Friday, March 24, 2017

Remembering a Life Guided by Loyalty

As a congregational rabbi, I officiate at many funerals. All are sad. Some are tragic. A few leave deep impressions. Arthur’s funeral was such an occasion.

At his funeral there were military honors. Arthur served in a US Army reconnaissance unit during WWII, fighting in the Battle of the Bulge. It was an experience that taught him about war’s horrors. He would often argue against wars and advocate for peace agreements, even when others offered reasoned skepticism, with the simple words, “I don’t want any kid to experience what I experienced.” These war experiences also taught Arthur that food is precious. His unit was often forced to forage for rations. He therefore savored every meal, always sitting down to three meals a day, and even enjoying chocolate ice cream on his last day.

Standing at the cemetery, I looked to see both soldiers wearing their dress uniforms.  One stood in the distance and played taps.  The other stood saluting the flag-draped coffin....  

Thursday, March 23, 2017

Fire, Fear and Awe

For many Shabbat is defined by the family meal. Its highlights are the foods long associated with Jewish cooking: chicken soup and brisket. In the Torah, however, Shabbat is defined by what is not there.

“You shall kindle no fire throughout your settlements on the Sabbath day,” (Exodus 35) this week’s Torah portion intones.

The rabbis interpreted this prohibition literally. One cannot kindle fire on Shabbat. One may however make use of fire if it was lit prior to the start of Shabbat. In traditional homes lights are therefore left on during Shabbat, but never turned on. Stoves are kept at a low temperature but again never ignited. This is why many Shabbat recipes are of the slow cook variety such as cholent.

There were others who interpreted this verse in a different manner. The sectarian Karaites, who rejected the rabbis’ oral law, spent their Shabbat in darkness. In their worldview no manner of fire could be used on Shabbat. Scholars suggest that our lighting of candles and in particular its accompanying blessing is a response to these Karaites. In this blessing and the lighting of the Shabbat candles we discover the meaning of this prohibition for our times.

Fire can warm but also burn. It can be comforting and dangerous. It is similar to the Hebrew term, yirah, fear. Like fire’s dual meaning, yirah can also be translated as awe. Too often during these days of terror yirah becomes palpable. We are once again joined in sorrow. We mourn and pray for the residents of London as terror once again strikes our hearts with fear.

And yet it is this very term of yirah that the tradition uses to describe a person of faith. It is in a sense one who bows before heaven. They are endowed with yirat hashamayim, fear of heaven.

The great Jewish philosopher, Abraham Joshua Heschel, writes: 
Fear is the anticipation and expectation of evil or pain, as contrasted with hope which is the anticipation of good. Awe, on the other hand, is the sense of wonder and humility inspired by the sublime or felt in the presence of mystery. Fear is “a surrender of the succors which reason offers”; awe is the acquisition of insights which the world holds in store for us. Awe, unlike fear, does not make us shrink from the awe-inspiring object, but, on the contrary, draws us near to it. This is why awe is compatible with both love and joy.
Awe is the more apt description of the faith we strive towards.

We return to the lights of Shabbat.

Fire can be both dangerous and inspiring. The brilliance of the rabbis was to demand a blessing before the lighting of fire. In this way the fire is transformed into an object of holiness. Fire is not be feared. It is to be held in awe. At the beginning of Shabbat when fire is prohibited, and then again at the conclusion of Shabbat when fire is again permitted we thus offer blessings. We elevate fire to the holy. We no longer fear it. We transform the potentially dangerous and bask in its warmth.

Perhaps this is the very task these times demand.

We again turn to Heschel’s God in Search of Man:
The meaning of awe is to realize that life takes place under wide horizons, horizons that range beyond the span of an individual life or even the life of a nation, a generation, or an era. Awe enables us to perceive in the world intimations of the divine, to sense in small things the beginning of infinite significance, to sense the ultimate in the common and the simple; to feel in the rush of the passing the stillness the eternal.
May our Shabbat lights help us to stand in awe before God and God’s world. May these fires only be awe-inspiring.

May all of our fears be transformed into awe.

Thursday, March 16, 2017

A Broken and Whole Heart

Everything is going well for the Israelites. God freed them from slavery in Egypt. God reveals the Torah. God provides them with food to eat (manna) and water to drink. Dayyenu! Moses climbs Sinai in order to commune with God for forty days. He leaves his brother Aaron in charge. You know the story. All hell breaks loose. Those teenagers throw a wild party, building a golden calf, dancing and drinking. They blaspheme God. Let’s go to the videotape.  The narrator intones: “They were as children who lost their faith.”

