Monday, December 27, 2010

Shabbos Christmas

For a number of years, now, my husband and I have been davening with our beloved Jewish community at the Hebrew Center on Friday evenings and Saturday mornings and attending worship services at our little United Methodist Church on Sundays. This year was my first experience of Christmas falling on Shabbat. There were some interesting internal gymnastics about how all this would play out – mostly about how to manage family Christmas rituals and traditions while maintaining my own spiritual commitments - - and of course, asking myself what would it be like to be celebrating Shabbat on Christmas Eve? What would it be like to be studying Torah and chanting morning blessings on Christmas Day?

We entered the synagogue on Christmas Eve to greetings of “Merry Christmas!” and “Good Shabbos!” and “Shabbat Shalom!” - - warm verbal embraces coupled with equally warm hugs. The service began with the lighting of the Shabbos candles and the singing of a beautiful song of the birth of Abraham. The leader drew an analogy to the birth of Jesus. My heart was near to bursting with love and gratitude for the sweetness of the affection and understanding I felt, flowing around and within, given and received. To the vibrant melodies and rhythms of the Yemenite and Sephardic Jewish traditions we welcomed the Shabbat Queen as a beautiful bride. We shared in kiddush following the service and then made our way across the island to the Old Whaling Church where the Methodists were preparing to welcome the Christ Child with Nine Lessons and Carols, telling and singing and celebrating the story of The Birth. I came home feeling as though something inside me were being knitted together.

On Christmas Day, we ate our traditional early breakfast with our family and enjoyed watching our grandkids “ooooh!” and “ahhhh!” as they opened their Christmas gifts. Then made our way back to the Hebrew Center for morning prayers and Torah service. Christmas Day has its own poignancy for Jews - - the world seems to stop in so many ways for the observance of the ostensibly Christian holiday, as secularized as it is, and the Jewish community is left to deal with how to be Jewish in the midst of all the Christmas frenzy.

We entered the peace of the sanctuary a few minutes late and the service had already begun with the chanting of “Eyeh Asher Eyeh” (I Will Be What I Will Be) to a sweet, haunting melody. (The words are The Holy One’s response to Moses’ question “When I come to the Israelites and say to them ‘The God of your fathers has sent me to you,’ and they ask me what is his name?’ what shall I say to them?”) I settled into the meditation and felt my body begin to make the shift from the energy of Christmas morning to the energy of Shabbos morning. We chanted and prayed together and prepared for studying Torah with a meditation on the words “Sh’mot” (“Names” – the title given to the text for the day) and “Exodus”. In my meditation there was much swirling, richly colored energy, red and blue and gold and silver paisley shaped galaxies filling every corner of consciousness - - awareness of God-Who- Will-Not –Be –Named; God who admits of no separation; God-Who-Is. The inner knitting together continued.

As we began to look at the great saga that both continues and begins in the first chapters of Exodus, the leader took a few moments to draw our attention to some similarities between the birth narratives of Moses and Jesus - both infants the targets of fear and hatred as soon as they were born - Moses, born a Jew in Pharoah’s Egypt - Jesus born a Jew in Herod’s Judea - - both a threat to the existing political structures; both men who spent time in the wilderness - shaping and being shaped – by The Holy One whose power resided in them; both men who saw Life and injustice and acted in behalf of Life. The leader’s intention for the meditation and for our study was that there might be in our island mini- microcosm the reality of cultural and spiritual healing of the wounds and the pain and doubt and suspicion that exists historically between Jews and Christians - - and, with time, healing between Jews and Christians and Muslims. She closed the meditation inviting us to honor both Moshe Rabbinu and Jesus Rabbinu – our historical and ever present teachers.

As I sat in our small circle, a minyan (of 10 Jews) and my husband and I, I had an amazing Grinch experience of feeling my heart (which is fairly capacious on any given day), balloon up into three times its normal size filled to overflowing capacity with gratitude and healing and insight into the possibilities for this human endeavor on earth.

Richness of life comes into being, understanding and compassion have a chance, reconciliation and shared journey are possible when human beings are willing to sit together and name what has separated them - - sit together in what can sometimes be a squirming discomfort - - hear one another about what the pain has been like. It seems so simple.

The snow flies this morning. The wind blows vigorously in 50 MPH gusts. I sit in the warmth of our cabin feeling the swirling of the colorful, cosmic energy of the Shekinah, the Christ power, the unity of The Holy One - - all finite names for The One Who Will Not Be Named. And I am grateful for at least a visionary glimpse of life reconciled and whole – knitted together again. Truly a Shabbos Christmas!

Vicki Hanjian

Wednesday, December 22, 2010

Faith & Fear

A recent Christmas letter we received asked what happened to the Christmas wish for PEACE? Why aren't people thinking peace, praying for peace, working for peace, cultivating peace? Why are we ignoring the promise of peace present in the season?

One response might be that the American people have been hoodwinked into a world view that makes peace a fantasy and perpetual war a necessity. How else can we explain an accepted doctrine of "preventive war;" of preemptive strikes (more truthfully described as assassination of "suspected" enemies); of bombing of civilians by unmanned drones; of thousands of military dead and wounded and millions of civilians dead, displaced or made poorer; of 800+ military bases all over the world; of a war budget that escalates the national debt and plunders the economy; and of disappearing civil liberties, as a climate of fear and suspicion claims our shoes, our privacy and our first amendment privileges.

Each new day (especially this time of year) reveals one more threat prevented, terrorist arrested, and community secured. We are fed a steady diet of "be afraid."

I'm thinking this Christmas about that passage in the Christian scriptures, in the beginning of the Gospel of Luke, where an angel appears to the shepherds tending their sheep in the fields. My text says the shepherds were "terror stricken" and the first words from the angel were "do not be afraid."

The angel goes on to say, "I have good news for you; there is great joy coming to the whole people." And when the single angel is joined by many more they sing praises of "peace" for all people. It's instructive that the shepherds have to get past their fear before they can hear the message of peace.

Gandhi said much the same. "Where there is fear, there is no religion." (Young India: September 2, 1926.)

