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January 1, 2021 / Rabbi Laura

What I read in 2020

There’s got to be some irony that in 2020 I read 45 books. Yes, 45. And the bulk of those books – probably 40 of them – I read between March 15th and December 30th, as a way to occupy my mind and body during the pandemic and our stay at home orders.

As I review the list of books, I am reminded of what 2020 offered me. First, even before the pandemic I needed to up my game in online learning so I spent part of the winter getting my feet wet with that. Was that prescient? Then come the summer and knowing that I would be teaching online all year, I spent several weeks reading and thinking about how to craft educative online learning spaces and experiences. Only two books are listed here, but they were accompanied by many blog posts and journal articles as well.

Escape. I devoured many of these reads via audiobook borrowed from my library via the Libby app. Through the spring and summer I found myself walking in my neighborhood, exploring streets I’d not seen before, walking our newly adopted dog Bella, and listening to a compelling, funny, or touching story. The need to walk enabled me the opportunity to escape the fear, loneliness, and stress of reality and reenter that fictional world. And the draw to the imaginary pulled Bella and me out the door each day.

Doing the work of understanding systemic racism. I have been speaking and writing and allying against racism for as long as I can remember. Yet, like many of us, after the murder of George Floyd, I felt that I was failing, falling far too short in understanding what it means to truly be and act as an anti-racist (Thank you Dr. Kendi for that language). So, I took upon myself the task of delving deep into the literature. This is hard internal work. I have noticed some of my own racist tendencies to which I have been socialized, whether I like it or not. I am not done doing this work. You will notice in my list of books that there are quite a few by black authors, and about the experience of being black in America. I have several books still to read. I will write more about this soon.

I am grateful to my loving, tough, smart, and curious book group who selected some of these books you find on my list. The conversations we had together were challenging and heart-warming, mixed with empathy and laughter. I pray for the time when we can greet each other with hugs and sit together in one of our living rooms with glasses of wine and plates of homemade treats exchanging ideas and stories.

Last April I made a trip to my office at the Hebrew Union College in Los Angeles to grab books I needed for work and books that had been sitting on my shelf waiting their turn to be read. Some of those books are here in my home office still waiting their turn. I promise, in 2021, I will get to you!

My 2020 Reading List:

  1. Inheritance: A Memoir of Genealogy, Paternity, and Love by Dani Shapiro
  2. Evicted: Poverty and Profit in the American City by Matthew Desmond
  3. The Color of Love: The Story of a Mixed-Race Jewish Girl by Marra B. Gad
  4. Going Online with Protocols: New Tools for Teaching and Learning by Joseph McDonald, et al
  5. Beloved by Toni Morrison
  6. An American Marriage: A Novel by Tayari Jones
  7. The Girl Who Lived Twice by David Lagercrantz
  8. Calypso by David Sedaris
  9. The Giver of Stars by Jojo Moyes
  10. Olive, Again by Elizabeth Strout
  11. The President is Missing by Bill Clinton and James Patterson
  12. The Tea Girl of Hummingbird Lane by Lisa See
  13. On Division by Goldie Goldbloom
  14. Engaging the Online Learner: Activities and Resources for Creative Instruction by Rita-Marie Conrad and J. Ana Donaldson
  15. Anything is Possible, Elizabeth Strout
  16. The Girl You Left Behind, Jojo Moyes
  17. The Dutch House, Ann Patchett
  18. The Beekeeper of Aleppo, Christy Lefteri
  19. There There by Tommy Orange
  20. Pale Rider: The Spanish Flu in 1918 and How it Changed the World by Laura Spinney
  21. After You by Jojo Moyes
  22. The Library Book by Susan Orlean
  23. The Coffee Trader by David Liss
  24. This is How it Always Is by Laurie Frankel
  25. Untamed by Glennon Doyle
  26. The Art of Gathering: How We Meet and Why it Matters by Priya Parker
  27. The Namesake by Jhumpa Lahiri
  28. Bloodsucking Fiends by Christopher Moore (1st in series)
  29. Dandelion Wine by Ray Bradbury
  30. You Suck by Christopher Moore (2nd in series)
  31. Bite Me by Christopher Moore (3rd in series)
  32. A Woman is No Man by Etaf Rum
  33. Open Your Hand: Teaching as a Jew, Teaching as an American by Ilana M. Blumberg
  34. How to Be an Antiracist by Ibram X. Kendi
  35. Still Me by Jojo Moyes
  36. A Long Petal of the Sea by Isabel Allende
  37. Caste by Isabel Wilkerson
  38. Hood Feminism: Notes from the Women that a Movement Forgot by Mikki Kendall
  39. American Dirt by Jeanine Cummins
  40. The Water Dancer by Ta-Nehisi Coates
  41. Uncommon Type by Tom Hanks
  42. The Tattooist of Auschwitz  by Heather Morris
  43. Hebrew Infusion: Language and Community at American Jewish Summer Camps by Sarah Bunin Benor, Jonathan Krasner and Sharon Avni
  44. Leveling the Playing Field: Advancing Women in Jewish Organizational Life by Shifra Bronznick, Didi Goldenhar and Marty Linsky
  45. Humility is the New Smart by Edward D. Hess and Katherine Ludwig

