Tuesday, November 23, 2010

A Trip To Be Thankful For

Two millennia. For nearly two thousand years, Jews were personae non gratae in the Catholic world, vilified and demonized as the killers of Christ. In the Jewish ghetto in Rome (what’s left of it), there’s a painting on a church directly across from the Great Synagogue that essentially calls out the entire Jewish people for “making a very poor collective choice.”

Even prior to the establishment of Catholicism as a great religion and the faith of local designation, Romans took great pleasure in torturing the Jewish people. The Arch of Titus, which greets tourists as they enter the great Roman Forum, was built in 82 AD to commemorate the sacking of the Second Temple in 70 AD, and was used in later years by the Pope as the choice location to force Jews to submit to the authority of the Church.

All of that began to change, however, in 1965, with the meeting of the Second Vatican Council in Rome. From that meeting emerged the Nostra Aetate, a document that effectively absolved the Jewish people of the death of Jesus. This was followed shortly thereafter by the establishment of the internal International Catholic-Jewish Liaison Committee in 1971. And those efforts toward reconciliation have continued since, culminating last week in an amazing journey of 20 American Reform Cantors to Rome.

The Catholic Church is a massive, almost byzantine (forgive the pun) institution; perhaps the largest bureaucracy on the planet, with more than a billion adherents around the world. The Vatican is a self-contained city-state, a sovereign nation with defined borders and immense wealth. Rome is a 3,000 year-old city that was the seat of political and religious power for the better part of 2,000 years, and gave us what is today the model of our American “republic.”

In the face of this daunting history and power, 40 Jews from across the United States – clergy and congregants, staff and spouses – boarded planes last week with the goal of continuing the dialogue between the oldest of the Abrahamic faiths. The instrument of their design was a concert; the uplifting of voices and of spirit, with a call for greater understanding between Jew and Catholic. The mission was idealistic, the challenge enormous, and the expectations high.

The concert certainly did not disappoint. Each of the musicians assembled were at the top of their form, and the music was truly beautiful. Nearly 100 people were in attendance, and the setting – the Basilica of Santa Maria degli Angeli e dei Martiri, designed by Michaelangelo – reminded those of us there of how truly inspiring the occasion was.

Unfortunately, for a variety of reasons, the Pope himself was unable to participate in any of the events. I imagine these things happen in a bureaucracy as large as the Catholic Church. But his absence in no way detracts from the larger mission or what these cantors accomplished. The relationship between Jews and Catholics has a long, sordid history, and the fact that after nearly two thousand years sincere efforts to reconcile these two faiths are happening is a remarkable occurrence.

If the saying “Rome wasn’t built in a day” is true, then it must be doubly true that the rift between the Jewish and Catholic peoples will be healed over the course of time as well. And for those 20 cantors who gave their time, energy, and spirit in order to continue the process of reconciliation, one can only hope that they view their trip and their efforts as one very positive step in bringing our two faiths closer together. And for their work, we all should be thankful.

Friday, November 12, 2010

So a Cantor and a Pope walk into a bar...

I've always been interested in interfaith dialogue; as the son of a convert to Judaism, raised as a Jew in the very deepest part of the Bible Belt, it was only natural that I became interested in how people of different faiths communicate (even if for a while it was only as a matter of survival!).

Soon after my wife and I started dating, I taught in a Hebrew High School program on comparative religion, and even in my work today, I'm exposed to some really great faith and interfaith organizations, such as the Center for Interfaith Action on Global Poverty.

So I am totally thrilled to be a part of an incredible event in Rome, a journey that began in 1965 with the release of the Nostra Aetate by the Second Vatican Council, absolving generations of Jews of the death of Jesus. The path of reconciliation has continued since - though not without some speedbumps - and continues tomorrow with our trip to Rome.

While I am only an observer (and an incredibly lucky husband), I am excited beyond words to be a part of this momentous occasion. This trip marks the first time that a concert of Jewish music will be performed for the Pope, at the Basilica of Santa Marie degli Angeli e dei Martiri before Pope Benedict XVI and other Vatican leaders. Just typing that gives me goosebumps!!!

I hope to write some from Rome as the trip unfolds, but I wanted to share a personal reflection on the eve of our trip:

Our world is a beautiful, fragile, divinely-inspired creation. All too often we let our differences obscure the many common traits and values we share, and it is only through dialogue and humility that we can begin to achieve Tikkun Olam - to fix our world, to heal its soul, and bring us all closer to the vision of what can truly be: a reflection of God's image.

