From a question on Quora

I was kicking around on Quora today and saw this question. After writing my answer, I realized it would work well as a post here. I know it’s been a while, but here – have a post about belief.

How do believers believe in the Bible when it’s a proven fact that there was no exodus? How exactly do believers trust this as source if certain things aren’t exactly true?

I’m pretty sure you’re asking this from Christians, but I’m going to put in a different perspective: the Jewish one. (Also, “ask two Jews, get five answers” – my perspective is my own, and that of the people who taught me and are still my teachers in my own faith. Other Jews may see this issue differently.)

As a Jew, I have never been told that the Exodus was literal. In fact, the rabbi I studied under said specifically that the Exodus was not literal. Multiple times. But the story of the Exodus is a central part of the cultural heritage of being Jewish – and it underlies and informs our ethics and our morals:

  • Treat the stranger as you would your neighbor, for you were strangers in the land of Egypt.
  • Avoid greed. There is a verse about leaving the corners and gleanings (fallen harvest) for the poor, not hoarding it all for yourself.
  • Show kindness towards those less fortunate. Contribute to their welfare. This is normally summed up with the idea of “tzedakah,” which loosely (but not entirely accurately) translates to “charity.” (The difference is that in Judaism, tzedakah is not optional – it is an obligation.)

When I discuss the Torah with non-Jews, especially Christians, there’s a very basic barrier to understanding and clarity that I run into rather a lot, which is the assumption that the stories must be the literal, exact truth, and that “belief” means “believing those stories are literally, exactly true.” As in, there really was an actual, physical Ark that one man and his three sons built. There really were exactly two of every single kind of animal on it. There really was a flood that lasted 40 days. There really were Israelite slaves in Egypt. They really did wander in the desert for 40 years.

There weren’t, and they didn’t. These are the stories of our culture.

This barrier – this misunderstanding – is a big one, because the power of the story is the important thing, not whether or not the stories are literally true.

You see, the point of the Torah is not to say “these are the literal, true, exact stories of real people who did real things.” The point is to say “Here is a story about how we treat each other, and outsiders. What is the lesson in this story? How does Moses’ behavior, Aaron’s behavior, Abraham’s behavior, Joshua’s behavior, Rebecca’s behavior, Sarah’s behavior – how do these stories instruct us in being good Jews, good people, and good stewards of the land G-d has put into our hands?”

The celebration of the Exodus at Passover does not mean we literally believe we were slaves in a place called Egypt. It is a retelling of that part of our culture – the idea that we were less-than and reviled, which is a known part of Jewish history in many places and many times – that informs our own treatment of the stranger, the poor, the needy, and the destitute.

Many people will not understand this, and do not understand this, because of a naïve belief that the stories of the Torah (and frankly, the Christian bible as well) are literal truth, not cultural truth.

So the trust placed in those stories is about the cultural truths they carry, not the literal truths they don’t.


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A Prayer for Pittsburgh and Lexington

Our God and the God of our ancestors,

Watch over these cities tonight.
Comfort the bereaved,
Heal the heartbroken,
Shelter those who work to save lives.

Spread the healing power of shalom like a tallit
Over those who have been harmed
And those who have been hurt.

Help us remember our duty to tikkun olam:
That although we are not required to complete this work,
Neither are we allowed to abandon it.

Help us remember our brothers, sisters, and siblings
Of all nations and all races,
Of all religions and all creeds.

Send us refuah shleimah.
Help us heal our broken world.
Help us heal each other.

Oseh shalom bim’romav,
Hu ya’aseh shalom aleinu,
V’al kol Yisrael (v’al kol ha-olam)
Vimru: Amen.

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Staying Sane in the Age of Trump

I’ve been despondent since November of 2016. Reading this helps me. I hope it will help you too.

Coffee Shop Rabbi

Image: The word “stress” written in red pencil.  (pedrofigueras/pixabay)

A publication called Student Loan Hero reported in January that 60% of Americans are feeling stressed over the Trump Administration. Their survey was limited to questions about people’s financial fears. Add to that all the people worried about the future of democracy, those fearful of nuclear war with North Korea, and all those worrying about the wild stories circulating in the news, and it’s a stressful, stressful time.

