Congregation Sha’aray Shalom turns 60 this year!!
Stay tuned for a schedule of events for our year-long celebration – Concerts, Learning, Special Services, Dinners and so much more…!
When do you think the Rabbi’s daughter learned what Tikkun Olam meant? 15 years old? 10 years old? Maybe even at 5? If I had to answer that question before our trip in November, I would have said that I was so young I don’t even remember learning it. Repairing the world was talked to about so often in our house and in the synagogues I grew up in that it felt like an inherent value. A core principle. One I’ve tried to live up to through my career and community service.
But something changed on our journey through Alabama and Georgia, as we talked in the footsteps of the men and women who faced systemic racism, humiliation and physical brutality. As we learned about the heroes who fought for justice through non-violent protests. Who were willing to and often did lose their lives in an attempt to repair the world.
What I realized is that you cannot fully understand what tikkun olam is unless you fully understand the brokenness that is left to repair.
We live in a world fractured by a once and still held incomprehensible belief that people are inherently unequal. That people with darker colored skin are inferior, and that because they are inferior, they don’t deserve freedom. That they are property to be owned, traded, exploited and abused. Slavery left a wound on our country so deep that it has yet to heal because slavery is not a thing of the past. Slavery continues to this day every time a person of color loses out on a job opportunity, is sent to prison, and is even killed for the color of their skin. Mass incarceration. Economic inequities from generations of discrimination. The killing of black men and women by the people we entrust to protect us. All of us.
In order not to overwhelm us by the magnitude of suffering around us – Tikkun Olam tells us that we do not have to repair the world alone. But we must do something.
I know that not everyone here is able to take the physical journey that we did. I wish there were words or stories we could tell that would truly capture what it’s like to stand in a greyhound bus station that used to be segregated, to stand on the corner where Rosa Parks refused to stand up on her historic bus ride, to offer a prayer in front of the church where 4 little girls with their whole lives in front of them were killed. There are no words that replace the empty feeling in your stomach as you imagine how scary it was to wake up every day never knowing when it would be your last.
Martin Luther King Jr was so sure he would not survive the battle for civil rights that he gave his own eulogy. In it, he said “I want you to able to say that I did try to feed the hungry. I want you to say that day that I did try in my life to clothe the naked. I want you to say in that day that I did try in my life to visit those who were in prison. And I want you to say that I tried to love and serve humanity. Yes, if you want to, say that I was a drum major. Say that I was a drum major for justice. Say that I was a drum major for peace. Say that I was a drum major for righteous.”
We may not be in Alabama but there is work to do right here in our local communities. We can make a difference in so many lives. There are men and women of color in jail right now on minor violations that they are disproportionally arrested for who lose their children and jobs because they can’t pay bail as low as $100. By giving to the Bail Project, we can literally free them. For government workers of color currently out of work – the impacts are often felt even stronger because the lack of financial security. We can bring food to our local food pantry to ensure they make it until their next paycheck. Even in our Jewish community, our brothers and sisters of color feel like outsiders. We can and must do more to make them feel welcome and equal.
Today, I ask myself and all of us – when we die. What will our friends, families and communities say we were a drum major for?
Penny and I were both born in 1948. We were 15 in 1963 – old enough to hear the news on TV and recognize that important events were unfolding in the South, but not sufficiently engaged to fully understand or comprehend what occurred that year. Simply stated, our view of the events of that year were naïve and vastly oversimplified. Our belief in our present-day national forward progress in Civil Rights, already badly damaged by the shadow of Charlottesville and the resurgence of the Alt-Right, was stripped fairy naked by four days in Atlanta, Birmingham, Selma, and Montgomery.
We never really understood how the tap-root of Slavery – born out of economic avarice – was transformed into Jim Crow. Or how Jim Crow has morphed in the present day, reincarnated in our criminal justice system in every state in our country and embodied in voter suppression and gerrymandering initiatives.
We never really understood the extent of the application of terror by Whites against the Black citizenry in the post-reconstruction era through the 1960s.
We never fully appreciated the bravery and non-violence self-discipline of African American protesters in Selma, Birmingham, Montgomery, Jackson, Greensboro, and Memphis… and hundreds of other locations throughout the South. These men and women placed their lives on the line. They faced physical assault and jailing with Ghandian stoicism. In Montgomery they sent their children to march knowing they were going to fire-hosed. We doubt we could have sent our own pre-teen and teen-aged children into such a maelstrom.
And we certainly never really understood how today the criminal justice system has been turned into a tool of voter disenfranchisement for minorities or how our “law and order” policies of mandatory “three strikes” sentencing and lengthy incarceration guidelines have increased recidivism rather than deterring it. Nor had we realized how significantly the right to vote in minority communities has been significantly curtailed by newly enacted restrictive voting laws in the past five years.
Because we were travelling in a carefully planned group tour, we had the opportunity to meet with a survivor of the March in Selma and a Southern Baptist Bishop who was part of the leadership of the Montgomery protests. Their first person narratives were incredibly powerful – bringing to my mind our guide for a CJP mission to Poland in 1994 who was an Auschwitz survivor.
What was the moment we remember most? For us it was the National Memorial for Peace and Justice (aka “The Legacy Museum” and “National Lynching Memorial”). The museum traces the evolution of slavery from the late 1600’s through Reconstruction, into the era of Jim Crow, and then to the present day using primary source materials. The monument has a power I have only experienced three times before: at Auschwitz, at Yad Vashem, and at the Viet Nam Memorial.
