Friday, July 19, 2019

Thoughts On Immigration and Intolerance

The current polarizing climate in our national discourse is very disconcerting. The policies and proclamations of our leaders are provoking and exacerbating tensions between political parties, ethnic and racial minorities and religious communities.  Nowhere is this more felt than in the area of immigration.
Last week, the Immigration and Customs Enforcement Enforcement Agency (ICE) threatened to round up and deport men, women and children who were "illegal".  While it now appears that no action was taken (yet), the atmosphere of intimidation and fear that it fomented has created a moral crisis for those who see immigrants' rights as being threatened. I am posting two items below.  One is a letter to the editor of the Denver Post that, while not published, still deserves to be heard.  The other is a brief drash (short sermon) that I gave at services last Friday night.  
We pray that policies based on divisiveness and hatred might give way to a more moral, sane and caring agenda.
Shabbat Shalom!

Letter to the Editor - Denver Post
July 11, 2019
As a committed Jew, a Rabbi and the child of refugees, I was saddened to see the news that ICE is planning to begin deportation raids in Denver this weekend (“Nationwide deportation roundups to begin this weekend, according to Trump admins,” Denver Post, 7/11/2019). Many American Jews arrived here as immigrants and both my personal and  our communal history, as well as my religious values compel me to speak out against these raids. The Torah commands us 36 times to love and welcome the stranger. In Denver, immigrants are our friends, neighbors and colleagues. These raids will sow fear in this vital part of our community and risk separating families by taking U.S.-born children away from undocumented parents. I urge ICE to cancel the planned raids. We need a just and compassionate immigration policy in the United States – not raids and mass deportations.

Rabbi Joseph R. Black
Sr. Rabbi – Temple Emanuel, Denver.

Chukkat - July 12, 2019

In this week’s Torah portion, Chukkat, we read of how Moses is punished for disobeying God.  The people are rebelling (again) and complaining that they have no water.  God then tells Moses to speak to a rock and water will come forth. But Moses, instead of speaking to the rock, strikes it twice after yelling at the people:  “Listen, you rebels!  Shall we get water from this rock?” After he yells at the people and strikes the rock, copious water poured forth.

There are many Midrashim (rabbinic stories) about this portion.  The Rabbis comment on how Moses’ punishment seems harsh.  The commentators differ as to the reason.  Rashi said it was because he disobeyed God.  Rambam, however, says that his punishment came about because he used the words “You rebels” and struck out in anger.

From this we learn that leaders should not allow their personal anger, grudges or prejudices to dictate the policies, laws and decrees.

Governance out of anger or vengeance always leads to unhealthy and uninformed decisions.

I speak of this tonight when our City of Denver – and a few other selected cities around the country – is preparing for a surge of actions by Immigration and Customs Enforcement – or ICE. As we sit here, members of our community are gathering in protest at ICE facilities in Denver.  The message of the protesters is that any arrests, rounding up of immigrants or threats to do so cause a huge amount of anxiety in a population that is already traumatized by family separation, harsh and inhumane holding cells and camps. Asylum seekers fleeing horrible and life-threatening situations are being treated as criminals.

It would appear that our governmental officials are acting out in anger – rather than compassion.

I am not advocating for eliminating any restrictions on immigration or asylum seeking. There must be a safe and legal way to deal with men, women and children who come to our borders seeking entry.  And yet, the act of looking for a better life for oneself and one’s children is part of the history of our nation.

I am the child of a refugee.

Most of us here tonight are the descendants of men and women who fled their counties in search of a better and safer life for their families.  Striking out in anger will only cause more pain and suffering – not only for those seeking a new life in the United States – but also for all of us.  We reflect the values, policies and actions of our leadership and law enforcement.  The way we treat outsiders will eventually impact the way we treat one another.

In the Torah, the words:  “You Shall not oppress the stranger – for you know the heart of the stranger – having yourselves been  strangers in the Land of Egypt” – occurs no less than 36 times.

