Wednesday, September 21, 2016

Ambiguous Loss


Over the last several weeks I have been reading  Pauline Goss’ book *Ambiguous Loss.  Its subtitle is “Learning to Live With Unresolved Grief.  She affirms that of all the losses experienced in personal relationships, ambiguous loss is the most devastating because it remains unclear, indeterminate.  An old English nursery rhyme encapsulates the distressing feeling of uncertainty:

As I was walking up the stair. 
I met a man who was not there.
He was not there again today,
Oh, how I wish he’d go away. 

I have thought much about the kinds of loss that permeate the massive population movements as so many individuals and families are uprooted from their homes because of war and violence that make their lives untenable. I have thought much about the communities who either welcome them and try to make them feel secure and at home  and about the communities who say “No” we cannot make a space for you.  I have tried to imagine what it would be like to pack only what I could carry in a blanket or a suitcase and run for my life in the middle of the night -leaving behind all that is familiar - if not predictable and safe.  No matter where I let my imagination wander, there is a universal and profound sense of loss. 

In an instant, life as it was disappears when bombs and mortar fire level a home and a family, whether still intact or permanently broken, loses everything.  The grief that pervades life in refugee camps is ambiguous.  Soon it may be possible to return home.  Soon life may be normal again.  Soon a missing family member may arrive on the doorstep.  But in the waiting, grieving goes on and on and on and there is no “normal” resolution.  Everything just sort of hangs in abeyance.  

Even for those who reach a safe harbor, who are welcomed in a strange land, who put down roots in a new culture, who begin to rebuild successful lives  - - even under the best of circumstances, the unresolved losses of home, family, community, culture, the loss of a certain degree of sameness in everyday life,  the loss of a sense of place and belonging is pervasive and the hope for some kind of “return” stays in the spirit.   The losses are devastating because so many losses remain “unclear and indeterminate.”

I listened this morning to a piece on NPR  about one church’s efforts to resettle one extravagantly vetted Syrian refugee family.  Church members talked about the issues involved - the costs in time and energy and labor and support - to help just one family to make the transition to life in this country.  They spoke of the labor of love required. I wondered how the welcoming community acknowledges the depth of the loss that even one refugee family encounters.  I wondered how one keeps hope alive and lives into the future when the losses are so ambiguous at times - so open-ended and without resolution.

So - I thought about a day of mourning in solidarity with all who live and cope with the  “unclear and indeterminate” losses that come not only through  immigration, but also through things like the death of a marriage through divorce; the re-shaping of family relationships when one member is estranged;  the loss of a clear and shining future to the complexity of climate change; the loss of tribal lands to invading forces; the loss of a loved one missing in action.

We humans swim in a sea of  unacknowledged loss and grief.  Perhaps if we could own and recognize it more readily we could be gentler with one another.  Perhaps we could learn to say to one another “We have lost so much.  Come let us sit together and mourn  - and, then, perhaps, find a way forward together.”

 Ambiguous Loss - Learning to Live With Unresolved Grief by Pauline Boss, Harvard University Press, Cambridge Massachusetts, 1999.  P.

Vicky Hanjian


Wednesday, September 14, 2016

Offending Conscience


Imagine a large piece of prime farmland where your relatives have lived for generations, getting married, working hard, raising up children, worshipping, being laid to rest. These days, the old family graveyard isn’t used anymore. The fieldstone fence surrounding it is tumbledown and overgrown. Most of the gravestones are so weathered you can scarcely make out the names and dates. But the dead who are interred there are still part of you. As one of their descendents, you feel a connection to them, deep in your bones.

On a certain day a very rich farmer from far away comes along without warning and lays claim to some of your family’s farmland. The law, he says, is on his side. Before you can dispute him, he’s clear-cutting trees, digging new ditches, even changing the course of the river. And now he’s getting ready to demolish the family graveyard. He plans to till up the old plot, adjacent to one of his fields, so he can plant it and increase his yield.

