Christmas Morning

I dreamt that Donald Trump woke up this morning after a Christmas Eve slumber like the one endured by Charles Dickens’ Ebenezer Scrooge in A Christmas Carol.

I dreamt that he woke up a changed man resolved to forsake the venality, shallowness, and self-centered hardhearted nature that has caused hurt and displacement to so many and brought shame upon the United States of America.

  • I dreamt that—just as Scrooge sent the young boy to the poulter to buy the prize turkey for his impoverished clark, Bob Cratchitt, Mr. Trump would donate a billion of his own dollars to help alleviate the problem of hunger in our world.
  •  I dreamed that just as Scrooge awoke determined that Tiny Tim receive the health care he deserves, that Mr. Trump would wake up and see that health care—the best money can buy–should be the right of all and not the privilege of the few.
  • I dreamt that like Scrooge Mr. Trump awoke this morning with zeal to right the many wrongs of his past.
  • He would start by remitting back payment with interest to all the contractors and other workers he stiffed or cheated over the years.
  • I dreamt that he would wake up not with a commitment to sending more miners into the depths the earth to die young from Black Lung Disease, but with a commitment to put, “America First,” in the development of clean solar energy and other environmental saving initiatives.
  • Yes, I dreamt that Mr. Trump woke up this morning not with a commitment to making America First in competition with other countries but first in its desire to fulfill the dream of its founders.
  • I dreamt that Mr. Trump woke up with the resolve to turn his massive pleasure palace at Mar A Lago into the official, “United States Refugee welcoming Center.” I dreamed Mar A Lago could become the place where, “the tired … poor huddled masses yearning to breath free,” of oppression violence and fear would find warm beds, healthy food, language and job training so that like so many immigrants before them they can assume productive positions in building what truly could become the greatest nation in history.

But I fear that before Trump wakes up a changed man like Scrooge, we are the ones who will have to wake up.

And when we do we will marvel at how we could elect a man like this to be our leader. Just as Germany looks back in shame at having elevated Adolf Hitler, America will look back in shame at placing Donald Trump in the oval office.

I have another dream this Christmas morning: that at the earliest opportunity, we shall oust this president from office and consign the disastrous policies he has pursued to the dustbin of history.

And then, let us begin to heal.

 

 

500!

I can hardly believe it!

Four years ago, when I was about to publish my first book, What’s in It for Me? Finding Ourselves in Biblical Narratives, my wonderful Writing Coach and Web Page Designer, Susan Marie Shuman, (please visit http://www.rabbifuchs.com) told me:

“You have to have a blog!”

“Not interested,” I replied. “Nobody will care, and nobody will read it.”

“You have to have a blog,” was Susan’s response.

“Susan always knows what she is talking about,” I figured.

And so, I launched my blog.

The essay I posted this morning about the struggle of tomato workers in Immokalee for safe conditions in the field, affirmation of their basic human rights and a living wage marked the 500th entry on the blog I did not want to begin.

It is hard for me to believe, and I am grateful to every one of you who has ever stopped to ponder my thoughts.

And I am beyond grateful to Susan Marie for not taking, “No,” for an answer!

It is beyond my imagination that in another four years I will post another 500 essays.

But then, four years ago it was hard for me to imagine that I would post even one.

So who knows what will happen?

I hope you will stay tuned to find out.

Immokalee on My Mind

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Ready to join #Tomatoclergy and CIW staff to protest in front of Wendy’s at busy intersection in Naples

 

Recently, I returned to Immokalee for the better part of three days thanks to a program sponsored by T’ruah: The Rabbinic Call for Human Rights, under the able leadership of Rabbi Rachel Kahn-Troster, I learned so much.

Immokalee is where 90% of all tomatoes eaten fresh in the eastern United States are grown. It is one of the state’s poorest cities but a scant half hour away from one of the richest, Naples.

While many residents of Naples live lives of splendor; life for those in Immokalee is difficult, mired in poverty even after hours of backbreaking work in the fields.

They make their living in the vast tomato fields where, not long ago, rampant sexual abuse, pitiful working conditions and equally pitiful, sub-poverty wages were the backdrop for their efforts.

Complaints against these abuses met with summary dismissal.

