Jerusalem – A Point of View (by Dalia Landau)

As predictable as it might have been, still the announcement by the U.S. government about Jerusalem, shook the world.The question is why?

Jerusalem – a point of view

by Dalia Landau

Jerusalem is the capital of Israel. Nothing new. Personally I do not need confirmation for what is a known fact. However, better  keep silent than acknowledge half a truth. If we as Israelis claim that we are here to stay, the Palestinians are also here to stay. They too, together with the whole Muslim world, feel connected to what Jerusalem represents for them as a Holy City. However, while for the rest of the Muslim world she is an abstract symbol, for the Palestinians, just as for us, Jerusalem is both a symbol and a living reality. East Jerusalem, with the villages surrounding it is inhabited by Palestinians. If the statement of the U.S. were presented by, at the very least, expressing the hope that East Jerusalem be the capital of Palestine, we might have seen vision and courage in that statement. Making a one sided declaration, which completely overlooks the sensitivities of one of the parties in a conflict, still the U.S. claims to be a broker for peace.


Now, unfortunately, there is yet again danger of escalating violence on the local level here in the holy city.  Yet, Beyond current politics,  Jerusalem is a place where civilizations have been clashing for millennia- greedily vying for possession– of what? Of Holiness?


I do not think that symbols, as important as they are for meaning and identity, are worth one drop of  blood-shed–nobody’s blood. Shall we allow yet again this central symbol to become more important than human life?


Beyond right and wrong and who ‘owns’ Jerusalem and who was here first, and whose Temple Mount it is, whose Rock, in whose jurisdiction lies the ‘Foundation Stone’ of the world, this or that square centimetre of the Western Wall compound, there is  The Holy One who cannot be possessed. We thirst for holiness but we cannot posses it. Yes, we can hold on to a few stones for a while…


Amidst all this, Advent is here, Hanuka is soon approaching, which is a reminder of a current which flows, a flame which always burns.. one candle and another and a third and yet another.

With blessings,


Dalia Landau,
Open House Ramle

Rosh Hashanah 5778 – Breath. Light. Dance.

Have you ever found yourself in a dark, strange and frightening space (existential or physical) wondering/hoping that it is actually a dream from which you will wake up soon? This morning,  I keep hoping that the sound of the shofar might be that wake up call … waking me up from this bad dream I’ve been having since last November (November 8th to be exact).  I continually find myself in this dark, strange and frightening space.


Psychiatrist Viktor Frankl – whose life spanned the 20th century – studied, understood and taught others about finding ourselves in such spaces.  During World War II Dr. Frankl labored in four different concentration camps, including Auschwitz.  Based on his own experience and the experiences of others he treated later in his practice, Dr. Frankl wrote Man’s Search for Meaning.  In it he addressed the experience of finding oneself in precarious and dangerous moments.


Between stimulus and response there is a space. In that space is our power to choose our response. In our response lies our growth and our freedom.


I want to explore what it means to inhabit this peculiar kind of space.   What do we do when find ourselves caught and feeling paralyzed by a threat (stimulus) beyond our making or control?  How do we ever hope to overcome (respond) to such a mercurial and pernicious threat?  


Between stimulus and response there is a space. In that space is our power to choose our response. In our response lies our growth and our freedom.


Within the anxiety and fear of the moment, lies power, growth and ultimately freedom.  How do we stay present in this moment and begin to access these implausible gifts?  How do we meaningfully dwell amongst forces that seem to conspire against our well being?  How do we inhabit this kind of space?


First, we BREATHE.


I know that we are already breathing.  There is breathing and then there is breathing.  About twenty years ago I attended a workshop at which I learned something magical about breathing.  The presenter, an expert on brain function, was teaching us about the power of breath.  “The next time you find yourself in a forgetful moment, of a name or detail, stop trying hard to remember and simply take a few deep breaths … and the detail will come to mind.”  Twenty years later this magic still works.    


