Los Angeles Mayor Eric Garcetti at Westwood Rally last evening
The violent speech, the praise of politicians who body slam journalists, the not so subtle dog-whistles that stir up racist hatred, Trumps’ appeal to white nationalism, his intolerance of people of color, his slander of those seeking political asylum because of their well-founded fear of persecution should they return to their nation of origin, his accusation that Middle East terrorists have inserted themselves into a wave of frightened women, children, and men refugees walking hundreds of miles to escape harm, his attack on the “other”, his calling every political critic “evil,” his attacking journalists as fake-news gatherers – all of it must stop and we must be the agents of change to stop it.
We American Jews thought we were safe from violence, but we now know if we didn’t before that the Jewish people remain the eternal scapegoats for haters because we affirm that every human being is created b’tzelem Elohim and is imbued with infinite value and worth.
We Jews have become the targets yet again of the haters’ projected venom and rage. Old world anti-Semitism showed its ugly head at Shabbat morning services in Pittsburgh and we mourn the loss of eleven Jews who wanted nothing other than to pray in peace and celebrate Shabbat.
As every speaker last night at the Westwood Federal Building Rally noted including Mayor Garcetti, all of us are in the same boat, America’s strength is our diversity, and Muslim, Christian, Jew, Latino, Black, women, men, and children are brothers and sisters. We may pray out of our respective religious traditions, but we’re all Americans.
It’s time to assert ourselves as we’ve not felt we’ve had to do before, to use the power of the vote on November 6 and take back the US government from those politicians who refuse to exercise moral courage and stand up to Trump and his minions.
It’s time to return decency to our nation and integrity to our democratic processes and institutions, to say no to voter suppression, and to support those candidates who will restore checks and balances that define our constitutional democracy.
The following analysis by Marty Kaplan in the Forward connects the dots between Donald Trump’s relentless tweets and rhetoric and the Pittsburgh atrocity –
“The Straight Line From 5,000 Trump Lies To 11 Jews Murdered In Pittsburgh” – By Marty Kaplan October 27, 2018 – the Forward –
Go to – https://bit.ly/2PuTenJ
Zichronam livracha! May the memory of the righteous be a blessing.
Our hearts break at the murders of eleven worshippers at Shabbat services at the Tree of Life Synagogue in Pittsburgh and of the shooting of the police sent to protect them this morning. We express our horror and grief at this hate-filled act that strikes at the heart of our American tradition of compassion and respect for the dignity of every human being.
The killer used the Hebrew Immigrant Aid Society (HIAS) that historically has reached out to immigrants and settled refugees in the United States as his foil for his anti-Semitic outrage, the worst attack on Jews in American Jewish history, but we express our pride in the good work that HIAS has done over the past century in fulfilling Emma Lazarus’s expression of our national commitment to welcome the tempest tossed to our country.
We want to assure our community that we have tightened security and had the LAPD in addition to our own security with us this morning at services. Our first obligation is to the safety and security of our community.
Recent events in our country have challenged our democratic values and institutions and our nation as a force of love and goodness in the world. Our community at Temple Israel is committed to combatting this destructive negativity and indecency. Please know that all of us are here for you as a source of comfort and moral support.
We will convene together at 9:30 am tomorrow at Temple Israel for prayer and solidarity if you would like to join us.
We send our condolences to the families of the victims and hopes for the complete healing of those injured.
May the souls of those lost today be bound up in the bonds of eternal life.
Senior Staff of Temple Israel of Hollywood and our Board President
“Make the lie big, make it simple, keep saying it, and eventually they will believe it.” Adolf Hitler
“The most brilliant propagandist technique will yield no success unless one fundamental principle is borne in mind constantly – it must confine itself to a few points and repeat them over and over.” Joseph Goebbels
“Naturally the common people don’t want war. But after all, it is the leaders of the country who determine policy, and it is always a simple matter to drag the people along, whether it is a democracy, or a fascist dictatorship, or a parliament or a communist dictatorship. All you have to do is to tell them that they are being attacked, and denounce the pacifists for lack of patriotism and exposing the country to danger, It works the same in any country.” Hermann Goering
“See, in my line of work you got to keep repeating things over and over and over again for the truth to sink in, to kind of catapult the propaganda.” George W. Bush
“Lies can run a mile before the truth gets its track shoes on.” Reverend Al Sharpton’s mother
“If you wish to establish a lie, mix a little truth with it.” Zohar, Numbers 161a
“Even a lie is a psychic fact.” Carl Jung
This week’s Torah portion Vayera reminds me of Sherlock Holmes’ famous line: “As ever, Watson – you see but you do not observe!”