Tuesday, November 2, 2010


I am awesome.

I am flawed, often tragically. I am not the best looking person in the room, nor am I the smartest.

I am awesome.

I am caring, and compassionate. I love, and feel deeply.

I am awesome.

I can be insensitive, rash, and thoughtless. I have vices that I frequently abuse. I am often careless, and callous.

I am awesome.

I am funny, and clever, and empathetic. I am quick to believe and forgive, slow to anger and never vengeful.


And I am awesome.

Don't you forget it - I constantly have to remind myself.

Tuesday, October 12, 2010

Angels On Our Shoulders

"For he hath given his angels charge over thee; to keep thee in all thy ways."
--Psalm 91:11

As many of you know, I am a huge South Carolina Gamecocks fan. I'll admit I am borderline fanatic - but it was something I was raised with and about which I do not apologize.

The last six months have been very emotional for the Gamecock Nation, as we were inspired by our National Championship baseball team, and then, just last weekend, witness to a stunning upset of then-ranked #1 Alabama in football. These have surely been heady days to bleed the Garnet and Black.

But underneath these tremendous victories lie two unrelated but very important events that I would like to focus on: the deaths of Baylor Teal and Kenny McKinley.

For most of those who don't eat and breathe Gamecock sports, neither of these names are likely familiar. But for those of us who avidly follow Gamecock sports, these names evoke a profound sense of loss and hope, of tragedy and inspiration. Kenny and Baylor were taken from us much too soon, but they both loom large in the minds of Carolina faithful.

I bring this up because I was in Columbia this past weekend as USC defeated a number 1-ranked football team for the first time in school history. Prior to the game there was a moment of silence in honor of McKinley, who, as a former USC player and team captain, was a fan favorite long after his departure for the NFL. Several times during the game I found myself thinking of him, wishing he were there in Williams Brice stadium to watch his beloved Gamecocks do something he never had. But it occured to me at some point that of course he was there, resting on the shoulders of each of us.

Judaism has a rich tradition of honoring those who came before us - we stand on the shoulders of our ancestors, so to speak. But the idea that the memory of those recently lost can somehow serve to inspire isn't necessarily a Jewish one; in fact, it's as much a cinematic device as anything else. But I think there is a powerful lesson to be learned from the concept of taking inspiration from those we most admire.

As we navigate this life, through the heights and valleys of our day to day existence, it's important to remember and embrace those who have left an indelible imprint on who we are. Whether it's our parents, our siblings, best friends, our life partners, or even our children, we are products of the myriad elements that touch our lives, whether we like it or even recognize it.

Most times, it isn't something we consciously think about - it simply happens, as if someone switched on our internal auto-pilots, set a course and let us go. But from time to time, when challenges arise that seem insurmountable, we often turn to specific people whose unique character traits exemplified what is needed or desired most at that particular moment. It may be strength, or courage, or even just a sunny disposition, that at that moment will carry us through our toughest trials.

I used to think it was cliche, even cheesy, for athletes (or athletic wannabes) to dedicate a game, or a season, or even a moment, to the memory of one who was lost too soon. But since the loss of my mother six years ago (blessed be her memory), I find myself more and more often looking to those people in my life - dead and living - who embody the very things I aspire to. Why should I begrudge more public figures the right - even the blessing - of looking for the same strength, the same courage, to overcome their own personal challenges?

I can't say that there are little people with wings whispering into my ear as I go through life - but I can say that in my darkest depths and in my happiest heights, I believe the memory of those who mean most to me are a constant presence, guiding me down this path I walk, and I know I am surrounded by their love.

Wednesday, September 22, 2010

Window Washing

So i just spent about ten minutes watching these men washing the windows of a building across the street. It was all quite fascinating; the rhythm and motion, a random but ordered movement, and perilous, to say the least. Suspended in air by just a handful of ropes, a slip or tear away from real injury.

But the need they were fulfilling was real, if not underappreciated. For the people on the other isde of the glass, the change might only be subtle, but critical in their ability to have a clear view of what is right in front of them, even if they didn't know what they were seeing before was less-than-clear.

