What’s Love Got to Do With It? Everything! A Valentine’s Message

We can bring love to our world by the actions of our hands and the deeds that we do. Valentine’s Day can become more universal in its reach: “love your neighbor as yourself.”

This week, like most weeks it seems, the media is filled with stark contrasts: the exuberance of the Olympics with North and South Korea presenting as a unified “team.” There are reports of the good work that many communities have done in coming together to raise awareness against discrimination, harassment and violence which is beginning to gain traction. And then we have hearts and flowers in celebration of Valentine’s Day.

This is contrasted with the presentation of the American president’s 2019 budget proposal to congress, where he will increase the national deficit exponentially, decrease funding to the vulnerable, the environment, and so many other areas that detract from keeping the United States as a world leader.

In world news, xenophobia continues to run rampant: the Syrian civil war rages on. Terrorism looms large in many countries. On January 26, Poland voted in favor of a bill making it illegal to accuse Poland of complicity in Nazi crimes (the Polish parliament passed this vote on the eve of International Holocaust Remembrance Day). Poverty and hunger affect millions of people world-wide.

And yet today, February 14th, we have what appears to be a frivolous break from the vicissitudes of life: the observance of Valentine’s Day. A day of expressing love. How do we reconcile this day of frivolity with what’s taking place in the larger world around us?

Perhaps we can learn something from my artist friend Pedie Wilfond. Pedie expresses this concept of love through her beautiful “Heart Series” paintings. She uses colour and light to to express her feelings and emotions. Mostly, Pedie wants people to feel joy, happiness and love when they reflect on her paintings.

One of Pedie Wilfond’s Hearts, which she gifted to me. A large 30-foot version of this is displayed in the Hospital for Sick Children in Toronto, Ontario.

Pedie’s intention with her “Heart Series” is: “to create more love and more kindness in this world. It is my wish that you will feel joy and happiness as you look at these hearts and share with others a desire to love and be loved.” (Pedie Wolfond, Introduction to “Find Your Heart”, 2011).

Pedie’s motto is simple: live life to the fullest and find a way to fill this world with love.

Hearts From Artist Pedie Wilfond’s “Heart Series”

I was thinking about all of this during this past year, a year fraught with great trouble, when many people wonder “how do we find hope? how do we find love in a world that has gone awry?”

We find hope in the ability to use our hands, our hearts, our actions to bring love to others, to use our lives to fill this world with love. Valentine’s Day itself may seem frivolous, it may seem to be a day when the hype in the media tends to make people who are not paired up seem to be left out. We find love in the actions of those working together to fix the wrongs of our society, by joining together as a community, by speaking up and speaking out. By reaching out to those in distress and those in need, by being the voices for those who cannot speak for themselves.

And even though Valentine’s Day is Christian in origin, the concept of “love” is a very Jewish concept indeed. In fact, we even have a Jewish Valentine’s Day on our own calendar. It is called “Tu B’Av” – the 15th day of the month of Av. This was a spring-time day of matchmaking for unmarried women during the time of the 2nd Temple before it was destroyed by the Romans in the year 70 AD.

Perhaps, we should view the concept of “love” more broadly than just as a day devoted to romantic love. We should view it as a time to think about how we can actualize one of the most famous uses of the word “love” from our Jewish teaching in the Hebrew bible:

Love your neighbor as yourself (Leviticus 19:1) – V’ahavta l’rei’acha ka-mo-cha

This is known as the “Golden Rule.” Many religions have different versions of this teaching embodied into their ethos as well.

If we can find a way to bring the concept of Leviticus 19:1 to fruition, February 14th, Valentine’s Day, will truly be a day of love.

What will you be doing this year to “love your neighbor as yourself” and fill our world with acts of love, peace and justice for all?

With loving hearts together, we can create a better world.” –Pedie Wolfond

Happy Valentine’s Day.

Injustice Anywhere is a Threat to Justice Everywhere – Commemorating MLK, Jr.

The legacy of the Reverend Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. demands that we pursue justice to turn his dream, and the dreams of all humanity, into a living reality.

Today we remember and commemorate the Reverend Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr: civil rights leader, social justice activist, pastor, preacher, husband, father, scholar, orator, dreamer.

