In honor of MLK Day weekend, Rabbi Lizzi welcomed beloved former Mishkan Davening Team member Rachel Goldberg, who is back from rabbinical school in Israel, to deliver a sermon connecting the ongoing struggle for justice in Israel and Palestine to the Exodus narrative in this week's parsha.
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Produced by Mishkan Chicago. Music composed, produced, and performed by Kalman Strauss.
Months and months ago, we got together and we looked at the calendar. And we looked at all of the all of the Jewish holidays and all the American holidays, and then all of the things that were going on in our community, and just thought to ourselves, okay, let's like get organized around this stuff. So that when, for example, Martin Luther King Day weekend happens to coincide with the night we're hosting our Israel trip and Book Group reunion. We were like, oh, yeah, let's just, you know, have a sermon that night where we talk about civil rights in Israel. That'll be easy. And, and then it just so happened with that, in the back of them sort of, in the back of my mind at the beginning of this week, that I heard that our beloved davening team member and I would say, spiritual leader before she started rabbinical school, but Rachel Goldberg, who is now in her penultimate year of rabbinical school living in Jerusalem, I learned she was going to be back. And I thought, well, wow, you should do that for us. But but really, no, I thought, you know, for those of you who have been around Mishkan, you know, for a long time, you have seen Rachel up on the Bema, conducting energy, leading services being a teacher. And, like, it's a very special thing, you know, somebody goes off to do immersion in Jewish texts and study for two years. I was sort of like, I want to hear about that. Tell us about it. Tell us about what's magic about it. Tell us about the Torah you're learning, and also share with us what's hard. And in that's very much in the spirit of that's in the spirit of the book groups, which there were over 100 people last year, who read books, and traveled with me, over the summer to Israel and to the West Bank, to the land that our people call Israel and Palestinians called Palestine and talking about it and talking respectfully about it, and trying to unpack it and trying to reckon with the fruition of the prayer that we actually if you were looking on page 24. But Tessa Xena, a native with shuba, let's see on burapha meme, may our eyes return, may our eyes clearly see that you've returned to Zion, with compassion, bless it are you have Mahathir Shalina toe Let's see Oh, and the one who restores your Shahina to Zion, every single time we dive in the AMI da, we're looking toward we're looking toward the east and praying for return to the land of Israel. And obviously, that's not without complication, because in the 2000 years between, you know, the Jews were exiled by the Romans, and the birth of the State of Israel in 1948. There are a bunch of people who live there in that land. And so we are now as Jewish people who have seen a return of God's presence to the land of Israel and Jewish people to the land of Israel, many Jewish people to the land of Israel, after all that time, trying to figure out how to be Jews. So I want to love Rachel up because she actually is she's going to share her Torah with us. And in the spirit of our class, and of the way that we talk about everything, you know, when it comes to when it comes to real things, at Mishcon or anywhere, I hope. We talked about in our class more than we talked about content in any way, because we talked about how to talk, and how to listen. And that when you feel that sense of, you know, like resistance, or debate or anger or questioning coming up inside of you, as you hear somebody say something that actually profoundly disagree with, or aren't sure about, notice it. First thing, notice it. And then notice why. And then keep listening. And then after this is over, I can tell you right now Rachel is thrilled to sit and talk to anybody who wants to keep talking. And my my hope and invitation here is that this is not like a sermon telling you what to think. It's absolutely not. But it's a sermon, sharing experience and sharing Torah. And so I thank you all for being for being here and for being in the conversation. I know many of you are actually hear for this conversation tonight. So, so glad that you are take it away.