You and your relatives pay him a visit, to protest. He’s deaf to your appeals. So you file a legal complaint. Before the judge can hold a hearing, the farmer shows up at the graveyard with a bulldozer. He brings along some of his buddies armed with guard dogs and pepper spray. You call the sheriff to intervene. No patrol cars come.

As you and your relatives yell and gesture in righteous anger, the rich farmer razes the old graveyard. Six of you are bitten by dogs. Thirty more are disabled by pepper spray. In only an hour or two, the final resting place of your ancestors is leveled, and nothing, nobody, will ever be able to put it right again….

This could never happen in America, you might be thinking. It’s a made-up story. But last weekend much of this (and worse) actually played out near Cannonball, ND. Instead of a “rich farmer,” the bad actor was Energy Transfer Partners, the company building the Dakota Access Pipeline. Instead of “you and your relatives,” the burial sites belonged to native people.

I’ve a hunch that if an Indian-owned company had sicced its dogs on white people protecting a white cemetery, the mainstream media would have been all over this story. Lawsuits would already have been filed against ETP. Heads would have rolled at the Morgan County Sheriff’s Office for not protecting the white demonstrators. But as it is, the media has largely been silent about this incident, or it has insinuated that the Indians who nonviolently resisted the desecration were somehow to blame.

Even if I weren’t opposed to DAPL, the events of last weekend would have offended my conscience. And I hope they offend yours. Can we agree that it’s unconscionable for any company to deliberately destroy any burial site for the sake of its own bottom line? Can we agree that it’s unconscionable for any company (or government, or law enforcement agency) to assault citizens who are nonviolently exercising their constitutional rights to assemble and speak their mind?

I hope you’ll join me in doing one or all of the following: 

Call Vicki Granado, the public relations officer at Energy Transfer Partners (214-599-8785), and express your dismay over these abuses. 
Call the Morton County Sheriff's Office (701-667-3330) and remind them of their responsibility to protect peaceful citizens. 
Call North Dakota Governor Jack Dalrymple (701-328-2200) and ask him to help de-escalate the situation. 
Finally, call the White House (202-456-1111) and urge President Obama to do what he can to ensure that justice holds sway.

            
Phyllis Cole-Dai

Thursday, September 8, 2016

It's All about Water


It's all about water! Although there has been spotty media coverage, a rather amazing event is unfolding in the fields of North Dakota. Indian nations are gathering and praying to stop the Dakota Access Pipeline from crossing the Missouri River.

For those who are willing to take the time to investigate, it is quickly apparent that these are not "protesters" but "protectors." For those of us living in a bubble of purchased immunity, we little realize how our most important resource is increasingly at risk. After all, for us the water flows out of the faucet or shower head into and over our bodies and we don't think long and hard about the origins.

We have such short memories. The worst U.S. land based oil spill occurred in 2010 into the Kalamazoo River in Michigan. Over a million gallons of diluted bitumen went into the river. A heavy crude oil from the Alberta tar sands, much of it quickly sank. Thirty five miles of the river were closed and more than four years of clean up followed. Three quarters of a billion dollars were spent trying to bring the river back.

Subsequent investigations revealed that alarms had warned the Enbridge headquarters there had been a pipeline breach. But operators assumed it was a "bubble" in the line and continued pumping oil for eighteen hours. It was also revealed that Enbridge knew of pipe weakness in that area five years earlier, 15,000 defects in the 40 year old pipeline, but decided not to dig it up.

Or I doubt people even heard about the Canadian spill in July. 200,00 liters of crude oil spilled into the North Saskatchewan River. It took officials four days to shut down the pipeline. Communities downstream like Prince Albert were "stockpiling clean water in bathtubs and Tupperware containers." One Canadian official doubted their drinking water would be safe to drink for months.

For those with short memories, please recall the leak from Keystone 1 near Freeman, South Dakota this past April. Even with all the fancy equipment to detect spills, Transcanada had to be contacted by a farmer watching oil pool in a field. And although they first reported a spill of 187 gallons, they had to revise it once they started digging to16,800 gallons. All of that four football fields from a "sensitive environmental source," like a river?