Most of us are like Watson. At first sight, we see the surface of things, a person or object’s size, shape, color, line, texture, and form.
Jewish mysticism teaches, however, that nothing is as it appears – every physical thing is a reflection of something deeper, more complex, wondrous, and enriched than we imagine.
Jacob Neusner, the scholar of early rabbinic Judaism, understood this when he described the Mishnah, the 2nd century strictly rational and ordered law code, as an ideal spiritual architecture underpinning the physical world. Every letter, word, phrase, and law, he said, is a reflection of the seen and the unseen, the explicit and implicit.
This week’s Torah portion, Vayera, is about that kind of seeing. It embraces especially what God sees and what God wants us to see and then emulate; the physical and metaphysical, the material and intuitive, the moral and ethical underpinnings in the world.
The three-letter Hebrew root of the parashah’s title Vayera (“And God appeared…”) is resh-aleph-heh. This Hebrew root appears eleven times in a variety of forms (Genesis 18:1-22:24). In nine of the eleven, the root is used in connection with God and angels.
Abraham greets three God-like humans who ‘appear’ near his tent.
God goes to Sodom and ‘sees’ whether the people have turned from their evil.
Lot ‘saw’ two of God’s messengers.
Sarah ‘saw’ Hagar’s son Ishmael and feared he would receive the inheritance in place of her son Isaac.
Hagar ‘saw’ a well of water that would save her son Ishmael from dehydration and death.
Abraham and Isaac ‘saw’ the cloud hovering over a mountain called Moriah, the place where there would be both divine and human ‘vision.’
In nine of the eleven occurrences, there’s divine revelation. These chapters in Genesis point to our patriarch Abraham as the grand ‘seer’ of his generation.
In every one of these spiritual encounters, we sense a spiritual awakening. When the heart opens in this way and the soul ‘sees,’ we’re drawn more deeply into what being human means and what God requires of us, “To do justly, to love mercy, and to walk humbly with Your God.” (Micah 6:8)
What does Abraham see and do? The answer is the central moral message in this Torah portion and sets the stage for Jewish moral activism from that point forward.
Abraham circumcised himself and while recovering in pain he saw the three strangers approach. He got up and ran to welcome them despite his personal discomfort in an act of selfless hospitality.
Tradition understands these three men as angels sent for a three specific purposes. The first was to comfort Abraham as he recovered from circumcision. The second was to tell Abraham that God was about to destroy the cities of Sodom and Gomorrah. And the third informed Abraham that in her old age his wife Sarah would give birth to a child that would carry forward the family line.
Abraham is regarded as the first Jew not only because he sensed God’s unity and responded to God’s call, but because he personified the morality of the three angels’ mission.
He welcomed strangers into his tent with chesed (loving-kindness).
Upon learning that the two cities of Sodom and Gomorrah would be destroyed, he challenged God to behave according to God’s own divine standards of justice and save the innocent.
The story enumerates values that run through Jewish tradition; to welcome strangers, to care for the sick, to raise up the next generation, and to fight for justice.
Though Vayera is particular to Jews, its message is universal.
Chayei Sarah is a monumental Torah portion in the Book of Genesis (23:1-25:18) that establishes Hebron as one of our people’s holiest cities in the land of Israel.
The sidra begins by telling the story of Abraham buying burial space in the Cave of Machpelah for his wife Sarah. That site would become holy to Judaism and Islam through the generations, and the city of Hebron, which is overwhelmingly Arab with a small enclave of right-wing Jewish religious extremist settlers, is a hot spot between Israel and the Palestinians today.
The parashah also tells the moving story of Isaac’s and Rebekah’s meeting, betrothal and marriage arranged by Abraham through his servant Eliezer who his master sent to find a wife for his son Isaac.
For the first time in Jewish history we witness the passing of the baton of inheritance and leadership from one generation to the next.
