Thursday, September 26, 2019

Abraham's Progeny: What I learned from traveling three weeks on three continents with an Indonesian Iman and a Kiwi Reverend

A Rabbi, a Minister and an Iman walk into a bar--sounds like the beginning of a joke, eh? Rather it was the beginning of an interfaith holy friendship.

Theologian Gregory Jones describes holy friends as those who challenge the sins we have come to love, affirm the gifts we are afraid to claim, and help us dream dreams we otherwise would not dream.
In August 2019 I traveled over twenty thousand miles with new holy friends, an Indonesian Iman from a Muslim boarding school, in suburban Jakarta, Indonesia and a Presbyterian minister from a suburban church in Wellington, New Zealand as part of 1000 Abrahamic Circles interfaith initiative, a project coordinated by the Foreign Policy Community of Indonesia and funded by the Kingdom of Denmark It was besherte (fortuitous) that both my fellow travelers' nicknames had Hebrew homonyms, Rev Raz (Hebrew for "secret") and Iman Ozy (Hebrew for "my strength"). I wondered what secrets would be revealed and what strengths discovered during our three weeks traveling together, living in each other's homes, and meeting each other's families, and praying in each other's houses of worship. I was intrigued to travel to New Zealand to see the healing work after the Christchurch mosque massacre. I was concerned about being a Jew in Indonesia, the largest country of Muslims in the world (250 million)--a country that does not recognize Judaism as one of it's six major faiths, has only one isolated synagogue and has no diplomatic relations with the state of Israel.



This diplomatic reality was not lost on us as the Genesis pilot circle of a thousand future triads when we spent our first evening together at an AIPAC (American Israel Pubic Affairs Committee, the pro Israel American lobby) event where we met Yonathan Weintraub, the co founder of SpaceIL, the private Israeli space agency. He shared the incredible story of the Beresheet (Hebrew for Genesis) lunar lander that (crash)landed on the moon earlier this February that was designed to stimulate Israeli STEAM (science, technology, engineering, arts and mathematics). As the image flashed of the SpaceX Falcon 9 rocket which took the Beresheet into space from Cape Canaveral, Weintraub noted the "Uber Pool" ride feature where Indonesia’s first communications satellite, Nusantara Satu, (Indonesian for One Archipelago) shared the same capsule for an affordable launch. Despite the lack of formal diplomatic relations, by traveling together, the pioneering satellites from Israel and Indonesia literally reached the heavens. If tiny Israel could promote outer space to inspire one million children, internationally could 1000 Circles truly reach our goal of fostering interfaith understanding for a quarter of a million through 1000 triads of influential religious leaders?



Our adventure together began the minute we met each other at Denver International Airport when Iman Ozy arrived. Within five minutes of landing, Ozy asked to find a place for afternoon prayers. We went to the Muslim prayer space of the Denver airport interfaith chapel. While I had visited the Jewish/Christian chapel before, I had not entered the Muslim chapel. Rediscovering your own city through the eyes of another, reminded me of Aristotle's dictum that a friend is another self. With my new friends we visited, worshiped and dialogued with congregants not only at my synagogue, Temple Emanuel, but also at an African American mosque and at an AME (African Methodist Episcopal) Church and met with their clergy. While I knew these clergy from interfaith advocacy work in town, I had not visited their houses of worship and nor experienced first hand their prayer services.



I discovered that Muslims take their prayer life very faithfully as they pray at least five fixed times a day. I literally awakened to this insight when, at the pesantren Islamic boarding school, we were awakened every morning at 3:15 am in order to prepare for the muezzin's calls at 4 am summoning the faithful to worship. As we drove from the suburbs to our appointments immersed in the horrendous traffic of Jakarta, a city with a similar population of my entire native country Canada, our drivers would frequently pull to the side of the road for the required prayers. Ozy's spiritual strength flowed from his adherence to the daily structure in following shariya, the Islamic legal path which sanctifies every aspect of their lives. Of course, in Indonesia it was seamless to follow Islamic law as it seemed like all the food was Halal, something I relished when I ordered the breakfast sausage at an Indonesian McDonald's knowing it wasn't pork. In Colorado, Ozy could eat kosher food in a pinch, but we made efforts for him to keep his dietary laws by going to Halal restaurants as much as we could. Respecting each other's religious practice was an implicit prerequisite of our relationship.



