Tonight, I will join with the Three Village Interfaith Community of Suffolk County for our joint Thanksgiving Service. With prayer, reflection, and music we express our gratitude for the many blessings in our lives: food, family, friendship, freedom and faith.
Our communal experience is enhanced because we work together to share experiences from our different backgrounds and faith traditions: Muslim, Jewish, Christian. Our skin colors range from palest of pale to darkest of dark.
We celebrate joys and triumphs together, we weep together during moments of sadness and pain.
But as we gather tonight in Thanksgiving and celebration, our hearts feel broken and bereft for the family of 18-year old Michael Brown, who was shot and killed on August 9th by police officer, Darren Wilson, in Ferguson, MO. We also cry in anguish for what is taking place in Ferguson right now.
Ferguson is burning. Violence is raging all around because of the grand jury decision yesterday not to indict Wilson for Michael Brown’s murder.
We are taught: “tzedek tzedkek tirdof – justice justice you shall pursue” (Deuteronomy 16:20). Where was justice for Michael Brown? For his family?
What does the grand jury decision in Ferguson teach us about police and racial divides in Missouri?
We are obligated to seek out justice – but not via violence and unbridled rage.
This Thanksgiving there will be many interfaith groups coming together in prayer and unity.
Let our prayer inform our thoughts and deeds. Let us reflect on the magnitude of the injustice affecting millions around the world. Let our prayer sensitize us to hear the voices of those whose blood cries out from the ground, whose voices cry out when they need help. Let us use our prayers as an opportunity to ask the Divine to help us combat injustice all over the world.
But let us keep in mind that prayer alone is not enough. The Talmud teaches us that “once the eye has seen, and the ear has heard, one cannot pretend to be uninvolved or unaffected.” What does this mean? This means we are obligated to act to eradicate injustice and evil. We must use the tools that God has given us – our voices, our financial resources, our political power – to end injustice by fighting with all our strength.
Next year, we pray, that justice will come to Ferguson.
This past weekend, I was installed as the new rabbi of Temple Isaiah of Stony Brook, New York.
It was not just a wonderful celebration for me, my friends and family from out of town, but for my entire synagogue community.
The congregants and staff worked tirelessly to ensure that the weekend would be one of joy, celebration and community-building. They know I am a “type-A” personality but didn’t want me to worry about all the details and planning of the celebrations, so they made sure that everything was perfect – and it was!
Conventional wisdom tells us that the relationship between a rabbi and congregation will only succeed in how well the congregation says “good-by” to their outgoing rabbi and in how well they welcome their new rabbi. I feel very welcomed indeed!
My thoughts and feelings are reflected in my Installation Address:
Yesterday marked the 19th anniversary of former Israeli Prime Minister Yitzchak Rabin’s assassination. Rabin’s legacy is legendary: a military hero, who served twice as Prime Minister of Israel, Nobel Peace Price Winner and leader extraordinaire.
He understood, as was stated by his dear friend Shimon Peres at this week’s 19th Annual Memorial Rally held in support of bringing about a peace agreement, that it was better to have a “cold peace than a hot war.” Rabin signed the Peace Treaty with Jordan’s King Hussein in 1994. That same year, he won the Nobel Peace Prize, along with then-Israeli-Foreign Minister Shimon Peres and PLO Chairman, Yasser Arafat. (Side note: a second Memorial Rally will be held on Saturday evening on the theme of “Tolerance”. The speaker will be Israeli President Reuven Rivlin who is fighting against the growing racism and intolerance in the State of Israel).
The prophet Isaiah said: “For the sake of Zion, I will not remain silent. For the sake of Jerusalem, I will not rest.” (Isaiah 62:1) Rabin fought tirelessly on behalf of his beloved Zion. He worked endlessly to ensure that all peoples in Jerusalem and her surrounding neighbors could live in peace and harmony.
Even 19 years later, his tragic murder leaves us with many questions: would we be any closer to peace now if he were still alive? Would he have been able to act as a stabilizing influence on a region with a growing sense of fundamentalism? Would the disasterous events of this past summer’s war in Gaza and the continuous acts of terror still be taking place?
The two terrorist attacks in Jerusalem this past week leave us feeling shaky and uncertain. How do we secure Israel and her people while finding our way toward a just and lasting peace at the same time?
Shimon Peres has inherited Yitzhak Rabin’s mantle. He too speaks the language of the prophet Isaiah. Like Rabin, he neither remains silent nor rests. (Read the text of Peres’ speech at the 19th Memorial Rally here:)
But this not enough. If Rabin’s legacy is to be an enduring one, if Rabin’s murder is not to be in vain, we too must not remain silent. We too must find a way to speak out for a peaceful and just solution. We too must work tirelessly until the terror is no more, the guns are silent and “nation shall not lift up sword against nation, neither shall they learn war any more.” (Isaiah 2:4)
If God Would Go On a Sick Leave: A Poem of Peace
By Rabbi Zoë Klein
Nowhere is there more prayer.