How can we possibly manage all this stress?

I am a firm believer in the wisdom of the Serenity Prayer:

God grant me the serenity
to accept the things I cannot change;
courage to change the things I can;
and wisdom to know the difference.  – Reinhold Niebuhr

There are many things that I cannot control right now. One way to lower my stress is to take each thing that worries me…

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“When Does It Stop?” When It Stops.

Today on Facebook, a friend of my uncle’s asked him, in all (apparent) seriousness:

“So what, a statue comes down, that person was a racist, they don’t deserve to be memorialized. But what next? A town is named after the same guy, do we change the name? Does it matter?

“Jefferson owned slaves, do we tear down the memorial? Rename the capital of Missouri? Void the Declaration of Independence?

“It sounds absurd I know but isn’t it the same thing? And if it’s different, what makes it that way?”

I’ve heard this before. The “Well, but where does it stop?” slippery-slope argument, which is a bullshit argument if ever I heard one. So I asked him if he had any friends who were Jews. He allowed as how he did. I should note that I give credit for the analogy I used to Kayla M. Cooley (you can find her original comment with this analogy here).

I said: “Let’s assume your Jewish friend Jacob’s daughter, Ruth, has to go to Himmler High School, which is located on Third Reich Boulevard, every single day. She was also a student at Eichmann Elementary and Mengele Middle School. And her house is located on Hess Avenue.

“There’s also a big, big statue of Hitler over on Main Street, and another statue of Goebbels in the park up the street from her home.

“Should we rename the streets and take down the statues? Remember, the Nazis lost the war, right?”

His response was that of course those things should come down, but where do we stop? At what point will it be enough?

I asked him to consider this: Ruth is every black kid who has to go to Robert E. Lee High School or live on Stonewall Jackson Boulevard. She’s every black kid who’s had to look at a statue of a Confederate general or plantation owner as they walk down that street to school. And their parents. And grandparents. And great-grandparents. That’s how far back this shit goes.

So at minimum, you rename the streets and take down the statues honoring people who wanted to harm or kill our citizens. If you have to, put the statues in a museum, and label them appropriately in several languages to underscore the shamefulness and horror of what they did to Americans.

But at no time do you make the lame-ass excuse of the slippery slope or “where does it end?” It ends when you’re not honoring people who enslaved other people and fought a war to preserve that system. It ends when those people’s memories are shamed, not revered. It ends when the black kid is walking down Malcolm X Boulevard past a statue of Reverend King.

He asked then why statues of slave owners who founded the country (i.e. Jefferson and Washington) are “okay,” but slave owners who tried to leave the country (i.e. Robert E. Lee and “Stonewall” Jackson) are not “okay.”

My response: It’s a fine hair to split, but are statues of Jefferson and Washington being used to create situations where blacks are reminded that they should be slaves in the eyes of the statue-makers? No. So that’s not a valid line of argument.

The statues that are being taken down were erected in two time periods: during Jim Crow, and during the Civil Rights movement. No statues of Washington or Jefferson went up during those time periods.

Someone else in the thread then said “Yeah, well, what about California? Why isn’t it renaming Santa Ana?”

Cute whataboutism, and nice attempt to derail. And sure, derailing or not, that’s a good point, but it’s not the main one right now. Sure, I’d like to see every statue to the Spanish who hamstrung their Native slaves torn down and put in a museum. I’d love to see Columbus Day removed from the calendar for good.

But this fight is the more important one right now. Right now, the flashpoint is not Cristobal de Colon or the Spanish missionaries. We’ll get to them eventually.
Right now the flashpoint is white people who wish that they could still own black people and who want to maintain monuments that were designed to intimidate and frighten black citizens.

As to “where does it stop?” Well, how about when blacks don’t have to worry about getting shot during a traffic stop, because the guy who pulled them over was raised in an environment that regretted the harm done by the traitors who fought on the Confederate side? How about when the United States takes the same route as Germany has, and requires all schoolchildren to visit former plantation sites, lynching trees, slave market sites and other such historical horrors, to drill it into their heads that “this is who we were, and it is not who we want to be, and you must call out and shame anyone who tries to make it something to be proud of.”

