Wednesday, April 21, 2021

Opening Prayer for the Colorado State House After the Chauvin Verdict - April 22, 2021

 

Our God and God of all people,

Two days ago, the eyes of our nation and the entire world were focused on a court room in Minneapolis, Minnesota - a city I love dearly having served there 34 years ago as a young Rabbi fresh out of Rabbinical School. I spent 9 wonderful years there.  It was in Minneapolis that I met my wife, and both of our children were born in the Twin cities. This past Wednesday, our nation and people of conscience around the world held our collective breaths as Derek Chauvin, a former Minneapolis Police officer was convicted on three counts of murdering George Floyd. The video of the agonizing 9 minutes and 29 seconds it took from the moment that Chauvin’s knee was pressed into the back of his victim as he pleaded for life showed, in graphic detail, how easy it was for a human being to descend into the depths of depravity and evil. We then saw how the despair of those who had lost faith in the system and were convinced that justice was not possible was replaced by jubilation mixed with pent-up grief as a family and a nation learned that this time, at least, the system would be held accountable.

While justice was served in that courtroom, we all know that three guilty verdicts do not change the world overnight. That will take hard work, painful soul-searching, dialogue and meaningful prayer.

God, we ask for your help as we look deep into ourselves and our souls and pose essential questions about the meaning of hatred, racism and inequality. Let us question everything and remember that there were times in the not-so-distant past when this sacred chamber and others like it were used to maintain and sustain systems of oppression that all too often were created and enforced by those who used Your name in vain to prop up the status quo.

God - grant your blessings on our Great State of Colorado. Guide these legislators and those who work within these walls with the ability to shut out the noise of political posturing and hear, feel and respond to the pain, distrust and grief of too many of our citizens. Now is a time for study, dialogue and healing. While divisions and disagreements will always exist in the messy arena of crafting legislation, may any conflicts that do arise be for the sake of the common good. In this time of division, let us build on the yearning for justice and reconciliation that we are witnessing on the streets of Minneapolis and around the world. May demonization give way to declarations of solidarity and a desire to learn from the past - so that it may never be repeated.

We have work to do - all of us: from those crafting the laws, to those whose privileges have been gifted by the color of their skin or the accidents of birth. Help us to see Your presence in the faces of those whom we fear and those who fear us.

May we all live up to the promises of hope that brought us here today.

AMEN.

 

Wednesday, March 31, 2021

Opening Prayer for the Colorado State House - April 1, 2021

Our God and the God of all people: 

God of the healthy and God of the afflicted.
God of the Left and God of the Right 
God of the Judged and God of the Jurist 
God of the Doubter and God of the Driven 
God of those who have no God: 

It has been over a year since I have been able to stand in front of this august body and offer a prayer. 
So much has changed! 
Lives have been lost. 
Lines have been crossed 
Protocols tossed… 

 And the world has been sheltering in place – longing, like Moses to see Your face – reflected in the hopes and fears of those who have risked their lives to bring an end to this deadly pandemic that has stolen over 552,000 American dreams – and millions more around the world. 

When faced with the enormity of the challenges that confront us – as a State, a nation, as fellow travelers on this precarious planet, we seem small and inconsequential. And yet, as fragile as we may feel in response to the challenges that await, we also know that to do nothing is antithetical to the human spirit. 

Buried beneath the layers of legislation and protocol that consume every elected official, advisor, clerk, officer and servant of this chamber is a seed of hope – waiting to germinate and blossom into legislation that lifts up the Springtime possibility of promise. 

We stand together at a sacred time for the Jewish, Christian and Muslim Communities. The messages of rebirth and renewal that are central to the festivals of Passover,  Easter and Ramadan compel us to find hope in times of trauma. 

Those who have been charged with leading our State and creating and protecting its laws - and all who labor to support you - are blessed with the potential to make a difference. 

May any arguments that arise be for the sake of Heaven. Bless this house, O God. May enmity provoke aspiration. May conflict dissolve into communion. And may we all find Your presence in our lives as we witness the rebirth and renewal of this sacred season. 

