Some are Guilty, But All are Responsible.
Remarks from Kabbalat Shabbat, 13 Sh’vat 5782 at Kol Shalom Rockville, MD
In this week’s parashah B’Shallach, after celebrating the Eternal’s victory over the Egyptians, we resume our journey, traveling away from the Sea of Reeds into the Shur wilderness. We travel for three days and have not found water. The bliss and joy of escape have worn off. We are following, and we are in a place of unknowing, longing for the security of knowing. Among ourselves, we speak of feeling bad and not knowing why. There is water when we arrive at Marah, but it is as bitter as we feel! The complaining begins. The Eternal shows Moshe a tree. He pushes it into the water, causing it to become sweet. Yet, it doesn't sweeten our mood.
What does cause a mood change is our first rule from the Eternal. We agree to follow the ways of the Eternal, though it's hard to conceive what that means. Yes, this is the Might that brought us out of Egypt. There is more and most of us only hear "l, the Eternal am your Healer," causing us to know what we need. (15.22-26)
Eilim, our next stop, offers beauty and nourishment with its 12 springs of water, 70 palm trees, and great smells. We camp beside and around the waters. Soaking in the peace and beauty mutes our stress, mistrust, and fear. We leave Eilim, ready for the spaciousness of the wilderness and the unknown that also stretches before us.
We, Jews of Color, Multicultural-Multiracial-Multi-Ethnic, Indigenous, Sephardic, Persian, and Mizrakhi Jews – each and all of us who do not fit the mold, the lie – many to most of you were carefully taught about who is and who is not Jewish, need you the members, leaders, staff, clergy, board, trustees, and investors – everyone invested in our spiritual homes – we need you to transform them, including Kol Shalom, so that every time we are here, we experience Eilim.
We need our spiritual homes to be a place where we can go and be seen,
loved, comforted, consoled, soothed, celebrated, and honored because living within this skin is sometimes just too much. Daily, we can experience the stress of spiritual, emotional, intellectual, and sometimes physical abuse for no other reason than we exist and are obviously different.
As we begin to figure how to be with COVID as an endemic, we look forward to schmoozing with you at kiddish (I really miss kiddish), being invited into your homes for Shabbat dinners or lunches or potlucks, to sipping bourbon or tea or martinis on your porch or balcony, in your backyard or den. We would also welcome invitations to your simchas. We want you not to be surprised or suspicious when we show-up for shiva, are part of a meal train, or call to see how you are doing. We want you to accept invitations to our homes and to know how welcome your presence will be at our Shiva minyans and simchas. We want to have deep discussions with you and have you not react as if we are naïve or petulant children because we disagree with you or know things that you do not know.
We need you to crack open and destroy every stereotype you hold about any and all of us who you perceive to be different from you, including those of us with disabilities, identify as lesbian, gay, bisexual, queer, non-binary, transgender, questioning, and so much more. Diversity is in our Jewish DNA. We have always – ALWAYS – been a multihued Indigenous people whose Way of Being was so strong, it could not be destroyed, and it cannot be destroyed unless we continue down the road of being less than who The Eternal has always called us to be – a light unto the nations, and in this country in this nation that includes being actively anti-racist, anti-sexist, anti-heterosexist, and more. To be a light unto the nations, we must be a light to and for each other. That includes us surrounding each other when our lights are dim fueling that light to restoration, and that also means we call people into relationship when they say something we find offensive and/or harmed others. We intervene when we overhear another asking, “how are you Jewish?” My friend and former President of Adas Israel Rikki Gerger, when she heard that question always said,
“Why are you asking that?”
I know that choseness is controversial among some to many in the Jewish community. I define that choseness as the responsibility to be called, pushed, and prodded to always be the best we can be in any particular moment.
I know we are not perfect. The Eternal knows we are not perfect. The call is not to be perfect. It’s a call to own the fullness of our humanity by:
giving up perfection and wandering into the messiness of life with joy,
ceasing trying to fix things and becoming curious to explore what it takes to mend and re-mend and amend and reamend again in the places in which we collectively are not perfect, and
by cultivating the curiosity of our four-year-old self. To our four-year-old everything was and still is amazing, fascinating, magical, and more.
We are not designed to relax into comfort. According to the Rabbi Abraham Joshua Heschel, “the prophets sought to convey that morally speaking, there is no limit to the concern one must feel for the suffering of human beings, that indifference to evil is worse than evil itself, that in a free society, some are guilty, but all are responsible.”
By releasing ourselves from the constraints of perfectionism, the fixing reflex, and reigniting/cultivating our curious four-year-old perspective, we move away from guilt and shame to grow into our responsibility to be increasingly amazingly human.
If he were still alive, Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. would be 93 tomorrow. He and Rabbi Heschel had a close and too short friendship, in large part, I suspect, because they could see themselves in each other’s eyes. That is what I want from each of you: I long to look into your eyes and see that you see my humanity. Even if you are seeing/meeting me for the first time, I want you to see that I am not lost! I know exactly where I am, and I want to experience you as welcoming me home where I belong like a long lost relative you’ve always heard about, and are meeting for the first time.
The truth is I, and all the others like me, we know you belong to us – bumps, warts, and all. What we want and need from you is for you to know we belong to you – bumps, warts, and all.
In creating an Eilim, an oasis, for those of us who have been pushed to the margins, centering us among yourselves, we create a spaciousness, an Eilim for of all of us. Each of us. Every one of us.
Standing in our common humanity and Jewishness, we are stronger than any one or any smaller part of us can be. Standing in our common humanity and Jewishness, we work the multiple paths toward the Messianic Age, a time of universal love and peace. Though it is a time we will not see, it is our destiny to add to the actions, thoughts, words, perspectives, and more that enhance the Emunah – the deep river of loving shalom and trust that carries all and each of us toward a well-tended planet with its people, animals, insects, waters, and lands cherished and respected. Standing in our common humanity and Jewishness we own and act through our responsibility to be the lights the Eternal calls us to be. Standing in our common humanity and Jewishness, we unabashedly shine our lights.
Let us shine! Let us Shine! Let us Shine!
© Copyright Sabrina Sojourner 2022