Shavuoth

Remembering Orlando: Sacred Words and Music

My previous post spoke about crossing the narrow bridges over the narrow places of our lives, without our fears…

The post also referred to Shavuot as the time when Jewish people refresh our collective memory of standing together after seven weeks of wandering and chaos, as one people at Mt. Sinai to receive the Torah.

The tragedy at the Pulse Club in Orlando has created another time of wandering in chaos for so many people: the shooting victims, their families and friends, the United States, LGBTQ people everywhere, and the world.

Today, before beginning to chant the haftarah portion from the book of Habakkuk during our Shavuot services, I read aloud to the congregation from the letter below, sent by Idit Klein, Executive Director of Keshet, the national Jewish LGBTQ organization:

“…It is sickening that the deadliest mass shooting in American history targeted LGBTQ people during Pride month. When the shooter opened fire, many Jews were observing the holiday of Shavuot, which commemorates when the Jewish people stood together at Mt. Sinai. So, too, we stand together in solidarity with the people of Orlando and with LGBTQ people and allies everywhere.

May the memory of all who lost their lives in last night’s attack be for a blessing.

L’Shalom, with prayers for peace…”

Her message is one of comfort and community. The message in the chapter of Habakkuk also brings comfort.

The prophet says that it was a mistake to criticize God for allowing the weak to suffer while the powerful, such as the Babylonian captor Nebuchadnezzar, flourish. However, soon after Habakkuk observed that the Jews were gaining in strength and resolve; as they reconciled their own fears and weakness they began to engage once again. Their enemies were now succumbing to the wrath of God and Nature and fleeing from before the Jews.

musicsaleclassical.com

musicsaleclassical.com

This evening I went to the closing concert for our Vancouver Symphony Orchestra. It was a night of farewells to a couple of beloved musicians. Amidst the adieus and accolades, Maestro Tovey also spoke the comforting power of music, of music healing sorrows in ways beyond words. He spoke about the composer Samuel Barber whose Violin Concerto was to be played. Samuel Barber was gay. Tovey asked the audience and players to dedicate the second movement to the victims of the Orlando shootings, followed by some time for silence. I have never experienced the Orpheum Theatre so engaged with the music, which was so strongly emotive and fulfilling.

I want to affirm my message to keep moving forward on that narrow bridge. Find the source of your fears.

In the case of the massacre in Orlando, yes an individual committed that tragedy. How are you doing with the fear that may arise in you? Do you feel weakened? Are you believing your fear is caused by others whom you feel a victim to? Or do you feel strengthened in your faith and resolve to keep moving over that narrow bridge, knowing you will find both challenges and rewards?

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pinterest.com

Can you remember that once the Jewish people began to see themselves as a people united with their resolve and faith, they could face their captors and prevail.

Please recall the victims and your sources of meaning, strength and resolve.

Zichronam l’Vracha  לברכה זכרונם

May the memory of all who lost their lives in Sunday’s attack be for a blessing.

L’Shalom, with prayers for peace within yourself and toward others

http://www.myjewishlearning.com/

http://www.myjewishlearning.com

 

 

Narrow Bridges and Narrow Places

The 50 days between Passover and Shavuoth mark are a time set aside to mark the Biblical journey of the Hebrew people from Enslavement in Egypt to Revelation at Mt. Sinai. Egypt is called Mitzrayim in Hebrew, meaning ‘narrow place’. This year, the retelling of the journey of my ancestors from out of the Narrow Place of bondage to receiving the Torah (Law), brought to mind a saying of Rabbi Nachman of Bratslav, ‘“The whole world is a very narrow bridge; the important thing is not to be afraid.”

agerbak.com

agerbak.com

This year has been a turbulent one worldwide. There are refugees streaming away from crises in their homeland, there are reversals of progressive gender equality legislation, there are demands by college students to be provided with a safe environment, terrorism is on the rise, and at least one American Presidential candidate is running on a platform of backlash against any progressive racial, cultural or gender policies. What is driving this? Fear.

