September 13, 2015
Rabbi Batsheva Appel
Temple Emanu-El, Tucson Arizona
It was Erev Rosh Hashanah, in a small synagogue, in a small town, according to the Hasidic story. As the services proceeded, an illiterate shepherd entered the synagogue. He was moved by the words and the music, but was unable to join with the congregation because he could not read and he had never learned the prayers. Out of desperation, out of a desire to become part of the congregation and connect with God, he took out the flute that was in his pocket, and began to play the music that he always played when he was tending the sheep. Immediately there was an uproar as many of the worshippers were outraged. Who was this? How dare he desecrate services on one of the holiest days of the year? People yelled at the shepherd to stop and there were calls for him to be thrown out immediately. The rabbi ended the geschrei. He thanked the shepherd and explained why to the congregation, “As we were praying, I could feel our prayers being blocked from ascending to heaven. The shepherd’s prayer came from his heart and it was so pure that it helped our prayers ascend with his, straight to the Holy One.”
Read more: Erev Rosh Hashanah 5776 - Praise God & God Prays
July 26, 2013
Cantorial Soloist Marjorie Hochberg, Temple Emanu-El, Tucson, AZ
I recently watched an HBO special starring African-American comedienne, Wanda Sykes. Among other comments she made about growing up black in a mostly white society, one was especially memorable to me. She said her mother would not let Wanda and her siblings dance in the car. Picture it: a great song comes on the radio. Wanda and her brothers and sister kids starting grooving to the beat. And their mother slams on the brakes. She would say, "There is no dancing in the car. Either we are driving or dancing, but not both." She would continue, "White people are watching you."
"White people are watching you." Today, in the wake of the Trayvon Martin case, those words seem ominous. A little over a week ago, a Florida court acquitted George Zimmerman of charges of 2nd degree murder and manslaughter in the death of 17 year-old Trayvon Martin. Many of us heard this verdict on television as it was delivered from the Florida court. More than any other verdict in recent memory, this one has spurred a flood of discussion, commentary and criticism about many issues, including the nation's gun laws, the state of the nation for African American youth, and race relations in general in our country.
Read more: Eikev 5773: No More Strangers