What Being a Jew Means to Me ~ Spiritual Activism and Repose

Just as no emergency room doctor ever hopes for an accident, no clergy person ever hopes for desperate times. And … I cannot help but notice the dramatic uptick in people seeking my spiritual services (both personal and communal) in the days since November 8, 2016.

The offerings I provide as my community’s “rabbi”(as I working and studying toward ordination in January 2018) and as an interfaith communal leader in Columbus tend to be less visibly valued when life is humming along for folks. My peers from other faith communities confirm this apparent apathy (which, I posit, flows much more from our societal norm of “over-busy-ness” than from actual apathy) is not just a “Jewish thing” or the product of our Little Minyan Kehilla’s relatively small size. Even with mounting evidence of less desire for religious spiritual services, those of us in the “business” of teaching, modeling, and bringing forth the Sacred that is always present in our world continue to do the work we do to nourish souls and inspire hearts, within our communities and more Transitionbroadly, regardless of how many people show up. It is truly a calling (as opposed to a career) for most of us. As someone who left a career path promising sustainable income – even prosperity, I am keenly aware that those of us who do this work are called (in a way that cannot be ignore) to serve the soul-needs of what research tells us is a dwindling number of people interested in seeking faith communities to meet “tribal” or affinity needs, explore ancient wisdom, develop intimacy with ritual practices, or cultivate a sense of the sacred tied to any particular theology.

And yet, these are, I believe, basic human needs that we have either suppressed or met in alternate, non-religious ways. And at the same time as Pew research shows a tremendous rise in the “nones” or unaffiliated in our country, it also reports that a 2016 “study of the ways religion influences the daily lives of Americans finds that people who are highly religious are more engaged with their extended families, more likely to volunteer, more involved in their communities and generally happier with the way things are going in their lives.”  

No matter what studies show, I will continue to offer spiritual services in an accessible and progressively-oriented religious context rooted in Judaism. Although, at times, the fear-driven animosity and dangerous rhetoric of the current political climate devastate me, I am encouraged and enlivened by the growing outreach by individuals and groups to one another and the openness of even “secular” gatherings to receiving comfort and inspiration from clergy.

I will continue to spread hope and positivity always, even in the darkest of times and places (and even when it feels like noone is interested) not because “the Bible says so” or because I am an eternal optimist, but because I trust the possibilities inherent in our human ability to CHOOSE GOODNESS, and because I have faith in the ability of hearts and minds to open through shared experience and dialogue. In addition, I know that history bears jks-columbus-unitedwitness to human collaboration accomplishing goals which felt impossibly remote and which, each time, bent the arc of morality toward justice.*

In this light of trust, faith and knowing, I share the words I offered to the gorgeously hope-filled and loving crowd that gathered as “Columbus United” on Tuesday, November 29th at the Ohio Statehouse.

Dear Friends … I invite you to join me in grounding and centering ourselves in this moment in time and space: 

  • feel yourself firmly rooted in this action of unified civic responsibility;
  • bring your attention to your breath;
  • notice your feet planted upon our mother Earth, this land that, long before our ancestors arrived, was home to native peoples – Adena and Hopewell, then Wyandotte and Mingo, tribes of the Iroquois nation;
  • look around and notice who is near you and then expand your gaze across this extraordinary amalgamation of central Ohio’s diverse human beauty. It is both our commonalities and our differences that strengthen the fabric of our shared community here in central Ohio.

It is vital – now more than ever, that we see and engage beyond the borders of our neighborhoods, congregations, affinity groups, to see and meet and really know one another ~ to truly live into the sacred words of so many faith traditions to LOVE THY NEIGHBOR. And I’m not talking about the person who lives next door! I am talking about the person who looks different from me. The person who has a different skin tone than I do, or who can’t afford to buy groceries where I do, or who speaks with an accent, dresses, prays differently than I do. THAT is my NEIGHBOR. THAT is the person I LOVE. 

And, folks, I dare say, that includes the person who voted differently than I did. Let us channel our despair into productivity and progress, and turn our anger into compassion and conversation, even for and with those whose fear motivates them to vote in ways that we cannot stomach.

I am well-aware that I stand with you tonight as a person of privilege.

As a woman and as a Jew, only a generation or two separates me from the bonds of “other-ness,” however, I have grown up and lived comfortably in Columbus, insulated from the daily issues that challenge and frustrate and beat down and even kill my neighbors who were born into a different life circumstance than I. Tonight and as we move forward, I defer to those whose very lives and liberties are on the line as we create the agenda of this movement, and I stand with you in support of your dignity, integrity, and equal right to live safely and securely in our shared community.

Like you, my heart and my conscience called me to be here this evening. When we stand, united, there is a palpable energy that arises. The power of the collective voice, the compassion of the collective ear, the comfort of collective purpose, the strength of collective action, the inspiration of collective belief in basic American values ~ decency, dignity, fairness, justice, and equal rights under the law are what we demand of our elected and appointed leaders.

I can understand pessimism, but I don’t believe in it. This is not simply a matter of faith on my part, but of historical evidence. Not overwhelming evidence, I admit, but enough for hope to thrive, because for hope, we don’t need certainty, only possibility.**

With the pregnant possibility present here tonight, I offer this prayer,

El HaRachaman ~ Holy One of Womb-like Compassion

Let us embrace this whole muddied mess with fresh eyes,

with ears open to listening carefully and completely,

with hearts strengthened by brokenness,

with rhythmic breath deep enough to release narrowness, bitterness, and fear,

and with smiles fortified by new friendships and faith in the power of our collectivity.

“One of the most calming and powerful actions you can do to intervene in a stormy world is to stand up and show your soul” said poet Clarissa Pinkola Estes. “The light of the soul throws sparks, can send up flares, builds signal fires, causes proper matters to catch fire. To display the lantern of soul in shadowy times like these – to be fierce and to show mercy toward others; both are acts of immense bravery and greatest necessity.”

May we take the soul-light of this evening together and share it ~ share it until it illuminates the darkness and brightens the lives of EVERY NEIGHBOR in our city.

* the well-known phrase, “the arc of the Universe is long, but it bends toward justice,” used so poignantly by the Reverend Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., was initiated by Theodore Parker, a Unitarian minister and prominent American Transcendentalist born in 1810 who called for the abolition of slavery. Click here for an interesting literary chronicling of this phrase.

**inspired by a Howard Zinn essay reprinted in his book Failure to Quit. He explained, “I was inspired by my students of the Eighties. I was teaching a spring and fall lec­ture course with four hundred students in each course (and yet with lots of discussion). I looked hard, listened closely, but did not find the apathy, the conservatism, the disregard for the plight of others, that everybody (right and left) was reporting about “the me generation.”

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