An American Hero Returned Home
I watched as they escorted him into the Capitol Building.
I listened as they carried his body across the “Edmund Pettis Bridge.”
I cried as the Minister prayed for and celebrated his life.
I am hopeful his soul is at peace, while we still have more work to do.
He fought for the rights of all people, not just those “like him.”
He prayed for the peace of all people, those who have died for the same causes.
He strove for so many freedoms, so many justices, so many ideas.
He was to so many a revered hero, one who treated everyone with kindness.
His fight was not violent; rather just like his mentor, it was one of non-violence.
His blood, sweat and tears drenched the holy grounds he stood and sat on.
His courage and love were committed to justice for the future and the present.
His life was an example; He is an American Hero; He has returned home.
Congressman John Lewis never shied away from a challenge.
Congressman John Lewis stood by and supported so many others as well.
Congressman John Lewis lived his life to inspire the next generation.
Congressman John Lewis – May you rest in peace forevermore.
Today I woke up with hope, thinking about the future.
Today I opened my eyes, and the sun was shining bright.
Today I walked outside, listening, smelling, and hearing.
Today I hope for the light; I pray for a better tomorrow.
When I opened my front door,
I was greeted by 2 robin’s nests.
Tiny little heads peeking up above the twigs and brush.
Momma bird is out getting food
while Daddy bird watches closely.
These birds go on, day by day,
as if nothing outside is different.
I prepare my notes for services and study.
I look to my children –
are they even aware of what is going on?
I turn back to my computer to focus on my community.
Have I even taken the time to focus on myself?
Every Day brings about a new tomorrow,
with so much more unfamiliar.
Every day brings about more “news,”
strange, mysterious and foreign.
Every day we learn of more deaths,
more devastation, more fear.
Every day I want to hope for the light,
but I must prepare for the dark.
Where is God?
Where is Shechinah?
Where is El Shaddai?
Where is Adonai Tz’vaot?
Covid19; disease; sickness; death.
Fear; Anxiety; Apathy; Anger.
The children; the birds; the sun; the wind.
Smiles; chirps of joy; warmth; cool.
I do not hope for the light; I dare not prepare for the dark.
I do pray for the light; I do prepare for the unknown.
I close my eyes and try to focus on a thought, any thought.
What swirls around in my head – questions, concerns, stress….
The # of cases, the sick amongst us continues to grow…
What about the healthcare professionals, the EMT’s, the first responders….
My head hurts with the pain of unknowing, more and more every day.
As I open my eyes, I hear the sounds of today: laughter of children, the sounds of Youtube, tick-tock.
Stuck in my home with all of my possessions, my children, my family, and memories….
Did I shower today? Did my children brush their teeth? Is it Tuesday, Wednesday, Sunday….
Pandemic; Coronavirus; Covid19; Flu Symptons…
Breathe; just take a breath and relax – keeping the distance is necessary to survive.
What is present in these questions is hope.
What is present in these worries is optimism.
What is present in these fears are dreams.
What is present in this reality is the future.
Be with us, God, be with us and help us…we will make it through this, together not apart.
In January, I was extremely fortunate and blessed to travel with many of my colleagues and new friends to Israel with the Central Conference of American Rabbis (CCAR). This was a "different kind of trip." We did not float in the Dead Sea. We did not go up Masada. We did not even go to the Kotel (Western/Wailing Wall). The title of this trip was: CCAR Israel Trip - Art, Culture and Creativity: A Different Side of Israel.
This journey was coordinated with Da'at Travel/ArzaWorld. Our tour guide, an amazing and incredibly engaging educator, was Gilad Peled. Our fearless leaders and scholars were Rabbi Hara Person and Rabbi Dr. Carole Balin. This was a different kind of pilgrimage. Yes, we did explore Jewish history - but we did so through the art and culture of the past and present cultural leaders, beginning with the national poet of Israel, Hayim Nahman Bialik. Through art and culture, we were able to trace the beginnings of the Zionist idea of a homeland all the way to the present day.
This was a very intense week of travel. We arrived on Sunday, had an opening dinner with some of our Israeli Reform colleagues and then had an early night as we prepared for the week ahead! We began the week (on Monday morning) with a study session led by Dr. Rachel Korazim as we examined the impact of Bialik on the foundations of Israel. After reviewing some of his Yiddish and Hebrew poetry, looking at the tension between his Orthodox Yeshiva education and his vision of a secular Jewish State, we walked down Bialik Street in Tel Aviv. We were able to see the homes and architecture that illustrated the European-Jewish backgrounds of those early pioneers in Tel Aviv and the culture they established in their new Jewish homes. We ended this morning by walking through the Trumpledor Cemetery - considering the lives of the dreamers and builders of Tel Aviv.