According to Richard Stover of the Center for Biological Diversity, using records from the Pipeline Safety Administration, there have been close to 8,000 "significant incidents" with pipelines between 1986 and 2014. More than 3 million gallons on average spilled in the U.S. each year, an average of 5 incidents a week.

Significant incidents are those "causing injury, death, damages exceeding $50,000 in value, a loss of 5 barrels of highly volatile substances, 50 barrels of other liquids or there was an explosion. There have been more than 500 human deaths and 2,300 injuries through-out that period. The number of plant and animal casualties is far higher. The known property damages are valued at close to $7 billion."

The proposed Dakota Access Pipeline would not only cross the Missouri River but the Big Sioux south of Sioux Falls. It would impact four Wetland Management Districts in South Dakota: Sand Lake, Huron, Madison and Lake Andes. The pipe is already in the ground in many places, with desperate fossil fuel companies and their political cronies, their very existence in jeopardy, frantic to get it out of the ground before the market completely collapses.

In North Dakota, the Sacred Stone camp is all about water. People there are asking us to care about the residents of Baton Rouge, LA, who saw 21 inches of rain in 24 hours; to care about the business people of Ellicott City, MD, who saw their downtown ravaged by 6 inches of rain in 2 hours; to care about the 80,000 people who have been evacuated in CA because of wildfires and too little water; to care about those all over the world sickened and starving by draught. They are asking us to care about a livable world for our children and grandchildren, facing the likelihood of catastrophic climate change.

So when some try and play a "race" card and suggest it's just unruly Indians at the camp, don't believe it. Many non-Indians are campers and supporters. And when they spread rumors of pipe bombs, know the pipes are peace pipes. And when they say it's not a lawful gathering, be aware it's not natural law being broken nor God's law. 

It's past time to say leave the fossil fuels in the ground. The future is in renewables. And there is no future without clean water.

Carl Kline

Friday, September 2, 2016

The Voices of Women



The voices of women cry out from the weekly Torah portion called Pinchas (Numbers 25:10-30:1), giving challenge to patriarchy and offering a new way. At times, even they lose the way, but then it becomes for us to remind and to challenge in turn, all while celebrating the possibility of change even as it unfolds before our eyes, as if in a dream. In the portion of Pinchas, a challenge to power and to the way things have always been is offered by women as a way for all of us, a way that is modeled and meant then to transcend gender, meant to become a new way. 

Unfolding against a backdrop of violence, a zealot more comfortable with the spear than with words, taking the law into his own hands in the way of tyrants, taking no counsel with others, only he to save. At the end of the preceding portion, Pinchas slays Zimri and Cozbi, an Israelite man and a Midianite woman, running them through with his spear. As so often, the Torah sets a context of violence which is then challenged from within, a stream of nonviolence rising up, waters breaking in birthing new possibility, a new way of speaking and challenging, of leading. God makes a b’rit shalom/a Covenant of Peace with Pinchas, painfully ironic, meant to wean him from violence, to offer an antidote, some suggest. Subtle challenge is offered, the Hebrew letter made as a straight line, the “vav” in shalom is broken in two, the only place in the Torah with a “vav,” or any other letter, so written, a broken spear, an incomplete covenant. Of the many challenges to the violence that pulsates in the very name of the portion, in the way of the man for whom it is named, the voices of women lead the challenge.

We don’t always hear the voices of women at first, in Torah and in life. Is it about quality of voice, about trust, about likeability, all standards not applied in the same way to men? The irony is underscored in the portion. Moses is told of his coming death, that he will not enter the land. In a beautifully magnanimous response, his first concern is that the people not be as a flock without a shepherd. Moses pleads, Let God, the God of the spirits of all flesh, appoint a man/ish over the community. In a portion filled with the voices of women, it is an irony that laughs aloud, that begs for redress. Why not a woman? 