October 3, 2018 / Rabbi Laura

Buy a Vote Blessing Card

Say a blessing.

Help protect the voting rights of others.

Two years ago, I wrote about how I approach voting as a sacred act. I was motivated to write a blessing for Jews to recite as they step into the voting booth or before they seal the envelope on their vote-by-mail ballot.

A blessing for voting

Blessing Card (front)

A blessing for voting copy

Blessing Card (back)

 

This year, I find myself in the same head-and-heart space, considering the implications of these 2018 mid-term elections will have on our country, our democracy, our families, and our communities. So, I’ve brought back the Blessing for Your Vote.

As a small contribution to the many “get out the vote” campaigns taking place, I have created and produced a limited number of Blessing Cards that are available for purchase.  All proceeds will go to help support non-partisan voting rights advocacy and voter registration organizations.

Please consider purchasing one or more cards for your family and friends, for those who may be voting for the first time or for the 50th time, for your congregants, students, and colleagues.

Each card is printed on 3.5 x 2 inch premium business card stock. Cards may be purchased one-at-a-time, at $1.00 each or in packets of 10, for $8.00.

1 Blessing Card for $1.00

$1.00

 

10 Blessing Cards for $8.00

$8.00

 

January 19, 2020 / Rabbi Laura

Voting is a mitzvah – say a blessing!

Say a blessing.

VOTE!

Help protect the voting rights of others.

The 2020 election season is well under way and folks around the country will be gathering to caucus or heading to the polls very soon.  Voting is a sacred act.  As is customary in Jewish practice, we often sanctify such acts by saying a blessing.

Several years ago I wrote a blessing for Jews to recite as they gather to caucus, as they step into the voting booth, or before they seal the envelope on their vote-by-mail ballot.

In 2018 I turned that blessing into a Blessing Card that I sold for a nominal fee. I sold over 150 cards, 100% the proceeds went to support non-partisan voting rights organizations and voter registration campaigns. 

A blessing for voting

With the 2020 elections carrying weighty implications for our country, our democracy, our families, and our communities, I hope that you will once again exercise your right to vote, say a blessing while doing so, and perhaps even help protect the voting rights of others while doing so.

Please consider purchasing one or more cards for your family and friends, for those who may be voting for the first time or for the 50th time, for your congregants, students, and colleagues.

Each card is printed on 3.5 x 2 inch premium business card stock. Cards may be purchased one-at-a-time, at $1.00 each or in packets of 10, for $8.00.

All proceeds will go to help support non-partisan

voting rights advocacy and voter registration organizations.

25 Blessing Cards for $20.00

$20.00

10 Blessing Cards for $8.00

$8.00

1 Blessing Card for $1.00

$1.00

 

January 3, 2020 / Rabbi Laura

2019 in Books

I love to read, always have. I have vivid memories of enthusiastically participating in  elementary school read-a-thons in support of the Multiple Sclerosis Society.  Remember this guy?

MS Read-A-Thon (PSA, 1981) - YouTube

In recent years, between a career, raising children, volunteer work, and then my ambitious pursuit of a doctoral degree I wasn’t always able to find the time or energy to read as much as I would have liked, or read what I wanted to read.

2019 was the year I found my time to read again!  Having completed my doctoral work in April, I had more brain space and leisure time to read. Nowadays I find myself sometimes reading three books at a time:  One to listen to during the many hours a week I spend in my car; I am a devoted Audible subscriber. I try to read a professional book during my workouts at the gym. I find the combination of the two mutually reinforces and strengthens my discipline to take care of my body and my mind.  Finally, there is the book that sits by my bedside for nighttime reading.  I am also grateful for my wonderful book group, women of varying ages and experiences who come together to expand our knowledge of the world and of ourselves.  Those Thursday nights are often my favorite of the month!