After an intense morning, we were treated to a tasting tour through Shuk Hapishpishim - the Jaffa Flea Market. We enjoyed cuisine from a number of kitchens: Bulgarian, Bukharan, Middle Eastern, Persian, North African and Eastern European. We also saw some new cafes and restaurants as well - a true look at the diversity of culture in the Israeli culinary scene. Once our stomachs were filled, we toured the art scene in Tel Aviv by visiting a number of galleries. We were also able to meet with a couple of the artists and hear their stories. After a long day, we had free time for dinner and to explore. I (like several of my colleagues) took dinner to my room and passed out from an exhausting and exhilarating day!
The next day (Tuesday) brought us to a couple of places I had never been before. Even today, I am surprised how much of an impact these places had on me - on my identity as a Jew and as an American. We began our morning with a visit to the Um El Fahem Art Gallery. We were greeted by the founding director, Said Abu Shakra. He told the story of his family, specifically of his mother and the love she showed for him and his siblings. Said started this art gallery as a tribute to his brother, a tremendous artist. He introduced himself as a Palestinian, a Muslim and an Israeli. When asked about his citizenship as an Israeli - he made it clear that he considered himself proud to be an Israeli.
From the art gallery, we traveled to a place I visited in June 2019 with my congregation: Sindyanna of Galilee. This non-profit organization produces fine, fair-trade products while creating opportunities for Arab women, one of Israel's most underemployed sectors. We met with a couple of the employees, tasted some olive oil and were able to weave our own baskets (although it is more like a potholder). We enjoyed another fantastic meal - a Palestinian Arabic meal of maqluba (rice dish), mujadara (lentil concoction), salads and yogurts. We finished our day at the Polyphony Foundation, a music school in Nazareth which aims to bridge the divide between the Arab and Jewish communities in Israel through music. Nabeel Abboud-Ashkar, the founder and artistic director, spoke to us about his vision of using music to bring peace. We were also treated to a wonderful concert from a few of the students, ages 9-17. It was truly a wonderfully inspirational day. I hit the bed that night exhausted...but so thankful.
The next morning (Wednesday), thankfully, was a late morning. We were given a late start. We went to the Kinneret Cemetery, where many of the early Zionist pioneers are buried. We viewed a number of graves, taking time to talk about their hopes and dreams, their trials and tribulations and ultimately their successes. Several of my colleagues and friends treated us to a beautiful rendition of some of the early poetry in song. The Kinneret Cemetery is in a beautiful location, right next to the Kinneret. It was a beautiful morning...in every way. From there, we traveled to Jerusalem, to Hebrew Union College. We had a wonderful learning session with Rabbi Michael Marmur, and then were given time to meet some of the Israeli Reform rabbis and learn about their communities and congregations.
The following day, spent in Jerusalem, we meet with Rabbi Noa Sattath, the Director of the Israel Religious Action Center, the social justice arm of the Reform movement in Israel. We also met with Rabbi Gilad Kariv, the Executive Director of the Israel Movement for Reform and Progressive Judaism. It was eye opening to learn about the efforts and movement of Progressive Judaism in Israel. They need us...and we need them!
While in Jerusalem, on Thursday, we were treated to a fantastic performance at the Kolben Dance Company. We met Amir Kolben, founder of the dance company, and were able to ask some questions about the company and the dancers. This was a really awesome experience. After lunch in the Jerusalem Market, Machaneh Yehuda, we were given a guided tour of the Israeli Art Wing of the Israel museum. The evening ended with an examination of a couple of short Israeli films at the Ma'aleh School of Film and Television. From dance to music to movies, we were given the opportunity to learn more about the history of Israel while also seeing the challenges and wonders of modern day Israel.
Friday morning took us to a hidden gem in Jerusalem - we visited an art gallery, listened to a musical performance at the School of Music and Silence, saw some amazing street art and visited a fashion house. We also had two important sessions - 1 with Journalist Dan Feferman and 1 with former Ambassador Dan Shapiro. We discussed the current situation from a political perspective. It was interesting to hear all of the different ways one can think about and view the challenges of living in Israel, as a Jew, Christian, Muslim or other.
We broke off into groups to spend Kabbalat Shabbat services at one of the local Reform communities, followed by a wonderful home hospitality dinner. It was very moving to be in a Reform community in Israel. What a tremendous day - not very busy, but inspiring, eye opening and moving, nonetheless. On our last full day in Israel (Saturday/Shabbat), we met with Israeli author Dorit Rabinyan. She is one of the most successful and important of the new generation of Israeli writers. She told her personal story to us...opening herself up and showing her vulnerability as an Israeli. Our day ended with a wonderful farewell dinner at T'mol Shilshom, a wonderful restaurant and second-hand bookstore where Israeli authors and artists meet.
This pilgrimage/journey/trip to Israel was unlike every other experience I have had. It was challenging at times, eye opening at times, joyous at times...and mostly exhausting. It was exhilarating to see the many sides/shapes/perspectives of Israel through a kaleidoscope of views. I am an American Jew who unabashedly loves Israel. I will never apologize for that.
I am a husband, father and rabbi - just trying to help to make the world a better place!