MLK Message, 2016

{This is the prayer I delivered on Monday, January 18, 2016 at the annual Belmont community breakfast honoring Dr. King.}


Every year around this time, I tend to hear Dr. King’s voice, that beautiful, eloquent preacher’s voice–reverberating in my head and my heart. I especially tend to feel, rising up within me, fragments of that beloved, “I Have a Dream” speech delivered all those years ago on the steps of the Lincoln Memorial. Every year, I feel like I hear that powerful preacher’s voice all over again with its familiar cadences and those rising waves of deep feeling as the waves flow from Dr. King’s soul through each of us, as those waves of truth wash over all of us. I hear the voice speaking difficult, painful truths that remind us of how broken we are. But I also hear the voice speaking inspiring, hopeful truths that remind us of who we once meant to be, that remind us of who we still are capable of becoming, even now.

This particular year, my heart keeps returning to the sound of Dr. King’s voice as it quotes the prophet, Amos. Standing there, on those famous steps, a modern, Baptist prophet quoted an ancient Hebrew prophet when he said: “No, no, we are not satisfied, and we will not be satisfied until justice rolls down like waters and righteousness like a mighty stream (Amos 5:24).”

But here’s the thing I keep thinking. While those waters of justice may have their source in God, the stream that flows with those waters has to be a human creation. Those waters of righteousness may be born in the mysterious depths of our souls or in a place some of us call “heaven,” but the only force that can make those holy waters flow in this world, the only power that can open those floodgates in our society is human words, human actions and human choices. God creates the possibility of justice in the world and God surely calls us to righteousness. But it is left for us to make that promise real.

So, here’s my prayer to honor Dr. King’s life and legacy and teaching. Yes God, let justice roll down like waters and righteousness like a mighty stream. Help us to find the courage, the commitment, the patience, the wisdom, the humility and the faith we will need if we are ever going to move those deep waters of justice. Yes God, help us, together, to become that mighty stream. Let the waters of righteousness move through legislation we pass, through effective advocacy in our communities and our nation, through peaceful protest, and yes, also through simple conversation with our neighbors who are, far too often, still strangers to us.

Help us, God, to make those waters rush with a fierce, insistent call for justice, but let the path they carve in the world and in our hearts be redemptive and not destructive. Let the river we create together flow with a love that is strong and a strength that is loving. Help us to bring the day soon when those mighty waters wash away old walls of fear and ignorance and hatred and leave behind, instead, the rich soil in which we can plant new seeds of hope. And let us all be privileged to witness the healing power of those waters on the day when, at last, they flow into an ocean of brotherhood and sisterhood, into a sea of generosity and kindness and understanding.

So, yes God, let justice roll down like waters and righteousness like a mighty stream; help us, please, to stir that water of justice, to move that water of righteousness, to free that water of all constraints and guide it past every obstacle so that the river of justice will flow, once again, towards life and blessing and goodness and peace. Amen.

A Hymn for Thanksgivukkah

In the spirit of the Thanksgivukkah season, I have taken the liberty of adapting a favorite Thanksgiving hymn for this once-in-a-lifetime Chanukah.

Of course, I offer my apologies to Theodore Baker, who wrote those familiar English words back in 1894.  However, in fairness, it should be noted that Mr. Baker, himself, was appropriating an old Dutch folk hymn whose original words apparently celebrated the Dutch victory over Spanish forces in the Battle of Turnhout.  If you’re interested in all this, you can find more information here.  Oh, and if you need a refresher on the melody, there’s a lovely YouTube recording here.

In any case, I hope you enjoy my adaptation and Happy Thanksgivukkah!

“We Gather Together”
Original Text: Nederlandtsch Gedencklanck; trans. by Theodore Baker
Music: 16th cent. Dutch melody; arr. by Edward Kremser (1838-1914)

We gather together 
for gelt and for latkes,
and horas to dance.
his plan, it sure did shock us:
Destroy our holy place!
We did not stand a chance.

