Dance Partners

My blog this week is coming to you from the UJUC website.  It’s the last of my vacation-inspired writings… at least until the Holy Days.  🙂

See if I can convince you that Jewish and Hawaiian spirituality intersected at some point. 🙂

Dance Partners

Rabbi Diane Rose
Those of us who are part of progressive spiritual groups and participate in interfaith activities often speak of the belief that all religions are here to serve the same purpose in different ways. Whether we are Jewish, Muslim, Christian, Hindu… aren’t we all searching for answers, working toward peace, and living our lives according to a structure that reminds us to connect to our communities and to our inner-worlds? I believe the answer is yes.

We cannot deny, however, that our Books and Teachers don’t always preach this. Yes, we can stay safe and quote Leviticus:

“The stranger that sojourns with you shall be as the home-born to you, and you shall love him as yourself.”

Or Hillel:

“What is hateful to you do not do to your fellow man.”

Or Jesus:

“Love thy neighbor as thyself.”

or the Quron:

“We have appointed a law and a practice for every one of you. Had God willed, He would have made you a single community, but He wanted to test you regarding what has come to you. So compete with each other in doing good. Every one of you will return to God and He will inform you regarding the things about which you differed.” (Surat al-Ma’ida, 48).

But we can just as easily point out the opposite from each religion. The Israelites were not to adopt any rituals from their neighbors and in fact were to destroy their altars, pillars, and sacred trees. The Gospel of John has some not-very-nice things to say about Jews, and the Quron outlines some serious doom and gloom for non-believers.

But I still hold on to my belief that all of our religions have been dancing with each other since humanity first asked the question, “Where did we come from?” I hold on to the idea that our goals are (or at least used to be) the same, and that we have learned and borrowed from each other since we first searched for a God. So it is really refreshing when we find those undeniable interconnections between religions or cultures. Think of the incredible similarities between the stories of Gilgamesh and Noah, or the many religions with creation stories that begin with the world being a dark, watery emptiness.

Well, I may have a new one, and I learned all about it at… a Luau.

“Ha” in Hawaiian means “the sacred breath of life.” When we think about common Hawaiian words, many include “ha.” Alo-ha, Ha-waii, O-ha-na, Ma-ha-lo. These words aren’t just about a greeting, a place, a family, and a thank you. They are infused with the idea that when we speak to one another, our sacred breath is acknowledging the sacred breath of the other.

I find it interesting that in Judaism we have S-ha-lom which not only includes a “ha” but also closely matches the meaning of Aloha. Aloha is known as hello and goodbye, but it also means love, compassion, warmth, and friendliness (think of when people say “the spirit of Aloha”). Shalom similarly means hello and goodbye as well as peace (as any kid who had a Jewish education can tell you), but the root of Shalom, Shin-Lamed-Mem, means complete. Shalom is the completion of the soul… the way to peace. Doesn’t Shabbat Shalom mean a lot more than just a peaceful Shabbat? Two complex words at the center of Jewish and Hawaiian spirituality.

Of course, we cannot discuss “ha” without talking about Avram. In the Torah, God gave Avram a “ha” and Sarai an “h” (hey) as well when God blessed them as God’s own and promised them they would be the parents of a peoplehood. Their names were affected by God, the sacred breath of life now infused in them.

Maybe this is a stretch, but even just the word “ha” in Hebrew (which means “the” ) could have a spiritual connection. Everything definite has the letter hey in front of it. Each item, person, place, even adjective, with the “h” sound is as sure and true and real as our breath. Maybe not connected to Hawaiian language, but I like it anyway.

I wish the Hebrew word for breath/spirit was Ru-cha instead of Ru-ach. If it was, I’d be doin’ a mic drop. Maybe it’s close enough that we have to flip the letter chet and the “ah” vowel so it at least looks like Ru-cha?

Now, I don’t know if Hawaiian culture and Jewish culture ever danced around one another early enough to affect each other in these ways. It would be fascinating (for someone smarter than I am!) to find out if the trading and emigrating communities ever ended up in the same place at the same time. But even if they didn’t, I am going to add a little extra “ha” to my Hebrew and infuse the sound with my belief that we all share the same sacred breath of life.

And with that I say, S-HA-lom and Alo-HA to you. 🙂

If Only Bannon were Abraham

That which is hateful to you, do not do to your neighbor. That is the whole Torah; the rest is commentary. – Hillel

An aged Abraham, recovering from his circumcision, is sitting at the entrance of his tent with the hot sun gleaming above him.  When he looks up, he notices three men standing near.  As soon as he sees them, he runs to greet them.  He bows to the ground and offers them food, water, shade, and to bathe their feet.