The sorry history of farm work in southwest Florida also includes episodes of forced labor in which workers found themselves locked up in windowless and bathroom-less trucks overnight or housed behind barbed-wire enclosures patrolled by armed guards to keep them from escaping. Field foreman often denied workers access to shade, water and bathroom breaks.  There are several documented cases of workers being beaten.


But in the early 1990s, the workers began organizing, determined to change conditions in the fields and better their own lives. The organization they founded, the Coalition of Immokalee Workers (CIW), started by trying to change conditions on the farms directly, attempting to get cooperation from the farm owners. But in 2001, they tried an innovative new strategy, holding the giant corporations at the top of the supply chain responsible for human rights abuses and low wages at the bottom.

The Fair Food Program demands that major food retailers pay a penny more per pound of tomatoes (paid directly to workers and aimed at increasing wages) and buy only from growers who had committed to stringent, legally binding human rights monitoring in the fields. 

One of the highlights of my three days in Immokalee was visiting the vast tomato fields of Sun Ripe Certified Brands, of Pacific Tomato Growers. There, in a lovely auditorium designed for worker educational sessions we met with the company’s human resources director, Jessica Castillo who told us: “When as a child, I saw my mother get up in the middle of the night to go out into the fields and be subject to all of the abuses . . . I never imagined that today I would be here paid by the company to provide mandatory education for workers on their basic rights. I am proud that workers seek out our company as a place to work and know that if they ever have a grievance it will be heard with sympathy and dealt with appropriately.”

Unfortunately, Publix, the largest grocery chain in southwest Florida, and Wendy’s’ have so far refused to join the Fair Food Program. I am so inspired by the optimism of the members of the CIW. I love that when CIW’s Lupe Gonzalo addressed us, she did not refer to Wendy’s as an enemy but as “a future partner” in advancing justice in the fields.

To encourage this “future partner” to hasten the day she joins the alliance, I joined seven other clergy people and a group of CIW workers in a demonstration in front of a Wendy’s at a busy intersection in Naples. Thousands of cars drove by, and many honked their horns in support.

Why does this matter to me?

Our Torah teaches there is no such thing as an innocent bystander in the face of injustice (DT 22:3), that we must pay our workers promptly and fairly (LV 19:13) and that we may not stand idly by while our neighbor suffers. (LV19:16)`

Because I take these teachings very seriously, I encourage you to communicate with Wendy’s and Publix about the Fair Food Program. Ask to see the store manager and tell them that a penny per pound is a small price to pay for basic human dignity.

“I Cried Because I Had No Shoes …”

Perspective

When I rolled into the gym several mornings, ago I was hoping to get on my favorite recumbent bike because it allows me to do a good lower body work out without using my arms or putting any stress at all on my right shoulder as it continues to recover from rotator cuff surgery. 

 No such luck.  

Both of “my” bikes were taken.

The rules are prominently posted: 30 Minute Limit on all machines when others are waiting.

A young woman was toweling herself off on one of the bikes, so I asked her if she was finishing or just starting.

“Just starting,” she answered quickly.

I was more than a little dubious.

So I looked at the sign-up sheet to see if one would be available the next half hour. No luck. They were signed up for through the morning.

So I settled for a treadmill, signed up for one and did a productive half hour there.

When I finished, the woman was still peddling away with no sign of slowing down, let alone stopping.

I contemplated telling her what the rule was, as if she could not read the signs. I contemplated giving her, what past congregants have called, “The Look,” which I am told is a fearsome stare when something distracts me during services. I have been working on putting that one away because no one has ever liked being on the receiving end of it.

But I restrained myself and said nothing and walked past her with my eyes down. I walked into the other room and did a little work with a jump rope, an exercise that my Physical Therapist has OK’d for me to do at this stage of my rehab.

A short while later, I left the gym, still fuming. “How could that person be so inconsiderate? I would bet dollars to doughnuts she had already been on the bike a half hour before I got there. Of all the nerve!”

As I walked out the door, I stopped in my tracks.  A young man was walking in guided by his caretaker. He is blind and has braces on his legs. He also had a smile on his face. 

I was so ashamed of myself I almost started to cry.

 I had seen the young man before. His exercise routine consists primarily of being guided onto a treadmill and walking for a short while at about two miles per hour.

And there I was, inwardly pouting because another person overstayed her time on a machine I wanted to use.

