Sunday, October 15, 2017

Leading the Way (Portion Noach)

While this week’s Torah portion, Noach, describes its protagonist as a “righteous man,” most Jewish commentators, past and present, tend to slightly disagree.  They note the qualifier that immediately follows this claim, b’dorotav, “in his generation” and argue that by implication, Noah was only relatively meritorious, compared to the very low standards set by his contemporaries. Unlike Abraham or Moses, Noah does not argue on behalf of his condemned fellow men and women. Anyone who is content to do nothing while all of creation is destroyed cannot be all that righteous.  Or, as Rabbi Abraham Joshua Heschel, drawing on the Hasidic tradition, puts it, Noah was a tzaddik im pelz, a holy man in a fur coat.  In a world gone cold, you have two choices.  You put on a coat and warm yourself, or you build a fire, which warms both yourself and others.  Noah, alas, prefers the first, more selfish option.

Similarly, the text teaches: “Noah walked with God.”  This seems like a good thing—except a few chapters later, God says to Abraham, “Walk before me.”  As Rashi puts it, Noah leans on God for support, while Abraham brings God into the world through the strength of his own righteousness.

To be a Jew in these troubled times is to be called to lead. 

Walk before Me, says the Holy One.

This week, consider: How can you help to lead the way ?

Monday, October 9, 2017

Even the Losers (Tom Petty and Simchat Torah)

As a public-schooled, flannel-shirted Yankee at an uber-aristocratic southern university ruled by the prep-schooled scions of Jeb Stuart and Robert E. Lee, I played the grooves out of Tom Petty’s 1979 breakthrough album, Damn the Torpedoes.  From my first listen, I completely identified with Petty’s grainy voice and scrappy cast of characters, who were always a little down but determinedly not quite out.  Petty was the balladeer of folks who consistently come up a little short: the American girl, raised on promises, who “couldn’t help thinking there was a little more to life somewhere else”; the free-fallin’ good girls and bad boys lurking in the shadows behind the fancy shops on Ventura Boulevard; every dogged dreamer who “ain’t got wings” but is nonetheless learning to fly and inevitably discovering that “comin’ down is the hardest thing.”  I’ve loved Tom Petty for four decades, because more than any other rock star, he spoke up for those who the powers that be dismissed as losers.  As TP put it—against the gorgeous background of the Heartbreakers’ surging organ swells and twelve-string jangle—Even the losers get lucky sometimes.  Even the losers keep a little bit of pride.

Tom Petty’s embrace of losing as a badge of pride is profoundly counter-cultural in today’s America.  Our president throws out the word “loser” with utmost scorn; for Donald Trump, there is nothing worse.  But the Torah is with Tom Petty.  Our sacred text is full of noble losers; virtually no one in its pages gets all of what they want.  This week, as the Jewish community celebrates Simchat Torah, we will conclude the book of Deuteronomy and begin again with the story of Creation.  Both passages pay homage to sacred losers: Moses dies after failing to convince God to let him enter the Promised Land, then humanity is evicted from Eden after eating the forbidden fruit.  From the first to the last, Torah reads like a Tom Petty playlist, with account after account of men and women who fall short but muster the grit to get back up and, against all odds, keep on trying.

Donald Trump doesn’t like losers, amongst whom he numbers the free press, football players taking a knee, half of his own party, and, essentially, anyone who disagrees with him.  But God and Torah love the losers, because the losers are us. 

So did Tom Petty. 

Rest in peace, TP. 

And chag sameach, all.

Sunday, October 1, 2017

Rest (Yom Kippur morning)

My friends, today we celebrate the holiest time of our Jewish year.  This sacred day is the foundation of our calendar.  It is the wellspring of our spirituality and the lifeblood of the Jewish people; without it, we could not endure.

But that is not why most of you are here this morning. 

You have come for Yom Kippur.

And Yom Kippur is an important event, a momentous gathering for our community.  But despite the crowd it draws, here in Boise and across the Jewish world, Yom Kippur is not our tradition’s most essential festival.   The holiest celebration of the Jewish year returns weekly, starting at sunset every Friday evening.

The most sacred day of the Jewish year is Shabbat.