Each participant emphasized a different religious aspect: for Ozy, practice; for Raz, faith. While many Jews certainly follow Jewish law and articulate Jewish theology, my holy friends' religious intensity affirmed the spiritual gifts that perhaps, I was was afraid to claim. No topics were off limits as well. Raz challenged me on Israel's treatment of the Palestinians, our doctrine of peoplehood, and the Jewish concept of sin for our dialogues were open, thoughtful and respectful.



As we broke bread together we broke down barriers of curiosity and ignorance--and confronted prejudice. What were the hidden secrets about Jews in a country where they knew very few or no Jews at all? Driving back from synagogue in Denver with my wife Hilary, Ozy asked how it was that Jews controlled the American government. When I later asked Indonesians who had never met a Jew how many they thought lived in the USA, they replied that they thought up to a quarter of the population was Jewish, instead of the reality of about 2%. But Ozy was not the only one with prejudice as I confessed my stereotype of Muslim women hiding behind hijabs (head coverings). Ozy shared with me the women's role in Islam. He told me that his wife owns the house and controls the salary that he sends home. Before going to Indonesia, I only saw the hijabs, now I see the smiles behind the coverings.



In Wellington, New Zealand we visited the Holocaust Centre at the local Jewish Community Centre where they proudly told us that The Diary of Ann Frank, part of the school curriculum, had just been translated in Maori, the indigenous language. I was shocked when Ozy told me he had never read this book nor really knew much about the Holocaust that was never taught in Indonesian schools. I now understood how important it was to share with him my story so that he in turn could teach his students to magnify our experience of understanding and appreciation and not merely "tolerance," as Raz repeatedly challenged us to condemn as insufficient.



I learned that interfaith dialogue involves not just finding answers in commonality, but asking good questions as well. It necessitates listening deeply with not just the mind, but the heart. It also meant trying to withhold judgment about differences, searching for similarities, and looking out for one another. We saw the latter when we visited the Wellington mosque on Friday and were greeting by Rick S, a member of Temple Sinai synagogue, who, after the terrorist tragedy last March in Christchurch, committed to stand outside the mosque entrance every Friday in order to keep a look out so that the Muslims might pray safely. The Muslims welcome and feed him as they enter the mosque for prayers.



Can a tragedy turn into a blessing? When we visited the Al Noor mosque in Christchurch we heard how their neighbors whom they never knew, offered shelter to the worshipers fleeing the massacre. Now, each Wednesday, people who had never known each other gather weekly for food and fellowship. The Christchurch mayor talked about the opportunities for building interfaith understanding and tolerance and the challenge of spending the funds that came into the community. This included $900,000 donated by the Jewish Federation of Pittsburgh six months after the Tree of Life tragedy in October of 2018.



Lastly, I learned about the importance of knowing what pains each other in order to deepen our understanding. Not surprisingly, for Jews it is anti-Semitism, for Muslims, it is Islamophobia, but for Christians it is secularism and Christianophobia. The shocking reality that Raz shared with us is that Christians are now a minority in secular New Zealand. His youth group members are made fun of for their commitment to faith All three religions have seen a shocking rise in hate attacks . All continue to mourn deeply for those Jews lost at Chabad of Poway in San Diego, and at Tree of Life synagogue in Pittsburgh, as well as the horrifying anti-Muslim attacks in Christchurch, New Zealand and the anti-Christian bombings on Easter Sunday in Sri Lanka, to name but a few, this past year.



We thought we had stories in common in our sacred Scriptures. We soon discovered that although we had the same patriarch, Abraham, Avraham or Ibrahim depending on linguistic pronunciation, his two sons' stories differed. In the Hebrew and Christian Scriptures, Abraham's test of faith was the binding of Isaac, in the Koran, the sacrifice of Ismael. As is typical, both sons experienced sibling rivalry. Yet, Abraham loved both his sons who followed in his monotheistic legacy that inspired our journey, a dream of deep interfaith understanding.