Countless scientific studies confirm this relationship between intentional breathing and its impact on our bodies, minds and spirits.  In one such publication, “The Healing Power of the Breath.” Dr. Patricia Gerbarg (assistant clinical professor of psychiatry at New York Medical College) and Dr. Richard Brown (associate clinical professor of psychiatry at Columbia University) reported upon the physiological impact of intentional breathing.   Consciously changing the way you breathe appears to send a signal to the brain to adjust the parasympathetic branch of the nervous system, which can slow heart rate and digestion and promote feelings of calm as well as the sympathetic system … what that all means is that: If you breathe correctly, your mind will calm down.  Dr. Brown testified,    “I have seen patients transformed by adopting regular breathing practices.”


Breathing not only impacts our physicality, but our spirituality, too.  Try an exercise with me.  Let us take the name our tradition gives to the Divine.  YHVH.  We do not know how to pronounce this name.  We have the consonants, but no vowels.  YHVH.  There have been countless guesses through the centuries — some you you know – Yahweh, Jehovah.  The exercise is to take just the consonants – YHVH and without trying to insert any vowels.  Just put those sounds together – YHVH.  For many or most of us what we uttered was the sound of breath or breeze.  Ruach … breath, spirit … the name of the Holy, the Sacred.  Rabbi Arthur Waskow calls this breath, this spirit “the interbreathing that connects all life”.  Our creation myth teaches is that it is the breath/ruach of the Divine that created the world.  When we take the time to intentionally breathe in a dark, strange and frightening space, we invoke the divine into that frightening moment/space.  We re-member ourselves as part of that which unites all life, that which is beyond us and within us.

We begin to purposefully inhabit the space between stimulus and response by finding calm and reminding ourselves of our ultimate connections. First, we BREATHE.


Next, we find or ignite the LIGHT.  


One of the darkest places I have ever been was in New Zealand.  In New Zealand there are underground caverns, carved out over the millennia by underground rivers.  We were in a boat with dozens of other people in one of these caverns to see the light.  For you see, parallel to the development of these caverns was the evolution of some of the creatures who dwelled in this dark space.  The worms developed the biological ability to create light in these dark spaces.  The glow worms even dwell in the ceiling of these caverns … giving the impression of not being in a dark, enclosed space … but looking up at bright, glowing stars in an endless, limitless sky.  


It may be fundamental to our wiring to be wary of the dark.  I believe it is also a fundamental drive within us to find or create light in that same darkness.  


When we find ourselves in a dark space, we may be confronted with both inclinations.  Former first lady Eleanor Roosevelt put it simply: “It is better to light a candle than curse the darkness.”  


Viktor Frankl, shared a story of such dark space and finding the light in a grey, dark moment while laboring in a concentration camp   …

“We were at work in a trench. The dawn was grey around us; grey was the sky above; grey the snow in the pale light of dawn; grey the rags in which my fellow prisoners were clad, and grey their faces. I was again conversing silently with my wife, or perhaps I was struggling to find the reason for my sufferings, my slow dying. In a last violent protest against the hopelessness of imminent death, I sensed my spirit piercing through the enveloping gloom. I felt it transcend that hopeless, meaningless world, and from somewhere I heard a victorious “Yes” in answer to my question of the existence of an ultimate purpose. At that moment a light was lit in a distant farmhouse, which stood on the horizon as if painted there, in the midst of the miserable grey of a dawning morning in Bavaria. “Et lux in tenebris lucet” — and the light shineth in the darkness.


As foreboding and frightening as the darkness may be … seeing, kindling or igniting some light in that darkness are the next steps in our surviving and ultimately creating a new reality.  We continue to purposefully inhabit the space between stimulus and response by igniting light in the darkness and uncovering the hope that is found in the light. First, we BREATHE. Next, we LIGHT.


Then, we DANCE.


For those that know me, you may be laughing at me.  Hearing me advocate dancing as an important component of a spiritual response to a dark, strange and frightening space may be more than slightly amusing.    I think, however, I can appreciate what happens when someone can and does let loose on the dance floor or bedroom carpet or kitchen tile.  There may be no more authentic moment when someone allows their body to move as it feels — without fear or awareness of judgment from any other source — fully trusting  oneself to ride the wave to where one’s gut or spirit may be taking them.  The experience of the literal dance, mirrors that of a more figurative dance.  What stronger more potent way can we inhabit a dark, strange and frightening space than to have the courage and resolve to be our true, dynamic selves.  The great sage, Rabbi Nachman of Bratslav taught his students exactly this principle:   “By means of dance one can transform the evil forces and nullify decrees.”


