bond between spirits.”

I cannot sing but being here with all of you enables my voice to be lifted by yours.

As Jews we spend the entire year reading through the Torah, the five book of Moses, word by word, line by line, chapter by chapter, and book by book. This week the entire Jewish world reads the text that was just sung by our choir of crossing through the sea. After centuries of slavery, we passed through the sea of reeds to freedom, witnessed Pharaoh’s army drowning in the sea, and sang that song of celebration. This song is so important that as Jews, we sing it two times a day in our liturgy. This song is so important, we are meant to stand when we hear it chanted from our Torah and imagine ourselves experiencing the ecstasy of liberation. Only two portion of Torah require our standing while they are said – keriat yam suf, the parting of the sea of reeds, and aseret hadibrot, the Ten Commandments. Why is this song so much more important than any other song we know? Because it is the first song we sang when we become a people. You see, when we left Egypt, we were not just Israelites. We were an erev rav – a mixed multitude – but we became one as we stood together in freedom at the other side of the sea.  We became one as we made the journey.

This song is so important because it is our first song.  Just like wedding couples have their first song and first dance (Chip and my song 16 ½ years ago was “I’ll be There” by the Jackson Five), we have our first song as a people, called the Mi Chamocha in Hebrew, ‘Who is like You?” This song is meant to bring us back in time to our first moment of truly meeting God as Israelites and truly meeting one another as a free nation. And this song we have been singing for 3300 hundred years.

There are three lessons about this song I want to share.

 

Lesson #1 – Crossing the sea was not easy.  There is a Midrash, a legend, that teaches that some of the Israelites completely missed the miracle of the parting of the sea.  They were too focused on the mud beneath their feet. “What is this mud?” they complained.  “It is ruining my shoes! What kind of leadership is this?” They grumbled missing the miracle around them, never looking up to see the parting of the sea. Some people are so angry about where they are that they have a hard time looking upward and outward and seeing those who are marching not against them but with them. They fail to see their partners or have faith in their leaders. They fail to see the miracles and the good. And we are no different today.  Even amidst the strife, we should take time to look up and out and celebrate the successes and miracles around us. My friend Rabbi Angela Buchdahl, who was born in Seoul, South Korea, lit the menorah at the White House during Chanukah last month. She asked the President if he believed that America’s founding fathers could possibly have pictured that a female Asian-American rabbi would one day be at the White House leading Jewish prayers in front of the African-American president. Today we celebrate our religious freedom. Today we celebrate the barriers broken both by Jews, who have endured centuries of isolation and ghettoization, and by African Americans, who have endured centuries of slavery then segregation. Even as we rejoice in our collective song today, we cannot help but look down at the mud — the violence, the fear, the discrimination. And there is so much. We mourn the racial violence and injustice in Fergusen, Missouri, in Staten Island, New York, in Cleveland, Ohio. We mourn the anti-Semitic violence around the world. In Paris two weeks ago, four people were held hostage and then killed in a Kosher supermarket by jihadists. In Jerusalem in November, four Jews were killed and eight were wounded while praying in their synagogue by two assailants wielding butcher knives and guns. In Toulouse, France, in 2012, a gunman walked into a school and shot three children and a teacher. Rarely a week goes by when a Jewish synagogue, shop, or cemetery is not desecrated with swastikas and other hateful graffiti. Rarely a day goes by where a Jewish soul is not threatened and filled with fear, simply because of his or her faith.

Ferguson, Paris, Staten Island, Jerusalem, Cleveland, Toulouse. It seems like we never leave Egypt. The nightmares of oppression keep filling our days.

My father was born in Munich, Germany.  I was named Judy for my great aunt Judy who was gassed in Auschwitz.  The Holocaust in not some foreign history, it is my story. My grandfather, Eliezer Schindler, was a Yiddish poet and activist who was forced to flee Munich in 1933, narrowly escaping arrest. My dad was just eight years old when his father fled.   As the only Jewish child to remain enrolled in his school in Munich, my father was an outsider with not one friend. When the class said their pledge of allegiance, they would complete it by saying “in the name of Jesus, whom the Jews killed,” and stare contemptuously at my father. Anti-Semitism was woven into the curriculum. “If you have tens Jews and kill three, how many are left?” my father’s elementary school teacher would ask. So many branches on my personal family tree were cut off by Hitler: six great aunts and uncles and my great grandfather were murdered. Multiply my story six million times. 1.5 million children were murdered because of the faith into which they were born.

