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Shalom From Jerusalem

02/02/2018 02:11:46 PM


Rabbi Joshua Lesser

This week we read from Parshat Yitro, the part of the Exodus where the Israelites arrive at Mount Sinai and prepare to receive Torah. Along with the Exodus itself, this is a moment where the rabbis stress the importance of everyone's presence and of recognizing the equality throughout the people. For me, these are the unspoken commandments to which we also strive.

As most of you know, McKenzie and I have been representing CBH on the Federation's Jewish community mission, travelling in Israel with 70 leaders from many different Atlanta Jewish organizations. Rebecca Stapel-Wax and Malka Packer-Monroe have been here too, officially representing their organizations. This has been a complicated and complex trip. There have been some meaningful times, like meeting LGBT youth and seeing Jews and Arabs working together to provide disability services to Israeli children from both communities. We have also been challenged by various perspectives of the Israeli and Palestinian conflict: from security workers, to academics, to peace workers, to Palestinian teachers and activists.
The most challenging experiences, however, have taken place among us Atlantans. By travelling together, being put into small groups, and sharing meals together, we are frequently put into intimate contact with people who hold varied, divergent and sometimes opposing views.  I have had conversations about the impossibility and the importance of pluralism, LGBT issues, and the conflict. I have been frustrated, hurt, surprised and encouraged. I keep hanging in there, and I work to balance my twin commitments to kindness and speaking my truth.
What this experience has provided for virtually every one of us has been a strong challenge to our ideology, beliefs and perceptions. The landscape shifts and changes so much that there have been many obstacles and biases for people to confront. It has helped increase the vulnerability and allow difficult conversations to emerge.
This experience will not be wrapped up neatly--at least not yet. However, new relationships are being formed. While it is not certain what concrete results will emerge from this experience yet, there are some dreams that have been shared. Most notably, there have been discussions about collaborating on programs that would serve LGBT elders and provide activities for LGBT youth.
We are working towards recognizing each other's importance and mutual interests. Rabbi Hanan Schlesinger, the founder of Roots with Ali Abu Awwad, taught us inspired by Rev Abraham Kook that we all carry sparks of partial truths and that our work is to listen to and understand "the other's" partial truth. When we do this we are deepening our awareness of God, who is the Infinite Kaleidoscope of the sparks of partial truths.
In many ways, we are like those who gathered at Sinai. We have been able to strip some of the barriers to stand on equal footing, understanding that each of us only holds a partial truth, as we wait to experience a more whole Truth that awaits.

Thu, February 21 2019 16 Adar I 5779