From Rabbi Lieberman

  • Hyperdrive sesnsations

    Posted ‍‍ל אב ה תשעח - August 11, 2018 By in Rabbi's Thoughts With | Comments Off

    imagesIf you have ever seen any of the more popular science fiction television shows or movies of the past few decades (think Star Trek and Star Wars and their innumerable sequels and prequels), than you can probably summon up in your minds eye the image of what happens when a spaceship engages its “hyperdrive”–faster-than-light travel– to hop-skip-and-jump halfway across the universe: the starry sky suddenly blurs and streaks and, in a flash, there you are in some distant galaxy, ready for the next adventure in the story.

    That is precisely how I feel as I sit down to write this column in early August….as if someone activated the “hyperdrive” button and my summer has been catapulted forward, leading me swiftly and inexorably toward our encounter with Yamim ha-Noraim, the Days of Awe. This sensation is exacerbated, of course, by the fact the these holy days (with respect to the secular calendar) arrive early this year.

    So here I sit, in front of my computer on a beautiful, if muggy, Cape day, contemplating the arrival of the year 5,779 and what I must do to prepare myself for its arrival. A checklist helps:

    • Prepare sermons
    • Rehearse musical cues with our cantorial soloist
    • Solicit participants to take part in services
    • Set Torah scrolls
    • Etc., etc., etc.

    Of greater importance is identifying strategies for the new year that will help me cope with challenges to our nation and our world which threaten to be even more cataclysmic than those we experienced in 5,778. The November elections, less than a hundred days away as I write these words, loom large in my thinking.

    I have embraced that well-worn mantra: “Think globally, act locally”, choosing to use my energy and skills to affect issues on which I believe I can have an impact, such as fighting attempts to strip transgender people in Massachusetts of the protections afforded them by law and continuing my work to convince the Massachusetts legislature to enact a law affording mentally-competent terminally-ill adults the right to request a life-ending prescription.

    As an heir to a four-thousand year old tradition that teaches me that many battles worth fighting last long beyond the life-spans of those engaged in the struggle, I will enter the approaching new year believing that my efforts to improve our world ands the lives of its inhabitants can never be in vain.

    May the Force be with me…and all of us…in the approaching new year!

    Reb Elias

  • Discontent

    Posted ‍‍יא אב ה תשעח - July 23, 2018 By in Rabbi's Thoughts With | Comments Off

    DespairWith apologies to William Shakespeare’s Richard III, “Now is the summer of my discontent…..”

    Yes, I know that I have yanked that phrase out of its context and muddled Gloucester’s meaning, but the phrase captures so perfectly the emotional climate I have been experiencing these past few months: discontent…sadness…..despair….anger….vexation.

    Some of it has been occasioned by the unremitting assault on values I cherish by a President and an administration that has laid siege to a vision of America on which I was raised and nurtured and that are bound up with my identity as a Jew: concern for the least among us, a commitment to the rule of law that is tempered with mercy and compassion, a commitment to the expansion of human rights and liberties, not its contraction. Lately, it takes effort merely to make my way through the front page of the newspaper.

    Some of my discontent arises from my exposure to crises and existential challenges being faced by people near and dear to me…shattered relationships, terminal illnesses, family estrangements. These are things that all of us experience but my profession sometimes brings them my way in challenging, concentrated doses.

    Thankfully, there have been redeeming moments…taking a new Jew-By-Choice to the mikveh and witnessing her joy in claiming Jewish identity; the exhilaration of musical collaboration on Boomer Shabbat; the satisfaction of working with like-minded others to help bring aid-in-dying options to Massachusetts and to defeat, in November, attempts to strip transgender people of rights granted to them legislatively just two years ago.

    I do not take such moments of uplift for granted. On the contrary, in a “summer of discontent” each and every positive experience has heightened meaning and value.