The words on the entry to the memorial read:
For the hanged and beaten
For the shot, drowned, and burned,
For the tortured, tormented and terrorized
For those abandoned by rule of law
We will remember.
With hope because hopelessness is the enemy of justice.
With courage because peace requires bravery.
With persistence because justice is a constant struggle.
With faith because we shall overcome
The trip left us with niggling question, but one stands out: In the 1960’s the Jewish community forged a strong bond with the African American community, supporting the Civil Rights movement on its many fronts. Jews understood and identified with persecuted minorities. But in 2019 that bond has frayed until it is nearly completely severed. The historic relationship forged with the NAACP and SCLC by the Freedom Riders and a host of Jewish organizations has been largely forgotten. African American organizations are gravitating towards BDS initiatives. On college campuses, many African Americans view Jewish students as entitled — unable to understand or empathize with their status and situation — and civil discourse between Jews and African Americans is strained or nearly non-existent. It’s easy to blame this on the current political environment, but the dissolution of these bonds started several years before the rise of the Alt-Right.
We have always recognized that growing up African-American in the USA carries residual risks and challenges and that racism is still a significant force in corners of America. That Racism remains an underlying, endemic stain on our collective body politic can’t be debated. This trip highlighted the depth and breadth of that stain, lurking almost undetectable until it is illuminated by a CSI-like ultra-violet light.
We all have to ask ourselves what we can do to change this haunting status quo. “If not us, who? If not now, when?”
Like my fellow travelers, I wrote a reflection which I tossed aside as I asked the same question posed at the end of Susan’s photo montage we just saw. Like David, I didn’t know, I did not know, but now that I do, what can we do?
I was reminded of a piece that we learned from my teacher and friend, Cantor Ellen Dreskin, at a prayer and study retreat I attended last September, that may be appropriate for this evening’s service theme to raise consciousness and hopefully inspire. It was composed with Jewish singer songwriter, Dan Nichols. Here is how it came about:
Over the years, Ellen had noticed discomfort among many with the wording in Aleinu L’shabei’ach (it’s on us, to praise), the prayer at the end of communal worship. We bow in acknowledgement that we have a unique obligation, that we are not the same as others, that we are special; many have seen this as chutzpa-dik…a holier than thou kind of statement. Perhaps this is not about privilege, says Ellen, but about responsibility.
In Ellen’s words, “ I hear Aleinu as an expression of appreciation for my community’s assumed responsibility for the betterment of the world. I am obligated L’shabei’ach/to sing praise. In reality, the attempt to live in that way IS the praise. We say Aleinu at the end of the service, with one foot out the door, to gather communal strength for the journey and be reminded of that responsibility. This may be my favorite prayer of all,” she says. “Especially in these troubled times, there is great work to be done.”
Dan shares the following:
“Ellen and I got together for a couple of days of creative work focused on what’s going on with Aleinu L’shabei’ach. Here’s what we came up with:
If Bar’chu at the beginning of the service can be thought of as “the call to worship,” then it might be reasonable to think of Aleinu at the end of the service as a “call to action.” We have shared our communal redemption story through moments such as Mi Chamocha; we have remembered the deeds and faith of our ancestors in the Amidah, and we have re energized our spirits in communal expression of our dreams and visions. Hopefully, it has had some impact and changes us for the good. With that in mind, we crafted an English setting for Aleinu L’shabei’ach that intends to unpack the core themes of our responsibility and the world’s need for action.”
I hope these new words and melody may help to give us new meaning as we follow this with our traditional chanting of Aleinu. The words are in your handout.
On Sunday, January 27, 2019, the CSS Mental Health Initiative Committee and The Men’s Club co-sponsored a Mental Health Initiative Breakfast featuring a presentation by Rose Cheyette, Manager of Community Education and Outreach for The Samaritans.
The presentation was informative, engaging, and thought provoking. Rose stressed the need to break the silence around the topic of suicide and discussed ways to initiate conversation and support. Rose covered many topics including a discussion of:
For more information about the CSS Mental Health Initiative or to join the committee please contact Rabbi Joseph
Available 24 hours a day by phone or text
National Suicide Prevention Lifeline
Available in English and Spanish
Boston Emergency Services Team (B.E.S.T.)
24-hour service by Master’s level clinicians/physicians specializing in psychiatric crises
Emergency Services Program Mobile Crisis Intervention
Enter your ZIP code to get your local Emergency Services Program provider
SAVE THE DATE: The next program presented by the CSS Mental Health Initiative Committee
WHEN: Tuesday, Feb 26th at 7:00 PM at the Temple
BY: NAMI: National Alliance on Mental Illness
ABOUT: Legal issues and questions
Myron E. Schoen Service to Community Award recognizes outstanding contributions through service and engagement
The National Association for Temple Administration (NATA) has selected Congregation Sha’aray Shalom’s very own Ellen Bernstein as their 2018 recipient of the Myron E. Schoen Service to Community Award. In her nomination, former congregation president Scott Garland wrote: “Ellen… embodies Mizvot and Tikkun Olam every single day. She is a role model for service to the synagogue…whether she is chanting Torah or working behind-the-scenes to help with a fundraiser. Ellen is our Congregation’s first connection to non-members, and she plays a significant role in Sha’aray Shalom’s position as the spiritual and social home for Jews on Boston’s South Shore. Ellen… regularly goes above and beyond the responsibilities of her position, tirelessly and without complaint. She does so not for recognition but because it benefits our congregants, strengthening the connections between members and improving our congregation now and into the future. Sha’aray Shalom truly wouldn’t be the same place without her.”