Community Conversation at Brite Divinity School

Hi. I’m Susan. I’m bringing you three problems and a list.

FIRST Problem: Today a disgusting bill is going to the Texas State House of Representatives. I am unable to stand here today and not take the opportunity to tell you about it. So, please find out who your representative and your senator are. This is really easy on the web. Call them and tell them that you are against “HB 562 by Leach,” also known as “American Law for American Courts.”  If you believe in religious freedom at all, you are against this bill. It claims to prohibit the application of “foreign” laws in Texas. Nationally, advocates for this type of legislation characterize it as “anti-Sharia” or “anti-Islamic.” The legislation would restrict access to many kinds of religious mediation arrangements such as rabbinical courts, Roman Catholic diocesan tribunals, and Muslim mediation providers.

Here is the easiest way to find your representatives: http://www.fyi.legis.state.tx.us/Home.aspx

SECOND Problem: I’ve been invited to talk with you about Passover and Exodus, but Passover is very personal to me. That’s why I’ve been invited to speak to you today. I don’t WANT to teach you about Passover from an academic point of view. Exodus is real to me, and as a teacher, as a rabbi, as a cousin, I have done everything I can to make it real to my nieces, nephews, and students. I’m 44 years old. I’ve attended at least two seders every year for 44 years. I don’t remember all of them, of course, but I have years of Passover seders echoing in my head. I’ve been to chocolate seders, women’s seders, teen seders, anarchy seders. I’ve been to a few seders with incredible singing (not with MY family). My uncles, my cousins, and I – we’ve all taken our turns leading the seder. The seders I’ve been to have challenged my feminism and my theology. The night before the Exodus feels real to me. To me, the story Exodus is real, more real than any cartoon recreation or Universal Studios tour. The seders have shaped the way I hear and feel the story of Exodus.

HERE IS THE LIST. The Haggadah, this book we use to guide us through the seder, is the best lesson plan. Passover is an excellent teacher, and I’m going to list the reasons why.

ONE: EMPATHY – Exodus 13:8 – “And you shall explain to your child on that day: ‘It is because of what Adonai did for me when I went free from Egypt.’” It tells us to empathize. I don’t think I empathize because it tells me to, but how can we tell? I can feel the story in my gut and my heart. I’ve been told that I should empathize with them, and I do. I don’t know why. Could it be because every year, twice a year, every seder, Judaism tells me to feel/be/act/speak as if I were there – waiting to be freed from bondage?

TWO: FOOD, SYMBOLS, & GAMES – Passover makes the story of the Exodus tangible. The seder plate and the symbols on it are perfect visual aids. The special foods we eat – matza, haroset, etc. – are crunchy, delicious props. Some of us invest in masks that make each of us a plague or two for Passover selfies. Some students make plague bags, but you can purchase them, too. Before computers could even do such a thing, I’ve remade the haggadah by literally cutting and pasting all of the steps and prayers and rituals, by hand. I once found a page full of Homer Simpson’s face to use for the counting of the Omer. Homer, you get it? I’ve made bingo versions of the order of the seder to keep the kids (and most adults) from rebelling. The games, the symbols, the food make Exodus real to seder participants.

THREE: REPETITION & ECHOES – It’s not just the symbols. I believe it’s also the repetition that makes Exodus tangible. If education is repetition, then Passover has it right. These famous phrases resonate with me:

With an Outstretched Arm (Exodus 6:6)

Then came a Pharoah who knew not Moses (Exodus 1:8)

My father was a wandering Aramean. (Deuteronomy 26:5)

When I hear them in Exodus or the Haggadah, I feel the story of Exodus on a level deeper than I read.

FOUR: READ THIS STORY WITH PEOPLE WHO MATTER TO YOU. My grandfather, my grandmother, my great aunt and uncle, my bubbe, I’ve heard their voices reciting the words of the seder. I’ve listened to all the nieces and nephews take their turns at the four questions.This cacophony of memory is my soundtrack for the Book of Exodus. I hear the voices of leaders who went on too long or who skipped the pages I thought were important. I can’t read Exodus or the Haggadah without hearing the voices of my parents’ parents and the voices of of my favorite rabbis and cantors.