    I do try to remind myself of all of the things I tell others when offering rabbinic counsel: that Judaism has little patience for despair; that ours is a belief system that teaches us that we are each capable of helping to perfect this world and that we are forbidden to sit on our hands, expecting our neighbor to shoulder the burden. As our siddur, Mishkan T’filah aptly states:

    “Standing on the parted shores of history, we still believe what we were taught before ever we stood at Sinai’s foot; that wherever we go, it is eternally Egypt; that there is a better place, a promised land; that the winding way to that promise passes through the wilderness. That there is no way to get from here to there except by joining hands, marching together.”

    So, when the summer fades, I will mourn my losses. But I have every hope that my “summer of discontent” will yield to an “autumn of activism” when I enter the approaching new Jewish year because one simply cannot live on the knife-edge of despair.

    Reb Elias

  • “Who opens the eyes of the blind…”

    Posted ‍‍ח אייר ה תשעח - April 23, 2018 By in Rabbi's Thoughts With | Comments Off

    be-my-eyes-guyFacebook…Google…Twitter…Apple….Amazon…

    Not a day goes by that any or all of these tech giants are not in the news, often in connection with troubling allegations about their abuse of the trust we place in them when we opt to make use of their sophisticated technologies that, in so many ways, make our lives easier. With new and massive data-breaches being revealed all the time, with incalculable damage being done to our society through hacks and “bots”, we have good reason to think about our relationships with cyber-technology. Many people, either because they are fearful of the misuse of their personal data or because they are increasingly aware of how much time they lose to their “screens”, are severing their links with social media platforms.

    As someone who reluctantly admits that I have seen too many hours disappear as I follow Facebook threads, I can sympathize with those whose mistrust of communication technology is growing. But I am also cognizant of the ways in which this technology helps us achieve significant and praiseworthy things. Let me share one example that I must introduce by citing a snippet of liturgy from Judaism’s daily prayers. In that section of the morning service called Nisim b’chol yom (literally “daily miracles”), we pray this blessing:

    Baruch Atah Adonai, eloheynu melech ha-olam, po-kayach ivreem.
    Praised are You, Adonai, Soverign of Existence, who opens the eyes of the blind.

    That blessing is part of sequence that reflects our first actions each day. Opening our eyes in the morning is likened to God’s giving sight to the blind. Many is the time that I have wondered how that particular blessing feels to a person who is blind or visually impaired.

    Now let me tell you about an extraordinary piece of software, a smartphone “app”, that I discovered two years ago. It is called Be My Eyes and was developed in Sweden by a software designer who realized that the ubiquity of smart-phones with decent video camera functions could be an enormous boon to people who are blind or visually impaired.

    Here’s how it works: Be My Eyes is a free app that connects blind and low vision people with sighted volunteers and Be My Eyes representatives for visual assistance through a live video call. Every day, sighted volunteers around the world lend their eyes to solve tasks big and small to help blind and low vision people lead more independent lives.

    The process begins when a blind or low vision person requests assistance by opening the app on a smart-phone. Through a live video call, that person and a volunteer can communicate directly and solve a problem. The volunteer will help guide which direction to point the camera, what to focus on or when to turn on the phone’s flashlight.

    When a sighted volunteer receives a video call, he or she assists that blind or a low vision user who may need help with anything from checking expiration dates, distinguishing colors, reading instructions or navigating new surroundings.

    This app is brilliantly simple, easy to use and effective. To date, it has been installed globally by 949,363 volunteers and by 67,647 blind people.

    In the two years since I installed the app on my phone, I have successfully responded to four or five requests for assistance. Because there are so many volunteers, if I am unable to respond to the app’s distinctive ring-tone, or do not do so quickly enough, I can rest assured that the call will be answered by someone else. In one call I helped someone identify what kind of frozen meat was in her freezer. Another time I assisted someone by telling her the color of a sweater that she wanted to match with other clothing. In another call I helped someone find expiration dates on packages of food. In another call I helped someone identify different gift cards in her possession. While the reach of the app is global, English speakers are always matched with English speakers.

    Such a simple act that engenders such a feeling of gratitude for being able to offer my eyes in the service of another’s need. I will never read that blessing–“…who opens the eyes of the blind”…the same way again.

    [ To learn more: www.bemyeyes.com ]

    Reb Elias

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