What a delight it was this past Friday evening to gather with the Pueblo Jewish Community for dinner and to discuss/debate our views on gun issues. Using Jewish texts as our baseline, we entered into a passionate exchange of ideas around buying and selling, ownership and inheritance of guns, guns and ammunition restriction, licensing, registration, background checks, age limits, mental health and its various parameters including the emptying of the institutions decades ago and the lack of funds to assist people currently, parental responsibility, state versus federal regulations and of course, gun manufacturer responsibility. We even included an exchange on the safety controls that are both current and upcoming through R&D, the pros and cons thereof.
Who would have imagined that Biblical texts about dangerous dogs, roofs around parapets, not putting stumbling blocks before people and beating swords into plowshears could be so relevant! We even came to some consensus on a few issues.
Just as importantly, with the understanding that we gathered as community, friends, with regard for each other as individuals and respect for one another's opinions, thirty people with strong opinions spent an hour together and never once was anyone belittled, called a name, had their ideas dismissed or was cursed. Plus, the dinner was wonderful thanks to our chef and the volunteers who helped provide it.
Thanks to all who prepared and all who participated. I can't wait for our next alternative Shabbat.
“You’ve got to be taught to hate and fear,
It’s got to be drummed in your dear little ear,
You’ve got to be carefully taught.”
The days have turned cold and dark. They always do at this time of year but like many, this year feels colder and darker to me. I write this on the shortest day of the year but it isn’t just the loss of a few minutes of daytime that creates the aura. All the Christmas lights and all the Chanukah candles did not seem to break through the darkness this year. We’ve become despondent and cynical and the cold has a dampening effect on everything we do because it is not only external. We are being bombarded with messages that tell us to internalize the dark in the form of fear and to embrace the cold in the form of hate.
As Jews, we know that appealing to humanity’s dark side by dehumanizing the “other” works all too well. Dehumanizing includes not only pointing out someone’s differences but also denigrating normal human needs and reactions as if only one group or one person is affected by that quality or condition. Nor are disabilities and bodily functions disgusting unless one is three years old, perverse, a bully or immature.
The rabbis told us to light a candle rather than stumble in the dark. It was not only literal, it was also figurative. Lighting a candle kept shalom bayit, peace in a household that would otherwise become chaotic. Enlightenment kept the Jewish people at the forefront of science, knowledge, understanding, compassion, a broader vision of the world. The MiSheberach (the One Who Blesses) prayer is a result of adapting ancient blessings to current needs.
One of the most enlightened prayers Judaism has, gives praise for the proper functioning of the openings and cavities of the body. “… for if one of these would rupture or be blocked it would not be possible to stand before (Adonai)…” We recite this prayer upon exiting the bathroom and it is included in our morning service. We recognize the body as a house for the spirit, akin to the Aron Kodesh, the Holy Ark, which houses the Sifre Torah. Just like the Aron Kodesh, we need to guard our bodies and what we put therein. We would not desecrate the Aron Kodesh by ladening it with idols, nor would we dishonor it by eating, drinking, smoking, or engaging in numerous other activities nearby. So too, we should not demoralize and debase ourselves by filling our bodies and minds with hate and fear.
As the light grows each day, may the light in our lives take hold. May the stories of strength and goodness begin to proliferate and remind us that being a light unto the nations requires seeing light in the dark.
Ever since I was a little girl, I have been proud that the words on Lady Liberty were written by the Jewish poetess, Emma Lazarus:
“…From her beacon-hand
Glows world-wide welcome; her mild eyes command
The air-bridged harbor that twin cities frame.
‘Keep, ancient lands, your storied pomp!’ cries she
With silent lips. ‘Give me your tired, your poor,
Your huddled masses yearning to breathe free,
The wretched refuse of your teeming shore.
Send these, the homeless, tempest-tost to me,
I lift my lamp beside the golden door!’ ”
For the mitzvah is a lamp and Torah is light. (Proverbs 6:23)
Wishing you and yours a joyous, healthy 2016.
 Rodgers and Hammerstein, You’ve Got To Be Carefully Taught, South Pacific ,1949
 The New Colossus, Emma Lazarus.