This same week, it is no coincidence that the Jewish people begins reading from the book of Exodus in our weekly biblical reading (this is the second book of the Five Books of Moses). The book of Exodus relates the story of the Jewish people’s struggle for freedom of oppression from slavery in Egypt.

It was a long, hard road for our people to find their way from Egypt to the Promised Land of Israel. A road fraught with disappointment, frustration, set backs – and yet, on this road, our people, the Jewish people, was born. Our nation found its path toward building a covenantal relationship with God. We discovered some of the greatest eternal truths that still guide us today, thousands of years later.

Many peoples have experienced struggles of slavery, oppression and bondage. Many people have had to walk that same road that our people did so many years ago. And as we are all too well aware, the struggles are still not over.

The Jewish people’s story of oppression and redemption strongly resonates with the lessons that Dr. King taught. The Reverend Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. often spoke with a prophetic voice echoing those biblical values, morals and ideals. He fought for what was just and right and fair. And many rabbis and ministers and priests and good people of all religious and ethnic backgrounds walked along side him. His message still cries out to us today, in our broken, hurting world.

This morning, I was honored to participate in the 31st Annual Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. Memorial Breakfast sponsored by the Greater Framingham Community Church (under the leadership of the Rev. Dr. J. Anthony Lloyd). Over 350 community leaders, faith leaders and good people from all different backgrounds gathered together in prayer, song and learning to commemorate Dr. King and to dedicate ourselves anew to turning his dream into actuality. Together we affirmed that we will not be silent, we will not stand idly by, but that together, we will work hand-in-hand in pursuit of justice, freedom and peace.

Rabbi Sharon L. Sobel – Temple Beth Am, Framingham Invocation and Blessing [1]

As we gather together this morning as a community to commemorate the Reverend Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., we remind ourselves that this is a moment to both recognize those whose pursuit of justice and freedom paved the path we walk today. And we ask for courage and strength as we journey forward on the road towards redemption and liberation.

Many among us experience both privilege and comfort. Yet our experiences remind us that not all are free. So today we shake ourselves from complacency and affirm our pursuit of justice, as the Rev. Dr. King,. taught:

Injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere. We are caught in an inescapable network of mutuality, tied in a single garment of destiny. Whatever affects one directly, affects all indirectly.” (Birmingham, Alabama, April 16, 1963).

Dr. King’s words go hand-in-hand with what Jewish tradition teaches:

In a place where there is no humanity, strive to be human.” (Pirke Avot, Ethics of the Fathers, 2:6)

And so on this morning, we pray: Help us O God, to see, to hear, and to know the injustices that keep us from redemption, that keep us from being whole, that keep us from being complete. Enable us to hear the voices of others when they tell us how they are oppressed, how they are suffering, how they are in pain. Grant us wisdom and compassion to eradicate the experience of the captive, so that all may experience their God-given right to live in freedom. Give us courage, energy and humility to embrace those among us who we too easily label as “other”. Give us the power to do our part to bring these words to fruition: “Let violence be gone; let the day come soon when evil shall give way to goodness, when war shall be forgotten, hunger be no more, and all at last shall live in freedom.”

For it is you, O God, who commanded us in the book of Deuteronomy:

“Tzedek, tzedek tirdof. Justice, justice you shall pursue.” (Deuteronomy 16:20).

And when we all hearken to these words, we know that “justice will roll down like waters and righteousness like a mighty stream.” (Amos 5:24) And then each one of us will be able to sit down with all of our brothers and sisters, regardless of race, religion, ethnicity, sexual orientation or gender in friendship and peace to partake of the bread of life, the bread of freedom. We praise you and thank you, O God, who gives us the courage to work hand-in-hand to bring justice and peace to our world, who blesses us with the gift of friendship that knows no boundaries and for the blessing of food that nourishes our bodies and souls.

Amen.

[1] With thanks to Rabbi Neil P.G. Hirsch and Koach Baruch Frazier for inspiring portions of this invocation with their Prayer for Shabbat Tzedek 2018 for the Religious Action Center. Click on the link to see that prayer in full.

What is Your Name? A Video Podcast on the Nature of God

The Israeli poet Zelda said that we are each known by three names: the name our parents give us, the name others call us and the name we make for ourselves. But what is God’s name?

