Our most recent Frequently Asked Jewish Question…
Our most recent Frequently Asked Jewish Question…
My blog is turning into a video series of frequently asked Jewish questions. Here is the first… just in time for the Chanukah/Christmas season.
Can I be Jewish or have a Jewish home AND have a Christmas tree?
Watch this and hear my answer. Enjoy! And I welcome your comments.
Sharing my Yom Kippur morning sermon, in honor of my kids’ school New Roads School, and in honor of those who keep being harmed just for being themselves.
When my kids were small, my 15 year old still in elementary school, we were having a day at the beach when a little boy came over and asked if he could play with them and their sand toys. I don’t remember what they were doing… some imaginary process that involved multiple steps of pouring and measuring sand and sea water. I’m pretty sure they were content alone, but they said yes, and the boy joined in.
What was interesting was that the little boy had some challenges with speech, communication, and what might be considered normative age appropriate behavior, and that was clear from the moment he came over. But the children happily played together, led by my daughter as the oldest, and I remember my husband and I being proud of both of our kids as they adapted and re-adapted to the situation and created space so they could all enjoy that experience together.
When the little boy’s mother came over and told him they had to go, my husband and I praised our kids for opening their minds and their hearts to the child when they could have easily frozen under the pressure to entertain themselves and him since the interactions weren’t always easy. My daughter responded with, “We learn how to get along with everyone at New Roads!” We smiled knowing that the reason we had chosen the school we did was evident in her.
My kids go to New Roads School, and a big part of why is because of the promise of that exact moment. It’s a school that was created to reflect the diversity of Los Angeles. On an obvious level, that means children of all colors. But on a deeper level unapparent to the eye, that means socio-economic diversity, sexual orientation diversity, gender identification diversity, and of course, a diverse community of learners with a variety of strengths, struggles, and quirks. At New Roads, we have it all, but because we have the flexibility that comes with being a small school, the teachers are able to guide the students to not just navigate AROUND each other but to to navigate WITH each other. This is part of the culture and the curriculum. And this isn’t just lip service. It is truly what happens every single day.
Now, this all sounds lovely, but being a private school that does not send a child away as soon as he/she demonstrates an inconvenient truth about him/herself is messy business. I’m sure most of us believe diversity is important and don’t imagine ourselves as people who would run away from the opportunity to navigate WITH and not AROUND, but I also think we need to reach deep down inside and admit our own inconsistencies. Are we nervous for our children to be around other kids who learn differently from how they learn? Or for us to be around people who aren’t the same religion? Are we nervous about having friends not in the same socio-economic strata? Or chatting with those who don’t share similar political beliefs? Placing ourselves in unfamiliar social territory is messy business for us too. So maybe we desire it, but in the end, pull ourselves and our children away from the opportunity to live and breathe diversity.
But you know what? Diversity is good for us, like kale and exercise.
In an article presented by the Century Foundation entitled, “How Racially Diverse Schools and Classrooms Can Benefit All Students” it is examined how diversity in K-12 schools benefits students intellectually, culturally, and in attaining important life-skills. It says:
As Amy Stuart Wells, Lauren Fox, and Diana Cordova-Cobo of Teachers College Columbia vividly demonstrate in this important new report, “the benefits of school diversity run in all directions.” There is increasing evidence that “diversity makes us smarter,” a finding that selective colleges long ago embraced, and increasing numbers of young parents are coming to appreciate at the K–12 level. The authors write: “researchers have documented that students’ exposure to other students who are different from themselves and the novel ideas and challenges that such exposure brings leads to improved cognitive skills, including critical thinking and problem solving.”
…Apart from the cognitive benefits, there are additional reasons increasing numbers of middle-class families now want to send their children to diverse schools. Middle-class and white Millennials realize that their children are growing up in a very different country, demographically, than previous generations. For the first time since the founding of the republic, a majority of public school K–12 pupils in the United States are students of color. Students can learn better how to navigate adulthood in an increasingly diverse society—a skill that employers value—if they attend diverse schools. Ninety-six percent of major employers, Wells, Fox, and Cordova-Cobo note, say it is “important” that employees be “comfortable working with colleagues, customers, and/or clients from diverse cultural backgrounds.”
And so, understanding that getting out of our comfort zones and inviting in the “other” is good for us and our children, how do we, day to day, invite these opportunities into our lives? Schools and jobs are part of the answer, but can we go beyond? After recent events in Charlottesville, not to mention around the world, sitting around a table with diverse ideas and beliefs seems less and less feasible, doesn’t it? How do we educate those who want to shut out diverse people and thoughts and lifestyles about the benefits? How do we encourage a diverse population toward choosing peace? How do we encourage each other to vote for diversity? How do we invite into our spheres even those would dare to march down the street with torches in their hands chanting, “Jews will not replace us!”? For if we are to have true diversity, beyond color or religion or gender or identity, we have to walk toward those who appall us. We can’t only run in the other direction.
An article from the Jewish publication “The Forward” gave me a piece of the answer. In it the author suggests that the way to combat intolerance is not through our own hate and rejection, but to go directly to the communities that breed this kind of belief and… lift them up. According to the author, Neo-Nazis are primarily products of broken homes, and the author refers to a Washington Post article that cites “an economy capsized, a job market contracted, a student-loan crisis erupted” as economic factors. Young men who need a place to belong, need a family, and need to blame someone for their situations, find homes within the Neo-Nazi movement. The article reads:
What would it mean for American Jews to combat not merely Neo-Nazism, but also the conditions that contribute to it? For American Jewish organizations, it would require opposing economic policies… that widen the chasm between America’s rich and poor. It would require pushing for more funding for the treatment of opioid addiction, and the kinds of issues that American Jewish groups don’t typically consider part of their agenda.