Racism, segregation, police profiling, police violence, anti-Semitism, white Supremacy — they belong not to the past. They exist today.

We want to sing but we can’t. Tears and pain keep silencing us throwing us into mourning. Acquittal after acquittal after acquittal move us to a place of despair. My grandfather, my father, my family tree, me, your grandfathers, your fathers, your sons and you, your mothers, our mothers, your daughters and ours — if they or we happen to be in the wrong place at the wrong time we could be victims simply because the color of our skin or the people to which we belong.

Lesson #2 from the song at the sea is that we did not cross the sea alone. In the prayer book out of which we pray at Temple Beth El, there are powerful words adapted from a piece written by Michael Walzer:

“Standing on the parted shores of history, we still believe what we were taught before ever we stood at Sinai’s foot; that wherever we go, it is eternally Egypt, that there is a better place, a promised land; that the winding way to that promise passes through the wilderness. That there is no way to get from here to there except by joining hands, marching together.”

How did we get across the sea in the book of Exodus? By holding hands and crossing together.

How can we get across the sea of discrimination and hatred today? By joining hands and marching together.

We need each other to fight for education, to fight for equity, to speak up when anti-Semitism and racism rear their ugly heads in conversations, in headlines, in our schools, and on the streets.

In a book called Small Miracles a blind woman by the name of Charlotte Wechsler recalls the story of a walk she once took in New York City. “Living alone and legally blind,” she wrote, “I remained indoors most of the winter. One day with spring beginning to fill the air, I took my long white cane, and stepped outside for a stroll. Reaching the corner, I waited, as I often did, for someone to come along and help me across the street when the light turned green. It took somewhat longer than usual and as I stood there, I began to hum a tune. Suddenly, a strong, well-modulated masculine voice spoke up. “You sound like a very cheerful human being,” it said. “May I have the pleasure of your company across the street.”

Flattered by such chivalry, I nodded my head and said, “Yes.”

Gently he tucked his hand around my upper arm and together we stepped off the curb.  As we slowly made our way across, we talked about the weather and how good it was to be alive on such a day.  As we kept in step together: it was difficult to determine who was the guide and who was the one being led. We had barely reached the other side of the crossing, when horns impatiently began blasting at what was assuredly a change in the light.  We walked a few more paces to reach the curb. I then turned to him to thank him for his assistance and company. Yet before a single word had left my lips, he said, “I don’t know if you realize how gratifying it is to find someone as cheerful as you to accompany a blind person like me across the street.”

You see, these were two blind people who had helped each other — each thinking the other had vision.  The reality is, none of us have perfect vision. We can only see the world from where we stand. But if we guide one another, sometimes leading and sometimes being led, we can reach our destination.

Lesson #3 – The song at the sea in Hebrew is known by the very first words, “Az yashir Moshe… And Moses will sing [this song].” Even as we crossed the sea and Moses sang, he knew that a better song would be sung in the future.  Our redemption was not yet complete.

Exodus 15:1 in English reads: “Then Moses and the children of Israel sang this song unto God, ‘I will sing unto God for God is highly exalted, the horse and rider has he thrown into the sea.'”

Exodus 15:1 in Hebrew begins – “Az yashir Moshe u’vnei Yisrael et hashirah ha-zot…” using the imperfect form. “Moses and the children of Israel will sing this song.”

They will sing this song celebrating freedom. What is out of the ordinary is that the words with which the song starts: Az yashir… and Moses will sing are in the future tense. This leads the Rabbis of the Talmud (Tractate Sanhedrin) to say that this phrase is an allusion to messianic times. Even in crossing the sea, there was a realization that the song was incomplete. Our freedom was temporary. In the centuries to come we would again experience persecution and pain.

Our poem was incomplete. Our song of freedom was incomplete. Our world was incomplete.

We know about incomplete songs, incomplete freedom, and an incomplete world.

I can’t sing. The headlines silence my song.

“I can’t breathe,” Eric Garner, the 43 year old father of six who was asthmatic said as the police had him in a choke hold causing his death.

So many times this year we all could not sing. So many times this year we all could not breathe. So many times this year we all could not sleep. The racism and anti-Semitism suffocate us. Black lives matter. Jewish lives matter. All lives matter.

We are all familiar with the Black Lives Matter movement. I don’t know if you heard but on Tuesday I made public my decision to step down from my role as Senior Rabbi of Temple Beth El in July of 2016. One of my goals is do more social justice work in the community. I hope that as I commit to being part of the Black Lives Matter movement that you will commit to being part of the Jewish lives matter movement (which is not really a movement at all – just a sentiment that I hope you will embrace). I hope you will be our brothers and sisters in speaking out when you encounter anti-Semitism, as we commit to fighting for racial justice.

