Showing posts with label B'tzelem Elohim. Show all posts
Showing posts with label B'tzelem Elohim. Show all posts

Sunday, October 18, 2020

Even the way you hold your glass matters

On August 28th the world tipped a little further on its side for some of us. That was the day Mark S. Shapiro, my rabbi, died. Now there have been a number of rabbis who I have called MY rabbi. MSS, as many of us who speak or write about him, was my first rabbi. We joined B'nai Jehoshua Beth Elohim when I was entering second grade in 1968. My Grampa Leo had died that summer, and sometime before he did , he told my mom it was time I started Hebrew school.

MSS was not just the rabbi who told Chelm stories on the bimah and gave you a pen with the temple's name on it when he called up all of the September birthday kids. (It was usually in pieces before the Oneg.) He was not just the rabbi encouraged us all to go to Olin Sang Ruby Union Institute. He was not just the rabbi who pulled out his guitar and sang "We're in the same boat brother."

"I see you." Many others have written about that Na'vi greeting in the movie Avatar means so incredibly much. it is about seeing deeper than the surface. It is about seeing the person inside the wrapper. MSS saw each of us. It wasn't that he knew what felt or thought - although sometimes it seemed he did. The idea, and I have now heard may who knew him describe it different ways, is that no matter who you were or how old you were, he listened. He saw you. And he was happy to wait until you showed yourself, and got to see him back. And he taught me - and many others - the patience to see others.

I started a closed Facebook group called "I am a Jewish Leader and Mark S. Shapiro was my rabbi!" many years ago. Dozens of us went on to become Jewish professionals. Dozens more became teachers and lay leaders in Jewish communities around the world. What follows is something I posted there two weeks after MSS died. I realize now, that he was teaching us how to try and see God in our actions and in one another.

I am not usually one to post in Shabbat. The dishes are done and I wanted to share a teaching I learned from MSS that I shared two weeks ago tonight with my family (not for the first time). So close your books (this is what MSS would say when it was time for the sermon).

It may have been at temple. It may have been in the Rotunda at OSRUI, either in the summer or on retreat. We were all about to sing the Kiddush when rabbi looked around and said (approximately-it was at least 40 years ago):

"It is important to think about how you hold your Kiddish cup. When you are holding it up high with one hand it looks like you are making a toast. Not a bad thing - maybe 'Here's to You, God.'

But we are not drinking a toast. We are saying Kiddush, making Shabbat holy with our blessing. So we should hold it in two hands because we are receiving a gift...the gift of Shabbat."

Thanks rabbi. I have taught that to my students and campers ever since. Shabbat shalom y'all.

Wednesday, October 14, 2020

Civilly Speaking: A Curriculum on Civil Discourse (redux)

In the summer of 2018, Harlene Appelman, a mentor, friend and the Executive Director of the Covenant Foundation asked me and Joel Lurie Grishaver (also a mentor, friend and the Creative Chair of Torah Aura Productions) to create a curriculum on civil discourse.

She looked at the public environment and saw and heard people shouting at the top of their voices. And using language that would have gotten your mouth washed out with soap - at least if you grew up before the 1980's. Few people in the public sphere were listening to one another. Conversations were often no longer a free exchange of ideas leading to people making up their own minds, or even for seeking common ground to move forward together. They became competitive events to be won or lost.

Harlene was clear - we could not take sides in this curriculum. To be authentic, we had to begin from a place where all positions have legitimacy - the point was to focus on how to engage with one another with respect. We had to make sure that all participants understood that we are all created B'tzelem Elohim - in God's image. Even though we can agree that Nazis are bad, there were examples in real life that we avoided in order to not fall into the trap of seeming to take sides. Teachers years from now can look back to the events of this past decade with greater perspective.

As I watch the news and the various political campaigns right now, I think we need to get back to being civil with one another more than ever. When the rabbis of the Talmud considered the question of how God could have allowed the Romans to destroy the Temple in 70 C.E., the only answer that made sense to them was Sinat Chinam - baseless hatred. The Saducees, Pharisees, Zealots, Sicarii and Essenes were splinter groups (some of the splinters were very large) who were often incapable of coming together for the good of the Jewish people. The rabbis said that if they could have figured out a unified position, the Temple would still be standing.

And as President Lincoln said in accepting the nomination of the fledgling Republican party in 1858: "A house divided against itself cannot stand." That was true then when the issue was slavery. It is equally true today when the issues are many and varied.

Friends, teachers, colleagues: I urge you to teach the value of civility. Be like Shammai and greet each person with a smile and teach your learners to do the same. And on behalf of myself and Joel, I invite you to download the free six lesson curriculum on Civil Discourse from the Covenant Foundation site. Each lesson has three versions. One is for middle school, one for high school and one for adults. Feel free to mix and match parts based on your knowledge of those you are teaching.

Help us keep the metaphoric temple - the United States and the Constitution - from being destroyed.

The curriculum is here: