Thanksgiving and Ferguson, MO: Seeking Justice

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?

Justice Justice Shall You Pursue
Justice Justice Shall You Pursue

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.

Happy Thanksgiving.

Jerusalem of Gold, of Pain, Fear and Hope.

Jerusalem of Gold, by Naomi Shemer/

Jerusalem of Pain, Fear and Hope by Rabbi Sharon L Sobel

The mountain air is clear as wine

The city air is thick as smoke

And the scent of pines

And the scent of blood and terror

Is carried on the breeze of twilight

Is carried on the lips of those at dawn

With the sound of the bells.

With the wails of the sirens and the cries of the innocent.

And in the slumber of tree and stone

No tree can slumber, no stone remain silent while the river of blood spills forth on the ground.

Captured in her dream

She remains captured – but no longer in a dream. She is captured in a cycle of violence with no end in sight.

The city that sits solitary

Because the world remains silent: is not Jewish blood red? Is not Druze blood red? 

And in its midst is a wall.

A wall of hatred, a wall of suffering, a wall of injustice, a wall of violence, a wall of terror.

And yet..we are a people of hope. Jerusalem means “Iyr shel Shalom – City of Peace”. So hope must prevail.

Jerusalem of gold, and of bronze, and of light.

Behold I am a violin for all your songs.

Pray for the peace of Jerusalem, may those who love you be at peace. May there be well-being within your ramparts, peace in your citadels. (Psalm 122:6-7)

Building A Sacred Community Together With Each of Our Unique Gifts

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!

Havdalah - with Judy and David Gershon, my niece and nephew (Sydney and Xavi Marks) and Clara, Harry and Jacob Rosenzweig
Havdalah – with Judy and David Gershon, my niece and nephew (Sydney and Xavi Marks) and Clara, Harry and Jacob Rosenzweig

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:

We Build Sacred Community Together When Each of Us Shares Our Unique Gifts

“For the sake of Zion, I will not remain silent.” Remembering Yitzchak Rabin.

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.

Yitzchak Rabin
Yitzchak Rabin

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.
And yet,
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
Their mezuzahs,
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.
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)