Well, first of all, Rabbi Lizzi thank you for asking me to do this. And for founding this community and being an important mentor for me for 11 years, Michigan has been one of my spiritual homes for that long and it just feels really good to be back here. So there's a lot I want to say. And Rabbi Lizzi helps me up until 5pm to get it down in writing. And so if it's alright with you, I'm going to be looking at my notes to make sure I get it all. Okay, So, this book of Torah, that we're starting this week, the book of Exodus begins by telling us our spiritual ancestors were in Egypt and they were a rose, a pharaoh who did not know Joseph. What does this tell us? It tells us that while there was a time that Israelites were known and integrated as full members of Egyptian society, and were allowed to live and thrive there, and just one generation brought a new political context in which they were not known. In other words, they became seen as strangers giggling in Hebrew, and more explicitly seen as a threat. Within the first few lines of the Parsha. This new pharaoh describes the Israelites as a nefarious force, growing in numbers and power that could take over Egypt, and the story of enslavement of the Israelites begins. Of course, this is not the first time our forebears have engaged with notable Egyptians, nor done a dance of having power or being a stranger. Throughout the Torah we've been both early in the book of Genesis, when a young of ROM and Samurai later Abraham and Sarah first set out for the land of Canaan, they pass through Egypt as poor migrant strangers, from fears that the Egyptians will want to have their way with samurai and will murder him in order to do so. He concocts a plan where they will tell the Egyptians that their brother and sister and any man who wants to marry survive will have to pay an extravagant dowry to her brother. And according to some of our great commentators, what Avraham did not account for was that Sariah would catch the attention of the Pharaoh himself, who was actually able to afford that dowry. And there's no mistaking if you read the comments from many of our commentators, that what Sariah experienced in the house of Pharaoh was a violation. Physically, emotionally, spiritually. And understanding this part of Avraham and Cerises journey sheds light on their behavior in another significant encounter with an Egyptian handmade named Hagar. Abraham and Sarah are known for being great hosts and opening their tent and caring for strangers. But in this encounter, Abraham and Sarah do not treat the train the stranger particularly well. They are the ones holding power while Hagar their servant was as her name states, literally how Gale, the stranger, Sarah had given her garter Abraham to conceive a child when she could not and this led to jealousy and conflict between the two women, even though one held significant systemic power over the other. Eventually, after both women had conceived Sarah tells her husband Abraham to banish Hagar the Egyptian and their son Ishmael, essentially sentencing them to death, except that God heard their cries, and saw their suffering and provided them with a well of sustenance to survive. For a long time, I felt really angry at Abraham and Sarah for doing this for Sarah for wanting to send Hagar out and to Abraham for listening to her. Except once I was able to contextualize that episode, within their earlier experience when they were younger, where they were gearing him amongst Egyptians, I was able to have some sympathy for both of them, even though they were very apparently abusing their power, and essentially sending out not only strangers, they weren't actually strangers, they were their own kin to death. For a Hashem Hashem heard the Garyun and saved them. flashforward back to our parsha Moses, who was born into an oppressed class as a Hebrew was adopted by Pharaoh's daughter and raised inside the palace of Egypt, shielded by his privilege, it wasn't until you dal Moshe, that Moses actually grew up that he went outside the palace and actually saw how his brethren were being treated. He saw that they were enslaved. And had to reconcile that it confronted who he was, as an Egyptian, the pride that he had. And he didn't behave so well actually, he was enraged. And he actually responded by by murdering an Egyptian that he saw beating an Israelite and then afraid that maybe that wasn't the best way to pursue justice. And also worried that he might be caught, he ran away. And immediately he not immediately he meets a wife, and he has a son and they named their son garish them, which literally means gare Shaam. Stranger there, because they're in that place and that time, Moses and his family were the Garyun. And immediately after that, after motion Eames and son gare Shaam stranger, they're the tech says that God heard the Israelites moaning and saw their suffering, just as God had done multiple times for Hagar, and Ishmael. What Torah shows us with this parallel, and what my teacher Judy CliffsNotes would call