The Eternal Light of Summer That Shines at Temple Beth El by Dara Gever, Director of Youth Engagement

22 Oct

The Eternal Light of Summer That Shines at Temple Beth El
by Dara Gever, Director of Youth Engagement

The days are getting shorter, the nights are getting longer.  The leaves on the trees are turning to deep magenta and mahogany hues.  You may even notice frost on the ground.  Despite all of these indicators that fall is once again at our door, summer is making an appearance at Temple Beth El Religious School this week.  That’s right—Camp Coleman and Camp Six Points will be bringing summer to Charlotte during our annual URJ camp visits on Monday, October 27th and Wednesday, October 29th from 5:30-6:15 in the Blumenthal Sanctuary.

Every organization has a culture of norms and expectations, and I feel privileged to work for Temple Beth El because of the way that our organization prioritizes Jewish summer experiences for our youth.  Temple Beth El is thrilled to have sent 21 campers to URJ Camp Coleman and 24 to URJ Camp Six Points last summer.  Luckily for us, our kids participate in URJ camps in North Carolina, Georgia, across the United States, and even in Canada.  In summer 2014, families chose to send their children to Camp Kalsman in Arlington, Washington and even to URJ Camp George in Canada.  We are so proud to have strong participation in URJ camps both in our region and throughout the rest of the country.

TBE is dedicated to empowering our kids to register for URJ summer camps.  We also understand that program costs can be barriers for some families.  Limited Financial Assistance for Jewish summer experiences is available upon request.  You can email me at Dgever@beth-el.com to apply for summer financial assistance.

For most of the world, summer ends when school starts and the weather begins to change; however, at Temple Beth El the light of summer is never extinguished.  Our efforts to engage TBE families in URJ camps are year-round.  TBE is committed to helping our kids explore their Jewish identities at URJ camps during the summer, even though our school and our sanctuary feel emptier during the summer while they are away.  If you want to learn more about URJ Camp Coleman or URJ Camp Six Points, please attend the camp presentations this Monday and Wednesday.  Bring your questions and your eternal summer light.

A Shelter of Peace by Susan Jacobs, Director of Education

15 Oct IMG_20141008_180523093

Sometimes you don’t know that something important is missing until you get it. That’s what happened to our Religious School students and indeed our entire congregation during this holiday of Sukkot. Temple Beth El has always had a sukkah. The students of our school always decorated it and the clergy lead beautiful holiday services in our snap together sukkah. But we knew something was missing and Rabbi Judy reached out to Dr. Peter Hindel and asked if he would consider designing and building a larger sukkah. Peter had built some other small projects for us in the past and she trusted that he would be able to complete the task. He agreed to do it and went to work.

I have a hard time putting into words how grateful I am for the beautiful sukkah he created. It is so much more than a portable, three sided temporary structure. Our new sukkah has a story. It represents the journey of the Israelites following the cloud through the wilderness. It is a shelter of peace. It is a labor of love.

This past week it was filled with our students’ laughter as they decorated the walls. It was filled with their beautiful voices as we sang the songs of our family Sukkot services. Our clergy told stories and taught our students the proper way to shake the lulav and etrog. Families brought dinners to fulfill the mitzvah of eating in the sukkah. All week long our holiday was elevated by the beauty and symbolism of our new sukkah.

On behalf of all of our students, faculty and staff, I want to thank Dr. Peter Hindel for building a sukkah for us that was more than we could have ever imagined or hoped for. It will serve us well and will continue to be the source of celebration for many, many children celebrating Sukkot for years to come.

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By The Power Vested in Me by Rabbi Judith Schindler

8 Oct

As we stand at the edge of the Promised Land of marriage equality in North Carolina, I await the moment when I can say the following words I have never said at a same-sex union, “By the power vested in me, I now pronounce you married according to the state of North Carolina and according to the Jewish tradition.”

For forty years our Reform Movement has been working towards LGBT equality.  From 1977 to 1997, seven resolutions on gay and lesbian rights were passed by the Union of American Hebrew Congregations (now known as the Union for Reform Judaism) and our movement continues to be a strong supporter of LGBT rights today.

For nearly two decades, Temple Beth El has worked to warmly embrace our LGBT congregants inside our sanctuary while the climate outside has, at times, been hostile and harsh. Some of the dates and details, the upsets and celebrations, the starts and the stops of the journey are outlined below.

On Monday, the Supreme Court allowed the lower court ruling against state bans on same sex marriages to stand thus clearing the way for North Carolina to likely strike down Amendment One which will allow gay couples to be legally married in our state.

For those of us who support marriage equality, it has been a long journey through the wilderness of struggling to attain this fundamental human and civil right for the LGBT community. Along the way, more and more supporters have joined us in the effort.