Gandhi continues, "Fearlessness does not mean arrogance or aggressiveness. That in itself is a sign of fear. Fearlessness presupposes calmness and peace of mind. For that, it is necessary to have a living faith in God." (Harijan: Nov. 3, 1946.)

So here we have it! You need to be a believer to reject fear! You need to believe in God (mind you, Gandhi was a Hindu, but a respecter of all the great religious traditions and their conceptions of a supreme being). So we're back to the key divide with respect to world views.

The war makers, the terrorists, the fear mongers, are all committed to the necessity of using physical force against the enemy. Their mantra is "be afraid." To believe you can talk to a terrorist, or educate him, or love him (for God's sake), is the height of human folly. They say angels don't appear to shepherds anymore and if there is a God, he is not impartial but takes sides. Peace is a fantasy.

It's difficult to be faith full in a culture of fear. Still, it's a prelude to fearlessness and peace in our time. Hear the angels ... their song still echoes for those with ears to hear.

Carl Kline

Friday, December 17, 2010

That We May Know Each Other

That We May Know Each Other, the Neighbor I am to Love

There is a Sura, a chapter, in the Qur’an in which God speaks to humankind in regard to our own creation, the purpose of our own being, We created you from a single pair of a male and a female, and made you into nations and tribes, that you may know each other…. A Muslim colleague pointed to the first part of that verse, and, speaking primarily of immigrant Muslims, said with a weary smile, “I have so much trouble getting them to look at the second part of the verse, that you may know each other. They look at the first part and say, ‘you see, we have to stay together, to be a tribe.’” I am struck by the beauty of the verse, a beauty that depends on both parts being taken together as two parts of a whole. In relation to each other, the two parts of the verse illustrate the dynamic tension between the universal and the particular. We are indeed meant to celebrate our own uniqueness, whether as individuals, nations, tribes, religions…, but we are not meant to stay there, only among ourselves. God calls us to reach out, to share, to celebrate each other’s uniqueness, creating the wholeness among people that God can only envision and encourage. Making it our own and fulfilling God’s vision depends on us.

There is a similar tension that emerges from one of the most beautiful and familiar verses in the Torah, And you shall love your neighbor as yourself/v’ahavta l’rey’a’cha ka’mocha. As with the above Sura from the Qur’an, it seems amazing that anyone would not see the beauty and the wholeness of that verse, or in the manner of their reading it, eviscerate the simple words of their power and fullness. Inhering in the three Hebrew words of the verse is the entire tension between the universal and the particular. The importance of the particular, whether of individual or group, is rooted in the third word, ka’mocha/as yourself, which is understood to mean, as you love yourself. I cannot truly love another if I don’t love myself. I cannot love all people if I don’t love and attach to my own people. A key question emerges from the same word, “who is the neighbor I am to love?” Our answer to that question determines whether we are in tune or out of tune with all of the players in God’s symphony, whether our way of being in relation to others produces dissonance or harmony.

The hope and the challenge, the questions and the tensions that emerge from these verses and others from Torah and Qur’an were the subject of discussions among Jews and Muslims, imams and rabbis gathered for the fourth such program of “Building Bridges through Learning.” Coming together in common study of each other’s sacred texts, the theme for this gathering was “Love of Neighbor.” The topic had grown out of the tensions that flared between our communities once again last spring and summer, fomented by some who fear the challenge of dialogue with the Muslim community, and who have not tasted the sweetness of its fruit. It was a powerful program, blessed by a palpable sense of ease that has begun to emerge through growing familiarity. That ease allowed us for the first time to explore some of the more difficult questions that are an inevitable part of the equation when considering self in relation to others, the tension in real terms between the universal and the particular.

In the Torah portion read during the week of our gathering, Parashat Vayigash, that tension plays out in the seeking of a separate neighborhood, as it were, by Yosef’s family when they come down into Egypt. Reflected in their choosing to dwell apart in the land of Goshen, the vulnerability of the stranger impels them to seek safety among their own, to emphasize the “tribal,” the particular, even as it is emphasized by the Muslim immigrants of whom my colleague spoke. From the first word of the Torah portion, from which its name derives, Vayigash/and he approached, a vision is offered that looks beyond fear. Confident of our own identity, we are able to approach and embrace the other in the fullness of their identity.

It had been a week of swirling interplay for me between the universal and the particular. On Saturday night, immediately following Shabbos, taking the first hopeful steps into a new week, I spoke as part of a panel with a priest and an imam in regard to a play that churned with the human drama in the tormented relationship of Israelis and Palestinians. On Sunday, we enjoyed a wonderful synagogue Chanukkah party, the holiday whose essence is often forgotten, that everyone has a right to be who they are. On Tuesday, we celebrated a b’ris in our community, welcoming a baby boy into the Covenant of the Jewish people, praying that he will reach out to all people with pride and sensitivity as a Jew. On Wednesday was the “Building Bridges” gathering, bringing Jews and Muslims together.

On Friday afternoon, the week wending home to Shabbos, I attended the Masjid Yusuf, a mosque in Brighton where I had gone at the invitation of my dear friend and co-coordinator of the “Bridges” planning committee. Of holy days at week’s end, Ismail had invited me to come to hear his Friday sermon. It was an extremely moving experience, sitting at the back of the humble room filled with Muslims at prayer. Ismail spoke passionately of the essential link between means and ends, whether in our personal or collective lives, emphasizing that all of our ways in life must be “unblemished and legal.” At the end of the prayers, he welcomed me so warmly, asking worshippers to be sure to say hello. Quite a number of people came up to me, exchanging greetings, inviting me to come again, salaam aleikum, aleikum salaam. Among those who greeted me was a young man who startled me, asking in Hebrew if I spoke Hebrew. When I responded yes, he told me in excellent Hebrew that he was from Saudi Arabia and had learned Hebrew at Brandeis. Our hands clasped, he said, l’hitra’ot/see you again.

The string of connection finely tuned, hearing myself in the voice of the other, nations and tribes that we may know each other, the neighbor I am to love.