The Nuns at the Holy Sepulchre.
The faithful at Al Aqsa Mosque.
The worshippers at the Wall.
The call to prayer at dawn and dusk
Warbling from the citadels.
The church bells,
The Persian trills,
The passion spilled over texts
From every major/minor religious sect.
Nowhere is there more prayer than Jerusalem,
Thanks be to God, Hamdilala, Baruch Hashem.
I’m starting to think that it’s You and not them,
God, what’s the point of prayer?
If there’s nowhere where
There’s more prayer,
And terror reigns
Then, Who’s to blame?
If suddenly, without a whisper goodbye,
Jesus, Allah, Adonai,
The three men they admire most
All took the last train for the coast,
And the Moslems got up from their knees
And the Christians put down their rosaries
And the Jews stayed their hands from kissing
And everyone looked up,
And realized something’s missing…
God is missing.
Stop the praying! No One’s there,
They’d arrange a party to search everywhere.
They’d look for God
But there’d be no Presence
In Holy Books or stars and crescents
Or steeples and crosses.
People’d be at a loss,
Is He ever coming back?
They’d be so distraught,
Their searching for naught,
There’d be nothing on high
So they’d turn to on low,
There’d be nothing above
So they’d turn to below,
And they’d finally see there,
In the face of the other,
A semblance of sister,
The eyes of a brother,
They’d turn and they’d lean
Upon one another.
You see, every group can’t believe that they’re the ones chosen,
Every group can’t believe that the Holy Land’s owed them,
Sometimes faith in You, God,
Builds insurmountable walls,
And everyone falls.
How wise are the secularists for whom the dead aren’t martyred
But, quite plainly, murdered…
This might sound like an absurd,
ungodly thing to say,
A truly heretical supplication to pray,
(I say this only out of the deepest respect)
But if for a few days, God, You’d just give it a rest,
If You’d take a sick leave and just go away
And let Israel work this out without You in the way,
God, for that kind of peace,
You’re a small price to pay.
(Rabbi Zoë Klein)
I am new to Long Island, having moved here this past July.
This week, I learned a difficult statistic: the breast cancer incidence rate on Long Island is approximately 18% higher than the statewide average.
Even after a $30 million multi-year study showed that environmental factors don’t contribute to this increased cancer rate, the statistics don’t make sense. Some postulate that perhaps Long Island has a higher percentage of Ashkenazi , Jewish, affluent, female residents: a population known to have a higher rate of breast cancer than other populations. There are still no answers.
More funds are needed for more research: research not just for “why”, but research for a cure, so women can be healed and lead full, healthy and long lives.
For the past 21 years, the community in Stony Brook has been coming together to raise funds and awareness for breast cancer research through its annual Ward Melville Heritage Organization “Walk for Beauty”. During this time, this walk has raised over $1.275 million for Stony Brook Hospital Breast Cancer Research, plus donated thousands of wigs and prostheses to those in need.
This past weekend, many of my congregants from Temple Isaiah (Stony Brook) and I participated in this “Walk for Beauty”.
Rabbi Abraham Joshua Heschel stated, when he marched with the Rev. Martin Luther King, Jr, in Selma for voting rights in 1965, that he felt as if his legs were praying. He believed his march for social justice was a day of sanctification, filled with spiritual significance.
We, too, felt as if our communal “Walk for Beauty” was a day of sanctification. We felt the spiritual significance of coming together for this particular cause:
We walked with friends and family who were in the middle of treatment;
We walked with friends and family who finished treatment and who were “survivors”;
We walked with loved ones in our hearts, with names on our backs, on our arms, on our chests – of those who now live on only in our hearts and minds and memories;
We walked as one community: babies, children, teens, young adults, middle-aged and seniors, men and women;
We walked in silence at times, we walked in laughter, we walked in tears, we walked in joy;
We all walked together- our feet praying for a cure, praying for healing and wholeness and strength;
As we prayed with our feet, my heart was offering this prayer, for the health care workers, the researchers, those who are ill and their loved ones:
Heal Us Now (Music and English Text: Leon Sher, 2002 Hebrew Text: Healing Liturgy, Numbers 12:13, Pslams:145:18, 85:10)
R’faeinu Adonai v’neirafeh, hoshi-einu v’nivasheah. El karov, l’chol korav, ach karov, li-reav, yishoh. Heal us Adonai, and we shall be healed. Save us and we shall be saved. God is close to all who call out to God. Surely, help is near to all who call out to God.
We pray for healing of the body. We pray for healing of the soul. For strength of flesh and mind and spirit. We pray to once again be whole.
El na, r’fa na lah, r’fuat hanefesh, u’r’fuat ha-guf, r’fua sh’leimah. Oh God, please heal us now; healing of the soul and healing of the body, a complete healing.