But Maccabees rose up
to fight for our freedom,
their leading succeeding,
our Temple reclaimed.
gave joy to the whole nation
(in Hebrew, “Chanukah,”
which accounts for the name).

We’re cleaning and beaming 
to have back the Temple
when tsurris did strike
and our joy nearly spoiled.
But miracles happen
to help fill in a gap and
then eight, full days of light
came from one jar of oil.

So now, we thank God for
the help and the freedom,
for courage to fight
against all tyranny.
A day of thanksgiving
for faith that goes on living,
for light and love and joy,

and the chance to be free.


Help Get Our Young People to Vote!

A terrific, young woman who grew up in our congregation has started a project to urge young adults to get out and vote.  Note that the project is non-partisan and does not support a particular candidate or issue (other than the issue of reducing political apathy among young adults!).

At this website, (here’s a link if you’re especially lazy!), there’s a really engaging video to watch and then a request to sign a pledge to vote.  It’s young people reaching out to other young people and trying to convince them to get involved in shaping the character of our society by voting.  What could be bad?

So please get on your Facebook pages, or Twitter accounts or email lists or blogs (or whatever other way you communicate with the young adults in your life) and encourage them to go to this website and take the pledge to vote!

Selichot: Preparing to Return

As is traditional, late last night (Saturday, September 8th), a small group of us gathered to study and pray together in observance of Selichot (the first, official, repentance ritual of the High Holy Day season).  I love Selichot.  While there is something awesome about the grandeur and pageantry of Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur services, Selichot offers a quieter, more intimate opportunity to begin the spiritual work of reflection, repentance and renewal that is our central goal during these Days of Awe.  For the first time this year, we sing and listen to the beautiful, stirring melodies that will accompany our journeys back to who we meant to be, the people we will try, once more, to become.   The music moves me and helps me to get spiritually focused more quickly and powerfully than words alone could ever manage.

Before the service, we spent an hour studying texts that were drawn, primarily, from a wonderful book about repentance by Dr. Louis E. Newman.  I also gave folks an adapted version of a journal created by Michelle Shapiro Abraham* to help them move through the process of teshuvah (repentance).  The journal entry for today started with a quote from Rav Kook (that I first learned in Dr. Newman’s book):  “One of the foundations of penitence, in human thought, is a person’s recognition of reponsibility for his actions, which derives from a belief in man’s free will.  This is also the substance of the confession that is part of the commandment of penitence, in which the person acknowledges that no other cause is to be blamed for his misdeed and its consequences but he himself.”**

Following Rav Kook’s teaching, I offered the following prompt:  ‘As I begin the process of doing teshuvah this year, I acknowledge my tendency to make excuses for my own misdeeds.  Too often, I have unconsciously blamed my wrong words or actions on others or on circumstances.  To begin accepting responsibility, I need to “catch myself in the act” and reflect on the excuses I often use, almost unconsciously, to let myself off the hook.’

For my part, as I wrote, I identified a rationalization I often use to avoid things I should do but am anxious about doing.  I tell myself that I’m just too busy and the demands of my work are too intense; I obviously don’t have the time to do whatever it is I’m avoiding.  In other words, I blame my job.  It’s because of my job that I can’t become the person I meant to be.  That’s one of the “dodges” I need to acknowledge and work on as I prepare to return to my better self.  What are some of yours?

A healthy, fulfilling, joyous and peaceful 5773 to you, to those you cherish and to all creation!


*You can find Michelle’s original journal in the URJ publication, “Reaching for Holiness.”  If you’re a member of BETC and you’d like a copy of my revised version, just stop by the synagogue and ask me for one.

**Quoted in Repentance:  The Meaning & Practice of Teshuvah  , Dr. Louis E. Newman (Woodstock, Vermont:  Jewish Lights Publishing, 2010), pg. 83.