I offer here a poetic Midrash on Isaac’s and Rebekah’s encounter leading to their marriage. It is based loosely on the Torah story as amplified by rabbinic Midrash and is a revisiting of a poem I wrote a few years ago and posted on this blog.
I love this story because Isaac’s and Rebecca’s meeting is simple and sweet. It offers a the hope of what’s possible between individuals and tribes that make up the Jewish people today and the peoples of the Middle East who suffer too much polarization, suspicion, distrust, and hatred of each other.
Imagine the scene – Isaac is alone meditating in an open field and Rebecca and Abraham’s servant Eliezer approach from afar in a camel caravan. I shift voices in the poem between Isaac, Rebekah and Eliezer. I begin with Isaac:
“To be alone amidst shifting wheat and rock, / Beneath the sun and stirred-up clouds / Hearing singing angels audible in the wind.
I’ve secluded myself as my father did / When he went out alone leaving all he knew / For a place he’d never been that God would show him.
I can do nothing else / Because Father broke my heart and crushed my soul / When he betrayed me by nearly offering me to his God / Stealing me away one morning before my mother Sarah awoke.
When my mother learned her soul passed from the world./ O how she loved me! / And filled me up with laughter, love and tears. / Bereft now I’m desolate in this field.
Compassionate One – / Do You hear me from this arid place / Filled with snakes and beasts, / Polluted by hatred and vengeance?”
As if in response from afar / A caravan appears of people and camels, / Led by Eliezer, Abraham’s servant, / With a young girl.
Isaac, burdened in grief neither looks nor sees. / He sits still lasuach basadeh / Meditating and weeping / Beneath the afternoon sun / And swirling clouds / And singing angels / Whom he cannot hear.
Rebekah asks: / “Who is that man crying alone in the field?” / Eliezer says: / “He is my master Isaac, your intended one, / Whose seed you will carry and make the future.”
“Vatipol min hagamal – And she fell from her camel” / Shocked and afraid onto the hard ground.
She veiled her face and bowed her head. / And Rebekah and Isaac entered Sarah’s tent, / And Rebekah comforted him.”
Poem by Rabbi John L. Rosove based on traditional Midrashim
For the past two years I have experienced, like so many of us, wide mood swings taking me from righteous indignation, disgust and outrage on one side to patience, perseverance and suffering on the other.
As we approach the mid-term elections on November 6, both extremes have filled me up.
On Sunday this past week, my family and I attended a 2000-person packed auditorium at the Culver City High School to hear Pete Souza, the personal photographer of President Obama (he is promoting a new book of photographs of the President called “Shade – A Tale of Two Presidents”). Most everyone in the hall was supportive and relived with sweet nostalgia, joy and longing the eight years of the Obama presidency.
Pete took us down memory lane and showed us many of his memorable candid photos of Obama (he took 1.9 million photographs during Obama’s eight-year term). Taken all together these photos reveal the humanity, grace, intellect, vision, thoughtful and considered brilliance of the 44th President.
Pete contrasted the current occupant of the White House with the man he respects and loves so deeply. Not once, as I can recall, did Pete mention the name of the current White House occupant – he referred to him several times as “that guy.” Only in hindsight did it occur to me that his not saying the President’s name was deliberate, that should he have done so would have dirtied his speech.
As November 6 approaches I have been remarkably impatient, short-tempered and excruciatingly worried. I don’t know the outcome to this crucial mid-term election, whether the Democrats will take back the House of Representatives or not (I don’t expect the Senate to change hands). No one knows what will happen and where we’ll be on November 7.
President Obama was right yesterday when he said to a crowd in Nevada as he campaigned that this is the most important election in our lifetime because it will determine the state of our democracy going forward at least over the next two years. All we can do is to be certain that everyone we know votes, especially in swing House districts and purple states.
Rainer Maria Rilke, the Bohemian-Austrian poet and novelist (1875-1926), offered the following wisdom about living patiently:
“Be patient toward all that is unsolved in your heart and try to love the questions themselves, like locked rooms and like books that are now written in a very foreign tongue. Do not now seek the answers, which cannot be given you because you would not be able to live them. And the point is, to live everything. Live the questions now. Perhaps you will then gradually, without noticing it, live along some distant day into the answer.”
I hope that on November 7 we will live the answer so many of us yearn to know.
