Words of prayer for tommorow's rally in Battery Park

New York Immigration Coalition
February 1, 2006
Battery Park, NYC


Blessed Holy One, we know you by many names and we call you by many names in many languages, but at this hour of moral concern we call out to you with one voice.

Protect us as we protect America’s values. Shield us as we shield our nation from a culture of fear and suspicion. Guard us as we guard the rights of women, men and children to live in a land of religious freedom. Strengthen us as we fight for the rights of families to live and work without harassment. Guide us as we aim to reunite families across borders.

Eternal One, remind us to listen humbly to each story of immigration. The stories of the first people who crossed the Bering Strait into this land. The stories of forced immigration. The stories of fleeing from persecution. And the most common of all, the stories of those who have come to these shores to avoid the crushing indignity of extreme poverty. Teach us to listen compassionately to all the stories that surround us without judgment.

To you, to the One our ancestors cried out to, we cry again today. We cry for a world that has been drained of trust due to the actions of a few self-destructive men. We cry for a world in which limited understanding of language and culture has lead to unnecessary social divisions. And most of all we cry for those in this land who are silent, not visible, those who fear even to lift up their voice. May the prayers in their hearts be heard at this hour.

Source of life, we place ourselves before you. May we be vessels for righteous teachings, and may our voices be heard throughout the land. May you lead us to the day when we can join together to celebrate a careful and compassionate immigration policy in our nation.

- Rabbi Daniel S. Brenner

An article on the rally appears in The New York Sun


The Pity Card

Short thoughts on the short film The Pity Card
Director - Bob Odenkirk

I would file Odenkirk's 12 minute film, playing at the Sundance Festival, next to the 'survivor' episode of Curb Your Enthusiasm, the 'tolerance museum' episode of South Park and Sarah Silverman's 'Jesus is Magic' as a prime example of the new format of 'post-holocaust' comedy -comedy that pokes fun of the sanctity of holocaust memory.

The film speaks to a particular post-holocaust museum/holocaust education paradox: The American Jew desires to be associated with the holocaust in order to recieve the empathy of other Americans - but also wants to be detached from the holocaust in order to be seen as 'normal.'

In Odenkirk's short film, he deploys the stereotypical hollywood couple - the nebischy Jewish kid trying to impress the dumb blond. (think Jazz Singer 1927) But instead of acting cool (i.e. Black) to get the girl, here the protaganist stumbles into a situation in which he realizes that pity - in this case his grandparents survivor status - can help him get the girl. After telling his all-American white boy sidekick about taking her to the holocaust museum on a first date, he sees her at a party. All is well when the young couple are in private, but when she begins to tell a group of friends at the party about how much she is learning about the holocaust and says 'isn't that right Simon?" he inadvertantly says "I don't fuc*ing care about the holocaust! Let's just turn on the music and have a drink and get drunk...." And thus, he loses the girl. In the end, he wins the true prize, friendship with the sidekick, who is, of course, trying to figure out what his pity card is - a difficult task for many a Southern White boy.

The film, which is well acted and shot, is funny. I laughed from beginning to end. But on reflection, I have to say that the depiction of the third generation of survivors is not convincing. When I think of my friends whose grandparents are survivors, what I've seen is not a diminshing of the emotional impact of the Shoah - but the exact opposite. Many survivors kept their anguish, rage, and despair bottled up in order to survive. Children of survivors are left deeply scarred - and the rates of depression and suicide are alarming. Their children, sadly, are impacted - often in ways that they only come to terms with in early adulthood. Perhaps the protaganist in The Pity Card is simply immature and clueless - and maybe he did not have a close relationship to the parent who was a child of survivors. But as much as I enjoyed this short filck, and laughed at the central premise of a guy who 'almost used the holocaust to get laid' I found it to be dishonest. Some people may be 'over' the holocaust - but those who were raised by children of survivors are rarely among them.


Cirque Eloize: Rain

About a dozen years ago, at a Pina Baush dance performance at Brooklyn Academy of Music, I had something close to a religious experience. It was hard to describe - but the dancers, encircling a massive pile of red carnations, created such an ecstatic movement of beauty and wonder and celebration that I felt as if I had entered a dream. A delightful dream. Cirque Eloise , the Candian company whose piece Rain I saw today in Princeton, just took me on a similar trip. The piece, which ended in a joyous chaotic childhood romp in a simulated rainstorm was breathtaking. Wow.


On Being a Multifaith Rabbi

(note: an edited version of this piece is published in the newsletter of the RRA)

Working in a Christian Seminary, I sometimes feel like the wacky upstairs neighbor in a Hallmark Channel sitcom. Sure, Menachem Meiri and Yakov Emden respected Christianity – but would they have played Santa at the office Christmas party?

Inter-religious work has not changed much since its un-official birth at the 1893 Chicago World’s Fair. It is often a community relations exercise in putting aside differences with the religious other to further political goals. Other times it is done in the name of “understanding,” and you find yourself smiling at someone’s warped theological ideas as the word “nut-job” illuminates in a mythic neon sign above their head. Other times you find yourself the spokes-model for the Jewish people—and very earnest people ask you about oysters and salvation and foreskins and mezuzahs.

