From Rabbi Lieberman

  • Let the light of the chanukiah wax strong….

    Posted ‍‍כז חשון ה תשעח - November 16, 2017 By in Rabbi's Thoughts With | Comments Off

    hanukkah-2015-heroAs I write these swords in early November, an unusual bone-chilling, crop-freezing cold front is bearing down on New England. Combined with our recent return to Standard Time, there is no denying that we are beginning our descent into winter in earnest. And that means, of course, our annual encounter with Chanukah.

    These are, in many ways and for many reasons, dark times for our nation and for our world. We are experiencing ever-more-frequent paroxsysms of gun-violence, increasing incidents of anti-Semitism, racially-motivated hate-crimes and record-breaking numbers of murders of transgender women-of-color. Nuclear saber-rattling has awakened fears of an atomic Armageddon we thought we had long ago laid to rest. Headline-grabbing reports of sexual assaults perpetrated by rich, famous and powerful men repel us; the relentless and immoral pursuit of non-criminal immigrants offends our sense of justice; unceasing attacks on a free press cause deep concern for the future our democracy.

    So, how does my litany of anxieties relate to Chanukah?

    When we gather for each of eight nights around the chanukiah (the Chanukah menorah), I think we would do well to recall that the word chanukah means “dedication”; it commemorates the act of re-dedicating the Temple in Jerusalem when the Maccabees reclaimed it from the Greco-Syrian troops who had occupied and defiled it.

    Kindling light in the dark of winter is the perfect metaphor for the acts to which we must commit, or re-commit, ourselves if we hope to restore our nation and our democracy to something we will once again recognize. Jane Eisner, the Editor-in-Chief of the Forward, wrote a powerful and thought-provoking essay that I commend to you: How Do We Be Jewish After a Year of Trump’s America?

    Eisner writes:

    America’s most sacred institutions are at risk, and though we must never demean or disenfranchise those with whom we disagree, it is urgent that the bedrock constitutional foundations that have protected Jews and so many others for centuries be defended. Productively critiqued, yes. But fearlessly defended. [...] America turned upside down last November, and so did the American Jewish community. Our complacency about our protected role in this country, and about the civic institutions and democratic norms we have come to depend on, has been shaken to its core.

    Let the light of the Chanukiah that waxes strong over the course of eight nights, serve as a symbolic goad to rededicate ourselves to the work of addressing the grave challenges that faces us. Seek out allies in this struggle; if you have the means, give financial support to organizations such as the Anti-Defamation League, the American Civil Liberties Union, the Religious Action Center of Reform Judaism or the Southern Poverty Law Center that work tirelessly in defense of civil rights and personal liberty; express yourselves forcefully and regularly to your elected officials about issues that concern you.

    We cannot afford the luxury of thinking that others will fight this battle; it is ours to win or to lose, but it is, most decidedly, ours.

    Reb Elias

  • End-of-Life Options

    Posted ‍‍יט תשרי ה תשעח - October 9, 2017 By in Rabbi's Thoughts With | Comments Off

    iStock_000010851861_LargeDespite the fact that the days between Rosh Ha-Shanah and Yom Kippur are, typically, filled with many last-minute preparations for the fall holy days, this year I felt compelled to set aside time on Tuesday, September 26, to make my way to Beacon Hill, there to offer testimony before the Joint Committee on Health, in favor of Massachusetts 2017 “End of Life Options Act” (H 1194 / S1225) . An overwhelming majority of Americans, and residents of Massachusetts, favor an option at the end of life to end intractable suffering. Such laws already exist in Oregon, Washington, Vermont, Montana, California, Colorado and Washington, D.C.

    A ballot initiative to establish such a legal option in Massachusetts was narrowly defeated (515 – 49%) in 2012. In 2015, proposed legislation failed to emerge from the Joint Committee on Health. This year’s re-worked proposal seems to stand a better chance of moving to the floor of the legislature for debate and a vote.

    September 26 was a day filled with testimony from proponents and opponents of the legislation. When it my turn came to testify I was joined by my esteemed clergy colleagues, Rev. Nell Fields (Waquoit Congregational Church) and Rev. John Gibbons ( First Parish Unitarian Universalist in Bedford, MA).

    Here is what I said to members of the committee that day:

    “I want to thank the Committee and its Co-Chairs for this opportunity to offer testimony in support of the End of Life Options Act.

    My name is Elias Lieberman and I serve as rabbi of Falmouth Jewish Congregation on Cape Cod, a position I have held for the past twenty-seven years. I am grateful for the opportunity to offer testimony today. I have, in the past, served as a hospice chaplain and I bring to this moment decades of experience serving the needs of families as they contend with end-of-life issues. I have been witness to good deaths and bad deaths; I have seen members of my community pass from life serenely and I have watched them endure suffering that none of us would wish for ourselves or anyone we love.

    In Jewish tradition, a frequently heard toast is “L’chayim”, a Hebrew expression that means “To life”. In truth, mine is a faith tradition that deems precious the gift of life we are granted. But mine is also a tradition that rejects the notion that there is anything inherently redemptive about suffering.