So, like some of my other friends and heroes who read and share their lists at the end of the year, here is my list of reads from 2019.

  1. Born A Crime by Trevor Noah
  2. Waking Lions by Ayelet Gundar-Goshen
  3. Letters to My Palestinian Neighbor by Yossi Klein HaLevi
  4. Sapeins: A Brief History of Humankind by Yuval Noah Harari
  5. The Weight of Ink by Rachel Kadish
  6. After Anatevka by Alexandra Silber
  7. Circe by Madeline Miller
  8. The Girl Who Takes an Eye for an Eye by David Lagercrantz
  9. The Secret History of Wonder Woman by Jill Lepore
  10. White Fragility by Robin Diangelo
  11. Creativity, Inc by Ed Catmull
  12. The Expats by Cris Pavone
  13. One is Not a Lonely Number by Evelyn Krieger
  14. Rabbi Akiba by Barry Holtz
  15. Witness: Lessons fro Elie Wiesel’s Classroom by Ariel Burger
  16. Refugee by Alan Gratz
  17. Portraits of Jewish Learning ed. by Diane Tickton Schuster
  18. Brave not Perfect by Reshma Saujani
  19. Starting Strong by Lois J. Zachary and Lory A. Fischler
  20. Pachinko by Min Jin Lee
  21. The Inspired Teacher: How to Know One, Grow One or Be One by Carol Frederick Steele
  22. A Full Measure of Happiness by Kenneth Golde
  23. Temple Mount by Keith Raffel
  24. Where the Crawdads Sing by Delia Owens
  25. Daring to Lead by Brene Brown
  26. Inside the Box: A Proven System of Creativity for Breakthrough Results by Drew Boyd & Jacob Goldenberg
  27. The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time by Mark Haddon
  28. Immigrant City by David Bezmozgies
  29. The Dreamt Land by Mark Arax
  30. Fair Play: A Game-Changing Solution for When You Have Too Much To Do (and More Life to Live) by Eve Rodsky
  31. Going Online with Protocols: New Tools for Teaching and Learning by Joseph P. McDonald, Janet Mannheimer Zydney, Alan Dichter
  32. Written in My Own Heart’s Blood by Diana Gabaldon
  33. The Underground Railroad: A Novel by Colson Whitehead
  34. Here All Along: Finding Meaning, Spirituality, and a Deeper Connection to Life–in Judaism (After Finally Choosing to Look There) by Sara Hurwitz
I am hoping that 2020 will afford me even more time to read and my list will be even longer next year.  I already have a long list of titles awaiting.
January 25, 2019 / Rabbi Laura

Farmworker Appreciation Day

Today, in the Central Valley in California, we mark Farmworker Appreciation Day.

Image result for farmworkers and laborers crop

Well, in my mind, every day should be farmworker appreciation day. While we may buy our produce, meat and dairy, our grains and nuts from large box stores or chain supermarkets, or hopefully from local farmers’ markets – it is the farm laborers who work hard to help us bring that food to our tables.

So today, as you gather around your Shabbat dinner tables, you may consider adding an additional blessing to the others your recite. Or, perhaps we can all add these words into our daily prayers of thanks and gratitude for the food we eat.

.ברוך אתה יי אלוהינו מלך העולם המוציא לחם מין הארץ

Baruch ata Adonai, Eloheinu melech ha-olam, ha-motzi lechem min ha’aretz.

Blessed are You, Adonai our God, sovereign of the universe, who brings forth bread from the earth.

מישביך אבותינו ואמותינו מברך את האנשים שעובדים בסדות בפרדסים ובביתי חרושת להביא לנו את האכל הטרי  . והבריא הזאת

Mishebeirach avoteinu v’imoteinu, m’varech et ha-anashim she’ovdim b’sadot, b’pardasim, u’b’beitei-charoshet l’havi lanu et h-ochel ha’tari v’ha-bari ha’zot.

May the one who blessed our fathers and mothers bless the people who work in the fields and in the orchards and in the factories in order to bring to us this fresh and healthy food.