Think of this man, nearly 100 years old, with searing pain between his legs, running toward strangers.  Why run?  Why not walk gently and calmly?  Could he sense that they were messengers of God?  Or did he simply not want to lose the opportunity to do the right thing… to offer some travelers food, water and shade on a hot day, even when he, himself, was suffering?

We all, but particularly those of us (Jews, Christians and Muslims) who are the descendants of Abraham, have an opportunity with this week’s Torah portion to be inspired by him, and to run, not walk, toward what we think is right, even when it’s painful.  And if we are paying attention, we will not miss that Abraham is running toward strangers… not after they asked for help, but simply to do something that might make their lives a little brighter.

There are many ways we can interpret who our “strangers” are.  But for now, let’s consider those we think of as strangers because they hold on to different ideals than we do. It is essential that we take the opportunity to try to understand those with whom we do not agree, even on the most fundamental issues.  This does not mean we have to alter our own opinions.  But it does mean that our compassion and willingness to listen must reach beyond our comfort zones.  It means we try to stand in another person’s shoes.  It means we never forget that they have journeys full of love and pain and disappointment that brought them to their place, and that we, too, travelled through love and pain and disappointment to get to where we stand.  But we share some common experiences, and so we don’t walk toward this conversation, we run toward it.

That being said, we also have to run toward conflict when we believe human decency is at stake.

Now, as a spiritual leader, I try to stay out of public politics, and I never, ever told my community for whom to vote.  In fact, my community is centered around acceptance no matter who you are, who you love, or what you believe.  But we are also committed to protecting those individuals.   So what I’m about to say isn’t about party lines or politics.  My disgust has nothing to do with Republicans or Democrats or Independents.  We need to talk about the basic human rights we treasure in this country and that we can’t have an America where we believe anyone who isn’t exactly like us is a stranger to avoid or harm rather than run toward with good will.

I’m lookin’ at you Steve Bannon. 

You seem to think the opposite sex are the “strangers”:  Birth Control Makes Women Unattractive and Crazy (title from Breitbart News article).

Anyone with color to their skin is a “stranger”: There’s little question that Breitbart has regularly published materials designed to stoke fears about African-Americans, Latinos, Muslims, and other groups, and to explicitly normalize white-nationalist and white-supremacist beliefs (New York Magazine).

Those of other religions are “strangers”: Mary Louise Piccard said in a 2007 court declaration that Bannon didn’t want their twin daughters attending the Archer School for Girls in Los Angeles because many Jewish students were enrolled at the elite institution.  “The biggest problem he had with Archer is the number of Jews that attend,” Piccard said in her statement signed on June 27, 2007. “He said that he doesn’t like the way they raise their kids to be ‘whiny brats’ and that he didn’t want the girls going to school with Jews,” Piccard wrote (NY Daily News).

A loving relationship you don’t experience yourself is “strange”: That’s why there are some unintended consequences of the women’s liberation movement. That, in fact, the women that would lead this country would be pro-family, they would have husbands, they would love their children. They wouldn’t be a bunch of dykes that came from the Seven Sisters schools up in New England (Bannon quote as reported in Cosmopolitan Magazine).

And in case that isn’t enough for you, my dear readers, check out this guide to Bannon and Breitbart News’ “alt-right” language in the LA Times:

This is not my America, or Obama’s, or Bush senior’s, or Bush junior’s, or Regan’s, or even Paul Ryan’s.  Don’t tell me this is politics.

But, you know what?  Even with all that, I stick to what I wrote.   It is my responsibility as a Jew, as a child of Abraham, to welcome someone I don’t yet know or understand.  And so, Mr. Bannon, I invite you to come to California and speak to our Jewish communities.   Explain to all of us how these quotes and reports don’t define you. Explain to us whether or not we should accept sexist, racist, homophobic, anti- diversity attitudes in the United States of America.  Help us explain to our non-Christian, non-white, non-straight family and friends why they should not be afraid.  Help us understand what you feel when you look at the statue of liberty and read these words written by a female, Jewish author, “Give me your tired, your poor, Your huddled masses yearning to breathe free, The wretched refuse of your teeming shore. Send these, the homeless, tempest-tossed to me, I lift my lamp beside the golden door!

We will welcome you if you come, Mr. Bannon, in fact run toward you as our “stranger” with open arms, and offer your food, water, shade, and an opportunity to be understood.