The greatest Jewish theological revolution since the destruction of the Temple (70 CE) was brought about by Kabbalah. The greatest new idea about the relationship between God and humankind during the past 2000 years was introduced by Jewish mystics who boldly asserted that we humans have the ability to restore God’s wholeness and effect the end of God’s exile within the Divine Self.
Much of this new thinking was stimulated by Rabbi Isaac Luria (15th century, Safed) whose ideas about the origins of the universe led to the belief that the Jewish people has the capacity to create the conditions necessary for the coming of the Messiah.
Isaac Luria’s cosmology is powerfully innovative. He explains that when God contemplated creating the universe the Creator realized that there was no room for anything except God’s Self, Who filled time and space.
To accommodate the new creation God underwent contraction (tzimtzum). Before the beginning God was light, and so God took away some of the light and placed it in giant vessels (keilim), but the vessels were not strong enough to contain the light and an explosion shattered the vessels (sh’virat ha-keilim) flinging the shards (kelipot) to the four corners of the universe. Trapped in the shards were sparks (n’tzitzot). Whenever a Jew performs a mitzvah (commandment), a spark is released from a shard. When all Jews perform all the mitzvot all the sparks are released, the Messiah is ‘awakened,’ and Tikun Olam (restoration/repair of the world) results. When this occurs God too undergoes Tikun and the holiest Name (YHVH or Yod–Heh–Vav–Heh) is reunified.
Jewish mystics explain that the Yod–Heh (the first two letters of the 4-letter Name) represents the “highest” and purest of God’s ten emanations (Sefirot), but were separated from the Vav–Heh (the third and fourth letters of the holy Name) when the vessels shattered. The Vav-Heh represents the “lower” Divine Sefirot. As such, the “upper” and “lower” worlds were split apart mirroring the brokenness of our own world.
Enter Abraham, who in this week’s Parashat Lech L’cha (Genesis 12:1-17:27) receives the Divine call. That call and Abraham’s receptive response was a necessary stage leading to the unification (Yihud) of God’s holiest 4-letter Name. How so?
In Genesis 12:2 we read of God’s promise to Avram :
“I will make of you a great nation, and I will bless you; I will make your name great, and You shall be a blessing (Veh’yeh b’rachah).”
Note that God’s 4-letter Name (Yod-Heh-Vav-Heh) is comprised of the same 4 letters as Veh’yeh (“…and be a blessing”), but appear in a different order (Vav-Heh-Yod-Heh).
Rabbi Levi Yitzhak of Berditchev (1740-1809, Ukraine), teaching that nothing is to be overlooked in Torah and every word and letter have deeper metaphysical significance wrote:
“The letter Yod-Heh [the ‘higher’ Divine emanations] in the word Veh’yeh is an allusion to God, whereas the letters Vav-heh [the ‘lower’ Divine emanations] is an allusion to the Jewish people. As long as Abraham had not existed, there had not been a human being who tried to ‘awaken’ God’s largess to be dispensed in the lower regions. God’s largess, whenever the Eternal One dispensed it for the good of humankind, owed this exclusively to the Creator’s goodwill [i.e. meritless Grace]. As soon as Abraham became active on earth, there were deeds on earth that ‘awakened’ God to dispense the Divine largess as a result of acts performed by human beings. In other words, prior to Abraham, God’s Name could be spelled in the order Yod-Heh-Vav-Heh, whereas this order had now been reversed and God’s Name could be spelled as Vav-Heh-Yod-Heh… The reversal of the sequence of the letters Vav-Heh hints at this largess having its origin in the ‘lower,’ rather than the celestial regions.” (Kedushat Levi, translation and commentary by Rabbi Eliahu Monk, Lambda Press, volume 1, pages 43-44)
What is the meaning of this complicated understanding of the 4 letters in God’s Name? Until Abram appeared, Levi Yitzhak taught, there was no mutual relationship between God and humankind. However, with Abram all that changed. Abram’s capacity to “hear” God’s call (i.e. prophesy) and respond augured well not only for the future spiritual development of the Jewish people but signaled the beginning of Divine Tikun.
The Torah’s reversing the order of the letters represents Abram reversing the direction of largess that had exclusively come from God to humankind to a new paradigm that moved from humankind to God.
