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Inclusion is a Jewish Value

This morning I studied Mishnah Rosh Hashanah at my favorite local cafe– 2Alices Coffee shop.  I met friends from our community and around the county to discuss Torah and think about the upcoming holidays.  Of course, every Tuesday when we meet our conversation expands beyond the texts, but sometimes I am struck by the depth of these primary sources.

The first chapter of Mishnah Rosh Hashanah begins with a discussion of the various New Years on the Jewish calendars, but then digresses into the procedures for recognizing and announcing the new month.  While less relevant today with a fixed calendar, the principles are fascinating.  Since an accurate calendar determined whether fast days and feast days were at the appropriate time, one could even violate Shabbat to get to Jerusalem and inform the Court that the new moon had been spotted.  The last (ninth) mishnah of the chapter opens with a powerful point about equality:

מִי שֶׁרָאָה אֶת הַחֹדֶשׁ וְאֵינוֹ יָכוֹל לְהַלֵּךְ, מוֹלִיכִין אוֹתוֹ עַל הַחֲמוֹר, אֲפִלּוּ בְמִטָּה.

One who has seen the new moon [on Shabbat], but is unable to walk [to the court to give evidence], must be brought mounted on an ass or even [carried by others] in a bed.

(Text from Sefaria.org)

 

The permission to travel on Shabbat, to be a witness, is not limited to the able-bodied.  ANYONE and EVERYONE who saw the moon MUST go to Jerusalem.  Everyone has a voice.  Any technology they need to assist them–donkey, carrying by others–is permitted and required to be used.  These technologies are not seen as violating Shabbat but assisting the person with the mitzvah.

It does not take a rabbinic genius to see the connection to the modern world.  An electric wheelchair, a hearing aid, other mobility implements are all clearly permitted on Shabbat.  A sacred priniciple in our tradition is kvod habriot, respect for others.The particulars of each of those cases are even discussed in Orthodox halachic literature.

For example: http://www.zomet.org.il/eng/?CategoryID=198&ArticleID=409 regarding electric wheelchairs and http://www.daat.ac.il/daat/english/journal/sandler-1.htm regarding hearing aids.

One organization that has worked very hard for inclusion for people with disabilities is the Ruderman Foundation: http://rudermanfoundation.org/programs/disability-inclusion/  Partnering with United Synagogue, they have helped many communities evaluate their physical structures and community attitudes to be more inclusive: http://www.uscj.org/LeadingKehilla/Accessibility/InclusionInitiative/defaulhttps://photos.google.com/photo/AF1QipMlY51hHGuantWrQHvBzIbxGQYetJGDTHl8oQVSt.aspx

At the end of the day, I return to the beginning–what can we do to ensure that every person who enters our doors has access to our community and is truly welcomed?  We know we have work to do.  I look forward to continuing the process of inclusion with you.

The true meaning of Shabbat

We are blessed to be having company for Shabbat dinner this week.  We will be asking our guests questions as part of https://onetable.org/togetheratthetable/

We will find a positive spin on the craziness that has been this week.  Shabbat is a gift to us.  It is an opportunity to be apart rather than a part of the regular news cycle.  It is a time to separate from all that drives us berserk and allow ourselves time to recover.

This week let us find calm.  Let us find peace.  Let us find Shalom.

The root of Shalom is Shalem, שלם meaning wholeness.  When we find true peace, we feel ourselves a little more whole.

Tonight we are having a dinner that blends east and west.  We will have Sesame Chicken, Veggie Lo Mein, challah, brownies.  The recipes are Americanized versions of Asian, Jewish, and wherever brownies came from cuisine.  I think it will be delicious.  When we come together, we can create new opportunities.  Blending these different elments and flavors is not just a hodgepodge, but a statement of identity.  It is a reminder that we all look different.  We all come from different places, but we can find ways to sit down together.  We can talk to one another.  We can love one another.

Shabbat Shalom!

Working and celebrating together

This past Friday night we celebrated Aloha Shabbat together.

With the support of the Jewish Federation of Orange County, the Newburgh JCC organized a beautiful Shabbat dinner. Grilled chicken skewers, salads and more helped bring TBJ and CAI together. Beautiful music from Ross Levy inspired us all.

Rabbi Freedman reminded us what a blessing it is to work together. Too often we live in a society divided. Politics, religion and stubbornness push us apart. We forget our shared values-even among Am Yisrael-among the Jewish people.

Yet here in Newburgh, we find ways to work together. We celebrate our differences and even find time to pray together!

Across our denominational lines, we made beautiful music. We recognized the unity of the Holy One. We sang; we danced; we ate!

Thanks to the blessing of all coming together, finding a moment of unity in a seemingly discordant world. These are the moments that will help us build a peaceful future. When we can come together under one tent, we can find beauty and love.

The world really does change in a moment-and you are a part of it!

Comfort my people

Nachamu, Nachamu Ami…
Listen here for Neshama Carlebach's beautiful rendition of the opening of this week's haftorah:
http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=XFAFOQlBCmw&list=PLPQFCYsbHfHEawXD4VCyKZS8eVyvIz57j

Comfort me, comfort my people opens this week's haftorah. After Tisha B'Av, we remind ourselves that we are counting down to Rosh Hashanah, to the opportunity of redemption, repentance, tshuvah, and the resulting forgiveness. How often do we think about our capability for change?

So often we live in a world that assumes our own immutability. We see the world around us and even ourselves as static. We say you can't teach an old dog new tricks.

And yet, and yet, and yet our tradition says the opposite. Our counter-cultural Jewish tradition reminds us that we ALWAYS have the capability to change. It doesn't matter if we are 4 or 104. We can choose our destiny. We have the free will to create new opportunities for ourselves. We can hit reset-right now.

As you listen to Neshama's beautiful rendition of her father's song, think about what you are going to work on this year. Don't get trapped into thinking your life is what it is today. What small steps will you take? What big steps will they lead to? Are you satisfied with yourself and the world around or can you make new partnerships to improve both?

Shabbat shalom a wee bit early!

Friday night

What does your Friday night look like?

There is an old story about the angels we welcome with Shalom Aleichem. One is friendly, one not so much. If the table is set for Shabbat, the songs are sung and the meal is shared, the bad angel must say Amen to the good angels prayer that next week will be the same.

If nothing is set and Shabbat is ignored, the good angel must say amen to the icky angel's prayer that next week will look the same.

This past Shabbat we had a lovely dinner and services at Congregation Agudas Israel.

In August we will have Luau Shabbat with our friends at the JCC and TBJ. In September, all will be invited to the rabbi's backyard for a festive Shabbat dinner. I pray you can join us!