September 28, 2017 / Rabbi Laura

For this, I have nothing to atone

They say you are doing things right when you get hate mail.

Well, I must be doing something right, because I’ve received a very hateful piece of snail mail.  You know its going to be a “good one” when it starts off with

Dear Ms. Winer,

I’m sorry I cannot refer to you as “Rabbi,” but I don’t believe women can serve as rabbis. To do so is misleading.

And that is the nicest part of the letter.

This particularly hateful piece of mail was in response to my comments regarding Brooke Ashjian, the current president of the Fresno Unified Board of Education.  I suppose I could humor us all by quoting his letter in full, but here are just some of the juicier parts:

You of course, are interested in advancing LGBTQ culture, because you represent a queer version of Judaism. In fact, Reform has nothing to do with Judaism. Reform has led millions of Jews astray from G-d. Reform has caused as many casualties as Adolph Hitler. Judaism in Fresno is completely in shambles because of Reform…

Brooke Ashjian is not the evil one. Adherents to Reform are the evil ones. You are evil… You speak heretical words. You have publically misrepresented Judaism by advocating gay culture.  You give credence to the position that radical feminists are full of sick ideas…

One day Reform Judaism will be destroyed and defeated…

You get the point.

But, he clearly misses the point – several of them actually.

First point:  I do not deny Brooke Ashjian – or anyone else! – their personal beliefs.

What I do expect though, is that the leadership of the Fresno Board of Education – when serving in their capacities as leaders – uphold the values and policies of the school district.

When one sits in the School Board chambers, one is surrounded by posters that depict the goals, core beliefs and commitments of this district.  Among the other worthy and admirable statements, included are the ideas that our district is committed to ensuring the safety of all of our students and our district is a place where diversity is valued.  I expect the leadership of this district to uphold those core beliefs in word and deed when doing the work the district. Mr Ashjian has failed to hold himself to these commitments.

Second point:  I will not get into a debate about which is better or more true, Reform or Orthodox Judaism.  Each Jew choses how s/he wants to observe his/her Jewish life.  Rather than arguing about the so-called sins or heresies of different ways of being Jewish, we should be embracing the multiple points of entry into Jewish life and ways of living authentic Jewish lives. Yes, there are different ways to be authentically Jewish!  This has been true for millennia – Judaism has never been monolithic.

As I look back at the letter, the part that is most hurtful to me is this line:

Most people would be thoroughly crushed if they found out their child became a homosexual.

This man’s words tear at my heart.  I KNOW DEEP DOWN IN MY SOUL that all people are created in the image of God, and all people are created in their own uniqueness – whether that means they have blue eyes, or red hair, are short or tall, are gay or straight. Were my child – or my niece or nephew or any child that I am close with – to tell me they were gay I would say, “I LOVE YOU! I WILL ALWAYS LOVE YOU! YOU ARE PERFECT JUST THE WAY YOU ARE.”

On this day before Yom Kippur, the Jewish day of Atonement – the holiest day of the Jewish year – I know that with regard to the sins this man accuses me of, I have nothing for which to be ashamed or for which to atone.

September 13, 2017 / Rabbi Laura

Open Letter to Brooke Ashjian

Dear President Ashjian,

I was not able to share my full thoughts with you at tonight’s Board of Education meeting due to the fact that you cut public comments down to 1 minute per person.  So, I offer them here for you.

My name is Laura Novak Winer and I am a Jewish educator and a rabbi. My 25+ year career focuses on education of our youth and children. For the last 15 of these years I have been at the forefront of work on educating youth to develop a sense of sexual ethics and healthy, age-appropriate relationships with their peers, as well as on equipping parents and faith leaders with the tools they need to teach their children, congregants and parishioners to have these conversations with their youth through the lenses of their faith.

I believe that there is a time and a place for sexuality education in the home, in our places of worship AND in the public school. As adults committed to providing public education for all of our children we hold a collective responsibility to provide for the intellectual, social-emotional and physical growth of our children.

Tonight I am here, Mr. Ashjian to comment about your leadership as the president of this school board. Mr. Ashjian, I appreciate that you have a clean voting record. Yes, you follow the laws of this state regarding what types of education we are required to provide our children.

Yet, just as important are your words when you speak in your presidential capacity. As the president of this board, you have to represent the needs and interests of the greater Fresno Unified School District in both your deeds and with your words. You represent its mission, its values and its goals. Of course you have your own personal opinions about how, when and where sex education should take place. I do not deny you those opinions. But, when you sit behind this microphone, and when you speak in your capacity as the president of this board, you represent this district.