I thank Temple Emanuel Denver for giving me these three transformative weeks, Ambassador Dr. Dino Patti Djalal, the founder and CEO for his vision and diligence, the 1000 Abrahamic Circles Secretariat for their detailed labor, the Danish government for their funding, and our gracious hosts, Ambassador Roy and Dawn Ferguson in Wellington, Dr. Budi Rahman Hakim of Jagat Arsy Boarding School in Jakarta, and Consul Stanley Harsha in Denver, for giving me the privilege of traveling to, living with and learning from the progeny of Abraham for a "family reunion".


While our biblical stories diverge, we found a happy ending to our collective story at the end of Abraham's life when Isaac and Ishmael come together to bury their father (Genesis 25:8-9):
"Then Abraham breathed his last and died at a good old age, an old man and full of years; and he was gathered to his people. His sons Isaac and Ishmael buried him in the cave of Machpelah near (Hebron)..."
After all the acrimony, the children reconciled to bury their father. May we bury our animosities, fears and prejudices just as Isaac and Ishmael did as brothers and as we did as holy friends.




As Rabbi Jonathan Sacks notes: "For though my faith is not yours and your faith is not mine, if we each are free to light our own flame, together we can banish some of the darkness of the world!" In the beginning words of Genesis, for which our pilot Circle was named, "Let there be light!"






Wednesday, April 10, 2019

Invocation at Colorado State Senate April 10, 2019 Blizzard Blessing


Blizzard Blessing

Rabbi Eliot Baskin

As we approach this spring bomb cyclone blizzard, grant, O God, that you Senators and staff be imbued with a spirit of mission, purpose and tenacity.
May peace and harmony always prevail in your midst so that the ever expanding needs of our state receive your undivided attention, unhampered by stormy circumstances.
May you weather the economic forecasts as you bundle up to conserve all that is important.
May your hearts brave the fiscal elements so that you do not give the cold shoulder to the less fortunate and strangers in our midst.
May your hard work break the ice of partisan animosities and lead to a thaw in party cold fronts so that together you may finalize a blue sky budget and lay the foundation for a promising spring.
May the One who makes peace in the Heavens, oseh shalom bemromov, help us to make peace, healing and warmth for all of us here in Colorado.  
Amen.




Wednesday, March 27, 2019

Invocation for the Colorado State Senate during March Madness March 23, 2019


SENATE 
Seventieth General Assembly March 23, 2019
STATE OF COLORADO 85th Legislative Day
Rabbi Eliot J. Baskin


O God, during this auspicious time of March Madness as our legislative clock necessitates buzzard beaters, I pray that you Senators and staff may always be a true sportsperson on the court of life.

May you never lose sight of your baseline.
May your actions never be out of bounds.

May you learn to obey life's rules so you may be spared harsh penalties.
May you, like your field goal percentage, be brimming with 2 and 3 pointers.
May your turnovers be few, your recoveries quick.

When your pass is intercepted, may you work to improve your aim.
When you sink a basket, remember what you owe to the team.

Learn to prize an honest defeat, above a dishonest victory.

When you strive to pass idealistic legislation, may these alley-oop  attempts succeed.

May you so play the game that the Divine Referee will include you in the Hall of Fame for championing transformative legislative brackets.

Amen. 


Wednesday, February 13, 2019

Invocation for the Colorado State Senate, February 13th, 2019 Erev Presidents' Day

Invocation for the Colorado State Senate, February 13th, 2019,                      Erev Presidents' Day Seventy-Second General Assembly, 41th Legislative Day.


As our 2019 Legislature meets during this week of important birthdays, President Abraham Lincoln, President George Washington and, yours truly, grant, O God, that you Senators and staff be imbued with the spirit of mission, purpose and vision of our great presidents. 

President Lincoln said, “When I do good, I feel good.”  May you all feel good after a session of doing good for the ever expanding needs of our state during this promising time.

President Washington cautioned, “It is better to offer no excuse than a bad one.” May you take responsivity as you govern with integrity and offer no excuses!

May the Source of Wisdom, Chonein haDaat, continue to favor all of you who legislate here in Colorado with presidential goodness, integrity and insight!