That’s when it stops. When it actually, you know, stops.


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613, or, Pikuach Nefesh is a Mental Health Issue Too

(I’m not going to make excuses for being gone so long. Life happens and things get busy, and that’s not a failing – it’s just a fact.)

Today I want to muse a little bit about the ongoing tension many Jews by choice have with the 613 commandments and the issue of physical and mental health.

I have an anxiety disorder. I’ve had it all my life; it comes with the territory when you’re autistic. One of the ways I’ve dealt with anxiety over the years is to try to impose tight control on my world (which never works) and to try to be as perfect as possible (which also never works). And I know I’m not the only Jew out there who fits the “neurotic” stereotype, okay?

One of the things that’s helped me deal with this terror – and sometimes it is terrifying – of not being perfect and not getting every detail right is the advice I got from a rabbi about my conversion: “When someone asks you if you are keeping kosher, or giving tzedakah, or whatever observance they’re interested in, and you’re not doing it yet, just say ‘Not yet, but I’m working on it.’ Because your observance is nobody’s business but your own. Just their asking the question is rude. Feel free to ignore their judgment, because they shouldn’t be judging in the first place.”

Mostly, that’s helped. Knowing my medical issues don’t allow me to keep kosher, and knowing that my anxiety has been keeping me increasingly housebound of late unless I force myself to leave the apartment, allows me to be a little easier on myself.

Am I not trying to be observant? Am I lazy about my observance? Far from it. I observe in the ways I am able to, and if someone thinks I’m not observant “enough,” that’s not my problem. Do I always remember that? No, because I was raised in a tradition where I was expected to be perfect and any lapse meant I was lazy.

(I’m trying to find a way to talk about this issue without “outing” someone, so I’ll do my best not to name any names. Those who might know me and the person in question are hereby cautioned not to name names or give identifying details.)

Long story short, I have a friend who is also a convert, who converted in the Orthodox manner. They also have an anxiety problem and OCD. They recently lost a family member and have been observing shiva, including tearing their clothing, but recently found out that they didn’t tear it “correctly.” (Except I’ve looked, and there are multiple pages with multiple descriptions of what “correctly” means for this particular mitzvah.) And their worries center on being “outed” as a convert among their congregation and having random Jewish strangers tell them they’re not “grieving right.” They also asked why none of their knowledgeable Jewish friends had told them about the right way to tear their garments so that they would be “doing it right.”

I find this very sad, because religion is not supposed to be oppressive, especially when it’s a religion you chose. And when you’re grieving, the last thing you should have to pay attention to is these kinds of details. Isn’t that what shiva is supposed to be about – allowing the bereaved to have time not to deal with the details?

I have seen this friend get very stressed out about things that, to most people, are just details and grace notes. And I worry that their focus on these details is going to cause them harm.

But I also remember being that nervous about my last name (which is definitely not a Jewish-labeled name) or my looks (Western European, mainly Irish) “outing” me as a convert among other Jews. I also remember feeling like I had to qualify any statement I made about my Judaism and my observance with “But I’m just a convert, so…”

I used to say “I’m a Reform Jew,” until a rabbi said to me, “No, you are a Jew who observes in the Reform manner.” And now I just say “I’m a Jew” (because I am), and if someone asks, then I will expand on that by adding the stream I am part of. But it doesn’t have to be out in front anymore.

I used to beat myself up for not doing everything exactly correctly. I used to feel like I was a bad person, a sinner, if I didn’t go to Torah study every Saturday morning and have a full-on Shabbat dinner every Friday night. But anxiety is a real thing, and I finally had to accept that right now, my people-interaction skills are not great. Diabetes is a real thing, and I had to accept that some things (like gluten-free challah) are not safe for me to eat, even if eating them is a mitzvah.

There are 613 commandments that Jews are supposed to follow. (Some can’t be, because we don’t have a Temple anymore, and some are specific to certain groups of Jews – such as the Kohanim – but 613 is the generally accepted number.) That’s a lot of details to keep track of, and I don’t know of anyone who does that perfectly all the time. No one. And a lot of people – like my friend – get very stressed out over trying to do all of them perfectly all the time.