    The wisdom found in the Book of Ecclesiastes reminds us that “there is a time to be born and a time to die.” I have come to believe that there is, sometimes, a time for an individual to make the informed decision to bring his/her suffering to an end with compassionate support and with the protections against abuse incorporated into this proposed legislation.

    As a person of faith and as someone who chose a profession in which I am expected to offer guidance and support to those facing the ultimate in existential questions, I believe firmly that terminally ill individuals should be afforded the right to choose to bring about a peaceful death when suffering renders living intolerable.

    I believe that life must be infused with meaning and purpose and when it is no longer possible for us to attain either, because of the suffering induced by illness, a compassionate alternative must be available to us, one that lies at the core of this proposed legislation.

    I do not presume to speak for all Jews or for Judaism although polls consistently show strong support among Jews for medical aid in dying; I do presume to offer my experience and my convictions gained over the course of my career ministering to the dying and to their loved ones. I urge you to grant the precious gift of autonomy to those whose suffering will be unendurable and for whom a release from a life of suffering would be the greatest of blessings.”

    I cannot emphasize enough that this proposed legislation is about providing people with a terminal illness, whose suffering cannot be adequately addressed by palliative care or the supportive ministrations of hospice care, the option of ending their suffering through a self-administered lethal prescription. Evidence from other states with similar laws shows that only about one-third of those who obtain a lethal prescription end up using it. Having the ability to autonomously decide how much suffering is too much, lies at the heart of this legislation and the compassionate option it provides.

    I encourage you to learn more about this legislation. This website link will lead you to an organization with which I have been working closely to bring this important end-of-life option to Massachusetts:

    If you feel as I do that residents of our Commonwealth need and deserve such an option, I encourage you to contact your state representative and senator now!

    Reb Elias

  • Shelter from the storm….

    Posted ‍‍כה אלול ה תשעז - September 16, 2017 By in Rabbi's Thoughts With | Comments Off

    ThunderstormWe creep to our bed, and its straw mattress.
    We wait; we listen.
    The storm lulls off, then redoubles,
    Bending the trees half-way down to the ground,
    Shaking loose the last wizened oranges in the orchard,
    Flattening the limber carnations.

    A spider eases himself down from a swaying light-bulb,
    Running over the coverlet, down under the iron bedstead.
    The bulb goes on and off, weakly.
    Water roars into the cistern.

    We lie closer on the gritty pillow,
    Breathing heavily, hoping—
    For the great last leap of the wave over the breakwater,
    The flat boom on the beach of the towering sea-swell,
    The sudden shudder as the jutting sea-cliff collapses,
    And the hurricane drives the dead straw into the living pine-tree.

    [excerpted from The Storm by Theodore Roethke, 1908 - 1963]

    “We wait; we listen”… That’s precisely how many of us have spent the last month, waiting for news of friends and loved ones impacted by Hurricanes Harvey and Irma, listening to the grim reports of the catastrophic devastation wrought by their one-two punch and by a massive earthquake centered in Mexico.

    When we welcome the Festival of Sukkot on Wednesday evening, October 4, we’ll gather in our sukkah, our intentionally fragile hut, that will now become an especially potent reminder of the impermanence of all things material. Although Sukkot is a festival during which the Torah commands us to rejoice, for many of us that will be a difficult mitzvah to observe this year as our thoughts turn to lives lost and battered and the hundreds of thousands of people–in Texas, in the Caribbean, in Florida–who haven’t even three walls to call home.

    Our response to these kinds of disasters and the pain and suffering they engender needs to be multi-faceted. It should incorporate a sense of gratitude for our relative well-being; it must include a commitment to ameliorating the suffering of its victims, through generous acts of tzedakah and/or volunteering our time and expertise; it must include a serious and sober analysis of what policies and practices (i.e. climate-change denial, non-existent or harmful zoning laws) exacerbated the pain and loss occasioned by these hurricanes because we know all too well that more like them will follow in the future. Someone sardonically quipped that, after Hurricanes Katrina, Harvey and Irma, God is running out of ways to show deniers the impact of global warming on climate change!

    Ernest Hemingway, whose Key West home was right in the path of Hurricane Irma, had personal experience of such storms. He wrote, “He knew too what it was to live through a hurricane with the other people of the island and the bond that the hurricane made between all people who had been through it. He also knew that hurricanes could be so bad that nothing could live through them.” [ from Islands in the Stream]

    Envisioning the eventual unfolding of God’s plans for the people of Israel and of humanity, the prophet Isaiah said:

    4:5 The Eternal will create over all of Mount Zion and all who dwell there, a cloud of smoke by day, and the glow of flaming fire by night: over everything [God’s] glory will be a canopy.

    4:6 And there will be a shelter (Hebrew sukkah) and a shade from the heat in the daytime, and a refuge and a shelter from the storm and rain.

    Whether Isaiah’s prophecy will unfold remains to be seen, but this we affirm: we are God’s hands and it is incumbent upon us to provide refuge and shelter, comfort, hope and sustenance to the victims of the storms that life sends our way.

    Reb Elias

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