Welcome to the first newsletter of the summer! I want to share some thoughts about seeing the hard things that are happening in the US. I also want to remind you that now is a great time to register for the Teshuva workshop and Webinar. In the Jewish world we begin the “Three Weeks” period today, which is a time of reflection and Teshuva – a great way to go into this period is to set up your teshuva practice for the high holidays.
Yesterday, in my small New England town, I participated in a Families Belong Together rally dedicated to ending family separations of asylum seekers at the US Southern border. This was one of hundreds of rallies like this across the country. Over the past two weeks images and sounds of crying children separated from their parents broke the hearts of millions of Americans and motivated this huge outpouring of anger and concern.
We are in the Hebrew month of Tammuz, which the Jewish mystical tradition relates to transforming the way we see. In the Book of Numbers Moses sent the 12 spies to scout out the Land of Israel. Some saw the land with eyes of fear while others saw with eyes of trust. The ones with the eyes of fear won out and the people were condemned to wander in the desert for 40 years. That is why we make a tikkun, a transformation of how we see during this month. How we see and what we see is a also key part of social change. Rabbi Shmuly Yanklowitz says, “I think there is something mystical about enabling others to begin to see and hear invisible and unheard people. I want to help people look at their neighbor, their domestic worker or someone who they see as their enemy and be able to see that the Divine image is in this person that they didn’t see before. Opening hearts around that human dignity aspect is essential to my activism….”
The images and sounds of children at the border make what is usually unseen on the margins of society seen by all. I am part of network of clergy who visit ICE detainees in prison. The goal here is to make the unseen, seen. To not let what his happening to undocumented immigrants in our country happen in the shadows.
There are many ways we see – reading the news, visiting people or places out of your daily routine, looking at and talking to the homeless people you pass, just not turning away from the daily barrage of images and stories of the brokenness of our world.
Of course we need a filter. We can’t take in too much. But how do we keep seeing without shutting down and becoming numb? How do we see and stay connected and engaged?
One of the key words in the Book of Numbers, repeated many times, is “עדה – Edah – Congregation.” The spies are called an Edah, the rebel Korah’s group is called an Edah, and the entire people of Israel are called and Edah. I know for me personally, the only way I can keep looking at family separations, at the changing composition of the Supreme Court or at any number of other things happening in the world is to viscerally feel that I am part of an Edah, a congregation, a community. That is the reason I went to my small-town gathering yesterday. As I stood, listened, applauded, sang and schmoozed with my fellow Jews, my friend who is the Baptist Minister, my neighbors at the Catholic church, my State Senator, and my friend from the local political committee, I knew in my bones that I was part of a community. Being with these people overcame my regular sense of isolation. Knowing this connection is what enables me to keep looking and seeing the brokenness and suffering.
What is that community for you? Who are those people you need to feel around you to give you the strength to keep looking? We all need these “congregations” where we really feel seen and wanted, to keep being able to see ourselves at those society doesn’t want us to see.
May we keep making the unseen seen, while in community, to create the social change so needed in our world.