Rabbi Lawrence Kushner thought that his synagogue’s Simchat Torah celebration was pretty special … especially the joyous, raucous dancing with the Torah scrolls.    One year at this fabulous Simchat Torah celebration, we met a man who had recently immigrated from the Soviet Union.  He asked the man what he thought of their Simchat Torah celebration. To his surprise, the man said that while it was very beautiful, in Leningrad, Simchat Torah was better. Kushner was curious and a little insulted by his response.


“How is it better?” Kushner asked.


“In Leningrad,” He explained, “If you dance in front of the synagogue on Simchat Torah, you must assume that the secret police will photograph everyone. This means that you will be identified and sooner or later your employer will be notified. And since such a dance is considered anti-Soviet, you must be prepared to lose your job! So you see, to dance on such an occasion, this is a different kind of dance.”


Once we have breathed and are calm and centered, and have lit the light that illuminates the dark space … we must have the courage to dance our dance.  No matter what the outside forces of the world may be dictating to us … we must have the spiritual courage to give ourselves over fully and honestly to our essential nature, our whole being and engage in a sacred dance in the world.


We fully purposefully inhabit the space between stimulus and response by courageously and creatively allow our authentic selves and spirits to flourish and flow.  First, we BREATHE. Next, we LIGHT.  Then, we DANCE.


And here we are, still inhabiting that same space.   What might it look like — to Breathe. Light. Dance.


On one hand it may be quite literally … breathing, lighting and dancing.  We might take a few moments to intentionally breathe when we experience the frustration, anxiety or fear of these times in which we live.  We make take those few moments to breathe before we respond to that post or email or statement.  We might make sure that the lights in our lives are not only the television or screen that delivers us the news or commentary of this historical space, but the lights of creation – sun, moon and stars that feed us, inspire and ground us.  We might confront the sadness with the joy of music,  movement and celebration with people who love us unconditionally – no matter the precision or fluidity of our dance moves.


To breathe, light and dance in this historical moment may also go beyond the literal.  Perhaps we might be more intentional and disciplined about creating times in our busy lives for the rituals and practices – privately or communally that like breathing – calm us and ground us.  Perhaps we endeavor to keep the lights on as much as possible … in our words and demeanor, with what we watch, read or listen to … in shining the light on who and what is most valuable and important to us.   Perhaps we dance our authentic dance and speak truth to power; spend our time and money in ways that mirror our values and ideals; and with joy and hope help uplift those who feel threatened, hurt or alone.  


Between stimulus and response there is a space. In that space is our power to choose our response. In our response lies our growth and our freedom.


The call of the shofar will not awaken us from this or any bad dream.  That does not diminish its power.  May the shofar’s piercing and agitating sound, call us to respond to the dark, strange and frightening spaces in which we find ourselves.    May the call of the shofar inspire us to Breathe … to Light … to Dance.


Presidential Phone Calls and Fish Belly Moments

Well, I guess that I’m not going to be speaking with the President this New Year.  It’s true!  Every year for the past eight years, President Obama invited American rabbis to join him for a pre-New year conference call.  Ok … technically, I never actually spoke ‘with’ the President. However, I was on the call and heard him speak to me.  It was political and even a little forced, but it still felt kinda cool.  This year, (Oy, this year!), the New Year call is not happening.  The rabbinic organizations involved in setting up the call told the Current Occupant of the White House, “No!”.

For obvious reasons, the prospect of this year’s call felt very different from the Presidential New Year conference calls of years past. I fully support the rabbinic organizations (including my own, the CCAR) who protested the Current Occupant by choosing not to participate in the call.  The decision also gives me pause to question the ways we stand up to and confront conflict in our lives.  I am not only thinking about political or civil confrontation, but the facing up to threats or unrest in the interpersonal realm, as well.  There are times when there is power in our silence or refusal to engage.  There are times when we have to swallow our pride, fear or anxiety and directly engage with those who intimidate and threaten us.