Of women who offer a different way, we encounter Serach bat Asher, a singer of epic songs, a player of the harp. From the Torah itself, we know only of her name and lineage, her character filled out through legend and lore. When Jacob’s sons return from Egypt, having discovered that their brother is still alive, they wonder how they will tell their father Ya’akov, without causing shock, that his beloved Yosef still lives. They see the young Serach playing music and they ask her to sing to their father, preparing his heart with song to receive the good news ever so gently. She who is said to have been received alive into the Garden of Eden is still there to tell Moses on the eve of the Exodus where the bones of Yosef are buried. Charming his metal coffin from the Nile, she allows a promise to be fulfilled, that Yosef’s bones be taken with them in order for Israel to leave. 

We encounter in this portion Yocheved and Miriam, mother and sister of Moses, women who affirmed life in the face of all that would deny it, song and dance the way of this holy sister. When Pharaoh decreed death for all the sons of Israel, couples separated from each other in order not to risk bringing children into such a world. The little girl Miriam told her parents that in their separation from each other they were worse than Pharaoh, who had decreed only against sons, but they against daughters as well. In their coming back together, Moses is born, the liberator emerging. Beyond the parted waters of the sea, now on freedom’s shore, the woman Miriam takes her timbrel in hand and leads the women in dance and song. Having learned her way of life and love, it is for us to remind even Miriam not to offer song upon the drowning of the Egyptians, but only for our freedom to sing. Falling back upon the ways of men, their song of might and power, Miriam’s own way of love and compassion for us to hold and remind.

Central to the Torah’s response to Pinchas, the teaching of another way, the daughters of Tzelophchad arise, central to the telling, teaching the dynamics of sacred struggle. They are five sisters whose father has died without a son, five who bravely stand in the face of all that has been and plead their case to inherit, Machla, Noa, and Choglah, Milkah, and Tirtza. In the openning word of the Torah’s telling of their cause, va’tik’rav’na/and they drew near, we learn an essential dynamic of nonviolent struggle. Drawing near, approaching the other, human connection is made, not to stand at a distance, spear in hand in the way of Pinchas. And then we are told, va’ta’amod’na/and they stood. Even as they draw near, seeking connection, they bravely stand their ground, teaching the way of speaking truth to power. Moved by the strength of their manner and way, Moses takes their case before the Holy One, announcing then to all assembled, ken b’not tzelophchad dovrot/surely the daughters of Tzelophchad speak justly. In that very word dovrot/speak, from the word for word itself, davar, the way of the word is affirmed.

Her cry continuing to rend the heart, every mother’s wail for a son lost in battle, the last of the women we encounter in Parashat Pinchas is the woman we know only as Sisera’s mother. In the midst of the portion are all of the passages that become the additional readings for every Jewish holy day. Of Rosh Hashannah, the New Year, we are told, Yom T’ruah yihiyeh l’chem/It shall be to you a day of sounding the shofar. Looking to the Targum, the Aramaic interpretive translation of the Torah, the rabbis bring us to a place of deeper association and human connection with what we are to hear in the voice of the shofar. So different, the Aramaic says, Yom yabava y’hey l’chon/It shall be to you a day of sobbing. How do we know that yabava means "sobbing," and whose sobbing is it? As told in the Book of Judges, it is the sobbing of the mother of Sisera who waits for her son to return from battle, knowing in her heart that he will never come, b’ad hachalon nish’k’fa va’t’yabev em Sisera/through the window peered the mother of Sisera and sobbed (Judges 5:28). In the broken notes of the shofar, it is simply the sobbing of a mother who has lost her son. That Sisera was a brutal enemy of Israel is never mentioned. In what becomes the least known name of Rosh Hashannah, Yom Yabavah/Day of Weeping, from Sisera’s mother, we learn the way of compassion.

The voices of women cry out from the portion of Pinchas and challenge his brutal way. It will take all of us to shape the path formed of words rather than weapons, all of us to remind when the way is lost. As Moses calls for a man to lead, an irony that laughs aloud, a new day is rising with laughter and tears. The time has come.