But here’s the thing. I have not yet found anything in the Talmud or Torah that says “put your health at risk to be observant.” In fact, there’s even a doctrine called pikuach nefesh – the preservation of human life – that says that, apart from defaming the name of God or committing murder, you can break any commandment to preserve human life. That means that if a commandment or mitzvah would cause your health to be at risk, you must not follow that commandment.

That includes mental health. It has to, or it doesn’t make any sense.

For example: Children, pregnant women, the elderly, and the ill are excused from fasting on fast days, because it would harm their health. However, I read a blog last year from a woman who is battling an eating disorder, whose rabbi told her she is not allowed to fast on Yom Kippur (because it is too likely that fasting will switch her back into her anorexic headspace). That’s a mental health issue, not a physical health issue.

People with anxiety often don’t allow themselves to have bad days, or give themselves adequate self-care. I know. I deal with this every day. And I still have the looming guilt and shame from my abusive Catholic upbringing that makes me worry that if I don’t kiss the mezuzah on my way out of the door, I’m somehow marked as a bad, sinning person.

I was in that space for years. Mostly, I am not in that space anymore. But I am so sorry that my friend still is. And I’m not sure how to help them, because I would have loudly rejected the advice to go easy on myself back in the day.  I would have seen pikuach nefesh as an excuse.






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Torah Study: The Trap of Literalism

Today is Shabbat Shuvah, the Shabbat of Return, and today’s Torah portion is Vayeilech (Deuteronomy 31:1-30). It is the shortest parshah in the Torah at only 30 verses, and is part of Moses’ farewell to the Israelites as they all stand across the river Jordan from the Promised Land.

At this point, Moses has already been informed by the Eternal that he will not be going with his people to the Promised Land. He is 120 years old, and he is about to die. He is, at this point, trying to make sure that the people leave with the last wisdom he can give them.

In this parshah, the main messages seem to be “be strong and resolute” and “take these teachings with you and teach them to your children.” This generated a lot of discussion at our Torah Study meeting, but there’s just a few threads I want to braid together for you in this post. Mainly, those threads are leadership, adulthood, and interpretation. So let’s go, shall we?

One of my notes was on verse 31:27, where Moses says to the Israelites:

For I know your rebellious spirit and your stubbornness. Even while I am alive with you today, you are rebelling against the Eternal, and surely after my death!

My original note on this was, “Does Moses think that only his presence is what’s keeping the Israelites on the good path?” Then, during the discussion, I realized that of course he does. He’s already seen what happens when their leader leaves for a while – witness the episode of the golden calf, when he was only away for 40 days. This is not his first rodeo. He’s seen how the Israelites all go off in their own rebellious directions if they don’t have a strong, charismatic leader to keep them together and focused on the main point. They’ve had him leading them for the last 40 years, and there’s nobody really ready to replace him (oh, sure, Joshua’s going to try – but remember how well Joshua did with anyone challenging Moses’ authority back in the day; is he really going to do all that well as a leader when someone challenges his authority? We never find out, since this is essentially the last few chapters of the Torah).

Anyway. Moses is naturally more than a little worried, here. He knows his people well enough to know that without strong leadership, they’re likely to fracture into many squabbling tribes and not follow Torah, even with his dying exhortations to do exactly that. So let’s take this as the setting of this parshah: Moses, the anxious leader/father figure, worrying about the people who have been in his care and under his guidance for 40 years, and how they’re going to function once he’s not there to guide them any more.

During discussion, many people identified this as the same feeling as parents who are watching their nearly-adult teenager finally leave for college or marriage or the job that takes them out of the family home have at that moment. At this point I was reminded of the midrash I read about Adam and Eve and their departure from the Garden: Adam’s kind of like a trust fund baby. He doesn’t have to actually do any work. He just plays all the time. This is what we would call “childhood.” But Eve gets tired of this after a while, so she pulls a stunt that gets Adam’s dad angry enough to throw the kids out and make them earn their own way. They have to grow up – at least a little bit.

