Judaism

Don't Forget to Save the World

I used to have in my email signature:

P.S. Don't forget to save the world.

followed by a link to some form of online activism. For example, the Hunger Site, where the click of a mouse can donate a cup of grain.

Occasionally I would get comments from people about my signature. Perhaps they thought it was too glib. Or they thought that donating a cup of rice was not going to make a difference in the grand scheme of things. Perhaps they thought the challenge of "saving the world" was just too daunting a task to ponder, let alone as an afterthought in an email.

I added that signature to remind myself as much as remind anyone else.  Busy with my own life activities, it becomes easy to forget about helping others. In fact, the reason why I joined a UU congregation in the first place was because of our strong commitment to social justice.  I realized that just left up to myself, I would put things off "until I had more time," which would be never. So I know for myself that I need little reminders.

As to the smallness of the action - a click of a mouse, a small donation here and there, volunteering in a soup kitchen, cleaning up a park, writing a letter to the editor or your congressperson... - I never meant to imply they were enough to solve all the world's problems. Just that it's a start. And if it's all one can do at this moment then it is good enough for this moment. Anything other than inaction.

Whoever saves a life, saves the world.
- Jewish proverb

Also from Judaism, "Tikkun Olam" - to repair the world.

I don't remember why I thought of my old email sig this morning as I waited on the metro platform, but I do remember what I wanted to say:

P.S. Don't forget to save the world.

Pesach & Liberation from Oppression

Yesterday evening marked the first night of Passover or Pesach.  It's kind of a blessing when my UU church's annual observance of Pesach actually takes place at the right time.  (All Souls does a wonderful Seder dinner but it plays a little loose with the rules... which is very UU.)

Since this is a UU Seder, our Haggadah (the order of service for the Seder) emphasizes the social justice aspects of the Exodus story.  We talk not only of God delivering the Jews from the oppression of the Egyptians but also our recognition that others in the world are still oppressed and our hopes for their liberation too.  We link the enslavement of the Israelites in Egypt with the enslavement of African Americans in the U.S.  (Indeed, the Exodus story is a key part of black liberation theology.)  To be fair, I know a lot of Jewish Seders also broaden the focus towards all people who are oppressed, and teach that their own experiences show them that they must not be complacent to injustice.

Anyway, no one mentioned it, but I was thinking it.  I was thinking about the people of Tibet.  Or course, many, many other oppressions are going on right now, but I was thinking of Tibet because in this version of the story, it's my people - the Han Chinese - who are the Egyptians.  The Han are the oppressors and as the story tells us, God is on the side of the oppressed.

I could take the easy way out and say that the Chinese people have no control over what their communist government does.  But that doesn't seem entirely truthful, knowing that so many Chinese share the government's callously paternalistic view.  Just as I could say that Americans have no control over our president deciding to invade another country, or torture prisoners. And there would be truth to that.  But  we re-elected him, and a sizable percentage of us condone Guantanamo. 

God is on the side of the oppressed and my people - both of my people - are on the wrong side of God.  What does it mean then to be sitting through a ritual that celebrates the end of oppression? 

Spirit, soften my heart, so that I may listen to the grievances of others, however angry, without getting defensive and wanting to argue back. Soften the hearts of my Chinese and American sisters and brothers so that they will see "the Other" as people deserving respect and fair treatment.  Soften the hearts of the Sudanese government, and those in power everywhere.  Next year, may we all be on God's side.

 

Jewish Holidays

Spring: Deliverance

Counting the Omer
Seven weeks from Passover, the 15th of Nisan (late March or April), until Shavuot, 6th day of Sivan (late May or early June)

Passover/Pesach (7-8 days) - Commemorates the deliverance of Israel from slavery in Egypt, celebrates freedom from oppression. [Observed with dietary restrictions, the Seder meal (representing their hardships), and recitation of the Haggadah (relating the Exodus).]

Shavuot/Feast of First Fruits - Festival of thanksgiving for the first fruits of the grain harvest. Also commemorates Moses' receipt of the Ten Commandments/Israel's acceptance of the Law (Torah).

Summer: Judgement/Exile

Days in the Midst of Distress
Three weeks of sorrow,  from 17th day of Tammuz (after summer solstice) to 9th day of Av (late July)

Shiv'ah Asar b'Tammuz - Fast day commemorating the smashing of the Torah tablets by Moses and the breach of the walls of Jerusalem before the destruction of the Second Temple

Tish'a B'Av - Fast day mourning the destruction of the first and second Temples and commemorating the beginning of exile.