I’M NOT HERE TO RECOMMEND THAT YOU TRY OUT PASSOVER OR BEING JEWISH.

Keeping Passover is hard.

Carrying the weight of centuries of anti-semitism is hard.

Non-Jews don’t need to try this in order to connect with Exodus.

AND NOW WE COME TO THE THIRD PROBLEM. Apparently, there is some concern over non-Jewish groups celebrating Passover with a seder. I’m not sure how someone else celebrating Passover without us would affect how Jews observe Passover, but enough rabbis, pastors, and professors are concerned that I have been thinking about this challenge as well. BUT, Friends and Pastors, I believe you can make Exodus real for your congregants and students. Here’s how:

  1. I think one solution is: You can ask us for help. Even in Texas, wherever you go, there is always someone Jewish. We can come to your congregation or your school to help you.
  2. Create an interfaith opportunity. Invite yourselves, your congregation, your students to a Jewish Passover celebration. The Jews I know would be thrilled to create some common ground.
  3. Use a haggadah. I put a bibliography at the end of this post. Use what the Haggadah brings to Exodus. Use its lesson plans. Use the games. Use the artwork.
  4. Use the guilt trip. Exodus tells us to read these words as if we ourselves got out of Egypt (Exodus 13:8). Tell your students to put themselves in the Israelites’ sandals.

Here is a Selected Bibliography of Awesome Haggadot:

A DIFFERENT NIGHT: The Family Participation Haggadah, by Noam Zion and David Dishon, Published by the Shalom Hartman Institute, Jerusalem, Israel, 1997. (This is the one I use now.) Leader’s Version, Participant’s Version, Compact Version

The Women’s Haggadah – “With women, holiday begins before ceremony, with cleaning, preparation, presentation. If seder is order, that Spring of ‘75 in Haifa we changed the order. We three women – a Member of Parliament, a social worker, and I – announced somewhat hubristically that we were holding a ‘Seder of the North.’ But this would be different. The invited men would prepare the meal, serve, and clean. The women would contemplate the traditional Haggadah and write new and relevant prayers….Marcia Freedman, American-born member of the Israeli Knesset, or parliament, came with women’s prayers. Nomi Nimrod, social worker, composed a prayer of Miriam driven mad by losing her role as prophet. I wrote the questions of the four daughters instead of the traditional questions of the four sons.” E. M. Broner with Naomi Nimrod, Hebrew translations by Efrat Freiman. HarperSanFrancisco, 1994

THE JOURNEY CONTINUES: The Ma’yan Passover Haggadah, 1994-2000 – “Ma’yan: The Jewish Women’s Project, a program of the Jewish Community Center on the Upper West Side. Ma’yan is a Hebrew noun meaning fountain, spring, source, or well. Ma’yan acts as a catalyst for change in the Jewish community in order to create an environment more inclusive of and responsive to women, their needs and their experiences. Ma’ayn facilitates this transformation by training and supporting advocates for change and developing and [distributing] innovative educational programs.” A companion cassette/CD recorded by Debbie Friedman (z”l) and a songbook are available through Ma’yan and Sounds Write Productions, Inc. ISBN 0-9667107-1-1 – www.mayan.org

Let Us Begin: The Sha’ar Zahav Haggadah – “Welcome to the first published edition of the Sha’ar Zahav Haggadah. This book has, in a sense, been in the process of coming to you since Congregation Sha’ar Zahav began. That beginning was a commitment to live as Jews in the world today, and to welcome all who wanted to join, whatever their sexual orientation.” Congregation Sha’ar Zahav, 220 Danvers, San Francisco, CA 94114, 1996 – ISBN 0-9619242-1-7

