Archive | December 2015

Joseph and Anakin, children of grace

Long ago, in a galaxy far away…. The glue has once again been provided to connect the generations with one another. The themes are as eternal as they were before; the myths are as powerful as ever. The child within the oldest of us is awakened, and the wisdom of the ages enters the heart of our youngest.

These moving narratives are treasured by us, in part, because they imaginatively capture the metaphors that give expression to our truths. The battle between forces of light and dark, the struggle between our innate inclinations (the yetzer ha-tov and the yetzer ha-ra), the propensities we carry towards hope and despair—these most basic conflicts play out in the scroll and on the screen before our eyes in living color.

I admit that I am slow to admit that anything is coincidence. It is a gift that the newest installation of the Star Wars saga hits the silver screen as we are immersed in studying the portions of the Torah retelling the story of Joseph and his family. I can’t help but see the parallels between the narratives of Anakin Skywalker and Joseph.

Both boys discover at a young age that they have abilities that distinguish them from others. Both sense that they are destined for something greater than their stations in life. Both are sold into servitude. Both will ultimately rise up to be second in command of their respective empires. Both live with the loss of a mother and with separation from family.

anakin young

joseph coat

Their paths, however, diverge due to the ways in which they confront their respective circumstances. Driven by the anger generated by his sense of loss and by the fear of losing those he holds dear, Anakin is drawn to the Dark Side. Joseph, on the other hand, recognizes that his gifts are but an instrument of God, to be used for the furthering of the Divine Will (also known as the Force?). He is moved beyond his selfishness and ego by his faith in the goodness of God and his trust in the desire of others to redeem themselves through righteousness.

darth

Joseph 2

Ultimately, Anakin redeems himself. It is a sign for all future generations that they, too, can overcome the Dark Side to choose a path of grace. Is it coincidence that the name “Anakin” can be translated to “child of grace”? (Okay, I made that up, using the Hebrew root for “Ana,” or Hannah, meaning “grace,” and the Germanic origin of “kin,” meaning “give birth to.” Thus, child of grace!) Joseph redeems himself as well, and teaches his brothers and all future generations that they can redeem themselves through acts of faith. The seemingly endless battle between good and evil is perpetuated by those who give in to anger, fear and loss. While I won’t see the new movie until next week, I am fairly certain that the narrative will remind us, during these troubling times, that our actions cannot be dictated by fear, and that our actions of faith and trust may sometimes give way to betrayal, but ultimately are the only way to forge a path towards redemption.

May the Force be with us,

Rabbi Craig Scheff

A Light in the Window in East Ramapo

“I don’t just wish there were solutions, I believe that there are solutions to the problems in this district,” Dr. Deborah Wortham, Interim Superintendent of the East Ramapo Central School District  insists. She explains how she is building a team and finding solutions despite the enormity of the issues and roadblocks in her path.

She is greeting children in their schools every day and working on recognizing the strengths in the administrators and teachers. Every day she sends out a message of empowerment to every classroom in every school in the district. Building collaboration between the community, the schools and the families and their children is her goal. She says that a community is as strong as the education of its children, and she is working to ensure that the children receive the constitutionally guaranteed education they deserve. Dr. Wortham told us that she cannot start with one task and then move on to the next. The needs of the district require a full court press. And indeed she seems to be doing so during very, very long days. Even a hint of what she does in a day makes me feel dizzy.
Dr. Deborah Wortham sees her task as the Interim Superintendent as healing a broken district so that the East Ramapo Central School District can become a creative school system that leaves a legacy of greatness.
How does she do it? I watched her teach, acknowledge and cheer at a School Board Meeting that Rabbi Scheff, Deb Roth and I attended in November. I was amazed by her unflagging energy, but I did not understand the source of her drive.
The source of her strength, however, became clear to me after sitting next to her for a two and a half hour meeting with the Rockland Clergy for Social Justice.

Dr. Cohen and Clergy Dr. Wortham and Clergy

Dr. Wortham did not take a difficult position as Interim Superintendent because she wanted to leave her old job or was ready for a big challenge. She came to East Ramapo because she feels called by God to do this work, this daunting and seemingly impossible work. She told us that she makes no apology for her deep faith and close relationship with God. Her mission is to be what she calls an Educational Evangelist. I wanted to stand up and cheer when she described herself in that way. Dr. Wortham is fearless because she is using her blessings and gifts for the benefit of those who need them. For the four weeks during which she has been in her position, she told us, she has been filled with the grace of doing the work that God expects of her.
She listened to our concerns and responded to our questions, dedicating precious time to clergy leaders because she believes that the community must work together to heal and to repair.
On Sunday night, we will light the first candle of Chanukah, placing our menorahs in our windows to publicize the miracle.

Chanukiah

During the darkest time of the year when the days are short and the night feels endless, we cast our light outward to cheer and enlighten others. Dr. Deborah Wortham, it seems to me, is like one of those lights in the window. I pray that her energy and optimism stay with her as she continues on her mission of healing and education.

Dr. Wortham and PMD

What can we do? We can continue the work of supporting and advocating for the children of ERCSD. We still need a full time monitor with veto power in the District. We still need a long range plan to overhaul governance in the District. And we can all roll up our sleeves and give time to the children of the schools.
To become a DOVE, a volunteer from OJC who helps teachers in the Early Childhood Center at Kakiat Elementary School, contact sallykagan@gmail.com. If you are able to organize congregants and friends who would serve as mentors to high school seniors in the District, contact me.

Happy Chanukah! Let your light shine!

Rabbi Paula Mack Drill

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