Don’t get me wrong.  I’m glad you’re here for Yom Kippur.  When we take it seriously, the Day of Atonement offers genuine reconciliation, an opportunity to forgive others and ourselves.  But Shabbat is the only holiday to make the Ten Commandments and its existence precedes the Jewish people.  Yom Kippur is a turning point in Jewish time; Shabbat is built into the very creation of the world, a gift to every living thing.  So this morning, on Yom Kippur—and throughout the year to come—I am asking us to work together to restore Shabbat to its proper place as the greatest of our people’s treasures.


Over the course of these Days of Awe, I’ve spoken a great deal about teshuvah, tefillah and tzedakah, our Jewish obligations to turn, pray, and liberate.  As our liturgy for this season teaches, these are the holy deeds with the power to mitigate harsh fate, to transform ourselves and our world.

But turning, prayer, and liberation are as exhausting as they are essential.  In order to do this sacred labor well, we frail human beings also need to rest—especially in these current trying times.


A few days ago, I received an email from my friend, Rev. Vincent Lachina, the longtime chaplain for the northwest regional affiliates of Planned Parenthood.  I met him years ago when I was president of our local chapter.  In his home city of Seattle and around the Pacific Northwest, Vincent is an exceptional social justice activist.  He’s an ordained Southern Baptist minister who turns, prays, and liberates with extraordinary passion and integrity.  With that in mind, consider what he wrote me and other clergy and lay leader friends during this week between Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur:

Hello friends,

I had a difficult time writing this message.

Not because I don’t look forward to checking in with you every couple of weeks, and not because sharing some words of encouragement isn’t something that matters deeply to me—it’s because I haven’t had those words. This week I think I finally felt the weight of the past few months; all the protests and pushing back, of opposing travel bans and healthcare bills and racists’ marches; of the family arguments and social media battles and church conflicts.

I think my body and my heart finally said, “Enough” and I think I’m not alone. Rather than holding off until I can share a buoyant, inspiring, “rah-rah” message with you, I wanted to share this one with you:

It’s okay to be exhausted

It’s alright to be weary and frustrated and burned out; to admit when you’re tired of it all and you need to step away and pause and breathe.

Today, maybe give yourself the gift of logging out, of shutting down, of not fighting; of taking some time to paint, take your dog to the park, or lay in the grass and watch the clouds. It isn’t irresponsible—it’s caring for your soul and yourself and those around you, so that you’ll be here for a long time.

Sometimes you need to change the world—and sometimes you need to take a nap. I’m going to do the latter.


Shabbat is our indispensable Jewish injunction to take a nap.  And that mandate is more crucial now than ever, because turning, praying, and liberating are wearying work—and because our seemingly endless slate of far more mundane affairs is doubly draining.  We need Shabbat because we are all way too busy with trivialities, because our sense of time and priorities is badly warped by our culture of technology run amuck.

North Carolina pastor John Pavlovitz eloquently explains our predicament:

[We have a] relentless fixation on activity, a persistent compulsion to feel as though we are productive. It is the perpetual drive to more and greater and faster and better that propels us through the furious blur of our everyday—and causes us to miss a good deal of it.

We run and sweat and strive and chase our seconds away, always arriving at any given spot breathless, frazzled, and eyeing the next spot off somewhere in the distance we think we need to sprint toward. Most of us have spent so much time in this hyper-urgency that we’ve forgotten that this is not normal, that it isn’t supposed to be like this.

Our speed is literally making us sick and yet we adore it, we aspire to it, we worship it like an ever-distant God who would deign to bless us if only our velocity could increase slightly and we could do and be enough to deserve it. We run through our days, not with the lightness of one who has joy simply in running, but as one desperate to catch something they believe will give them life.

This frantic pace is not deserving of our allegiance.
It is not worthy of our devotion.

And so, we live wearily.
And so, our bodies and souls are exhausted.
You my friend, are tired.

And because you’re tired you need to give yourself a priceless gift: You need to give yourself permission to stop; to consent to a stilling that will bring rest and peace and save you from drowning in the stirring sea of your own making.


Permission to stop. 


But permission to stop is inadequate to the task. 