It appears nearly certain that the day of having marriage equality in North Carolina will come. It could be just hours or days.  An interfaith coalition of clergy has begun to make plans for the celebration. The champagne flutes have been purchased and the interfaith clergy who have walked and worked together for more than a decade have outlined a service of celebration. We are eagerly awaiting a court ruling in favor of equality.

May we soon raise our cups and toast “l’chaim” as we say “to life, to equality, to wholeness, and to peace.”

When and if that court ruling comes…

No more will North Carolina’s gay and lesbian couples have to spend significant funds to travel out of state to attain their legal rights.

No more will North Carolina’s gay and lesbian couples have to travel to far off states to attain a marriage license without friends and family with them to celebrate their love.

No more will North Carolina’s gay and lesbian couples have to debate anniversary dates – whether their legal wedding or religious wedding is the one they will celebrate. Their legal and religious wedding dates will be one and the same.

No more will North Carolina’s gay and lesbian couples be wed out of town, only to return to home and find that hundreds of marriage rights afforded to heterosexuals are denied to them.

No more will those of us who are fighting for gay and lesbian marriage equality in North Carolina have to fight this battle.

May we soon be able to move forward.

May those who have been arguing against equality now work with us. Together  may we focus on the multitude of pressing issues that weigh on our community from lifting up those who are in poverty to offering excellent education to all our state’s students to creating a sustainable environment for our own children and all children.

TIME LINE OF OUR JEWISH JOURNEY TO MARRIAGE EQUALITY IN NORTH CAROLINA

In 1965, the Women of Reform Judaism (WRJ) passed a resolution calling for the decriminalization of homosexuality.

In 1977, the Union for Reform Judaism (URJ) passed their first of many LGBT resolutions calling for human rights for homosexuals.

In 1998, a resolution was passed by the Temple Beth El Board of Directors affirming full rights of membership to those who are gay and lesbian.

Since 2000, the Central Conference of American Rabbis officially supported their Reform rabbis officiating at same sex marriages.

Since 2003, our Beth El clergy have stood on the bimah in our sanctuary and celebrated the sacred relationships of gay and lesbian couples who have been together – many of them for decades.

In 2011 and in 2014, Temple Beth El worked in partnership with Piedmont Unitarian Universalist Church and Holy Covenant Church of Christ to plan two wedding trips to Washington to offer our congregants the opportunity to make legal their sacred unions. In April, 2011, seven couples were legally and religiously wed.  In May, 2014, we returned to Washington with six couples who had collectively been together for 100 years.

In 2012, the Board of Directors of Beth El unanimously passed a resolution opposing Amendment One which banned gay marriage.

In 2014, Rabbi Freirich, as an individual, joined a lawsuit to overturn Amendment One on freedom of religion grounds which the Central Conference of American Rabbis later joined as plaintiffs.

Soon to come, we pray…  2014, the first North Carolina recognized LGBT wedding at Temple Beth El.

Overcoming Fear – Rabbi Jonathan Freirich

6 Oct 10 Steps for Overcoming the Fear of Making a Change

Yom Kippur Morning 5775 – Saturday, October 4, 2014
Temple Beth El, Charlotte, North Carolina
Rabbi Jonathan Freirich


Ted called the rabbi about his wife Doris, who was dying in the hospital. Ted wasn’t a Temple member and was concerned about whether or not the rabbi could do Doris’ funeral.

“How is Doris?” the rabbi asked.

“Doris is dying. They say a day or two. Do I call over to the funeral home and make preparations now? We have cemetery plots but no funeral plans.”

“Is Doris in any pain? Is she awake and aware? Is she frightened?”

Ted still had more questions about the funeral. “Ted, Doris isn’t dead yet. The funeral director will be available later. What can we do for Doris now? Would you like me to visit her?”

Ted thought that a visit would be nice, but the rabbi shouldn’t make a special trip.

The rabbi found Doris alone in a room with two beds. “Hi Doris, I was in the hospital and heard you were here, so I thought I would come by and say hello. We met once before. Do you remember me?”

Doris opened her eyes fully. “Rabbi,” she managed to say.

“Yes.” He slid a chair close enough to the bed so he could sit and hold her hand. “How are you doing?” She didn’t answer, but she looked at him steadily. “Are you in pain?” Her eyes rolled up to the IV drip. The medication was adequate. “You don’t have to say anything. If it’s alright with you, I’ll sit here for a while. Is that all right?” She nodded.

Her eyes were open to him. Some of her history stared back at him. She knew why Ted had called the rabbi. It wasn’t the first time he had buried her.

There was no denial, but no acceptance either. Only resignation.

His eyes were open to her. She saw in them a reflection of her situation. She saw his concern and compassion. She knew he had made a special trip to see her.