When we shut ourselves off from the pain and suffering of those who come to us in desperate straits; when we are indifferent to their suffering and pain; when we demonize them as the “other” and ignore the root cause of their need to come to our borders, we, like Moses, are refusing to listen to God’s voice.

Shabbat Shalom

Sunday, July 14, 2019

Walking ‘Round The Lake

Last week, Sue and I walked around Lake Harriet during our annual visit to Minnesota- one of the many beautiful lakes in Minneapolis. I met Sue in the Twin Cities. I began my Rabbinate at Temple Israel.
Walking around a lake is a quintessential Minneapolis pastime.
This poem/song is a reflection on the passage of time and the power of love.

Walking round the lake
July 8, 2019
Words and Music © Rabbi Joe Black
All Rights Reserved

Walking round the lake
The memories keep flooding in
Each time you circle round
It’s sometimes hard to take - 
Footsteps bring you closer
As you dream about the sound.

Of endless days and longer strides
And winsome grooms and bashful brides
And paths you crossed when you were in your prime.
The wonder of a furtive glance
The promise of a new romance
Remembering a different, younger time.

Walking round the lake
You take a pause to catch your breath
And feel the wear and tear
The little creaks and aches
Reminding you to take it slow
Your legs are worse for wear.

But then you stop and look above
You hold her hand and feel the love
And think about the steps that led you here
Although it twisted with your fate
The path you took was worth the weight
You’ve shared it with the one you love so dear

Walking round the lake
You stop and sit upon a bench
Thankful for the breeze
What once was so opaque
Now shimmers like a dragon fly
That floats beneath the trees

Then you lose your shoes and free your feet
You dip your toes to beat the heat
And watch the ripples glisten in the sun
If life is just a circle game
Then I’ll take another turn again

And do my best to play until I’m done

Walking round the lake
The memories keep flooding in
Each time you circle round
Like frosting on a cake
You taste the simple sweetness
That you’ve found

And love is all around

Tuesday, July 2, 2019

Journey Through the Valley of the Shadow: A Reflection on Psalm 23

I  learned this morning of the tragic death of Devra Freelander - daughter of Rabbis Daniel Freelander and Elyse Frishman. She was struck by a vehicle as she rode her bicycle in Brooklyn. Devra was an extraordinarily gifted artist.  She was full of laughter, light and love. I have no words other than to reflect on how grief and love are intertwined. Our lives and those of dear friends intersect in ways both painful and beautiful. Their pain becomes our own as we try to fathom the depths of grief.  We walk together through the valley of the Shadow. 
Here is a poem I wrote in response to the news. 

For Danny,  Elyse and Devra z”l

גם כי אילך בגאי צלמוות
(Psalm 23)

Those who walk through the Valley of Shadows wear no shoes.
Their feet are cut and torn as they stumble through the darkness. 
With no time to pack a bag or say goodbye, they begin their journeys unprepared.

Some are dressed in finery: jewels gleaming like stars in the dim light.
Others are in pajamas, work clothes, prayer shawls or bathing suits.
Some clutch briefcases, papers, blankets or teddy bears.

And everyone wears their grief.

With each cautious, painful step, they move further into the abyss.
The chasm narrows.
Stretching out their fingers they trace the grooves carved by previous pilgrims
 - handholds hewn into the cold canyon walls.

Sometimes they march in silence.
Other times, singing hauntingly beautiful melodies, their voices echo to the very vaults of heaven.

The river that created this place does not flow from on high:
It was formed and filled by the tears of those whose bruised souls traversed the trail. 

No one walks alone here: 
Stumbling pilgrims are quickly caught and held aloft by those who travel beside them -
They are caressed and carried through the brambles and branches that, unexposed and hidden from sight, add to the chaos and confusion of the journey.

In time (for some) a light appears in the distance - piercing through the veil of darkness.
Hope - long buried, rises to the surface like a beacon

And with it, the weary marchers ascend to find a world that has been changed forever by their absence.
They return with pale faces and broken hearts.
But now, as experienced travelers, they will always have a suitcase packed and ready.

Rabbi Joe Black. 7/2/19 - Sivan 27, 5779