I know. 

I have more than my share of those Shabbat afternoons when I return from shul, collapsing from fatigue.  I shuffle through the door, take off my work clothes, slip into bed, pull out a good book or, better yet, close my eyes to nap.

And then my phone—that hand-held machine more powerful than the vast banks of computers that during my childhood guided the Apollo spaceships to the moon and back—that marvelous, monstrous smartphone pings.

And I, with the addict’s unmistakable, unconscious compulsion, reach out to check for that incoming email or text or Facebook “like” that brings the constantly craved dopamine jolt.

That’s why we require more than permission to stop.  What we need is an obligation to cease and desist. 

A mitzvah. 

Six days you should labor and do all your work, but the seventh day is Shabbat.

More than the Jewish people has kept Shabbat, Shabbat has kept the Jewish people.

Shabbat is a remarkable gift.  But we are so reluctant to accept it, God had to make it a command.

We need to come home and turn our screens off. 


All week long, we labor to heal what’s broken in the world.  This is critical work.  But alas for us if we do not take a day to marvel at the world as it is, to revel and rejoice in its beauty that endures despite everything.

The poet Marcia Falk writes:

Three generations back
my family had only

to light a candle
and the world parted.

Today, Friday afternoon,
I disconnect clocks and phones. 

When night fills my house
with passages,

I begin saving
my life.


Fortunately, this command, this mitzvah of Shabbat is not an all-or-nothing proposal. I am not likely to ever become Shomer Shabbos in an Orthodox sense and, I suspect, neither are most of you.  Yet we can commit, together as a community, to recovering the blessings of this weekly festival, step by step.  Steadily, over time, we can restore Shabbat to its central place as a day of rest and renewal, wholeness and holiness.  Let us find ways to slow down, to turn off.  Leave the car in the garage and ride your bike.  Instead of shopping, take a walk.  Your soul will rejoice in occasionally saying “no” to consumerism.  Set the calendar, the planner, the endless list of errands aside.  And take the time with family or friends, because Shabbat is better when we celebrate together.

Let’s start with Friday night Shabbat dinners.

Our Sages teach that every Shabbat table is an altar, no less hallowed than the ancient Temple in Jerusalem.   At their best, our Shabbos tables are places of learning, healing, and joyous community.  Shabbat dinner is a time for friends and family and welcome guests to share stories, bridge divides, laugh and sing, debate and delight.  The dinner need not be elegant and if there are kids, they don’t have to be perfectly behaved.  But we have to reach out and invite one another to join our celebrations.  Because when we come together for Shabbat, we can become what a synagogue is at its best: a large, extended family, forged over candles, Kiddush, and conversation.  When we open our homes and our hearts to each other, Shabbat conjures a miracle, transforming the isolation and loneliness of contemporary America into kinship and community.

Later this fall and early winter, we will be launching a synagogue-wide Shabbat dinner initiative.  The ultimate goal is straightforward: every Friday night, every CABI individual and family that wishes to enjoy a Shabbat dinner will have a place to go.  At the start, once a month we will continue to have Shabbat dinner at the synagogue. Once a month we will continue to have Early Bird Shabbat with an early Oneg. And once a month, we will help coordinate hosts and guests so that everyone has a place to go for dinner after early Kabbalat Shabbat. To facilitate this, we will shift our usual 7:30 service to 5:45.  If you show up at shul alone, you can leave with friends, old or new.  Or you can skip shul and go straight to dinner at someone’s home, where young and old will celebrate across the generations, our senior members and our families with young children, together.  Even before we get started, in coming weeks, we’ll begin to lay the infrastructure we need to support and sustain this effort.  Haya Kinberg and I will be leading Wednesday night adult learning programs on how to enrich home-based Shabbat observances.  The children in our Jewish Journeys program will bring home food from their cooking adventures for Shabbat dinner, and ideas and activities for Shabbat discussion. Thanks to a generous grant from the Groves Foundation, CABI will recruit and hire a Shabbat Coordinator to match and work with hosts and guests.  We’ll line up and train a company of Shabbat “Angels” to be present at dinners across the community and mentor attendees through the rituals and blessings that enrich the occasion.  Someone could come to your home to help you say the blessings, or sing a song. We’ll put out Torah Table Talk guides for each week’s discussion, and easy recipes and workshops for making challah and other traditional foods.  And we’ll provide funds to assist those for whom hosting a Shabbat dinner might otherwise constitute a financial hardship.   Stay tuned for more, coming soon—and if you want to volunteer, please call or email me after the fall holy days have passed!


