On Election Day I woke up in New York City. I had been teaching and seeing family on the east coast for a couple weeks and I was eager to get home. The cab driver who drove me across town was a recent immigrant from Pakistan. He had just come from voting for the very first time with his whole family, and I assured him that I had voted early in New Mexico. His name was Syed. I looked into his face that seemed to exude vulnerability and trepidation. And I read in that face, “The results of this election will tell me whether I and my family will be welcome in our new country.”
The commandment to love the stranger is repeated 36 times in the Torah. It is repeated so many times because it’s not easy. It’s easier to become cynical, hunker down, protect our own narrow interests. Since the election, I’ve keep thinking about Syed. My heart goes out to everyone in our country who might feel like “the stranger” — people who are struggling, people who feel invisible, minorities, people of color, people who are disabled, Gay, Bi, Lesbian, or Transgender people who are my neighbors and friends.
The religious imperative is to feed the hungry and care for the orphan and the widow, which means we must all come together to strengthen and to sustain one another and to work together in the pursuit of justice for everyone. This election has been a wake-up call reminding all of us to take on that responsibility, to remember our core values of compassion and caring for each other, and especially for those who might feel vulnerable. It is a time to remember what we value, to raise our unique precious voices, to step up and protect what we love.
Since the election there has been an unprecedented surge in anti-Semitic attacks. Some of my friends and colleagues have found their synagogues and homes defaced with swastikas, and it’s scary. I want to release that fear, and meet this hatred by committing myself to more love. Will you join me in this commitment? This means standing up to bigotry; it means keeping our hearts open; it means finding our generosity, shining our light.
The evening of December 24th begins the 8-day Jewish Festival of Lights. Chanukah remembers a time when the Temple was desecrated and needed to be cleaned up and rededicated to the One Light. Legend has it that only one small cruse of oil could be found, but that tiny amount miraculously lasted through the whole 8 days of ceremony.
This world is our Temple. And it has been desecrated by divisiveness, misogyny, bigotry, lies, and hatred driven by fear. Each of us carry in our hearts just one small cruse of holy oil, which feels like it’s not enough. Each of us is overwhelmed. And yet here’s the miracle: When we come together, our supply of encouragement, inspiration and illumination becomes infinite.
Isaiah the prophet said, “Oh how lovely our footsteps on the Mountain. We are messengers; we are heralds of Peace.”
Enjoying each step, we are facing the challenge; we are walking in full delight on the Mountain that rises before us. We are messengers, witnessing the power of Love in all its complexity and simple grandeur. As heralds, we will call attention to the Mystery in our midst; and we will speak the uncomfortable truth.