Michael Brown matters. Eric Garner matters. Tamir Rice matters. Akai Gurley matters. Trayvon Martin matters. The Jews who were murdered in the Holocaust and the Jews who are dying today at the hands of Jihadists matter. The New York policemen who were shot execution style right before Christmas as they sat in their marked squad car in Brooklyn keeping the peace matter.

Policies of racial profiling are what we aim to end. Demonization of all police, ostracizing even African American police, and hating because of skin color or faith or profession is wrong and continues a vicious cycle violence. The threats of violence that face both our communities will lose their power when the issue moves from being a Black problem or a Jewish problem to an American problem.

On this Sabbath of our MLK sermon exchange may we follow Dr. Martin Luther King’s model for peaceful resistance to create change. Dr. King taught that “The moral arc of the universe is long but it bends toward justice.”

The sea may be wide. The ground beneath us might be muddy and unsteady. The adversaries might seem so close to that we fear they will overcome us. Yet together and with God the waters of hatred will indeed part.

How will we cross the sea? By holding hands and by holding each other up when we are confronted with tragedy that knocks us down.

How will we cross the sea? By hearing each other’s voices and by listening to each other’s concerns.

How will we cross the sea? By cherishing the Divine spark within each other and supporting each other on the journey.

How will we cross the sea? By becoming allies — people who of faith who help one another; by becoming partners — people who share risks and successes; by becoming friends; by not only protesting side by side but by socializing and building strong connections; by acknowledging that we are indeed part of the same family. Black lives matter. Jewish lives matter. All lives matter. Blacks and Jews – We share so much.

We share a common history of slavery. Blacks and Jews – We share so much. We marched together in Selma. A great Rabbi Abraham Joshua Heschel wrote about that moment: “For many of us the march from Selma to Montgomery was about protest and prayer. Legs are not lips and walking is not kneeling. And yet our legs uttered songs. Even without words, our march was worship. I felt my legs were praying.”

Blacks and Jews – We died together in Mississippi. Civil rights leaders James Cheney, Andrew Goodman, and Michael “Mickey” Schwerner worked together in Mississippi on a “Freedom Summer” Campaign to register voters in 1964.  On Memorial Day that year, Schwerner and Chaney spoke to the congregation at Mount Zion Methodist Church in Longdale, Mississippi; their speech was about setting up a Freedom School. Schwerner implored them to register to vote, saying, “You have been slaves too long, we can help you help yourselves” A month later, all three were murdered – Goodman and Shwerner who were Jewish were shot, James Cheney who was black was chain whipped and brutally beaten before being shot.

Blacks and Jews. We have traveled together to Raleigh and stood on the Moral Monday stage calling for change. I have full confidence that we will continue to stand together. For you see our Jewish family is small, and we can use more brothers and sisters to support us along our way. As I am sure you, too, the African American community could use additional siblings, allies and friends.

Blacks and Jews. The truth is that Blacks and Jews are not separate and apart. At Temple Beth El we have many African Americans who are married to Jews. We have African Americans who have converted to Judaism. We have African American who are born as Jews – they are no longer “other,” they are fully us.

Blacks and Jews – May we live together today. May we march together. And most of all may we sing together the song of freedom, the song of a life free of fear, the songs of proudly living our culture and our faith.

If we hold hands, we will strengthen each other. If we march together, we will march so much farther. If we sing together, our prayers will rise up on the wings song reaching not only God above but our song will reach the spark of the Divine that dwells in every human soul.

We did sing at the shores of the sea in the book of Exodus. We are singing as part of this MLK Exchange today. If we walk hand in hand, as allies, friends and family, we will sing a future song of redemption.

Y’hiyu l’ratzon imrey fi v’hegyon libi l’fanecha Adonai tzuri v’goali. May the words of our lips and the meditations of our souls be acceptable to you, O God, our rock and our redeemer. Amen.

Science and Religion by Rabbi Judith Schindler

19 Jan

Uncovering the hidden

Confronting problems
Asking questions
struggling to find answers
under microscopes,
in ancient texts,
and in the world

The languages of both
require translation
for the commoner.

Failure, success
humility, pride
passion, potential
discovery, awe

Building upon the learning and
findings of those who came before us
Sharing wisdom.
Inspiring kids
to embrace the legacy we leave.

