Sally, our children, and I are so happy to be with you, even on this most solemn Day of Days. Oheb Shalom is our extended family and we are literally all related to one another. On this Day of Awe, all Jews are brothers and sisters. We stand together before God, just as we did at Sinai in ancient times. God speaks to us today just as God did then. Instead of experiencing God through fire and smoke, thunder and lightning, we hear God through a still, small, voice within. One of our most important tasks today is to listen to what God is telling us.
I will get back to this message later in this sermon. For the next few minutes, I want to talk about princesses, real and imagined. Believe it or not, this closely relates to the above theme. Do not fall asleep or you might miss the connection! Our real princess is Princess Kate Middleton, married to Prince William and mother of baby Prince George. Earlier this summer, before Kate gave birth to her baby, there was a long note circulating around Jewish e-mail networks, telling us that Kate’s maternal grandparents were both English Jews who changed their names to hide their identity. The point of this genealogy is that since Kate’s grandmother is Jewish, her mother is Jewish, she is Jewish and the future King of England is Jewish! Thinking that this was too good to be true, I asked my assistant, Marcy Silver, to check this out through her sources. She quickly came back with an article from the London Jewish Chronicle saying there was absolutely no truth whatsoever to this rumor. In typical British understatement, the article begins, “The Duchess of Cambridge: not in the least bit kosher.” While one does not have to be Jewish to eat Levi’s Jewish rye, one must be a member of the Church of England to be King of England.
This leads me to my next encounter this summer with princesses. Do you remember the night in June when tornadoes blew through Baltimore? Sally, Lucy (our boxer), and I were stuck in a small windowless storage room for a couple of hours with nothing to do except wait for the tornado warning to be lifted. I brought my tablet in with us and just started browsing through the free television shows when I immediately noticed “Princesses of Long Island: You had me at Shalom.” Finally, I thought, a positive reality show depicting young Jewish women. My, was I surprised when we watched it. The show is on BRAVO, the network that brings us such memorable performances as “Real Housewives.” It follows a group of six Jewish women in their late twenties- Joey, Amanda, Casey, Ashlee, Chanel, and Erica “as they fret, pout, strut about in exceedingly high heels and very short dresses, drink like sailors and talk like them, too. Fixated on their bodies, especially one part in particular, they spend an inordinate amount of time getting dressed and undressed, shopping, texting and worrying about their dwindling marital prospects.”[i] These girls, and they are girls, are about as Jewish as this chair. They would not know the difference between a machzor and a shofar. They use some Yiddish expressions and drink Manichewitz at their family Shabbat dinners. With the exception of middle class, South Shore denizen Joey, none of them have a job. They live with their parents, idolize their fathers, and use their parent’s credit cards freely. Ultimately, these self-centered, selfish, and somewhat pathetic young women just want to be loved and find a man to take care of them.
What these women have yet to learn is that real princes and princesses take care of other people. Real royals give love rather than seek love. True princesses are more concerned about other people than they are about themselves. Instead of spending their time shopping and kvetching, real princesses of Long Island would be devoting their lives to helping those in need.
Now this is a reality show. It is not reality. While women like this may live here, the only “Pikesville Princess” I know is my dog, Lucy. The thousands of Jewish women with whom I am acquainted are smart, productive, giving, and caring human beings. While everyone wants to look their best, they put clothes and their appearance into proper perspective. These Long Island princesses are a stereotype that today has little basis in reality.
There is one column in the Baltimore Sun I read every day. It is “Ask Amy,” written by Amy Dickinson, who gives practical and wise life advice. About six months ago, a woman wrote Amy and told her that she was married three years ago. She is happily married, both she and her husband have good jobs, and they own a nice house. The inquirer asks, “What do I have to look forward to?” Amy makes a couple of relevant suggestions. The writer should make her commute more bearable by reading or listening to interesting and spiritually edifying literature. She and her husband should find some fun things to do together. Amy, however, did not proffer the most important advice of all- that one receives the most personal meaning and satisfaction by giving to others.