Rabbi Victor H. Reinstein

Friday, December 10, 2010

Afghan Youth Open Letter

Published on Thursday, December 2, 2010 by

Open Letter to Our World Leaders

by Afghan Youth Peace Volunteers

Dear Mr Obama, Mrs Clinton, Mr Petraeus, Mr Rasmussen, and all our world leaders,

We are Afghans and we ask the world to listen.

Like yourselves, we couldn't live without the love of our family and friends.

We were hurt by your criticism of Mr Karzai for voicing the people's anguished pleas, “Stop your night raids.”

Please, stop your night raids.

If you could listen, you would have heard 29 NGOs in Afghanistan describe how we now have “Nowhere to Turn”.

If you could listen, you would also have heard Mr Karzai and the 29 NGOs express concern over your Afghan Local Police plan; the world will henceforth watch our militia killing the people, your people and our people, with your weapons and your money.

If you could listen, you would have heard the sound of your drones crystallizing the nights of hatred among the Afghan, Pakistani and global masses.

Instead, we hear your determination to “awe, shock and firepower us with Abrams tanks. We hear distant excitement over your new smart XM25 toy, a weapon you proudly proclaim will leave us with “nowhere to hide.

Nowhere to turn and nowhere to hide.

Your actions have unfortunately dimmed our hopes that we the people could turn to you. Along with our Afghan war-makers, you are making the people cry.

Yet, we understand. You are in the same trap we're in, in a corrupt, militarized mania. Love is how we're asking for peace, a love that listens, and reconciles.

And so, we invite you to listen to the people of Afghanistan and to world public opinion on the Global Day of Listening to Afghans, to be internet-broadcast from Kabul this December.

It is time to listen broadly and deeply to both local and overseas Afghan civil groups and the numerous alternative solutions they have proposed for building a better socio-political, economic and religious/ideological future for Afghanistan.

We have shared the pain of our American friends who lost loved ones on September 11, by speaking with and listening to them.

Though, if the world could listen like these American friends did, the world would know that few Afghans have even heard about September 11 and that no Afghans were among the 19 hijackers. The world would have heard our yearnings as we were punished over the past 9 years.

If the world could listen, they would know how much we detest the violence of the Taliban, our warlords, any warlord, or any bullet-digging finger-trophy troops.

And now, for at least another four more years, we will grieve over souls who you are unwilling to “count and we are unwilling to lose.

It is extra painful to us and to your troops because clearly, there are non-violent and just alternatives.

We understand the pain of financial hardships but try telling an Afghan mother about to lose her child or a soldier about to take his life that the only way their illiterate and angry voices can ruffle the posh feathers of our world leaders is when it disturbs not their human or truth deficit, but their trillion dollar economic deficits. How do we explain that without denuding ourselves of human love and dignity?

What more can we say?

How else can we and our loved ones survive?

How can we survive with hearts panicking in disappointment while perpetually fleeing and facing a “total global war, a war that wouldn't be questioned even in the crude face of a thousand leaks?

We would survive in poverty, we may survive in hunger, but how can we survive without the hope that Man is capable of something better?

We sincerely wish you the best in your lives.

We are Afghans and we ask the world to listen.

!‫سالمت باشین‬

Salamat bAsheen!
Be at peace!

Meekly with respect,
The Afghan Youth Peace Volunteers

Saturday, December 4, 2010

What Are You Doing with What You've Got?

Back in the 1980s, Scotland-born singer-songwriter Eddi Reader was a British pop star with her band Fairground Attraction. Today, as a solo artist, her sound has matured: quiet acoustic arrangements and gentle harmonies put her lush voice front and center. The content of her songs has evolved as well. Especially moving are her wistful songs of love, longing and loss, and also her "message songs", as they're sometimes called, which invite us to think about such subjects as war and peace, the Earth and our place in it.

In the video below (from 2003), Reader joins with pianist Thomas Dolby and an unnamed guitarist to perform "What You Do With What You've Got," her rendering of a song composed by Si Kahn. It's a beautiful meditation on the theme of how we might use our talents and gifts to make a difference in the world. The lyrics have been provided for your convenience.

Notice that before Reader sings, she removes her shoes. The reason why is anybody's guess. In the world of my imaginings, she's preparing herself to do sacred work.

What she does with what she's got is holy indeed.


You must know someone like him -- he was tall and strong and lean
With a body like a greyhound and a mind so sharp and keen
But his heart just like a laurel grew twisted round itself
Till almost everything he did brought pain to someone else

It's not just what you're born with
It's what you choose to bear
It's not how big your share is
It's how much you can share
It's not the fights you dreamed of
It's those you really fought
It's not what you've been given
It's what you do with what you've got

What's the use of two strong legs if you only run away
And what's the use of the finest voice if you've nothing good to say
What's the use in strength and muscle if you only push and shove
And what's the use of two good ears if you can't hear those you love

Between those who use their neighbours and those who use the cane
Between those in constant power and those in constant pain
Between those who run to glory and those who cannot run
Tell me which ones are the cripples and which ones touch the sun

Which ones touch the sun...

Note: If for some reason you can't see the viewer above, click here to watch Reader's performance.

Monday, November 29, 2010

Jigsaw Puzzles

I've always been fond of jigsaw puzzles. What better way to spend a casual afternoon, when the snow is deep enough to make travel unwise and it's too cold to venture outside. I'm thinking about puzzles today since I just got one as a birthday present and winter is upon us.

And, I'm thinking about jigsaw puzzles because a relative just resigned her job without having any idea what she might do next. I'm thinking about sending her one. You may say, "what's the relationship between joblessness and puzzles?" Let me tell you.

I've done lots of puzzles; so many that I've discovered a secret or two about them. There have been times when stressful life circumstances or major life decisions coincided with working on a jigsaw puzzle. What I discovered was that putting together pieces of a puzzle helped me put together pieces of my life. The process was the same. Only the material was different.

For instance, I always begin a puzzle by turning over all the pieces and making sure they are separate without any overlap. You should be able to see the shape and color of each piece individually. As I'm doing this, I put all the outside pieces with the straight edges together so I can easily begin constructing the outer edge, the frame for what will follow.