Fear from all quarters is headlining the news these days. People are afraid. Some are afraid of losing their familiar way of life, some of losing their long battle for hard-won rights; some are expecting their path to be free of obstacles, others are creating obstacles to draw attention.

It seems they are all walking across narrow bridges, or wandering lost in the desert, while schlepping (carrying) along their old fears.

In the case of the Exodus story, as soon as there was any hardship in the desert, the people demanded to go back to the Narrow Place of Egypt where things were familiar, where they even fantasized they had dined on fish and leeks.

frenchrevolutionfood.com

frenchrevolutionfood.com

The wandering in the desert was scary; the best thing to do was blame someone, Moses their leader, for their scary predicament. It was much like crossing a narrow bridge: you are in an unrecognizable place, neither here nor there and can only go forward.

commons.wikimedia.org

commons.wikimedia.org

Fear of changes such as these arise in part due to a lack of structure or guidebook. The Hebrews escaped the Narrow Place knowing only that 400 years of slavery was enough, and they could not stand being slaves any longer.

They did not know where they were going; and that was scary. The narrow bridge they were crossing was certainly taking them away from a very bad place. If they could endure the chaos that resulted from a new and unfamiliar freedom things would certainly be better. They did not have a structure for this mass exodus; instead they just had to stay the course and keep walking, fear and all.

artsia.com

artsia.com

After many mishaps and building their own source of guidance with the Golden Calf, they received the Torah at Mt. Sinai. I like this Biblical example of how treacherous it is to cross from places of chaos into those of order. I believe the model can be applied to ease our modern maelstrom of push-and-shove over newfound cultural, racial and gender paradigms and events.

 

firstwefeast.com

firstwefeast.com

I will share a recent personal experience. I was walking home from synagogue one Shabbat. As I passed the outdoor patio of a coffee house, I overheard a very loud conversation that was overtly using expletives against both Israel and Jews. I thought about what to do about this rather brash conversation and decided to turn the situation into an opportunity to ask what the basis was for the loud and offending remarks. First, I approached the loud group of young people seated at a table and simply identified myself as one of the Jews they were deriding. As I walked away, the young people beckoned me to stay and speak with them. Through these actions, we all set aside fear and embarked upon a walk over that narrow bridge together.

We talked. When asked, they could not provide any facts about Jews and Israel; they only knew their negative views from friends’ opinions and the abundance of left-wing popup news media on the street. They wanted me to give an overview of Judaism and I gave them some dates for important events in the formation of the modern country of Israel. I invited them to Google these and see what else they could learn.

Contrary to what fear might have said about this conversation, they thanked me profusely.

agerbak.com

agerbak.com

By taking those steps toward them a journey began, away from the enslaving ideas we had on both sides, toward a way of understanding how this chaos of anti-Semitism and anti-Zionism came to be.

I also learned that diplomacy happens in direct 1:1 conversations: not through online polemics, international political gestures, grandiose political swaggering, or biased news media.

I have told this story about the coffee house conversation to others. Usually the first response is, with all that pressure to conform to the status quo of the neighbourhood, wasn’t I afraid to approach these young people? My reply has been that my only fear was that because I was peacefully walking home from synagogue when I overheard them, I might be violating Shabbat (the Sabbath) by potentially creating a conflict. However, the wisdom of faith told me that the honest way to create and perpetuate Shabbat peace was to take that walk on that narrow bridge and engage these people, without fear.

We observe the passage of 50 days from Passover to Shavuoth as an opportunity to take steps away from things that we are unsafely bonded to and find an order in our lives that matters.

There are still a few days left before Shavuouth begins, on the evening of June 11th. Find time over these days to leave behind something that holds you back—a habit, an addiction, a prejudice, a hurt—and move ahead with faith rather than fear, that something good lies ahead.

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pinterest.com