I know it’s a little tough to ponder dinner on Yom Kippur, as morning turns to afternoon and our stomachs start to rumble. 

But in a matter of hours, this Day of Atonement will be over, not to return until the passing of another year.

Meanwhile, Shabbat will be back next week.  And the week after that.  And so on, without fail, for the rest of our lifetimes and beyond—blessing and sustaining the Jewish people.

So as these Days of Awe draw toward an end, let us prepare to do our holy work in the world.  The task is formidable and the time is urgent.

Let us turn.

Let us pray.

And let us liberate.

But at the end of each rigorous week of turning, praying, and liberating, let us not forget to rest, to renew ourselves, our community and the Jewish people. 

In that spirit, I end with words by Rabbi Abraham Joshua Heschel, set to music by one of the great contemporary Jewish songwriters, Dan Nichols:

A thought has blown the market place away
There is a song in the wind and joy in the trees.
Shabbat has arrived in the world
Scattering a song in the silence of the night.
And Eternity utters a day. .  .


Liberate (Kol Nidre)

Kol Nidre 5778: Liberate

By most accounts, Bishop Vincentas Brizgys was not a vicious anti-Semite. When he died of natural causes at 88, his obituary in the Chicago Tribune lauded him as a longtime resident who “ministered to refugees. . . in more than fifty years of service to the Catholic church.”

That obituary did leave out some significant details.  In 1941, Vincentas Brizgys was the newly-installed bishop of Kovno, Lithuania.  When the Nazis invaded that summer, a desperate Jewish delegation came to plead for his help.  After hearing them out, the bishop replied succinctly: “All that I can do is pray.”  Then, in the words of a secret report issued by the German Einsatzgroup charged with the annihilation of European Jewry: “Bishop Brizgys forbid his clergy to intervene in any form in favor of the Jews.”

After the war, Brizgys moved to Chicago, where he led the pastoral care department of Holy Cross Hospital for twenty-nine years.  He was, by most accounts, a kindly, decent man.  And yet in June of 1941, he stood idly by and commanded his underlings to do the same while his neighbors—37,000 Jewish men, women, and children—were executed in the forest on the outskirts of his city.


If Vincentas Brizgys wasn’t a Nazi war criminal—what was he?  The bishop of Kovno was a cleric who believed that faith communities should steer clear of temporal matters. Like many religious leaders of his era—and our own—he insisted that houses of worship should avoid politics.  And so while Kovno’s Jews lay dying in the ditches that they dug, Bishop Brizgys fixed his gaze firmly heavenward.  The vast majority of his countrymen and women followed his lead. 

Last summer, as I walked the streets of Kovno and Vilna, I was astounded at how many churches line the borders of the former ghettos and the roads to the killing fields of the Ninth Fort and Ponar.  The Nazi transports carrying the victims to the slaughter rolled past, day and night, unhindered as local priests and churchgoers went about their rites in ordinary time.  These clergy and parishioners dismissed the humanitarian act of rescuing Jews—which was also undeniably political—as a course best avoided by a church that perceived itself above the taint of worldly affairs. 


This circumscribed approach to religion has enabled a great deal of evil. Martin Luther King addresses this concern in Letter from Birmingham Jail, his searing response to the Southern white clergy who considered political advocacy at odds with faithful community.  Writing from his prison cell in April of 1963, King rebuked moderate rabbis, priests and ministers for being “more cautious than courageous.”  He lamented:

I have watched white churchmen stand on the sideline and mouth pious irrelevancies and sanctimonious trivialities.   In the midst of a mighty struggle to rid our nation of racial and economic injustice, I have heard many ministers say, “Those are social issues with which the gospel has no real concern.”  And I have watched many churches commit themselves to a completely other-worldly religion which makes a strange, un-Biblical distinction between body and soul, between the sacred and the secular.


