A Sermon about hope

Hi all, I just wanted to share my sermon from last Shabbat and a musical offering on the theme of hope. On this day… soon after New Year’s Day, immediately after a weekend honoring MLK, and the beginning of an impeachment trial, it seems like we could all use a little hope. 🙂

MLK/New Year’s Sermon

When we were in New York over the Winter Break, we stayed in Williamsburg, Brooklyn.  If we hadn’t read the news while we were there, all we would have seen and experienced were trendy new restaurants, young couples, families pushing strollers and walking dogs, and the occasional Chasidic Jew asking me if I needed Shabbat candles for that night (I guess I look Jewish).  But since we DID read the news, we knew, day after day, that there was yet another anti-semitic attack of someone on the street, or a horror taking place in the Orthodox community at one of the Rabbi’s homes, literally in our neighborhood or a couple of miles away. Two stories happening at the same time… amazing pasta and cabernet and croissants without a care in the world, AND suffering… all in the same place.

Last week, when the situation with Iran started to unravel, a popular MSNBC news show host talked about two realities, two stories happening at the same time… a “split screen” that we are all going to have to get used to, because the news is so eventful in this time in history, we can’t possibly focus on only one story at a time.  The split screen was, yes, literal, but my gal, Rachel, was also suggesting that our brains are going to have to be split screens, because that’s how the world works these days.

With the secular New Year now come and gone, a time when nearly the entire human population thinks about starting over and new goals, we can accept this split screen, but rather than allow it to cause us insanity, invite it to carry us through these interesting times.  On one side, yes… awareness, reality, caution, understanding, even fear. But on the other side… balance and hope… dogs and babies and croissants.

Maybe it’s no coincidence that while we were staying in New York, we went to see the most recent, and theoretically, final Star Wars movie.  And what is the thread through all 9 movies? Hope. As Gyn says in Rogue One, “Rebellions are built on hope.”  

For several decades, we, as Jews (or those of us who love and live with Jews), didn’t have to “hope” too much as a peoplehood.  We were pretty settled, except for certain activities here and there. We weren’t in the news all the time. We didn’t find ourselves oddly unsurprised when we heard of an anti-semetic action.  In fact, we were shocked at such a thought. We didn’t have to hope.  But now, it’s time to take hope out, dust it off, and experience just a little taste of what some of us or our parents or grandparents had to feel when outward anti-semitism was more normal and expected around the world.  When one of them, maybe on the streets of Brooklyn, on their way to school, got knocked down and called “Dirty Jew,” they got back up, dusted off their backpacks, and marched on… with hope. And so we will have to do again.  We need hope that this bizarre chapter in our history will evolve into a new one decorated with more acceptance and civility. Hope that there will be a time of healing for our country, when we can see and hear each other again.  Hope that our leaders will eventually have the “beytzim,” (which means eggs and is, I just learned, the polite way of saying testicles in Hebrew, to stand up and call out madness when they see it. It’s here, around the corner. It’s the message of Chanukah, of Pesach, of, on this weekend, Martin Luther King, even of Star Wars… rebellions are built on hope.  In Egypt. In Jerusalem. In Selma. On Yavin 4. And yes, in Brooklyn and Los Angeles.

I hope you have many ways that in the New Year you might choose to start over and improve yourselves or the world.  And I invite you to welcome the split screen rather than be afraid of it. Yes, be informed. Yes, march and donate and volunteer and cry when you need to.  And then when you need a break, focus on the other side… the side that says there is hope and beauty in the future. It’s exactly what our ancestors and Martin Luther King and Gyn from Star Wars would want us to do. 

To quote Martin Luther King Jr. on this eve of his celebration weekend, 

“I refuse to accept the view that mankind is so tragically bound to the starless midnight of racism and war that the bright daybreak of peace and brotherhood can never become a reality.  I believe that unarmed truth and unconditional love will have the final word.”

Ameyn

God=Memories

As I walked toward the Federal building on Wilshire today to join the Pro-Choice rally, I started to have what I have rarely ever experienced… a panic attack.  And I didn’t know why.

As I approached the protest alone, no sign in my hand, just hoping to be counted as someone who showed up, my heart started to pound. I wandered the length of the people, and walked to the curb to join the protesters chanting and hooting and waving signs, not knowing what exactly to do with myself. I paused next to a small group of people banging on percussion instruments, and someone put one in my hand.  I started striking the drum stick against the bell along with the communal beat and… cried. With each “beep” of approval from a passing car or “woo” from the protesting crowd, my eyes welled up again, and I still did not really understanding what was triggering this reaction.  I fought back the tears (trying not to look like an idiot crying on a street corner while banging on a bell in the middle of a protest), but the release was immense none-the-less. And then it hit me why this was happening.

