Tuesday, December 9, 2008

My Address to the Annual Meeting of the Buffalo Chapter of NFJC

First, I want to thank, Don, Mary and Lana for honoring me in inviting me to be todays speaker at this NFJC annual meeting. My association with NCCJ goes back to 1981 when I was a young assistant rabbi in Memphis, Tennessee. Upon my arrival here, I reunited with NCCJ and am proud to have been board member during our local chapter’s transformation into the NFJC. As we look back over these past few years since that transformation, we see first, that the leadership, both volunteer and professional has remained strong, second, that they have ensured that NFJC is at least as respected a name as NCCJ was for so many years and of course third, the evolution into NFJC has led not only to an even stronger local chapter but has enabled us to be in a position of strength as we see our community face the challenges of a changing economy, racism and bigotry that continues, youth violence on the rise and a level of poverty that in large part is reflected in the unbelievably high unemployment numbers in the so called minority communities.

It would be easy to sit back and continue to live with our problems unchallenged. To whine (or as we Jews might say - shrei) about the seemingly unsolvable issues that face us. We, who can afford to actually be here today and actually afford to eat here anytime we choose, could easily shut ourselves off from the world just outside the doors of this hotel. Jewish law dictates that when one builds a synagogue, the sanctuary must have windows, not just to let in natural light, but more importantly to help us remember that we cannot shut ourselves away in prayer, we need to see the world and its problem to remind ourselves that prayer alone cannot fix this world, rather, only our actions and concrete deeds can morph the world that is into the world we would like to see. Even though this room is windowless, we remember how blessed those of us in this room really are.

But how do we confront and overcome these seemingly overwhelming issues that face us? I don’t know. That is why among so many reasons I am proud of America for electing Barak Obama president I am proud of us for electing someone who is smarter than the vast majority of us and someone who is surrounding himself with others smarter than most of us and even some who are smarter than he.

However sufficient intelligence, commitment, and even wisdom may be to fixing our world, at its core we need hope. Without hope, we remove trying from our options and we might as well go sit in the corner like a bowl of jello. To begin to repair the tears in the fabric of our society we have to have a hope that tells us we can do it, each of us because for all that they may be, God, the government, society or others are going to do it for us.

This year on Rosh Hashanah I put it this way:

We all know that we cannot wait for others, even God to fix our world. In the wake of Katrina, Rita, Gustav, Ike and now Kyle, this classic story embodies a renewed poignancy.

Once there was a pious man who had never sinned sitting in a rowboat in the middle of the lake. The boat springs a leak and begins to sink. And so the man begins to pray: “Sovereign of Mercy, I have been your loyal servant my whole life, please save me.” Just then another boat comes by and throws the man a life buoy. “Grab the rope and we will save you!” “No,” the man replied. “God will save me.”

Time passes and the water is up to his waist. “Ruler of all” he prays, “I have been your loyal servant my whole life, please save me.” Just then a helicopter came by and lowered a ladder. “Grab the ladder and climb up and we will save you!” “No,” the man replied. “God will save me.”

The rowboat continues to sink and the man is submerged up to his neck. And so he prays one more time: “You in whom I place all my trust, I have been your faithful servant. I have lived a life free of sin. I have resisted temptation after temptation. Please God, save me.” Another boat comes by and threw yet another buoy. “Please grab the buoy and we will take you to safety.” “No,” the man replied. “God will save me.”

At that moment, the boat sinks and the man drowns. Suddenly he finds himself before God and the throne of judgement. “God” he cries. All my life I served you and lived a pure life. In my time of need I called to you and you let me die. Why God? Why?”

God looks and the man and replies: “I gave you three chances. I sent two boats and a helicopter.”

Living a life of hope means asking for the wisdom and strength to do what we must to repair our Community. We cannot wait for others to do the work for us. ... We look to God for strength and inspiration, but we look to ourselves and each other to grab onto the rope, pull ourselves into the boat and row together.

In a very real sense, Don stood on the shoulders of those who came before him and he not only lifted us to a higher level with his words, but by getting each of us to grab onto the rope. I know, as do you that Mary will take us even farther and bringing us yet another step closer to the day we look forward to - to the day when NFJC closes its doors forever because we have closed the door on racism, bigotry and hatred.

Mary, on behalf of each one of us here I ask you to challenge us and tell you that each one of us will grab onto your rope and respond as Moses responded to God’s call to bring freedom to the Israelites of old - Hineini - Here I am, you can count on me.

The Benediction:

A story quoted in Gates of Prayer, the last Reform prayer-book.

Rabbi Chayim of Tsanz used to tell this parable: A person, wandering lost in the forest for several days, finally encountered another and called out: Friend, show me the way out of this forest!. The person replied: Friend, I too am lost. I can only tell you this: the ways I have tried lead nowhere; they have only led me astray. Take my hand and let us search for the way together. Rabbi Chayim would add: So it is with us. When we go our separate ways, we may go astray; let us join hands and look for the way together.

May we take each other’s hands and walk through the forest together.

No comments:

Post a Comment