Un-Biblical, indeed.  Torah has no patience for disengaged spirituality.  It’s the most un-ethereal of holy books, focused on the mundane labors and frequent failures of flesh and blood human beings.  The God of Israel has plenty to say about political matters, directly addressing poverty, violence, immigration and bigotry.  The very first chapter of Genesis offers the still-revolutionary principal that every woman, man, and child is created in the Divine Image.  The heart of the Hebrew Bible is the unapologetically political tale of a people’s journey from slavery to freedom; its fundamental teaching—repeated thirty six times—is the radical manifesto: You shall not oppress the stranger, having yourselves been strangers in the land of Egypt. And though we commonly translate tzedakah as charity, the biblical root of the word, tzedek, means liberating justice, which Torah commands us to pursue diligently—lest we go down in infamy with Bishop Brizgys and the clergy on the receiving end of Dr. King’s epistle.


In speaking of liberation, let me be clear: synagogues are not the place for campaign rallies and partisan endorsements.  There are good Jews across the political spectrum throughout Israel and America—and in our congregation.  Democrats and Republicans, liberals and conservatives, socialists and libertarians are all welcome here, as long as they support our community’s mission of Jewish learning, spiritual growth and acts of lovingkindness.   But let there be no doubt: CABI will continue to fully engage in national and communal affairs from a perspective rooted in progressive Jewish values.  Because as Elie Wiesel warned all of us: “We must take sides.  Neutrality helps the oppressor, never the victim.”  On Yom Kippur, we reaffirm that ritual piety without social justice is the worst form of religious hypocrisy.  Listen to tomorrow morning’s haftarah portion, where Isaiah proclaims:

This is the fast I want:
Let the oppressed go free,
their bonds broken.
Share your bread with the hungry,
and welcome the homeless into your home.
When you see the naked, clothe them.
All people are your kin; do not ignore them.

Two thousand years ago, our Rabbis debated whether or not Jews were allowed to attend the gladiatorial games.  Many argued no, Jews should not support such inhumane carnage in the name of sport.  But some disagreed, insisting that Jews not only could but should attend.  Why?  Because those brutal contests would almost always end with one combatant on the verge of defeat, his opponent standing over him, sword in hand.  At that moment, the crowd is on their feet, yelling.  Some cry, “Spare him!” while others shout, “Finish him off!”  That’s when everyone turns to the Emperor in his royal box. He gets to decide—thumbs up, the gladiator lives; thumbs down, he dies.  And so, the Rabbis say, you must be there to scream with all your might, “Let him live!”  Because of your voice, the Emperor might decide to spare that losing gladiator’s life—even if you are the only one pleading on his behalf.

That’s why we engage in political action as proud Jews.  Because our calling is to stand in the Coliseum of our culture and cry out for life—for our ideals, for the voiceless, and for the future of American democracy, which is far from assured.


My friends, the hour is urgent.  Ant-Semitism is resurgent in America, on both ends of the political spectrum.  Racism runs rampant, and nativist bigotry toward Muslims, Latinos and other immigrant communities tears at the fabric of our nation.    This is no time for American Jewry to shy away from political action, to cower behind what Dr. King called the “anaesthetizing security of stained glass windows.” This is an hour for audacious deeds, to take a bold stand for ourselves as Jews, and for our neighbors, too.   As Hillel taught: Im ayn ani li, mi li?  Uch’sh’ani l’atzmi, mah ani?  V’im lo achshav, aymatai?—If we are not for ourselves, who will be for us?  If we are only for ourselves, what are we? And if not now, when?  The best response to anti-Semitism is to redouble our Jewish commitment; our most fitting reply to other forms of oppression is to build strong coalitions with allies from minority communities and other vulnerable groups. This is the season to say what we mean and mean what we say.  Now is the time to resist, with words and deeds.