Just before God gave us the Ten Commandments at Sinai, God made a brit, a covenant, with the Jewish people. Adonai told us that we should become a mamlechet kohanim and goi kadosh, a kingdom of priests and a holy nation. Our task is to be “a light unto the nations,” to live righteously and to give onto others. Each one of us is Jewish royalty, princes and princesses who are obligated by God to engage in Tikkun Olam, the repair of our broken world. Many of us do an admirable job in giving back. We volunteer at the Ronald McDonald House, we work in food banks, and we join together with others to do community service. We help individuals and families in Baltimore survive in a very difficult time. But is this enough? Are we changing the context in which these people live? Are we making their schools, neighborhoods, and communities better or are we just engaging in palliative care, putting band aids on the wounded so they will survive for another day? While our efforts are admirable, we engage in the latter rather than the former. Our task should be to transform Baltimore into a safer, more livable, and economically thriving city so that everyone can benefit, not just the few whom we can personally reach. The reality is that we cannot do this alone. We cannot change Baltimore as individuals or as a congregation. We cannot truly fulfill our mandate to engage in Tikkun Olam unless we join with other like minded people who have organized to make Baltimore a healthier place to live. That is why it is so important for Oheb Shalom to become part of BUILD, Baltimoreans United in Leadership Development. BUILD is a thirty five year old local organization made up of almost sixty Christian congregations and many schools. Its faith based membership recognizes our community’s many needs and organizes people to address the most pressing issues. BUILD has won many victories over its three and a half decades that have made Baltimore a vastly better city. It has improved education, increased fairness in wages and housing, and expanded youth opportunities throughout the metropolitan area. BUILD member organizations meet in congress several times during the year and choose the issues upon which it will concentrate. It is the most democratic of organizations, run by the people for the people. How do the congregational representatives learn about their member’s concerns? Our representatives to BUILD will bring you together in small groups to listen to your concerns about our community. “As these intimate meetings, new relationships are forged, new leaders emerge, and individual expertise is indentified.”[ii] As we discuss our common concerns for Baltimore and the future of our children and grandchildren, we will get to know one another on a more human level. Our Jewish values will be reinforced and wisdom passed down from generation to generation. We will foster relationships within Oheb Shalom and energize ourselves to engage in Tikkun Olam. On our issues of common concern, we will join with other BUILD member organizations to multiply power and effect significant change.
There are currently over 160 Reform synagogues around the country that are part of these local community action organizations. The Union of Reform Judaism has an entire department called “Just Congregations” to encourage its member congregations to affiliate with local empowerment groups. We would be the first Jewish congregation in Baltimore and Maryland to join BUILD or an organization like it. Our involvement would distinguish us from every other synagogue and chart a path for more Jewish involvement in our community. Oheb Shalom has been in the forefront of leadership in advocating for justice and social change. It is time for us to become a leader once again in the pursuit of righteousness. In a recent message to Reform Jewish leaders, Rabbi Rick Jacobs, the President of the Union for Reform Judaism and our recent guest, speaks of our Reform Jewish leaders who fifty years ago were in the front lines of the fight for civil rights and economic justice. The Civil Rights Act and Voting Rights were drafted in the conference room of our movements Religious Action Center in D.C. As he stated, “Reform Judaism has maintained a steadfast commitment to our tradition’s pursuit of civil, economic, and social justice for all…We cannot remain silent when our inner city youth are out of school, out of jobs and out of hope. We cannot be silent when access to healthcare for 35 million people, who have never had health insurance, is challenged and thwarted. We must reaffirm our commitment to repair the torn social fabric of our society.”
My dear fellow royals, princes and princesses of God, we are a kingdom of priests and a holy nation, commanded to do good, to repair our world, and to give of our selves. We cannot, however, change the world by ourselves. We need to be part of something greater, such as BUILD. Let us, at Oheb Shalom, be among those who pursue justice and righteousness not only for us, but for our children, our community, and all humanity.
Kein y’hi ratson- May this be God’s will as together we say: Amen
[i] The Forward, August 16, 2013, page 24.
[ii] Liz Simon Higgs, BUILD facts document.