Monday, September 19, 2016

D'var Torah-Ki Tavo: Gather us in:The joys and trials of community

Image result for Community   

"Raise your eyes and see !
They are gathering all of them,
They are coming to you"-Isaiah 60:4a

"Standing on the parted shores of history,
 we still believe what we were taught
 before ever we stood at Sinai.

that whereverever we are,it is eternally Egypt
that there is a better place,a Promised Land;
that the winding way that passes through that promise passes through the wilderness

that there is no way to get from here to there
except by joining hands,marching
together."-Michael Walzer

Held within the Ahavah Rabbah prayer in the morning Sacharit service are these beautiful words:

"Gather us in peace from the four corners of the earth and lead us upright to our land,For you,O God,work wonders.You chose us.Truly you draw us near to your great name,that we might acknowledge you,declaring you one in love."

Living in an intentional community for the last four years I have to say while I say these words to not think of how they to me allude to those joys and trials expressed within community.Here are ways I feel these words witness to such:

"Gather us in peace"

One of the first things I learned in coming into community as a Southerner was one reality would always exist in community that I in my southern manners of holding what ill feelings I had in hoping the best the person would change.That I could not do that in order to have mutual peace i had to learn to be direct and not avoid conflict but tackle it head on. this required something out of me I had never done. I find it cool within this parshah Moses says that God would scatter Israel(28:64). I as a person had to make myself vulnerable to criticism but also brave enough to offer up my own as direct as possible in order to not have my boundaries as a person respected.This was not all easy at first but as time has went by it has become much more easier. I see this acceptance of the reality of conflict coupled with being direct about my own needs creating a mutual "gathering in" of not only the community but it allows the person to have more of a awareness of who they are bringing a sweet peace in a world that seems fueled by celebrating conflict rather then dealing with it.

"from the four corners of the earth"

As human beings we are scattered through our many social labels that divide us but community has a call much different. It exists to bring us together.In my early days in community I struggled with being accepted . You see within my household in my intentional community I am the first openly gay person to openly date.When I first came into my household I knew that I would I have to show I'm the complete opposite of any stereotypes of gay people they had. At first witnessing to my own difference was a little bumpy.I wouldn't have been accepted into the household if some were not affirming but even with those who are affirming you still have to open eyes a little bit more on the issue.As everything with time more acceptance happened  my household became very much like family.They accepted me in becoming a Jew some where even present at my Beit Din.Besides me just being the gay Jew with my own diversity our household is inter-generational. I'm the youngest member at twenty-nine and the oldest member of our house is eighty-nine. Our combined life experiences are amazingly diverse.Two members of my household were present near Martin Luther King,Jr at the march on Washington,One member has had every job on the planet,one a former relief worker turned hospital chaplain and one a nanny. The table conversation are always fun but despite all of our differences our "four corners" we all come together we are all united in our responsibility to each other and that ultimate reality we experience in our lives together.

"upright to our land"

I find it cool that the word used here is "our" not "your" denoting that what we have when we are in community together is shared not greedily but mutually.It is ours it is something we make together as a group,as a people. It is both a laboratory and a temple that calls us to service to each while causing us too look,to see how we might change from within ourselves.It makes us "upright" but at the same time gives us a "land " from which to be affirmed within.A good example of this would be in how my housemates evolved passed just being roommates but to being family through time.In intentionally being together we had experiences that only we could have,inside jokes only we would know while at the same time being challenged through the gift of such intention.

"you,O God work wonders......truly you draw us near your great name.....That we might acknowledge you,declaring you one in love"

Through time I find myself praising the fact I came into an intentional community.It has changed me causing me to praise life in all of it's nuances as a gift.Intentional community helped me in many ways to find myself and my Judaism. Even though I live with a bunch of Christians I find daily we are in many ways praising the same way in striving to create harmony in the world around us declaring together yet differently that all are one.

So what does community mean to you?Where do you experience it? and how does it gather us all in?

Some questions to ponder:

What does community mean to you?

Where do you experience community?

How does community gather us all in?

An Affirmation:

This is a modern rendition of the excerpt above may we all be gathered in even more so into a community of harmony working towards the common good for all.This is done by the former Cantor of my shul.