The idea that Jews can affect the internal life of God is revolutionary, not only in Judaism but in the history of religion. This is why, according to Jewish mystics, Abram was the world’s first Jew. As a Jew, each of us carries a burden, responsibility and opportunity to work towards tikun olam, the restoration/repair of a shattered universe. When that occurs so too is there a Tikun Shem M’forash (a restoration of God’s holiest 4-letter Name).
Note: As always, Rabbi Eric Yoffie articulates as well as anyone the core values and central issues confronting the American Jewish community and Israel. Today, he published in Haaretz his concerns about the mid-term elections and why he believes American Jews are so worried about the outcome.
I reprint his piece here in its entirety because many readers of this blog do not subscribe to Haaretz where his article appears. His piece is, I believe, important enough to disseminate beyond Haaretz readership. Please forward this to anyone you believe ought to read it.
“We know where bigoted, autocratic, indecent and parochial views like those of Donald Trump lead. U.S. Jews should be praying for every Democratic candidate canvasser to succeed: the American Jewish future depends on it
The Republicans are certain to retain control of the Senate, probably adding several seats to their current majority. And while the Democrats are still favored to take the House of Representatives, their lead in the polls is small and shrinking.
What does this mean for American Jews? Nothing good. Mainstream American Jewry is terrified. (More on that in a moment.)
But it is not the Jews alone who are dismayed. Much of middle-class America feels panicky and threatened, fearing both for the future of the Republic and their own well-being.
In my home congressional district in central New Jersey, concern about a Trump victory has generated furious energy and a firestorm of anti-Trump activism. No one remembers when the district was last represented by a Democrat, but the race this year is fiercely competitive.
The Democratic challenger is impressive, smart, and articulate, and is running even in the polls.
His opponent, the incumbent, is a more-or-less moderate Republican. But like virtually all Republicans these days, he refrains from even the gentlest criticism of Donald Trump. The problem with this strategy, of course, is that Donald Trump is the only real issue in the campaign.
The waves of volunteers in my area who are registering voters and canvassing neighborhoods on behalf of the Democrats are an interesting bunch. Most of them have never volunteered before, and some are not even Democrats. But they know a threat when they see one, and when they look at Mr. Trump, they are incredulous at what he is doing to their country.
These volunteers, mostly women, are generally establishment types, not given to alarmism or conspiracy theories. But in Trump they see a man who is fully capable of leading America down the path to autocracy.
It is not the corruption that they fear; New Jersey is hardly a stranger to corruption. Neither is it Trump’s predatory tax policies, intended both to punish blue states and reward the extremely wealthy. Unfair taxation, while deplorable, has been around for a long time.
The volunteers are scared of other, more insidious things: Trump’s brazen, non-stop attacks on the media, intended to delegitimize any criticism before it is even uttered; his heartless and cruel treatment of children, tearing toddlers from their mothers’ arms at the Texas border; his contempt for the law, demanding that his Attorney General pledge loyalty to him rather than to the Constitution; and on and on.
These women are not radicals but they have become resisters. Are there no limits, they ask? Are there no basic democratic norms to which the President can be held? Can we not expect from him some measure of fundamental human decency?
And that is why the midterms have assumed such importance. These activists know that if the Republicans retain control of both the Senate and House, the floodgates will be opened. “I have been endorsed by the people,” Trump will proclaim, with some justification.
If that happens, Americans know what to expect. The President will likely fire Sessions and Rosenstein and terminate the Mueller investigation. He may pardon all those already implicated.
Other possibilities include ratcheting up anti-immigrant rhetoric, instituting a new family separation policy at the U.S.-Mexican border, encouraging more voter suppression at the state level, and pushing out James Mattis and the few competent staffers that remain in the cabinet and White House.
Perhaps he will even signal to the Russians that interference in another presidential election would not be seen as too big a deal.
Not long ago, any one of these actions would have been utterly unthinkable. Today, every one is possible, and many are likely. And the list is far from complete.
And that is the reason that volunteers in my district and around the country are working with such energy, every minute of every day, to win control of the House for the Democrats. They know that with a House majority comes investigative power, and that such power is the only check and balance available to combat an out-of-control president.
Without it, there might be nothing to prevent Trump from undermining our democracy in irreversible ways.