We all are carrying around so much pent-up emotion these days.  We all have so much doubt and fear about the future of this country and other countries embracing extremist views.  We are worried about the environment, our freedoms, our rights, bigotry, war, and hatred. It’s noisy, and if we just carry on… go to work and feed the dog and hang out with the kids, we can kind of ignore the cacophony for awhile (and that’s important too, because life also has to continue and 24/7 of feeling like this may drive us all insane).  But the reason I cried is because I had to stare right at my fears by standing with those protesters… fear that our rights will be taken away, fear that our government is inhumane, fear that we are heading toward ecological disaster, fear of war, fear that the current level of hatred and anger of this world is insurmountable.  I just couldn’t keep it all inside anymore.

After the tears, and several rounds of letting out my emotions on a bell, I gave the instrument to someone else to bang on for awhile and started to walk away.  I must say I felt a little better. And as I headed to my car, I started thinking about what I was supposed to write a blog about today (this wasn’t it), which led me to chanting the Shema to myself over and over, like a mantra.

I was going to write about our last Shabbat when we talked about defining God as Memories.  I won’t get into all of why… that will be another blog someday. But if it is so that God=Memories, then it turns the meanings of the prayers we say at Shabbat inside out and upside down, including the Shema.  Here is the traditional translation of each word of the Shema.

Shema (Listen or Hear)

Yisrael (The people Israel – let’s expand it to ALL people)

Adonai (our substitute name for God which means “my Lord” but Adon also means Master or Leader so… “my Leader” is a possibility)

Eloheinu (our God)

Adonai (see above)

Echad (One)

If God=Memories, then we could theoretically translate the Shema alternatively as this: Listen, everyone, I am led by our Memories, I am led toward Oneness.

I cried today because for so many of us, our memories of this time in history are and will continue to be painful.  I cried because of memories of a time when we weren’t all so afraid. I cried because I fear for the future I won’t see, and the memories our children will have to endure.  I cried for the memories being formed by women who can’t make choices, by immigrants who are being separated from their families, by the children who have been in lockdown at schools.  But as I chanted the Shema on my way to my car, I remembered that these memories are the fuel for how we handle tomorrow. We are led by these memories, even if they are unpleasant, and we CAN lead ourselves toward a time when more of us see the connectivity in all things, that we are all part of One, and that we better start acting like it.  

Shema Yisrael.. Listen everyone.

Adonai Eloheinu… I am led by our memories

Adonai Echad.. I am led toward Oneness.

May the memories of today, the joyous ones and the painful ones, lead to a future with more understanding, compassion and connection.  And if you feel panicky one day, like I did today, maybe this new translation of the Shema can provide you with a mantra in times of struggle.  

But don’t walk away from the fear. 🙂

For inspiration, hear our Shema here.

Invitation to the National Day of Unplugging

Last weekend, I read a wonderful article in the New York Times about unplugging.

Oh, I just heard you sigh.  Take that back! This is different.

This article was written by a New York Times writer whose column focuses on the intersection of technology and business… in other words, someone for whom it is not easy to unplug.  And he didn’t. This article is simply about his journey toward having a healthier relationship with his smartphone.

Come on!  Now I’m pretty sure I felt you roll your eyes!

We all know many of us are like rats in cages, continuously pushing that little button for a fix.  As a wise friend said to me recently, “I changed my phone habits when someone showed me that it is no longer a tool we use, but that we have become a tool of it.”  Frightening.  

So, this quick blog post is NOT about giving up technology.  After all, I am LOVING the new laptop with which I’m writing this blog.  But it is an invitation to change our relationships with technology.  Our inclination to unlock our phones just to “check what happened” since the last time we checked it… like… 5 minutes ago… is changing our brains, our relationships, our habits, and our culture.  So, let’s stop sighing and rolling our eyes, and just do these three things (I’ll try to do them too!)…

  • Read this article.  I know none of us want to think about unplugging, but do it for your yourself.  Do it for your kids. Don’t be afraid. You won’t be sorry. 🙂
  • In honor of this weekend which is the organization Reboot’s National Day of Unplugging, come to Cool Shul this Saturday morning for an Unplugged Shabbat event.  We will have some old fashioned Board and Card games at 10:30am, and some old fashioned snacks, too! For details, go here: https://www.coolshul.org/event/unpluggedgames.  
  • Ok, so you’re still hesitant, and you aren’t going to do either of those things above?  Fine. Be that way. At least read these quotes from the NYT article, and do me a favor, during this National Day of Unplugging from sundown Friday night to sundown Saturday evening (yes, folks, that’s Shabbat), find a time to literally put your phone in another room, if at all possible, and feel the freeing effect of having no idea what’s going on, at least for an hour or two.  Trump can wait.