AMEN

Friday, January 8, 2021

Our Brokenness is A Pathway to Holiness: Reflections on Violence and Sedition in Our Nation’s Capital

 

Remarks Delivered at an Interfaith Service For Peace

January 7, 2021

Dear Friends,


Tonight, we are in a collective state of shock. We have come looking for hope and peace in a world where everything we know has been turned upside down.


Tonight, we are isolated physically because of this insidious pandemic. But we are also isolated spiritually as we relive the experience of watching in horror as our sacred Governmental institutions and rituals have been desecrated.


We come to this service tonight looking for two distinct things:  Community and Perspective.


We need community when we feel alone and afraid. Certainly, the images of violent hooligans – with racist and hateful messages - running through the halls of congress can easily bring on despair.


But we also need perspective.  We cannot allow these events to color our vision of hope for what our nation and our world should and must be.


In Jewish tradition, each week we read a different portion of scripture – of Torah – that takes us through the entire 5 books of Moses during a calendar year.  This week, we begin a new chapter – the Book of Exodus – that tells the story of the enslavement and liberation of the Israelites.


There is a Midrash – a Rabbinic exegesis - of Exodus 1:13 that speaks of how Pharaoh enslaved the Israelites with ruthlessness. The Hebrew word for ruthlessness that is found in our text is “Farech.” Commenting on Farech, the ancient rabbis used a play on words to teach an important lesson.


They split Farech into two separate words: “Feh” and “Rach”. “Feh” (or Peh) means “mouth,” and “Rach” means “gentle.”  In other words, Pharaoh used “Gentle speech” to oppress the Israelites.


The Rabbis, in the Midrash, wrote of how Pharaoh was deceptive in his plan for enslavement.  They said that he initially worked alongside of the Israelites making bricks. He partnered with them as if to show that this was a glorious and patriotic project for all of Egypt.


Eventually, Pharaoh stopped working with the Israelites and appointed Taskmasters in his place.  Then he established increasingly high quotas that were impossible to fulfill – punishing those who could not keep up. Gradually, the language of partnership devolved into that of enslavement. By then, it was too late.

You see, an atmosphere of oppression does not happen overnight.

It begins slowly - with soft words that focus on patriotism and glorification.

And then, things begin to change. Those who wish to do harm grow bolder and more aggressive.  They “test the waters” to see who will stop them – when no one speaks up, they add more and more pressure to accomplish their goals.

The insidiousness of this technique is that in the beginning, the perpetrators of this deception can say – if confronted - “It was only words. I can’t control what people will do with them!”

What happened yesterday in our nation’s capital began with words from our President and his enablers such as:

o   Patriotism

o   Standing up for American Values

o   Protecting our Democracy

But the meaning and intent of those words were very clear: To inspire and provoke the most radical elements and to give a green light to criminals bent on disrupting one of the most sacred ceremonies in our nation – the smooth and peaceful transition of power from one administration to the next.

The violence that erupted yesterday afternoon did not take place in a vacuum or overnight. It was not the result of one political party – rather, it was a logical culmination of 4 years of deliberate provocation and manipulation at the hands of those whose main concern was consolidating and controlling power.


My friends, tonight we come together to pray for peace. But peace is not easy. It also is not stable. It needs to be nurtured, protected, and constantly monitored. We also need to call out those who will disrupt peace – we must stop them in their tracks as they use whatever means they have to impose their will upon us.


We know that there have always been and always will be those who will look for cracks in the foundation of our sacred democratic principles - and who will find ways to manipulate those cracks to isolate and denigrate the foundations of decency that must be in place if we are to claim to be an ethical society.   


One of the images that has stuck with me as I reflect on the violence that we witnessed in real time yesterday afternoon was the broken glass in our Capital. The thugs who invaded our Capitol broke windows and created havoc as they invaded our sacred space.


As a Jew, as the son of a mother who fled Nazi Germany in December of 1938, the images of broken glass littering the floors of our State Capitol is especially jarring. The night of November 9th, 1938, Hitler’s thugs went on a planned rampage – a Pogrom -throughout Germany. They burned synagogues and ransacked Jewish-owned businesses.  That event became known as Kristallnacht – ­the “Night of Broken Glass” because of the image of all of the glass that littered the streets of Germany. In addition to being the beginning of the end of European Jewry, Krystallnacht also was a way for Hitler to “test the waters” of world opinion. He wanted to see how other nations would react to an act of violence and provocation.  The silence that flowed from the Capitals of the civilized world served as a green light for Hitler’s plan of genocide that we now call the Shoah, or the Holocaust.