For me, this process also applies to life. I want to make sure I'm aware of all my pieces. I don't want any pieces to my puzzle hidden under the rug or dropped under the table. Let's have them all out in the open where they can be part of the larger picture; and then I want to construct the framework of the big picture. That will enable me to see the working boundaries for making the decision or facing the crisis.

A second secret is in constructing the inside of the jigsaw puzzle. I focus on colors. This is important. Looking for similarity in color gives you a broader field of choices than looking for a particular shape. You can look forever for a particular shape but the colors can come together quickly.

It's similar for decisions in life. We sometimes want to get to the smallest detail too quickly. In our rush to solve the puzzle we grab at the first reasonable looking piece we see, only to realize later that it doesn't quite fit. Whereas if we look for all those pieces that make us blue, or red, or green, or like a rainbow, we can group them and place them where they belong in our larger framework. Eventually, we get to the perfect fit.

Then there's one more secret. I hesitate to compare doing a jigsaw puzzle to Gandhi's spinning, although that was my initial thought. Both are meditative. Both have an internal and external dynamic. Spinning for Gandhi had both personal and political dimensions. I'm not sure about the political impact of doing a jigsaw puzzle and that's why I hesitated to compare them. Still, the more I consider modern cultures of workaholism and consumerism, where people are constantly moving and thoroughly distracted by demands for productivity, by busyness and noise, quietly doing a jigsaw puzzle could be an act of political rebellion, and freedom. It could be a nonviolent way of saying "no" to the suffocating claims of the culture and resolving some life issues in the process.

Carl Kline

In Ravensberg Germany, in September of 2008, 15,000 enthusiasts constructed the largest jigsaw puzzle ever, with more than one million pieces. Made up of 4,000 smaller 252 piece puzzles, it covers 6,500 square feet. This is an aerial view.

Wednesday, November 24, 2010

Dialog about Faith

Hello out there, my name is Lindsey. I’m a student at South Dakota State University and I am currently taking an interesting course called Peace and Conflict Studies. As the name suggests, this class observes the different ways in which conflicts become resolved with an emphasis on nonviolent alternatives. We, the students, are to do a service learning project where we each volunteer with a non violent organization. This leads me to Carl Kline; if you are reading this blog you already know that Carl is a coordinator of nonviolent alternatives. I will be helping him spread the good word of awareness with by blogging of my experiences and recent understandings of alternative conflict resolutions

A real eye-opener to nonviolent resolution came to me while attending a panel discussion about tolerance. At a panel discussion called “Ground Zero…Common Ground?” the controversy of whether Muslims should build a Mosque and Islamic community center two blocks away from the terrorist attacks of 9/11 was discussed. The speakers were a sprinkling of both supporters and opponents of this project which is called Park51. Opponents say that it would be disrespectful to build a Mosque where the 9/11 victims had been attacked and that it is also an insult to the 9/11 victims' families.

Personally, America is the land of the free and citizens can worship wherever they please no matter what faith or race. I feel that even if the Mosque and community center goes up, legally Muslims have every right to be there. Protesting against the Mosque will just be religious discrimination, which doesn’t change the fact that it’s been built. However, I feel that it is obviously a sensitive subject to many Americans that have suffered loss in the tragic attack and building so close to the Ground Zero location is asking for these Americans to demonstrate religious tolerance. They, attendees of the Mosque, will probably be subject to relentless hate crimes by prejudiced people no matter what anyone tries to do to stop it. The conclusion I drew from this experience is that dogmatic Americans are wrong to deliberately and consistently generalize the destructive tactics of Osama Bin Laden and Al Qaeda with the Islamic people as a whole.

My first experience with Nonviolent Alternatives was an Inter Faith Dialog that was organized at the Brookings United Church of Christ. The Inter Faith Dialog discussion was an interaction between local Brookings people that have different religious traditions. It was the coming together of understandings amongst mainly local Christians and local Muslims.

Among other things, the main conversations were about accusations that all Muslims are terrorists and that the translation of the Koran is up to the translator. Although all people from all parts of the world should be aware of the attack that occurred in the United States on September 11, 2001, as well as the heartbreak it caused for the victims’ families, the racial profiling and stereotyping of Islamic people, which is a result of this event, must stop. The attackers of 9/11 were in fact Muslims. However, it does not indicate that since those particular terrorists were Muslim that all Muslims are terrorists.

Al Qaeda and Osama Bin Laden are a group of religious radicals who have taken their own interpretation of their religion to an extreme. They are similar to any cult followings we have seen in America over the years. The members of Al Qaeda feel that they are the “true” Muslim believers and the nonmembers of Al Qaeda are not true Muslims.

A few contributors to the conversation were active members at the Islamic center in town. They claimed that Al Qaeda is a group of the misguided who have disrupted the spirit of Islam, troubled the Muslim norms, created chaos in the world, disturbed peace, and above all marginalized the words and messages of the Koran. It was also said that they strongly disagree with Al Qaeda and that the people of Islam did not know of their decision to cause terror until after the event.

The lesson that I took with me after attending the Inter Faith Dialog is it’s always a mistake to use the pious name of God for violence, wars, blood-shedding and massacring people for the sake of supremacy over others.

Lindsey Casey

Friday, November 19, 2010

Two Nights of Inspiration

Two events in two nights inspired me. The first was a visit to our community of Greg Mortenson. If you haven't heard of him yet, he's the author of "Three Cups of Tea: One Man's Mission to Promote Peace ... One School at a Time;" and of "Stones into Schools: Promoting Peace with Books not Bombs, in Afghanistan and Pakistan." He's the founder of the Central Asia Institute (

Greg spoke to a crowd of 5,000 people on the campus of South Dakota State University. He brought the war in Afghanistan home in stark terms. Since it costs the U.S. $1 million to keep one U.S. soldier in Afghanistan for one year, he suggested we bring 240 of the thousands there home. If we did, we would have $240 million, the same amount of money Pakistan needs to cover all University education, country wide. After all, it is education that defeats terrorism. Bombs only create more terrorists.

