From Rabbi Lieberman

  • Two powerful images…..

    Posted ‍‍כו טבת ה תשעז - January 24, 2017 By in Rabbi's Thoughts, Uncategorized With | Comments Off

    inclusion1Since 2009, North American Jewish Communities have been celebrating Jewish Disability Awareness Month in February. Now known as Jewish Disability and Inclusion Month (JDAIM), it is an opportunity to celebrate our commitment to removing barriers, celebrating diversity and connecting with our Jewish values, the most fundamental of which speaks of our obligation to recognize, in every human being, the image of the Divine.

    Anticipating JDAIM this year. I reflected on two powerful images that I encountered over the course of the past six months, one conjuring exclusion and derision, the other inclusion and respect.

    There first was memorably described by Meryl Streep when she accepted a Golden Globe Award in January of this year. Streep said, “There was one performance this year that stunned me,” [...] “It sank its hooks in my heart. Not because it was good. There was nothing good about it. But it was effective, and it did its job. It made its intended audience laugh and show their teeth.

    “It was that moment when the person asking to sit in the most respected seat in our country imitated a disabled reporter. Someone he outranked in privilege, power and the capacity to fight back. It kind of broke my heart when I saw it. I still can’t get it out of my head because it wasn’t in a movie. It was real life.”

    Streep was referring to Trump’s remarks during the campaign, when he appeared to mock New York Times reporter Serge F. Kovaleski, who has arthrogryposis, which visibly limits the functioning of his joints.

    “And this instinct to humiliate, when it’s modeled by someone in the public platform, by someone powerful, it filters down into everybody’s life, because it kind of gives permission for other people to do the same thing,” the actress said.

    The other image is a simple but eloquent one, a photo I found on a website on Jewish perspectives on disability and inclusion that depicted a Chanukah dreidel with Braille letters, enabling those without sight to join in the game. It’s message is the polar opposite of the image conjured up by Meryl Streep and which is burned into my memory.

    Jewish Disability and Inclusion Month is an annual event because we need continual reminding of our sacred obligations towards others who are differently-abled. This obligation begins with every of us, extends to our family and friends, our community, our nation and the world of difference in which we live out our lives. If we cannot look to our leaders to serve as role models, then our responsibility is even greater to help create a society that champions inclusion and meaningful support for people with disabilities.

    Reb Elias

  • To the New Year

    Posted ‍‍יב טבת ה תשעז - January 10, 2017 By in Rabbi's Thoughts With | Comments Off

    golden-circle-new-year-vintage-background_1017-6008To the New Year
    W. S. Merwin

    With what stillness at last
    you appear in the valley
    your first sunlight reaching down
    to touch the tips of a few
    high leaves that do not stir
    as though they had not noticed
    and did not know you at all
    then the voice of a dove calls
    from far away in itself
    to the hush of the morning

    so this is the sound of you
    here and now whether or not
    anyone hears it this is
    where we have come with our age
    our knowledge such as it is
    and our hopes such as they are
    invisible before us
    untouched and still possible

    [From Present Company, Copper Canyon Press, 2005. Copyright © 2005]

    The last stanza of Merwin’s poem offers such a potent image to carry into the new year– ”hopes [....] untouched and still possible”. Leaving behind a year in which so many precious hopes were sullied beyond recognition or simply obliterated beneath the weight of disturbing new realities, it is so important to renew our commitment to birthing new, untouched hopes and to nurture them to maturity.

    In his speech addressing the Democratic National Convention in 2004, President Barack Obama said: “In the end, that’s what this election is about. Do we participate in a politics of cynicism or a politics of hope? [... ] I’m not talking about blind optimism here — the almost willful ignorance that thinks unemployment will go away if we just don’t talk about it, or the health care crisis will solve itself if we just ignore it. No, I’m talking about something more substantial. It’s the hope of slaves sitting around a fire singing freedom songs; the hope of immigrants setting out for distant shores; [...]the hope of a skinny kid with a funny name who believes that America has a place for him, too. Hope in the face of difficulty. Hope in the face of uncertainty. The audacity of hope!”

    Twelve years later we are called upon to exercise that very same audacity, to generate hope and, from a foundation of hope, to address the many challenges awaiting us in 2018 and beyond.

    Reb Elias

  • The Morning After

    Posted ‍‍ט חשון ה תשעז - November 10, 2016 By in Rabbi's Thoughts With | Comments Off

    Head in HandsNovember 9, 2016…….The Morning After

    I am not a believer in serendipity. Nonetheless, I am always pleased when it shows up.

    I went to sleep late on the night of Tuesday, November 8th already understanding that Donald Trump was headed to victory. Awakening early on Wednesday morning, I made a cursory examination of online sources to confirm my fears, and then turned it off. There would be time enough for analysis, hand-wringing and lamentation. Besides, I had an 8:00 AM appointment to have my car serviced.

    At the dealership I retreated to the quiet room (Thank you, Falmouth Toyota for that mini-oasis from the blare and bleat of television!) and pulled from my briefcase a newly-published book that Lori had picked up for me at the library, knowing of my longstanding interest in poetry: The Best American Poetry 2016, Guest Editor Edward Hirsch, published in September of this year.

    Poetry often serves as an escape hatch for me, a way to momentarily set troubles aside and to view the world through the prescription lenses of another sensibility. Sometimes I am even blessed with insights, comfort or inspiration that I can take away from my encounter with a poem.

    So, this morning I cracked open this volume and read the introduction by the series editor, David Lehman, who chose to share William Butler Yeats poem “The Second Coming”, written in 1919, a poem which includes the now-famous lines: “The best lack all conviction, while the worst / Are full of passionate intensity.” Commenting on those two lines Lehman writes:

    “The aphorism retains its authority as an observation and a warning. Think of the the absence of backbone with which certain right-minded individuals may be said to have met the threats of one bloody ism or another since the 1930s. Or consider our self-doubt and shaken confidence today, our lack of unity, the stalemate between rival factions. (In at least one sense our House is divided against itself.) On the opposite side, jihadists and advocates of Sharia are rightly known for their extreme zealotry. All totalitarian regimes are based on dogma, and all dogmas demand of their followers a ‘passionate intensity’ capable of overwhelming all other considerations.”

    So, avoiding Facebook and online news sources, I searched online for some poetic expression to feed my need for solace and found this: O Me! O Life!

    Walt Whitman
    Source: Leaves of Grass (1892)

    Oh me! Oh life! of the questions of these recurring,
    Of the endless trains of the faithless, of cities fill’d with the foolish,
    Of myself forever reproaching myself, (for who more foolish than I, and who more faithless?)
    Of eyes that vainly crave the light, of the objects mean, of the struggle ever renew’d,
    Of the poor results of all, of the plodding and sordid crowds I see around me,
    Of the empty and useless years of the rest, with the rest me intertwined,
    The question, O me! so sad, recurring—What good amid these, O me, O life?

    Answer.
    That you are here—that life exists and identity,
    That the powerful play goes on, and you may contribute a verse.

    Kenneth Duva Burke, an American literary theorist who had a powerful impact on 20th-century philosophy, aesthetics, criticism, and rhetorical theory, called literature “equipment for living”. I am glad that I am able to keep at hand poems that speak to me and which provide solace, uplift, necessary questions and inspiration–the “equipment for living”–that I will need now more than ever if, as Whitman believed, each of us “may contribute a verse” to the powerful play that demands our involvement as long as we are privileged to draw breath.

    Reb Elias

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