“Would you like me to pray for you?” he asked her, still holding her hand.

Her surprise was evident. She had never prayed before. She had no notion that someone else could pray for her. To her surprise, she wanted him to say a prayer. She sincerely wanted it. Her desire struggled with her notion of hypocrisy. All her life she had never seen the point of prayer. Now that she was dying, she welcomed prayer. For the moment, she was stuck between her desire and her disbelief. Her desire won out. More than anything else in the world, at that moment, she wanted a prayer. “Yes, I would like that.”

“What do you want me to pray for?” the rabbi asked, knowing how crucial that decision would be.

He felt her shock through her hand. It flashed across her face. She knew for a certainty that the gates of prayer were open. She had two choices. She could pray to die.

She could pray to live. She had known she could die. She had not known she could live.

The rabbi read the argument in her eyes. She had a good reason to die. Could she find a good reason to live? He saw and felt the shift in her when she found it. He didn’t know what her reason was, but she had found it.

“I want to live,” she said.

“Can you say that again, please?”

“I want to live.”

In that instant her prayer broke through. The rabbi sealed it with a quick prayer of healing. The rabbi’s words were unimportant. The real prayer had burst from Doris’ heart. The rabbi had been there as witness, and nothing more.

He squeezed her hand. “I’m going to leave now. I hope to see you again soon.” She smiled in response.

Doris recovered. The doctors called it a remarkable spontaneous remission. She lived another six months during which she healed a rift with a son from whom she had been estranged for years. The next time she came to die, the son was present to hold her hand.

In this story originally told by one of my teachers, Rabbi Mitchell Chefitz, in his novel, The Seventh Telling, Doris rediscovered her ability to choose. Choice is a fundamental aspect of our humanity, and our Judaism, and may be the most frightening thing we need to reclaim on this day.

We are about to talk about the “Power of this Day”, how it causes us to stand in awe, and full of dread. This is one of the culminations of the Days of Awe, and Un’taneh Tokef, one of the central prayers of these days, stands before us as a declaration of a great decree upon the year to come. Have we done what we needed to do in order to end up on the correct side of the statement, “Who shall live and who shall die”?

Have I done what I needed to do?

Can I face the year to come feeling like God will decree for me a good year?

No.

You may not believe that a rabbi feels this way, but I do not actually believe this. In no way do I feel that there is a supreme personality weighing my year to come and deciding my fate for it and that if I do or don’t do something in particular at this moment, on this day, then my fate will be changed my some supernatural force.

Because, if I believed in such an idea, that God made a decree on October 4, 2014, on the basis of my level of sincere repentance, which would impact whether or not earthquake or plague struck my neighborhood in Charlotte sometime before the next year’s Yom Kippur, on September 23, 2015, (God forbid – I am both a rationalist AND STILL superstitious!), then my whole way of thinking the rest of the year wouldn’t work.

If my prayer or repentance could alter weather patterns, stock markets, or whether or not my family would suffer from hunger, then why would I do anything but pray?

What use would any of my actions be if I believed in the supernatural impact of prayer?

We know that this is not a choice for some being in the sky to make for us – it is ours to make – I must be the one to choose life. We must be the ones figure out how to navigate the twists of fate that will come our way, for better or for worse. And the prayer before us reminds us of that too – it concludes emphatically:

“But REPENTANCE, PRAYER, and RIGHTEOUS DEEDS, temper judgment’s severe decree.”

These words, sung out every year at the end of our worrying litany of potential fates remind us that when all is said and done, our fate is in our hands.

Maybe this is the problem.

While it may feel great to know that it is all up to us, I am frightened about it.

A day “full of dread” indeed – Yom Kippur, when we remind ourselves that the entirety of our year is in fact on us to improve or ruin.

On top of all of that, like Doris in the story, we must accept that this choice before us is real and that choosing makes a difference. Our prayers reflect our willingness to open ourselves to possibilities – to go beyond the fear of the worst-case scenario and accept that we can choose something else. We must make a choice even though we fear to do so.

There are so many fears out there – the notion that we might be less responsible for some of the things going on around us would be a comfort. Taking all that on is just one more thing to be anxious about.

The future often holds the worst of our fears.

The future leads to death. I fight that all the time, and I hope mostly in a healthy fashion. I even joke that the reason I am so serious about running is that I am fleeing from death. I want to live long to see our kids grow up and live as adults.

After all, I am a forty-four-year-old with a seven-year-old and a ten-month-old!

Is that a positive desire, or just another expression of our fear of everything going wrong? I am not sure.

I do know that when I face up to my fears, I accomplish things that are truly important.

I fear that my struggle with the memory of my father, with my anger and resentment towards him, gets in the way of me being a better person, a better husband, father, and rabbi.