THE SANTA CRUZ HAGGADAH: a Passover Haggadah, Coloring Book, and Journal for the Evolving Consciousness, by Karen G. R. Roekard, Nina Paley, and Paula Bottone Spencer. Published by The Hineni Consciousness Press, Berkeley, 1991. “In my Orthodox Jewish childhood, the Haggadahs that we used at our Passover Seders followed the prescribed text: my father led the Seder and did most of the reading thus following traditional practice. Once I had grasped the basic story line, it became boring. Through the years, the addition of Midrashim, of interpretations and legends, gave Passover Seders additional meaning. And yet I noticed that my connection to the Seder and to the concept of slavery was mainly through my mind and through my mouth. Over the past 20 years, with the addition of the liberation and feminist Haggadahs, a new and very exciting dimension was added. I could relate to the feminist struggle; I could relate to the anguish of Jews unable to practice their religion and to other countries wherein there was no political freedom. I noticed that in addition to my intellectual connection to the concept of Passover and the Passover Seder, I was also connected through my guts — the space of my power, or powerlessness, whichever the case was at that point in time.” – Karen G. R. Roekard (1992) – Leader’s Edition – ISBN 0-9628913-4-7 – Participant’s Edition – ISBN 0-9628913-8-X – Children’s Version – ISBN 0-9628913-0-4

A Passover Haggadah, As Commented Upon by Elie Wiesel and Illustrated by Mark Podwal. A Touchstone Book, Published by Simon & Schuster Inc., New York, 1993. “On this evening, all questions are not only permitted, but invited….What can we do so as not to forget the question? What can we do to defeat oblivion? What significance does Passover have, if not to keep our memories alive? To be Jewish is to assume the burden of the past, to include it in our concerns for the present and the future….Have we learned nothing?….Why is there so much hatred in the world? Why is there so much indifference to hatred, to suffering, to the anguish of others? I love Passover because for me it is a cry against indifference, a cry for compassion.” (Weisel, pages 6-7) – ISBN 0-671-73541-1

Peace Already. Please.

This post isn’t about loving Israel, though I do.
This post isn’t about a specific cease fire I’m praying for, though I do.
This post isn’t about picking sides.

Today, I read this sad article, which describes the Israeli citizen response to an arson attack on a school in Jerusalem. The school is the Max Rayne Hand in Hand Bilingual School. Here is their website.

I guess I should be happy that the first thing on the school’s website is a thank you note from the school staff. They thank everyone for the support since the attack and describe how they are progressing in their response and recovery.

A few weeks ago I posted a request on my FB page. I asked for people to post their favorite organizations that brought Jewish Israelis and Arab Israelis together. No one responded. I can think of a few projects, but I wanted to know where other people find hope and inspiration. But there was no response, no hope, no inspiration.

This school is one of the most exciting projects out there.

A few summers ago, a camp friend of mine told me about the Hand in Hand school. She is a teacher at the school. (I’m not mentioning her name here because I don’t want to expose her to arson or any stupid internet hate.) The school is so cool. Here are the first words of their mission: “Building shared society. One school, one community at a time. Our Mission at Hand in Hand is to create a strong, inclusive, shared society in Israel through a network of Jewish-Arab integrated bilingual schools and organized communities.” (Read the rest of their mission here.) This school works with students and families of different backgrounds, different religions, languages, ethnicities, etc. Through meaningful education, this school brings people closer together, closer to peace.

And THAT is why stupid racists lit their classrooms on fire.

Now I’m mad. Usually, I try not to get too mad. Anger erodes my ability to think before I speak. But I’m mad now.

What will I do with this anger? I’m not sure yet, but I wanted to make sure that I told all y’all about it. Mostly, I want you all to know about this amazing school. There are awesome people out there working hard to bring Jews and Arabs together in Israel.

About the arson, I’m not sure what I want to do yet. I’m going to find something productive to do about this. I’m sick of racism. It’s dangerous, in America, in Israel, everywhere. We have to do something big, something different, something soon.

 

How Diverse is Your Diversity?

Well, my friend Stacey told me that the average job search lasts six months. Depending on how you count it – I’m either in my sixth month or my fourth month. I’m not freaking out yet. I have faith that my 13 years of experience as an educator will be attractive to an Austin school. Or that my 13 years of working as a senior staff member in nonprofit organizations will be attractive to another nonprofit organization here in Austin.