Rabbi Victor H. Reinstein

Friday, August 26, 2016

There Is a Spirit


Editor's Note: This is an edited sermon David Hansen delivered August 21.
I am your interim pastor and as such I am new to this church and to this community. I am learning about you. You should know something about me. Sally and I celebrated our 50th wedding anniversary this past June. We have three children and 11 grandchildren. We both grew up in pretty traditional, middle-class white Anglo-Saxon Protestant families. So it is kind of a surprise to us that our own family is so different from the one we knew as children. Our oldest daughter Allison is married to Mustafa and they have four children and they are Muslim. Our adopted son, Alexander, is bi-racial, which means black or African-American, and he has 5 children. Our youngest daughter, Elizabeth, is married to a Frenchman and they have two children. So one-third of our family is Muslim, one-third is black, and two-thirds are first generation in this country and hold dual citizenship. Now when we got married 50 years ago we did not set out to create this kind of family, but here we are. In this time when people are understandably concerned about immigration and racial tensions in this country are high, here we are. Our family is not unique. There are lots of families like ours—interracial, interfaith, and international. It is an interesting time to be alive. And, it is a great time to be the church. And we would not change our family for anything.
Now all this preamble does not have anything to do with the text today, but I thought you ought to know more about who I am and who we are. So now let’s turn to the text.
The story of this woman—this bent-over woman—became one of the most challenging and life changing stories for me many years ago when I had the good fortune to participate in an exchange program with a partner church in Germany. There I met a woman who introduced herself to me as a Christian educator. I wasn’t sure what that meant, so I asked her what a Christian educator did.
She told me that she went out into the community to conduct Christian education programs. As I recall, she told me that she was working with a group of low-wage workers in the evening and with a group of single mothers who lived in public housing and with community immigrants in the afternoons. Three different groups, but they were all studying the story that we heard today about this bent-over woman.
Then she showed me what she did when she met with these groups. She opened a traveling kit and took out a mat, maybe a square yard, laid it on the floor. On each side of the mat she placed a wooden block. On each block was a word. The blocks were labeled: politics, economics, social, religion. Then in the middle of the mat she placed a doll that stood maybe two feet tall. The doll was a woman and she was flexible, so when the teacher put the doll on the mat the doll was bent over, like the woman in Luke’s account.
Then she read the story and asked, “How do you think this woman feels?” I am asking you this question now. How do you think she feels? What do you imagine it is like to be this woman? Can you think of reasons why she was bent over? Perhaps she suffered from a medical condition and could not afford a doctor. Maybe she has arthritis. Maybe she was in prayer. Maybe she had worked in a job where she had to do a lot of heavy lifting, and her body was just worn out. Maybe her bent over condition symbolized her social status, her poverty, or her inability to access health care. The conversation explored possible political, social and economic conditions that might have contributed to this woman’s situation.
Then the teacher said that one of the conditions that kept this woman weighed down was religion. She was unclean in a culture that valued purity. She was a sinner. In the Bible that is not a moral category but a religious one. Her physical condition made her unclean. People did not want to see her, or touch her, or even be near her. Then the teacher would ask, “Have you ever felt like this woman?”
The woman did not stay bent over. Do you remember what happened? Jesus came to her. He talked to her. He touched this untouchable unclean woman. He recognized her as a child of God, and she stood up.
I have been thinking about this gospel story as I watched the news this week. Sally and I both grew up in Wisconsin. I served a church in a Milwaukee suburb. So I have been watching the civil unrest there with more than a little interest. I know the Black Lives Matter movement and the uprising in Milwaukee have lots of variables. It is a complicated situation and everyone has a point of view. Almost 20 years ago, in 1998, two scholars, Douglas Massey and Nancy Denton, wrote a book entitled American Apartheid (Harvard University Press). They concluded that Milwaukee is the most racially segregated city in the United States. There is a long history there. But there is also great hope. The Chief of Police in Milwaukee has issued a call for clergy and people of faith to come together and start working with one another to create a better, healthier community. I remember in the 1960s there was a national movement called “Living Room Dialogues.” Reuel Howe wrote about it in a book, The Miracle of Dialogue (1963). Caring enough to listen to each other’s stories is where healing begins.
I have been thinking about Milwaukee this week. I have been thinking about 23 Christian ministers in Missouri who were in court this past week. They went to the state capital to call upon the legislature to expand Medicaid and were arrested for the crime of trespassing on government property. Even though they were in the public gallery, they were arrested for trespassing, tried in court, and convicted. I am glad they were there and are standing up for the rights of people who bear the heavy burden of injustice.
There are stories like this in the news every day of the week. I am convinced that we need to look with unflinching focus at the oppressive events that seem to pile up each day, and weigh us down, and threaten to bend us and break our spirit. We need to lament and weep for this world that God loves. And then we need to stand up and look each other in the face and say, God has not given us a spirit of timidity, but a spirit of courage. Let us rise up. There is a balm in Gilead. There is healing that is sure to come.
The Book of Genesis tells us that there is Spirit that hovers over the darkness and moves across the chaos. This Spirit is at work in the hearts of women and men and children who are committed to overcoming the world. This Spirit is loose upon the world. You cannot hold it back. As people born of the Spirit you and I can live effectively in the chaos of the present with the high destiny of children of God.
Rev. David Hansen