This week’s Torah portion brings some warmth during these exceedingly cold days with the story of “The Burning Bush.”

This is my very first video podcast. I am honored to be part of Shmuel Rosner’s ‘Rosner’s Domain Torah Talks’ for the Jewish Journal.

Shmuel is a highly esteemed journalist (NYTimes, Ha’aretz, Ma’ariv and the political editor of the Jewish Journal). For the past five years he has interviewed rabbis of all denominations every week about the weekly Torah portion over Skype for a seven-minute video podcast.

This week we begin reading the book of Exodus (the book of Shemot in Hebrew). The word “shemot” in Hebrew does not mean “exodus” – it means “names.” And this Torah portion has a lot to teach about the importance of names.

We cannot be truly engaged in a relationship with someone unless we know his or her name. For some of us, that includes our relationship with God.

The Israeli poet Zelda says that each of us has three names: the name our parents give us, the name others call us, and the name we make for ourselves.

Zelda

Everyone Has a Name

Everyone has a name
given to him by God
and given to him by his parents

Everyone has a name
given to him by his stature
and the way he smiles
and given to him by his clothing

Everyone has a name
given to him by the mountains
and given to him by his walls

Everyone has a name
given to him by the stars
and given to him by his neighbors

Everyone has a name
given to him by his sins
and given to him by his longing

Everyone has a name
given to him by his enemies
and given to him by his love

Everyone has a name
given to him by his feasts
and given to him by his work

Everyone has a name
given to him by the seasons
and given to him by his blindness

Everyone has a name
given to him by the sea and
given to him
by his death.

(Translated from Hebrew by Marcia Falk, quoted from “Generations of the Holocaust” by Bergmann and Jugovy)

זלדה

 

לכל איש יש שם

 

לכל איש יש שם
שנתן לו אלוהים
ונתנו לו אביו ואמו

לכל איש יש שם
שנתנו לו קומתו ואופן חיוכו
ונתן לו האריג

לכל איש יש שם
שנתנו לו ההרים
ונתנו לו כתליו

לכל איש יש שם
שנתנו לו המזלות
ונתנו לו שכניו

לכל איש יש שם
שנתנו לו חטאיו
ונתנה לו כמיהתו

לכל איש יש שם
שנתנו לו שונאיו
ונתנה לו אהבתו

לכל איש יש שם
שנתנו לו חגיו
ונתנה לו מלאכתו

לכל איש יש שם
שנתנו לו עונות השנה
ונתן לו עיוורונו

לכל איש יש שם
שנתן לו הים
ונתן לו
מותו.

But what do we call God? How do we come to know God? Let’s explore the Torah portion for this week in more depth to learn more.

Click the link below to view my podcast for Parshat Shemot on Rosners Domain. Shabbat Shalom!

http://jewishjournal.com/rosnersdomain/rosner-video/229386/torah-talk-parashat-shemot-rabbi-sharon-sobel/

Framingham 2018 Inaugural Mayoral, Town Council and School Committee Inauguration

On January 1st, 2018 the “Town of Framingham” officially became the City of Framingham and Inaugurated its first Mayor, Dr. Yvonne Spicer. I was honored to deliver the dedication blessing and be present with special guests, Senator Elizabeth Warren and Representative Katherine Clark.

“This is Framingham’s Day” – A City is Born, History is Made

Mayor Yvonne Spicer makes history as Framingham’s first mayor on January 1, 2018, the day Framingham officially becomes an incorporated city.

Dr. Yvonne Spicer refers to herself as “the people’s mayor.” She came to Framingham years ago to work in the public schools as a teacher. Her students, many of whom are grown with families of their own, have been so influenced by her teaching, lessons and values that she remains a continual presence in their lives.

Dr. Spicer, a woman of deep spirituality and substance, loves the town of Framingham and its residents deeply. And as the town of Framingham grew to become Massachusetts’ most populated town, it incorporated officially into an official city yesterday, New Year’s Day, 2018. During this process, Dr. Spicer realized she could make a difference for our community by playing a significant leadership role. (Framingham was first incorporated as a town in 1700, but was not a city until yesterday).

Framingham’s population is racially, ethnically and economically diverse. The issues of a small town become exponentially greater as the town grew into a city.

