Monday, December 19, 2011

Eight Lights for Chanukkah

Chanukkah is a time of blessing. At the coldest, darkest time of the year, this is a holiday that reminds us to gather around the warmth of the light. This year, we want to celebrate not only the eight literal lights that we kindle in the Chanukkah Menorah, but also eight Israeli organizations that are bringing light into the world.

1) Hand in Hand: Center for Jewish-Arab Education in Israel
Hand in Hand is a network of integrated, bilingual schools combining peace education and top academic standards. Their mission is to increase peace, coexistence and equality between the Jews and Arabs in Israel. With three campuses--in Jerusalem, the Galilee and Wadi Ara--Hand in Hand builds partnerships to provide as many Israeli children as possible the option of an integrated, top-quality public education.

2) Kibbutz Lotan Solar Field
Awarded the 2006 Award for Ecovillage Excellence by the Global Ecovillage Network, Kibbutz Lotan is home to Israel’s first solar field. The solar field reduces Israel’s use of fossil fuels, and will further the mitzah of creating a clean free atmosphere for all of us. Additionally, Lotan’s Center for Creative Ecology is rooted in “Tikkun Olam”--the Jewish concept for repairing and transforming the world. The Center offers tours, workshops, and ecofriendly design and training programs. Lotan serves as a living classroom for sustainable systems.

3) The Jerusalem Secular Yeshiva
The Jerusalem Secular Yeshiva seeks to connect young Israelis who wish to maintain a culturally Jewish way of life to a heightened sense of social-justice and community solidarity. Unlike the religious yeshivot that many of their orthodox counterparts attend, students at the Secular Yeshiva spend their days in a pluralistic environment, studying contemporary Zionist thinkers, Jewish philosophy, the holiday and life cycles, and other traditional Jewish texts. The program combines study of Jewish texts and culture with social action and volunteer work in underserved neighborhoods.

4) Save a Child’s Heart
Save a Child’s Heart (SACH) is an Israeli-based international humanitarian project, whose mission is to improve the quality of pediatric cardiac care for children from developing countries who suffer from heart disease and to create centers of competence in these countries. SACH is dedicated to the idea that every child deserves the best medical treatment available, regardless of the child's nationality, religion, color, gender or financial situation. SACH is motivated by the age-old Jewish tradition of Tikkun Olam--repairing the world. By mending the hearts of children, regardless of their origin, SACH is contributing to a better and more peaceful future for all of our children.

5) Kiryat Ono College
Committed to inclusive education, Kiryat Ono College prepares ultra orthodox men and women for the workforce. A large percentage of ultra-orthodox men in Israel dedicate their lives to studying the Torah and are supported by substantial government funding. This has lowered the community's capacity for self-sufficiency. There is a growing realization in the ultra-orthodox community that it must enter the business arena and lower its dependency on subsidies. The ultra-orthodox campus at Kiryat Ono College allows ultra orthodox men and women to study in an institution of higher learning without compromising their religious values.

6) Ma’ale Film School
Ma’ale is the only film school in the world devoted to exploring the intersection of Judaism and modern life. The school unabashedly holds a mirror up to the most pressing issues in the religious Zionist community, including homosexuality, marriage and gender equality, and settlement in the Territories. Ma'aleh films are screened regularly at film festivals world-wide and consistently win top awards.

7) Nava Tehila
Nava Tehila is an emerging prayer and study community in Jerusalem, welcoming people of diverse backgrounds who wish to experience various expressions of spiritual life with a Jewish flavor. The community offers classes and workshops in Jewish spirituality, meditation, Kabbalah and Chasidut. Prayer is egalitarian and inclusive, open to people of all religious and spiritual traditions. Nava Tehila is affiliated with the Jewish renewal spiritual movement.

8) Encounter
Encounter is an educational organization dedicated to providing global Diaspora Jewish leaders from across the religious and political spectrum with exposure to Palestinian life. Through trips to Palestinian territories in the West Bank, Encounter participants meet Palestinian civilians and leaders to engage in thoughtful conversation about the complexities of Israel and the conflict.


Hope your Chanukkah is filled with love and light,
Daniel and Leah

Have additions to this list? Feel free to comment and post them below!

Thursday, December 15, 2011

Moving from Ambition to Compassion

This morning, I offered the following words of Torah at HUC. Text is below the video.

I’m thinking about writing a self-help book. You know, the kind that gives you detailed instructions on how to maximize your potential and change your life forever. By following my 5 easy steps, you can boost yourself into the national spotlight, influence top politicians, call the shots on Wall Street, and get your name in all the newspapers, while picking up a cool and easy million bucks along the way. I’m thinking of calling the book: How to be the Best at Everything… Ever.

I get the sense that there are more and more people like this in our world: people who don’t care what they have to do or how they have to do it, so long as they can get ahead; people who live to compete, and for whom losing is not an option; people with endless ambition and little compassion.

We see in Joseph exactly this type of ambition. Joseph dreams of being a great leader, and nothing will stop him. Everywhere he goes, he is successful. In whatever he does, “the Lord is with him.” He’s his father’s favorite. He’s made head of Potiphar’s household. Even in prison, the warden puts him in charge of his fellow inmates. And in all his responsibility, he looks great doing it!

But despite his skill and cleverness, Joseph exhibits no consideration for others. Although he is his father’s favorite, we have no evidence that he reciprocates his father’s love. He shamelessly reveals to his brothers his deep-seated superiority complex. And after his first dream enrages them, he goes ahead and reveals another one where the imagery is even more inflammatory—that that the sun, the moon, and stars bow down to him. As we read this morning, “Vayoseefu od s'no oto, al ha-chalomotav v'al d'varav / and his brothers continued to hate him more, on account of his dreams and on account of his words.” Throughout his journey in Egypt, we never once see him form a true friendship. His relationships are purely professional; even in prison, he befriends not common inmates, but high-ranking royal officials. And though he accurately interprets their dreams, he does so with a request: that when the cupbearer is free, he’ll remember Joseph and help free him too. He seems to operate under the code of “I’ll scratch your back if you scratch mine.”

Elie Wiesel, in his book Messengers of God, describes Joseph thus: “His was a political awareness, not a poetic one. Shrewd rather than wise, he was a manipulator rather than a witness. ... While still a child, he behaved like a king. When he became king, he often behaved like a child.”

I get the sense that many of today’s leaders also aspire to be kings while behaving like children. They’re so obsessed with success that they’d do seemingly anything to get ahead. From Bernie Madoff to Rod Blagojevich, from the exploitative parenting on TV’s Toddlers in Tiaras to football coaches who hit their own players when they lose, somehow our culture has come to value success over all else.

As religious and spiritual leaders, we have a responsibility to help our communities see that ambition must be tempered by compassion, that the process is just as important as the goal, that winning isn’t the only thing that counts.

Joseph succeeds in all he does and certainly hurts a few people along the way. But his greatest success—the redemption of the children of Israel—comes only after he is able to make peace with his brothers. He discovers that all his ambition leads to nowhere but loneliness, that all his achievement can’t win him a friend. We see in him a real transformation, from Mr. Ambition to Mr. Compassion, from an arrogant brat who can’t hold back his ego to a loving brother who can’t hold back his tears. When he finally turns to compassion, only then does he truly earn the name “Yosef HaTzaddik / Joseph the Righteous”—not for his skill and cunning, not because he was the first of our people to “make it” in the gentile world, but because he learned that relationships are more important than being the best.

So maybe I’m writing the wrong self-help book. Maybe it’s not about being the best after all. Maybe the title should be How to Get Beyond Winning and Start Loving. Or better still, How to be Human.