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Values (RH1 5767)

Values – we chart the course of our lives based upon our values. People with similar backgrounds, educations and experiences often have many values in common. When we meet people who are very different from us they often hold dear values that we don’t understand; it makes the world an interesting place, but it can also lead to conflict. Sometimes value conflicts can take place with people who agree on a tremendous amount and it is not unusual for conflicts to exist within an individual or a value system.

Hayom Harat Olam – Today is the Birthday of the World! Often when our birthday rolls around, we stop for a moment and reflect on the state on our life. Was this a good year or a bad year? Am I where I expected I would be? Is my life on track or have I gone down some tangent? If I have gone down a side-path is it a tangent that I’m happy about or do I want to find my way back to the main path? This is what we strive to do as Jews on Rosh Hashanah. To assist us we have the sound of the shofar to call us back to God, Torah & synagogue. However, today is also Shabbat, another important day on the Jewish calendar with different demands and expectations from Rosh Hashanah. For a month now, we have been blowing the shofar at morning minyan, except on Shabbat. Suddenly, we are faced with a dilemma; do we blow the shofar or not on when Rosh Hashanah falls on Shabbat? The answer is that we do not. In this clash of values, tradition sides with Shabbat over Rosh Hashanah and we do not blow the shofar today, however, fear not, Rosh Hashanah is a two-day holiday and so we’ll blow the shofar tomorrow.

Some values conflicts are easy to resolve, others not so. There is a Jewish value to attend synagogue services on Jewish holidays that is in conflict with our American values of showing up for work and sending our children to school when it is in session. Thankfully, there are people who follow the Jewish values in their decision making so they and their children will be in services for Rosh Hashanah & Yom Kippur – the High Holy Days; and on Sukkot, Pesach & Shavuot – the Shalosh Regalim; even if it means missing school and work. There are other people who place a higher value on school and work, than on their Judaism and so they choose to be elsewhere on the Jewish holidays. Many will come to the synagogue for High Holy Days, but not for the Shalosh Regalim. It is a conflict of values – Judaism is very clear on how you ought to resolve this dilemma! But each person will make their own decision based on how you rate the various values involved.

This year should be easy since most of the Jewish holidays fall on the weekend, but I've learned from hard experience that there are things besides school and work that you value more than Jewish holidays – even things like leisure time activities – going to the beach, the mall and out with friends.  I'll be frank with you, it amazes me that there are people here today who will not come back tomorrow – it doesn't matter that we didn't blow the shofar and they won't hear it all year, it's just not that important to them to come back for a second day of services, even though it is a Sunday and there is probably not much making demands on their time, they will choose to spend it elsewhere.

Thankfully, these conflicts are only for a few days each year, but there are other value conflicts that Judaism imposes on us. Hebrew School is a value of our member, if it wasn't, then you wouldn't be sending your children to school here; there are less demanding religious schools. At the same time, we want the American dream life for our children; we want them to be on a team – to attending practice and learn the skills of the game, to earn the right to play in the games, to learn the value of sportsmanship and the camaraderie that comes from being on a team. Most of the team sports in Wayne create a conflict for Hebrew School students. Learning to live with this tension is part of living Jewishly in America. One day you go late to practice because you had to stay until class was dismissed, the next week you leave school a few minutes early to get to a game. Being on a team teaches us something important, but so does attending Hebrew school.

Perhaps one of the flaws of the Hebrew school system is that we keep trying to make it user friendly, attractive, enticing. But what our children have learned in society is that we value what we have to work at – those sports teams require practice, to play an instrument requires much time investment, kids who take karate understand that it is not easy to earn a black-belt. If we want our children to value Hebrew school, then we have to show them that it takes effort, they must work hard at it; it's the investment that leads to the payoff. So we have some people who value being on a team so much that they don't send their children to Hebrew school; other people put such a high value on Jewish living that participation on in town sports is not a possibility. Most people here struggle with the conflicting values.

Struggling with values conflicts is a part of life. Life is complex and at times painful. There is probably no values conflict that is more difficult than intermarriage. A generation ago the game plan was clear – reject the intermarried, let them know that there is no place for them in the Jewish community and we'll solve the problem with boundaries. I'm sure that you've heard the joke; a Jewish man brings his fiancée home to meet his mother. "Mom, I want you to meet the woman I love. She's a Native American, and her name is White Feather. I am changing my name, to Running Cloud, and we're getting married on her reservation." "That's nice, dear," the mother replies. "You know what; I'm going to change my name also – to Sitting Shiva."

But we learned that this was a practice with very high stakes, our children chose the person they loved and married over their Jewish families. This led to horrible family fights and deeply painful divisions. As the intermarriage rate grew to 50% no family was untouched by the experience. Everyone has a friend or a relative who has intermarried. Mixed families became a core part of the Jewish landscape. The Reform movement reached out to them, the Orthodox rejected them and we were ambivalent. So the intermarried joined Reform congregations in droves feeling most welcome and comfortable there.

Then the Conservative movement began a program of keruv, outreach to interfaith families, implemented by the Federation of Jewish Men’s Clubs. The idea behind keruv is that there are many Conservative Jews who intermarry and would like to be members of Conservative synagogues, but did not feel welcome; so let’s make them feel welcome. When I came to Shomrei Torah more than a decade ago, we had not yet joined the keruv endeavor – the names of non-Jewish spouses were not on the synagogue membership list, mailings went only to the Jewish spouse, non-Jewish parents were not allowed on the bima during lifecycle events for their children. All of these things were changed shortly after I arrived in Wayne.  We have a number of interfaith families in our membership and it is my hope that all of them feel welcome here.

