Rabbi Deborah J. Brin  Jewish Ceremonies, Rituals & Pastoral Counseling ©2017 Rabbi Deborah J. Brin — Member: Reconstructionist Rabbinical Association and Alliance for Jewish Renewal
Rabbi Deborah J. Brin Albuquerque, New Mexico  Jewish Ceremonies, Rituals & Pastoral Counseling
Rabbi’s Reflections

Strengthen Our Hands — Kol Nidre, 5776/2015

Sunday, 11 October 2015   Rabbi Deborah J. Brin The call came a few days before Rosh HaShannah.A plan was in the making to hold an interfaith vigil for immigrant justice between Rosh HaShannah and Yom Kippur, and the caller wanted to know if I could be one of the speakers. This is the busiest time of year for any congregational rabbi and my plate was totally full. My reaction was swift and certain: I said “no”. As soon as I hung up, I began to reconsider. A few minutes later, I called back. Justin was overjoyed when I told him that this is such an important issue for us in Albuquerque and around the world that even though it was so close to Yom Kippur, I would be there. The two main organizers of the event were Rachel LaZar of El Centro and Justin Remer–Thamert of the New Mexico Faith Coalition for Immigrant Justice. Last Thursday, I wrote my three-minute talk, grabbed my shofar and went to the vigil in the Barelas neighborhood. Out of the approximately 150 men, women, girls and boys present, there were maybe 4 Jews and about 15 other non-Hispanics. There was no press coverage. The Catholic priest spoke first, in both English and Spanish. Then I spoke. I explained about our High Holy Days, about missing the mark, and about the symbolism of the shofar. This is some of what I said to them: “This ten day time period is a time of reflection followed by action… As for individuals, so it is for communities. [This] is a time when we look at our collective responsibilities and think about where we may have fallen short, and how we can do better. It is clear that one of the ways that we can do better as a community is to address the concerns of immigrants to this country and their families. We need to wake up to the terrible trauma and devastation to our communities when family members are separated from one another and people are forced to live in the shadows because they don’t have the right pieces of paper and have no way to obtain them. “During these High Holy Days, we blow a ram’s horn during services. It is called a ‘shofar’. We are taught that the shofar is sounded to wake us up from our habit of walking around the world as if we are asleep; to refocus our attention on what we need to be doing, and to remember what we need to do in order to live up to our goals and aspirations as a society to treat one another with dignity and respect and to help those we can.” Then I told them that I was going to “sound the shofar for justice for immigrants. It is also a symbolic ‘wake-up’ call to all of the citizens and political leaders in our country. The shofar is calling to all of us to awaken to the issues and concerns of migrants in our midst. The shofar is urging us to identify what is wrong with our immigration system and to work together to create compassionate and respectful solutions that bring people out of the shadows, and reunite families.” Rachel LaZar summarized what I had said in Spanish, and then I sounded the shofar – I blew a tekiah, a shevarim, a t’ruah, and a tekiah g’dolah. I stayed for the rest of the vigil. Watching everyone around me, listening to the rapid Spanish, hearing the translations into English when they were offered, I floated in my mind between the present and the past; between thoughts about the traumas and struggles of this Barelas community, and the traumas and struggles of our recent past. In that liminal state, I had two stark memories. One was from rabbinical school and one was a line from one of my mother’s poems that you heard earlier this evening. The line that echoed in my ear was: “we repent the weakness of our hands”. [Excerpted from “In the Fall” Harvest Ruth F. Brin]. My rabbinical school classmate, Mordechai Liebling, is the child of holocaust survivors. It was from him that I first learned that the trauma our parents experience is passed directly to us. We studied the Holocaust for most of a year, and on one of the many days that we were discussing it, Mordechai asked the rest of us what we keep in the suitcases under our beds. To his surprise, and to ours, it turned out that he was the only one who kept important papers, a few family photos, cash and a valid, up-to- date passport in an easy to grab case under his bed. It got us all thinking what we would do if we had to flee suddenly. What would we take? What was my unconscious mind, what the mystics call ‘the still small voice’, trying to communicate to me? We all know about the chaos in our world today, the thousands upon thousands of migrants fleeing Syria; and others who have fled from hotspots all over the world, from: Asia, Afghanistan, Africa, Nigeria and the Sudan, the Ukraine, and South America, mostly from Columbia. Just a few months ago, the UN released its estimate that in 2014 there were 60 million displaced people and homeless refugees wandering from place to place looking for food, shelter and safety. This is the highest number of displaced people since World War II. The UN breaks that vast number down into more understandable bits. Worldwide one in every 122 humans is displaced and that means that everyday more that 42,500 people pack up and flee their homes. Startlingly, more than half of these displaced people and refugees are children. Four months ago, the UN High Commissioner for Refugees, a