In my work I have had umpteen occasions to be brought up short by my self-centeredness. I have seen so many people with debilitating handicaps live their lives focused on what they can do not on what they cannot. 

And each time, I say to myself:

“I cried because I had no shoes until I saw a man who had no feet.”

Dear God, when will that lesson sink into my heart and brain?!

One of my very favorite prayers is from the Reform Movement’s Shabbat Manual.It is from the Havdalah service that takes leave of the joy and sanctity of Shabbat and returns us to our day-to-day world. It reads:

“Help me O God to distinguish between that which is real and enduring and that which is fleeting and vain!”

Ma’am, “You can stay on that bike as long as you want. There are plenty of other things that I can do.

(This essay originally appeared on the ReformJudaism.org blog.


Why I Did Havdalah Alone

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Above: The symbols of the Havdalah service: wine, spice box, twisted candle. Havdalah means, separation. The Havdalah service is a brief ritual to bid good-bye to Shabbat and enter the new week.

(This essay originally appeared on the blog site of http://www.ReformJudaism.org)

 

Havdalah is not much fun when I am by myself, but I do it anyway.

Vickie was in San Francisco for Thanksgiving Weekend visiting her 97-year old mother, our children and four grandchildren who live there.

My duties as Rabbi of Bat Yam Temple of the Islands kept me in Sanibel. We don’t like to be apart on holidays, but given the realistic possibilities, we made the best choice. It is vital for Vickie to spend as much time with her mother as possible. And every time either of us sees our children and grandchildren it is a great joy.

I often say, “We have all been expelled from The Garden of Eden. None of us has it perfect in life. There is no perfect, marriage, position or friendship. But our tradition urges us to make the best choices of those available to us that we can.

God in the Torah is an example. As Rabbi Samuel Karff taught, God had to choose between Esau on the one hand who cared so little for his birthright that he sold it for a bowl of stew, and Jacob on the other who wanted it so badly that he would cheat and lie to get it. Some choice! But if even God had to choose between imperfect alternatives, it should not surprise us that so must we.

I am frequently asked why do we study Genesis’ stories year after year because they are all about highly dysfunctional families.

No argument! But their very flaws make them valuable object lessons for us. We are all flawed too. Jacob and Joseph were obnoxious punks in their youth. Neither becomes perfect, but each grows into a responsible adult to fulfill vital roles in keeping our people’s Covenant with God- a Covenant made for the purpose of creating a just, caring and compassionate society— vibrant and alive.

That brings me back to Havdalah.

In the flames’ reflection I see the days when our three children were young, and we all said goodbye to Shabbat together. Now they are busy adults, scattered from Jerusalem to San Francisco to Connecticut, each pursuing worthy careers that help further the Covenant’s original goal.

If we can’t all be together, at least let there be Vickie and I. but this week she too is in pursuit of important Covenantal ideals by visiting her aging mother.

So I am alone, and frankly it would be easier to skip the ritual. But I don’t because even an imperfect Shabbat ritual holds meaning for me.

I laugh as I light the Havdalah candle because Vickie rarely lets me do it when we are together. Our Havdalah candle throws off a big, almost scary flame, and Vickie fears I will burn the house down. I thought of her and was extra careful

The bottom line reason I chose to do Havdalah this evening is because I still got to celebrate Shabbat.

I had the privilege of co-leading worship with our wonderful Cantor, Murray Simon. I was blessed to read and teach Torah to a smaller than usual, but still interested and attentive day after Thanksgiving congregation. So imperfect as it was, Shabbat was still different from the rest of my week in a sacred way.

And so I marked its end and the beginning of a new week. The new week, I pray will lead to a Shabbat that is better for me, better for my family, better for our nation and better for the world than the last.

And as I extinguished (without burning the house down) our Havdalah candle I contemplated the small steps I might take to draw closer the ever-living hope of our people that like our flawed biblical forbears I too can become a better person, who can help in some small way to make the world a better place.

 

 

For Love of the Game

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John Collins dances off first base after rapping a sharp single to right center field for the Cardinals.

 

It has been a quarter of a century since I saw my friend John Collins at our 25thHamilton College reunion. John and I were Fraternity brothers at Delta Upsilon and talked often on the Hill. He was one of the classmates I respected most of all in those days, so when he wrote me in the spring that he would be in southwest Florida in November, I cleared ample time on my schedule so we could get together.