They lost their way, as youngsters and people often do. All they had to do was say, “Dayyenu.” That would have been enough. Thank you. Instead their first impulse is to do what they saw and learned in Egypt, namely bowing down to idols.

This God idea is a difficult notion to understand and comprehend.

Moses is unforgiving. He becomes enraged. (He has some anger issues.) He smashes the tablets. The leaders, and many of the participants, are killed. God is also quite unforgiving.

Moses returns to the mountain. He quells God’s anger. God instructs Moses, “Carve two tablets of stone like the first, and I will inscribe upon the tablets the words that were on the first tablets, which you shattered.” (Exodus 34) These tablets are then placed in the Ark. And what happens to the broken tablets? They too are placed in the Ark. Rabbi Meir teaches that both the broken and the whole tablets are placed in the Ark of the Covenant. (Babylonian Talmud, Baba Batra 14b) This is then carried by the people throughout their wanderings.

Why save the broken tablets? Move on from your mistakes. Forget your transgressions is the counsel we often give and receive. And yet the tradition thinks otherwise.

There is no greater sin than that of the Golden Calf. But why dwell on it? In fact, it is one of the six Torah episodes we are commanded to remember each and every day. The teaching is clear. You are only complete with your flaws. No one is perfect. Everyone makes mistakes. A complete person holds the broken and whole together. That is the message contained in the Ark.

Jewish mystics take this notion even further. A 16th century Kabbalist, Eliyahu de Vidas, teaches:
The Zohar states that the human heart is the Ark. And it is known that in the Ark were stored both the tablets and the broken tablets. Similarly, a person’s heart must be full of Torah. And similarly, a person’s heart must be a broken heart, a beaten heart, so that it can serve as a home for God’s presence. For the divine presence only dwells in broken vessels, which is a broken and beaten heart. And whoever has a heart filled with pride propels God from him, as it says “God detests those of haughty hearts”.
I like this idea. Then again I don’t like it.

I like it because it suggests that brokenness leads to a closeness with the divine. I don’t like it because it implies brokenness leads to greater religiosity.

Who wants to be broken?

Then again there are undoubtedly moments in all of our lives when we feel hurt or broken, when we feel we are guilty of far too many mistakes. It is in those moments when should recall the lessons of the broken tablets.

The shattered tablets were never discarded. It is only taken together with the whole tablets that we are able to approach the divine. 

It is with a simultaneously broken and whole heart that we better approach God.

Thursday, March 9, 2017

Vashti and Today's Woman

Purim begins on Saturday evening. It is a holiday marked by frivolity. Among its highlights are drunkenness, and even cross dressing. It is punctuated by laughter. And yet the story on which it is based is characterized by extraordinarily serious themes. The megillah of Esther spins around the question of antisemitism. You know the story.

The evil Haman gains a seat of power next to the King of Persia, Ahasuerus. He clamors for the death of the Jews. His reason is simple, although one might ask, “Are the reasons for antisemitism really understandable and ever simple?” Haman becomes enraged when Mordecai, the Jew, refuses to bow down to him. Meanwhile Mordecai’s cousin Esther, who has hidden her Jewish identity in order to win the king’s favor in a beauty contest, has gained the king’s ear. She is able to persuade Ahasuerus that Haman represents a threat. He allows the Jews to defend themselves and defeat the antisemite—until next time.

Most people read this story and believe Esther is its hero. Perhaps, some see the hero as Mordecai. Clearly both save the Jewish people from an existential threat. They defeat antisemitism. And yet nothing is clear when you examine the story in detail. Much is hidden. Even more is forgotten.

Vashti is also its hero.

Who is Vashti? She is the queen who precedes Esther. Why is she dethroned? She refuses to dance before the king and his drunken friends. Yes, that is the story. The king throws a wild seven day long party. He brags to the assembled men about his wife’s beauty. In order to show off how good looking she is, he commands her to dance in front of her friends wearing (only) her crown. (Go read Esther 1 if you would like to double-check my retelling.) And what does Vashti say, “No!”

What happens next? The guys say, “Hey king, you better get your wife in line! If she is allowed to refuse your command, who knows what will happen next. All the women of Persia will stop listening to their husbands. They might want to start driving. They might want to become doctors, lawyers, CEO's, rabbis or even the president.” (Ok. I added a few lines.) So the king listens to his drunken friends and advisors and throws Vashti out of the palace.