These challenges also become our greatest strengths: our diversity means we are like one “heart with many rooms.” We are not only able to be broad in our outlook, but expansive and deep, because of the plurality of voices that make up our community.

Dr. Spicer, as an African-American and as a woman, an educator with excellent credentials, is the perfect person to lead Framingham at this time as the first Mayor of this new city. We are standing on the cusp of a new era, an exciting time indeed!

Mayor Yvonne Spicer and Rabbi Sharon Sobel

And my synagogue, Temple Beth Am, is a part of this “history in the making:” one of our congregants, Adam Freudberg, is on the new School Committee who will be working very closely with Mayor Spicer to shape Framingham into a city of the future, a city with schools of excellent standards for all our students.

Mayor Yvonne Spicer, Rabbi Sharon Sobel, School Committee Member Adam Freudberg

Our Jewish tradition teaches us that participation in communal affairs is not an option, but a religious obligation. Mayor Spicer takes this obligation very seriously. Each of us, as well, is responsible to partner with our elected officials to do our part to enable our city to reach its highest potential, to create a bright future for ourselves and our children.

I was honored yesterday to participate in the Inauguration Ceremony for Mayor Yvonne Spicer, the City Council and School Committee and to offer the Dedication Blessing immediately after the mayor and elected officials took their oaths of office.

Rabbi Sharon Sobel offers Dedication Blessing

It was an honor to share the stage not only with Mayor Spicer and our elected officials, but also with Senator Elizabeth Warren and Representative Katherine Clark, (as well as other dignitaries) who helped swear Mayor Spicer into office and offered special remarks. It was a thrilling and historic moment indeed!

Senator Elizabeth Warren and Representative Katherine Clark participate as Mayor Spicer is sworn into office

I share my blessing here:

Dedication Blessing for Inauguration of Framingham Mayor Dr. Yvonne Spice

Framingham City Council

Framingham School Committee

(Special Guests: US Senator Elizabeth Warren, US Representative Elizabeth Clark)

The book of Genesis reminds us that God created everyone B’tzelem Elohim – In the Image of God. Thus we are obligated to treat everyone as if we each have the spark of the divine within: to treat everyone with dignity and respect, regardless of ethnicity, religious background, sexual orientation or political belief.

We join together this afternoon as a city that is as diverse as it is broad: people of all faith traditions, or from no faith tradition, people from every ethnic background, sexual orientation, family configuration. As we celebrate the potential that exists on this threshold of a new era for our city, we acknowledge that each of us hears God’s voice in many ways. It is our task as communal leaders to listen to this multiplicity of voices, to keep open hearts, minds and spirits so that we may hear the many truths that are spoken. It is our difficult, yet sacred task, to find communal consensus in a manner that maintains the dignity and respect of every individual in our community.

I now ask Mayor Spicer, the City Council and School Committee – and your families, who will be supporting you in your endeavors – to please rise as we dedicate your commitment to your new positions:

We ask God and the God of all people to guide us as we accept our roles as Mayor, City Council and School Committee of Framingham: We dedicate ourselves to the following:

  • To work in partnership with each other and our good citizens to strengthen, energize and enable our city of Framingham to reach its highest potential.
  • We dedicate ourselves to continue to reflect the history and culture of Framingham while we strive to build a city that is a model of a bold, envisioned future;
  • We dedicate ourselves to manifest respect and concern for everyone in our community;
  • To strive for excellence in all of our endeavors;
  • We dedicate ourselves to care for and empower the poor, uplift the downtrodden and seek new ways to build hope for those less fortunate;
  • To work to make a difference in the local, national and world communities.
  • We dedicate ourselves to keep open minds and open hearts as we work to solve problems and listen to input from all people, especially those most different from ourselves.
  • We dedicate ourselves to lead our city with righteousness, justice, fairness and with a sense of humility, courage, strength and vision.

O God of All, help us to be aware of our capabilities and our limitations. Strengthened by working together, let us value the contributions of each other and those in our city.

And all those who are present in this room, the good people of Framingham, we dedicate ourselves to be your partners in this endeavor with open spirits, open hearts and open minds, and good will. We wish all of you, Mayor Spicer and all of our elected officials success, good health and blessings on our shared journey.

Let us go forth, empowered by God, by each other and by our community to begin the sacred work that we are now about to embark.

Amen