When the Worst Brings Out the Best: President’s Message November 2011

Posted: November 14th, 2011 | Author: admin | Filed under: Uncategorized | Tags: , , , , , | No Comments »

Life is funny, when everything is “normal”, when the sun is shining and there are blue skies overhead, most people find it relatively easy to be kind, generous and patient. But when “normal”, either individually or collectively, is disrupted our ability to think, much less act, at our best is tested and challenged. And when we are placed under unexpected stress, how we respond can be either incredibly beautiful or ugly beyond words.

In the preceding 10 weeks we have experienced 2 “hundred year” storms that have impacted not only the daily routines but the lives of those in the path of these weather events. And while some of us have been affected to a greater extent than others, collectively these circumstances have touched each and every one of us as members of not only our community but as members of greater society. In the aftermath these two “anomalies” I’ve encountered both generosity and selfishness. On the one hand, the vast majority of people have responded wonderfully; I’ve witnessed concern and caring expressed in a multitude of ways, from people help each other clean up to opening up their homes and businesses to friends and strangers alike. On the other hand I’ve heard accounts of people bullying utility crews in an attempt to speed up the restoration of their own service as well as stories of people harassing elected officials because of what they perceived as an inadequate response to their own needs.

How we respond to the routine or extreme stresses that each of us encounter should not be left to happenstance; our responses should be purposeful. Our equanimity can be cultivated. To that end, our forefather Rabbi Hillel posed 3 core questions that remain as relevant today to all people, regardless of their faith, as they did to our ancestors 2000 years ago:

  • If I am not for myself then who will be for me?
  • If I am only for myself then who am I?
  • If not now, when?

Taken independently, each question poses an intriguing consideration. But it is when the 3 questions are considered together and applied without exception, without caveats and non-selectively that they present a path to peace and prosperity through mutuality, commonality and accountability.

Certainly some would argue that in 2011 it is impossible to do this at all, much less all the time, life is too complicated, issues are too diverse and we are, after all, only human. But that is precisely the point; being human and living in a world with 7 billion other humans is very hard, crowded and highly competitive. We can leave it at that and let fear and anxiety dictate our actions or we can choose the other path, the path that transforms each and every moment of each and every day of our lives into a test, a challenge and an opportunity to be better than we are at this moment. And if we truly desire a life defined by peace and prosperity then it is the purposefulness of our own actions that offer us the only chance of our actually achieving it.

With the greatest respect.

CBH President’s Message, August 2011

Posted: August 1st, 2011 | Author: admin | Filed under: Uncategorized | Tags: , , , , , | No Comments »
The Times They Are A-Changin'

The Times They Are A-Changin'

Come gather ’round people
Wherever you roam
And admit that the waters
Around you have grown.
And accept it that soon
You’ll be drenched to the bone.
If your time to you is worth savin’
Then you better start swimmin’ or you’ll sink like a stone
For the times they are a-changin’.

Excerpted from the “The Times they Are A-Changin’” by Bob Dylan (1964)

As I write this on July 25, I am somehow drawn to a tale that my uncle first told me when I was a boy. Somewhere buried deep in our Jewish culture is a legend about the precise moment when the world changed. Some say that was the moment when everything that was held sacred abruptly ended. Others reflect back and say that was the moment when everything that is truly sacred actually originated.

As I recall the story, there was a favored young priest who was born with an extraordinary talent for leading services. His lamentations and calls to prayer were so authentic and moving that every year more and more pilgrims found their way to the Temple. The high priests, who tightly controlled the precise nature of prayer, were so thrilled with the throngs of worshipers making their way to the temple that they began to give the young priest more and more freedom in how he expressed reverence for the true word.

On a warm summer evening, a particularly large crowd had gathered for the late prayer. It was rumored that the young priest was going to do something so different, so spectacular that it would truly change the world forever. Neither the multitudes of worshippers nor the elder priests could contain their excitement as they all eagerly anticipated something so moving, so emotional, that it would bring them that much closer to the Source and thus change their world.  And he did not disappoint them, he did change their world, but not in the way that they had expected.

The service started and rather than hearing the wisdom of words swept along by the dulcet tones of his unique voice gently accompanied by the familiar strumming of an acoustic guitar and occasional harmonica, they were shocked to hear the piercing twang of an all electric band at a festival devoted exclusively to folk music. In fact, a normally peaceful Pete Seeger was so outraged that he tried to actually cut the power cable in the middle of Maggie’s Farm, a song that leveled criticism directly at the movement that had spawned the Newport festival in the first place.

Hopefully, by now you realize that this is not a Talmudic allegory or some lost Hebrew apocrypha recently uncovered in the desert. I am talking about July 25, 1965, the night that everything changed, the night that Robert Zimmerman aka Bob Dylan plugged-in and sent the folk music scene into fits of anger and then into an existential depression from which some in the movement have yet to recover. This was also the night that many believe legitimized a new musical movement. A movement that gave the past a vote but reinterpreted it, dare I say reconstructed it, by fusing styles, cultures and experimentation creating an experience that was at once familiar but completely distinct and frankly more relevant and vital than the Folk community had realized at the time.

As you are all aware, our movement has begun to undertake some changes over the last 7 months. Personally I am glad to see a continued reevaluation and reconstruction to insure the uniqueness and vibrancy that initially attracted my family to our denomination over 20 years ago. As a congregation we should embrace this spirit as well; it is imperative that we reevaluate what is working and be bold enough to try new things, express ourselves in different ways and allow ourselves the freedom to experiment knowing full well that it may initially appear to be a failure when upon deeper reflection it may be a guidepost pointing us in the direction of something wonderful.

“If you try to be anyone but yourself, you will fail; if you are not true to your own heart, you will fail. Then again, there’s no success like failure”

Bob Dylan

Epilogue: Bob Dylan was booed off the stage that night in Newport. Seeing how upset he was, Peter Yarrow, of Peter, Paul and Mary, handed him his acoustic guitar and prodded Dylan to return to the stage where he performed Mr. Tambourine Man (listen to William Shatner’s version) which mollified the hostile crowd. Pete Seeger also “forgave” Bob Dylan and now recalls that night with a smile and a twinkle in his eye.

Enjoy the rest of your summer. With the greatest respect,