On Sunday I ran twenty miles, yes, all at once, and so had a lot of time to listen to podcasts. One of them, an interview between “On Being”’s Krista Tippett and yoga instructor Seane Corn, who talks about taking yoga “Off the Mat and into the World”, highlighted Ms. Corn’s experience of coping with great difficulties. Her experiences reminded me that I needed to choose to forgive my father. I needed to choose transform whatever injury I felt I received from him into a gift, and even to be grateful for the things that I once thought were hurtful. I need to choose to live my life, and let his life, now over for seven years, be an asset for me. After all, I am the only one in the relationship now, I had better figure out a way to make it work to my advantage.

When I hear “Who shall live and who shall die” I can take it as an inspirational statement to choose a better life in the year to come.

The rest of this frightening prayer goes beyond life and death and into quality of life:

“Who will rest and who will wander, who will live in harmony and who will be harried, who will enjoy tranquility and who will suffer, who will be impoverished and who will be enriched, who will be degraded and who will be exalted.”

This gets deep into the heart of our difficulties – every single one of us wants to come out on the right side of these. And we want these things answered for our families and friends too.

It would be terrifying to think that our demeanor and seriousness on this day, on the days leading up to this day over the last month of our repenting, would actually result in harmony or suffering for us for the next year.

We want to accomplish the thing that would make this all work out – it would be so great if there were ONE thing we could do today to accomplish this.

Not so simple though.

Think about the consequences of a wrong action.

This summer we watched an Israeli documentary, “The Gatekeepers” – interviews with former directors of the Shin Bet – the general security agency tasked with Israel intelligence and counter-terrorism in the occupied territories since 1967.

In one of the opening scenes, as a surveillance camera tracks a van, one of the Shin Bet directors talks about the decision to take action. He says:

“Acting out of fear means killing people who shouldn’t be killed.

“People expect a decision, and by decision they usually mean ‘to act’. That’s a decision. ‘Don’t do it’ seems easier, but it’s often harder.”

Our responsibility for others’ lives isn’t usually so self-evident. Others’ lives are not directly in our hands. We are not pushing any buttons that can end someone else’s life at any moment.

Still, everyone’s lives are in our hands, every moment, every action, every inaction – each of these makes a huge difference, even when we don’t notice it.

Fear leads us to not merely make the tough decision to not act, or to act rashly, fear leads is to turn away and wash our hands of the whole thing.

To see ourselves in this prayer, to see ourselves as responsible at all times – this is what we are asking of ourselves on this day. We feel dread, because we can make a difference. We ease our fears, as individuals and as a community, when we realize we are not alone. We are in it together.

This is one of my definitions of God.

Instead of imagining that God will suspend the rules of the world for us – change the course of the reality on which we depend – merely on the strength of our prayers today, let us use these moments to connect with each other, and remind one another that these connections are the point of Un’taneh Tokef.

God is in what we create when we connect.

“Who shall live and who shall die…” – who among us will remember the value of our lives, and the lives of those around us, and use every day to make those lives worth living.

“Who will be degraded and who exalted…” – who among us will reach past our fears of connecting to a person in need. Who among us will reach past our fears of asking for help, and bravely turn to someone when we are in need. We are truly here for each other – we must ask and we must answer.

This moment is not about how we pray but how we live.

Rabbi Bradley Shavit Artson says:
“We are most God-like when we open ourselves up to the vulnerability of real relationships.”

When we open ourselves up to the choices and choose to connect with each other, with the world, with the sources of our fears and our hopes, then we can accomplish miracles, just like Doris did. We can choose life.

Feel our fear, because on this day we remind ourselves about the choices that lay in front of us every day of the year.

“But REPENTANCE, PRAYER, and RIGHTEOUS DEEDS, temper judgment’s severe decree.”

And we have the power to overcome this when we are open, when we find openings, when we offer openings – to our selves and to one another.

10 Steps for Overcoming the Fear of Making a Change

Image source:

Perfect Imperfections by Rabbi Judith Schindler

5 Oct

Perfect Imperfections

Temple Beth El, Yom Kippur 5775, Friday evening, October 3, 2014

Finding love worthy of marriage once is hard. Finding love worthy of marriage twice is even harder. Keeping love alive is the hardest of all. This law of love applies not only to marriage but to all of our relationships – with friends, with siblings, with parents and most of all with ourselves.

This past summer I officiated at a deeply moving wedding between a young widow, Holly, and a young widower, Joe. Many of you may know them. As a clergy person and friend, I walked with them through their journeys from the diagnosis of spouses’ cancers, to challenging treatments, to hospice, to tearful burials and bereavements, back to living life and ultimately finding love again.

The wedding was hard, even as it was beautiful. In this sanctuary were so many people I had gotten to know by hospital beds, hospice beds, and in houses of mourning. For all of us, celebrating new love was mixed with missing those who were gone.

