Friday, January 25, 2013

Prayer and Action

Moses has accomplished the exodus from Egypt, but his troubles are not over.  In this week's portion, Beshallach, (Ex. 13:17 - 17:16) Pharaoh once again has a change of heart and regrets letting the Israelites go.  He sends his armies of chariots after them.  The Israelites, camped by the Sea of Reeds, are caught between the armies of Pharoah and the sea.  Terrified, they blame Moses, saying, "Why did you take us out of Egypt, just for us to die in the wilderness?"  Moses turns to God, and prays for deliverance on behalf of the people.  And God gives him a surprising answer: "Why do you cry out to me?  Tell the Israelites to go forward. And you, lift up your rod and hold out your arm over the sea and split it so that the Israelites may march into the sea on dry ground".  God is telling Moses that not every moment is a time for prayer, but that sometimes it is a moment for action.

Mishkan T'filah, the new prayerbook of the Reform movement, has a short reading which says, "Pray as if everything depended on God.  Act as if everything depended on you."  The reading is attributed to Rabbi Ferdinand Isserman, but is remarkably  similar to the words of St. Augustine: "Pray as if everything depended on God; work as if everything depended on you".  I think this just proves that good thoughts make the rounds of all religions.  There are so many things beyond the power of human beings, but also so much that is within our grasp. The important thing is that we need both prayer and action.  

Tuesday, January 22, 2013

Words that will last

Here are some words from President Obama's second Inaugural Address that are destined for immortality:

We, the people, declare today that the most evident of truths – that all of us are created equal – is the star that guides us still; just as it guided our forebears through Seneca Falls, and Selma, and Stonewall... Our journey is not complete until our gay brothers and sisters are treated like anyone else under the law – for if we are truly created equal, then surely the love we commit to one another must be equal as well. 

I'm so proud of this president and so proud of us for electing him.

Monday, January 21, 2013

Still At It

Getting back on track is a lot harder than it seems it should be.  Perhaps the most important thing to do is to waste time trying to place blame on what happened to begin with.  Anyway, the tracks are there.  Now to find them.

Friday, January 18, 2013

A Freedom Time of Year

It is a happy coincidence of the Hebrew and secular calendars that this week’s Torah portion, Bo, (Ex. 10:1-13:16), falls in the same week as the commemoration of Martin Luther King’s birthday.  The Torah portion addresses the last three plagues of Egypt, and the exodus itself.  Within the first few verses of the portion, Moses and Aaron, speaking on behalf of God, utter the famous words, “let my people go”.  These words continued to resound throughout history.  Most notably, they were used by the civil rights movement of the 1960s, and mentioned by Dr. King in his 1964 acceptance speech of the Nobel Peace Prize:
Oppressed people cannot remain oppressed forever. The yearning for freedom eventually manifests itself. The Bible tells the thrilling story of how Moses stood in Pharaoh's court centuries ago and cried, "Let my people go." This is a kind of opening chapter in a continuing story. The present struggle in the United States is a later chapter in the same unfolding story. Something within has reminded the Negro of his birthright of freedom, and something without has reminded him that it can be gained. Consciously or unconsciously, he has been caught up by the Zeitgeist, and with his black brothers of Africa and his brown and yellow brothers in Asia, South America, and the Caribbean, the United States Negro is moving with a sense of great urgency toward the promised land of racial justice.
Nor is that struggle at an end, no matter how far we have come.  The Haggadah for the American Family, written by Rabbi Martin Berkowitz in that same time frame of the 1960s, looks prophetically towards the future in this reading:
The struggle for freedom is a continuous struggle, for never does man reach total liberty and opportunity.
In every age, some new freedom is won and established, adding to the advancement of human happiness and security.
Yet, each age uncovers a formerly unrecognized servitude, requiring new liberation to set man’s soul free.
In every age, the concept of freedom grows broader, widening the horizons for finer and nobler living.1
As we face this coming week, may each of us feel the need to continue the struggle for freedom, wherever in our world it may be needed. 

1And a tip of the kippah to Alice for bringing the Haggadah reading to my attention.

Monday, January 14, 2013

Sutro Sam

The Los Angeles Times featured an article about Sutro Sam, a river otter who has taken up residence in San Francisco's famed Sutro Baths, a set of pools no longer in use--by humans, anyway--on cliffs overlooking the Pacific Ocean.  The otter is causing great excitement among the ecology set, as river otters once thrived in the area until human development and the fur trade wiped them out.  Since he is the only one, no one knows quite how he got there.  The article suggests that he might have paddled across San Francisco Bay from Marin County, or hitched a ride on a boat.  In any case, Sam the urban otter seems happy to be where he is. 

I worry about Sam.  I live in Glendale, California, where a misplaced bear recently made himself at home in an urban area.  The residents left food out for him and named him "Meatball".  They forgot that a bear is not a cuddly stuffed toy, but a wild animal.  The poor fellow had to be trapped and transported several hundred miles away, because when he was returned to nearby woods, he would of course come back to the source of the food.  People are going to start feeding Sam, or some enterprising soul is going to bring a lady river otter to keep him company, and maybe start a little family. For as long as he is in a public urban place, people are going to mess with him.  Probably, someone will get too close, get bitten, and Sam's publicity will go bad.  Sam, I know you like the Sutro Baths.  I like them, too.  But please, before anything happens, go back where you came from.