I think there's a metaphor in all of this. Our lives are full of distraction and opaqueness. Even when we don't realize it, how we view the world, our family, friends, even ourselves, is subtly but importantly altered by things we can't see, or refuse to see. Often, we know these obstructions are there, and yet don't take time to clean our own windows. It could be laziness, it could be fear, it could be because we have grown so accustomed to the distractions, that we'd rather just leave well-enough alone, and reshift our focus to make that distorted view our new reality.

I think it's incredibly important from time to time to see to it that our own windows are cleaned, to readjust to a more real view of things. To see ourselves and the world around us clearly, stripped down of the daily soot and grime that often can overwhelm our ability to see things as they truly are. I think window washers have an incredibly difficult and often overlooked role in our lives, whether it's for our office windows or for ourselves. And we should take the time to appreciate and thank the window washers in our lives, because they are more important to us than I think most of us, especially me, realize.

Who are your window washers?

Tuesday, August 3, 2010

Not So Fast CNN

I see what you did, and I see you've changed it, but everyone should see the FIRST article you posted on the Lebanese aggression killing an Israeli soldier.

I've posted the revised article, but here is the original:

Israeli, Lebanese soldiers exchange fire at border
By the CNN Wire Staff
August 3, 2010 9:18 a.m. EDT

Beirut, Lebanon (CNN) -- Clashes between Lebanon and Israel along their volatile shared border Tuesday left at least one person dead.

The official Lebanese press agency NNA reported that journalist Assaf Abu Rahal was killed in the exchange of fire between Lebanese and Israeli soldiers. At least one Lebanese soldier and a civilian were injured, Lebanon's army said.

The incident occurred after an Israeli patrol tried to enter disputed territory on the Lebanese-Israeli border to install cameras, the Lebanese army said.

The flareup drew condemnation from Lebanese President Michel Suleiman, who called it an act of "Israeli aggression" and an attack on Lebanese soil.

Israel disputed the contention that its forces entered Lebanese territory. It said the Lebanese opened fire on Israel Defense Forces soldiers who were on the Israeli side of the border.

The Lebanese army's account and a report from Lebanese media said the hostilities occurred when Israel wanted to remove a tree.

Lebanon's National News Agency said a Lebanese army unit stopped the Israelis, and the U.N. Interim Force in Lebanon intervened.

The Lebanese army said it asked the U.N. force to arbitrate the issue, but the Israeli forces didn't comply and entered Lebanese territory. That led the army to open fire, with Israeli forces returning artillery fire and hitting a house in the village of Odaise.

The Israeli military said its soldiers were on "routine activity" when the incident occurred. It said in a statement that the soldiers were in "an area that lies between the 'blue line' (the internationally recognized border between Israel and Lebanon) and the security fence, thus within Israeli territory."

But Suleiman said Israel violated U.N. Resolution 1701 in crossing the blue line. He said any Israeli attempts of aggression need "to be confronted whatever the sacrifices are" and that he will pursue the issue diplomatically.

Resolution 1701 bars Israel from conducting military operations in Lebanon. Israel has accused Hezbollah, considered a terrorist group by the United States, of violating the resolution by smuggling arms into southern Lebanon.

Israel fought a five-week war with Hezbollah in the summer of 2006 after Lebanese-based militants kidnapped two Israeli soldiers during a cross-border raid. The United Nations deployed peacekeepers to the area in the aftermath of that war.

Wednesday, February 3, 2010

A little bit of Congressional humor

And never let it be said that I am unable to give credit to Republicans when due. In the spirit of the Super Bowl, National Signing Day, and my love of both politics and collegiate football, I give you an AWESOME email train (identities have been removed to protect the innocent). Please start reading from the bottom:

Sent: Wednesday, February 03, 2010 3:42 PM
Subject: FW: Looking for Tim Tebow

From the House Republican LD Distribution list. Hilarious.

Sent: Wednesday, February 03, 2010 3:23 PM
To: Republican LD's
Subject: Re: Looking for Tim Tebow

Did you check Rep. Shuler’s office? That’s where overrated QBs who have no chance of playing in the NFL usually hang out.

(sorry, just had to do it)

On 2/3/10 3:19 PM, wrote:

Several of the singles ladies in my office are hearing rumors that one Tim Tebow is meandering through the House buildings. If one of you might be able to give me a heads up on his general location, these ladies would be very appreciative.


P.S. My apologies for list abuse of this sort.

Legislative Director
Office of Congressman XXX
Longworth House Office Building
Washington, DC 20515
(202) 225-xxxx