Whether it is the case of the problematic Current Occupant or a friend or family member who taunts and menaces us, how do we know what to do and when?  I do not know the answer to that question.  How do we get in the right heartspace and headspace to make such a decision?  To that question, I do have a response.  We welcome the focus presented to us by Jewish tradition at this time of year … and take the time to get our heads and hearts clear and true.  

We see such head and heart clearing in the character of Jonah.  We meet Jonah again and again each Yom Kippur.  Yeah, that Jonah of the “Being Swallowed By A Giant Fish” episode.  He was called to go to Nineveh and ask the Ninevites to repent.  He not only refused, but ran!   In the end it was the intensity of the experience in the fish’s belly that helped him see clearly.  After all, the charge he received from On High to go to Nineveh in the first place was pretty much the same thing he heard from that same source while he was in the belly of the fish.  And yet, he heard it differently:

“After his harrowing experience in the storm and in the belly of the fish, Jonah has done some soul-searching and is ready to listen again, more deeply.  He hears again what is essentially the same message, but with a few key differences … Humbled now, Jonah is able to hear differently … ” (Sh’ma – A Journal of Jewish Ideas – S Blog)

If you will indulge me, this time of Elul that leads us to the Ten Days of Teshuvah can be a “Fish Belly” moment for each of us … to see and hear clearly the path of response to what challenges us.  Our tradition gifts us this time of year to find grounding and clarity so that we may discern if it is our silence or our words that a situation or relationship demands.  May this month of Elul and the approaching days of Teshuvah allow us to tap into our inner strength and grace and find the way that we each must constructively resist or engage those who would confront us.

By the way, if you should have the chance to speak with the Current Occupant, I might have some things that I want to say to him.

Oh Yeah, It’s Tisha B’Av

Today, some in the Jewish world will observe Tisha B’Av … a day of mourning and lamentation … for all of the calamities that history and folklore attribute to this day in the Jewish story.   It’s meaning and relevance has waned for many Jews, your rabbi included.  However, this reflection (from Dr. Aryeh Cohen, professor of Rabbinics at the American Jewish University) on finding meaning in this day spoke to me … 

Tisha B’av Does Not Have A Happy Ending

Tisha B’av is not yom kippur. We are assured neither atonement nor redemption on Tisha B’av.

Tisha B’av is not the day that we beat our chests and promise to do better.

Tisha B’av is the day that we force ourselves to look into the heart of darkness, the darkness that we have created, the ways in which we are complicit in the evils of the world and we must be overwhelmed and distraught and paralyzed. There is no ray of hope on Tisha B’av.

Tisha B’av is the day of reckoning.

Tisha B’av is Isaiah standing in Jerusalem on the way to the Temple in sackcloth and ashes screaming that we are the heirs to Sodom and Gomorrah – that God is so sick of our worship service that the smell of the sweet incense nauseates her.

Tisha B’av is Isaiah standing outside the AME church in Charleston telling us, the nice right-minded liberal white community – God is sick of your weeping for dead black people. First wipe the blood off your hands. Your hands drip with the blood of slavery and slave profits.

Tisha B’av is Jeremiah standing at the checkpoint in Kalandia and outside the gates of Kiryat Arba telling all the the nice liberal Zionist American Jews – I am sick of your empathy and sympathy. Your handwringing and whining that there is no good solution. Your hands are dripping with blood. Jerusalem, the city in which once dwelt justice and righteousness is now the home to murderers.

Tisha B’av is not the day for the nostalgic fog of victimhood. We are the most powerful Jewish community that ever lived on the face of this planet and look what we have wrought.

Tisha B’av is Isaiah standing at the Women of the Wall Rosh Chodesh service screaming: you are protestinginequality while praying on the ruins of a Palestinian neighborhood destroyed by the Israeli army on the night they captured Jerusalem.

Tisha B’av does not have a happy ending.