man named Antonio Guterres, was quoted as saying, “With huge shortages of funding and wide gaps in the global regime for protecting victims of war, people in need of compassion, aid and refuge are being abandoned. For an age of unprecedented mass displacement, we need an unprecedented humanitarian response and a renewed global commitment to tolerance and protection for people fleeing conflict & persecution." [‘Worldwide displacement hits all- time high as war and persecution increase’ 18 June 2015. www.unhcr.org/558193896.html] These are complex and desperately urgent issues that no one knows how to solve. In the September 18th issue of the Forward, there was a provocative piece about the current refugee crisis by Deborah Lipstadt, a Professor of Modern Jewish History and Holocaust Studies at Emory University. In her article she acknowledges the inevitability that our holocaust memories and traumas will be triggered by the current crisis. She, like us, is struggling to discern what is truly happening. She has made donations to refugee assistance funds, and still she wonders: Do we need to make distinctions between those fleeing a war zone and those who are seeking to leave a poor country with limited opportunities? How will Europe be changed by integrating these massive numbers of people – will they be integrated, will they be able to function in a democratic society or will this lead to a rightwing backlash? Why haven’t the oil-rich Gulf States, who are Muslim, not taken in any of these Muslim refugees? Lipstadt closed her article by saying, ‘when people are drowning and babies are suffering the time to deliberate and search for answers may well be a luxury’. Here in the United States we are insulated from the ceaseless waves of migrants by an ocean and the European Union. These are dark, frightening and chaotic times at home and all over the world. What is there to do? Whatever we can do, small or large. Reb Zalman Schacter-Shalomi, zaycher tzadik livracha, used to tell us that we are all on this earth-plane because we are here to be deployed. I can hear him asking each of us: what is your mission to accomplish during this lifetime? Think about it. Yom Kippur is a long day of communal prayer and fasting. As the music of the liturgy washes over us, it is an opportune time to think deeply about ourselves and to ask what we are each called to do. What should we do? As my mother said in her poem, may her memory be a blessing: ‘We repent the weakness of our hands… mourning [our dead] we are forced into the jaws of self-analysis, into the claws of politics, into the canine teeth of empire.” What should we do? Whatever we are called to do. Whatever we can do. Many of us will send donations to organizations providing direct aid to the refugees. Some of us may venture into the ‘claws of politics and the canine teeth of empire’ in order to get our government to bring more refugees here sooner than the legal process currently allows. Still others of us may choose to get involved with issues of immigrant justice right here in New Mexico. We are all different from one another and our contributions to the solutions will be different. There are two critical questions to ask ourselves as we go through our day-to- day life: who can we help, and how can we do it? We need to be careful. Our busyness can keep us inflexible as we rush from one thing to the next trying to hold up our piece of the sky. Our busyness can limit our horizons, like horses with blinders on, we see only where we need to go and what we need to do to get through the day. Even if we are used to it, it is a place of constriction. If we are asked to do one more thing – we say “no”. Yom Kippur calls us to lift our heads up and gain a wider perspective. We need to prepare ourselves to notice opportunities when they present themselves. When we do notice, when we see beyond the demands of our own lives we toggle the switch to “yes”. “Yes” is the place of possibility and collaboration. You may have heard the story about the starfish. The original story was called “The Star Thrower” and was written by Loren Eiseley and published in 1969. The popular version goes something like this: A man was walking on the beach one day and noticed a young girl who was reaching down, picking up a starfish and throwing it in the ocean. As he approached, he called out, “Hello! What are you doing?” The girl looked up and said, “I’m throwing starfish into the ocean”. “Why are you throwing starfish into the ocean?” asked the man. “The tide stranded them. If I don’t throw them in the water before the sun comes up, they’ll die” came the answer. “Surely you realize that there are miles of beach, and thousands of starfish. You’ll never throw them all back, there are too many. You can’t possibly make a difference.” The girl listened politely, then picked up another starfish. As she threw it back into the sea, she said, “It made a difference for that one.” Our actions, small or large, will make a difference. In this coming year, let us grease the gears so that we can switch more easily between the needs of our own lives and the needs of the wider world. In this coming year let us notice opportunities as they arise to help others and say “yes”. If we do, we will not need to repent our lack of willingness or our inability to act. And we will not regret the weakness of our hands. Let us open our hearts and strengthen our hands. Let us do what we can. Remember what Margaret Mead said, “Never doubt that a small group of thoughtful, committed citizens can change the world; indeed, it's the only thing that ever has.”