Thankfully, we have learned from history. The broken glass that desecrated the halls of Congress has not been ignored. Our presence here tonight is a testimony to the fact that we will not allow this evil to stand unchecked. 

Tonight we condemn the cracks in the system.  We call out:

  • The cracks in the windows - worn down by violence and persistence;
  • The cracks in the systems of policing that allowed this to happen;
  • The cracks in the narrative of the power of our constitution to prevent something like this from happening;
  • The cracks in communication that has allowed lies and conspiracy theories to serve as motivators for hatred and violence.

There always will be cracks – but as the late great, songwriter, Leonard Cohen wrote in his powerful ballad, Anthem:

Ring the bells that still can ring
Forget your perfect offering
There is a crack a crack in everything
That's how the light gets in.

 

My friends, tonight we come looking for peace. But we also know that the path to peace lies in picking up the pieces of our brokenness and using them to rebuild a better tomorrow.

We believe in a God who is good.

We believe that we were created for the purpose of shining the light of God in the world.

And when darkness occurs – our task – as people of faith – as citizens of a great nation – is to shine that light through the cracks and illuminate the brokenness around us – and rebuild so that we might be stronger

May we succeed in all our sacred endeavors.

AMEN

Wednesday, January 6, 2021

A Response to the Riots in our Nation's Capital - January 6, 2021

This is a letter that I sent to my congregation this afternoon:

My Dear Friends,

As we watched the scenes of pandemonium unfolding in Washington, DC this afternoon, we were justifiably horrified by the violence and chaos unleashed by mob violence. The fact that our nation’s capital was desecrated on this day when our elected officials gathered to perform the sacred act of ritually formalizing the results of a presidential election imbues these horrific events with additional gravity. I, along with many of you, am very concerned about how this riot will impact the future of our Republic.

This week, we begin a new book of Torah. We read the first Chapter of Exodus where we find the words: “A new king arose over Egypt who did not know Joseph.”(Exodus 1:8)  Immediately following this statement, we learn of the dangers involved in governmental transition. The new Pharaoh upends Egyptian society by undoing the policies of his predecessor, enslaving the Israelites, and instituting a brutal campaign of genocide.

While we would hope that the laws, norms, and behaviors that define, defend, and protect a nation from chaos would be upheld for the sake of stability and continuity, ultimately, the character and values of a nation are refracted and projected by its leader. Just as Pharaoh’s cruelty, insecurities and fears resulted in our ancestor’s enslavement, so too, our outgoing president, by his lack of clear and timely condemnation, and tacit encouragement of the rioters, has the potential to gravely injure the foundations of Democracy that created the very buildings that were ransacked by his unruly mob.

Times of transition are often fraught with instability. It is for this reason that our Founding Fathers created a system of checks and balances that revolve around the expectation that our leaders will demonstrate restraint, gravitas, and humility when elections are decided. That our current president has refused to acknowledge his loss, promoted false narratives of conspiracy, and has actively encouraged resistance is cause for alarm and condemnation.

Regardless of our political leanings, we must not remain silent when our leaders abdicate their responsibility to lead by example. Silence in the face of violence can never be tolerated. I pray that justice will prevail and the transition to the new administration will be peaceful and bring us the healing that we so desperately need. If you feel called to do so, please reach out to our Senators and Congressional representatives to express your feelings in this matter.

In every service we read the words:  Oseh Shalom Bimromav, He Yaaseh Shalom Aleynu…”  “May the One who makes peace on high, make peace for us as well.”

Let us take this prayer to heart as we move forward into a new beginning.

L’Shalom (In Peace),

 

Rabbi Joseph R. Black

 


Monday, November 9, 2020

The Alchemist

I wrote these lyrics after Donald Trump’s inauguration in 2017. 