From Your #2 Rabbi

It is not usual that I warm to being acknowledged as anybody’s “2nd favorite something”.  If my kids told me I was their 2nd favorite parent or my parents told me I was their 2nd favorite son, I do not think I would treat it as a gift.  However, each time I get to see or spend some time with Pastor Eric Smith – and he greets me with “Well, it’s my 2nd favorite rabbi!”  I welcome his greeting with warmth and treat it as high praise.  (If you are still having a brain freeze, Pastor Smith’s #1 rabbi would be young man they call Jesus!)


Sadly, after June 4th I will not be hearing Pastor Smith’s unique greeting around the halls of our shared sacred space.  Pastor Smith has been assigned  by his Bishop to a new ministry at Arvada United Methodist Church.  I understand the ways that the Methodist denomination works and assigns its spiritual leadership … I understand that Pastor Smith feels called to his new community … I understand that our friends at PHUMC are excited for the next chapter in the life of their community, and I am still sad about this change involving our partner, my colleague and friend.


Pastor Smith began his tenure at PHUMC while Temple Micah was in the midst of planning and preparing to move in to PHUMC.  Even though he was not a part of the initial stages of decision making, Pastor Smith welcomed us with an open heart and open mind.  He had faith in the personal, professional and communal possibilities and opportunities for such a relationship.


That unique relationship grew as our two communities, and as he and I, got to know each other.  We began by celebrating our covenant in a manner that was rich and meaningful.  After the shocking election result in the fall, I was able to lean on you to find words to share with my community when I could not find my own.  We more deeply evolved our interfaith collaborative by connecting with Imam Ali at Masjid Taqwa.  We shared and vision of making our shared sacred space a Sanctuary and began the process of making that vision a reality.


Pastor Smith’s presence has been an important part of my time in our new home.   In him I have a trusted colleague in the building who knows and instinctively understands the wonderful peculiarities of being a rabbi or pastor or minister.  He has been a source of support, perspective and laughter.


Another phrase that I have heard often from Pastor Smith over the past 4 years is – when asked, “How are you doing?”, he would reply – “It is good with my soul.”  Well, my colleague and friend, I cannot not tell you where you rank on my favorite pastor list.  I can gratefully tell you that it has been very good with my soul to have had the chance to share this space (both physical and spiritual) with you.  Thank you, Dr. Eric Smith, for being a part of my and my community’s life for these past 4 years.  Kol Tuv, may it continue to be good with your soul.

The Call To Holiness

On March 12, 2016 about 150 people from Temple Micah and Park Hill United Methodist Church gathered to learn more about the Sanctuary Movement.  We were moved by the urgency we feel in the current political climate to offer protection to those whose freedoms are threatened.  We listened to and asked questions of Jenn Piper from the Metro Denver Sanctuary Coalition; Chris Wheeler of First Unitarian Society of Denver (whose congregation is currently housing Jeanette Vizguerra) and Arturo Hernandez, who beginning in the fall of 2015 spent 9 months in Sanctuary at First Unitarian.  The meeting was positive, frank and thoughtful.  Pastor Smith and I came away feeling that our communities could continue to walk the path toward becoming a Sanctuary ourselves …

Pastor Smith received a call in late April from Jenn Piper, asking if we were ready to welcome someone into Sanctuary.   He told her that we were not.  On April 26, 2017, Arturo Hernandez was on his way to get tile to install on a job and detained by ICE agents.  Arturo was the reason for Jenn Piper’s call to us.

The inertia of living our lives is powerful.  The constant stream of information detailing potential or actual injustices overwhelms and even numbs us.  We must navigate the powerful pull and sway of these forces and continue to be present in our larger world.  We must choose to act in ways that – even in small measure – cultivate justice, compassion and peace in our world.

This week the Torah presents to us – an oasis in the textual desert of Leviticus – the Holiness Code.  We are commanded: BE HOLY!!  And as if the Author knew that the concept of the ‘holy’ is often misconstrued, the Torah lists some examples of what ‘holiness’ might entail…

  • You shall not take vengeance or bear a grudge against your the people of your land.
  • Do not place a stumbling block before the blind.  
  • Do not curse the deaf.  
  • Do not deal deceitfully or falsely with one another.  
  • Do not render an unfair decision.  
  • Do not favor the poor or show deference to the rich.  
  • Judge your kinsman fairly.  
  • Love your neighbor as yourself.  

