another brave soul

Vaclav Havel writes in today's NYT:
Whenever I reflect on the problems of today’s world, whether they concern the economy, society, culture, security, ecology or civilization in general, I always end up confronting the moral question: what action is responsible or acceptable? The moral order, our conscience and human rights — these are the most important issues at the beginning of the third millennium.
Amen. When are we going to get a president like that?

I have jury duty, for the first time, tomorrow.


metapost: more on the apparently not whiny rant

My buddy Challahman posted my talk in his dKos diary and at Street Prophets. Some interesting comments back, both non-Jews moved by the spirit of Yom Kippur, and an orthodox Jew noting that "if more people would follow Hashem's actual words, we wouldn't need the new ones."

I guess so, but my point was more that liberal Jews should act with serious devotion and seriousness about those things that we know are right. I respectfully submit that the orthodox are similarly failing to observe Hashem's word. Not more, not less, just differently; see "feed the hungry" and "protect the natural world," et al, ad nauseam. It's something that brings us together: most people, especially the middle class, have real trouble challenging the materialism and selfishness and apathy of our time.

Anyway, I wasn't trying to add new mitzvot to "Hashem's actual words," just calling attention to those of Hashem's words that we don't take seriously enough. Even those who don't believe in Hashem know what is right, and those people in my own community responded strongly to the concept of "commanding each other."

But I digress--few readers here need convincing of the seriousness of liberal Judaism. The point is, as another comment put it, that "Once people have seen that they won't be alone, they will follow. I have tremendous respect for people, be they politicians or leaders of industry or just friends, who are willing to put themselves out there simply because it's the right thing to do." Amen. Underline: we do know how to act rightly. We are afraid to be the crazy ones. We need to know that others will join us. Do more than just enough. Do your part. Period.


atonement review

You don't say "happy Yom Kippur!" (well, unless you're newly-outed atheist congressman Pete Stark, on NPR) but it was a sweet and poignant day for me. Funny to write a services review, but it means a lot to me that this holiday was a real moment of connecting, with my community and with the most high.

It was an easy fast in terms of hunger, but a deep one; my body was aching with muscle tension and fatigue and yet I didn't have trouble staying in prayer and open to the work. There was incredible turnout to begin with, absolutely packed for Kol Nidre and ~120 during the torah service. Maybe 80 for Neilah (closing prayers). Rabbi Ezra was very present and brave, calling on us to wrestle with our objections and doubts, honestly expressing his own failures and despair. He brought us to the possibility of real repentance and yearning.

The community generated palpable energy together. Michael was drumming all day. By the end of services I ended up in a big clump of serious loud spirited davveners and though my back was really aching I could feel myself buoyed on their voices and strength. Mitch spoke about not liking services, Emma spoke about loving services, and I loved knowing that our community embraces and transcends these important debates.

And, finally: despite my fears that the below speech was vague, trite, and whiny, it seems to have hit a nerve. People loved it. Or, as one said, I didn't like hearing it, but I knew I had to. I was thanked. I feel good. I did something, however small, for the little synagogue that could. Tired.
evil speech

I wrote this little doozy to present at Yom Kippur today. I kind of hate it, super vague and grimly stylized. I didn't want to make it too narrow, though, and I feel pretty angry about the state of my putative soul, so bring it on! Ultimately it's just whiny, maybe. I wanted it to be "from the heart" but I guess my heart just whines:

As is appropriate for today, I’ll begin by apologizing. I really wanted to speak today but when I was writing this I realized I’m not a scholar or a rabble-rouser and I don’t have a great story to tell you. This is more vinegar than honey. I’m sorry. I’m just angry at the insanities in our world and frustrated with my own tshuva failures. I’m afraid that other people don’t mean it. I am not trying to make you feel guilty. It’s better to mourn, learn, and change. Do we really regret our failures, or is this an empty ritual of self-pity and denial?

Let me be clear. When I say “we” I really mean each of us. I don’t want to be sloppy. I’m not acting out a rhetorical device. I’m not trying to speak for you. I want to be brave this year. It is ridiculously hard to be brave alone. I want to do what is right even if it is not easy and not fun and not fulfilling. I want us to be brave together.