a subversive sequel is that there's actually a dynamic dance through time, place and context in which individuals and people can be the ones in power or the strangers, the ones oppressing or the ones oppressed. No human is inherently one or the other. Rabbi Lizzi asked me to talk about my experience in Israel over the past few years, and as I do, I want us to hold in mind a teaching from my dear friend and teacher, Rob, Sarah Brammer, Schley. She says that the word EMET, which is the Hebrew word for truth, EMET, spelled Aleph mem Tov, Aleph being the first letter in the Hebrew alphabet, Tov being the last letter of the alphabet, and men being the letter right in the middle. So if we really want to grasp the whole truth, the whole EMET we need to recognize that the whole truth spans the entire potential of existence. So two and a half years ago, I had the opportunity to move to Israel, to learn Torah immersively at parties Institute of Jewish Studies, and and the learning has been profound, both formally inside the Midrash. And informally, in the actual world. One thing that happened is that I fell in love with the land, and delighted in a new experience of living in a place where Judaism actually makes sense. Like on Sukkot, this Fall Harvest Festival when we take like a lulav and Petro, you know, like, and basically what we do is we shake fruit and leaves to God for rain. That's what we do. And in Israel, it actually rains. When we do that. We lay like, it makes sense. And then there are spiritual teachings. Like in Sukkot, there's this teaching. That says that Sukkot is the anniversary of when the Mishcon was completed. So it says, like, at the very end of this book, we're starting this week, it says that the Mishcon was completed. And then the honor Neha covered the clouds of God's glory came down to fill up that space. And during Sukkot, in Eretz, Israel in the land of Israel, after six months of rain, and absolutely not a cloud in the sky. When there's scorching heat and no respite from it, suddenly these clouds come in, there's, there's relief. It's like I understand how this spiritual mythology would be birthed in this place. There's this holiday called tuba Shabbat, which happens like in a few weeks, that's like the anniversary of the trees. And living in Chicago, this really never made sense. I was like, okay, like, maybe it has to do with like, I don't know, like water melting under the ground, like it's in the roots, we don't see it. But in Israel, there's actually like, the skinny out that the almond trees blossom, they like bloom suddenly. And then everything else from there blooms flowers, like every crop, it's a it's like, remarkable. And so like, if you want to see like all of it, and like understand Judaism a little bit more come. I want to go into talking about something a little heavier. So let's take a deep breath. Because what I learned, unfortunately, in my first year there is that Israel also goes through another distinct rhythm. And it's the rhythm of war. In the spring of 2021, when most of the population at least the Israeli population was fully vaccinated, and things opened again, people joked that things must really be back to normal because there was a war. I remember the first time hearing missile sirens in May of 2021 and and spending the next 11 days in and out of bomb shelters. As Hamas was firing rockets right into civilian centers, and there was violence breaking out amongst neighbors in the streets of much of the country. Most of the missiles that Hamas sent were deflected by Israel's defense system Iron Dome, but still, it was really scary. Awareness of the war for me actually came two and a half weeks earlier, when a group of my friends were actually outside the Old City near Damascus Gate, which is the main entrance to and from the Muslim Quarter. And they witnessed a group of Jews, a mob of Jews wearing city and Keyport, who looked like them, their brothers attacking Palestinians and chanting the words, my veteran RVM which means death to Arabs. And I wish I could say that this was the only time I ever heard this slogan. But unfortunately, it was only the first. Since then, I've seen it on graffiti all over Jerusalem, including in the Old City, including right outside the Kotel the Western Wall, our holiest site in the world. Or on the homes of Palestinians living in Hebron, a major Palestinian city with 200 Palestinian residents, and eight 200,000 Palestinian residents, and 800 Jewish settlers, along with 700 soldiers who live there to protect the 800 settlers whose presence in the city creates fear and provokes violence. I've been there and I've seen it. And most recently, I've heard these words chanted at a rally celebrating the victory of Israel's last election, when the new National Security Minister Itamar Ben Revere was elected people who would call themselves Israeli Jewish patriots and religious Jews. were chanting death to Arabs. This is an otter, he'll Hashem the desecration of the Divine Name. Before these experiences, I had