Amen



Wednesday, January 30, 2019

Guatemala's Adat Israel, Third Time's a Mitzvah!

How did you spend Martin Luther King Day 2019?  I traveled back to Guatemala City to participate in a Bet Din, a religious court of three rabbis, to convert 19 Jews by choice at the Reform synagogue, Adat Israel AND to ascertain what would motivate Guatemalans to travel North with caravans to an uncertain future in the United States.  This was my sixth time in Guatemala: two shore excursions on trans Panama canal cruises years ago, one with a dozen rabbis as part of American Jewish World Services AJWS Global Justice Fellowship in 2015, and twice serving as visiting rabbi for the High Holy Days in 2015 and Yom Kippur 2017.

I was appalled by the recent account of the two Guatemalan children who died in American custody as refugees on the Mexican border along with the Central American babies being taken from nursing mothers.  I've been attending Moral Minyans afternoon prayer services in support of refugees at the Aurora ICE facility in Colorado (coincidentally, the same name as the Guatemalan airport, La Aurora).

I joined Rabbi Elyse Goldstein, the regular visiting spiritual leader from Toronto and Rabbi Leah Kroll of Los Angeles, to be part of a conversion of a group of Jews by Choice who had attended services and learned together each shabbat and Jewish holidays for over two years, completed an extensive examination, and were prepared to meet with us three rabbis to discuss their spiritual journey.  I was given an additional task, to initiate the gentlemen into the covenant of Abraham with the ceremony of HaTafat Brit, the taking of a drop of blood to symbolically ritually circumcise the prospective converts.

"community embracing conversion" is the subtitle for my experience where prospective converts are taught by members of the community along with Rabbinic teachings and visits, attend shabbat and holiday services each week (some traveling great distances of an hour and a half each way), participated in a special shabbaton of welcoming.  What struck me most was the solidarity of the small but vibrant community who showed up for all activities from ten in the morning to the conversion bet din twelve hours later and cheered mazel tov as each candidate came out from the bet din.  In the bet din we listened to heartfelt spiritual journeys of the candidates, many of whom related that their parents or grandparents telling them they were conversos or Crypto Jews on the their death beds.  The same bonding happened the next morning when I led the men in a hinei ma tov song (Psalm 133), behold how good and pleasant it is when men come together to support one another as they bravely prepared for the quick and painless entry into the covenant of Abraham.

We then left in a convoy for the hour ride to the colonial capital of Antigua for volcanically heated hot springs where the candidates immersed three times in private chambers where the same sex rabbi observed the proper immersion and blessings declaring "Kasher!" and the other two rabbis remained outside the door listening to the splash and blessings.  After dressing the newly immersed Jews came out to a chorus of mazel tovs, embraces, tears and small gifts of Judaica.

After a celebration luncheon at the delicious restaurant serving typical Guatemalan cuisine and of course some of the best hot chocolate tin the in the world, we returned to the synagogue for the wedding of two couples who had been married for many years, but never had a Jewish wedding.  The community brought flowers and hand decorated a home made chuppah (marital canopy) for a traditional Jewish wedding followed by the breaking of the class with another chorus of singing and mazel tovs along with toasts of L'chaim with strong Guatemalan rum and sweet cakes.  The sweetness of a welcoming community for Jews by choice will never be forgotten!

Visit The New Jews of Guatemala for an engaging 3 minute trailer for the documentary weekend!


Certificates of conversion proudly displayed after immersion in volcanically heated hot springs in Antigua

Sunday, September 9, 2018

Seas the Day: Lessons about Aloneness, Loneliness and Interconnectedness

“Seas the Day:  Lessons about Aloneness, Loneliness and Interconnectedness ” 
delivered Erev Rosh Hashana 2018 5779 Temple Emanuel  Denver, Colorado



“Welcome home” our TEMPLE tagline beckons.  But what exactly does it mean to “come home for the holidays?”  This is my first time here on the holidays as YOUR rabbi and frankly I’m a little nervous.   I’m the leadoff hitter, Hyatt’s on deck and Black, man (cf. Colorado Rockies' center fielder Charlie Blackmon), he’s the cleanup hitter who will bring us all home!

