Friday, August 29. 2014
Yesterday in the Coffee with the Cantor class we discussed the influence that Judaism has had on religion in general. Did Judaism simply reflect what was going on in the cultures and religions of the time and place, or was it truly new, revolutionary? It reminded me of the discussion of the role of a composer in music. A composer never really creates anything new - he puts together the bits and pieces of melody and harmony that are floating around in our collective unconscious: the music is already there. Judaism may be like that. The ideas were already present, but they were never put together in quite this way.
That does not diminish the religion; that does not diminish the act of creation. We do not create from nothing. This year, as we begin again, recreating our lives, we should remember that the building blocks are already there. It is within us to create something new, not from nothing, but from the rich ingredients that are present in our world.
The song for today: May our supplications rise in the evening , our voices sing redemption in the morning - Yaale
Thursday, August 28. 2014
I am most alive when I sing. It is not about being happy or sad; it is the expression of my emotion. There are periods of time when I sing all the time (which can drive the people around me crazy), and there are times when I fall silent. All is not well when I am silent.
Last night my choir met once again after a few months off. Not a lot of people showed up, but it was great to renew the immersion in song. To spend an hour learning new melodies and concentrate on how to bring them to light. To sing together.
Here is a melody by Wohlberg that I use in the High Holy Day services that expresses the unity of our people: V'yeasu kulam
Wednesday, August 27. 2014
Today is the first of Elul, the month preceding Rosh HaShanah. Traditionally a time of introspection and preparation for the High Holy Days. A time of Cheshbon haNefesh - of accounting of the soul.
It is also the time of beginnings in secular society. I always associated the end of August with the beginning of the school year since so much of my life was linked to school, either my attendance or my kids. Even in the synagogue, classes begin again. We prepare to learn, we resolve to do better this year, to accomplish our goals. But now, in Elul, it is time set those goals and ask ourselves what do we really want from this year?
Each day in Elul I'll be posting a High Holy Day tune to get us ready for the days when the shofar shall sound. Oh wait - it sounds every day in Elul! Avinu Malkeinu
Monday, August 25. 2014
Friday, August 22. 2014
A song before Shabbat: L'dor VaDor
"When the Lord your God brings you into the land that you are about to enter and possess, you shall pronounce the blessing at Mount Gerizim and the curse at Mount Ebal. — 30 Both are on the other side of the Jordan, beyond the west road that is in the land of the Canaanites who dwell in the Arabah — near Gilgal, by the terebinths of Moreh."
A blessing will be pronounced on one mountain, a curse on the other. We spend most of our lives between the mountains, neither being blessed nor cursed. Neither pronouncing the blessing nor the curse. What does it mean to walk between those two mountains?
In order to make a statement, one must walk up a mountain. It is difficult to take a stand and before you do that you must put in some work. You must sweat. And as we go up that mountain, we separate ourselves from the rest of the community. How many can fit on the head of a mountain?
Which mountain do we choose? Do we pronounce the blessing, or the curse? Who are we? This is not just choosing to follow God or not, but to state what we stand for. So, what does each signify? To take a stand for the curse and pronounce it on that mountain, we must actually want to punish and seek out the evil in the world. To take a stand for the blessing and pronounce it on its mountain is to choose to seek out the good, the ethical and to praise it. Standing on the mountain is not just choosing the blessing or the curse; it is proclaiming it.
We cannot be on both mountains at the same time.
Most of us spend our lives between these two mountains. Not only do we avoid choosing between following God and not, but we also avoid making that statement: the blessing, the curse. How many never climb those mountains? Being between the mountains means that we live ambiguous lives, sometimes a blessing, sometimes a curse, but rarely saying what it is we're trying for. Often, we don't know what the difference is and following God's mitzvoth doesn't feel like a blessing. The sound of the blessing emanating from that mountain mixes with the sound of the curse and creates a cacophony, not a harmony.
This week has seemed like an eternity between those mountains. The war in Israel, antisemitism around the world, ISIS in Iraq, a shooting in Ferguson - these are events that keep us in that low place. But there is something else that keeps me in the well: Mount Ebal is getting crowded. So many are making their way up that mountain to pronounce the curse. To proclaim that people are not following God. Perhaps they are right, perhaps it is time to curse the evil. But not only can we stand only on one mountain at a time, but when we are on one mountain, we can barely see the other. While we are busy shouting our curses, we lose sight of the blessings. We lose sight of what it means to be good. This saddens me more than any of the calamities facing us today.
Ironically, both sides in the war in Israel, both sides in the Ferguson, are on the same mountain! Both sides are on the mountain shouting the curse. There is no blessing to be found.
from James Ball at the Guardian:
It’s that self-examination, or self-censorship, that best serves ourselves. As individuals, we’re making very different decisions to publishers and news outlets, but we should trust our own judgment rather than rush to ask social media companies to become the arbiters of our free expression on a knee-jerk basis.
There is a coda to this tale, another aspect of James Foley’s life that is also being shared far and wide across the world. It is the short statement by his mother, released on his Facebook page.
“We have never been prouder of our son Jim. He gave his life trying to expose the world to the suffering of the Syrian people,” her statement began.
It has already been shared more than 2,500 times. This is how we win: not by suppressing the worst of us, but by sharing and saluting the best – people such as Foley and his family.
We win by standing on Mount Gerizim and shouting the blessing and remembering what is good and right rather than cursing what is evil.