At the party Joe got up to make a toast but did something different. He explained that in High School and college he was in musical theater and has been singing ever since. Yet two and a half years ago when Rona died, so did the music. Now it was back. Joe then sang a song to Holly that made all the wives wonder why their husbands had never sung to them.

It was not his great voice or thoughtful act that moved me most but the words of his song that I have been singing ever since. The lyrics by John Legend go like this: All of me loves all of you, Love your curves and all your edges all your perfect imperfections. Give your all to me, I’ll give my all to you. You’re my end and my beginning. Even when I lose I’m winning.[1]

At that moment I got it. The secret to finding love and keeping love is accepting our own perfect imperfections even as we try to grow, being forgiving of other’s imperfections and lastly, accepting life’s imperfections.

It is human nature to look in the mirror and see the imperfections – the wrinkles and gray hair of age, the folds of fat, the acne of adolescence, the birth marks and age marks that have shown up in places we’d rather they not be.

But looking deeper into our souls is harder. Is our anger out of control? Are we judgmental? Do we say one thing with our words yet do the opposite with our actions?

Our liturgy knows this to be true. We just read our viddui – our confessional: the acrostic list of our sins from arrogance to having zeal for bad causes, for the sins we’ve done privately and publicly, knowingly or unknowingly, for the deep hurt we have caused. Today forces us to face who we are. Like a psychological intervention where family and friends struggle to make us aware of the damage we are doing, today is our self-intervention.

Welcome to our 25 hour Yom Kippur Rehab program. Jews across the globe are taking part. I encourage you to stay through the shofar’s blast that will come tomorrow night so that you can get the most out of this program designed and refined by sages over the past 3000 years. I encourage you to take this time seriously and use it to sober up and work on yourselves. Our personal failings are tearing the fabric of our relationships stealing sacred moments from our all too short lives.

Today we offer not a twelve step program but three step path to renewal.

Our first step to finding that wholeness and health we seek is to accept our own imperfections even as we strive to work on them.

None of us is perfect. Rachel Naomi Remen writes: “ ‘Human being’ is more a verb than a noun. Each of us is unfinished, a work in progress. Perhaps it would be most accurate to add the word ‘yet’ to all our assessments of ourselves and each other… If life is process, all judgments are provisional, we can’t judge something until it is finished.”[2]

Today let us say: I am not loving enough… yet. I am not patient enough… yet. I am not generous enough, I am not kind enough, I am not learned enough, I am not healthy… yet.

Even Moses was slow of speech and had anger management issues – he shattered tablets and struck rocks. Yet despite his failings and in moving beyond his failings, Moses remains a model for leadership today.

In July, Chip and I were blessed to go to Italy. It was the trip of a lifetime. We went to see the statue David carved by Michelangelo at the Accademia in Florence. David was pretty near perfect. I have never seen anyone as perfectly sculpted as that! Two things impressed me most. First, Michelangelo sculpted David out of a flawed piece of marble that another artist had cast away. If Michelangelo could make David out of flawed marble, imagine what we could make out of the flawed material of our lives.

Second, while I loved seeing David, I was more taken with the two rows of Michelangelo’s sculptures opposite him. Some call them “the prisoners” as they look like forms of people emerging from rock. They were incomplete, imperfect, unfinished, beauty coming out of a block of stone. They are us – incomplete, imperfect, unfinished. They were being freed from the matter that bound them just we strive to free the goodness of our souls from our earthly bodies that are brought down by emotions such as jealousy, selfishness, and fatigue.

As we engage in the task of loving ourselves as we accept our imperfections even while working on them I want to teach you three Hebrew words:

Ehyeh asher ehyeh. Repeat each word after me: Eyhyeh – eyheh. Asher- asher. Eyhyeh – ehyeh.

These words have a double meaning: “I am who I am” and “I will be who I will be.”

Moses wanted to know God’s name. He asked the Divine: “When I go to Egypt to help free the Israelites, who shall I say sent me?”

Ehyieh asher ehyieh,” God replied meaning either “I am who I am” or “I will be who I will be.”

I, Rabbi Judy, am who I am with my preoccupied mind. Sometimes I am so tired and overwhelmed or my brain gets so deep in thought that I actually might miss hearing what you say or might walk by you without seeing you. When I was once upset by this recurring criticism in my annual review that I cannot seem to fully overcome, my sister, Lisa, let me know that my father received the exact same criticism. People would complain that he’d walk past them in the hallway as if they weren’t there.   Once, when my brother was in college and my father was speaking nearby and in a receiving line greeting congregants, my dad didn’t even recognize his own son! He reached out his hand and said to my brother, Josh, “Nice to meet you.”

Even though “I am who I am,” I strive “to be who I will be.” I will strive to be as fully present with you as I can – even in crowded rooms when my brain or body is overloaded. Sometimes I will succeed and sometimes I will fail.

We all will fail, at times, and when we do let us remember the words of the Kol Nidre prayer we just uttered: Let all our vows and oaths, all the promises we make to You, O God, between this Yom Kippur and the next, be null and void should we, after honest effort, find ourselves unable to fulfill them.

May we love who we are with our curves and our edges with our perfect imperfections. May we strive to be who we will be so that our imperfections do not hurt others. When we fall short, may God forgive us, may others forgive us, most of all, may we forgive ourselves.

The second step of our Yom Kippur rehab and journey to our wholeness is loving and forgiving others despite their imperfections.

There was a musical comedy entitled, “I love you, you’re perfect now change.” It was the second longest running Off Broadway musical — translated into 14 languages – even Hebrew!

Dating, marriage, siblings, friendships, colleagues – all relationships test us. In our minds, we set unattainable expectations.

A Muslim story that captures well our human condition:

One afternoon, Nasruddin and his friend were sitting in a cafe, drinking tea, and talking about life and love.

“How come you never got married, Nasruddin?” asked his friend.

“Well,” said Nasruddin, “to tell you the truth, I spent my youth looking for the perfect woman. In Cairo, I met a beautiful, intelligent woman, with eyes like dark olives, but she was unkind. Then in Baghdad, I met a woman who was a wonderful and generous, but we had no interests in common. One woman after another would seem just right, but there was always something missing. Then one day, I met her. She was beautiful, intelligent, generous and kind. We had everything in common. In fact she was perfect.”

“What happened?” Nasruddin’s friend asked, “Why didn’t you marry her?”

Nasruddin replied, “It’s a sad thing. Seems she was looking for the perfect man.[3]

If we seek perfection in those we love, I promise, we will end up alone. This does not reflect marital status or living physically alone but a greater existential aloneness. One can be single and surrounded by amazing relationships and one can married and painfully isolated.

Ironically, relatives often find it easier to accept imperfection at the end of life or after death. My teacher, Rabbi Larry Kushner, would say: “My mother has been dead for ten years now and my relationship with her has never been better.” Forgiveness in the midst of life is a greater challenge.

In Judaism, there are three levels of forgiveness: selichah, mechilah, and kapparah. We just asked God for all three. “S’lach lanu, m’chal lanu, kaper lanu – forgive us, pardon us, grant us atonement,” we prayed.

The first level of forgiveness we hope to give and attain is selichah. “Forgive us,” we say. Selichot entails accepting apology and pardoning from punishment.

At the end of the book of Genesis, Joseph’s eleven brothers approach him. They apologize for their actions long ago of throwing him into a pit and selling him as a slave. Joseph forgives them. “It was for a greater good that it all happened. Let’s move forward,” he said.

The next level of forgiveness is mechilah. “Pardon us,” we pray. In monetary terms, the word mechilah is about forgiving debt. I lent you money, but I now wipe clear that debt. In guilt terms, you hurt me, but I release you from the weight of guilt. The negative feelings caused by the act are gone.

Esau and Jacob of Genesis, no doubt carried with them for twenty years the pain of betrayal and being betrayed. When they reunited, “They kissed and wept.”

And then there is kapparah. “Grant us atonement,” we say. The ultimate goal of this 25 hour rehab and repentance program is to wipe the slate clean, to start anew.

In the Torah, we committed the ultimate act of adultery against God. We built and worshipped a Golden Calf. The tablets and terms of our first covenant, our first marriage agreement, were shattered.

God invites Moses to ascend Sinai a second time, to receive a new set of tablets, to metaphorically renew our vows. The words kaparah and Yom Kippur comes from the root kofer meaning to cover. We have contained the sin. We have gotten control of the yetzer harah – the evil inclination that led to our wrongdoing.

The story is told of a father who calls his son and tells him casually, “By the way, your mother and I are getting a divorce.”

The son exclaims, “But you’ve been married for 45 years.”

The father replies, “I can’t take another day with your mother. I’m going down to the courthouse tomorrow and filing.”

“Dad, Yom Kippur is Saturday. I’ll drive home on Friday. Promise me you won’t do anything till afterwards.”

The father agrees, hangs up the phone, turns to his wife and says, “That worked. We got him to come home for Yom Kippur. Now what are we going to do for Thanksgiving?”

As Jews we are not only experts in guilt, we are experts in forgiveness.

Guilt, shame and blame can destroy our lives. Forgiveness can heal us and set us free. (Often, it takes time.)

The third and final step to our Yom Kippur journey of rehab and renewal is accepting the imperfections of our world.