I find Greg and the work of the Institute inspiring because it is the most clearly articulated and demonstrated nonviolent alternative to the waste of war in that region of the world. None of his 150 schools, most of them specifically for girls, have been destroyed. The Taliban must respect them, since building materials are only supplied with the visible support and labor of elders and village people. One can only image what a foreign policy based on building, not bombing, might accomplish. It might dry up the sea in which terror swims.

If this wasn't enough inspiration for one week, the very next night we were treated to the Moscow Symphony Orchestra. How little Brookings, South Dakota, ended up as one of the few cities on their national tour is unknown to me. But they played to a full and enthusiastic house. They were a joy to watch as well as to hear. They received standing ovations after each piece and the appreciative audience was treated to three encores at the end of the regular performance.

I couldn't help but think back to an earlier time, when South Dakota was the home of the minuteman missile system. Ranged across the Western plains were one hundred fifty nuclear missiles, each with a one megaton nuclear warhead. They were pointed at the Soviet Union, perhaps at the home of some member of the orchestra. Fortunately, because of the hard work of peace people, the eventual wisdom of decision makers, and perhaps the grace of a merciful God, the policy of MAD (mutual assured destruction) was ended and mutual reductions ensued. One can only hope a new group of cold warriors don't decide to take us down that road again.

As I sat listening to the orchestra, I marveled at the ability of music to cross those barriers of language, culture, nationality, politics, ethnicity, etc. It's a great equalizer. The harmony implicit in music exposes and releases the harmony in being human, together. It was inspiring!

Carl Kline

Monday, November 15, 2010

Public & Private Righteousness

When my children were young, I used to feel the tension between public and private life most pointedly when after supper it was time to go out for yet another evening meeting or program. I vividly remember one time when my oldest daughter wrapped herself around my legs at the door crying for me not to go out. These were moments that tore me apart and made me wonder what in the world I was doing, what was wrong with my priorities and was there anything to do about it. I tried to console myself by thinking about all that I did do with the kids and the time we did spend together. I was left in those moments, however, wondering at the perception that my children had of their father and that those I was meeting with had of their rabbi.

In truth, while the relationship between home and community and public and private expressions of self can be fraught with challenge, experiencing the tension as challenge is itself the start of wresting toward a healthy balance. Danger begins when there is no experience of such tension, when a person can dwell in two separate realities without thought to a consistent expression of self and character, when there is a disconnect between public and private perception and behavior. It is the all too familiar tragedy of great leaders who are heroes among the people and failures at home.

I find this tension expressed in the Torah portion called Vayera (Gen. 18-22), as the unstated obverse of critically important moral teaching drawn from two words in the portion. A thematically packed Torah portion, it is in Vayera that Abraham draws near to challenge God on behalf of the people of the violent cities of Sodom and Gomorrah. As Abraham begins his dramatic challenge to the Judge of all the earth whom he fears is not doing justly, he asks, perhaps there are fifty righteous within the city. Will you indeed destroy them and not forgive the place for the sake of the fifty righteous? Abraham persists, pleading for the sake of the righteous, in ever diminishing number, by whose merit he hopes the cities will be spared, until he stops at ten. Then we are told very simply, and Abraham returned to his place. The ensuing silence throbs with the obvious question, why did Abraham stop at ten? Was there not even one righteous person? As the rabbis wrestle with the question, just as we are meant to, so they answered it, their own struggle with God’s justice hanging on the words within the city.

There may indeed have been people who were decent and righteous within their own homes, but who never raised their voices publicly against the violence and cruelty surrounding them. Sadness rising from the page, of these who were decent people at home, the rabbis said, not one of them protested. The righteous person for Abraham, explains Rabbi Samson Raphael Hirsch (nineteenth century Germany), “is to be found within the city and in lively connection with everything and everybody. He never leaves off admonishing, teaching, warning, bettering wherever and however he can. He takes everybody and everything to heart, he never despairs, is never tired of trying, however distant the hopes of success may be.” At whatever cost to her or his own life, the truly righteous person stands up in the public square for what is good and just.

This is a teaching that has inspired me and given me strength throughout my life. There is no question of the moral power of the still small voice that thunders against apathy and avoidance. It is the challenge so bravely met by righteous gentiles who saved Jews during the Holocaust. It is our challenge. Precisely in the majesty of Abraham’s challenge and in the moral greatness of those who rise to meet it is the challenge of its obverse; it is not enough to be righteous within the city, but no less are we called to be equally righteous within our own homes, within the house. In this very same Torah portion, from the very same people, we witness the tragedy of that moral disconnect between the public and private spheres of one’s life. For all of the moral courage and grandeur of Abraham’s plea on behalf of the violent people of Sodom and Gomorrah, he does not say a word on behalf of his own son when God tests his willingness to speak for his own. Such is one strand of classical response to the binding of Isaac. His righteousness tested at home, on behalf of his own, and Abraham fails miserably. And so too, Abraham’s nephew Lot, in order to protect strangers who have taken refuge under his roof, is willing to sacrifice his own daughters to the violence of the mob.

In the extreme disconnect presented in these chapters of Genesis, between behavior both public and private, is the wholeness of the teaching. The way of the truly righteous is of one path on either side of the threshold, whether “within the city” or “within the house." To the degree that we hear the cry of the child wrapped around our legs, so may we hear the cry of all children and, counted among the righteous, create together a world of wholeness both near and far.

Rabbi Victor H. Reinstein

Wednesday, November 10, 2010

Listen ...

Living nonviolence is a lot to ask of yourself when we are confronted by violence everyday in so many, many ways.

In the course of a single day we hear those around us speak and act violently. We see news of violence in our communities, nation and the world. Even our entertainment is violent, whether it is television, movies or even sports.

While no form of violence is easy to cope with, the closer the violence is to your daily life the easier it gets to understand and address its causes. If your four-year-old insists that hitting is the best way to get your attention, you understand it. If your college kid comes home using all of the cuss words picked up throughout the semester, you understand it. If burglars ransacked your neighbor’s garage for things to pawn in order to buy more drugs, you understand it.

Empathy is the key word here. The ability to understand motives, feelings and actions without necessarily agreeing with them. (Agreeing would be sympathizing.)