Quotes from Kevin Roose,

Do Not Disturb: How I Ditched My Phone and Unbroke My Brain:

“My symptoms were all the typical ones: I found myself incapable of reading books, watching full-length movies or having long uninterrupted conversations. Social media made me angry and anxious, and even the digital spaces I once found soothing (group texts, podcasts, YouTube k-holes) weren’t helping.”

“I confess that entering phone rehab feels clichéd, like getting really into healing crystals or Peloton.”

“…her program focuses on addressing the root causes of phone addiction, including the emotional triggers that cause you to reach for your phone in the first place. The point isn’t to get you off the internet, or even off social media — you’re still allowed to use Facebook, Twitter and other social platforms on a desktop or laptop, and there’s no hard-and-fast time limit. It’s simply about unhooking your brain from the harmful routines it has adopted around this particular device, and hooking it to better things.”

“I became acutely aware of the bizarre phone habits I’d developed. I noticed that I reach for my phone every time I brush my teeth or step outside the front door of my apartment building, and that,  for some pathological reason, I always check my email during the three-second window between when I insert my credit card into a chip reader at a store and when the card is accepted.”

“Mostly, I became aware of how profoundly uncomfortable I am with stillness.”

“It’s an unnerving sensation, being alone with your thoughts in the year 2019.”

“Studies have shown that people who don’t charge their phones in their bedrooms are significantly happier than those who do.”

“Psychologists have a name for this: “phubbing,” or snubbing a person in favor of your phone. Studies have shown that excessive phubbing decreases relationship satisfaction and contributes to feelings of depression and alienation.”

“But I cannot stress enough that under the right conditions, spending an entire weekend without a phone in your immediate vicinity is incredible. You have to try it.”

Convinced yet? Okay, no matter how we do it, let’s try to unplug a little bit this weekend, maybe even for that full 25 hour period of sundown Friday to sundown Saturday.  No, there is no need to ignore the phone call from Grandma, or the fact that your daughter will call when she needs to get picked up, but perhaps we can at least get off of social media and observe ourselves when we are habitually checking our email or Instagram.

It can all wait. But our souls and the connections we have with our friends and family cannot.

Love, “Rantor” Diane

P.S. Total honesty? I’m waiting in a restaurant for a to-go order as I finish this blog, and I totally just clicked on my iPhone twice to look at my email when there was no need to. I am so busted!!!

Don’t Wish Me a “Happy New Year”

Since Cool Shul hosts a Shabbat service only once per month, last Friday was our “New Year’s” Shabbat.  Hope you enjoy my talk for that Shabbat. 🙂

Love, Rabbi Di

Our Torah portion this week is Parshat “Bo”, which means come. During Parshat Bo, where we experience the final three plagues, God tells Moses to go (bo) to Pharaoh.  You may have noticed that I translated bo as go, even though I just said it means come.  Rarely does a translation say “come to Pharoah,” but that is what it actually says, and many have wrestled with the fact that the word is confusing in its use.  Why would God say, “Come to Pharaoh” rather than “Go”? It’s a fun puzzle to try to solve.

In my research, I found that most commentators agree that in God’s telling Moses to come, and not go, God is present with Moses during his interactions with Pharaoh, so God is really saying “come with me” to Pharoah.  Another idea is that God is hovering near Pharaoh all the time, so God is asking Moses to come to where God is already present.

Of course, I have another interpretation to add, and it fits perfectly into the New Year’s theme.  

Be it the secular New Year or the spiritual New Year of Rosh Hashanah, we often say to each other (when using English), “Happy new year.”  During Rosh Hashanah, however, when we greet one another in Hebrew with Shanah Tovah Umetukah, we wish each other a good and sweet year.  My question for you is the following: is good or sweet the same as happy?

To me, what may be good or sweet doesn’t have to come with the pressure of making us happy.  Depending on what has gone on in one’s life during the prior year, a good year or a sweet year may not necessarily lead to happiness, and it certainly won’t lead to happiness all the time.  Good or sweet might just be improvement or going in the right direction.  And what does being “happy” even mean? It’s not the same as present or content.  Being happy or not seems too black and white for me, too two-dimensional. Personally I think we all are often kind of happy and kind of not.

One of my students studying the creation story talks about the eating of the fruit in the Garden of Eden as taking away our happiness because we became aware of all of the problems and possibilities of our world when we ate it.  But, he asks, “Is it better to just frolic around the garden like a bunny… unaware and simple but happy?” To face our powers and weaknesses is, in many ways, to be unhappy. So he also asks, “Would we want it any other way?” And so there we are — happy and unhappy, but maybe content that way, and perhaps that state is even the key to the meaning of life.  So wishing each other a happy new year is asking us to move away from what might be a healthy state of being and setting each other up for failure.