Your words in recent weeks have been hurtful to many in our community. As a Jew, I was personally and deeply offended by your comparison of the LGBT community and its allies to the Ottoman Turks. As a Jew, I understand your familial history. Yet your analogy is flawed! The LGBT community – like your family and mine were – are the unjustly disempowered. They were hated by the Turks and the Nazis just like our families were.  Today, the LGBT community and its allies speak out in an effort to attain rights and acceptance, rather than  deny those rights from others. As a mother, a rabbi, an educator, and a member of the Fresno community I was deeply offended by your comments to the Fresno Bee about your perceived dangers of comprehensive sexuality education.

You have spoken hateful and hurtful words, which cannot be taken back. The impossibility of undoing damage done by harmful words is underscored in a tale about a man who went through his community slandering his neighbors”

One day, feeling remorseful, he begged his rabbi for forgiveness and said he was willing to do penance. The rabbi told him to take several feather pillows, cut them open, and scatter the feathers to the winds. The man did so, but when he returned to tell the rabbi that he had fulfilled his request, he was told, “Now go and gather all the feathers.”
The man protested, “But that is impossible.”

“Of course it is. And though you may sincerely regret the evil you have done and truly desire to correct it, it is as impossible to repair the damage done by your words as it will be to recover the feathers.”

Mr. Ashjian, as the president of this board, I urge you to consider what kind of leader you intend to be for our district. I hope that you will be one who find a way to heal the wounds that you have created for our LGBT youth and their families. I hope you will find a way to make amends to those who have been hurt, not by your voting record, but by the words you say as president.

Thank you.

Rabbi Laura Novak Winer

September 4, 2017 / Rabbi Laura

Remember the Laborers

Today, September 4, 2017 is Labor Day in the US. This day is most often celebrated with BBQ, last days of summer, picnics and swimming pools, playing on the beach.  In the Jewish calendar today is 13 Elul, 5777, the month before our Jewish New Year, Rosh Hashanah.

Elul is a time for reflection on themes related to the Jewish High Holy Days.  At this time each year, friend and colleague Rabbi Phyllis Sommer assists us with this reflective work by suggesting a theme for each day in the month of Elul. Today, 13 Elul = Remember.

Here in #FresnoCounty today, I am remembering the true laborers of our community: those who toil in the fields and orchards, on the ranches and the processing plants in order for the rest of us – across this great nation – to have food delivered to our markets and to put on our tables to eat in comfort.

If Fresno County were a state, it would be the POOREST state in the US.  While some government officials here in the #centralvalley earn 6 figure salaries, those who work in our fields are living at the poverty level, lucky if they can earn $15,000 a year.

As a Jew, as a person of faith, I often say a blessing before I eat a meal.  I thank God for bringing me bread, food, sustenance.  This blessing – Ha’Motzi – if one of the first blessings a young person learns to recite.  The practice of reciting a grace before meals is something many faiths share.

Yet, it is not only God who brings us this sustenance. Shouldn’t it be incumbent upon us to also remember and offer blessings upon those who labored to grow and harvest this food?  Once upon a time, most people probably did grow and harvest and prepare their own food.  That is not the case anymore – except for some of my farmer friends (you know who you are!).

So, on this Labor Day, on this 13th day of Elul, in which we engage in the act of remembering, I offer this additional prayer to the words of the traditional Jewish blessing before eating.  Perhaps we can all add these words into our daily prayers of thanks and gratitude for the food we eat.

.ברוך אתה יי אלוהינו מלך העולם המוציא לחם מין הארץ

Baruch ata Adonai, Eloheinu melech ha-olam, ha-motzi lechem min ha’aretz.

Blessed are You, Adonai our God, sovereign of the universe, who brings forth bread from the earth.

מישביך אבותינו ואמותינו מברך את האנשים שעובדים בסדות בפרדסים ובביתי חרושת להביא לנו את האכל הטרי  . והבריא הזאת

Mishebeirach avoteinu v’imoteinu, m’varech et ha-anashim she’ovdim b’sadot, b’pardasim, u’b’beitei-charoshet l’havi lanu et h-ochel ha’tari v’ha-bari ha’zot.

