(I was honored to be one of the speakers. I share with you my remarks)
Thank you, Rebecca, and I thank all of the organizers, speakers, and all of you for being here this evening. I am your shamash for the evening, and I’ll explain what that means in a moment.
I begin by inviting you to join me in song. Some of you know this song in Hebrew. Some of you know it in English. Some of you know it in both and some of you don’t know it as all, and that’s all perfect. However you know the song, sing it. If you don’t know it, you’ll catch on to the melody or words and can sing, hum, or yai-dai-dai or la la la along. And, I have a special message for those of you who have been told some variation of “It’s better if you don’t sing.” I want you to sing and I want you to sing loud! This is not about what’s pleasing to human ears, this is about what’s pleasing and healing to us – personally and, for those of you who believe in a Divine being, The Divine One only cares about our willingness to raise our voices – not about human assessments of the quality of our voices.
Yah, prepare me, to be a sanctuary
Pure and holy, tried and true.
With thanksgiving, I’ll be a living
Sanctuary for You. (three rounds)
What does it mean to be a sanctuary for The Divine One? What does it mean to be a sanctuary for justice? For hope? For peace? Are you prepared to be a reservoir for a vision of an America - a world in which all lives matter? I’ll repeat that: Are you prepared to be a reservoir for a vision of an America - a world in which all lives matter? And if you are not ready, and most of us are not, this is the time to intentionally prepare. If you think you’re ready, but not completely sure, this is the time to intentionally prepare. And, for those of you saying, “Yeah, I’m ready, I’ve been ready all my life!” You may be ready but are you prepared? Have you done the internal work? Are you willing to do the ongoing internal work? Are you prepared to move out of binary thinking and into the universe of complexity? Expansion?
Who do you fear, and why do you fear them? Does that fear have any basis in reality? Where does bias, prejudice, and discrimination live in you? Who are the people you make fun of because of their size, their seeming lack of mental acuity? Their ethnicity or accent? What are the broad and sweeping beliefs you hold about White people? Native American people? Women? Lesbians? Gay men? Bisexual people? Transgendered people? Latino women and men? Asian women and men? How does colorism shape your familial relationships? Friendships? Your concepts of beauty? What long ago hurts are running you? What are the ways that the oppressor sees you that you see as being true about you, or about people you love? I stand before you, not as an accuser, but as shamash. To put it simply, I don’t want my heart broken again. I see and feel the promise of this moment in our national and global community, and I am not the only one. As I was listening to the radio this morning, I heard a young Asian man say that making Black Lives Matter was important to him because if Black Lives Matter, then all lives will finally matter! Kein y’hi ratzon – may it be so.
It can be so, if we understand we are a wedge for a change in the social order of common sense and conventional wisdom. Black Lives Matter, to be truly revolutionary, MUST be about the lives of Black men and Black women. Black Lives Matter, to be truly effective, MUST connect the dots to the lives of our Latino, Asian, Native American and working class white brothers and sisters. Black Lives Matter, to be socially innovative, MUST challenge heterosexist and sexist norms that marginalize the humanity of lesbians, gay men, bisexual people, transgendered people, queer people, people with disabilities, our elders, and our young people.
For Jewish support of Black Lives Matter to really make a difference, the discussion of racism, classism and sexism MUST come home. We need these discussions in our communities, our synagogues, our institutions, our homes as an analysis and challenge of our assumptions about our history as a people and the richness of our heritage.
I know not all of you observe Hanukkah, so I’m making a personal invitation for you to light candles this week, whether it be once, many, or every or only a few intermittent nights. Here’s why: Twice I’ve referred to myself as shamash. Shamash is the name for the candle used to light the candles of Hanukkah. Technically, it is the servant of the other candles, and its own light is important precisely because it is of service. It is of use. Once it has done its job, it sits in the menorah to add light and joy. I know that some of my words have caused some, if not each of you, to be uncomfortable. That discomfort is pointing to the place to start in dedicating or rededicating yourself to be of service to a larger purpose. My words are intended to spark the will in you to be of service, to be of use for a larger purpose.
We are on the cusp of a transformational moment, though I have been here before, I really believe that this time can be different. To fulfill the promise of this moment, we must do the work we are demanding our society, our country, our global communities to do. We want more justice and less bias in the world, we must burn down the internal wall between us and our unexamined fears and attitudes regarding all we see as other, and dismantle those thoughts and emotions. We want more love in the world, we must burn down the internal wall that keeps us from loving and having compassion and patience for ourselves. We want more peace in the world, then let us burn down the internal wall around our rage so that we harness that energy into constructive action.
This week, as we light the candles of Hanukkah, or we light candles to chase away the dark, let us use those lights for joy and for opportunity. The joy, I hope is easy, if for no other reason than the beauty of the flame and how it illumines the space around you. Use candle lighting to consciously begin or continue the dedication of your internal temple. Develop practices such as holding paradox, connecting the dots to all forms of oppression, having patience and compassion for yourself so that you can break binary thinking and have compassion and patience for others. These are just a few of the practices that will serve you and us for the long haul.
Let this evening serve you. If nothing else, remember the rich sound that surrounded us as we joined our voices together, and it was truly more magnificent than I imagined. For all our different approaches, nowhere was there a false note. That kind of perfection only happens in moments. For one moment those who knew and those who had no clue joined with those who had voice and those who had been shut up or shut out to create something bigger than all of us. So, let this evening be a reminder of what is possible when you are willing to be the shamash, the one who is of service, of use to the moment, to the vision, and to the movement toward that vision
Tonight, we light the first candle of Hanukkah together. Let it signify our public commitment to the personal work of building or rebuilding our internal temple so that we can be of service, of use to the larger purpose of Tikkun Olam, repairing the temple of our world. And let us say: (Amen!)
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