Saturday, August 20, 2016

A Journey of Remembrance & Hope, 3


After the Journey

Dear Community,
It is good to be home, necessary to step out of the intensity of the past week. It is also hard to step out of the intensity, out of the awareness of meaning tangibly felt in every interaction, in every step taken. Yet, that is no less true if we allow it to be in all of our more mundane day-to-day interactions and steps taken along the way of our lives. So much is swirling within me as I begin to process the experience, so many emotions and reflections, tears still coming easily, sharing on many levels to happen over time. Traveling with twelve Boston area rabbis, the German Consul General, Mr. Ralf Horlemann, and guides from the Goethe Institute in Munich and Berlin, “A Journey of Remembrance and Hope” was a powerful experience, one that shall continue to inform my life and days going forward. Remembrance and hope were both honored, each given their place, one emerging from the other in seamless flow. 

Hearing of the attack in Munich, my heart breaks for the endless violence, the entire world our neighborhood. I think during this week of so much pain in both Europe and the United States of a brief conversation that I had with one of our guides at the airport just before leaving Germany. Vince is French, having lived in Germany for the past sixteen years, representing, as Ralf described him, “the new European,” allegiance and concern for people transcending borders. Shaking hands, Vince said to me, “I hope you will come back. We need you in the fight against fascism and racism.”

In the pursuit of justice and peace in all of our scattered neighborhoods, people yearning to live and to love in all the places people live upon this earth, there is such need for kindness and caring as the seedbed for change. Just about to return to the states, I felt the irony of Vince’s words, the challenge of fascism and racism facing us at home. The bigotry and belligerence that blew as a storm out of Cleveland served to remind of the work to be done. The horror of more African Americans murdered by police officers, and the horror of police officers murdered in response. Calls for a wall to divide and keep out, law and order rather than love and compassion.

Sometimes we forget that “all lives matter” means that Black lives matter too, which is why emphasis needs to be given to one. Toward that reminding, an effort emerged on our street, on Lochstead Avenue, to place “Black Lives Matter” signs on every lawn. I am proud that there is a sign in front of Nehar Shalom Community Synagogue. I am deeply touched as I see one neighbor after another placing a sign. I wonder what it might have been like in Germany if in the face of fascism’s rise then there had been signs proclaiming, “Jewish Lives Matter.” 

I just met with a group of Israeli Arab and Jewish high school students traveling together as part of an organization called “Friends Forever.” As we sat around the table and talked, they kept asking about that sign and what it means. They wanted to know if I thought Jews and Arabs could live together in peace. I nearly cried as I offered fervent affirmation. I asked if they wanted proof, as I pointed to each of them around the table. It is the children, the young who carry the greatest hope, but we all have to carry it together. On our painful visit to Dachau, Ralf stopped at one point and gestured toward a group of young students, “they are the most important visitors to this place.” 

I have three beautiful drawings on my desk, all made by even younger children. Each one says welcome on it, one a picture of a bright yellow smiling sun, another a butterfly whose wings are formed by paint prints of a child’s hands, the third seeming to be the continents of the world, bright colors flowing together without borders. The paintings are the size of large postcards, all made by Syrian children whom we met at a refugee center outside of Berlin. These are children who have known little sunshine, whose souls soar like butterflies, for whom the crossing of borders allows them now the possibility of life. 

