Friday, September 19. 2014
Tuesday, September 16. 2014
I am a fan of football in the US. Perhaps because, as a young boy, I always wanted to be that guy who eluded all of those tacklers and scored the touchdown. Or dove for that 50 yard pass, snatching it out of the air before it hit the ground (or the rusty fence which served as one of the boundaries). Sometimes, playing football in the neighborhood, I got hurt; I sprained every finger in my hand, got bloody noses, scraped knees. However, it wasn't about violence or aggression. It wasn't about hurting the other team. It was about executing plays and running fast, and catching balls.
Professional football goes beyond the skills of the game and includes a layer of violence. Violence is not incidental. Rather, it has become part of the game. It is no surprise that there are numerous injuries in every game and tempers flare. It is no surprise that many players reveal some of that violence off the field. Does professional football reflect trends in our society, or is it just an aberration, a unique activity that attracts a fringe element of men?
This week, the NFL has had to deal with some high-profile players exhibiting their violence off the field. Men abusing women and children by hitting them. I don't know if this is symptomatic of our society, but the response of the NFL is: first, do nothing, then, minimize it, and finally, when you have no choice, say how horrible it is - but marginalize it. It's only a few people, right? Doesn't happen that much, right? What's troubling is that this sport, and others like it, make a huge issue out of the use of drugs, whether recreational or performance-enhancing. Maybe the use of the drugs is bad for the sport, but the issue pales in comparison with domestic violence. Should I care if a player smokes pot? I don't know, but I certainly do care if a player beats his wife or children. The NFL as an institution does reflect the behavior of other institutions in America: it promotes values that weaken our society and fails to demonstrate care for those who need it.
Getting ready for Rosh HaShanah: Unetaneh Tokef
Thursday, September 11. 2014
Selichot, the beginning of the penitential prayers, begins on the evening of the 20th, in a little over a week. Some congregations make this into a concert, an almost festive time. I prefer a low key service and an acknowledgement that we're getting deeper into the cheshbon hanefesh, the accounting of our soul.
Reminding us of selichot: V'al Kulam
Wednesday, September 10. 2014
With Rosh HaShanah just two weeks away, I start thinking about the core ideas of life and death. Hearing the shofar every day in Elul is not a joyful sound, for it recalls the other reasons for blowing the shofar in ancient times: to gather the community together, and to go to war. And to wake up and recognize the gravity of the judgement. Beyond the apples and honey, beyond the challah with raisins, is the question: who will live and who will die?
Getting ready for Rosh HaShanah: B'Rosh HaShanah
Friday, September 5. 2014
Our lives are filled with risk, chances that we will be harmed in some way. Each of us employs different methods of lowering that risk and insuring our safety. We weigh the consequences of what we eat, what we do, who we associate with. We balance the excitement and enjoyment of the new and unpredictable with the chance that we might get hurt.
Judaism is one technology for mitigating the risk in our lives. It is a path to safety. It is a way of approaching new people and new experiences with a set of criteria to assess the danger. But it is not simply a way of staying with the old and well-known. We must try the new - create a new song - even the face of risk.
Open for me the gates of righteousness: Pitchu Li
Thursday, September 4. 2014
Are the basic ideas of democracy contained in Judaism, or is Judaism antithetical to democracy? Why would this be an important question?
Israel. Can it embody the Values of Judaism and be a truly democratic state? It can, if Judaism itself is fundamentally democratic. But if Judaism functions with a hierarchy that is not controlled by the community at large, then incorporating Judaism into the government of the state may conflict with the basic principles of democracy.
We'll discuss this today at 11.
A song: V'ani tefilati
Wednesday, September 3. 2014
There have been moments in my life when the concept of "harmony" transcended the philosophical. That unique experience of having the physical and the metaphorical coalesce. Singing in a choir can do that. The choir doesn't have to be professional, it doesn't even have to be very good in general. But, for that one brief moment, everything comes together and the sounds lift you to another place. The exact dates don't really matter - a couple of times in high school, singing in a small choir in Victoria, the Glee Club in Ithaca, conducting a piece I composed with the cantorial school choir. When the notes are in tune, and the understanding of the piece is aligned, the music can resonate.
It takes work to bring a choir, and a piece of music to the point of resonance. There must be a level of trust and understanding that isn't accidental. In a choir, that work is conscious, but the same work is required in any team aspiring to reach another place. A team. A congregation. Trying to resonate.
A duet for Elul: Elul Duet
Tuesday, September 2. 2014
This week's parasha, Ki Tetzei, contains the famous mitzvah of the ben soreir, the rebellious son: