Saturday, October 27, 2012

You're No Role Model John Sununu

John Sununu, the former Republican Governor of New Hampshire, has done it again.
In an interview, Sununu commented on Colin Powell’s endorsement of President Obama, “Well, I think that when you have somebody of your own race that you’re proud of being President of the United States — I applaud Colin for standing with him.”
This is hardly the first time John Sununu has used race and other dog whistle politics to attack President Obama and his supporters.
He has said that President Obama is foreign and doesn’t understand the “American System” (I guess that’s because he was born in the country of Hawaii) He says that Obama doesn’t know how to be an American (whatever that means). He says that Obama is a “lazy idiot” because of his 1st debate performance, and he says that Obama has no class and just wants to be cool. (personally, I do think that he's pretty cool)
Sununu remains Romney’s most prominent spokesperson and is even attacking Obama for dividing Americans along racial lines.
It’s truly amazing that the President of the United States is being endorsed for another term by a brilliant 4-Star General that was Secretary of State, and it all comes down to race? Why does the burden of race still weigh down on much of American life? The gains we’ve made have been enormous, but we must remember to take off those blinders that we sometimes continue to wear to all types of discrimination. We’ve got quite a challenge. I don’t know if we’ll ever change people like John Sununu. But, we do have a responsibility to future generations, and we’re going to have to change if we’re going to survive.

Monday, October 22, 2012

On Your Journey I Will Bless You - Parashat Lech Lecha

As you can see, the name of my Blog is the Title of a Parashat. And, it happens to be one of my favorites. Its about journeys, physical ones and also spiritual ones. And, it gives us hope that we all have an opportunity to reach a Promised Land.

We read story of our forefather, Abraham,  and our foremother, Sarah in Parasha “Lech Lecha”.  Before God gave them the names Abraham and Sarah, they were known as Abram and Sarai.
"Abram" means "exhalted father", whereas "Abraham" means "father of many", therefore confirming the promise that God gave him of blessing him and his many descendants.

"Sarai" means "my princess", but "Sarah" means simply "Princess", indicating that she will be exhalted, not only by her husband, but by all Nations.

 Thus begins the story of the Jewish people.    
        “Lech Lecha” is about an act of God—the beginning of the story of the Jewish people.  God calls Abram and Sarai to the land of Canaan.  God makes the Covenant with them, the promise of nations to come and descendants to carry on their names.  This is the journey to a land that God will show us.  But what is that journey?  Is it a physical journey?  The story in the Torah tells us it is.  But it is more than that.  This is a journey of self-discovery.  (notice the description of my blog)
            The very name is clue to this.  The meaning of this Parashat “Lech Lecha” is –go to your self.  The commentator, Rashi explains that God promised Abram that the journey would be for his own benefit.  Although travel was costly and unsettling and difficult in ancient times, God assured him the journey would bring blessing, fame and descendants.  The families of the earth shall bless themselves by his great name.
            And as God promised our ancestors, Abram and Sarai, so too this is a promise to each of us that through our journey within, our journey to self discovery, to Jewish connection through faith in our God, we will receive blessings that we can appreciate in our own lives.  In a deeper sense, God told Abram to go to his true being.  Going on this journey to his self and deepening his faith in God would allow him to reach his true essence.  And that indeed is the Promised Land! 
It must have been difficult to be like Abram, to trust in the path never before taken, to believe in the Holy One in the face of the comfort of the familiar.  Most of us are constantly struggling to invent new and different ways to participate in our faith. Our beliefs are varied…and they’ve evolved over the generations. .
Hopefully, on your journey to self-discovery, you too will reach your own promised land.

Wednesday, October 17, 2012

We're Not Just Resumes in Those Binders Full Of Women

The  2nd presidential debate may have tackled some controversial domestic and foreign issues, but it was a comment from Republican presidential nominee Mitt Romney that lit up social media.