For an age of unprecedented mass displacement, we need an unprecedented humanitarian response and a renewed global commitment to tolerance and protection for people fleeing conflict and persecution.
Rabbi Deborah J. Brin Personalized Ceremonies, Rituals & Pastoral Counseling
Rabbi Deborah J. Brin  Personalized Ceremonies, Rituals & Pastoral Counseling ©2017 Rabbi Deborah J. Brin
Rabbi’s Reflections

Strengthen Our Hands — Kol Nidre,

5776/2015

Sunday, 11 October 2015   Rabbi Deborah J. Brin The call came a few days before Rosh HaShannah.A plan was in the making to hold an interfaith vigil for immigrant justice between Rosh HaShannah and Yom Kippur, and the caller wanted to know if I could be one of the speakers. This is the busiest time of year for any congregational rabbi and my plate was totally full. My reaction was swift and certain: I said “no”. As soon as I hung up, I began to reconsider. A few minutes later, I called back. Justin was overjoyed when I told him that this is such an important issue for us in Albuquerque and around the world that even though it was so close to Yom Kippur, I would be there. The two main organizers of the event were Rachel LaZar of El Centro and Justin Remer–Thamert of the New Mexico Faith Coalition for Immigrant Justice. Last Thursday, I wrote my three-minute talk, grabbed my shofar and went to the vigil in the Barelas neighborhood. Out of the approximately 150 men, women, girls and boys present, there were maybe 4 Jews and about 15 other non- Hispanics. There was no press coverage. The Catholic priest spoke first, in both English and Spanish. Then I spoke. I explained about our High Holy Days, about missing the mark, and about the symbolism of the shofar. This is some of what I said to them: “This ten day time period is a time of reflection followed by action… As for individuals, so it is for communities. [This] is a time when we look at our collective responsibilities and think about where we may have fallen short, and how we can do better. It is clear that one of the ways that we can do better as a community is to address the concerns of immigrants to this country and their families. We need to wake up to the terrible trauma and devastation to our communities when family members are separated from one another and people are forced to live in the shadows because they don’t have the right pieces of paper and have no way to obtain them. “During these High Holy Days, we blow a ram’s horn during services. It is called a ‘shofar’. We are taught that the shofar is sounded to wake us up from our habit of walking around the world as if we are asleep; to refocus our attention on what we need to be doing, and to remember what we need to do in order to live up to our goals and aspirations as a society to treat one another with dignity and respect and to help those we can.” Then I told them that I was going to “sound the shofar for justice for immigrants. It is also a symbolic ‘wake-up’ call to all of the citizens and political leaders in our country. The shofar is calling to all of us to awaken to the issues and concerns of migrants in our midst. The shofar is urging us to identify what is wrong with our immigration system and to work together to create compassionate and respectful solutions that bring people out of the shadows, and reunite families.” Rachel LaZar summarized what I had said in Spanish, and then I sounded the shofar – I blew a tekiah, a shevarim, a t’ruah, and a tekiah g’dolah. I stayed for the rest of the vigil. Watching everyone around me, listening to the rapid Spanish, hearing the translations into English when they were offered, I floated in my mind between the present and the past; between thoughts about the traumas and struggles of this Barelas community, and the traumas and struggles of our recent past. In that liminal state, I had two stark memories. One was from rabbinical school and one was a line from one of my mother’s poems that you heard earlier this evening. The line that echoed in my ear was: “we repent the weakness of our hands”. [Excerpted from “In the Fall” Harvest Ruth F. Brin]. My rabbinical school classmate, Mordechai Liebling, is the child of holocaust survivors. It was from him that I first learned that the trauma our parents experience is passed directly to us. We studied the Holocaust for most of a year, and on one of the many days that we were discussing it, Mordechai asked the rest of us what we keep in the suitcases under our beds. To his surprise, and to ours, it turned out that he was the only one who kept important papers, a few family photos, cash and a valid, up-to-date passport in an easy to grab case under his bed. It got us all thinking what we would do if we had to flee suddenly. What would we take? What was my unconscious mind, what the mystics call ‘the still small voice’, trying to communicate to me? We all know about the chaos in our world today, the thousands upon thousands of migrants fleeing Syria; and others who have fled from hotspots all over the world, from: Asia, Afghanistan, Africa, Nigeria and the Sudan, the Ukraine, and South America, mostly from Columbia. Just a few months ago, the UN released its estimate that in 2014 there were 60 million displaced people and homeless refugees wandering from place to place looking for food, shelter and safety. This is the highest number of displaced people since World War II. The UN breaks that vast number down into more understandable bits. Worldwide one in every 122 humans is displaced and that means that everyday more that 42,500 people pack up and flee their homes. Startlingly, more than half of these displaced people and refugees are children. Four months ago, the UN High