But then our drunken, and irredeemably sexist, king becomes lonely. “Throw a beauty pageant and find a new wife,” advise his friends. And who shows up at the beauty pageant? Esther. She parades herself in front of the king. She does exactly what Vashti refuses to do. She demeans herself in order to become queen. And herein lies the disturbing, and often hidden, irony of the Purim story. Her debasement leads to our salvation. The woman who uses her beauty, and hides her Jewish identity, is the one who achieves power and saves the day. It is Esther who rewrites history. But at what personal cost?

I have often wondered what happens to Vashti.

We don’t hear from her again. I would like to. These days I long for Vashti. She is the model to which we aspire. She chooses justice over power. She is true to herself. She is loyal to the women of the kingdom. No woman should be asked to do what she is asked to do, or for that matter what Esther in fact does, at her cousin’s bidding.

And yet we don’t speak about this. Vashti remains the forgotten hero of our Purim story. Her truth is glossed over. It is banished from the headlines.

I would like to rediscover her truth. I would like to find Vashti—once again.

Turn back to the opening chapter. Reread the book. Look with new eyes.

These days I could really use Vashti’s truth.

Despite all its frivolity, there remain troubling and serious questions hidden within Purim’s story.

Regardless I am going to join in the laughter. History is so cruel. Politics are so serious. Sometimes the only medicine is the prescription Purim offers.

Laughter!

Thursday, March 2, 2017

God is Everywhere and Anywhere

Written in Hebrew above our congregation’s ark are the words from this week’s portion: “Make for Me a sanctuary so that I may dwell among them.” (Exodus 25) While I was obviously not present when the sanctuary was built I imagine this verse was selected because it is located within the detailed instructions for building the tabernacle, the mishkan.

Soon after leaving Egypt and the revelation at Mount Sinai, God instructs the Israelites to build this mishkan. This tabernacle was intended to accompany the Israelites throughout their wanderings in the wilderness. It was not found in a fixed location but instead was carried with the people. While the mishkan was extravagantly detailed (it had a lot of gold!) its single most important quality was that it was portable.

Throughout the Torah no place was more holy than another. We no longer even know, for example, where Mount Sinai is located. Revelation was about the gift of Torah not the mountain on which it was given. Holiness was connected with wherever the tabernacle rested. And the greatest of all sanctity was attached to our dream. We dreamed of touching the land of Israel. It is interesting and important to recognize that for the ancient Israelites the holiness of place was attached to a dream not in fact to a location they experienced.

Our identity is fashioned in no particular place but is instead founded on a dream.

It was only after the entering into the land and then some 300 years later in the age of the kings that the centrality of Jerusalem gains prominence. It was during the reign of King Solomon, David’s son, that the first Temple was built. Its dedication is described in this week’s Haftarah. There we discover echoes of the verse inscribed above our Ark: “Then the word of the Lord came to Solomon: ‘With regard to this House you are building—if you follow My laws and observe My rules and faithfully keep My commandments… I will dwell among the children of Israel, and I will never forsake My people Israel.’” (I Kings 6)

Whereas in the Torah God’s presence was dependent on movement (we had to schlep the mishkan from place to place), in Solomon’s day it becomes dependent on our actions and behaviors. Once the place becomes fixed it is our movement between right and wrong that controls God’s presence. And then the Temple is destroyed, and soon rebuilt, and again destroyed. We are exiled from the land of our dreams. We are banished from the city of Jerusalem.

We return to the wandering. Building on Solomon’s understanding, the rabbis teach that God’s presence can be anywhere and everywhere. We take up—again—the Torah’s wandering narrative. No place is more holy than another. What matters is not where we meet, but when. What matters is that we hold the book in our hand. What matters is that we continue to learn from this Torah. Abraham Joshua Heschel writes that we sanctify time, not place. We elevate the Sabbath day over all other days of the week.

In our own day people too often associate synagogues, and the values they are intended to teach and the people who see it as their spiritual centers, with the buildings that house their activities. But Jewish devotion is not about the sanctuaries in which we gather. Jewish commitment moves with us. Jewish devotion must accompany us. It is dependent on the choices we make between right and wrong. It is attached to following God’s demands.

Too often we also confuse our presence with God’s presence. Our synagogues are about discovering God’s presence in our midst. It is not about us. It is about God.