In an answer to a question about women in the workforce, Governor Mitt Romney said he requested more female candidates for his Massachusetts cabinet and was delighted to receive “binders of women”.
The now viral phrase was an unexpected and ironic turn of events for Romney. In fact, he was answering a question about pay inequality and had to follow President Obama who bragged about the Lilly Ledbetter Fair Pay Act, the first bill that he signed into law. As he does, Romney tried to describe an analogous situation from his years in business leadership. "I had the chance to pull together a cabinet and all the applicants seemed to be men," Romney said. And I -- and I went to my staff, and I said, 'How come all the people for these jobs are -- are all men?' They said, "Well, these are the people that have the qualifications.'" In recounting how he went on a search for qualified women candidates, Romney remembered, "I went to a number of women's groups and said, 'Can you help us find folks,' and they brought us whole binders full of women."

Within minutes, "Binders Full of Women" had a Twitter account, a Facebook page, and a blog.
The tweets were out of control, the hashtags had begun.  It was amazing how quickly everything happened.
But the truth of the matter is, we’re all laughing about it now, but none of us should ever want to be, or allow ourselves to be, just a resume trapped in a binder again. We’re not just resumes. We’re people, that work hard, and deserve to be compensated for that work at the same rate a man is.

I can’t help thinking that those binders are called "Trappers" for a reason.

Monday, October 15, 2012

There's No Room For Indifference - Parashat Noah

The story of Noah and the Ark, the flood, the animals, the rainbow and the dove are one of the most familiar stories to us. From a very early age, we sing the song “Rise & Shine”, about Noah bringing the animals on the ark by two-sies. The Torah describes Noah as: blameless in his age. “A virtuous man, who walked with God”. (6:9) That’s quite an introduction. But after God singled Noah out, and he built his ark so his own family and the animals could be saved, he failed to say a single word while the whole world was destroyed.
In Hebrew, Noah’s name means 'comfort' or 'rest'. Noah silently acquiesced to God’s plan of destruction. He rested, he was silent.
Elie Wiesel famously said, “Indifference, to me, is the epitome of evil.”
Noah was guilty – guilty of doing nothing. Remember, doing nothing is actually doing something.
Noah’s sin was his silence, and the entire world was destroyed.  If atrocities are taking place in our time, and we fail to question, speak up, and effectively respond: aren’t we as guilty as Noah? And when we find the courage to take action, speak out against injustice, and do what is right, it means stepping up and others will follow. 

Wednesday, October 10, 2012

Never Forget

How many of us  heard that if we came home with a tattoo, we wouldn’t be able to be buried in a Jewish cemetery ? And, of course the tattoo also had such a deeper meaning. We associated the tattoo with the permanent scar of the Holocuast, a constant reminder of the darkest days of our history. So, I was incredibly moved by Jodi Rudoren’s September 30th NY Times article “Proudly Bearing Elder’s Scars, Their Skin Says “Never Forget”. In that article, she documented the wave of young people who have taken an active role in commemorating the atrocities of the Holocaust by memorializing those dark days on their own bodies. By tattooing the same number that Auschwitz inmates were tattooed with years ago, these young people believe that the scar of the Holocaust is permanent and will not fade with time.
As the number of survivors dwindle, we must find new ways for us as a society to ensure that we remember. This is pretty bold. Wearing the pain of the atrocities for the rest of your life. Is a statement as bold and striking as a tattoo necessary, or is there another powerful message that we as a society can send to ensure that these atrocities will never be forgotten? Whatever we do, time is of the essence. 

Monday, October 8, 2012

Starting The Cycle All Over Again

Finally…Simchat Torah. We finally get to celebrate the conclusion of the Torah reading cycle But, wait.  On this day we start the cycle all over again.  We believe that everything we want to know is in this scroll.  It is only perhaps a matter of reading it a different way if the wisdom is not immediately apparent. It’s about coming to it with fresh eyes and trying to tackle it with new meaning and hopefully some deeper understanding.
The Torah closes and the Torah opens: Bereshit bara Elohim et hashamayim v’et ha’aretz. “In the beginning God created the heaven and the earth.”
Such power. Parashat Bereshit is about beginnings. The world was created from nothing. And, after each accomplishment, God said:
“This is very good!” (1:31)
But when the creation of the world was finished, a partnership had to be formed.
Rabbi Marc Gellman wrote a midrash for children that provides us with the opportunity to do just that. . . .