Nothing is perfect. Only the Temple in Jerusalem was perfect and it no longer stands.  Jewish tradition teaches that when we build our homes we are meant leave a piece unfinished reflecting the realities of our imperfect world. Most of us, do that well!

Nothing is perfect. Marriages can end. Jobs can be terminated. Storms can shake our community to its core. Car accidents can throw us into crisis. Rabbi Harold Kushner teaches that Moses never makes it to the Promised Land. He writes: “The sad but inescapable truth is that very few people make it to the ‘promised land’… I wish there was a world I could move to where everyone who loved would be loved in return, where every kind person would be treated kindly by fate and by her neighbors, a world where all ailments could be cured by the weekend and the all the biopsies turned out to be benign. But I don’t live in that world and neither does anyone else.” [4]

 Only the Temple in Jerusalem was perfect. Yet here’s the transformational teaching. On one day of the year, on Yom Kippur, one person, the High Priest, would enter one place, the Holy of Holies. Inside that most sacred spot was the ark that held both the broken tablets representing our greatest failing and the whole tablets representing God’s forgiveness.

On Yom Kippur we are meant to encounter our brokenness as we journey to wholeness. Allowing the shards of our own, others’, and the world’s imperfections to continually wound us is missing the purpose life.

Gilda Radner who died at 42 of ovarian cancer wrote, “I wanted a perfect ending. Now I’ve learned, the hard way, that some poems don’t rhyme, and some stories don’t have a clear beginning, middle, and end. Life is about not knowing, having to change, taking the moment and making the best of it, without knowing what’s going to happen next. Delicious Ambiguity.”

When my twin brother’s son, Jax, was born with biliary atresia and would need a liver transplant, I cried for months. Teaching about God was an enormous challenge. Finally my brother said to me, “Judy, your crying is not helping me.”

I admire the way he, his wife Heather, and kids, Jax, who is now 9, and Ella, celebrate life so fully. They embrace the Jewish tradition of lifting our cups at holy times and at mundane times and saying “l’chayim– to life” even with its imperfections and ambiguities.

Just as no one races to rehab to reassess their lives and change, no one races to Yom Kippur services. But here we all are today with a lot of work to do. As Jews we confess not only now but before we die. I am regularly called to bedsides to facilitate the sharing of final words of forgiveness, love, and letting go.  Today is our rehearsal with death. Let us not wait till our final day to express regret and forgive, let us face ourselves now and say:

Ehyeyeh asher ehyieh – I am who I am. At times I will disappoint you and I am profoundly sorry. I will continually work to be better.

S’lach lanu, m’chal lanu, kaper lanu – You are who you are. I love you and I need you. I pardon you as I ask for pardon. I forgive you as I ask for forgiveness. Today, may we start anew building on both the brokenness and wholeness of our past.

God is who God is. There will be days God is good and there will be days when we will wonder exactly where God is and what God is doing. Yet still may we maintain that relationship that we so strongly need.

Tomorrow evening at 6:30 the shofar’s blast will mark the conclusion of our Yom Kippur rehab and repentance program. May we do this day’s work well so that then we can re-embrace and reaffirm life by lifting our Kiddush cups and saying “l’chaim,” as we live with faith in ourselves, in others and in God for we need all three.

May we love ourselves, may we love others and may we love life – with our curves and our edges with our perfect imperfections.

Sources:

[1] Legend, John, and Toby Gad. All of Me. John Legend. Columbia Records, 2013. MP3.

[2] Remen, Rachel Naomi. Kitchen Table Wisdom: Stories That Heal. New York: Riverhead, 1996. Print. p. 223

[3] “24 Pearls Of Wisdom From Mullah Nasrudin.” 24 Pearls Of Wisdom From Mullah Nasrudin. Sompong Yusoonturn, 23 Mar. 2011. Web. 05 Oct. 2014.

 [4]Kushner, Harold S. Overcoming Life’s Disappointments. New York: Knopf, 2006. Print. p. 171.

Others sources used for inspiration in writing this sermon:

Brown, Brené. The Gifts of Imperfection: Let Go of Who You Think You’re Supposed to Be and Embrace Who You Are. Center City, MN: Hazelden, 2010. Electronic.

Kula, Irwin, and Linda Loewenthal. Yearnings: Embracing the Sacred Messiness of Life. New York: Hyperion, 2006. Print.

Memory is at the Heart of Who We Are – A Poem for Yom Kippur Yizkor 5775

3 Oct

By Rabbi Judy Schindler

As the gates of Yom Kippur stand open
beckoning us to pass through
memories swirl around us
as leaves in the soft autumn wind.

Memories of music
move us along the road to repentance…
Avinu malkeinu – Our parent, our protector,
inscribe us for a good year.
Shema koleinu – hear our cry and have compassion upon us.
Hashieveinu – return us to You and to our ideals.
P’tach Lanu – open for us the gates that we may enter –
the gates of repentance,
the gates of renewal,
the gates of forgiveness.