As we left the children, I picked up another post card, a political flyer. I asked Ralf to read the German and translate it, “Wir sind viele. Berlin Gegen Nazis/We are many. Berlin against Nazis.” I asked Ralf if it is referring to Neo-Nazis. He shrugged his shoulders and asked if that matters. For him, there is no difference between old and new hate. The reminder on the card is about all Nazis, about standing up to all hate, to all that would divide people from each other, to all who act as though some lives don’t matter. In that center there was a palpable love for people, people in need welcomed and embraced, met by open arms rather than a wall of hate. As we sang and danced with the children, seeds of friendship were sown.

On our last night in Germany, toward the end of the Sabbath, I went to a nearby synagogue with Rabbi Samuels from Newton and a few others from our group. Rabbi Samuels had been in touch with the rabbi of the synagogue and had become close to him. Between the afternoon and evening prayers, at the third Sabbath meal, the rabbi of the synagogue asked Rabbi Samuels to share some words of Torah. At that hour we had already entered the week of Torah portion Balak (Numbers 22:2-25:9), which we read on this Sabbath of our homecoming. Rabbi Samuels offered a story from the Rabbi of Apta, Rabbi Abraham Joshua Heschel of Apta, known as the Ohev Yisrael/Lover of Israel, great grandfather of our Rabbi Abraham Joshua Heschel. The Apta took the name Balak as an acronym standing for v’ahavta l’re’acha kamocha/and you shall love your neighbor as yourself. His Chassidim objected, pointing out the obvious misspelling in Hebrew, that v’ahavta needs the letter “vav,” not a “vet,” and that kamocha needs the letter “kaf,” not a “kuf.” The Apta responded, ayn m’dak’d’kin b’otiot/we are not exacting concerning letters when it comes to love.

It all comes together in the prophetic reading for this week, beloved to me as my Bar Mitzvah reading, words from the Prophet Micah, words meant to challenge hubris and hate, to remind that justice and kindness are of one cloth, Higid l’cha adam mah tov u’mah Hashem doresh mimcha…/It has been told to you O mortal what is good and what God seeks of you, only to do justly, to love kindness, and to walk humbly with God…. So may it be.

Shabbat shalom,
Rabbi Victor

Rabbi Victor H. Reinstein


Saturday, August 13, 2016

A Journey of Remembrance & Hope, 2


The Dust of Dachau

During the Journey

It had rained most of the day. The rain would do what I could not bring myself to do. I had never cleaned off the dust of Dachau that had caked onto my shoes the previous day. I couldn’t bring myself to remove that dust, not wanting my shoes to ever be cleansed of their encounter with that place. I did not want to clean my shoes, to remove the residue of that earth of sand and ash, of blood and tears, sodden and dry, too fertile and ever fallow. I preferred for the dust to remain, carrying it as seeds of remembrance and hope, grains of sand to shake loose over time, left wherever our journey took us. Here and there a grain of remembrance, a sigh of connection, seeds of remembrance left on the sidewalk or in a cafĂ©, on fine carpets or on the stairs of a bus, as another tear at a memorial site, wherever we were a link to what happened. The rain began the process I could not begin myself, cleansing rain that cleaned my shoes, God’s tears that had begun to fall after I placed a stone at the ovens and stepped outside, mayyim chayyim/waters of life.

As I wanted to leave the dust on my shoes, I have wanted to hold the pure emotion felt at Dachau, to hold it in all of its pain and release, never to let go of those for whom I cried, to feel the catharsis of hot tears streaming down my face. It is the feeling of not wanting to leave the memorial week of Shiva, to go out from the house of mourning, wanting to remain close in time and place to the dead. But we have to go on. We get up and go outside, squinting in the light, realizing that somehow there still is light, light beyond the flickering glow of the memorial candle. We take the first steps to go on with the journey of life, letting the rain wash away the dust of the cemetery from our shoes. We continue on the path of life as a journey of remembrance and hope.

Rabbi Victor H. Reinstein