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From Rabbi David - Erev Election Gathering; D'var Torah; Reflections on Hope and Community

10/30/2020 04:23:11 PM


Dear Friends,

A couple of days ago, the New York Times ran over two pages “The Anxious Person’s Guide to the 2020 Election.”  Whatever any of us is feeling in the moment, and however much we are working to get out the vote or making efforts to vote ourselves, I imagine that each of us has had our difficult moments.  

At different times in my life when I have experienced the kind of anxiety that has affected my mood, disrupted my thoughts and concentration, and cast a constant cloud over the normal pleasures of life, there has been nothing I yearned for more than to close my eyes and make it go away.  And as a rabbi, in this moment, how I wish for that magic text, or words, or program that can do the same for our community and everyone I care about.  Of course, I will take this moment to urge you to seek professional help if you are struggling to a degree that is unmanageable for you

I do believe in the power of our tradition and our community to inspire and heal, and so  I would like to offer a time to gather as well as some brief thoughts that I hope will help us gain some perspective and, most of all, remind us of the wisdom and strength that is within our midst and our reach.

Erev Election Day Gathering Online, Monday, November 2, 7:00.  After dinner (or bring your dinner), if you’re not calling or texting people to vote, join us for an hour long gathering to pray, sing, and reflect on hope.  We will have an opportunity for a brief evening service to say the Sh’ma and Amidah, look at an inspiring text and sing songs that lift up the soul and our collective yearning for justice.

For this week’s video d’var Torah, I was inspired by the pioneering feminist biblical scholar Savina Teubal, as well as by a New York Times article about Joni Mitchell.  In bringing their words to reflect on Lekh L’kha, I hope we gain a sense of the universal human stories that may lie at the heart of both the revealed and concealed stories in this week’s Torah portion.

Click here for an appreciation of the remarkable life and contributions of Savina Teubal, written by Rabbi Sue Levi Elwell.

For a broader appreciation of democracy, community, and the role of synagogue life, I was inspired by the writing of Maxine Greene, z”l, who was a towering philosopher and for a time the President of Teacher’s College at Columbia University.  Over the years, Maxine Greene developed a relationship with educators at the adjacent Jewish Theological Seminary, where I studied to be a rabbi.  

Greene was a an ardent believer in the kind of “freedom” that allows us to tap into our capacity for wonder and the joy of human solidarity.  Of course, she acknowledges, the forces of marginalization prevent us from understanding and making real our freedom.  However, she said, we also need some “critical distance” to remind ourselves that we have the capacity to think differently, to resist the onslaught of dehumanizing forces, and therefore to act differently.  She says that we might think of freedom as, “...a distinctive way of orienting the self to the possible, of overcoming the determinate, of transcending or moving beyond in the full awareness that such overcoming can never be complete. We might think of freedom as an opening of spaces as well as perspectives, with everything depending on the actions we undertake in the course of our quest…”

For me, community is the place where we create the “opening of spaces” to gain perspective on our lives and society, and also on our internal capacities of wonder, curiosity and the capacity to change.  I am also deeply moved by the notion that the “freedom” we seek - whether through insights from our tradition or the work we pursue - is by nature incomplete.  I don’t think it’s oversimplifying to say that much of Jewish tradition reckons with our sense of incomplete freedom, providing us with texts, rituals and sacred moments to develop perspective wherein we have a taste of freedom as “zekher l’yetziat mitzrayim,” a sense, or memory, of the complete freedom promised by the Exodus toward which we are always working, as the Shabbat and Yom Tov Kiddush reminds us.  A life of mitzvot is therefore a life bringing incomplete “freedom” into greater fullness, chiefly by caring for those who are most vulnerable and uprooting the conditions that lead to oppression, “unraveling the bonds,” as we read on Yom Kippur in Isaiah, Chapter 58.


I have no easy words of reassurance and comfort - the complexity of the times resist them.  But I wholeheartedly believe in the power of our tradition and our community to provide us with guiding wisdom and the inherent hopefulness of human solidarity.


Wishing everyone Shabbat Shalom as we seek deeper connections and work toward a world of fuller justice,


Rabbi Justin David


Fri, August 12 2022 15 Av 5782