In the meantime, I’ve been thinking about the word diversity. I think that people use the word ‘diversity’ when they mean ‘includes members of some minorities.’ I think people are trying to make diverse staff teams that include some black people or some brown people or some gay people.

I’m not black or brown or gay, but I bet your organization doesn’t have anyone like me. I’ve lived in New York City, Jerusalem, Northern and Southern California as well as Austin, Texas. I’m not just Jewish. I’m a rabbi. A woman rabbi.

So, I guess the question really is: Is there a great school or a great nonprofit that is diverse enough to need me?

A Dream Team – We will work better together.

I’m grateful to have had some amazing jobs and some amazing colleagues. I’ve learned so much about myself and about teamwork in general. Of course, I recognize that all jobs and all teams come with particular frustrations, but sometimes I let myself dream of a perfect team. My dream job includes a dream team of colleagues.

Progress – This Dream Team consists of individuals who want to improve – ourselves and our work. We are dedicated to reviewing the work we do – talking about and recording what worked, what didn’t work, and what we are missing. We don’t take mistakes personally. We work together to make our work and our organization better and better.

Communication – The Dream Team talks things through. We know each other well because we communicate. We support each other when we are sad and happy, which we are aware of because we communicate often.

Planning Ahead – We sit down together regularly to look backwards and forwards. We dream up zany ideas together. Even though we strive to plan ahead, The Dream Team isn’t afraid to follow through on a last-minute plan if enough of us agree that it’s a fantastic idea.

Conflict – We argue, and it’s okay. Sometimes, we argue opposite sides just to consider an idea or a plan from every angle. We respectfully disagree. We handle conflict with respect and openness. We never pretend to agree or hide our opinions. We work together toward resolutions that everyone can get behind. Individuals are allowed to change their minds without worrying about winning or losing an argument. We try to accept each other’s differences, and, if something gets particularly tough, we try to address it within 24 hours.

The Benefit of the Doubt – The members of the Dream Team give each other the benefit of the doubt. We assume that we each want what’s best for each other and for the team.

Vision – The Dream Team has a big picture mentality. We have a shared vision of our goal and our path. When we get stuck on a problem, our team reviews our next steps in light of our biggest goal and our shared values. When we review our successes and failures, we use our goals as a guide to our next steps. Our shared vision and our shared values help us do our best over and over.

I’m hoping that – if I can imagine it, then I’ll be able to recognize it when I see it. And I really hope they will recognize me as the team member they want and need.

Honest – To a Fault

I’m all about honesty. How can we work together well if we can’t have an honest conversation? I believe that we can talk anything through – if we start with honesty.

Unfortunately, lots of people see honesty as rude or inappropriate.

After seven years in Texas, I’ve learned that many people would prefer a gentle change of subject to my honest reaction to their question.

I think Texas has taught me this lesson. Here’s my evidence:

I had avoided talking to her for months, maybe years, because she seemed to twist my words and then spread them around. We ended up in the same place. I felt afraid. I smiled.

She threw her arms around me and gave me a long hug. Then, she told me that we ‘need’ to get together for coffee.

With a big smile on my face, I managed to respond: “I like coffee!”

Am I a Career Switcher?

When my seminary recruited me, one of their selling points was: If you study Jewish Education now, you can always switch to secular education later in life….

BUT now that I’m actually trying to break into the world as a secular educator or a secular non profit professional, everyone only sees the Jewish experience and the Jewish degrees.

So, if anyone out there has guidance into how I can present my Jewish education experience and my Jewish communal service experience as valuable, translatable, transferable experience into the secular world of higher education and non profit management, please share.

Am I a career switcher? Is the switch from working in religious institutions to the secular world a career switch?

Are you Linked In?

One of my mentors, let’s call her Stacey, told me to make a LinkedIn Page. So, I made one.

If you use LinkedIn – Could you please do me a huge favor? Could you please find me – Susan Lippe – and send me your feedback?

Do I look professorial and professional? That’s what I’m hoping for – please help me get there!

Thanks a million!