Friday, September 16, 2016

D'var Torah-Ki Teitzei: A good word

Image result for Good words

"Though the mountains may depart and the hills be removed,My love shall never depart from you,and my covenant of peace shall never be removed from you"-Isaiah 54:10

"When you get to the point of understanding what you are saying,you will understand the language of all creatures"-The Yehudi,Tales of the Hasidim

Torah Reading:Deuteronomy 21:10-25:19

Haftarah Reading:Isaiah 54:1-55:5

Last week I finished my conversion it was a beautiful experience but as with times of joy some take upon themselves to ruin those moments of simchah. On my first Shabbat in messaging someone that night they said some of the rudest things a person could say and pressured me i felt to leave Judaism because in their eyes I was a horrible representative of Progressive Judaism.Even though I don't typify myself as representative of the movement I'm apart of but try to live it out as best I can this Judaism that speaks to me not because of the autonomy but because of the responsibility. Part of that responsibility I believe comes in giving the kind word after having this moment that hurt me a lot I opened my chumash(Book of Torah) just to find some words of guidance .The words I found came from the Haftarah for this week in God reminding Israel that the ultimate reality would never stop loving us.What a powerful paradigm. What if we were like the Eternal within this verse that our words were so compassionate that they could move mountains for people?What if we could lace our words of Torah that build up the society we live instead of those that tear down others?What if we could not see our words not as Facebook posts but as expression of the very human beings behind them in all their nuance?I believe this is possible and it can happen at this moment.So let us go,do,and say words of love to all.

Questions to ponder:

How far can I kind word go?

What moments have you built up others or tore down others with your speech?How did you feel afterwards?

Should we judge one's being based off what we see on Social media?

An Affirmation

May we seek to heal others with or words and not hurt others with them

Thursday, September 1, 2016

D'var Torah-Re'eh : The Holy Habitation

 Image result for temple in jerusalem

"It will be that place the eternal your God,will choose in which to establish the Eternal's name there you shall bring all that I commanding you"-Deuteronomy 12:11a

"Therefore it is not enough that the institutions and ceremonies of the synagogue are testimonies to the great past of Israel. They must also become eloquent heralds and monitors of the glorious future when all mankind will have learned the lessons of the Jewish festivals the ideals of liberty,law,and peace,the thoughts of the divine judgment and the divine mercy."-Kaufman Kohler,Jewish theology

Torah Reading: Deuteronomy 11:26-16:17
Haftarah Reading: Isaiah 51:12-52:12

This week the Temple Institute in Israel which promotes itself as an organization seeking as it's ultimate goal "to see Israel rebuild the Holy Temple "  announced that their Sanhedrin have appointed a High Priest to serve in the Temple and begin some of the Temple services as soon as possible. I find myself asking what does all this mean to me and to the Jewish community in general? In this week's Torah portion Moses reminds Israel that they must go and find a place that is good enough to "Establish the Eternal's name" does the appointment of a High Priest by this group in any way mean that the spot where the Dome of the Rock sits now is even closer to becoming that centralized place of worship for all Jewry?I don't think so and here are a few reasons why:

1. Not every Jewish Community recognizes the authority of the Temple Institute.

The Temple Institute from my understanding is mainly a Charedi organization only representing a minority of the Jewish Community. In being Charedi this means that not every Jew will fit their standards of who can even enter the Temple were it to be established again.So this means those who identify as Reform like me and even Conservative Jews are not "holy" enough to enter the temple or take part in any services. Do you think any of our organizations endorse this?If we are to be marginalized as such?

2. The prayers are better then animal sacrifice.

Who actually wants to watch a priest kill an innocent animal?I don't. The rabbis were innovative in replacing the animal sacrifices with the Sacharit(Morning) and Minchah (Afternoon)services. I have to wonder how much one will have to pay to have the priests to do an animal sacrifice?Prayer is free it also unites the whole Jewish community whether rich or poor everyone can offer the sacrifice of prayer.