Creating collaboration:
teams in labs
community in congregations.
Setting goals of
moving out of ivory towers and sanctuaries
to lift lives and heal the world.

[Join Temple Beth El for the 18th annual Comparative Religion Series on six consecutive Tuesday evenings (January 20 to February 24) from 7:00-9:00 pm at Temple Beth El. The theme for the 2015 Series is “Religion and Science: Can They Coexist?” I’ll be opening the series with Rabbi Chanoch Oppenheim from the Charlotte Torah Center.]

Waking Up to a New Year By Rabbi Judith Schindler

31 Dec

We close our eyes to 2014.
So much to leave behind.

Lost planes,
Lost lives.

Shots ringing out –
In Syria, in schools,
across Israel’s borders.

Rising tides of anti-Semitism

Rising distrust of police
and rising frustration with politicians.

Radicals destroying faith
wreaking destruction

We open our eyes to the dawn of a new year
filled with light.

This year may we see and be the good.

Daily acts of compassion
that outshine others’ acts of contention

Generosity that streams steadily forth
from hearts and hands

Religion that heals souls
and lifts communities

Schools of safety
Police that protect
Palestinians who want peace
and an Israel that inspires the world

This Shabbat,
we turn from one book of the Torah
to the next and say:

Chazak, chazak v’nitchazek
Be strong,
Be strong
And let us strengthen one another.

This day,
we turn from one secular year
to the next and say:

Chazak, chazak v’nitchazek

Be strong, in faith

Be strong, in goodness and in your resolve
to cast light even in the darkness

And let us strengthen one another
by giving each other
faith in humanity,
and hope for our future.

sunrise

THE GIFT I GIVE MYSELF WILL BE… by Cantor Andrew Bernard

23 Dec

As Jews, we have the advantage of experiencing many significant annual events twice: once as part of our Jewish year and once as part of the secular year. We have Sukkot and Thanksgiving, Rosh Hashanah and New Years, Memorial Day and Yom HaZikaron, Tu Bishvat and Arbor Day — to name a few. While the background and customs of these days may vary between the Jewish and secular observance, they also share some similarities that allow us to reflect on some important ideas twice each year.

New Years is a time when many people make resolutions for the coming year. They pledge to improve their physical health, to treat others more kindly or thoughtfully, or to get bad habits under control. Of course as Jews, we just went through this self-examination and self-improvement ritual a few months ago during the High Holy Days. For us, the New Years resolutions may be more of a progress report than a fresh start.

While making changes to improve our lives is a noble idea, it’s not all that easy. At this time of year, experts caution that the best way to make improvements is to start with something small and manageable, and to build on the little successes. Some of the things we want to change are pretty well ingrained. In other cases, we are often not even fully aware of some of the negative behaviors we engage in.

I’m not sure that the world is ever a really calm place, but the last few months have seemed particularly chaotic and unnerving. There has been violence and injustice. People have succumbed to fear and bigotry. Even when there is acknowledgment that we have to make the world a safer and more compassionate place no one, it seems, can agree on the path forward.

Fear brings out the worst in people. While self-preservation is a natural and healthy instinct, fear often causes irrational and counterproductive responses. We reject those we should embrace, we blame those for whom we should show empathy, and in an effort to cope with a complex world, we declare ourselves right and insist that others are simply wrong.

Even more insidious, we make ourselves feel better about ourselves not through self-improvement but by distracting ourselves with others’ misfortunes. Reflecting the tabloid culture, some people find it much easier to point fingers at the troubles or failures of others rather than doing the more difficult work of tending to themselves. Judging another person is a lot easier than taking personal responsibility.

There are plenty of things in my own life that are good candidates for change and improvement. Some of them are easy while others are deeply rooted and a constant challenge. But one of the things I gain from facing my own shortcomings is increased empathy for the challenges of others. The impulse to judge another person is deflected by self-awareness and honesty. It also helps me see that judging myself harshly is not likely to be a healthy or productive way to bring about change. Self-improvement must often begin with showing compassion to ourselves. And if I can learn compassion for myself, it should be an easier next step for me to find compassion for others.

This is a season of gift-giving. Most people enjoy getting “stuff” but I think the gift that can bring joy and peace to our troubled world is the gift of compassion — for ourselves and for others. This gift I give to myself is not selfish but a first step to doing the work of making this world a safer and more compassionate place. May our new year bring peace — to ourselves, to each other, and to our world.

gift

Eight Nights and Eight Lights by Rabbi Judy Schindler

16 Dec

menorah

As darkness descends upon our world tonight, we welcome the festival of Chanukah. As we celebrate, may we fill our world with expanded light.

Here are eight intentions to kindle our passion.

We kindle a first light to celebrate religious freedom — our own freedom won in the time of the Maccabees and granted to us as Americans today. May we work to ensure that citizens across the globe attain that same freedom of worshipping in their own peaceful way.

We kindle a second light for racial justice. We have come too far as a country to not support our African American brothers and sisters so that they can know that only when Black lives matter do all lives matter.  May this flame reflect our commitment to equality for all, on issues ranging from educational to economic to law enforcement.

We kindle a third light to celebrate two miracles: the miracle of oil of old that lasted eight days (when it only should have lasted for one) and brightened our rededicated sanctuary and the miracle of Jewish survival. Despite all odds, our Jewish minority not only survives but thrives.

We kindle a fourth light in expression of our commitment to bring light to darkness through our generosity and acts of kindness. “Tzedakah saves from death,” Proverbs teaches. Righteous giving not only saves the recipient from literal death as it saves those who are hungry or homeless but it saves the giver and recipient from spiritual death — from apathy hardening hearts.

We kindle a fifth light as a commitment to keep the lights in our Jewish homes shining brightly. Jewish legend teaches that a light emanated from our matriarch Sarah’s tent – the light of generosity, the light of Shabbat candles, and the light of God’s presence. The Chanukah lights we kindle in our homes should inspire us to nurture our dwellings as spiritual centers where the values, music, holidays, and teachings of Judaism are brought to life.

We kindle the sixth light of dedication to building Jewish community. The word “Chanukah” means dedication. In 165 BCE, we celebrated and sanctified the community space of the Temple in Jerusalem which brought all of us together. May we dedicate this night to supporting Jewish communal institutions of today.

We kindle the seventh light of education. The word “chanukah” has within it the word “chinuch” education. The heart of maintaining who we are lies in learning. Maimonides described Chanukah gelt as “an incentive for children to study Torah properly.” May we make Jewish learning fun by finding a friend with whom to study or attending a Jewish discussion at a coffee shop or restaurant or at shul. May we make our kids’ learning fun by ensuring they can learn at camps, in Israel, with youth groups, and always in engaging ways.

We kindle an eighth light to celebrate peace. As Jews we are ohavei shalom, lovers of peace, and rodfei shalom, pursuers of peace. We awaken to news of violence each and every day from threats at local schools to hostages taken in a chocolate shop or kids killed by terrorists in schools across the globe. May we support peace through our actions, through our advocacy, and through our tzedakah to organizations that plant seeds of peace locally, nationally, in Israel, Gaza, the West Bank and beyond.

May we light the shammas each night of Chanukah and not only share the physical light of our faith but go farther to bring the spiritual light of our holiday to the world.

Chag Chanukah sameach — may you have and create a joyous holiday of Chanukah.

An Attitude of Gratitude! by Susan Jacobs, Director of Education

25 Nov

On Thanksgiving in my home, we have a tradition of going around the table to say what we are thankful for. The same thing is happening in many, many homes all over the country. We all have so much to be thankful for and that is the official day to publicly state our list of things and people for whom we are grateful. My kids think it is sappy and would rather start eating but I think it is important to take time surrounded by those most important to me to share our thoughts.

As I think about what I will say this year, I realize how much I have to be grateful for. I wonder if everyone feels this way? My life is filled with so many blessings and I know that so much of what I have to be thankful for is a direct result of the incredible people I am surrounded by on a daily basis, the families at Temple Beth El, the staff and clergy with whom I work, my family and friends. I don’t think I can find the words to express how much you all fill my life with blessings and love.

Every day at Temple Beth El, we share stories of incredible acts of kindness and courage that move us. We see people working tirelessly to make the lives of other congregants and community members better, happier, healthier and safer. We see people reaching out to welcome those who are new to help them find their place. We know that there are congregants passionately trying to change our community for the better. You have all touched our lives and the lives of so many others and I am so grateful.

So on behalf of those who will never be able to say thank you, allow me to tell you on this Thanksgiving, I am thankful for you. I am thankful to be among people who work so hard to make the world a better place. I love the quote by Albert Schweitzer, “At times our own light goes out and is rekindled by a spark from another person. Each of us has cause to think with deep gratitude of those who have lighted the flame within us.” Thank you for being the spark and I wish each of you a wonderful Thanksgiving holiday.ThankYouwithKids