Now, here we are again, with Moses worrying about how these kids of his – not just his blood kin but his spiritual children as well – are ever going to make it out in the real world if he’s not there to make sure they’ll do things the right way. They have to grow up – and he won’t be there to guide them.

Up until now, the Hebrew people have pretty much had Moses to tell them what God wants. But he’s not going to be there when they get to the Promised Land. He’s already been informed: this buck stops here. So he’s trying to distill whatever wisdom he can send them off with before he dies, much like a parent helping their kid unload the car at the dorm room door tries to awkwardly say a few words of wisdom before their child flies away into a life where the nearly-adult child will no longer move in rhythm to the same backbeat as the one their parents and younger siblings hear like a heartbeat in the center of their home.

Moses is worried. He knows how his people do when they have a strong leader. He has no idea what they will do when that leader is irrevocably gone.

But he also knows that his departure is inevitable. He knows that they will have to function when he is gone. So he gives them caution – but he also gives them instruction. And that instruction is, essentially: It’s time for you to each develop your own interpretation of what the Law means. It’s time for you to grow up a little more. Now, instead of having me to tell you what the Law means, you’re going to have to start figuring it out for yourselves. It’s time to take the next step – out of childhood, where literalism and black-and-white thinking is normal, and into adulthood, where there are many possible interpretations and all of them can be right.

Rabbi mentioned that the commentary that we use in Torah Study left out an important word in its translation of verse 31:19. The commentary’s translation is, “Write down this song and teach it to the children of Israel.” But there’s a Hebrew word in there that didn’t make it into our commentary’s translation, and it changes the entire meaning of what Moses is saying. That word (which, sadly, I could not catch the Hebrew for during study), means “for yourselves,” and the correct translation is, “Write down for yourselves this song and teach it to the children of Israel.”

Rabbi felt that this was important enough to also bring in some other texts. One of them is a comparison of the Torah to the Greek legend of the Odyssey. The author of that text, who lived in Nazi Germany and escaped, pointed out that the Odyssey leaves nothing to interpretation, while the Torah leaves almost everything to interpretation. The Torah is sparse, not detailed; it conveys truth, not representation. As a result, with the spaces between the words and the ambiguity of Hebrew, we are given – mainly – the bullet-point description of what happened. This leaves us with the need and the requirement to interpret the rest of it (hence midrashim). Rabbi felt that this need for interpretation is actually of Divine intent, not an accident, because things are always in a state of flux and new interpretations of the Torah will always be necessary for us to maneuver our way through daily life.

Judaism is largely a religion of interpretations, not of literalism. We have many sayings about the space between the words being important – in fact, all our midrashim are, in some sense, about the space between the words. That’s where interpretation happens.  Mozart said that “the music is in the rests,” or the quiet moments where no instruments are playing. The very characterization of this last piece of instruction (which we will see in next week’s parshah) as a poem or a song means it must be open to interpretation, or it has no real meaning.

When we demand the “one true meaning” of our scriptures, we totally miss the point. There are as many meanings as there are stars in the sky, and each one of them can be true. God is in the spaces in between.

Here’s the trap of literalism: the literal mindset that only allows for one interpretation and no other is the mindset of a ten-year-old child. Piaget called it the “concrete operational” stage. This is where the rules are the most important thing, and adherence to the rules is what matters. Some adults are still children under the surface, and still look for the rule set that will make everything simple and straightforward and understandable.

No such rule-set exists. This parshah, in part, is telling us: now that Moses is departing, it’s on us to interpret in order to begin to understand. It’s time for us to grow up. We’re not the children of Israel anymore – we are the people Israel, and it’s time for us to be adults about it.




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It is the second of Elul.

I was told, before conversion, that becoming a Jew was like becoming an American citizen. You have the name and the identity, but all of the social stuff you need to know – the stuff that people grew up with – is stuff you always clunk through rather awkwardly. I still stumble on the prayers even after more than a year of singing them and hearing them. I still don’t always remember to kiss the mezuzah when I go out the front door or when I come in – my hands are full or I’m stressed and I forget. We haven’t done Shabbat or Havdalah consistently through most of the summer because it’s been hot and uncomfortable and making dinner at home has been overwhelming.

And yet. And yet.