But here’s where it gets complicated: Even as we confront injustice, we should also labor to kindle hope in pockets of hopelessness.  As we battle bigotry, we must guard against writing off large segments of our population as deplorable, even if some of their beliefs are just that.  The God of Torah insists that no living soul is entirely irredeemable.   Our resolute resistance should be constantly coupled with bold outreach, with the kind of radical love that conquers fear. Our challenge is to step outside our comfort zones, to offer our listening ears, our open hands and our compassionate hearts, even—or especially—to those whose views are deeply anathema to us.

Rabbi Mordecai Liebling was in Charlottesville when white supremacists marched down the streets chanting “Jews will not replace us.”  In his profoundly empathetic response to that event, he wrote:

I bring to this the perspectives of a rabbi, the son of Holocaust survivors and the grandson of those murdered by Nazis.  We face a difficult challenge: we cannot tolerate white supremacy yet we must listen to the fear and pain that many of its supporters carry. . . Dehumanizing and dismissing them leads to more hatred.  We must stand up against hate and for love, while we advocate for policies that bring about more justice.


So how do we simultaneously resist and reach out? 

Many would reject the premise from the outset, suggesting—not entirely unreasonably—that resistance and outreach are irreconcilable.

But lamrot ha-kol—despite everything—Judaism asserts otherwise.  As Rabbi Shai Held points notes, our tradition teaches that the world is complex and often contradictory, and the religious life asks us to hold seemingly antithetical truths and experiences concurrently.  Or as the brilliant Israeli kabbalistic scholar Biti Roi once instructed me, “Either/or is for simple math.  We Jews live in the paradoxical world of both/and.”

This path is difficult, yet essential, for it is what transforms our resistance from ordinary politics into spiritual practice.  A both/and perspective recognizes that as broken as our world appears, it is not neatly divided between good and evil, “us” and “them.”  Even the best of us carry some bigotry, and even the worst may still contain some flickers of the Divine.  And so the most radical resistance of all is to gather those sacred sparks in our flawed humanity and raise them from fear and darkness into holy light.


Consider the life’s work of African-American actor, author and jazz musician Daryl Davis.  For the past thirty years, he has been befriending white supremacists and shifting their worldviews.  He starts by listening.  As he says in Accidental Courtesy, the documentary film chronicling his life: “When you are actively learning about someone else, you are passively teaching them about yourself.  You challenge them.  But you don’t challenge them rudely or violently.  You do it politely and intelligently.  And when you do things that way, when you give that person a platform and let them air their views, they will reciprocate.” 

Indeed.  Since he began holding conversations with Ku Klux Klansmen, two hundred have disavowed their memberships and given Daryl Davis their robes.  He keeps those white sheets in his home as a reminder of the dent he has made in racism by simply sitting down and having dinner with people.  Through the power of listening, by treating people with heinous views as humans first and foremost, Daryl Davis has altered destinies.  His outreach and his resistance is one and the same, summed up by one short question that has been asking for three decades now:  How can you hate me if you don’t even know me?


How do we resist and reach out?  We can learn from the story of Derek Black and Matthew Stevenson.

Derek Black was the heir apparent of white supremacist aristocracy.  His father, Don Black created Stormfront, the Internet’s largest white nationalist site.  His mother, Chloe, had been previously married to Derek’s godfather, David Duke.  They homeschooled Derek to become a leader of the white supremacist movement, and by age 19, he was hosting his own radio program.

When Derek set off to New College in Sarasota, Florida, he did not share his family history.  After attending an introductory campus meeting about diversity, he concluded that the quickest way to be ostracized would be to declare himself a racist.  He kept quiet and fit in, watching zombie movies and eating pizza with his dorm-mates—while sneaking out each weekday morning to call in to his white nationalist radio show.   He’d rant for a few minutes about immigration, then go back to the dorm to play Taylor Swift songs on his guitar.

. . . Until one night in April 2011, when Derek noticed an electronic message posted to all students by an upperclassman who had been researching terrorist groups and stumbled across a familiar face.

Have you seen this man? the message read, and beneath those words was a picture.  Derek Black: white supremacist, radio host. . . New College student.  How do we, as a community respond?

Derek’s friends felt betrayed.  Strangers flipped him off in the streets and most of his fellow students simply stopped speaking with him.  But Matthew Stevenson, the only Orthodox Jew at the college, had a different idea.  He sent Derek a text message:

What are you doing Friday night?