When viewing the news, what do we really understand? Televised news constitutes snapshots of large events. It is a series of one-hit wonders. The broadcast intends to give only a result, not the background or the finer implications of the event. In short, viewers see the violence in black-and-white, “bad guys” and “good guys.” There is no grayscale, no context.

Looking especially at the violent upheavals of society in cultures we know little about, can we even begin to empathize?

I believe so. To truly understand current events, we may need to research on our own. Hit the books, talk to all different kinds of people and ask questions. The point is that it can be done.

As a case in point, I’d like to take a jump back into the past, specifically World War II. This time is nasty point in the world’s history, with many nations acting without first taking time to “stand in each other’s shoes.”

The cause of this war is typically declared as nationalism. Some nations came away from World War I with very hurt egos and a feeling of inadequacy on an international level, along with a need to re-establish themselves on that front.

However, some argue oppression as another consideration in the cause of that war, at least on the German front. Germany was banned from having a standing army after WWI and required to pay gross sums of money to help rebuild Europe. The country’s economy was non-existent. People were suffering, starving, unable to support themselves or their family and dying. They needed a national identity and a way to escape the oppressive punitive demands on the country.

Hitler knew how to unite the Germans and how to escape the oppression. Granted, he mixed a strong racism into his actions and did many unspeakable things. Nevertheless, we can empathize with the German people, understanding why they reacted to Hitler the way they did.

Once these motives are understood, then we can begin to change things.

Following the Sept. 11 attacks, America rushed to retaliate. I argue that taking the time to consider our attacker’s motives, our reactions could have been tailored to better address the problems creating a will to attack America, instead of the symptoms.

The ability to empathize allows for us to act peacefully and exemplary. We cannot travel back in time to help the Germans, nor can we retrace our steps in Iraq, but we can be proactive.

I am young and still have much to learn about the world, but I believe everybody has a story to tell. It is time to start listening, learning and understanding.

Laura Katlynn

Friday, November 5, 2010

Recognizing the Good

As I sat in my kitchen enjoying the beginning of the November sunlight, I kept having to deal with the inner nagging to do something with the last of the harvest from Whippoorwill Farm, our community supported agriculture venture. I have to admit, I have run out of ideas for what to do with yet one more batch of kale, one more set of twins of the butternut squash variety, one more mountain of beets. The harvest has been bountiful this year and I am at the point of resenting the accumulation of steaming, peeling, chopping, freezing and pickling still waiting to be done.

Alongside the inner nagging and the feelings of resentment comes the whisper of new Hebrew words in my vocabulary - - hakarat hatov-- recognize the good. The whisper lays down the challenge. I need to regroup – recover – rethink. I look at the pile of beets waiting on the kitchen table. Long roots tangled with each other. Layers of mud from newly moistened fields – a real mess. Hakarat hatov. Recognize the good.

In the run-up to the mid-term elections, recognizing the good has gone missing. Kevin Cullen, in the Boston Globe summed it up this way: I don’t know about you, but this election cycle has been more depressing than any I can remember. Depressing in that so many dollars have been spent on advertising that creates the impression that everybody running for office is a lunatic or a criminal or both.

In the presence of so much unpleasant, negative, and destructive political discourse, it is all too easy to lose sight of the good. In the process, something violent is done to the soul of the voting public. I have heard too many people question the value of voting at all when the rhetoric is so poisonous. I even find myself wondering at times. And then the wisdom of the sages whispers hakarat hatov – recognize the good. The large majority of people running for office are not criminals or lunatics, huge advertising budgets to the contrary notwithstanding.

Hakarat hatov – change my lenses – recognize the good. A huge pile of muddy beets, roots entangled, greens withered - - not an altogether appealing sight. There is messiness here. Dirt, juice that stains everything it touches, roots to be trimmed and discarded, greens to be either salvaged or composted. Hakarat hatov! A little energy begins to stir. I can do this. I can deal with one more mound of beets if I recognize the good - -the pungent, earthiness, fresh from the soil; the astounding red that emerges once they are boiled and peeled; the sharp fragrance of vinegar and onions and cloves and pepper; the unspeakable beauty of sunlight filtering through the ruby spaces in the sealed jars on the kitchen counter.

Today the beets are a metaphor that helps me see a little more clearly how to bring my pen to the ballot in the face of so much negative campaigning. Recognize the good.

Vicki Hanjian

Monday, November 1, 2010

Love Rescue All

On Saturday, August 15, 1998, a terrorist car bomb ripped through bustling Market Street in the Irish town of Omagh (see pre-bombing photo, left). An apparent attempt by members of the Real Irish Republican Army (RIRA) to sabotage the fragile peace process after the historic signing of the Belfast Agreement thirteen weeks earlier, the bombing was described by the BBC as "Northern Ireland's worst single terrorist atrocity". Twenty-nine people died. Around 220 were injured. Among the victims were both Protestants and Catholics, as well as a Mormon, nine children, a woman pregnant with twins, and a number of tourists.

This bombing, for which the RIRA apologized three days later, actually led to greater local and international support for the Northern Ireland peace process. And amidst all the grief and regret and outcries for reconciliation there arose--


Daryl Simpson, having just graduated in piano and voice from Queen's University in Belfast, responded to the Omagh tragedy by founding The Omagh Community Youth Choir. He brought together young people from various backgrounds and religious traditions in Omagh to sing together, to exemplify a community working together for peace, and to provide some comfort to a town suffering deeply from "the Troubles". Established in October, 1998, just two short months after the bombing, the choir has since toured all over Ireland and the world at large to popular and critical acclaim.

In this video The Omagh Community Youth Choir performs "Love Rescue Me" (composed by Bono and Bob Dylan). You'll also hear Daryl Simpson describing his vision for the choir as well as the role music can play in comforting, inspiring and healing a society.

I've included the lyrics of the song below for your convenience as well as your reflection.

May love rescue all.