There are so many new faces in our overflowing sanctuary and it’s a little overwhelming.  Maybe some of you feel the same way.  Some of you are here for the first time and might feel alone.  Some of you regulars are looking forward to seeing old friends.  Some come just for the holidays.  I can almost hear you saying, “Every time I come to Temple, they blow the shofar!”  However you feel, I want to say, “welcome home.”  I’m glad you’re here!

Let me tell you why I’m here.  I had a difficult time last year:  my dad died, I turned sixty, we became empty nesters, there were changes in leadership at my job.  I needed a spiritual reset.  For the first time in almost four decades in my rabbinate, I chose not to lead Rosh Hashanah services, but instead to be a Jew in the pew.  I chose to spend Rosh HaShana at Temple’s Shwayder Camp with my family.  I felt I had come home to the warmth of a spiritual community where I belonged!



Before I accepted this position as your rabbi, I had committed to serving as a cruise rabbi for the summer.  Tonight, at this dawn of our New Year, I’d like to share with you my lessons learned from my forty days at sea volunteering as the Jewish Chaplain on Holland America's Voyage of the Vikings from Boston to Rotterdam and back.

Images of Noah’s and Jonah’s voyages dangled ominously before me.  I was intrigued by Martin Buber’s adage, “All journeys have secret destinations of which the traveler is unaware."
What would be my secret destination?  Perhaps this sermon, about aloneness, loneliness and interconnectedness. 

How would I manage on such a long voyage?  My wife, Hilary, with commitments here, was only interested in being onboard for half of the cruise.  What would it be like to travel solo for three weeks until my wife and sons met me?  After reflecting on previous trips when I’d traveled alone as a student rabbi Down Under, I knew a younger self had been able to thrive.  Back, then, traveling solo made me feel competent, centered, and confident --ready for any adventure.   Would the same be true at this stage of my life? Wanting to share the experience, I called my brother-in-law who agreed to join me on this voyage.  I felt relieved.  I knew the difference between aloneness and loneliness--both are existential conditions of being alone, one by choice and the other, not by choice.  Like most of us, I was concerned about feeling lonely without my family and community, but found one in our minyan at sea, a group of three dozen Jews of all denominations from the world over, including Temples’ Diane and Jack Zalinger, who showed up for our weekly shabbat experiences -- and even for Tisha B’Av, a traditional fast day, on a cruise ship with endless buffets, no less!  We came aboard alone as individuals, but left together as a community that enabled us to literally “Seas the Day”.



Let me share with you someone who lives alone without community.  Someone who mastered his aloneness for a mission.  I met an environmental artist, Vilmundur ├×orgrimsson, (pronounced “Villi Thorgrimsson”) who lives alone with his dog that he trains with eye blinks in the tiny port of Dj├║pivogur in Eastern Iceland.  His gallery museum is housed in the hillside of his eclectic seaside home:  a collection of bones, stones, minerals, driftwood, and other interesting tchotchkes from the rugged maritime environment.   Living alone, he works tirelessly, advocating for environmental justice by sending samples of the marine life bones he collects for analysis and by running the always open  FreeVilli gallery, a conglomeration of his nickname and the 1993 film where Keiko, the killer whale, was a movie star.

“Free Willy” is the story of the rescue of an orca whale from a run-down Mexican Marineland theme park back to freedom in the wild.  Villi shared the true end of the story. The sad ending of the whale that was returned to Iceland, but never was able to reconnect with his family pod and died five years later of pneumonia in a Norwegian fjord. Orcas are unable to live alone, they need each other to hunt and survive. While Villi lives a full and meaningful life all alone as an environmental activist, imagine what he could do as part of a community!  Keiko couldn’t find his family.  Keiko died alone of loneliness.



Loneliness is a chronic problem worldwide.  Just this year the UK appointed a loneliness minister to combat ‘sad reality of modern life’ Journalist Tamar Lapin wrote that (New York Post January 17, 2018) for a “United” Kingdom, they’re pretty lonely.”