Sunday, January 6, 2013

Tacking Back Into Port

A man named Rico taught me to sail.  I didn't learn much but, then, we didn't have more than two or three lessons.  Rico was dying and he couldn't sail alone anymore.  He asked me if I'd go along 'just in case' and I agreed to do so.  Rico could barely sit without assistance on our last sail.  I did it on my own with his instruction and encouragement.  He had a great time.  Two days later he died.
I haven't been sailing since Rico's last time out.  While I didn't learn much about sailing from Rico.  I did learn a lot about living - and a little bit about dying.

Friday, January 4, 2013

The Upbringing of Moses

This week’s Torah portion, Shemot, (Ex. 1:1 – 6:1) begins by naming the descendants of Jacob who went to Egypt, and then jumps ahead to a much later time, when the Israelite people had become large enough to be considered a threat to the Egyptians, and when a Pharaoh came along who no longer knew what Joseph had done for Egypt, and held no gratitude.  They enslaved the Israelites, and put them to hard labor, but still the Israelites multiplied.  Then Pharaoh issued an edict to the Hebrew midwives that all male Israelite children should be put to death and only the female infants might live.

It is ironic that Pharaoh saw only the male Israelites as threats.   The greatest leader of the Israelite people, Moses, who led them out of slavery in Egypt, was assisted into his role almost exclusively by women.  The Hebrew midwives feared God, rather than the Pharaoh, and let the boys live.  Moses’ mother, after his birth, hid him for three months, then put him in a basket of bulrushes and placed it in the Nile.  Moses’ sister (not named here, but assumed to be Miriam) watched as Pharaoh’s own daughter took the child out of the river, and then offered her own mother as a wet-nurse for the baby, so that Moses was taken back into his own home.  When he was grown, Pharaoh’s daughter adopted him for her son, and took him to live in Pharaoh’s palace.  As a young man, Moses went out among the people and, seeing an Egyptian beating an Israelite slave, killed the Egyptian.  He fled to Midian, where he was taken in by the seven daughters of the priest, and marries one of them, Tzipporah.

Moses was chosen by God, but only after his sense of justice, fairness and resistance to oppression had been formed in him.  And most of those who taught him were the women in his life.

Wednesday, January 2, 2013

Baby Step Resolutions

It is so tempting to at this time of year make really big resolutions.  I resolve to lose fifty pounds, to run a marathon, to speak fluent French, to write that novel, to enjoy huge success, to keep all of my resolutions.
Of course we generally fail when we make such grandiose plans and making simple, achievable plans seems like we're taking the easy way out.
Let's resolve, then, to enjoy the success of manageable goals.  When we achieve a goal we tell ourselves that we can achieve another, and another, and another.
It's so easy to be hard on ourselves.  Let's take the hard way out of this.  Let's be easy on ourselves and set goals we can achieve.
Here's to goal achievement in the new year.

Tuesday, January 1, 2013

Book Review - Of Little Faith

A novel by Carol Hoenig - Booktango 2012 - ISBN 9781468900217

In 2005 Carol Hoenig’s first novel, Without Grace, received ForeWord Magazine’s Silver Medal for Book of the Year and First Place for Fiction by the DIY Book Festival.  Jada Press and the New York Book Festival awarded it honorable mentions.  Her The Author’s Guide To Planning Book Events was named finalist by USA Book and Reader Views.

Cover Image - Of Little Faith
Now comes Carol’s second novel, Of Little Faith.  Set in the politically charged and radically alive decade of 1960, Of Little Faith, speaks to the religious intolerance and bigotry that so fills today’s discourse.

Laura wants a baby.  Laura does not want a husband or even a father for her baby.  She wants to simply raise her child on her own independent of traditional definitions of what makes a family.  Creating an ‘out of the mainstream life’ is rarely easy and Laura’s desire for a child of her own is complicated by Eric, her minister brother, Jenny, Eric’s wife who so wants a child and can’t, and by Beth, Laura’s Christian fundamentalist, angry sister.

While trying to decide whether or not to even try to find a man willing to impregnate her and then disappear from both her life and nine months later from the life of the child, Laura must wrestle with her family’s religious beliefs, their collective grief over the recent death of their father, and with the reality that she currently lives in the family home of her childhood.

We learn of the events in Of Little Faith through first person narrations of the four central characters – Laura, Beth, Eric, and Jenny.  Through their voices we discover family secrets silent too long and losses beyond bearable.

Of Little Faith brings the past to the present and leaves its readers marveling that so little has changed in the minds of those who viciously adhere to fundamentalist beliefs.  Set in a turbulent time in which the nation seemed to peacefully strive for social justice in the backdrop of an inexplicable war, this novel reminds us that all too often hatred simmers just under the surface of presumed accomplishment until on a day very much like today it spews forth to inform political agendas and destroy lives.

Author Carol Hoenig masterfully weaves into the narrative in Of Little Faith a sense of triumph that even Beth, Eric, Jenny and yes possibly even today’s political fundamentalists can secure for themselves a sense of redemption and renewal.

Of Little Faith is available electronically from Amazon, Barnes & Noble, Kobo and Apple iBooks.