Love rescue me
Come forth and speak to me
Raise me up and don't let me fall
No man is my enemy
My own hands imprison me
I said, Love rescue me

Many strangers have I met
On the road to my regret
Many lost who seek to find themselves in me
They ask me to reveal
The very thoughts they would conceal
I said, Love rescue me

And the sun in the sky
Makes a shadow of you and I
Stretching out as the sun sinks in the sea
I'm here without a name
In the palace of my shame
I said, Love rescue me

(Note: If for some reason you can't see the viewer above, please click here to watch the video.)

Monday, October 25, 2010


I've walked the beach at Sandwich, MA many times. Years ago, we shared a vacation cottage there with my brother and his family. The children were small then and I recall how much they enjoyed the round window in the loft. The children would play on the floor in front of the window and since it was at their eye level, all the time they played, as they wished, they could see the waves rolling into the shore. The one drawback, then, was the rocky beach. Since we were on the Bay side the beach was more stones than sand.

On our most recent visit, I developed a greater appreciation for the stones. After all, they will all be sand some day. There's a unique and ancient quality to the sound of stones coming together as the waves throw them onto the shore. And this twenty four hour a day, seven days a week activity, shapes the sharpest edges smooth. But the characteristic of the beach that most caught my attention this visit was the irregular and beautiful distribution of the stones at low tide. No human hand could cast such an awesome and harmonious pattern. In fact, I hesitate to use the word pattern; for it could only be described as a natural rendering, with wind and wave and slope and sand and other stones, and perhaps a dog or two, determining the exact nature of the distribution.

Nonviolence is like that. Humans don't "make" it happen. We aren't able to discern all the elements that must come together to render the harmony and beauty we seek. Too often, when we seek to structure the pattern in the sand our efforts are erased by forces beyond our control. The secret to nonviolent change is to operate in relationship with all of those natural forces that are constantly seeking to create the grand harmony.

For many years Nonviolent Alternatives sponsored a program called "Learning Harmony with the Lakota/Dakota." Here is a people with a traditional culture that seeks to understand the rightful place of humans in the larger picture. It's a relational culture with a mantra of "all my relatives." It is rooted in nonviolence, since it starts from an unmistakable and often ignored truth, that we're only a part of the grand harmony. The question becomes, what is our rightful place in the larger whole? What role can I play in the movement toward a harmonious future? The Lakota/Dakota always help us focus more on means than ends.

I suspect this is one of the reasons why Gandhi placed so much emphasis on effort and not on results. "Satisfaction lies in the effort, not in the attainment. Full effort is full victory." And again, "Prayerful, well-meaning effort never goes in vain, and man's success lies only in such an effort. The result is in His hands."
Carl Kline

Wednesday, October 20, 2010

We Are the Rainbow

There has been so much violence in the news of recent weeks that has been wrenching, unbearable. The Torah’s sad reflection on the state of the world at the beginning of the portion called after its main character, Noah, No’ach in Hebrew, describes our world, and the earth was filled with violence. What went wrong? How did the beauty and promise of Creation come to be so twisted? How does the image of God in self and others come to be so hidden to eyes and hearts blinded by fear and hate, callous to the preciousness of every life? And the earth was filled with violence..., the flood, the ark, the rainbow. Floodwaters of violence churn around us, near and far, all so close, sweeping away the innocent and the pure. Despair and hope vie within

our souls, as we ache to see the rainbow.

On Boston streets close by to where we live, our neighbors live in a war zone, the sound of gunfire as much a part of every day, even more, than the song of birds or the rustling of leaves in the autumn winds. So close, and yet a land unknown to most of us. How deeply we feel the horror, and yet not deeply enough. Four young people gunned down, the image of a young mother and her two-year old son, their murders searing our souls and psyches, but not deeply enough. They are all real people with faces that shined with the image of God, with names we can say, names we need to say: Simba Martin, Levaughn Washum-Garrison, Eyanna Flonory, and her little one, Amanihotep Smith.

And in anguish, we have witnessed in one month’s time, the hounding to death of five boys, only one of whom might even yet have been called a young man, five young people who did not conform to sexual and gender identities deemed “normal.” We are torn apart, but especially for those of us who are straight, how much more we need to try to understand and feel the torment experienced by a young person struggling alone with their own sexual and gender identity. Driven to suicide, these five young people are all real people with faces that shined with the image of God, with names we can say, names we need to say: Justin Aaberg, Asher Brown, Tyler Clementi, Billy Lucas, Seth Walsh.

All of these whose names we remember challenge us to act, to search together for ways of response. Rooted in such deep social sickness, it can feel overwhelming. The violence of our society is horrifying, as is the ability of people to destroy other people, whether through guns or bullying, shattering lives in an instant, or mercilessly over time. At what point will we find the will

and the way to make gun control a reality as one response to the horror? So long ago the Talmud recognized what we as a society are unable to, that diminishing the availability of weapons makes killing more difficult. The rabbis not only prohibited the selling of weapons to those who would misuse them, but also the selling of materials that could be turned into weapons.

In this time of tragedy that has come as the bitter consequence of homophobic bullying, we remember too, as we say their names, that each of us is needed to protect and preserve the lives of our children, for they are all our own, in all the varied ways that they reflect the image of God. We are each needed to come out and help insure that every GLBTQ young person, and the not so young as well, finds embrace among us and is inoculated against hate with the knowledge that each one is beloved and that each one belongs and has their own precious place in our communities and in our lives.

As the floodwaters receded, Noah/No’ach and all who were with him, came out from the ark. It is time for all of us to come out, and to stand together in the light of a new day. While the sky was still heavy with cloud, God showed Noah the rainbow sign, God’s covenant with all people upon this earth. Whether in the sky or upon a flag that flutters proudly, it is also a sign of our covenant with each other. Through the prism of our tears, light refracted, we are the rainbow.

Rabbi Victor H. Reinstein

Sculpture by Carl Fredrik Reutersward

Wednesday, October 13, 2010

The Season of Fall

The colors of September and October in the northern half of the United States blaze in the sun. The leaves turn magenta, burnt orange, burgundy, golden yellow, delicious apple reds and other colors so extraordinary they defy description. When it rains, it deepens and enhances the russets, the umbers, the golds, and the natural drying browns of the grasses and the crops maturing in the fields. How wonderful to behold.