3. Is it really a symbol of Jewish unity?

The Temple Institute praises that a rebuilt temple will be "A place unlike any other" and cure their perception of Judaism being a "fish out of water" without it.If it is such a symbol for Judaism why are only a few Jews involved in it of a particular type?Why do only some support it's work?Just like New Testament where there were many groups that seperated themselves from the institution so will it be if it is rebuilt again. In making itself special for only a few it will I think more problems then solutions for the Jewish community.

If the rebuilt temple is not the Holy Habitation of God Then what is? Well I think that as the Jewish people have thrived many years without the temple in this form a new temple has been built. That Temple which the Prophet Ezekiel described as having palm-liked crown pillars exists today. It exists when we as a human species are our best towards each other and ourselves. It is Martin Luther King's Jr's idea of the beloved community. It is community in harmony.Even though it may seem during times like these moments are rare I believe myself that they are when we are in that most Holy Temple experiencing a unity with the Ultimate Reality both challenging and changing us. This is my most Holy Temple and it is good enough for me. It answers to the common ills of society and brings me to a higher self . May it be enough for all as it is me this true symbol of human unity.

Questions to ponder:

What does this announcement of the Temple Institute mean to you?

Do you see the rebuilt Temple a symbol of Jewish community?

How do you think "Community in Harmony" might be the Modern Temple of today?


May we all welcome that Holy Habitation that is humanity in harmony

Monday, August 22, 2016

Leaves of Grass-Why can't there be peace in Zion?

This poem is a lament that asks the question why can't there be peace in Zion?

Why can't there peace in Zion?'

Wisdom calls out at your gates yet you do not answer her.

How can you say the Shema?

Knowing that have you not made human beings feel as if they were not one?

Palestinians,Ethiopians,Progressive Jews, every human being is a citizen of Zion.

Medinat Israel why can't you not act as the narrative of Klal Israel calls you to?

As wisdom cries out at your gates do you not hear the Shekinah which you have put in exile?

Listen !!! hear her voice.She sings for the children which you have marginalized.

May we all be one because you Medinat Israel remind us of how far we have to go in recognizing we are one and how you are not the Zion you claim to be.

Monday, July 25, 2016

D'var Torah- Pinchas: Our communal offerings


"The Eternal spoke to Moses saying: Command the children of Israel,say to them:

You should offer to Me in it's appointed time,including: My offering ,My food on My fires as a pleasant aroma to me"-Numbers 28:1-2

"I hate all politics . I don't like either political party . One should not belong to them-one should be an individual,standing in the middle. Anyone that belongs to a party stops thinking."-Ray Bradbury

Parshah: Numbers 25:10-30:1
Haftarah: I Kings 18:46-19:21

In this week's parshah we read about certain communal offerings ranging from those offered on Shabbat ,pesach, and Rosh Chodesh. I find these communal offerings were easily described. What they consisted of was easily known but in our time contemplating what exactly our communal offerings are and if they are exactly pleasing in any way to God is up for debate.Two things I find among humanity that we claim it seems as our communal offerings are our politics and religion these two things seem to be things in which we hold in the most passion in our lives but are they exactly communal offerings?

First of all lets look at religion. I define religion as those common rites we share together within particular communities . My definition is pretty liberal and would include Secular Humanist groups seeing them as common rites as well as a particular community. Even though my definition of religion is pretty liberal I don't think myself religion holds up to the definition of a communal offering. Religions seem to seek to be divisive of each other more at times than actually bringing people together. Secular Humanists exert Social Darwanism by seeing themselves as intellectually superior to the Evangelical Christians who themselves are exerting a Calvanism that in accepting Jesus as their savior they are in some way chosen more than anyone else in society. Than nobody listens to those of us in Liberal religion offering up the middle ground trying to build bridges in faith.Religion I would say is not pleasing it is not offering those within faith who try to their best to make it pleasing it still fails.Religion has been the cause of war and the death of many.Religion is not a communal offering it is far from it.

