Do Not Remain Indifferent – Syrian Refugee Crisis

It is up to us to act, to mobilize, to raise our arm and be that beacon of light “lifting our lamp beside the golden door” helping people find refuge, safety, security and a place to call ‘home.’

The Statue of Liberty is a “quintessential” New York landmark, anchored in the Harbor in lower Manhattan, just south of Battery Park.

We take this special iconic site for granted. We see it all the time. We have a tendency to forget what Lady Liberty is supposed to represent.

How often do we think of the poem inscribed on its base, by Jewish poet, Emma Lazarus, in which the Statue of Liberty is depicted as the “Mother of Exiles?

Give me your tired, your poor,
Your huddled masses yearning to breathe free,
The wretched refuse of your teeming shore.
Send these, the homeless, tempest-tossed to me,
I lift my lamp beside the golden door!

The huddled masses “yearning to breathe free” are crying out to us now: from Syria, Eritrea and so many other places throughout the world: 60 million people world-wide are displaced for one reason or another. We are in the midst of one of the worst refugee/humanitarian crises of our time since the Holocaust.

It is up to us to act, to mobilize, to raise our arm and be that beacon of light “lifting our lamp beside the golden door” helping people find refuge, safety, security and a place to call ‘home.’

Our hearts ache. Our joy these Holy Days is incomplete. As long as people are suffering, our world cannot be filled with shalom (peace) or shleimut (wholeness). 

The time for action is now. There is much to do. Together, you and I can change the world.

"Hear the Call, Be the Call" - Action Steps
“Hear the Call, Be the Call” – Action Steps

Click here for my Rosh Hashanah morning sermon with more details: “Do Not Remain Indifferent – the Syrian Refugee Crisis”


See the flyer for a few suggested action steps.

Dying with Dignity, Strength, Gratitude and Love: A Lesson for Us All

My friend and congregant Lisa is passionate about hearts.

She finds them in the clouds, she sees hearts in the pattern in the cracks on the sidewalk, she has the uncanny ability to find the one beautiful autumn leaf that is formed into the most perfectly shaped heart.

Lisa radiates love and light. The heart as a symbol of love, life and hope perfectly represents Lisa’s upbeat and positive approach to daily living.

“Find Your Heart” – Artwork and Book by Pedie Wolfond

And as a way to help others understand her approach, Lisa has started to collect hearts, post inspirational sayings on Facebook expressing her philosophy and sharing her writings.

Perhaps the most important and precious heart Lisa has ever found, she discovered over 25 years ago. Lisa connected with the one true heart that would ever root itself within her own heart and make its permanent home there: she met her soon-be-husband Doug while she was teaching at a small private pre-school in Commack.

Immediately, Lisa and Doug each knew that their relationship was special and that their two hearts were meant to be together. Thus began a 25+ year love affair which many of us can only hope to achieve: they share the same values and core beliefs, they have raised two beautiful and wonderful boys and share the same parenting goals. They encourage each other to grow and learn as individuals, enriching their marriage and their family in the process. They celebrate each other’s achievements and support each other every step of the way.

Truly, Doug, Lisa, and their sons, Evan and Jordan – have hearts that “beat in sync” and even in harmony.

So a few months ago, when Doug was diagnosed with metastatic colon cancer the family was initially devastated. However, their strong family bonds, Lisa’s deep spirituality and positive attitude, enabled the family to be together in powerful and meaningful ways. The nurturing heart embraced them all.

Lisa also believes it’s important for the greater community to be part of the healing process. We’re told in our Jewish tradition, that when you visit the sick, “you take away 1/60th of their pain.” We know from studies, that there is great power in reciting prayers for healing for those who are ill – even if they are not aware they are being recited. So Lisa reached out to every resource available: the Jewish community, her own friends and family.

Every day, she would post positive messages and quotes on Facebook, she would surround Doug with symbols of healing and other positive images. The family was able to share wonderful bonding experiences together over the summer.

At the same time, Evan and Jordan were still able to experience the summer as teenagers, having fun with their friends and girlfriends. Doug started chemotherapy treatment not too long ago and things seemed to be moving forward toward a better future.