When looking at the verse inscribed above our Ark we might come to believe that God is only here in this sanctuary, and not as well in our homes, our businesses, and in nature. Why can’t you sense God’s presence on the ocean’s shore? Why can’t God become more visible when you reach out to someone who is sick, or another who is hungry and homeless, or another who is in desperate need of comfort and consolation? Those are just as much Jewish commitments, as the prayers we recite in our sanctuaries.

If God’s presence only stays in the sanctuary, if the Torah remains some scroll we only study in our synagogues, then the notion that God can be anywhere and everywhere is lost, then the command that God should be everywhere and anywhere is lost.

God’s presence must be taken with us wherever we travel. It is not located, and fixed, in one place. It is instead something carried. It is something we must carry.

And it is something that carries us—on our journeys and wanderings.

Thursday, February 23, 2017

Make More Room for Mystery

The Zionist thinker, Berl Katznelson, wrote (and it is among my favorite quotes):
When I see a person walk among us as though he has solved all riddles and conundrums, or as one for whom a new “Guide of the Perplexed” has been written…or one who really doesn’t need any such guidance at all, since his mind is clear and relaxed and he has never known any sort of confusion, I think of him as someone who lives in another world, beyond the reversals, torments and hopes of our own muddled world, or perhaps someone who has solved all problems by chewing some magical cud. As for myself, I’m happy with my confused, uneasy soul.
This week’s Torah portion, Mishpatim, elaborates many laws and introduces the Jewish notion called by this name. According to tradition it is these mishpatim, laws, for which there are rational explanations. An example: “When a person’s ox injures his neighbor’s ox and it dies, they shall sell the live ox and divide its price; they shall also divide the dead animal. If, however, it is known that the ox was in the habit of goring, and its owner failed to guard against this, he must restore ox for ox, but he can keep the dead animal.” (Exodus 21)

There are certain laws by which a just society is built. How can you build any community where people do not take responsibility for each other? How can you build a society where people murder? Or where people steal? Or for that matter, where people do not prevent their animals from injuring others? The reasons for these laws are obvious. They are mishpatim.

If you know that your ox (perhaps your dog or then again, your car) is a menace then you must guard against it injuring others. Perhaps we should understand this law to mean, if you know a friend is a dangerous or reckless driver then you have a God given responsibility to keep them from harming others. In the Torah there is no such notion as “It is none of my business.” Everyone is responsible for building a just society. The mishpatim, laws, are where we begin. They are our society’s foundation. They are the building blocks of any community.

There is another category of rules, however, called hukkim, for which there are no rational explanations. Our Torah portion provides another example. “You shall not boil a kid in its mother’s milk.” (Exodus 23) This verse, repeated three times in the Torah, is the basis for the kosher dietary laws preventing the mixing of milk and meat. According to the rabbis this threefold repetition offers additional meaning. One must not eat milk and meat. One must not cook this mixture. One must not derive any benefit from the mixing of milk and meat.

And yet the rationale for this rule remains obscure. There are many interpretations justifying this observance of not mixing meat and milk but all are attempts to explain what will forever remain mysterious. This law remains part of the group of laws whose reasons remain obscure, perplexing and mysterious.

Let us be honest. Observing the dietary laws does not help us build a just society. Instead the refraining from eating milk and meat together affirms mystery.

Too often we think that all problems can be solved, all questions answered. Sometimes we even think that we control every aspect of our lives, that everything is in our hands. This is (sometimes sadly, better mysteriously) not the case. Everything that happens does not happen for a reason. Everything cannot always be explained.

Doing things whose reasons are mysterious does not make them irrational. It makes them unexplainable. It offers an opportunity to affirm the mysterious.

We observe hukkim. And we affirm mystery.

I avoid magical cud. I find myself happy with my confused, uneasy soul. Every time I pause to think, “Do I use the meat or milk utensil?” I am reminded that even the most ordinary act of eating can affirm mystery and give voice to what might forever remain my many, unanswered questions.

In an age of shouting certitudes, and a cacophony of reasons (“It’s her fault. It’s his doing.”) I must make even more room for mystery. I gain this affirmation in of all places, the kitchen.

Thursday, February 16, 2017

The Blessings of Others

One could argue that this week’s Torah reading containing the revelation at Mount Sinai, and the Ten Commandments, is the most important of portions. And yet is named for Moses’ father-in-law, Yitro. This seems curious. Why would the portion be called Yitro?

One answer is that the names of the portions have nothing to do with their content or meaning. The names are instead the first most important, or unique, word in the portion. The reading is never named for Moses for example because his name appears too frequently. The names are designed so that the Torah reader can more easily find the beginning of the portion. This is no easy task in a scroll that of course has no pages, but even more significantly no punctuation.

