Dear PHUMC – We Are Here

Dear Park Hill,

I feel a desperate need to say something impactful or do something meaningful for you, for any and every community touched by the prejudice and injustice of this moment. I feel angry, scared and impotent in the face of the narrow minded, cold-hearted forces of bigotry and hate. The best I can do right now is to remember what you did for me in another difficult moment.

It was a Sunday morning in October of 2018. The day before, a crazed madman entered the Tree of Life synagogue and massacred Jews who had chosen to observe their Sabbath in their community. On that Sunday when you showed up to observe your Sabbath, I was there for our community’s Sunday programming … feeling afraid, vulnerable and shaken.
Just like our shared spiritual ancestors do in our sacred stories, you simply showed up and said: Hineni, Here I am. You could not eliminate antisemitism from the world, you could not erase the vulnerability we felt at the moment, you could not make sense of the lives that were lost … and you did not try to do any of those things. You just showed up and said: Hineni, Here I am. There were words of comfort, gestures of support and silent embraces. They all simply communicated what I needed in the moment: to know that you were there standing with me and my community. And it meant everything.

Even though that is ‘all’ you did, I knew that you were (and still are) willing to partner with us to do the work that might eliminate hate, erase the vulnerability that originates from the fear of the other and create a world in which every life is precious.

In the midst of this pandemic, my community and I cannot physically show up so that you can feel the breath of our words of comfort from our lips, the warmth and connection of our touch or the power of our embrace … but do not doubt it for a moment — Hineni, We are are.

Hineni – We are here in this moment with you, without any grasp of the words to say that might change the world … but are eager to learn how to engage in that conversation.

Hineni – We are here in this moment with you, not knowing what exactly to do… but we are eager to roll up our collective sleeves and to go to work.

Hineni – We are here in this moment with you, even without understanding what fully showing up means. What we do know – with help from you – is that showing up means not trying to save you or fix it for you, but standing next to you because the things that scare you scare us; that your injustices are our injustices; that your peace is our peace.

Hineni – We are here.


Rabbi Mo


Walking the Dog Redux

While we struggle with the challenges of this Covid crisis, I think the dogs in our lives feel like their lives are better than ever.  My dog, Rocky, has been run, walked and fetched until he cannot keep his eyes open from pure, joyous exhaustion.  Considering his experience of this pandemic, recalled to my mind this reflection I wrote a few years ago after he had just entered our lives. 

I love having a dog once again. Rocky entered our life 4 months ago after a 7 year non-dog hiatus. Aside from the puppy-kind of land mines one might expect, our lives have been filled with the kind of love that one experience from having a dog in the household.

I took Rocky earlier this week for his first hike in the mountains. He is new to hiking and he loved it – especially, the veritable cornucopia of scents to smell, bugs to chase and sticks to carry. It made the hike go at a different pace than I had anticipated — especially the sticks to carry. There were so many sticks to pick up, transport and nibble. And when he finally chose one for the next part of the journey, I was more than ready to get moving again. I queried him (as you do): What are you going to with that stick? You know that we are not stopping again so that you can chew that one … this one is too big … that one has too many twigs. And all the while there was Rocky gleefully marching along with his new stick. I swear there was a little extra bounce in his step when he had one of those damned sticks in his mouth. He was not worried about its size, its mass or even what he was going to do with it. Rocky was just content to be carrying the stick that happened to be in his mouth.

And then there came moment that instead of my consternation of the how’s, what’s and why’s of the stick … I became acutely aware of his abundant joy. That dog became my ‘rebbe’ for a moment and embodied a classic chasidic teaching: “Joy breaks all boundaries.” Accepting the joy of performing each task before us – no matter how mundane; no matter of the toil involved; no matter the complications and complexity that may follow – is a powerful tool.

We are engaged this time of year in the work of evaluating the kinds of boundaries that inhibit or limit our growth. If this premise rings true – no matter if the boundaries are ones the world puts upon or those we put upon ourselves – then mastering this joy holds an important key to our success. With such boundaries broken, we liberate ourselves to feeling, experiencing and encountering more. It is in the best interests of our Teshuvah to get our heads and hearts around this formula of joy.

Or from Reb Rocky’s perspective: Just be happy carrying your stick!

Am I Here?

There are a few significant moments in our sacred stories, in which the hero (Moses, Abraham, etc.) announce their presence, their full willingness to confront or engage with one simple word: Hineni! I Am Here! With the fatigue and cynicism of our current circumstance coloring my view of the world at the moment, I wonder: Would that Hineni have counted if it were uttered in a Zoom meeting?

If so many of the things we are doing are virtual nowadays (meeting, teaching, learning, schmoozing, etc.), does it mean that none of those experiences are actually happening? I know that on Passover I could not actually hand the piece of afikomen to my friends who were sitting more than 50 miles away from me, but wasn’t there a bit of actual something going on?