It seems to me that the rhetoric in the aftermath of the Sandy-Hook shooting, and the litany of other shootings and violent activity that has become notable in our recent conscious, is missing a key element. While I support sensible gun control regulations, a ban to assault weapons and gun shows, proper licensing and closing loopholes for permits; and while I applaud steps being taken toward expanding access to mental health; I do not believe that the 30,000 deaths that occur from gun violence in this country will be eliminated if the root of our divide is not also addressed. Unless one accepts as an axiom that anyone who shoots a gun at people is mentally ill, addressing these two issues will not alleviate the problem. The deeper problem is that we have lost the ability to communicate effectively. It is not only the ladies and gentlemen of the Congress who have forgotten that opinions are not truths, but much of the populace of this country and many other countries, as well. Civil discourse is rapidly becoming extinct.
Growing up, I remember hearing that religion and politics, two of my favorite subjects, were not discussed in public. However, religion and politics are often the base of an individual’s views and ethics, thoughts and behaviors. By obviating these two categories, we often engage in very superficial conversations. The fact is, we can no longer even speak about the weather or ask about one’s health without broaching politics. Neither can one ask after someone’s pregnancy, spouse or family without potentially stepping on religious sanctions.
When the highest position in the land, the Presidency, is denigrated by those who hold the highest positions of justice in the land, the Supreme Court, then the ‘person on the street’ is merely reflecting the attitude of their leaders. If imitation is the highest form of flattery, mimicry has become the lowest form of constructive intellectual processing. It is far easier to repeat a meme than to research the context of a phrase. It is more empowering to listen only to sources that come from our predetermined vantage point than to tune in to a source that challenges our beliefs.
In times of crises, as a nation, we generally come together to support each other. Americans are a generous, caring and supportive people. I saw this as I drove from Colorado to Oregon and back the week following 9/11/01. We have all seen this in the outpouring of assistance during the days following Haiti, Hurricane Sandy, Fukishima, the shootings in Aurora and Sandy Hook and countless other catastrophes. The problem that exists is that those feelings, that desire to assist, is temporary. We have a longer memory for resentment and hatred than we do for compassion and love. Why is it that a single instance of conflict can deplete a lifetime of love but a single instance of connecting will not overcome a lifetime of hate?
I was astounded by the number of people who have told me they de-friended someone during the last election season, and not just on facebook. I am astonished that people of good will cannot discuss religion and politics without devolving to name calling. I am bemused by those who spout rhetoric that they perceive as clever when it is merely degrading for them as well for those who hear it. It is, for me, no different from the comedian who tosses out curses in lieu of being able to present a comedic dialogue.
I am not advocating repressing emotions. In fact, I consider the zero tolerance rules to be an abdication of good judgment. (Common sense should tell us that two five year olds kissing on a playground should not be suspended from school.) Repression merely leads to an eventual emotional explosion. Concern for our fellow human beings, awareness of someone else’s pain, frustration and isolation, involvement in dialogue with family, friends, community and nation, must go hand in hand with any regulations, be they around guns or mental health.
However, conversation, civil discourse, etiquette and concern for one another, are not things that can be legislated. Rather, these are things that are internalized by observing them and by living within a culture that promotes them. I am not offended by someone opening a door for me. I appreciate someone saying ‘bless you’ when I sneeze. I can afford the ten seconds it takes to wave the other car through an intersection. I do not need to see every ‘blood on the snow’ story that occurs just so a 24/7 news station can fill in their allotted time. I am delighted to hear of any charitable project being undertaken by a child, a teen, a local adult or a celebrity. I look forward to discussing different opinions with my friends, knowing that they will still be friends at the end of the discussion – even when the differences remain.
Maybe we need to simply go back to basics. Please share your thoughts with me. Thank you for taking the time to consider my opinion.
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Community educator, choreographer, composer, performer, Becker, M.S.W., M.Ed., M.R.S., Ph.D., serves as rabbi for Temple Emanuel-Pueblo, cellist for Apples and Honey and is a Storahtelling Maven.
FOR MORE INFORMATION ON ISRAEL
WOMEN OF THE WALL http://www.nytimes.com/video/2012/12/22/world/middleeast/100000001969698/women-at-the-western-wall.html