Then again the rabbis, when dividing the yearly Torah reading into portions, could have begun this week’s reading with the following chapter, Exodus 19, in which the details of the revelation are described. Instead they begin a chapter earlier with the words: “Vayishma Yitro…Yitro priest of Midian, Moses’ father in law, heard all that God had done for Moses and Israel.” (Exodus 18)

The question therefore remains. Why begin the portion with Yitro? There must be a reason. Nothing is by chance. Moreover, Yitro is not Jewish. He is a priest to the Midianites, a future enemy of Israel.

Perhaps Yitro’s words come to remind us that wisdom comes from many sources. It does not always arrive as revelation. It does not just come as Torah from Sinai! In addition Yitro comes to balance the concluding lesson of last week when we read about Amalek, Israel’s eternal enemy. Everyone who is not Jewish is not our enemy. In fact some are family. How quickly we forget. Yitro is Moses’ father-in-law. All others are not Amalek.

We look to Yitro’s words for meaning. He shouts God’s praises. After Moses recounts all that God did for Israel by freeing them from Egyptian slavery and rescuing them at the Sea of Reeds, Yitro proclaims: “Blessed be the Lord!” He is among the first to use our prayerbook’s formulation, “Baruch Adonai.” The rabbis find this quite remarkable. How could Yitro offer words that neither Moses nor the people Israel say? “How shameful that Moses, and the 600,000, did not use phrase!” they remarked. (Babylonian Talmud, Sanhedrin 94)

In their harsh judgment of Moses and the people they may have missed the most important of teachings. The 19th century Hasidic rebbe, Shlomo of Radomsk, reminds us that the Israelites praised God for what God did for them at the Sea of Reeds. Yitro, on the other hand, shouted God’s blessings and praises, for what God did for others.

It is easy, and to be expected, to give thanks for the blessings we receive. The greater faith is to rejoice in the blessings of others.

Such is the teaching revealed by someone who we first expect to be wholly other. Instead Yitro, the priest of Midian, teaches.

The more profound faith is to see the gifts others receive not as the occasion for our own diminishment but instead as moments for our own rejoicing and celebrating.

Thursday, February 9, 2017

Prophecy, Poetry and Trees

Abraham Joshua Heschel once remarked that the prophets speak one octave too high. I have been thinking about this phrase these past weeks.

We read the prophets’ words for inspiration. Jeremiah thundered:
Thus said the Lord of Hosts, the God of Israel: “Mend your ways and your actions, and I will let you dwell in this place. Don’t put your trust in illusions and say, ‘The Temple of the Lord, the Temple of the Lord, the Temple of the Lord are these.” No, if you really mend your ways and your actions; if you execute justice between one man and another; if you do not oppress the stranger, the orphan, and the widow; if you do not shed the blood of the innocent in this place; if you do not follow other gods, to your own hurt—then will I let you dwell in this place, in the land that I gave to your fathers for all time. See, you are relying on illusions that are of no avail. (Jeremiah 7)
2500 years later the prophet’s words continue to stir my conscience. And yet Jeremiah’s own generation ignored his shouts and screams. He had few if any friends. He was persecuted and jailed. (He was eventually rescued from captivity when the Babylonians sacked Jerusalem and destroyed the temple. His prophecy comes true!) Heschel’s insight bears remembering. The prophet sings a lonely tune.

And I recall that Rabbi Heschel, who marched with Martin Luther King Jr. in support of civil rights and who protested against the Vietnam War, was often criticized. Many of his contemporaries shunned him. I begin to think that he is more influential today than he was in his own day.

My Facebook feed is awash with indignation. Gone are the family photographs and the smiles of friends’ adventures. There is only the shrill prophetic voice. It speaks of justice but frays communal lines.

Perhaps this is why the rabbis ruled that the age of prophecy ended. We read the prophet’s words. They comprise the Haftarah portions that punctuate our week. They shout from its pages—although too often we chant their words in Hebrew and never bother to discuss their meaning. The people must sing together, the rabbis reasoned. Let no one sing “an octave too high.”

Leon Wieseltier shouts in my ear: “It is America, its values and its interests, whose success matters most desperately to me. No cooling off, then. We must stay hot for America. The political liberty that we cherish in this precious republic is most purely and exhilaratingly experienced as the liberty to oppose.” (Stay angry. That’s the only way to uphold principles in Trump’s America.)