I can’t bring myself to leave my home without my kippah firmly on my head and my Mogen David clearly showing. I still say “Baruch HaShem” in response to something where I used to say “Thank God.” I identify as a Jew and when I see things that harm other Jews, I feel umbrage and I get in people’s faces about it. And I never go to bed without saying the Shehecheanyau and the Sh’ma.

Even if the identity is new, it’s solid. The outside behaviors may not always be there, but I know that my Judaism is central to my life.

I miss community, but anxiety has been in the way for most of the spring and summer. I think I might be able to go back to Temple and to services without feeling completely conspicuous in another couple of weeks.

Perhaps one of the people I need to make amends to is myself, for beating myself up this past half year.



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Today is the First of Elul, 5776

I have renewed our Temple membership for the coming year, or at least started to. We will be going to High Holy Days in October, and moving back into the life of our local Temple community as the new year comes closer.

12 days from now, by the Hebrew calendar, I will have been a Jew for a full year.

It’s time for me to consider where I’ve missed the mark this year. Letting my anxiety get the best of me when I could have faced up to what I was scared of is a big one. Letting this blog lapse is probably another; I’m a new Jew and I should have been writing more so that this blog could help others who are searching for answers.

Today is the day I ask people on my social media to tell me if there’s something out of whack between us due to my action or inaction, so that I can try to make amends, or, at minimum, apologize.

Today is the First of Elul.

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Hate and homophobia cannot stand

My synagogue is holding a joint vigil for the Pulse nightclub victims with our interfaith council and our local LGBT center tonight.

I could not be there in person, because I have been having some really rotten anxiety over the last few weeks that keeps me from being able to leave my home without help. Instead, I am watching the livestream, and liveblogging it here and on Facebook.

Our cantor began the song with “We Shall Overcome.” I sang along here at home.

So far, our rabbi, a local imam, another member of the interfaith council, our cantor, and several other people have spoken. There has been music and song and a defiant refusal to let this stop us and hurt us.

There have been acknowledgments of the harm that the fundamentalist and conservative wings of the Abrahamic religions have done to those who are GSM (gender and sexual minorities). There have been offerings of brotherhood from the Muslim community. There have been expressions of solidarity from the LGBT community. Our mayor is a gay Latino man and sent his well-wishes with the LGBT community center director.

There are two ASL signers at the front of the room.

The imam: “Dear brothers and sisters, they are never going to break us. Be the way you want to be. Be Christian if you want, be a Jew if you want, be a Muslim if you want, be an atheist if you want, be no religion if you want. We are the people of peace, and we’re going to keep doing it. It doesn’t matter what. Salaam aleikum.”

“Love wins when love is a verb.” – LGBT center director

Our rabbi: “We are going to show others that our diversity does not undermine our community – it is the foundation of the very strength of our community!”

The city councilwoman for the district where our temple is located said that our cantor’s voice makes her feel like, if Heaven has music, that’s the sound that pipes through the halls of Heaven.

(I can’t guarantee exact wording here. Sorry. I don’t type as fast as they’re talking.)

She’s also discussing the level of hate that exists in this country. She says, “This recent tragedy (in Orlando) is part of the culture of violence we’re witnessing. How did we get to this place where mass shootings are just another news story? They always involve someone who is ostracized from their community and feel they have to be part of something bigger.”

She says, “I’ve been a prosecutor for seventeen years and I’ve never seen a homeowner use a machine gun to protect their home. We need to talk about gun violence…. Once the grief and tears are past, we have to think about solutions.”

Our congressman’s representative speaks – he could not be here, as he was in D.C. this morning (we’re on the other side of the country). She talks about the Upstairs Lounge in New Orleans, the Stonewall riots, and other examples of the fear and hate that drive these kinds of atrocities leading right up to Pulse. She also talks about how the guns are far too easily to access and obtain. And finally, she calls for equality for all Americans.

Our cantor speaks about the work that needs to be done, and mentions Lin-Manuel Miranda’s Tony acceptance sonnet/speech: “Nothing here is promised; not one day… and love is love is love is love is love is love is love is love cannot be swept aside; now fill the world with music, love and pride.”

