Posts in compassion
Closed Wells, Closed Hearts

The Targum, a 1st century translation renders “closed up” into the Aramaic tmunim. Being driven by self-interest, “chokes up (matametem) the heart.” As we sort ourselves into ideological camps, “us” and “them”, we close our hearts to each other. We lose access to our collective purpose and vision. As we fall for this “us” versus “them” narrative, we shut down spaces essential to a vibrant democracy, beginning with our hearts.

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Yom HaShoah #TorahForTheResistance: Humanization as Resistance

 

When I woke up election morning, I was struck by the awful irony it was the 78th anniversary of Kristallnacht. Just 78 years earlier on the day America elected a right-wing populist to office, my grandfather Frank Shurman awoke to a world that was hiding in plain sight. Election day morning, 78 years later, many of us also woke to an America that had perhaps been more or less visible to each of us, depending on our privilege. Since Election Day I have been sitting with the images of resistance my grandfather’s story offers me as it continues to echo across time. The story he told about what happened 78 years earlier gave me an image of resistance I’ve carried with me most of my life. But recently I’ve discovered another story of resistance, one he didn’t tell me when he was alive.

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What Trees Can Teach Us About Politics

In the headlines, we see someone coming closer to an elected seat of power than he should. Trump doesn’t exist alone, but within systems and values that have lifted him frighteningly close to the highest office in our nation. Trump’s campaign is, sometimes more explicitly than other times, fueled by misogyny, anthropocentrism, capitalism and white supremacy. These systems place folks like him very close to society’s centers of power. This is, in part, because we live in a society that values self-reliance, and competition and touts bootstrap stories as heroic.

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Compassion is a Skill

The other day, friends of mine shared how they crack each other up by furrowing their brows and casting worried looks at each other. This physical comedy routine was inspired by people’s looks of concern and pity in response to the loss of a close friend of theirs. Fortunately my friends were able to make a joke out of that intense look of worry that crossed people’s faces and which betrayed their friends’ needs, rather than allowing them to attend to the needs of my grieving friends.

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Shining a Light on Being Too Tired to Care

Bombarded with news stories of gun violence, and racist and Islamophobic rhetoric from politicians, I’ve begun to notice a numbness overtaking me. It’s a natural response to move away from pain, as from a hot flame. But even when I turn off the radio, or avoid reading official news sources, the pain of the world trickles into my social media feeds. Ideally, I want this pain to move me to act for change, but have begun to feel overwhelmed, to shut down.

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Telling Stories of Trauma for Healing and Compassion (Parshat Ki Tetzei, Deuteronomy 21:10-25:19)

On the 70th anniversary of the bombing of Hiroshima, a group in Japan launched a project in which storytellers are training to retell the experiences of survivors. My grandfather participated in a similar project 20 years ago, the Survivors of the Shoah Visual History Foundation, which sought to collect testimony from survivors before the experience of the Holocaust was lost to the world. My family’s participation in this project instilled in me the belief that these stories, though painful, should be actively remembered and repeated.

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Transforming our Curses into Blessings

In (and out of) synagogues, campuses, JCCs, summer camps and religious schools, people are developing opinions about hot-button issues. As a rabbi, I am painfully aware of how fraught discussions of Jewish identity, inclusion of interfaith couplessame-sex religious ceremonies, and Israel/Palestine can be. All too often, our communities erect a tense wall of silence around these issues. On many sides of the debate, people advocate for themselves on either side of this wall without the ability to truly see whomever is on the “other side.”

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