Let's now consider politics. Here in America it seems as though two choices are given. One being he that shall not be named of the Republican party who is very much a bigot,and very much a racist. On the other side of it the Democrat Party seems to have a Paramount leader within it . Who like many communist dictators had someone who worked in her previous campaign become party leader and do anything to undermine the work of her opponent . Not only that she promotes herself as a person of the people but as far as the people's ability to see her they have to pay a high price just to get her to speak at an event. Yet both of these individuals despite it have turned families against each other,turned communities upside down and for the sake of their own egos done whatever they could to get into office. This contention is not a pleasing offering I don't think and the boas created by these two is not helping anyone.

Since these two are definitely not pleasing communal offerings what is?I think the answer to that lay within the words of the Prophet Micah:

"Do justly,love mercy and walk humbly with your God"-Micah 6:8

I think it is that simple we should be just in our dealings with others not seeking to divide but unite each other.Recognizing we are one. We should strive to show mercy understanding as human beings we will mess up and through doing these thing we will walk together witnessing to the harmony that is greater than we are.This I believe is a sweet offering for us all.

Some questions to ponder:

Do you see politics and religion as divisive forces within our society?

What do you think of the divisive thinking that religion and politics produces?Does it help society in any way?

What does it mean to you to do justly,love mercy and walk humbly with your God?

An affirmation:

The leader of the Bahai Faith Bahu'll'ah said our world is but one country and humanity it's citizens . May we be one.

Saturday, May 14, 2016

Reflection-Christian Stereotypes about Judaism that I find annoying

"I don't believe in God I do believe in God.I do believe in ethics,morals"-Edgar Bronfman,Sr

During this conversion process and living with Christians I notice a lot of Christians at times really make over-arching statements in a very matter-of-fact way regarding Judaism.I thought it would be fun to name a few for better self-awareness:

All Jews are kosher as the bible says-This statement which I hear a lot is not exactly fact.The Rabbis through time and custom expanded upon the biblical laws at times adding things based off the custom of the time.This form of Kosher or Kashrut is what you find commonplace within some grocery stores. a Alot of Conservative Jews I know will follow the biblical kashrut instead of the Rabbinical.Besides these two forms of Kashrut there is Eco-Kashrut that departs from the rabbinical in favor of choosing businesses that are known to treat animals and workers ethically.Than there are some jews that don't keep kashrut seeing it as an arcane practice.So the statement "All Jews are Kosher as the bible says" does not witness to the nuances that I have witnessed within the Jewish community on this.Right now I'm considering going biblical Kashrut but have not made a decision.

All Jews keep keep all the 613 commandments of the Torah-In many ways I think that this one is a given that it is wrong.Some of the mitzvot(Commandments) cannot even be observed without the temple such as not to extinguish the fire on the altar(Leviticus 6:6)There is no altar because there is no temple how can that even be observed?Maybe in metaphor by keeping holiness in one's heart but literally no.There are also many different ways the mitzvot are interpeted and even expanded upon.Such as with no temple how are the sacrifices done?Well they don't happen but what takes their place?The prayers.So to the "All Jews keep all the 613 commandments"Could not be farther from actual truth.

Jews are very legalistic-To this I must say no Jews are about doing that doesn't exactly make them legalistic. Halakhah or Jewish law is interperted differently across the movements and even some of the Orthodox don't exactly follow the exact letter of halakhah. Judaism does employ Beit Din or Rabbinical Courts to settle disputes between individuals .These to me are no different than the Canon Courts and discernment groups that many Christian denominations employ the only exception they work with rabbinic law not Canon or Christian texts.So are Jews legalistic?No more than some Christian groups.

We should treat Jews special because they are chosen-Most Jews I know rarely speak about being chosen and if I ask one of them the response usually chosen for what?It just doesn't at times seem like the biggest thing.There are even nuances to the belief of choseness and some Jews reject the idea totally.Most Jews I know just want to live normal lives.

We should support the State of Israel because the messiah will come back there-Not exactly a stereotype but more of a way I feel the Jewish community is exploited for the means of Conservative Christianity.I find using the Jewish community in such a way does not witness to genuine faith.Israel is also a multi-party state witnessing to the very many nuances and opinions held within Judaism itself.Would you support a party blindly in Israel just knowing it ruled Israel if it did not speak to your Christian values of compassion?

These are only a few stereotypes I have noticed I'm pretty sure there the important is we are called as human beings to take all people at face value and not to judge.