And what of the Jews? Among the volunteers, there are many Jews, both in my district and elsewhere. Most would probably say that they oppose Trump for the same reasons as everyone else.
But my view is that the fear quotient among Jews is probably higher than it is for most Americans. After all, as a dispersed and vulnerable minority for much of their history, Jews have more experience than most other Americans with demagogues and autocrats. Decimated by the Holocaust, they also have a fuller understanding of how fragile modern democratic governments are.
And the result of this experience is that Jews crave the stability and security that attracted them to America in the first place and enabled them to thrive here. They prefer solid, established, middle-class governments. Rank populism scares them. Massive income inequality rattles them. Leaders who play coy with white supremacists frighten them to death.
But a solid, steady America is not Trump’s America. After almost two years of a Trump presidency, American Jews see an angry and divided country, a leader who thrives on chaos and disruption, a governing tone of incitement and petulance, and an America that has been turned upside down before their very eyes.
And if Jews know anything, they know this: When large segments of the electorate are filled with rage, normal standards of decency and civility fall quite easily, almost without notice.
Does this mean the emergence of anti-Semitism? Well, yes and no.
On the one hand, America is not an anti-Semitic country. Anti-Semitism exists here, but mostly on the fringes. On the other hand, anti-Semitic hate crimes rose almost 60% last year, the largest single-year jump on record.
This trend has attracted attention in my congressional district. In the last few months alone, swastikas have been painted on the walls of local high schools, KKK and other white supremacy literature has been distributed throughout the area, an explosive device was planted in a Jewish cemetery, and the home of a Jewish congressman was defaced.
Each incident, by itself, would likely be seen as “low level.” Collectively, they constitute a worrisome trend.
And the best explanation for what is happening is the nature of Trump’s leadership. The President, it should be noted, is not an anti-Semite and has not attacked the Jews. But he has shown no reluctance to attack and offend African-Americans, Hispanics, Muslims, and immigrants.
In expressing bigoted ideas about other minorities and foreigners, the President has crossed a threshold not even imagined by any other modern President. And the result is that the lowlifes on the anti-Semitic fringe have been emboldened to come out from under their rocks and go after the Jews. And Jewish voters, in my area at least, have taken notice.
And finally, Israel. Support for Israel is strong in my district, and the President’s decision to move the American embassy to Jerusalem won wide backing. Some Jews will vote for Trump’s party for that reason alone.
But most will not. Israel, after all, is an important consideration for American Jews on election day, but rarely the only – or even the decisive factor. And in any case, the idea of Trump as Israel’s savior doesn’t quite compute for many Jews, even enthusiastic Israel supporters like me who praised the embassy move as long overdue.
Let’s be brutally honest here. Trump has an allegiance to the Kremlin, expressed at Helsinki and elsewhere, that is so bizarre that we must wonder if he is even an American patriot. And let’s remember what Russia is doing right now: Allowing Iran to become entrenched in Syria, limiting Israeli intervention against Iran on Syrian soil, and colluding with Iran to evade American sanctions on Iranian oil. Is this really the best time for President Trump to be turning America into a Russian-proxy state?
The bottom line is that Trump is an America Firster, an isolationist, a nativist, and a protectionist. Trump has never really believed in American leadership in the world. And without such leadership, Israel will never be secure.
What Israel needs is an ally in America that is the dominant world power, militarily strong, and committed to prudent globalism. What Trump offers instead is a narrow parochialism that is simply untenable – dangerous for America, dangerous for the world, dangerous for Israel, and dangerous for the Jews. Right-wingers who pay attention to Trump’s bluster and think only of the embassy are being bamboozled.
For all these reasons, most American Jews will vote for Democrats this November.
For all these reasons, masses of American volunteers of all faiths and ethnicities will work until the last possible moment to assure a Democratic House of Representatives in the midterms.
And for all these reasons, if we value our democratic rights, fear the Trumpian drift toward autocracy, care about repairing our social fabric, and desire to recreate a real sense of American community, let us hope and pray those volunteers succeed.
Everything – including the fate of the American experiment and the welfare of the Jewish community – depends on the outcome.”
Eric H. Yoffie, a rabbi, writer and teacher in Westfield, New Jersey, is a former president of the Union for Reform Judaism. Twitter: @EricYoffie