“Music makes pictures and often tells stories, all of it magic, all of it true.” (John Denver)
Music has been an integral part of my life since I was very young. My paternal grandmother was a concert pianist. She met my grandfather, who was a cellist, when they were both playing in the same quartet.
My father inherited his parents’ love of music and talent. Like his father, he too played the cello. And he also had perfect pitch. While we were young, my dad would sing to us on car rides, teaching us all of Tom Leher’s songs that he learned as a camp counselor (not always appropriate for young children, e.g. – “The Old Dope Peddler”). He introduced us to Alan Sherman’s “Peter and the Commissar” with Arthur Fiedler and the Boston Pops. He was always singing.
My mother played first violin in the Rhode Island Youth Symphony Orchestra while she was in High School. She too was multi-talented. She played piano, accordion, recorder, and a few other instruments. She was a classical music aficionado. And she taught music at our Hebrew Day school.
I was thrilled when I attended Shabbat services at my new congregation this past July and saw that everyone – of all ages – took rhythm instruments to enhance the musical experience of the service.
Music has played an important role in our Jewish worship experience since biblical times. From the portable mishkan – Tabernacle (or sanctuary) in the wilderness to the Temple in Jerusalem, music was used as a way to praise and glorify God.
King David made sure that the musicians and choirs were paid salaries, furnished with homes and well taken care of. He understood that a world without music was a world without color, a world without joy, a world without warmth and a world without spirit.
Psalm 150, verses 3-6 states:
Praise the Eternal with blasts of the shofar. Praise the Eternal with harp and lyre. Praise the Eternal with timbral and dance. Praise the Eternal with lute and pipe. Praise the Eternal resounding with cymbals. Praise the Eternal with loud crashing cymbals.
My friend Mattan Klein has made it his life’s work to “praise the Eternal” with all different types of music. His father, Dr. Rabbi Michael Klein, z”l, was the Dean of Hebrew Union College-Jewish Institute of Religion, Jerusalem campus while I was a first year rabbinic student.
While his father immersed himself in the ancient texts of our people, Mattan’s entire life is dedicated to bringing those texts to life through the beauty of music. He is the Ensemble Instructor at a high school for the arts in Israel, he is the Band Leader for three separate groups: 4 Flute Flight, Seeds of Sun and Mattan Klein Quintet. Like King David, Mattan plays music in both the secular and religious arenas. He played a beautiful flute tribute at Ariel Sharon’s funeral last year.
Perhaps what I find most inspirational about his work, is how he influences and inspires others, especially the next generation. Two years ago, his then-eight-year-old daughter Avigail was at one of her father’s performances and drew the following picture afterward:
Avigail placed herself playing flute with the band in the bottom right-hand corner. This was her dream: to play flute in her father’s band, surrounded by beautiful music! She just started taking flute lessons a few weeks ago. What she envisioned two years ago can soon be sustained and fulfilled.
To me, Abigail’s musical notes surrounding each and every musician not only symbolize the music they are playing. They symbolize an important lesson for each of us: when each of us joins together to “play our own instrument” in concert with others, we create a beautiful symphony. When we join our voices together, no matter if we are playing actual music, working together on behalf of social justice or some other common goal, we become bathed in music and beauty. It doesn’t matter what instrument we play, what note we sing, or even if we just listen.
Each of us has a song to sing. Each of us has the ability to hear the song of others around us. Shiru l’Adonai shir chadash – sing unto the Eternal a new song. Shiru l’Adonai kol ha-aretz – sing unto the Eternal all the earth. (Psalm 96:1).
(A video sample of Mattan Klein playing some of his beautiful music):
As Rosh Hashanah approaches this evening, I think of my mother, father and grandparents who are no longer alive.
Like my mother before me, I bake her special “Israeli Honey Cake” – with a whole lemon and orange, for a sweet New Year. I set my table with the beautiful festival table cloth she lovingly embroidered. I learn some new text, just as she did, for Torah study was part of the very fabric of her being.
Like my father before me, I craft my sermons and prepare my Machzor – my High Holy Day prayer book. I phone congregants who are sick or in need of a visit, because my father instilled within me the importance of being there for one’s congregants at all times. I read a new book, for reading and studying was an integral part of who he was, even after his eyesight failed due to complications from diabetes.
Like my grandparents before me, I prepare as best as I can for these High Holy Days, trying to touch base with all my family near and far. My grandparents taught me the blessing of family and so much more.
Like all who came before me, I pray that this New Year, 5775 will see a world that realizes a time of peace and harmony. My parents and grandparents strongly believed in tikkun olam – the value of repairing the world. I learned from them that each one of us must do our part to make this world a safe place for all who dwell upon it. We must use our voices, our hands and our hearts. As Abraham Joshua Heschel once said, when we take part in social justice we are “praying with our feet.”
As we prepare to enter 5775, I carry my loved ones in my heart. May they continue to inspire me, to guide me and to do my part to make this world a better place.