On the other hand, and stay with me here, I can also think of times when when actually meeting, teaching, learning or schmoozing that (embarrassingly) I was only virtually there. It my have been a screen of some kind or fatigue or worry that contributed to me being only virtually present in an actual encounter.

I guess that these (hopefully) playful wonderings about virtual gatherings versus actual ones are leading me to this observation: no gathering is ever not actual. I know, I know, that we would all rather not have that drink with a friend, learn/teach that lesson or comfort that mourner virtually.  The truth is, however, that as long as we are alive and our hearts are beating, there never really is a moment or encounter in which we are not actual. We must remember that virtuality does not exclude actuality. The stuff that makes us essentially who we are, transcends time and space.

We just have to work harder to pay attention to it.

Physical actuality is pretty straightforward. Our five senses are always attuned to it. They let us know when we are experiencing it AND when we are not. Our sixth sense — our spiritual sense, is not as developed or maintained. We do not know or trust our spiritual senses as naturally as we trust our physical ones. And yet, when I think about it, why would spiritual actuality be any less potent that the physical kind? In actuality, it is most likely more so.

When you sit down in front of your screen for your next virtual encounter, don’t let the fact that you cannot pour a drink or shake a hand deter you from the actual encounter that is happening. A sincere, authentic Hineni! I Am Here! (whether spoken or simply internally acknowledged) is always actual.

Pencil It In …

I probably sound out of touch to people when I say I am going to ‘pencil’ something in my calendar. While I have not used a paper calendar for almost two decades, it is still is part of my OS (operating system)! In the parlance of that old technology, inserting a date in ‘ink’ meant that the event in question was a sure thing. So, ‘penciling’ it in was a way to acknowledge the temporary or unknown nature of the event. I guess I still say it, because it rolls off my tongue more easily than, “I am going to put it in my calendar, but put a question mark after it until we confirm the date.”  I find myself using this phrase a lot these days. We are all living in a ‘pencil’ kind of moment.

A fundamental part of the human condition is this unknown, uncertain, unpromised ‘pencilled in’ aspect to the world.  No one is promised more than the day we are living. However, the abundance of days, weeks and months we get to live lulls us into a sense of security. We sense that our calendars are all written in ‘ink’. We avoid, escape or even deny the anxiety and fear that accompanies the full on remembering that all of our days are actually ‘pencilled in’. Living in these days of the Covid-19 pandemic serve as a harsh reminder of our tenuous nature the and our vulnerability.

For me, all of this ‘writing my calendar in pencil’, will make this year’s Passover Seder unlike any other. I might linger a little longer, recline a little harder and even throw a little more bitter on my plate. Within the wonderfully varied, peculiar and long standing customs of the Passover Seder … is some comforting familiarity and structure. Simply put, the Seder offers some ‘ink’ to counter all of this ‘pencil’. In some form or fashion, we have been re-telling this story for almost four thousand years. I am going to wrap myself in that certainty and welcome the cocoon of its embrace. And maybe, even a short time, it will shield me from the anxiety and fear I feel at the awful unknown and uncertainty of this moment in time.

As you consider what your Passover observance may look like next week, I strongly urge you to put it in your calendar … in ink.

The Needs of the Many …

(Find the Virtual Shabbat Song Sheet, HERE – Sorry!)

You may or may not know this about me, but I am Trekkie — a life long Star Trek fan. I have been using some of the time forced upon us by our quarantine to revisit the Star Trek universe. (For those of you who might even care about the specifics, I have been greedily enjoying the new Picard series, I have been also watching Enterprise.). With this reboot of Star Trek values and principles at the now forefront of my ‘operating system’, there is one idea that seems to be speaking to me about this moment in time: “The needs of the many, outweigh the needs of the few.

This piece of Vulcan logic seems to be normally out of place in our modern American culture. (And, indeed, even the Star Trek world turned the idea on its head.). Our culture trains, conditions and celebrates our being true to ourselves, our rugged individualism, and our creative self expression. Even our Jewish tradition enhances these values when it teaches us that to save a single soul, is to save an entire world.

And yet, it is not also an essential and value part of the human condition that we are wired to connect, love and live in community? Martin Buber (one of the Jewish thinkers who seems to have permanently rented a room in my mind) suggests that the only way we meet the divine is through that connecting, that relating to one another.

Covid-19 appears to be a severe teacher in reminding us how poorly we balance these two notions. Daily, even hourly, It teaches us what it means to remember that we live in an intricately interconnected web … and even if our individual selves cannot detect how we can and may impact one another, we most certainly do. And as difficult and even painful it may be to limit our individual expressions, freedoms and very selves … it is clear to me the needs of the many, outweigh the needs of the few.

May we live long and prosper.