Greater Washington Coalition for Jewish Life

Rabbi’s Blog

 

REMARKS on Uvalde, Texas tragedy:

Dear Coalition Community,

The horrific nature of what happened this week in Uvalde is almost more than the mind can comprehend. And yet, it feels all too familiar to those of us who have witnessed mass shooting after mass shooting, including nearby Sandy Hook almost a decade ago. They were children. They were murdered by another child. So many lives and so much potential taken from families, from community, from our world.

I was driving home from Philadelphia as new of the shooting unfolded. When I walked in the door, it was all I could do to hug my children, remind them how much I love them, and sit with them in our shared disbelief.

In the two days since, I have been watching the news and listening to politicians, officials, and commentators offer their prayers for the victims and their families. It reminds me of a central teaching in Jewish tradition: a blessing is something that celebrates and elevates an accompanying action. It is never something offered for its own sake. Making a blessing before eating and then getting up from the table without taking a bite is considered an insult to the divine spark within the food. It is a wasted opportunity to elevate the holiness in our world, and God’s presence within it.

My colleague, Rabbi Isaac Saposnik, offered a quote from Ezekiel which I also share with you: When I passed by you and saw you wallowing in your blood, I said to you – ‘Live in spite of your blood.’ (Ezekiel 16:6) When people offer prayers for the victims but don’t take concrete action, they are missing the point of praying altogether. We are all missing the elevation of the holiness lost in the theft of these young lives. Our country needs action.

I am fighting my own desire to just wallow in sadness, grief, and disbelief. But, I know that is not an option. Instead, I pray that the blood spilled senselessly in Uvalde, and in far too many other communities over the past years, call each of us to lives of meaning, impact, justice, and love. But more importantly, as you offer your own prayers for the memories of the victims, I pray that you are called to concrete and meaningful action in whatever way you believe will raise up the divine sparks that were so needlessly lost.

May their memories be a blessing for us all, a source of comfort to those who loved them, and a source of action that helps to heal our broken world.

Kol Tuv (Be Well),

Rabbi James

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June 2022

Dear Coalition members,

At the end of the book of Leviticus (which we just finished reading in our annual cycle), we see that things are not going well for the Israelites. In fact, the Israelite community is not following God’s regulations and the consequences of that behavior are drought, war, famine, and destruction. The prophetic nature of these disasters might seem familiar to those of us who have lived through the last few years; war, disease, and suffering. These terrible things happen both because we allow for these things to happen and because we are so numb to the failings of humanity that we, at times, live thoughtlessly. It is easier, certainly, to do that. But, as we know – it is not a truly values-driven way to live.

My colleague, Rabbi Lina Zerbarini, taught recently that Rabbi Levi Yitzhak raised up a verse from Proverbs in the face of this numbness, reminding his students that “A Tzadik (a righteous person) will fall seven times and rise up!” She remarked that what distinguishes a righteous person from others is not her ability to withstand the fall, but rather the ability to rise again. The Tzadik truly becomes a Tzadik AFTER the fall!

The summer is often a time of relaxation. It is a time where people go on vacation, reconnect with loved ones, and explore some of the beauty in our world. Much like Shabbat, it is a needed respite from the continual work of creation and building the world that we aspire to live in. For me, it is also a time to reflect on the year that has been, and engage in the work of radical planning that allows us, as individuals, to work toward real change in the year ahead. This summer, after all we have seen this year, is desperately needed to refresh our souls and to help us rise up again.

And, we also know that we can’t get up on our own; we need each other to reach out to our community and help. We are best able to rise when we lend a hand to our friends and invite them to join us on the journey.

This summer, as we all take in the much-needed breath of the wind and feel the warmth of the sun on our skin, I invite you to also engage in that radical planning work of righteousness – to think about the outcomes you hope to see. I invite you to plan a course of action to rise up, and specifically to think about how you will help others join you on that journey. Together, we can make small and incremental change that will elevate holiness, release the divine, and celebrate the goodness that we build together.

Kol Tuv (Be Well),

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Rabbi James