Celebrating Light and Hope


Celebrating Light and Hope in Our Time of Darkness
By: Esther D. Kustanowitz, featuring Rabbi Lori Shapiro
Source: The Jewish Journal

How do we celebrate the rededication of the Temple destroyed long ago, when we and our families, friends and neighbors are reeling from these urgent crises?

Shammai Hanukkiah

A Shammai Hanukkiah.
By Rabbi Lori Shapiro

The story of Hanukkah is a literary tel, formed over several millennia, its origins spinning through the Book of Maccabees I and II though Josephus, the Talmud, Maimonides and beyond; it’s a literal literary time machine.  And if each evolving civilization imprints its own addition to this tale, might we look around at our times and ask “what is our contemporary contribution to the telling?” Perhaps, this year, no matter is more important to illuminate than the Spirit of Machloket (disagreement).  Most famously preserved in the mental sparring of rabbis Hillel vs. Shammai, the rabbis of the Talmud respectfully preserved the minority opinion in matters of dissent.

When lighting the Hanukkah Menorah, aka the Hanukkiah, according to the House of Hillel, we begin with one light and increase the light each day until we have all eight illuminated. What if, this year, all of us reclaim the Shammai Hanukkiah; Hillel’s sparring partner and primary adversary. Perhaps this year, in addition to our beloved Hillel Hanukkiah (Shabbat Bavli, 21b), we follow Shammai’s teaching and begin with a blaze of all eight candles, symbolic of the great fires in our city, state and nation, and practice a Shammai reduction of the flame for eights nights as a meditation of our human condition – humbled in the face of nature’s power, our hunger for unity and the work it takes to become one?

This Hanukkah, Open Temple shares this tradition at our annual “Hanukkah on the Canal Parade” as we gather and dedicate ourselves to the search for light in times of darkness.  We hearken to the sounds of strangers and invite the Other into our hearts and homes as an eight night meditation of reduced light to guide our return; until a singular candle, representing all of us, together and alone, becomes our sole companion; a singular light, reminiscent of the mystery and promise of creation; all of us – One.

 

On Religion

On Religion
By: Rabbi Lori Shapiro

Spiritual but not Religious is the Cis-Gender identity of the millennial seeker.  It’s a way of saying “I like yoga class, I honor my body with organic kale chips lightly grazed by a free range buffalo on the wide open plains of a lesbian run eco-village in Southern Utah, and my parents divorced when I was 11, so they left religion for me to figure out so I am vegan except for Carrot Cake on special occasions.”  

It’s complicated.  But not really.

If there was a way to crawl into the minds of those who lived 100, 200, 500, 2000 years ago, would you?  If there was a time machine of the mind where you could, with immediacy, understand the way of the world before there were sound bites, tweet updates, insta-rags and pinterest-ing distractions, would you go for the ride?  

To begin with, I find most things really onerous these days.  When given the chance to do much, I opt to do less.  Less tweeting, less insta-gratifying, less social media binging.  It’s enough to get my own life straight, let alone judge another’s.

And yet, it’s like like proverbial car-wreck that we can’t turn away from.  And we are the test-dummies strapped in for a head-on as we push full force into the accelerator.  It’s like we can’t live without these grandiose displays of human carnage through lurid tales of sexual assault, obituaries of shooting victims, photos of fires ranging through homes, and the tweets, pushes and messages that bombard us with them.

So, step on board and see that we are no different today than we were 100, 200, 500 or 2000 years ago. And maybe that’s why we are repeating these indiscretions with such alacritious force and disfunction. Maybe it is the very denial of our right to know those who came before us that creates in us the curse of repetition.  

In my own short life, I’ve lied, I laid, I’ve loved and lost and laughed at things that I shouldn’t have.  I’ve seen disfunction from my own family to those I dwell next door to, and as I open this book, this scroll, this daph, I know that it is all just a part of this human experience.

The matriarchs and patriarchs hadn’t figured any of this stuff out any more than we did.  They gossiped with cunning and shtupped wantonly from one partner to another. The only differences between them and us is that their lives were reframed in context of a higher ideal, and their promiscuity was in service of something larger than themselves.  

