Jewish Values in the Political Arena

This has been a very tough June. Scary to see our rights crumbling and our children taken. But as we approach the excitement of the Pride weekend and the peace of Shabbat several rabbis have shared thoughtful messages that I want to share with all of you.

Rabbi Albert

From Rabbi Gershon Albert of Beth Jacob Congregation in Oakland.

This week, the Orthodox Union joined other Jewish organizations in going on record to stand for Jewish values, and condemning the family separation policy that has been taking place on our borders. Beth Jacob has added its name to this list. Regardless of one’s political opinions, standing up for basic human dignity and keeping families together is a Torah obligation. Yasher Koach to all those who made their voices heard, including those in our community.

Rabbi Albert referred readers to this link to read the letter sent to Attorney General Jeff Sessions.


Rabbi Copeland

From Rabbi Mychal Copeland of Sha’ar Zahav in San Francisco.

As we gear up for Pride weekend, our building is bursting with rainbows, and the final arrangements are being made for tonight’s annual Pride Shabbat festivities and Sunday’sparade. I have been waiting for this weekend all year long, feeling the need to celebrate who we are in all of our glory. But it is impossible to enter this holiday season in our city without acknowledging the pain and outrage we feel as we witness the separation of children and parents at our borders. For many, the scene conjures up horrific times in our own people’s history when we and other refugees were turned away. Please click here for a list of the many opportunities we have to show these families, and the world that is watching, that we are not only horrified but we will turn our anger into action. It is our mandate to not turn away.
Pride Shabbat in our community is lifted up as a full Jewish holiday, with special prayers and the energy of our greatest celebrations. I hope you’ll join one or more of these celebrations but also the Bay Area wide protests this weekend and next.
We will gain strength as we come together in community.


Maggid Jhos Singer

From Maggid Jhos Singer of Chochmat Halev in Berkeley.

It has been a devastating week for our country. I would have loved to write an upbeat riff on Pride. But the unfolding horror of governmental “tender age” detention centers for immigrant children requires a response. I will try my best to keep it in line with the high spiritual bar set by the concept of Shabbat—that we luxuriate in 25 hours of living as if the world were already perfected, at peace, and just. But honestly, this week has revealed a layer of undeniable ugliness in our leadership, and by extension, us.

Fortunately, we are not the first generation who has dealt with this phenomenon, and this week’s Torah portion, Chukat (Numbers 19:1-22:1) is a case in point. It exposes the dangers of giving in to our anger when faced with a challenging situation. Chapter 20 focuses on the famous, iconic, and piteous account of Moses blowing his ticket to the Promised Land by succumbing, yet again, to his rage. At least that is the traditional rendering.

Here’s the scene: The Israelites are in the Wilderness of Zin when their dowser in residence, Miriam, has just died. They bury her and all of a sudden they find themselves without water. (Hmmm…coincidence?) They get upset, challenge Moses and Aaron’s leadership – again — and Moses and Aaron fall on their faces, again.

God reaches out to Moses saying: “Take the rod, and assemble the congregation, you and your brother Aaron, and speak to the rock before their eyes, and it will give forth water; and you will bring water for them out of the rock; this is how you will give the people and their cattle water to drink.” (Numbers 20:8)

Moses takes up the stick and addresses the crowd:
“ ‘…Hear now, you rebels: are we to bring forth water out of this rock for you?’ And Moses lifted his hand, and smote the rock with his stick, twice; and water came forth abundantly and the congregation and their cattle drank. And The Powers That Be said to Moses and Aaron, ‘Because you did not sanctify Me with your faithfulness in the eyes of the Israelites, so, you will not bring this assembly into the land which I have given them.’ ” (Numbers 20:10-12)

Moses has spent decades in leadership at this point. He is probably tired and in pain, burned out and resentful. At the end of his rope with this people and their constant kvetching, he snaps. Maybe he is terrified of the final leg of the journey—the years of conflict and hardship have eroded his faith, if not in God, then at least in the mission. And so he reacts with a public display of pointless violence. And, poof! Every miserable, hot, sandy step rendered futile: he will not cross the border, enter the land, or complete the journey. Nevertheless, he brings forth water, and the people do drink.

Thirst generates a terrible craving. It is incessant, uncomfortable, and potentially lethal. Thirst is a perfect excuse for desperate behavior and yet, for once, the Israelites stay within bounds. Unlike Moses, they use their words, without unleashing chaos or violence.  It is a remarkable moment of spiritual discipline, made that much more impressive coming from a people known for their tantrums.  Sadly, it is Moses who has the outburst. So many other times, he took the high road, he repeatedly talked God off the ceiling, and he steadily kept his eyes on the future. Until this.

I can feel my own rage and frustration as I read reports of powerless parents having their children wrenched from them. Like the ancient Israelites, these are people seeking asylum from oppression and violence, who thirst for safety, who have made a dangerous journey so that they and their children might live a life of dignity. To be met with shallow, state-sanctioned and state-funded savagery, callousness, and cruelty is reprehensible, infuriating, and heartbreaking. And it has to stop and be corrected.

My gut wants to scream, to curse, to riot, to destroy. My gut wants to smack the rock until the rod splinters and the stone shatters. Thank God for the the looming specter of Moses, head in his hands, stuck on the wrong side of the border after 40 years of schlepping, because he lost it in the clutch. It is a timely and cautionary tale.

So, deep breath. Let us welcome this Shabbat with its gift of prayer and meditation; let us focus our energy into a profound message of compassion, courage, and kindness. May we channel our anger into hope, our frustration into action, and our deepest held beliefs into reality. Speedily and soon.