Living in the rural area of a Northern Plains state gives me an advantage of watching the skies. Each season brings it’s own versions of wildly varied cloud formations, sunsets and sunrises, and Fall is no exemption. The October sky is clear most nights and the stars glitter and twinkle as they announce their place in the universe. A big orange full moon smiles mischievously and peeks over

the horizon, changing several weeks later to a thin, lovely, white new moon that enhances its neighborhood of beaming stars. How wonderful to behold.

My garden is on the downhill and the harvest wraps up this time of year. I have been able to eat salads and vegetables from my “organic market” 20 feet from my kitchen door, throughout the spring, summer and fall. Now, the sparse dill heads tell me they have reseeded for next year, the onions, winter squash, potatoes, and carrots are awaiting their trip to the basement for future meals. The late season flowers are brilliant next to their fading earlier counterparts.

Fall is busy preparing the earth for the cold and snow that will soon appear. How wise. How beautiful. How wonderful to behold. Thank you, God.

LA Andersen

Friday, October 8, 2010

Transforming Violence in Text and in Life

During the waning hours of one day’s Ramadan fast, I attended a meeting at the new Roxbury mosque. As pink and gray streaked the dusky sky, a call from the minaret announced the breaking of the fast. Symbolic first foods of the fast’s end were brought to the table of our meeting. Each day’s fast ends with the sharing of milk and dates, as would be the desert bounty of Bedouin shepherds, and so we shared, Jews and Muslims. A second calling from the minaret came a short while later, as a gathering call for prayer.

Hundreds gathered to pray, little children lifted up on parents’ arms and carried on waves of excitement, Ramadan nights so different from all other nights. I stood back and to the side, thinking to pray my own prayers of evening, a small siddur/prayer book in my pocket. Instead, I was touched by the excitement of a young mother, a first grade teacher in a Muslim school, wearing hijjab and a “snugly,” baby smiling and cooing as she delighted in sharing the meaning of Ramadan. Her husband approached, in long white robe, and smile as radiant as his wife’s, asking me, “are you taken care of.” I knew exactly what he meant, had heard the same words in Hebrew, the same question, a shared expression of Abrahamic hospitality. A flashback to a time long ago, to a Jerusalem synagogue on a Shabbat evening, approached by a man with a radiant smile as prayers finished, “are you taken care of, do you have a place to go?” I was a stranger, but alone no longer, bathed in the warmth of a home and family, a Shabbat evening I have never forgotten, not even the tunes that family sang. “Yes,” I said, returning to the moment, to a mosque during Ramadan, “but I am so touched by your asking,” our hands clasped as I thanked the man of warm smile and gracious concern. I would share iftar, the meal ending the fast, with the group I was meeting with.

The meeting was of the planning committee of “Building Bridges through Learning,” a program to bring imams and rabbis together to learn each other’s sacred texts. The real goal is to come to know and learn about each other as people. Our next study gathering is in December and the thematic focus will be “Love of Neighbor.” We came to the topic fairly easily, through our own painful discussion as a committee of the tensions that flared once again this summer around the presence of the mosque. In the face of fear and misunderstanding, and of stereotypes that calcify so easily, we sought to respond from the depths of our own faith. As precursor and preparation for study in the larger context, we would share with each other the sources of faith that inspire us to pursue a more hopeful and affirming reality.

During this week in which the Torah portion is Parashat Ki Tetze (Deut. 21:10-25:19), we shared texts concerning love of neighbor and of stranger. We wrestled with difficult questions, who is the neighbor I am to love, and who the stranger -- from among my own people or of another, interpretations narrow or broad, to sweetly tune the tension between the universal and the particular, or to be left with the grating sound of dissonance. Parashat Ki Tetze opens with laws of warfare and the taking of captives. It rises then to the noble exhortation, you shall remember that you were a slave in Egypt, you know what it is like to be abused as a people. Several times in the portion we are reminded of the justice due the stranger, the orphan, and the widow, emblematic of society’s most vulnerable. And as we shared, of Jewish emphasis on doing good for the sake of peace/mipnei darchei shalom, in Quran we read: Serve Allah, and join not any partners with Him, and do good – to parents, kinsfolk, orphans, those in need, neighbors who are near, neighbors who are strangers, the companion by your side, the wayfarer, and what your right hands possess. For Allah loves not the arrogant, the vainglorious.

As we make our way through the book of Deuteronomy in the Torah reading cycle at this time of year, we encounter some of the most violent passages of Torah, of brutality done to others. I look to a nonviolent stream that flows beneath the words of Torah and speaks of its source in Eden. It wells up through words of commentary, discomfort with the surface meaning that does not accord with the ultimate call of Torah to choose life, with the knowledge of every human created in the image of God. As with so many passages in Torah that concern warfare, particularly in Chassidic tradition, so the beginning of Ki Tetze, Ki Tetze lamilchamah al oyvecha/when you go forth to war against your enemies, is spiritualized to refer to our own inner battles. Commenting on this verse, the Slonimer Rebbe teaches, there is hinted in this the eternal war we are to wage with our own enemy, that within the soul which is the evil inclination/…oyvo banefesh hu ha’yetzer hara.

Sitting at the study table in the mosque, I was struck by another text that seemed also to spiritualize war and warrior. This one from Hadith, the teachings of the Prophet that become Islamic “Oral Torah,” if you will: One who looks after the widowed and the poor is like the warrior who struggles in the way of Allah, or like one who prays all night and fasts all day. A Muslim friend once spoke to me of his own inner conflicts at the time, of the ijtihad with which he was engaged, self-struggle toward new understanding and renewal, a battle waged within.

The good and the noble that is in Quran and in Torah rises up through our deeds, loving each other as neighbor even when we are strangers, transforming in practice the violence that is in Torah and in Quran. We are worthy heirs of Avraham/Ibrahim when from house to house we are able to say, “Are you taken care of, do you have a place?” Seated then at one great table, may we break the fast together and nourish the deepest hunger that is for peace.

Rabbi Victor H. Reinstein