But thankfully, most of my work these days is enlightened by the emerging academic field dedicated to wrestling with the question “What is the point of inter-religious work?” Three folks worth a careful read are Paul Knitter, Miroslav Wolf, and Jonathan Sacks. They answer with the following goals: to uplift the voice of the suffering; to critique bellicose gods; and to respond to globalization’s dark side.

What I appreciate about these thinkers is that unlike the visionaries of the last century, they are wise to religion’s trump card. They push me to navigate the terrain between those who are fundamentalists and those who are not with great care. They remind me that inter-religious work changes in every generation.

As Reconstrucionist rabbis, I think that we have a unique contribution to multi-faith work – and I’ve seen Kaplan’s concept of evolving religious civilization help leaders of other religious traditions to navigate revelation and reason. But I also sense that we have something unique to learn from this work. As rabbis who have a tendency to value doubt over faith, multi-faith work is often a healthy corrective to cynicism. A Zen master who told me ‘after a few years you move beyond the pillows’ reminded me that long-term faith commitments matter. As Kaplan’s notion of “peoplehood” is challenged and Jewish fundamentalism grows exponentially, it may be time to consider the role that faith, discipline and devotion can play in the lives of progressive Jews.

But ultimately, I think that the point of inter-religious work is, to quote Heschel’s No Religion is an Island, “to respond to the predicament of the here and now.” In Heschel’s world that meant Jews, Catholics, and Protestants speaking out against systemic racism with a unified, prophetic voice. Today, we need to do even more island hopping – and to do so in a world which is veering towards ecological implosion. And since we, as a rabbinic body, have racked up some serious inter-religious frequent flyer miles, I hope that we will chart the course ahead – or at least be put in charge of the in-flight entertainment.

Punya Tithi = Yarzeit

I just got a wonderful invitation from the Indian consulate. The event, January 30th, is the 58th anniversary of Mahatma Ganhdi's Punya Tithi. There will be a program of bhajans (devotional songs) and inter-faith prayers. More later.


Joseph Loconte

Back on January 2nd, Joseph Loconte had a piece chastising Liberals for using the language of faith in his “Nearer, My God, to the G.O.P.” which ran in the New York Times. Loconte, in an attempt to teach a wider lesson about faith and politics argues that “When Christians – liberal or conservative – invoke a biblical theocracy as a handy guide to contemporary politics, they threaten our national discourse.” This sounded perfectly sensible - until I did a bit of background Googling and discovered that Loconte is the same man who rallied support for the Iraq war by writing: "That’s why Jesus talked a great deal about punishment… a kind of ‘pre-emptive strike’ or judgment against evil might even be required." (NYT 1/28/03) I’m sorry, but you can not rally people for the war by arguing that Jesus requires us to punish Iraq and then start complaining when Democrats reach out to religious progressives to gain support for economic policies or environmental protections. Debating differing interpretations of God’s ideals for human behavior does not threaten our national discourse – it is our national discourse.


Evolution, DNA and the Soul

This week I'm studying with Bob Pollack, director of the Columbia University Center for the Study of Science and Religion. Here's more on the course. He is a fascinating speaker - and already making folks blood boil. We have a mix of religious leaders - Catholics, Methodists, Presbyterians, Unitarians - and we will all be going to the Darwin exhibit on Wednesday at the Museum of Natural History.


1,000 unique visits

Reb Blog has now been read by over 1,000 unique visitors! While in blog land this may not be such a wondorous feat, I am celebrating by posting a new poem. Enjoy:

The poetry hacker

The poetry hacker
beams his verse
to Tuscon
to an unsuspecting Blackberry user
why Tuscon?
I don’t know
But she doesn’t get it.
But the text message
Wired to a random number in Istanbul
Is faithfully translated
Then read aloud at a house party
Spoken in broken English.

Our hero blogs late, sending emails to
He dreams of hacking the pentagon
Sending daily poems to missile silos
Down to the underworld
Where the button-pushers dwell
Sending a poem about
Crushing loneliness broken by a four word reply:
Thank you for poem.


The Onion

Back in 1987 and '88, when I was going to school in Madison, Wisconsin, I was part of the ensemble at the Ark Improv Theater, directed by Dennis Kern, a man who is considered a master of improv comedy. (He had previously trained Joan Cusak.) The Ark was a a gem - a transformed auto mechanic shop where I had the great thrill to perform on stage with the late comic actor and SNL star Chris Farley - and to hang out with some brilliant comic writers. One of them, Todd Hanson - who at the time was the college paper's best cartoonist and a convenience store clerk- went on to write for the satirical paper The Onion. Since then, the Onion has grown, and except for seeing Todd at our mutual friend Juan Avila's wedding, I have lost touch. So, on my last night in Florida, at my Aunt's house, I see that my 93 year old Grandmother, Flo Funt, has picked up a book and can't put it down. What is it? The Onion's latest publication - and all of a sudden I start thinking about Todd, the Ark, and what seems like another life.