The Alchemist 

© Joe Black- January 28, 2017


He doesn't have any standards

He's immune to other's cries

He only listens when he's pandered to

He can't decipher his own lies  


His world's completely golden plated

From floor to gaudy chandelier

He likes to keep himself sedated

Not from pleasure, but from fear


He has a mighty disposition 

To keep the losers out of touch

But with each greasy acquisition 

There never ever is enough


CHORUS:

He's lashing out again 

Fighting all his demons

Only he knows all the reasons for

His real time fantasy

He's cashing in to spend 

The riches he's been saving

On the potions he's been craving  

For his hateful alchemy


He craves wealth and he craves power

No matter how it comes his way

But grows more troubled every hour

When he hears what others' say


He wants every one to fear him

For love’s  beyond his scope

He must own everyone who's near him

Lest they try to find some hope

 

CHORUS


There's a gaping hole inside him

That no doctor's care can ever fill

As it grows it will divide him

From the walls he tries to build


He issues edicts aimed to stifle

All resistance and dissent

But with each lying accusation

He increases our contempt


CHORUS

Tuesday, November 3, 2020

Reflections on the Eve of a Contentious Election

 


Dear Friends,

Yesterday afternoon, I was driving in downtown Denver and I saw that many businesses were boarded up in anticipation of the aftermath of today’s election. Seeing this, I was overcome by a mixture of sadness, fear, anger and despair. The idea that we, as a nation, have come to the point where we are anticipating a violent reaction to the sacred of act of voting is a powerful symbol of the dysfunction that is plaguing our society. It is clear that we are facing more than one deadly illness. Unlike COVID-19, the diseases spawned by political polarization cannot be controlled by social distancing, mask-wearing, or vaccines. We have walled ourselves off and erected barriers that keep us from connecting with one another. The distrust, demonization and rancor that is plaguing our nation could very well have a longer-lasting impact than any pandemic.

I write this message on the afternoon of November 3rd – before polling places have reported any results. Regardless of the outcome of the election, the chasm of conflicts that have led up to this day will not be bridged by electoral victories and defeats. We have a great deal of work ahead of us to heal the wounds that have festered in our country. This will require introspection, innovation and deep reflection on the part of every segment of our society. We are a divided nation. If we are to find a sense of Shalom (wholeness) and Tikkun (repair) we will need to look deep within ourselves, our souls and one another to find the holiness that God has implanted within each human being – regardless of political affiliation or partisan prognostication. My prayer is that we will work to find pathways of hope that will help us to come together – instead of inflaming the deep divides that consume us.

I pray that we will work to appreciate the promise that is implicit in the values of our nation and our Jewish tradition. To state that we are all created in the image of God is to reinforce the promises of Equality and Democracy upon which the United States of America were founded. We are well aware of our weaknesses. But let us also remember that we are fortunate to live in a country that celebrates freedom and that our greatest strength lies in our ability to live with difference and work to find compromise. May this election pave the way to a new era of understanding, hope and sacred partnership. May the barricades we have erected be torn down and replaced with bridges of understanding and collaboration.

L’Shalom,

Rabbi Joseph R. Black

Friday, October 30, 2020

A Prayer for Shabbat Lech Lecha - Before the Election

Our God and God of all people:  God of the Right and God of the Left. God of the Democrats and God of the Republicans; God of the undecided and the underwhelmed. On this Shabbat of Lech Lecha- where we retell the story our ancestors’ journey of discovery, we as a nation stand at the precipice of an election fraught with divisiveness, rancor and tension.  As Abram and Sarai ventured forth into unknown territory, we too are navigating a perilous course. We see the demonization and de-humanization that these past months, weeks and days of fevered campaigning have brought forth.

We cannot remember a time when we have seen such division. We are exhausted and fearful of the ugliness that surrounds us.

God - help us to see the beauty in one another. May our partisanship turn to partnership as we work to rebuild our trust in our nation and in ourselves – regardless of the outcome of the Polls.

Help us to keep faith in both our electoral process and in You – the source of hope and good in the world.

May this election help to heal the wounds that our nation has experienced. May Hubris give way to Holiness. And let us say, AMEN.