Commissioner for Refugees, a man named Antonio Guterres, was quoted as saying, “With huge shortages of funding and wide gaps in the global regime for protecting victims of war, people in need of compassion, aid and refuge are being abandoned. For an age of unprecedented mass displacement, we need an unprecedented humanitarian response and a renewed global commitment to tolerance and protection for people fleeing conflict & persecution." [‘Worldwide displacement hits all-time high as war and persecution increase’ 18 June 2015. www.unhcr.org/558193896.html] These are complex and desperately urgent issues that no one knows how to solve. In the September 18th issue of the Forward, there was a provocative piece about the current refugee crisis by Deborah Lipstadt, a Professor of Modern Jewish History and Holocaust Studies at Emory University. In her article she acknowledges the inevitability that our holocaust memories and traumas will be triggered by the current crisis. She, like us, is struggling to discern what is truly happening. She has made donations to refugee assistance funds, and still she wonders: Do we need to make distinctions between those fleeing a war zone and those who are seeking to leave a poor country with limited opportunities? How will Europe be changed by integrating these massive numbers of people – will they be integrated, will they be able to function in a democratic society or will this lead to a rightwing backlash? Why haven’t the oil-rich Gulf States, who are Muslim, not taken in any of these Muslim refugees? Lipstadt closed her article by saying, ‘when people are drowning and babies are suffering the time to deliberate and search for answers may well be a luxury’. Here in the United States we are insulated from the ceaseless waves of migrants by an ocean and the European Union. These are dark, frightening and chaotic times at home and all over the world. What is there to do? Whatever we can do, small or large. Reb Zalman Schacter-Shalomi, zaycher tzadik livracha, used to tell us that we are all on this earth-plane because we are here to be deployed. I can hear him asking each of us: what is your mission to accomplish during this lifetime? Think about it. Yom Kippur is a long day of communal prayer and fasting. As the music of the liturgy washes over us, it is an opportune time to think deeply about ourselves and to ask what we are each called to do. What should we do? As my mother said in her poem, may her memory be a blessing: ‘We repent the weakness of our hands… mourning [our dead] we are forced into the jaws of self-analysis, into the claws of politics, into the canine teeth of empire.” What should we do? Whatever we are called to do. Whatever we can do. Many of us will send donations to organizations providing direct aid to the refugees. Some of us may venture into the ‘claws of politics and the canine teeth of empire’ in order to get our government to bring more refugees here sooner than the legal process currently allows. Still others of us may choose to get involved with issues of immigrant justice right here in New Mexico. We are all different from one another and our contributions to the solutions will be different. There are two critical questions to ask ourselves as we go through our day-to-day life: who can we help, and how can we do it? We need to be careful. Our busyness can keep us inflexible as we rush from one thing to the next trying to hold up our piece of the sky. Our busyness can limit our horizons, like horses with blinders on, we see only where we need to go and what we need to do to get through the day. Even if we are used to it, it is a place of constriction. If we are asked to do one more thing – we say “no”. Yom Kippur calls us to lift our heads up and gain a wider perspective. We need to prepare ourselves to notice opportunities when they present themselves. When we do notice, when we see beyond the demands of our own lives we toggle the switch to “yes”. “Yes” is the place of possibility and collaboration. You may have heard the story about the starfish. The original story was called “The Star Thrower” and was written by Loren Eiseley and published in 1969. The popular version goes something like this: A man was walking on the beach one day and noticed a young girl who was reaching down, picking up a starfish and throwing it in the ocean. As he approached, he called out, “Hello! What are you doing?” The girl looked up and said, “I’m throwing starfish into the ocean”. “Why are you throwing starfish into the ocean?” asked the man. “The tide stranded them. If I don’t throw them in the water before the sun comes up, they’ll die” came the answer. “Surely you realize that there are miles of beach, and thousands of starfish. You’ll never throw them all back, there are too many. You can’t possibly make a difference.” The girl listened politely, then picked up another starfish. As she threw it back into the sea, she said, “It made a difference for that one.” Our actions, small or large, will make a difference. In this coming year, let us grease the gears so that we can switch more easily between the needs of our own lives and the needs of the wider world. In this coming year let us notice opportunities as they arise to help others and say “yes”. If we do, we will not need to repent our lack of willingness or our inability to act. And we will not regret the weakness of our hands. Let us open our hearts and strengthen our hands. Let us do what we can. Remember what Margaret Mead said, “Never doubt that a small group of thoughtful, committed citizens can change the world; indeed, it's the only thing that ever has.”
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