D’var Torah: B’shallach 5779 / 2019

Offered at Temple B’nai Brith – Kingston, PA, USA

Shabbat shalom! Thanks for welcoming me to your congregation on this erev Shabbat. And for giving me the chance to share a few thoughts on this week’s Torah portion, B’shallakh, from the book of Exodus. We are right in the middle of what might be the biggest drama of the entire Torah narrative. The 10 plagues have devastated ancient Egypt, and finally Pharaoh has released the Hebrews. Our parashah starts with one of the most famous sacred stories in the world – the splitting of the Sea of Reeds, and the march across the exposed sea floor by the Hebrew slaves, along with other escapees and refugees from the iron furnace of Pharaoh’s tyranny.

In this week’s parashah, the Hebrews have made it to the shores of the sea, but they are pinned down, trapped between the waters and Pharaoh’s army. You know what happens. God splits the sea. Pharaoh orders his charioteers to pursue. They give chase, but God causes the wheels of their chariots to get stuck in the mud, and then, once the Hebrews have arrived on the other shore of the sea, God releases the waters of the Sea of Reeds and many of Pharaoh’s finest warriors are drowned. When the Hebrews realize that they have been rescued for good, one of their prophets, Miriam, the sister of Moses, leads the women in song and dance to celebrate.

Image result for betsy teutsch cymbal
A tambourine (or, if you like, a timbrel) celebrating the Song at the Sea by artist Betsy Platkin Teutsch. Click on the image to learn more about her work.

This story has had a huge impact on Jewish thought and Jewish values. And it has influenced many other religious traditions too, as well as the world of Western art and culture. And perhaps most importantly, without this story, we would never have gotten to see Yul Brynner look straight into the camera lens and, in realizing his defeat, say: “The Hebrews god . . . is God.” Or something close to that.

Tonight I’d like to focus on the ways that water, blood, and childbirth imagery animate so much of the Exodus drama, finally culminating in the spectacular rescue at the Sea of Reeds. I’ll start with childbirth.

Continue reading “D’var Torah: B’shallach 5779 / 2019”

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“Let’s Go, My People!”–Remarks at the 2019 Women+s March Olympia

Great words from my friend & colleague, Rabbi Seth Goldstein

Rabbi360

I was honored to be invited to deliver remarks as part of the opening program at the Women’s March in Olympia on January 19. Here is what I shared:

Shabbat shalom!

“A Sabbath of peace” is what we say today, but today is going to be a Sabbath of causing ruckus.

Thank you, it is an honor to be here with you today on this sacred occasion, a sacred day on our calendar but also a day made sacred and special by this gathering here today. I am humbled to be up here with these powerful voices of truth we have just heard and will hear.

In the Jewish liturgical tradition, we read the entirety of our sacred Scripture, the Torah, the first five books of the bible over the course of a year. Beginning in the fall, each week on the Sabbath we read a section, beginning with Genesis…

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Visualizing Trump’s 2nd Term

This is the sinking feeling I get when I check my favorite news and politics websites. Talking Points Memo. Daily Kos. My WaPo subscription. Even my favorite folks on Twitter.

So many stories pointing to growing trouble for 45. Mueller’s comin’. People are flippin’. Documents are being filed, with intensifying and worrying accusations for the Donald’s friends and fans.

And yet, there’s one data point that hasn’t budged. That won’t budge. Presidential Job Approval rating over 40 – possibly as high as 44. With a job approval rating in the 40s – anywhere in the 40s – it will take a great Democratic candidate to win. Because all Trump needs to win is a second-tier Democrat to be the nominee. All he needs is 48% of the vote, maybe 49%, and the right combo of states.

All he needs is good economic numbers and a divided center-left coalition (enter Bernie and his followers) to get to that tipping point in our arcane, illogical, electoral system. Enough to tip Wisconsin, Michigan, Iowa, Ohio, and Pennsylvania into his column. Florida? They just went extra-Red in these midterms, so don’t count on a blue wave there. DT can lose by even bigger margins in California, in Illinois, in New York state – he can lose the popular vote by even more the second time around and still win.