She sings Daniel Nahmood’s “Last Song”:

If this is my last song / If this is my final day
If tomorrow I’ll be gone / What do I want to say
If this is my last song / If it’s my time to go
When my body’s moved on / What will I have to show
No not fortune or fame – they scatter to the wind
The things that make a name – just don’t matter in the end

Is the world a little more peaceful
Oceans and sky a little more blue
Is humankind a little bit wiser
About the good that we can do
Does the sun shine a little bit brighter
Where before there was only rain
If so, then I’m glad I came

If these are my last words / For all of the earth to hear
If all that I have ever been / Is about to disappear
If these are my last words / There’s nothing that I need to say
I have only tried to serve / It’s never been about talking anyway
So much hurt there is to heal – it’s hard to understand
All I can hope to feel is that I am doing what I can


(chorus 2)

Have I given hope to the hopeless / Has a hungry soul been fed
Has a child stood a little bit taller ’cause of something that I said
Have I left a little kindness / Have I eased a little pain
If so, then I’m glad I came
For that, I’m so glad I came

If this is my last song / What do I leave behind
What do I pass on / If I am out of time

She broke down on the last line, and I can’t blame her! Not. A. Dry. Eye.

A pastor from the First Congregational Church of our town speaks next “When I came out, I lived in Jackson, Mississippi.” There’s an uncomfortable titter. He mentions Jack and Jill’s – a gay bar that I heard about earlier today on Facebook in a thread titled “What Was Your First Gay Bar?” He talks about how that bar was a safe place, where he could be himself. “I assure you that some of those folks who entered Pulse Nightclub last Saturday night felt the same sense of safety.”

And it was an illusion. It always is. A place that is supposed to be a sanctuary is not a safe place after all. How do we move forward when our sense of security has been taken from us? What is the antidote to fear? He says it’s love – and not just “holding hands and singing kumbayah” – but with action and with truth.

Our Rabbi speaks now, about “El Malei Rachamim” – a prayer we Jews recite when we are remembering and honoring someone who has died – and then our cantor sings it a capella.

(El malei rakhamim shokhen ba-m’romim ha-m’tzei m’nukhah n’khonah takhat kanfei ha-sh’khinah b’ma’alot k’doshim u’t’horim k’zohar ha-rakiah maz’hirim l’nishmot yakireinu u’k’dosheinu she-hal’khu l’olamam. Ana ba’al ha-rakhamim ha-s’tirem b’tzel k’nafekha l’olamim u-tz’ror bitz’ror ha-khayim et nishmatam. Adonai hu nakhalatam v’yanukhu b’shalom al mish’kabam v’nomar, amen.)

Rabbi gives a closing prayer, and the cantor closes the service with “True Colors.” Yes, that one – the one that Cyndi Lauper and Phil Collins both recorded back in the 1980s.

It’s appropriate.

I’m glad I was able to watch the livestream. I’ve been emotionally locked down and numb since I woke up on Sunday morning. But tonight, hearing my temple’s cantor sing and hearing the community’s words and views, I was finally able to cry.

Hate and homophobia cannot stand against an alliance like this, of all faiths, of all nations. It cannot stand.

For the first time in four days, I have hope again.



Filed under GLBT, Judaism

In remembrance of Orlando

I cannot say it better so I’m not going to try.


ALEPH: Alliance for Jewish Renewal, expresses horror, shock and grief for the victims of Sunday’s shooting at the Pulse nightclub in Orlando, Florida. We stand with all – LGBTQA or straight, Christian, Jew or Muslim – whose hearts break for the victims, for their loved ones, for a community’s peace shattered, for hope and safety shaken, for rights and dignity trampled, and for political rhetoric arousing religious hatred in its wake. We fervently pray to heal the injured, and we re-dedicate our hearts and hands to building a world in which the twin scourges of violence and hatred end.

In grief and solidarity, we offer this liturgical poem by Rabbi David Evan Markus for use in vigils and prayer services. May the Source of Peace bring comfort to all who mourn, and inspire all to build an ever more just world, speedily and soon.

– Rabbi Rachel Barenblat and Rabbi…

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Filed under Judaism