May the one who blessed our fathers and mothers bless the people who work in the fields and in the orchards and in the factories in order to bring to us this fresh and healthy food.

May 3, 2017 / Rabbi Laura

Becoming Pure

I am honored to have written this d’var Torah as part of Matan’s weekly blog series in which we find lessons linking the concept of inclusion to each and every Torah portion. You will find it cross posted there.

This year, Shabbat Acharei Mot falls on one my favorite weekends of the year, when Rick and I serve as rabbinic faculty at the Jewish Learning Works Special Needs Family Camp.

purity-is-no-longer-about-perfection

Why are we talking about Yom Kippur now?

This week’s parsha, Acharei Mot gives us the commandments related to observing the Day of Atonement.

“And this shall be to you a law for all time: In the seventh month, on the tenth day of the month, you shall practice self-denial; and you shall do no work, neither the citizen nor the alien who resides among you. For on this day atonement shall be made to purify you of all your sins and you shall be pure before Adonai.” (Leviticus 16:29-30)

These verses show up between much longer passages about arcane rituals of purification and detailed prohibitions regarding sexual relations. What strange bookends for a set of instructions about how to observe our holiest day of the year. Yet, of course nothing is random in the Torah. So, there must be a reason behind placing the description of the rituals of Yom Kippur at exactly this point in the Torah.

When we look at the commonalities between the different elements of Acharei Mot, we see two intertwined themes emerge. Acharei Mot is about creating purity. Purity of space. Purity of body. Purity in relationships. In order to define what is pure, one has to also define what is not pure. So, our parsha also sets boundaries. It helps us come to understand where pure space begins and where it ends. It helps us distinguish between when the body is pure and when it is tainted – both physically and spiritually. It classifies which relationships are sacred and which are abhorrent.

What is curious about the definitions given in Acharei Mot is how they differ from those given in previous parshiot. In earlier sections of Torah, in order for a human body to be considered pure, it had to be clear of any wounds or imperfections. Similarly, in order for an animal to be worthy of sacrifice, it had to be free of any blemishes. No such restrictions or expectations are articulated in this parsha. Acharei Mot offers us a much more inclusive vision of what it means to achieve a state of purity. Purity is no longer about achieving perfection.

Rather, purity is about both the state of the body as well as a state of mind. In this parsha we see that the body, the spirit and the mind are always in flux, moving on a spectrum between opposing states of purity and impurity. Neither state is permanent. There is always a means of return to purity for all.

Yom Kippur offers that us path of return. Yom Kippur is that time when we all are expected to do that work of returning to purity, returning to God. If we look back at those verses above, Leviticus 16:29-30, and pay attention to the Hebrew, we notice an important factor in this process that is not visible in the English.

These verses are directed to the whole collective community, Israelite and non-Israelite alike. The words are grammatically in second person plural, as if to say, “you all, or y’all.”

“For on this day atonement shall be made to purify y’all of all y’all’s sins and y’all shall be pure before Adonai.”

Additionally, the Torah recognizes that the members of the community are different. The text recognizes that some are Israelite and some are not.

“…And y’all shall do no work, neither the citizen nor the alien who resides among y’all.”

The Torah is inclusive of the diversity of the people in the community.

Thus, Yom Kippur is that time when we work together to find purity of body, mind, spirit. Doing that work together creates space and acceptance for everyone to participate each in their own way. Each person will find themselves at a different place on the spectrum between impurity and purity. Some will have a longer path to walk to reach purity. Some may do their work of purification in a different way than others. Some may need assistance and some may help carry others along the way. Regardless, the community reaches that place of purification together.

January 28, 2017 / Rabbi Laura

Stay at it

Below is the d’var torah I offered at the annual gathering of the Association of Reform Jewish Educators (ARJE) this past week.  I have the honor of serving as the president of the ARJE, and shared this with my colleagues and fellow ARJE members on Monday, January 23, 2017.

shoe-laces

“Lace up your shoes.

Show up.

Stay at it.”

 

Not quite enough syllables for a haiku, but these nine simple words say so much. They are not my words. They are former president Barack Obama’s, from his final speech to the nation uttered just 10 or so days ago.

Lace up your shoes.

Show up.

Stay at it.

These nine words exemplify three important aspects of what it takes to be a leader.

Leadership is about preparation. We “lace up our shoes.” We get ready to do the work, building the skills, putting the tools and resources we need in place that will enable us to do what needs be done.