… just to mention a few.  With all of the cursing, stumbling blocks, unfair judging (well, you get the idea) out there, we have plenty of opportunities to work on this ‘holiness’ of ours.  It is time to get to work.

I still believe that Temple Micah and PHUMC can honor and cultivate these values by becoming a Sanctuary for those undocumented souls who choose to walk the path of Civil Disobedience.  Volunteers from both of our communities are working hard to move along in this process.  In the coming weeks we will be working on the following aspects of this effort:

  • Creating opportunities for our communities to learn, discern and discuss the various facets of the Sanctuary movement
  • Evaluating and planning logistical issues around physically housing someone in our sacred space
  • Providing each of our communities the opportunity to separately and formally sanction opening our shared sacred space as a Sanctuary to a soul in need.

Please keep your eyes and ears open for these opportunities to: learn more; ask tough, honest questions; get involved and add your voice to Temple Micah’s sanctioning discussion.  (Most likely culminating at our Annual Meeting on Wednesday, June 21st.)

The next time we we get the call to BE HOLY, we will be ready.


Count Me In

Last week I heard from a friend who worried – half seriously – that I might not be allowed into Israel the next time I travel there.   A couple of weeks ago the Israeli Knesset passed a bill banning foreign nationals who support the boycott of Israel from entering its borders.  The ban will target individuals who publicly call for a boycott of Israel or Israeli goods, including goods made in West Bank or East Jerusalem settlements.  I do not remember (I’ll have to read over my old sermons) everything I have ever said.  Is it possible that I said while speaking in public — which I have opportunity to do from time to time – that a boycott of goods made in the settlements is a just response to Israeli policy?   Yes, it’s possible. In fact I’ll even ‘say’ it right now in this public blog space: “If you believe that the Israeli treatment of Palestinians living under Israeli authority is unjust and you want to respond non-violently to that injustice, go ahead and stop sending money to institutions that perpetrate that injustice.”

Will this statement make me a marked man?  I hope so.

No matter the anxiety that allows us to embrace narrow views of the ‘other’ and no matter the fear that empowers us to hate and discriminate against them, we human beings must see more, we must be more.   Whether the ‘other’ takes the form of refugee families seeking a new life in the United States or the U.S. citizens whose lives are continually diminished because of racial or economic injustice or they are Palestinians who live under the oppressive authority of a Jewish State … we must seek to look at those who speak, eat, feel, smell, look, dress and especially think differently than we do and count them as we would count ourselves.

In this week’s Torah portion – Vayakel/Pekudei – we end the book of Exodus with a laborious counting and noting of each and every element of the Tabernacle.  

The 15th century Italian commentator, Ovadiah Sforno, teaches us in regard to such counting of sacred vessels:  “ …each one of them (the articles counted) was worthy to be considered as important and to be called by its private (individual) name, not only as part of a generic group (category). This is certainly justified (regarding) each one of the holy vessels …”

It is an interesting contrast to the way that our ancestors were ‘counted’ at the beginning of Exodus,  and an important reminder for us, as well.   The portion begins in Egypt — in slavery.  Slavery exemplifies the worst of this inability to see the divinity in the other.  It is the ultimate in seeing others as things to be used or to be disregarded when their utility ends.  We end Exodus in Pekudei — which derives from the Hebrew root that has to do with ‘taking a count’ or ‘taking note of’.   The act of counting these vessels is a way of remembering and acknowledging their inherent worth and value.  If such an approach is true of the articles of the Tabernacle, how much more so this concept is true for living beings.

This sacred counting of these vessels of the Tabernacle is a charge to us to how we count the ‘other’ among us.  When the act of counting the ‘other’ in this fashion, raises the ire of those in power, I take it as a sign that it our counting is accurate, complete and essential.  

On my next trip to Israel if the security at Ben Gurion airport wish to count me as one who supports non-violent means of opposing unjust treatments of Palestinians, Count Me In.