Connection Amidst the Plagues
This week, as we stand in shock at the anti-Semitic vandalism attack in Montreal, as we brace ourselves for the increased loneliness of the lockdown, we turn in our Torah to the Plagues. In that story, we seek lessons to help us survive today’s plagues.
We are all familiar with the list of ten chastisements which God visited upon Egypt. And how after each, God hardened Pharaoh’s heart until things were unbearable for the Egyptians, and life was made harder for our people as well.
This week’s story contains the first seven plagues, saving the truly horrible for next week. This week includes blood, frogs, hail, lice and more – all of which made life less convenient for the Egyptians. And that was all – life was less convenient.
Next week’s plagues, according to Rabbi Mosheh Lichtenstein, mark a transition from the unbearable to the truly destructive. From plagues that harry and annoy to those which demoralize and destroy.
The locusts destroy the economy and make sure that there is a coming shortage of food. The darkness is not just a normal darkness, but a darkness so thick that people are in isolation and cannot see their neighbours. According to the retelling of the plagues in Psalm 78, darkness was the capstone – this isolation was punishment enough. But with the isolation, as we know, comes death.
This is bearing out in the world around us today as well and in our congregation. For many of us the isolation at the beginning merely inconvenient – and now it is taking a harsher turn to be dangerous.
What can we do?
The darkness of Egypt prevented all communication. Our darkness is not so thick – and we can connect online or by phone.
I urge you to think of people you haven’t seen in a while and to reach out. Our clergy recently began a calling campaign for all of our members in long-term care facilities, and each conversation is priceless.
If you yourself are looking for a connection, come and join us as our community meets daily for services and schmoozing. There are also ways of volunteering to be a caller, such as this program that allows you to make a weekly commitment and matches you with someone with similar interests.
And if you feel like you need more help than our community can provide, please ask for that help.
In the midst of this plague, even with a vaccine in sight, we remember that in the Exodus from Egpyt, after each bit of progress, life was made increasingly hard, until eventually – we were free. May the time of freedom come soon.
We the People
“We the People of the United States, in order to form a more perfect Union, establish Justice, insure domestic Tranquility, provide for the common defence, promote the general Welfare, and secure the Blessings of Liberty to ourselves and our Posterity, do ordain and establish this Constitution for the United States of America.”
This past Wednesday night, I couldn’t sleep, as blood was spilled over the sacred halls where I, as an American, have made pilgrimage. As Insurgent loyalists, encouraged by their sovereign, tried to disrupt the peaceful transition of power in the heart of modern democracy. As police reacted differently to this protest than to peaceful protests of black and brown Americans. As police fell back again and again before the crowd mixed with white supremacist, Antisemitic, and neo-fascist messaging, playing at patriotism until they caused chaos and symbolically threatened democracy.
In the proceedings which followed, some lawmakers threw in their lot with the insurrectionists, seeking to disenfranchise voters and claim the Republic for themselves. Other lawmakers, who had previously flirted with sedition, seemed frightened enough to withdraw their entreat with treason. They looked into themselves and remembered the Constitution.
That document, written on yellowed paper and signed as a negotiated wish for prosperous posterity, enshrined many of the values which became models of good government around the world. It is not perfect (see the 3/5th Compromise). But it points to something higher, and ideal bigger than any of our ambitions – that all humanity are B’tzelem Elohim– created equal.
While not all American ideals are Canadian ideals, and not all Canadian ideals are Jewish ideals, we can all align over the idea that individuals over the age of majority have a duty – a sacred obligation – to participate in the life of our communities. Any who stand in the way of the performance of this duty are committing a reprehensible act – one that is seen as against the foundational principles enshrined in our sacred documents.
I pray that as the blood is bleached, the statues of state repaired, the image of liberty and justice slowly refocused – that mournful memory does not soon fade. The shock and the terror, the images of flags and shirts meant to cause pain being paraded – the broken glass and feet on desks. That these rekindle within us the lamp which seeks to spread light into the darkness. That we can seek out the silenced voices and ask them to speak louder. That ideals enshrined in sacred documents need us to come to life.
The Value of Interfaith Relationships
I received two emails this week that made me angry, and I wish I had never received them. They both were by Muslim faith leaders, decrying the murderous violence we have seen in Europe this week.
The notes were strongly worded, thoughtful and predictable, saying that true religion – true Islam – condones no violence. Crying out against attacks at and near places of worship. And asking the European governments to be careful in their own responses.
So why was I angry?
There is so much more going on in the world right now – and these faith leaders felt compelled to speak out, for fear that if they did not speak out others would ask ‘Where were the moderate Muslims?’ thought no one turns and asks ‘Where were the moderate Christians?’, after attacks by Christians.