The new and world’s only Loneliness Minister, Tracey Crouch, knows what it’s like to feel frighteningly alone. After giving birth to her first child, Freddie, in 2016, the British lawmaker says that despite having a “network of friends, family and a wonderful partner,” she began feeling cut off from the world. It wasn’t a new sensation; Crouch says she also suffered from depression six years earlier, when she first became a member of parliament. It felt like she was “in a very dark place, a very lonely place” she recalls. (Retrieved from http://time.com/5248016/tracey-crouch-uk-loneliness-minister/)  Thankfully, some brisk exercise and getting out with the stroller, was the fix she needed when she was low. Helping an entire nation will be more complicated, but she’s up for the task!  Crouch related:  “I could be the minister for happiness, because that’s exactly what I’m trying to achieve.”

When announcing the appointment, Prime Minister Theresa May cited research stating around 14% of the population often or always feels lonely.
“For far too many people, loneliness is the sad reality of modern life.”
The creation of this cabinet post comes after a report by a British commission that identified loneliness as a social epidemic—listen to that choice of words, an epidemic—literally, life threatening.  The government report also found that feeling alone was as harmful as smoking 15 cigarettes a day! (Retrieved from https://nypost.com/2018/01/17/uk-appoints-loneliness-minister/)


On our side of the Pond, loneliness may even be contributing to the escalating rate of suicide up 25% since 1999 in the US.  Dr. Clay Routledge recently wrote in the New York Times (6/23/2018) that “the suicide rate has increased even as more people are seeking treatment for depression and anxiety, and even as treatment for those conditions has become more widely available.”   (Retrieved from https://www.nytimes.com/2018/06/23/opinion/.../suicide-rate-existential-crisis.html)

As a behavioral scientist, he is convinced that our nation’s suicide crisis is in part a crisis of meaninglessness.  How do we find meaning and purpose in our lives? There are many paths, but the psychological literature suggests that close relationships with other people are our greatest existential resource. Regardless of social class, age, gender, religion or nationality, people report that the life experiences they find most personally meaningful, typically involve loved ones.

Critically, it isn’t enough to simply be around or even liked by other people. We need to feel valued by them, to feel we are making important contributions to a world that matters. This helps explain why people can feel lonely and meaningless even if they are regularly surrounded by others who treat them well:  Merely pleasant or enjoyable social encounters aren’t enough to stave off despair.


I found this to be true of one of my fellow cruisers, Ethel Guttenberg, a member of Wise Temple in Cincinnati, Ohio, who gave me permission to share her story--in fact she encouraged me to do so.  Ethel, and her husband Marvin, have outlived both their son and granddaughter. Their son, Michael, was an emergency medical physician with the New York Fire Department.  He died last year of pancreatic cancer linked to the toxins he was exposed to as he treated others at ground zero on September 11th (-- whose 17th anniversary corresponds this year to Rosh HaShana II).  Four months after Michael died, their granddaughter, Jaime, a fourteen year old dancer, died.  She was one of the seventeen students who were shot in a senseless act of violence six months ago at Marjorie Stoneman Douglass High School in Parkland, Florida.

I wouldn’t blame Ethel if she wallowed forever in her grief:  never left her home, never got dressed and never went out, but there she was with her husband on our Voyage of the Vikings.  She could easily be spotted around our ship wearing bright orange ribbons or shirts memorializing Jamie’s legacy.  At every conversation she brought up the importance of gun safety and holding governmental representatives accountable so that other parents wouldn’t have to suffer their devastation.  When I asked her how she was able to get through this horrific loss, she told me of her synagogue community, and their rabbi, my friend and classmate, Lewis Kamrass, who was there to support them during their loss with shiva minyanim, pastoral counselling, weekly saying of the kaddish memorial prayer at services and support of meals and visits from their Caring Community.

Ethel now works tirelessly for gun safety causes.  She knows each of her congressional representatives on a first name basis!  She implored me to get everyone I knew to vote this election and to raise the issue with candidates. She became the mortar of our congregation at sea, and inspiration on creating a caring network focused on meaning and deep relationships.