It is easy to regret relational failures. I’m not always generous with my partner. I leave dishes for my housemates to wash. I come late to work, and have to be reminded to do what I say I’ll do. I don’t return phone calls. I am too hard on myself. People near you can be asked to forgive. That is acting like a private individual. We are part of something larger.

Maybe I am too gentle with myself. I have done things that only god can forgive. The machzor’s alternative Al Chet is very specific: we polluted our environment. We cut ourselves off from people of other races and cultures. We ignored important issues in our own country and community. We gave less tzedakah than we could afford. It’s just true. Ask yourself, what could I have given up in my life so that a hungry person could eat? Do I drive a car when I don’t have to? Who can forgive us?

I think, if I had more money, or more time, I could do better. That is an excuse, and a lie, and a sin. We have enough. We have enough to make us comfortable and to make us cowards, afraid to change or challenge the privileges we enjoy. You know what the things are, that you do, that are wrong. That seems petty, you say to yourself, this is not a big deal! I do enough. No. We have enough to do more.

We have become artists of the status quo—doing what is normal even when it is destructive, ignoring what is unspeakable because we didn’t make it happen. The Talmud says that silence is assent. When were you silent? Our many silences have led to horrors, even deaths. We are the lucky ones.

As liberal Jews we have a vague idea that the best authority is the community. We got rid of the priestly and rabbinical hierarchies for good reasons. We haven’t chosen other authorities by which we will consent to be commanded. We’ve grown out of being god’s children and into being god’s co-creators. Without a god that we can beg and placate, do we know how to repent any more? We have failed, again this year, to fulfill the work that we know is just and right. We like to call sin ‘missing the mark’ because if we called it evil, we might have to consider the foundations of our lives. We didn’t just miss the mark, we turned our backs on the bow and arrow. We gave up archery.

I want us to use what we do have—this community—to feel grounded and strong. Let us call each other to commandedness. We are who is commanding.

Rabbi Zalman Schacter-Shalomi said, “there is more good than evil in the world—but not by much.” What if we were really commanded to do right? What if we loved this fragile world enough to change it? Let’s imagine that we do have power. Let’s fantasize that there is a force of love and transformation in the world that we are part of. And let’s notice that when we settle for passivity, it is a crying shame and a cosmic moral failure. If there are angels, they weep.

This is not a guilt trip. Let’s reclaim commandment. Not blind obedience, but deep passion for the true. Let us do what is right, because it is right, even when it’s crazy and unpopular and troublesome and expensive. Let us be brave together this year, as it is written: the holy one gives us strength in our struggle, and blesses us with peace.


updates on the last couple posts

Another mini-review, this one more glowing, again from the good people of the City Paper.

The tomato sauce got made and is delicious. Also pesto.

Today at work we had bad doctors, and I discovered that I can effectively take eight-minute naps.

I am lonely. The postdeparture shabboses have been lonely. Weekdays less so, but still.


fringe props

Our first review is here: today's Inquirer calls it "a tableau of alive minds over dead matter." It's a hot-and-cold review, with no juicy comments on the script/language (my dept). Still.

Also, a non-review, but long shout-out-blurb, in the City Paper. Noted: production features full nudity, not intended for children. We did have a seven-ish-year-old the first night, with her performing artist parents, and all I could think was, that kid is going to grow up to be an engineer. She seemed to like the show!

As have my many friends who valiantly trekked to north Philly, including out-of-towners from Boston and, gasp, Mt. Airy. (They tend not to leave the Mt. Airy zone-o'-love-'n'-peace.) I'm so proud and pleased with this project.

Saw some other good stuff too--more soon--and I miss ND like crazy. It's been a lonely couple of shabboses without him. I need to seek out co-Jews
intentionally if this observance stuff is going to stick. I did have a great conversation about art and g!d with my Catholic ISABELLA coworker Rachel. Shallow but true: most of the great religious insights are to be found in all the great traditions. More surprising: we have the same gripes about our communities, too.