Memories of food draw us forward…
The bagels and lox we will soon eat,
that first cup of coffee
breaking the headache and the soul ache
of a long and hard day of liturgy and fasting.

Remembering releases the pain of the recent past…
Kansas City, Gaza and Israel,
Eyal, Gilad, Naftali
Mohammed Abu Khdeir
Of the soldiers and citizens who died in the fight
for freedom, for security, for Shalom.

Remembering releases the pain of those
who were near to us,
relatives, neighbors and colleagues,
whose deaths still sting our souls
whose absence leaves a gaping void in our hours and days.

And remembering releases the pain of the distant past…
The Rabbinic martyrs of old
The six million victims of the Holocaust

Memory is at the heart of who we are…

Our faith depends on memory:
The memory of Torah…
Remember Shabbat and make it holy
Remember our enemies and blot out evil
Remember that we were slaves and
breakdown societal structures and xenophobia, fear of the stranger,
that oppress and enslave.

Our people depend on memory:
Remembering our local Jewish community
Remembering our Jewish brothers and sisters across the globe
Remember our holy land of Israel.

Now is our time for personal memories…

Remembering our mothers and fathers…
their love, their voices, their presence

Remembering our grandmothers and grandfathers…
their wisdom and warmth.

Remembering loved ones who left this world too soon…
our friends whom fate tore away from us
who lifted our days with laughter.

Some mourn spouses who walked the path of life beside them.
The pain of loneliness is perpetual.

Some mourn children whose deaths brought devastation.
Day after day they slowly pick up the pieces
and hold fast to the holiest memories
of their hugs, their smiles, their souls.
These memories are most precious of all.

We would be wanderers without memory
to ground us and to guide us.
Forgetting is frightening.

Yizkor elohim… May God remember…
Nizkor anachnu… May we remember…

And may the memories of those we love inspire us
to move forward and live our lives
so that the memories that we leave behind
will sustain those
who remember us.

Lines and Circles By Cantor Andrew Bernard

2 Oct

Here we are, in the thick of our holiday cycle. Or perhaps I should say, here we are again, in the thick of our holiday cycle. While the events of our lives usually proceed in a line — sometimes a straight line, sometimes on a winding path bordering on torturously circuitous — the world of nature and the world of our holidays progress around a circle. And it is the interplay between the lines and the circles that give us perspective on our lives.

Given that our ancestors were an agricultural people and dependent upon the natural world, it is not surprising that the liturgical cycle parallels the cycle of nature. Our days begin with the setting sun. Our months begin on the new moon. According to the Torah, the Jewish year begins in spring — a time of new life and renewal. Both the agricultural and historical associations of Passover reflect this idea of new life and renewal, and Sukkot in the fall represents the conclusion of the harvest and the fragility of the world as it sinks into winter. Time and nature repeat in a predictable rhythm.

This predictable rhythm is an essential part of the creation story, which we read this month. The story of creation is really the story of human endeavor: how to establish order in the face of chaos. Here, the word “chaos” does not imply mayhem, but rather the seemingly random and unpredictable course of the world that continuously impacts our lives. By separating light from darkness, sky from earth, dry land from the oceans, God imposes order on the world. On the fourth day, God creates the sun, moon, and stars, thereby establishing a regular pattern of days and nights, seasons and years.

“Predictable” is not a word we can attach to our own lives. Of course we make plans: we schedule our days and weeks; we take on projects that have a beginning, middle, and end; we plan out careers and envision the family life we want. But events outside our control intrude, and we are sometimes nudged — sometimes thrown — off of the path we set in motion for ourselves. When unforeseen events occur, we may have to make hard choices. Work or study opportunities might mean giving up our home and moving far away. An exciting new project may mean giving up activities we have enjoyed, while an unsuccessful undertaking may cause us to rethink our life’s path. And sometimes the natural world intervenes, the course of our lives changed by illness or the loss of a loved one.

Where are we today? Are we where we thought we’d be a year ago? Has the landscape of our family or friendships changed? How have our professional or personal lives changed? And yet no matter the path of our lives, here we are again in our holiday season — a season of introspection and reevaluation, a season filled with traditions and memories. Even if the course of our lives seems fickle, the steadiness of this season anchors us. We stop. We regroup. People who are no longer with us loom larger in our lives, helping us regain perspective on our true selves. We engage in familiar traditions, reinforcing our core values.

And then we move forward again, taking the new experiences and enfolding them into the heart of our being. What was random then is now part of our new order. We have grown since last year. And we move ahead with the knowledge that our forward path will always be anchored by the recurring circles.

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