That our local Imams, incredible men of faith and kindness, felt they needed to speak up, is a statement of our society – looking to apply a different standard to minority groups than it does majority groups.
Of course, our fellow faith leaders denounce violence. Of course, our fellow Canadians are outraged at what they see being done in the name of religion.
If you want to meet these leaders and others, come and talk at our interfaith meeting, November 11 at 7:30 pm. https://holyblossom.org/event/interfaith-committee-initial-meeting/
Update on the World Zionist Congress
Theodore Herzl’s Congress is meeting right now – and there is much at stake. All of the monies donated to the JNF and KKL through the familiar blue tzedakah boxes have been collecting interest, and now the Jewish National Fund controls a property portfolio that funds the activities of the Jewish National Institutions.
Last year, a campaign of hate against the leadership of the North American Reform Movement brought the right-wing coalition into the majority in Congress. Even members of our community- unable to vote in the US WZO election- forwarded me emails based on this campaign, asking me to defend the morals of our Rabbis and leaders.
The campaign worked – when they went low and started spreading propaganda, they got more votes. Now – gathering with the Haredi parties, instead of continuing the system of a representative government of these agencies (dividing their leadership and dividends based on a percentage of votes) – the Likud – Haredi partnership is using their narrow majority to claim every leadership position, and re-define the purpose of the budgets to be used in West Bank Settlement expansion, dismantling funding towards progressive Judaism, and funding ultra-orthodox educational institutions.
By the time you read this, the issue will be decided. The traditionally ‘neutral’ organizations that could swing the vote – Hadassah, B’nei Brith, WIZO, Na’amat, and others will have made their decision to remain complicit and neutral or step off of the fence.
We have many HBT members and friends involved in Congress and many more whose jobs are affected by the outcome.
Stay alert for updates and news as this story develops. (https://www.jpost.com/israel-news/politics-and-diplomacy/non-orthodox-movements-lobby-zionist-orgs-to-stop-wzo-coalition-agreement-646141)
And get involved. Be in touch with our Israel Committee, led by Rabbi Goodman ([email protected]) who can connect you with ARZA Canada and the Canadian Friends of the WUPJ, which will try to fill the potential gaps left by these shifts in our Jewish National Institutions. I’m sure this will be discussed on our Virtual Israel Trip https://holyblossom.org/event/41688/2020-10-29/ and in other HBT Israel forums.
‘Come out’ to be seen this Saturday night?
As the High Holy Day season draws to a close with Shemini Atzeret on Friday night and Saturday (including Yizkor as part of the 10:00 am service), we will have an opportunity to gather and be seen, switching from serious reflection to serious fun.
Come out (metaphorically) at 7:00 pm on Saturday night to see your friends, re-connect with your community, and rejoice with the Torah. Register here for the Zoom link.
I’ll tell you – I need the fun and frivolity – the feeling of community and teamwork. Shemini Atzeret is seen as the final ingathering of the community when we’re not ready to say goodbye to this season. Gathering is so important – being seen and seeing one another. It may seem like just fun – but reaching out to form community is the root of these Holy Days – and so let’s come out, see each other – and linger just a bit more in this season.
Put up your favourite Holy Blossom Temple background, and Holy Moses, will we celebrate the Torah, the community which comes together, again and again, to bring its highest teachings to life.
Are you Jewish?
In one of the must-watch sermons (seriously – stop reading this until you have finished this video: https://youtu.be/FNhG8aW6gbI), Rabbi Angela Buchdahl of Central Synagogue in New York City tells a personal story about race, implicit racism, and the Jewish community. (The text was picked up by the Forward for those without enough time to watch the full sermon video.)
What you will hear in her sermon echoes the urgency reflected in our own Rosh Hashanah study session, moderated by Rabbi Splansky and Rev. Dr. Anthony Bailey, introduced by Tema Smith with a thank-you and update on our Anti-Racism Groups activities by Ruby Knafo. It paints a portrait of an unneeded struggle where our Jewish communities often reflect the biases adopted from others.
Last night, our Anti-Racism Reading and Discussion group met in a confidential and supportive group, and began a conversation about the structures of society around us that support racism, in a journey through The Skin We’re In by Desmond Cole. Please consider joining our next Anti-Racism Reading and Discussion group, which will discuss the whole book on October 27th, and joining for our Women’s Advocacy Group’s learning on “Unconscious Bias,” on Nov 4, at 8:00 pm via Zoom webinar and on our Facebook page. The registration is coming soon.
In last night’s US Presidential Debate, implicit bias trainings were painted as destructive to the current social order. I am so thankful that they are and ask that you please mark the November 4th dates in your calendar. On this Orange Shirt Day, we know we have a lot of work to do – and we will support each other every slow step of the way.