And maybe that’s why you’ve come home for the holidays.  I know that’s why I’m here.  I am honored to be a part of such a dynamic and caring clergy team—a team that works tirelessly with all of you to create this spiritual home.

We come here, to this sacred place, for this holy community, to be connected.  Instinctively we know that this where we can relate on the meaning or soul level with others.  We need to be part of something bigger than ourselves.



What is the biggest organism on earth?  If asked most people think of our friend Willy the whale or giant redwood trees as the largest living things, but it’s something closer to home as you can see from this picture I took last year at Rosh Hashanah services at Shwayder Camp.    It’s a quaking aspen clone in the Kebler pass near Crested Butte, Colorado.  According to Michael Grant, University of Colorado scientist, who made the  discovery this aspen forest consists of 47,000 tree trunks covering over 100 acres . It is calculated to weigh 13 million pounds (Retrieved from http://discovermagazine.com/1993/oct/thetremblinggian285).

Grant pointed out that Aspen trees commonly grow by the “vegetative method” called suckering. An individual stem can send out lateral roots that, under the right conditions, send up other stems; from all above-ground appearances the new stems look just like individual trees. This process of reproduction can grow vast forests of aspen that are all interconnected by roots and are one genetic individual.  That’s why at this time of year you can see a clone of aspen all turn golden at the same time because they are interconnected.

Here in the Chai country I’ve had the privilege of meeting thousands of Jews these past twenty years before I was offered this position by my colleague and friend, Rabbi Black, when I had the privilege of serving as Denver’s Jewish community Chaplain and part time as the visiting rabbi in Evergreen and Durango.  I got to know the Rocky Mountain mythos of the rugged individualistic cowboy riding off into the sunset by themself.  Everyone, it seems, was spiritual, but not religious and was institutionally suspicious and wary of organized religion—I always told them, “don’t worry, we’re very disorganized and there’s nothing to fear!”

At this season “Mountain Jews” loved telling me how they like to go to the mountains for a solitary hike as they cast tashlich stones into a creek and to atone for their sins, but here at Temple we know praying in the aspens are not enough--although there is something special at camp –it’s not just the physical surroundings--it’s the community.  Sometimes it’s hard to see the communal forest from the individual trees, but we know that like the aspens, they are all interconnected.

Our Temple can be like an aspen clone, eitz chayim, a tree of life, where we are all interconnected as one holy community through sacred study, communal worship and deeds of care.  Affinity groups like our Caring Community, Sisterhood and Brotherhood, Chavurahs, Anshei Mitzva /Adult Bnei Mitzva, Free Birds/Empty Nesters, Youth and Young Adults groups, spiritual support groups for bereavement and divorce, Family Promise and Mitzvah Day, help us connect not only to find meaning in life, but to give meaning through helping others.

I love our Torah Study, not just because I love learning Torah in my preparation for teaching or attending it, but the insight of others that deepen our learning together as we explore our Tree of Life!

When my father died last year, we sat shiva in Toronto.  There I was in my dad’s condo surrounded by many people, but feeling very lonely.  It wasn’t until we got back to Denver and sat the final days here with many of you that I truly felt connected and comforted by community.

Our sages teach when God saw the first human without a partner God said, “It is not good for an earthling to be alone.” This, state our Rabbis, is one of the defining tensions of all human life; we are independent, but we are also interdependent.  That’s why so much of our High Holiday liturgy is in the plural form—we’re all in the same boat!

So nu, back to the forty days at sea.  Why forty?  Like Noah tonight we embark on a forty day voyage exploring not the outer space of the flood, but the inner space of our soul.  These are the forty days between the first day of Elul, when we begin to blow the Shofar to prepare for Rosh Hashana, until Yom Kippur, the end of the annual teshuva (repentance) period. These forty days are the most auspicious time for personal growth and renewal. 

So for whatever reason you are here tonight, be it a first timer or a regular, either alone or with someone, let us join hands for our teshuva journey of return. May the activism of Villi, the promise of Tracey Crouch, the courage of Ethel, together with the warmth of Temple, inspire us for a New Year filled with activism, meaning, and connection!   Welcome home!







Tuesday, March 19, 2013

Free Us From The Narrows of Capital Punishment