This midrash on creation begins with God, the Angels, and rocks and waters As creation begins, the separation of waters, the Angels ask, ‘Is it finished?’ and God responds, ‘Not yet.’
Throughout the process, step-by-step, the Angels ask, ‘Is it finished,’ and God responds, ‘Not yet.’
Finally, yes, finally, God creates man and woman, God is ready to rest and asks man and woman to finish the process of creation. However, man and woman find this process overwhelming After all, they do not know what God has planned. They do not feel worthy.
They are told that they are capable and that God will partner with them to finish the world.
Not understanding what it means to be a partner, God explains that a partner is someone with whom you work on something you cannot do alone. Partnership implies mutual responsibility because your partner is depending on you. We will still be partners on the days that each thinks the other is not doing enough. Even on those days we cannot give up trying to finish, or, should I say, ‘perfecting the world.’ So, they agree to be partners.
Once more, the Angels ask God, ‘Is the world finished yet?’ and God answers, “Ask my partners.’
In this midrash, we are asked to question what it means to partner with God. Creation is an ongoing process. It does not end on the sixth day of creation.

That’s what partnering and the process of creating is all about. It keeps continuing. Our ‘presence’ matters. There’s no manual. We use our eyes and our brains and our hearts….and we do the best that we can to continue the process of completing the world. Remember, we’re partners. And our other partners are depending on us.
As we learn in Pirkei Avot (2:16), our obligation is to begin the work, not to complete it.
This is all....very good. 

Wednesday, October 3, 2012

The Great Debate

The Great Debate
The schools of Hillel and Shammai are famous for their disputes in Jewish law. One of these concerned whether one should tell a bride on her wedding day that she is beautiful (even if this is not true). The school of Shammai held that in this situation it would be wrong to lie. The school of Hillel held that a bride is always beautiful on her wedding day. The school of Hillel won the dispute. Indeed, Jewish law today almost always agrees with the school of Hillel. The Talmud explains why:
A heavenly voice declared: “The words of both schools are the words of the living God, but the law follows the rulings of the school of Hillel.”
So why does the law follow the rulings of the school of Hillel? The Talmud explains that the disciples of Hillel were gentle and modest, and studied both their own opinions and the opinions of the other school, and humbly mentioned the words of the other school before their own.

One of the longest debates in Talmudic history spanned two and a half years. It was like the Super Bowl of Debates. And it wasn’t about anything as simple as whether something was kosher or permissible on the Sabbath, or if an animal was acceptable as a sacrifice in the Temple, or if a bride was beautiful on her wedding day. It was a philosophical argument about the meaning of life and death.
 The School of Hillel said: “It is better for man to have been created than not to have been created.” The School of Shammai said: “It is better for man not to have been created than to have been created.”
The School of Shammai, which rarely won arguments felt that when you think about it, life is too tough. Why bother to even be here?
The School of Hillel felt differently. Yes, but life has its joys and its celebrations. Isn’t it better that we’re here? Why not make a difference while we're here?
Finally, after 2 1/2 years, they finally came to an agreement. The School of Hillel finally gave in: It is indeed better for man not to have been created. But the passage ends by saying: however, since we have been created, it is our obligation to live and to perform mitzvot.
End of story.

So, maybe we can learn something from Hillel and Shammai and the 1st Great Debate. Instead of counting the "Zingers" and playing the Drinking Games, maybe we all--on both sides of the aisle--need to put our scorecards down so we can really listen to the debates. I think that it would be a completely different election if we did that rather than focus on the guy that was left standing at the end.

Growth happens where we hold our positions humbly, aware that no one is always right.