Questions to ponder:

Have you found yourself employing these stereotypes?

What do you think it means to take a person at face value?

An Affirmation:

May we all strive to be a light to all not forgetting the Jerusalem within all.


I dedicate this to all my Christian friends that have accepted me as I am especially Megan Hering who loves every human being equally.

Tuesday, May 10, 2016

D'var Torah Kedoshim-The Modern sin of Adultism

"For any person that curses who curses their father or mother shall be put to death"-Leviticus 20:9

"In the statutes of your ancestors do not walk and do not observe their observances,and do not defile yourselves with their idols"-Ezekiel 20:18

"If we want to be successful in our work with young people,we have to tackle the pervasive existence of adultism.We use the word adultism to mean all those behaviors to mean all those behaviors and attitudes which flow from the assumption that adults are better than young people and entitled to act upon young people in a myriad of ways without their agreement"-John Bell,Founder of YouthBuild USA

Torah Portion:Leviticus 19:1-20:27
Haftarah:Ezekiel 20:2-19

After reading the Torah portion which speaks of standing in the presence of your elders(Leviticus 19:32)to equating honoring one's parents with the very nature of God(Leviticus 19:3) that I would find in the haftarah this verse:

"In the statutes of your ancestors do not walk and do not observe their observances,and do not defile yourselves with their idols"-Ezekiel 20:18

Within Society today the focus is usually put upon those younger being the "evil" generation or one lacking in respect being the younger generation but it seems as though Ezekiel is offering up a different notion that even the generations that come before can themselves be wicked and even idolatrous.I know this sounds like something unheard of before but it's right there in black and white.That even the elders themselves can be "evil.How in our day can our elders be "evil" well being a young adult I can witness to some very bad things that seemed almost idolatrous in their very nature that in many ways degrade those you are younger than them for example:

Neopotism-Promoting those who are directly related to those whom the older people are used to.Not recognizing the abilities or experience of the younger person in their midst.

Dictating age as wisdom while at the same time not exercising understanding-This is witnessed in the saying "I am older than you therefore I have more experience than you".Age and experience does not equate with understanding the younger person around you especially when it is dictated.Wisdom and understanding go hand in hand.A dictator does not understand their people they exert an authority won through fear.

Not recognizing the younger voice and only giving attention to the older voices-I have seen this happen where the younger person or persons are not even acknowledged to the point of being passed over to those who are much older in the room.If you as older person illustrate that the younger person has no voice aren't you in fact denying the revelation that could come from the next generation?

All of these idolatrous actions fall under the modern sin of adultism which is simply the prejudice that those who are older are entitled to exert an unhealthy authority upon those who are younger them.This modern sin is pretty grievous.It takes away the hope of the future held within the next generation.If those of the younger generation choose to call it out we are mean with the red letter of D for disrespect.

I think this atrocity needs to end and I think it ends simply with  an understanding that each generation has something to offer up to another.That one generation no matter how much think they are better than the other they are not.That our wisdom is not passed down exactly in a linear fashion but through a circular notion.If we are all B'tzel Elohim literally Temples of God standing in front of each other surely we must realize that each and everyone has something to offer up.My generation may have technical knowledge and a communitarian sense of humanity to offer up while the "greatest" generation may have a greater sense of family to offer.Each generation can give one to another I call this solution L'dor Va'dor from the verse in the morning kedushah "L'dor Vador nagid godlecha" meaning "To all the generations we will declare" each of us has a message from that Eternal Source to give to each other if only we will listen.Let us go forth and listen to each other,let us glean the Torah that Torah that is written upon each of our hearts and see that each of us is an example for every generation !!!!Amen.

Some Questions to ponder:

How might you be practicing adultism in your life?

Do you think with the biblical idea that if all of us are created in the image of God than why can't we recognize that which is of God in each generation?

What do you think your generation declares?

An Affirmation:

Each of us our gifts,blessings,history and hope let us celebrate this together as one let us proclaim L'dor Va'dor !!!


I dedicate this D'var Torah to all young people who struggle to be heard.Your voice deserves to be heard and you declare your own truths celebrate that.