One week after the terrible mass shooting during Shabbat services at the Tree of Life synagogue in Pittsburgh, interfaith gatherings appeared all over the nation like tender flowers sprouting from the bloody soil.
My new friend, Rabbi Michael Schwartz, who is new to Malibu, graciously invited me to take part in an interfaith service at the Malibu Jewish Center & Synagogue as Sabbath began last Friday evening. Rabbi Schwartz conducted a beautiful service filled with thoughtful songs, prayers, and reflections, and the musical gifts shared by Cantor Marcelo and his special guests were deeply moving.
At the outset of the service, we who represented local clergy from various faith backgrounds, along with important community leaders, were invited on stage to light eleven candles in honor of the lives that were tragically taken in Pittsburgh. We were then asked to share a short blessing. Without knowing exactly what to say at such a difficult moment, I chose to share a quote from Dr. King’s famous mountaintop speech, the last before he was assassinated: “Only when it’s dark enough can you see the stars.”
Looking at those flickering candles and out at the diverse audience in the synagogue, I can say with confidence that I saw stars shining in the darkness.
There is plenty of darkness to go around. May we see the stars. May we be the stars.
Posted in Original Essays
Tagged cantor marcelo, community, darkness, interfaith, light, malibu, malibu jewish center, mlk, pittsburgh, rabbi michael schwartz, stars, tree of life synagogue, unity
George Washington’s 285th birthday is two days away, my how the time flies, but today marks the federal holiday in his honor. Close to half of these United States extends the holiday to all presidents, but I live in one of the many states that sticks with the federal designation of “Washington’s Birthday” in honor of the man known as the father of this country.
Washington served as commander-in-chief of the Continental Army, a position he notably resigned after its stunning victory to retire to his farm in Virginia, but public service called again when he was elected as the new nation’s first president. Washington never joined a particular political party, however, and warned against “the spirit of party” in his famous Farewell Address—an interesting admonition given today’s polarized society.
Washington argued that the party spirit is natural and pervasive and produces desires for (and acts of) revenge that lead a nation away from liberty and eventually toward despotism. As a result, Washington argued that it is the “duty of a wise people to discourage and restrain” the party spirit.
“It serves always to distract the public councils and enfeeble the public administration. It agitates the community with ill-founded jealousies and false alarms, kindles the animosity of one part against another, foments occasionally riot and insurrection. It opens the door to foreign influence and corruption, which finds a facilitated access to the government itself through the channels of party passions. Thus the policy and the will of one country are subjected to the policy and will of another.”
Now it’s funny, I can picture readers from various political viewpoints reading much more into this than I intend. My critique is of all and my point is simple: Encourage coming together, and discourage choosing up sides. Unity good. Polarization bad. That would be my party platform should I have one, but ironically, a Unity Party is a contradiction in terms.
President Washington concluded his remarks on the party spirit with the following dire warning: “A fire not to be quenched, it demands a uniform vigilance to prevent its bursting into a flame, lest, instead of warming, it should consume.”
Thanks for the heads-up, Mr. General President Washington. And happy birthday.
Posted in Original Essays
Tagged birthday, divisiveness, farewell address, george washington, holiday, partisanship, party spirit, polarization, political parties, president, reconciliation, revenge, unity