However, there is more to the Native American joke, the son returns home in a year and tells his mother, "Mom, we had a son, but don't worry, we gave him a Jewish name – Whitefish!" All the studies and lot of anecdotal evidence show us that most interfaith families are lost to Judaism – those of you sitting in this room listening to me right now are the exceptions. Most interfaith families have little or no religion in their homes, which is where children really learn about religion. While we value inclusiveness and being welcoming, we also value Jewish living and Jewish survival. Statistically, the greatest likelihood of Judaism being transmitted from one generation to the next comes from actively living Judaism and that happens most often in homes with two Jewish parents. One of the announcements of the Reform movement this last year was that they were engaging in a campaign to encourage interfaith couples to consider conversion to Judaism and give the children the advantage of a Jewish home with two Jewish parents. They had learned that after a generation of making the intermarried feel comfortable in the synagogue that it discouraged conversion and not surprisingly led to an even higher rate of intermarriage from those children. This has led some in the Conservative movement to feel that we need a new initiative; they call it 'edud' which means support, and the idea is to support non-Jewish spouses in their exploration of Judaism leading to conversion and the creation of a unified Jewish home.

One of the problems facing all of American Judaism is that we have moved our Judaism from our homes to the synagogue. Take a Jewish child, celebrate the holidays at home – family meals at Rosh Hashanah eating apples and honey, followed by a Sukkah filled with guests in the back yard; then a home smelling of latkes on Hanukah, a Seder at Tu B'Shevat and at Passover, blintzes on Shavuot; and Shabbat observances – Shabbat each week with candles, challah and wine, Torah study, Birkat Hamazon and zemirot and even if that child never sets foot in the synagogue, I'm confident that s/he will grow up living their Judaism.

However, if that child is enrolled in Hebrew School for five years, celebrates their Bar/t Mitzvah and then disappears from the synagogue then that child's Judaism disappears too. It is simply not enough time to inculcate values that are not reinforced in the home. I have faith that Judaism will survive as it has for generations with or without our input. The question I ask myself is, "Will I be contributing to its survival?"

I can attest that there is tremendous value in the constant Jewish immersion that comes from observances like daily minyan, kashrut and Shabbat, but they are very demanding. They conflict with things that we value from American society like fitting in, a serious work ethic and the freedom to do as I please. Some of us struggle with this on a daily basis, but many have decided that the daily struggle is too high a price to pay and so favor episodic Jewish living. In other words, we value our Judaism and we express that by doing seasonally appropriate observances – synagogue on the High Holy Days, candle lighting on Hanukah, Seder at Pesach, and attendance at lifecycle events – a Bris, a Bar Mitzvah, a wedding or a funeral.

Growing up as a Reform Jew, I was taught about the similarities between Jewish and American values. Being moral and ethical was at the core of both systems. Living as a Jew and an American was a life lived in harmony. However, as a Conservative Jew the core values are a blend of ethical living and ritual observances – other streams of Judaism may emphasis one or the other, but we here in the middle value both. We have the ethical part down pretty well; it is the commitment to ritual that eludes us. But I know that you can change, I know that you can create a place for daily Jewish living in your life.

Change is the theme of the High Holy Days, if you are here with no intention of trying to change, then I suspect that you're finding the prayers that we offer over and over again at this time of year to be a painful experience. But for those of us here with open minds and open hearts – anything is possible. The question is how will you change like a carrot, an egg or coffee?

A young woman went to her mother and told her about her life and how things were so hard for her. She did not know how she was going to make it and wanted to give up. She was tired of fighting and struggling. It seemed as one problem was solved, a new one arose.

Her mother took her to the kitchen. She filled three pots with water and placed each on a high fire. Soon the pots came to boil. In the first she placed carrots, in the second she placed eggs, and in the last she placed ground coffee beans. She let them sit and boil, without saying a word.

In about twenty minutes she turned off the burners. She fished the carrots out and placed them in a bowl. She pulled the eggs out and placed them in a bowl. Then she ladled the coffee out and placed it in a bowl.

Turning to her daughter, she asked, "Tell me, what do you see?"

"Carrots, eggs, and coffee," she replied. Her mother brought her closer and asked her to feel the carrots. She did and noted that they were soft. The mother then asked the daughter to take an egg and break it. After pulling off the shell, she observed the hard-boiled egg.

Finally, the mother asked the daughter to sip the coffee. The daughter smiled, as she tasted its rich aroma.  Her mother explained that each of these objects had faced the same adversity ... boiling water. Each reacted differently. The carrot went in strong, hard, and unrelenting. However, after being subjected to the boiling water, it softened and became weak. The egg had been fragile. Its thin outer shell had protected its liquid interior, but after sitting through the boiling water, its inside hardened.

The ground coffee beans were unique, however. After they were in the boiling water, they had changed the water.  "Which are you?" she asked her daughter. "Are you a carrot, an egg or a coffee bean?" In the New Year that is now beginning may you have enough happiness to make you sweet, enough trials to make you strong, enough sorrow to keep you human and enough hope to make you happy. And remember, the happiest of people don't necessarily have the best of everything; they just make the most of everything that comes along. You can't go forward in life until you let go of your past and your heartaches. Let us go forth and make coffee in the New Year that now begins.

Wishing you a Shana Tova!


Fri, August 14 2020 24 Av 5780