He has a floor somewhere in the low 40s. He only needs to get to 48. Unless the Dems find someone with Obama-like skills, they’ll go into the thing in the mid 40s. It’ll come down to how the 5 or 8 percent in the middle break. But the Dem will need to get them to put him/her/them up over 50, maybe well over 50. Trump may only need to get to 48 and run the table electorally in the same upper midwestern states plus PA.

I read a story that featured interviews with GOP bigwigs speaking on condition of anonymity so they could be completely candid. On the one hand, they said that they’re all bracing for the possibility that the stuff that’s gonna come out of Mueller’s reports or some of the other court filings is going to destroy 45 and it’s gonna be a Hindenburg level disaster. On the other hand, they’re also prepping for the possibility that the most serious legal problems that these investigations end up attaching to Trump himself are some violations of campaign finance laws before he even took office. These GOP insiders said that if that’s what happens, they think DT is so effective at bending media narratives to his will, and at ginning up his base, that they actually think he’d be the odds-on favorite to win re-election. And they’re simultaneously preparing for that possibility too.

Image result for election 2020

The uncertainty drives me nuts.

So what do I do with my little self? With the energy, time, money, words, actions that I can do something with.

I feel like I need to make a list that’s based on preparing for both of these possible political outcomes. I’ll think about it and possibly return with said list.

 

Awaken

This prayer from my dear friend, Rabbi Katie Mizrahi, stirred people deeply at the recent Reconstructionist Jewish convention in Philly.

rabbikatiemizrahi

Image result for jacob dreamJacob awoke from his sleep and said, “Surely YHVH is in this place and i, I did not know it. And he was amazed and said, Mah Norah Hamakom Hazeh, “How awesome is this Place! This is none other than the House of God, and the very gateway to heaven.”

Genesis 28:16-17

God was in this place but i, I didn’t know it.  Love.  Yes. Blessing. There unseen all along.

But also, darker things.  Dangerous things.

Hatred and Antisemitism were in this place and i, I didn’t (really) know it.

Mass media spewing lies into dark digital corners and until 2016 I wasn’t paying attention.

Downward-spiraling white people struggling and seething, and i, I haven’t cared enough.

Slavery’s legacy ripping through a broken criminal justice system this place.  And i, I’ve been white enough not to have to worry too urgently.

Immigrant children imprisoned (not just now but for…

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Starbucks #WaronHanukkah

and of course, with Hanukkah upon us, it’s time to bring this old blogpost out again too…

The Accidental Rabbi

We thought the red cups were bad enough in Starbucks’ ongoing War on Christmas. Then the hideous polar bear cookie controversy erupted.

polar

As you all know, these hideous cookies, deliberately designed by Starbucks’ holiday season hating masterminds, depict a sweet winter-themed polar bear having had its throat slit by evil terrorists. Though Starbucks denies it, we know that their intention was for tens of thousands of unsuspecting customers to buy these cookies for their kids for Christmas, and then for their kids to freak out upon seeing what their parents were probably too busy to see: that these polar bears have been murdered and are still bleeding out.

Now Starbucks has opened a new front in this culture war – a War on Hanukkah. These seemingly innocent and religiously pluralistic gingerbread cookies were spotted in Starbucks shops across North America last week, during Hanukkah.

ginger death

That’s right. Starbucks now is taking the…

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What Must Be Admitted about the War on Christmas

It’s time to bring this post out again…

The Accidental Rabbi

You may have noticed recent news stories describing the latest salvo in our nation’s ongoing War on Christmas – Starbucks Corp has been enlisted to de-Santa-fy its Christmas themed red/green holiday season beverage containers, and has launched a shock and awe campaign designed to place nothing but plain red cups with green trim into the hands of tens of millions of customers. As the War on Christmas enters its second decade, I fear this latest attempt to turn the tide in this ill-conceived war is doomed to fail before it even begins.

Facebook is buzzing with memes claiming that the West is finally starting to win the War on Christmas, but we're not fooled. How many more lives will be lost in this campaign, launched hastily by the Bush Administration and continuing on in various guises through the current Administration? Facebook is buzzing with memes claiming that the West is finally starting to win the War on Christmas, but we’re not fooled. How many more lives will be lost in this campaign, launched hastily by the Bush Administration and continuing on in various guises through the current Administration?

What concerns me most is that we should have won…

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