Matthew Stevenson had begun hosting Shabbat dinners for a small group of students in his apartment every weekend.  The guests were Christian, atheist, black or Latino—anyone open-minded enough to sit through kiddush.  Now Derek Black—who had not received a single social invitation since being outed—joined them, arriving with a bottle of wine to share.  “Let’s treat him like anyone else,” Matthew instructed his other guests.  Derek was soft-spoken and polite, and he came back the next week, and then the next, and pretty soon became a regular.  Over this time, he gradually stopped posting on Stormfront and started inventing excuses to get out of his radio show.  A few weeks after he graduated in May of 2013, Derek Black went into a bar, took out his computer and wrote out a confessional letter:

 After a great deal of thought. . . I have resolved that it is in the best interests of everyone involved to be honest about my slow but steady disaffiliation from white nationalism. I can’t support a movement that tells me I can’t be a friend to whomever I wish or that other people’s races require me to think of them in a certain way or be suspicious at their advancements.
The things I have said as well as my actions have been harmful to people of color, people of Jewish descent, activists striving for opportunity and fairness for all. I am sorry for the damage done.
He continued to write for several more paragraphs before addressing his words as an email to the Southern Poverty Law Center, the group his father had considered a primary adversary for 40 years.
Publish in full,” Derek instructed. Then he hit “send.”
Few of us are as brave as Daryl Davis, Matthew Stevenson or Derek Black.  I don’t anticipate an outpouring of Shabbos dinner or happy hour invitations to Klansmen and neo-Nazis.  But these heroes should serve as outsized exemplars to the rest of us, who can simultaneously reach out and resist in small, routine, intimate yet still significant ways.  Let’s speak—and more importantly, listen—with folks with whom we profoundly disagree.  Let’s strive to stand up to oppression without losing site of the oppressor’s humanity.  Let us step outside our comfort zones and acknowledge the real fear and pain that undergird so much bigotry and contempt. 
Let us ask: How can you hate me if you don’t even know me?—and then begin, slowly but steadily, to know one another, across the countless lines that divide us.
Bishop Vincentas Brizgys did not muster the moral courage to rescue Lithuanian Jews.  But on a quiet Shabbat afternoon late last May, my daughter Rosa and I paid a pilgrimage to the home of a man who did.  Perched on a leafy hilltop overlooking the center of Kovno, Chiune Sugihara’s house is unremarkable on the outside, save for some Japanese lettering on the gateway.  But inside is the office where Sugihara—Japan’s wartime vice-consul to Lithuania—issued thousands of visas to Jewish refugees, in direct violation of his superiors’ repeated orders not to do so.  He also persuaded the Soviet authorities to allow these Jews passage across the country via the Trans-Siberian railroad to Vladivostok, where they boarded boats to Tsuruga, Japan.  Sugihara continued to write these visas, by hand, until the consulate was closed and he was forced to vacate his post.  According to witnesses, he was still issuing visas even after boarding the train, throwing them into the crowd of desperate refugees lining the tracks as it pulled out. It is estimated that Sugihara’s visas saved around 6,000 Jews; today, nearly 40,000 descendants of those refugees are alive because of his quiet, bold resistance.
Chiune Sugihara and his wife, Yukiko were well aware of the dangers.  They knew he would lose his job and they worried that the Nazis might arrest their entire family because they’d helped Jews.  But this diplomat knew the limits of diplomacy, when caution must give way to bold, humanitarian, political action.  Chiune Sugihara rescued Jews because he loved his neighbor as himself.  As he put it, "They were human beings and they needed help.  I am glad I found the strength to make the decision to give it to them. . . in the spirit of humanity and neighborly friendship.”  Chiune Sugihara knew that sometimes extraordinary political means are the only path to just and humane ends.
Tomorrow morning, we will read the Torah message at the heart of this most sacred season:
I call heaven and earth to witness against you this day that I have set before you life or death, blessing or curse. 
Choose life—Act. Resist.
Choose blessing—Reach out.
With words and deeds, with our heads and our hands and our whole hearts, let us resist and reach out, that we may long endure upon this good land.