Fall: Repentance

Days of Awe and Repentance
10 days, starting the 1st day of Tishrei (Sept or early Oct)

leading directly into Sukkot, starting the 15th day of Tishrei

Rosh Hashanah - Commemorates creation of the World; begins 10 days of penitence for harm done.

Yom Kippur/Day of Atonement - Day of fasting, making reparation for harm done, and helping those in need.

Sukkot (7-8 days) - Feast of Ingathering/Feast of Tabernacles - Festival of thanksgiving for the fruit harvest; originally. Also commemorates the years in the wilderness after leaving Egypt.

Winter: Joy/Victory

Starting with Hanukkah (late Nov or Dec) and ending with Purim. Purim is always one month before Passover/Pesach, which leads us back to the beginning.

Hanukkah/Festival of Lights (8 days, starting on the 25th day of Kislev) - Commemorates the struggle for religious freedom and re-dedication of the Temple. Menorah candles are lit. [Also commemorates the end of the olive harvest and the Winter Solstice.]

Tu B’Shevat/New Year for the Trees (15th day of Shevat) - Celebrated with tree plantings and orchard blessings.  Seeds are planted for the bitter herbs for Passover/Pesach.

Purim/Feast of Lots (14th day of Adar) - Celebrates a major victory over oppression and is recounted in the Megillah, the scroll of the story of Esther. Queen Esther defeats a plan to massacre all the Jews in Persia. Purim takes place on the fourteenth and fifteenth days of Adar, the twelfth month of the Jewish calendar.

Snow!

It snowed all day in Boston.  By coming up a day early to meet with old friends, I missed flying in the storm.  Instead, I spent the day safe and warm indoors, sipping hot tea, catching up with Paul and Linda, and playing some very creative bowling and baseball with Jonathan.  Poor Paul spent a few hours shoveling, while I enjoyed watching the huge fat flakes float down and marveled at the muffled silence of all but the scrape of steel on cement.  The sky was white and bright.

In the evening, they were kind enough to drive me to the hotel I would be staying at during the retreat - the Union Club.  The night was dark, the sky was clear, and the air was bitter cold - like a real winter night, not like the noncommittal winter we'd had so far in DC.  Amazing how even unpleasant things like a biting wind can be pleasant.

Looking out my bedroom window onto the cemetery of Kings Chapel, the snow-frosted tombstones stood out in the moonlight.  So cold.  So old.  So terribly beautiful.  I feel the spark within me burn bright.  I feel... alive.

 

Golden Compass

I saw the Golden Compass last night with officemates and after seeing it am even more dumbfounded that there was controversy over it.  We knew that the anti-Catholic references in the original story had been watered-down, but the movie was essentially scrubbed clean of references to the Church.  The few vague references remaining to the Magesterium could be taken by the viewer to mean any generic "evil empire."  And evil empires are quite common in kids stories of heroes and  choosing right over wrong.

In truth, if the producers of this film are hoping for a trilogy I'm not sure how they're going to proceed.  Having wiped out all references to religion, how would they introduce it later? And how could they continue without talking about religion?  It is rather central to the plot.

Visually, the movie was beautifully done.  With strange yet familiar looking technology, gleaming towers and airships... and armored polar bears!!  The action was fast-paced and the acting superb.  My only complaint was the smarmy ending.  As Lyra snuggles with friends on Scoresby's balloon, she gives an overly long monologue on how everything is going to be fine from now on.  Given that this is but the end of the first part of a trilogy, the viewer can guess that her words are meant to be ironic.  They were still tedious.

All in all, I would recommend the film.  But better yet, I would recommend the books.

Happy Hanukkah!... sort of.

The holiday of Hanukkah celebrates a miracle in which oil that should only have been enough to last one night instead lasted for eight.  Less well known is the fact that the holiday of Hanukkah is associated with a war.  It commemorates the victorious Maccabean revolt, overthrowing Greek rule, and the re-dedication of the Temple.

How fitting it is then that on the first night of Hanukkah, we find ourselves embroiled in a war over oil in Iraq, and seemingly itching for war with its neighbor Iran.

The National Intelligence Estimate (NIE) released its report yesterday, confirming what the the U.N. has been saying for a while now.  Iran has no nuclear weapons program.  They in fact have not pursued a nuclear weapons program since 2003.

This good news would evoke a sigh of relief from any rational person, but for our current president and his administration, they somehow interpret the lack of nuclear weapons as justification for their continued sabre-rattling.  Go figure.

Hanukkah has started.  Christmas is coming.  This is supposed to be a season of peace.  Let us pray that it is so.

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