We’re in the thick of Genesis this week, and we’re also in the thick of family relationships.  If the Torah is a “Book of Laws” why didn’t it begin with “This is the first law?”  Rashi, the famed 11th c. commentator asks.  “To Learn Derekh Eretz” is his ostensible answer.  And what is Derekh Eretz?  Literally, it means “the way of the earth.”  But, metaphorically, it is the way of the earth – our passions, love, and desire to elevate our lives into meaningful and beneficial experiences.  Abraham? Iconoclast and Rebel who renewed Monotheism in the ancient world.  Rebecca?  Cunning and Measured which she converted into Genrousity.  Leah? Perhaps a great lover who flourished in Motherhood.  Moses? A reluctant player in the God narrative with a speech impediment who rose to the call of Leadership.  

So, what will it be for us as we face our families this Thanksgiving?  Will we succumb to the same pitfalls of conflict, or will we elevate the conversation to reflect our greatest selves?  If we could reframe our fatal flaws in service of a larger ideal, what meaning would it bring to our lives?  

This is the fabric from which the tales of religion were woven.

Spiritual but not religious?  I have no idea what you mean.

On Faith


And they were like fallen leaves, in their golden years. 
Through their memory, we re-dedicate our lives towards acts of loving kindness, faith and blessing.  We remember the 11.

The open grave of Rose Mallinger (z”l) whose life was taken at Tree of Life at the age of 97.

On Faith
By: Rabbi Lori Shapiro

What is faith?   Its meaning, derived from the Hebrew, “Emunah,” is from the same word as “Amen” as in “I believe!”.  But, what is faith?  And how does it present in today’s world? Is faith an expression of naivete, a Pollyannaish ostrich maneuver that lays our head in the sand as a windstorm blows about us?  What role does faith have in a country divided by ideology?  Does faith discriminate?  Can I be someone who says “I believe it is all going to work out for the good?” if in stating that am only considering the half of those surrounding me who possess the same beliefs that I, myself, have?

I think it’s time to dig deep into faith.  The Hebrew root begins with this sound “Om” – sounds familiar?  It’s a sound that is a universal call to peace, a sound that transcends the dizzying cubistlike perspectives of the collective and requires that we, you, me, all of us surrender to a Universal Presence.  Sometimes the Universal Presence is the need to work with what you have, no matter the political difference or moral incongruity of those who surround you.  Does it really mean taking to the streets and screaming our lungs out as a grandiose and public protest of injustice?  Or does it mean having enough presence of self to do something about it in every small moment of life?

After the shooting in Pittsburgh the President of the hospital, Dr. Jeffrey Cohen, was called upon to monitor the health of the shooter.  He went into his room and asked him if he was in any physical pain.  He spent some time with him, reviewing his chart, and monitoring his vitals.  After he was assured that his patient was cared for, he left the room.  As he was leaving, the FBI agent who was guarding the patient called out to him, “I don’t know that I could have done that.” Doctor’s Cohen’s response was succinct:

“We’re here to take care of sick people,” Cohen, who is a member of the Tree of Life congregation where the massacre happened, said. “We’re not here to judge you. We’re not here to ask ’Do you have insurance?’ or ’Do you not have insurance?’ We’re here to take care of people that need our help.”

Dr. Cohen’s actions resemble those of a man of humble faith.  Faith is about showing up when we are called upon.  With dignity. With humanity.  With discernment. Having faith is to transcend the ego and provide an elevation offering in the face of chaos that says “I see something greater here than myself; I see the workings of my Creator through My Hands, My Dignity, My Care.”  Faith is what makes this world turn in the face of insanity. Faith is what restores our human dignity in the throes of destruction. Faith is Dr. Cohen’s Act of Defiance through Decency before the face of an Anti-Semitic killer. Faith is not for the feeble hearted or ideologue.  It is not in heaven.  It is right here.  

Emunah.  Amen.  Om….

Bringing Home Early Detection


Yehudit Abrams: Brining Early Detection Home
By: Rabbi Lori Shapiro
Source: israelnationalnews.com

Israeli physician and engineer Yehudit Abrams speaks about the influence of Open Temple and Rabbi Lori’s impact on her life for Israel National News at 26 minutes into this interview.  Dr. Abrams award winning Monither empowers women to monitor changes in their own breast tissue and is a revolutionary innovation in breast cancer early detection.

Reflections


Message from the CEO
By: Larry Yudelson
Source: jewishinsandiego.org

Michael Jeser, now CEO of Jewish Federation/San Diego, shared this thought piece featuring Rabbi Lori’s innovative work from when she was the rabbi at USC Hillel.  Ten years later, he reflects on her innovations…