Leadership is about showing up. It’s about being present. We have to be at the table, in the conversation, on the march, letting our voices be heard.

Leadership is about having the confidence to keep at it. The work can be hard. But we cannot give up. We have to “stay at it.”

In our parsha this week, we see Moses challenged by the third of these basic principles. God comes to Moses and says to him, for the second time, “ Go and tell Pharaoh, king of Egypt to let the Israelites depart from his land.” And Moses replies, “The Israelites would not listen to me; now then should Pharaoh heed me, me – who gets tongue-tied!” (Exodus 6:12)

This isn’t the first time we hear Moses’ doubts about his own abilities to lead the Israelites. It is at the burning bush that Moses first claims his deficiencies for leadership, saying that he was “heavy of mouth and heavy of tongue,” which many of interpreted as meaning he had a speech impediment. Is he saying the same thing here?

Some commentators suggest in this moment Moses is speaking more about his capacity for leadership than his self-perceived physical challenges around it. Is he worthy of transmitting the divine word? Does he have the ability, the power, the confidence?

Well, let’s see. Is he prepared to be a leader? Has he “laced up his shoes?” In this instance, we might consider that actually his act of removing his shoes at the burning bush, his encounter with Ehyeh asher ehyeh was a moment of preparation – perhaps the ultimate moment of preparation – to do the job he was called to do. After removing his shoes, he had to put them back on, and with God’s blessing, leave that sacred space and sacred moment to begin the journey of bringing his people to liberation.

Did Moses show up? Yes, he did. He showed up for his people when he witnessed the Egyptian taskmaster beating the slave. He showed up for his people when God called to him from the burning bush and Moses responded, “Hineini – here I am.” And he showed up when he first gathered the elders of the Israelite community together to organize them and prepare for the action of escaping from Egypt.

So, why this moment of doubt? Why, when defeated by his first appearance before Pharaoh does Moses lose his confidence? Perhaps he didn’t think he could make a difference.

I’m sure we have all be there, like Moses feeling as if our small contributions wouldn’t make a difference.

Yet, do you really believe that? I don’t.

An African parable tells the story of the hummingbird who discovers a forest fire. She flies to the lake, scoops up a few drops of water into her tiny beak, carries that water back to the forest and drops that water onto a burning tree. Back and forth she goes, making little impact on the raging fire. Soon the other animals start laughing at her. The elephant says to her, “little hummingbird, do you really think you are going to be able to put out that fire all by yourself?” Her response, similar to our own Rabbi Tarfon’s, was: while I may not get the fire out, it is my duty to at least try.” Hearing her brave response, the other animals join in the effort, and together they put the forest fire out.

Alternatively, perhaps Moses didn’t believe in himself and his ability to succeed? This was a watershed moment – he was reaching the point of no turning back – and chickening out?

I’m sure we’ve each felt that too. We’ve thought, its just too hard to make this change really happen. The finish line is too far away, so I’m just not going to try.

I don’t know about you, but I cannot live without that hope and vision for the future. Do we really want to give up and just stay “stuck in our Egypts.” That’s not how we roll, as Jews. Otherwise, why would we say each year at the end of our seders, “Next year in Jerusalem.” – next year in a place that is ear-shalem, a place of wholeness.

Moses had his moments of doubt, just like we all do. Taking on the role of leadership is hard and sometimes scary work. Yet, in the end, Moses does succeed. He brings us out of slavery and into the Promised Land. That isn’t to say he is perfect. We know he wasn’t. Yes, he lost his patience at times. Yes, the Israelites complained to him and about him. Even his closest advisors – his brother and sister – complain. But, he keeps at it. He had to find is confidence and believe in his ability to make the change God and he dreamt of.

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Former President Obama’s final words to the nation on that night in Chicago were, “I’m asking you to believe in your ability to bring about change.” This is what it means to “stay at it.” Believe in yourself.

As we begin these 3 days together, learning about and exploring our roles as Jewish educational leaders, I pray that we can find comfort and inspiration from our teacher Moses. He had doubts. He had fears. The road ahead was going to be long and hard. Yet he kept at it and didn’t give up. And I pray that we can be emboldened by the words of President Obama. Believe. We must believe in our abilities to bring about the changes we seek, so that we can each reach our Promised Land.

May we all:

Lace up our shoes.

Show up.

And stay at it.