My son Ari counters: “You might as well have written last week’s post in all caps!”

I retreat to poetry. Tu B’Shevat, the holiday of the trees that begins tomorrow night, comes as a welcome relief. I find solace, and comfort, in nature—although today only through the window’s glass. I find myself turning away from the computer screen and to my books of poems. Emily Dickinson. Denise Levertov. Rainer Maria Rilke. Yehuda Amichai. Billy Collins. The Psalmist—I nearly forgot. “Let the sea and all within it thunder, the world and its inhabitants; let the rivers clap their hands, the mountains sing joyously together.” (Psalm 98)

I read my newest discovery: the poetry of Mary Oliver and her most recent collection, Felicity. I have as well found comfort in Rebecca Solnit’s writing and in particular her A Field Guide to Getting Lost: “For many years, I have been moved by the blue at the far edge of what can be seen, that color of horizons, of remote mountain ranges, of anything far away. The color of that distance is the color of an emotion, the color of solitude and of desire, the color of there seen from here, the color of where you are not. And the color of where you can never go.” More about that another time—and when the horizon returns to the sky.

I discover anew, Mary Oliver's “Leaves & Blossoms Along the Way:”
If you’re John Muir you want trees to
live among. If you’re Emily, a garden
will do.
Try to find the right place for yourself.
If you can’t find it, at least dream of it. 
When one is alone and lonely, the body
gladly lingers in the wind or rain,
or splashes into the cold river, or
pushes through the ice-crusted snow. 
Anything that touches. 
God, or the gods, are invisible, quite
understandable. But holiness is visible,
entirely. 
Some words will never leave God’s mouth,
no matter how hard you listen. 
In all the works of Beethoven, you will
not find a single lie. 
All important ideas must include the trees,
the mountains, and the rivers. 
To understand many things you must reach out
of your own condition. 
For how many years did I wander slowly
through the forest. What wonder and
glory I would have missed had I ever been
in a hurry! 
Beauty can both shout and whisper, and still
it explains nothing 
The point is, you’re you, and that’s for keeps.
I love that line “all important ideas must include the trees.” I will have to ask the cantor about Beethoven. I will hold on to “beauty can both shout and whisper.”

The verses are a balm. I hold that near shouts of indignation.

This week I will hold fast to some poems. I will look out at the trees—now glistening in white. A winter’s snow can refresh. I am restored—if only momentarily. Justice and righteousness can be exhausting. This trek can be lonely.

The Torah reminds us: “God led the people around in circles.” (Exodus 13) The wandering begins anew.

Thursday, February 2, 2017

Open the Door!

The Bible proclaims: “There shall be one law for the citizen and for the stranger that dwells among you.” (Exodus 12:49) Moreover, the Bible commands, no less than 36 times, “Love the stranger.”

Many are the strangers who wish to make this great nation their home!

And yet America remains divided. There are those who wish to open our country’s borders to immigration. On the other side, there are those who wish to secure our borders, afraid that Muslim immigrants in particular will bring terrorist attacks.

In case there is any doubt, I stand with those who wish to open our doors. I stand against President Trump’s recent Executive Order banning immigration from seven Muslim countries for four months and in the case of Syrian refugees, indefinitely. In this great country of ours we are not meant to discriminate. And so on Saturday afternoon, I joined the protesters at JFK airport to raise my voice in support of my Muslim brothers and sisters. (You can read more about my experience.)

My stance should come as no surprise to those who have heard my sermons and read my writings. I remain deeply committed to the ideal that America is first and foremost a nation of immigrants. My family was welcomed here. I in turn must welcome others....

Responsibility to Protest

The signs stood as my accusers.

A young woman held a hastily scrawled placard, “They warned me about this in Hebrew School.” Another held, “Remember the St. Louis.”

On Saturday I found myself at the impromptu protest rally at JFK airport. The anger was palpable. The indignation continues to simmer. It boils over on social media. It is heard from other nation’s capitals. A few lawmakers speak out. Governors weigh in. More and more raise their voices.

I had spent the better part of Saturday afternoon reading the newspaper about Friday’s executive order. I became increasingly agitated. Soon I heard about the rally forming at Terminal 4. I thought, “I will go next time. It’s not in today’s plans.” I read some more. I grew enraged. I paced back and forth. I became indignant. I put on a warmer pair of socks, grabbed some gloves and headed for the door. I drove to JFK. I wondered if I would be able to find what I expected to be a small group of hundreds.

As soon as I pulled into the parking garage I heard the shouts....