At the end of last week, Doug took a turn for the worse. And then two nights ago, everything came crashing down. They were told that the cancer had further metastasized and basically, there was nothing more that could be done. Doug’s situation is very serious.

Doug did not want to be poked and prodded. He wants his remaining time to be comfortable. The family made the decision for Doug to enter hospice care two nights ago.

When I went to visit yesterday, I wasn’t sure what I would find. The family had been so full of hope for Doug’s recovery. Doug, Lisa and the boys are young. The future still has so much in store for all of them. Were they ready to accept that Doug was now on a new journey, one where his physical body would die sometime in the near future?

My visit yesterday with Lisa, with Doug and the boys was extremely powerful and moving.

How do you prepare those around you for the fact that you are now on the final journey of your life and that death is imminent?

How do you prepare yourself for this final journey when you know you will be leaving this earthly world?

How does one prepare to say “goodbye” to our loved one who is making this final journey?

She and I sat talking outside in the healing garden while Doug slept.

Waterfall in the healing garden at Good Shepherd Hospice
Waterfall in the healing garden at Good Shepherd Hospice

I was in awe of Lisa’s tremendous strength at this most difficult and painful time.

Doug’s heart is so deeply embedded within Lisa, and she and Doug have spent so much time speaking about what is taking place now, that Lisa has been preparing herself for this moment. She knows this will not be an easy time. She knows that she cannot possibly know what she will feel when “the time comes.” However, she knows that she will always feel Doug’s beautiful heart with her always. 

I was able to spend time alone with Doug. Obviously, this is not where Doug hoped his illness would lead, but he also knows that he cannot change things. Doug’s heart is so open and full, full of love and gratitude: he expressed love and gratitude for all the blessings he had in his life: his beautiful family, gratitude for his wonderful supportive congregation and me, for his co-workers, for everything in his life. We spoke of ways to make this part of the journey meaningful for him and his family, to say “goodbye” and “I love you”. We spoke of what it might mean when he’s physically gone, but we hope his beautiful heart and spirit will still be felt by those close to him. We spoke of these things and so much more.

His attitude, his dignity, his approach, his tremendous sense of love, gratitude and acceptance brought me to tears. I felt as if he was the one leading the way for all of us. He was showing us that everything was going to be ok. He would be the one in the driver’s seat, and then he would hand the steering wheel to someone else at the designated time, when it was time for him to “go off into the sunset.”

As Lisa, Evan, Jordan and Lisa’s mother came into the room, we spoke of these things for a bit longer.

Lisa, Evan, Jordan and Doug held hands – and I took a photo.

The Walters' Family Hands
The Walters’ Family Hands

Lisa has always loved my blogs. I had asked if I could write something about Doug’s and her tremendous strength during this time (without using their names) and her reply was: “Please – use our names.” And Doug gave his permission as well. They both feel if they can help someone else going through something similar, that it is so important and worthwhile to do so.

I asked everyone to hold hands and make a circle of love. I sang two different mi sheberach prayers – prayers of healing. I asked for healing of mind, body and spirit for all of them. I asked for them to find the strength for this journey with the love, support and nurturing embrace of each other.

El na r’fa na la – God please heal her now,
R’fu-at ha-nefesh, r’fu-at ha-guf, r-fu-ah shleimah – healing of the soul, healing of the body, complete healing.
Heal us now.

Doug and Lisa, Evan and Jordan – we wish you comfort and strength on this journey. Know that we are here for you however you need us, whenever you need us. Doug, you are going to a place where we cannot accompany you. We wish you peace and smooth sailing. We will take care of your family. Your heart will live within all of us, beating strong and loud, lighting the way toward the future. Inspiring us to live as you would want us to live.

L’chi lach – to a place that I will show you.
Lech l’cha – to a place you do not know.
L’chi lach – to a place that I will show you,
And you shall be a blessing, And you shall be a blessing, And you shall be a blessing,
L’chi lach.
(Debbie Friedman, based on Genesis 12:1-2)