Maybe the purpose of the inspiration for renewal at a new year, is not to become more happy, but to get a step closer to home… to being the people our natural states are asking us to be.  Perhaps we can make New Year’s resolutions not to go toward something we aren’t, but to come… or “bo” back to ourselves.

Returning to Moses, we have to remember that he grew up in the Pharaoh’s court.  While it’s believed that the Pharaoh of the exodus story could not possibly be the Pharaoh of Moses’ youth (and no one has figured out if there is a true Moses/Pharaoh relationship anyway), Moses’ return, at least in the story, is a march to his old home and to everything he left behind.  I think that the word “come” is used because Moses isn’t just moving away from his life, but he is actually coming home to a familiar place. As frightening as it would be to be put in the position of being the reluctant hero as Moses was, imagine how frightening it would be if we were also returning to our old homes, to a place we had to run from.  Moses is coming back to face a part of himself, his history, and his experiences within Egypt. He has to come to himself.

And so, with New Year’s, we can focus on those usual surface goals – like the ever present losing weight and going to the gym —  but so often those kinds of resolutions fall away and dissolve partly because the hope is to become something we aren’t rather than coming home to what we already are.  Perhaps we need to focus not on a product, but on a process, on “bo”, on coming toward ourselves and what can free us, just as Moses had to “bo” in order to be completely free from his past and be strong enough to free others.

If you’ve already made some New Year’s resolutions, it isn’t too late to retool them.  Let’s see if we can focus on our potential. Let’s see if we can focus on activities and expressions that create wholeness within us and for those around us.  Let’s see if the promises we make can be about coming and not going.

Leaders Don’t Lead Alone

I’m not ready.

Taking a walk today, I started to feel an overwhelming sense of unpreparedness for the Holy Days. Rosh Hashanah is just a few days away, and yes all of my music is in order, yes I have prepared everything I’m going to say, yes the choir and musicians have been rehearsed, and yes our Torah chanter is amazing (she really is!).   The “me” that is the hardworking, organizing, “CEO” of Cool Shul is definitely ready, but what about the me that is a wife, mother, daughter, friend, and spiritual leader?  Is she ready?  Am I as prepared inside as I am on the outside?  The answer is no.

Who am I to think I could or should lead others?  Who am I, so full of flaws and stress and worries, to think I have any business telling others how to process their own? Here I am, full of doubts and fears as it relates to personal and career matters, the earth’s wellness, and (of course!) national and international affairs.   I don’t have any answers, much less all of them!  I’m as confused as the next guy (ok, gal).  So, what profound thing am I supposed to say at the Holy Days that hasn’t already been said about Charlottesville or the hurricanes or the government or the world, when here I stand without any prescriptions for remedies?  Who the (bleep!) do I think I am to lead anyone? 

Maybe I’m weak.

Or… maybe I’m right where I’m supposed to be.

We know what it’s like when leaders forget that their roles are to serve the people and not vice-versa.  We have all experienced occasions on which people in powerful positions, be they teachers, clergy, bosses, or (gulp!) politicians, are no longer humbled by their opportunities to lead and make decisions to benefit themselves more than others (even if they can’t see it).  I suppose it’s healthier to be nervous about my ability to lead than overconfident.  So, maybe I’m perfectly hesitant, right where I should be.

At the Holy Days, the Cantor chants Hineni, a text in which we spiritual leaders admit that we are not strong enough to take on the responsibilities of the community.  We admit that we are afraid in the face of our leadership.  We cry out loud that we are here, but that we are humbled before the task at hand.  I suppose that is just where I am.  And that’s okay.  I have always thought that Rabbis (or any other spiritual leaders for that matter) aren’t supposed to be expected to (or act as if) they have all the answers.  We are simply humans with positive and less positive traits.  We search our tradition for our own answers, but we truly can only share with our communities where we are in our own learning. We don’t have all the answers (and if we say we do, run!).  So, Hineni, here I am, humbled before the task to lead my community through these days, but ready to share what I have discovered.  Nothing more.  But also nothing less.

These Holy Days, I will be honored by each and every presence before me who invites me into their spiritual realms.  But I will also ask you to lead too. Every educator knows that students often teach as much as they learn.  I promise to try to lift my community up and share a thing or two, but I hope you will also do the same for me and the person sitting next to you.  Let’s all teach and share.  Great leaders don’t lead alone, and I can’t wait to hear about your journeys.

Join me, either in person or online these Holy Days.  We will be in Temescal Canyon, inspired by the trees peeking through the windows of Cheadle/Woodland Hall.

Reserve a place at our Holy Days Here. http://www.coolshul.org/event/highholydays

Become my “friend” on Facebook so you can see our live stream here. https://www.facebook.com/diane.o.rose.9

A special thank you to my friend who delivers meals for Meals on Wheels with me every week and who inspired this blog.  Today she led me. 🙂GREAT_LEADERS