heard about many incidents of hatred and violence like this against Jews, by Arabs and Palestinians. But what became impossible for me to unsee at this point, was awareness that Jews to were committing acts of violence, and even initiating them often. Let's take a deep breath here was hard for me to see them. And I imagine it's also hard to hear. People think they know the whole truth based on one story, or one account. And I saw it even in the close knit community I was part of at parties where my friends fellow students who had been present for this incident, were on fire and wanted to talk about nothing but the Jews behaving badly that they had seen with their own eyes. But because of that, they felt like a threat to my classmates who weren't there who didn't see that who only had seen the letter that we got from the American Embassy saying stay away from the Old City. It's dangerous. They're not mentioning the fact that the violence was actually being initiated by Jews. There was one night during the war, one of the last nights that I went to a park near my house called the toilet. And it's this big promenade that overlooks across the Jerusalem Valley. So much of the city you can see the old city with holy sites of all three monotheistic religions. There's a big cemetery where many of our sages are buried. It's It's really incredible. All the time. And this night, I was there. There were a lot less people there. Maybe I'm strange for having gone but I stood there. I sat there, and I looked across and what I could see were helicopters. From the IDF. The Israeli army flying over shining lights down the Mount of Olives neighborhood shining Lightstone outside the Old City, I could see the blue and red lights from different police cars driving around. It happened to be a time I'm where there was both a Jewish holiday and Muslim holiday, where people set off fireworks. So I kept hearing explosions, some of which were definitely not fireworks. And I remember watching this, seeing it with my own eyes from across the valley. And noticing my inclination to make up a story in my mind of what was happening on the ground. But I had to stop and remind myself that even though it was happening right in front of me, I didn't know what was happening. I didn't know what was going on, I didn't know what the story was, or the stories within the stories within the stories as of each of the souls involved. So while times of escalation have a way of pushing individuals further toward extremes, this experience for me moved me to engage more deeply in solidarity work with Palestinians, and fellow Jews who want to see a peaceful future. During the summer of 2021, I spent most of my days actually living within Palestinian communities in rural areas of the West Bank, seeing firsthand the harassment and the violence that they experience from people who look like me day in and day out. And as someone who cares very much about the Jewish people, it means something to me that this is being done in my name, and in the name of protecting me. So I'll never forget what a Palestinian friend of mine once said, his name is Ali Awad, he was speaking to a group of Jews wanting to learn about the occupation. And he said, You know, when I was a kid, I used to see people who looked like you who would wear who would wear this, this city and the things on your head that keep hot, I used to see that and I would be afraid, because everyone who hurt me or my family wore those. And he thanked us for coming there. So that he knew he didn't have to be afraid. Even if it was with good reason, of people who looked like us and his children would be able to grow up and know that they didn't need to be afraid of all Jews, and that actually we could work together toward getting out of it. So I have to be honest, and say that having seen as much as I have with my own eyes, I feel regretful that I'm not able to go into more detail with you now. But as Rabbi Lizzi said, if you're interested in in, in learning more or engaging in solidarity work, there are lots of organizations doing really good work, and I'm happy to talk to you after the service. Come find me. Moshe, back to the Torah grew up in the palace. But it took him becoming an adult and seeing the truth of the pain and oppression around him with his own eyes to actually acknowledge it happening. And once he did, he set into motion the greatest story of liberation ever told, one that movements of oppressed people would look at and quote for the next 3000 years. What I will say is that if I've learned anything in this time, it's not the only way out of this situation we'll be together side by side in partnership with our Palestinian neighbors, allies, Kin understanding and honoring that historically all of us have an ancestral claim and right to the same place if we're able to see each other as kin because we are rather than giving strangers perpetually making enemies out of each other. Then we might have a shot at peace and collective redemption. Thank you and Shabbat Shalom