If we, as Jews, help those who are in these small towns where the poverty level is impossibly high with the mills closed, the jobs gone, and hope vanished and be part of their solution, we can change opinions. With the refugee crisis, Jewish organizations took the lead in guiding families not only to help them thrive but also to show them that American Jews are not a community to fear but one to embrace. It may be time for us to embrace more communities where hatred is born and bred.
So, after our morning service today, part of our afternoon activities is going to be having a round table conversation about possible Tikkun Olam projects with the goal of doing something we don’t normally do as Jews… invest in depressed town where the community is nearly or in fact is one hundred percent non-Jewish, and invest not only in their futures, but in encouraging them to find faith-based organizations to call home. In other words, help them find a church.
Now, I’m going to be honest with you. I wanted to come up with some amazing task already set for us today. But, as you may have guessed, it is difficult finding churches in small towns who answer the call for a synagogue to help them with church membership. 🙂 And when one of them referred me to a Rabbi that does a lot of interfaith work in North Carolina, her response was that we should “focus on the hurricane victims”. I told her I didn’t understand why we had to choose. So, instead we are going to have an open dialogue, brainstorm and collaborate how we could start a Jewish effort to lessen anti-semitism. How do we go to the breeding grounds of hate and make a difference?
The end of the article in The Forward says:
In ways that would have been unimaginable to the Jews of medieval France, or 20th-century Eastern Europe, we answer hate by repairing the country in which we live. This is not a moment to turn inward. It’s a moment to reach out to the places we usually ignore or dismiss. By instilling hope in others, we can provide safety for ourselves.
In honor of my kid’s school, New Roads, and the many murdered or injured in the name of hate, let’s talk today and find a way to bring a little joy to a place that needs some hope. And let’s pray that our efforts will encourage just one young man or woman to say no to anti-semitism, racism, sexism, and homophobia, and say YES to diversity.
**Since most of this blog’s readers were not with us when we held our discussion, please feel free to comment here with your ideas.**
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.
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. 🙂
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. 🙂
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.”
“What is hateful to you do not do to your fellow man.”
“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. 🙂
Life is like bread.
Sometimes our lives feel like a crusty loaf of French baguette right out of the oven from a tiny bakery on the Ile Saint Louis… inviting, warm, delicious, and just slightly exotic. Maybe those baguette days take place at weddings or during vacations or even when we decide to spend the whole day in our pajamas watching movies and eating pizza. Those are good days.
Sometimes our lives feel more like a piece of matzah just pulled out of yet another box of factory made unleavened bread… flat, flavorless, cold, and if we eat too much of it, it forces our bodies to stop flowing as it should. 😉
Of course we all wish for a majority of our days to resemble baguettes, but how do we reach those glorious days? Most of us don’t get to the vacation without first having to work hard to plan it and afford it. We don’t meet the person we want to marry without first going on a bunch of dead-end dates. And we don’t usually get the career promotion without first making the extra time-consuming effort. It takes a heck of a lot of labor to get to a “Promised Land.”
In our Passover story, the unleavened bread was our traveling companion. It wasn’t exciting or delicious, but it accompanied us on our journey from A to B. Similarly, we have to get ourselves from A to B, from less ideal situations to more ideal ones. What accompanies us on those journeys? It may not be matzah, but it may be feelings that are just as cold, flat, and tasteless. We might feel that our lives aren’t moving forward, or in the right direction, or quickly enough. We might believe we will never find true love. We might be frustrated with all of the mundane or even unpleasant activities we must bear while doing our best to keep our eyes on the prize.
So, most of life is a bit like matzah. But that’s okay, because matzah (and our journeys) don’t have to be so intolerable. Last weekend, I took part in a Passover cooking demonstration with my community, Cool Shul, and Chef Danny Corsun from Culinary Kids. There my feelings about matzah were changed forever. We made our own… flour, water, olive oil, and no more than 18 minutes in the oven to make sure it was still technically matzah. And you know what? It was warm and flavorful and delicious! We dipped it into a freshly made pesto and charoset with pomegranate seeds, and rather than being a lifeless culinary experience, matzah became something kind of divine.
So, maybe we can re-think those laborious days of our lives the way I got to re-think matzah. Maybe there is a way to make our daily journeys more flavorful.
Let’s remember that while we were slaves, we were also well-fed. I’m not so sure we remembered to have gratitude for that little blessing. Then, when we were free, we were hungry and afraid and really struggled with holding on to our beliefs and to thankfulness for our new position. This means the “negative” places we are may have some positives if we look hard enough, and that the hard-won freedoms we are looking forward to may come with a cost. So, perhaps we can do our best to treasure the small triumphs and notice the positive things hidden in our day to day journeys. Maybe we can be mindful enough to be present with with the mundane or even the painful rather than focusing on the fact that we aren’t already in better days.
Let’s pack some freshly baked matzah in our sacks (no more boxes of Streitz’s!) and walk boldly toward the possibilities of tomorrow without losing sight of the challenges that will come with “arriving.” Let’s enjoy our baguette days, but also never forget that every life will include more matzah days ahead as well. It’s partly up to us whether or not we find the blessings in those flatter moments.
Hope you will join me and Cool Shul at our Community Seder on April 15 in Temescal Canyon. Click here for more info.