But we will also run, not walk, toward human rights, human dignity, and caring for one another if you can’t. 


New Year’s Resolution? Here I am!


Hineni.  Here I am.

When God called to Abraham, Abraham answered, Hineni… Here I am.

When God called to Jacob, Jacob answered, Hineni… Here I am.

And when God called to Moses, Moses answered, Hineni… Here I am.

Well, at least that’s how the story goes…

They say that one doesn’t just decide to be clergy, but one is called to be clergy. Well, gosh, in just a few weeks, I will be traveling to Florida for my own Rabbinic ordination.  I’m already a Cantor, so I guess I’m already clergy (don’t tell my husband; he always says, “Who wants to go to bed at night next to clergy??!!”), but this Rabbi thing is a whole other level.   To be a true spiritual leader means watching my own ego and never getting too impressed with myself.  It means listening to the needs of the people who invite me into their lives rather than placing my needs upon them.  It means being there for beautiful events such as weddings and b’nei-mitzvah and baby namings, but it also means being there when there is fear, tragedy, sadness, illness, and death.  It means being available for guidance when asked, and it also means being wise enough to step away when space is needed.  This clergy thing is no easy task.  But I don’t really feel like I was “called”.  I never heard the voice of God like those guys mentioned above.  I never saw a holy light or a burning bush or heard rolling thunder speak my name, or even felt a tap on the shoulder.  I just kind of kept putting one foot in front of the other and somehow found myself here.

I guess there were moments in my journey that I could interpret as the Universe guiding me along a particular path, but I’m also open to the idea that I saw meaning in those instances because this was the path I desired deep down.  I’ll never know which it was, and I don’t think it really matters.  I think all any of us can to do is keep our eyes and ears open for those moments that are either themselves imbued with meaning or that we infuse with meaning, reflecting our own hearts’ desires to ourselves.  It is possible that Abraham, Jacob and Moses, didn’t hear a literal voice but heard an internal “knowing”.  It’s possible they were calling themselves.  Maybe that is all we must ask of ourselves too.

It’s interesting that the Torah portion Shemot (the one in which God calls to Moses and Moses answers with Hineni) will be read during the Shabbat after New Year’s day this year.  While Moses is being “called”, here we all are, making our usual New Year’s resolutions… to get back into shape, to spend more time with family, to make more money, to eat healthier, to finally lose that 15 pounds.  But maybe the lesson we can grab from this New Year’s Torah portion is that we can forget all that stuff. Maybe we don’t have to “observe” the New Year with promises that we probably won’t keep and will feel guilty when we don’t.  Maybe we can just say to the world, “Hineni!  Here I am!  Whatever this life calls upon me to do this year, I won’t hide!  I’m right here, and I’ll give it my best shot!”   With this, we prepare ourselves to be flexible, to face challenges, to move like water as we encounter the unknown twists and turns that lie ahead in 2016.  If we are able to achieve this, we may find ourselves doing something very, very difficult… living in the moment.

When I return from Florida, my Kehillah Sababah, my “Cool Community” will celebrate with me and for the first time, call me “Rabbi.”  To my Cool Shul readers and community… Hineni.  Here I am.  Thank you for spending a little time with me.  I don’t know where the “call” to learn and grow and share with you came from, but I am grateful for the call, and I am going to do my best to be beside you as you navigate your lives.  Thank you for being with me as I navigate mine.

May 2016 be a year in which we all listen to the internal and external voices that guide us and remind us of our “callings”.  And may we be like water, ready to move with the tides.

Cantor (Soon to be Rantor) Diane.

And now, a bit more…

  • With just a couple days left for you to squeeze in your last donations of 2015, please consider donating to Cool Shul.   A dream needs dreamers, and we hope you will dream with us.  To make a tax-deductible donation please click here.
  • We are going to be starting a book club (for adults) that will meet once a month from January through June.  We will be reading books about the meeting of a group of Jewish leaders with the Dalai Lama, learning about meditation from a Zen Conservative Rabbi, exploring the simplicities of Jewish life with the grandfather of the Renewal Movement, diving into an ironically funny memoir of being raised Orthodox, sinking our teeth into some Chasidic tales, and preparing ourselves for the coming back around of the Holy Days.  If you would like more information or to sign up, click here.
  • Please save the date for Shabbat evening, January 22.  We will have a unique Shabbat experience with some special guests and will celebrate my Rabbinic ordination.

Happy New Year!!!!