John played varsity baseball at Hamilton and was an under-utilized and sometimes frustrated infielder on the Continental Nine.

Today he gets plenty of playing time as a member of the 70 and older New Jersey Wonder Boys.  He came to this area for the annual Roy Hobbs baseball classic.

According to the rules the 75 and older squads can have two players under 75 so John was recruited to play on a second team during the tournament, the Cardinals.

For two glorious fall weeks these superannuated superstars of the diamond get to extend their summer leagues season in the Roy Hobbs Baseball classic.  They play some of their games at the Red Sox and Minnesota Twins spring training facilities in the area.

As one player put it, at 73, I get to play games that count in beautiful weather in Major League stadiums. How can life get better than that?”

Indeed I asked some of the players why at our advanced age do they drag their weary and often banged up bodies out into the hot Florida sun to play nine (or seven in the case of the 75 and older teams) innings of baseball every day for two weeks.

Clearly, baseball is in their blood, and while their skills have certainly and understandably diminished as John wrote me when he let me know he was coming down, “These guys can still play.”

Indeed you see flashes of what was in the way they track fly balls and the way they swing the bats. Most of their arms have lost their zip, and their legs are not what they were, but the desire to compete is keen and the games are fun to watch.

As I watched the Cardinals in action one week and then the Wonder Boys take the field the next, I almost wanted to be out there myself. I was certainly worried when I saw the catcher of the Cardinals feeling woozy after five innings of getting up and down on each pitch as his position requires in 90-degree heat. Fortunately he took himself out of the game in time, and by the time I had lunch with him and some of his teammates later, he was feeling fine and eager to do it again.

What motivates them is what motivates me to persevere with my three times a week of physical therapy and hit the gym on the in between days in hopes of getting back out on the tennis court after my massive rotator cuff surgery.

What motivates these guys in their 70’s to spend the time energy and money continuing to play competitive baseball in their seventies? When you get down to it, it is no mystery. The answer was the same from each player I asked: “Love of the game.”

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Here I am with John after the Wonder Boys game. I am wearing an official New Jersey Wonder Boys cap that I cherish as a wonderful memento of John’s visit

Bridging the Gap

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(Above) Rabbi Fuchs delivering:

                                  Bridging the Gap

                              Between Deuteronomy 15:4 and 15:11

A Prayer offered at Sanibel – Captiva Community Thanksgiving Celebration

November 18, 2018

 

Thanksgiving soon will be here,

A grand and special day,

So I opened up the Good Book

To see what it has to say.

 

I find in Deuteronomy

A glorious proclamation:

“There shall be no needy among you

In any land or nation!” (15:4)

 

What a wonderful vision that is!

If only it were true,

But I note a few lines further

That we have much work to do

 

“The poor will never cease to be,” (15:11)

The very next paragraph reads.

How can two such opposite views

Be almost rubbing knees?

 

The answer lies between

The conflicting thoughts we heard,

But we must follow closely

And take to heart God’s words!

 

There will be no poor about!

That will only happen when,

All of us work together

To make that time “Now,” not “Then!”

 

But we all know the time’s not near

When all will heed God’s wish

So those of us who really care 

Must step up to the dish.

 

Those of us who’re here today

Are comfortable no doubt.

But all too many on God’s earth 

Surely do

without!

 

Without 

a home to keep them dry

Without

clothes to keep them warm,

From snow and sleet and wind and rain,

And every passing storm.

 

Others strive just to exist

Without

enough to eat.

Try feeding five on minimum wage;

That’s surely no mean feat.

 

And don’t forget those in our midst

Who have much that they own,

But suffer sadness deep inside

And feel so all alone.

 

Can our hearts make room for them?

Our bounty share at least?

And perhaps invite one to our home

To share Thanksgiving’s feast!

 

Scripture’s charge to us is clear:

There is much still to be done,

Before our world and God’s will

Truly become one!

 

May we give thanks for all our blessings

With hearts and hands unfurled

To embrace God’s challenge to us

To repair our broken world!

 

 

 

 

 

Sanibel Veterans Day Commemoration 2018

Eternal God,

Today, one hundred years to the day after the end of the War to end all wars—

We still send the bravest of our youth

To fight and die on fields of battle.

And, 80 years after the Nazis perpetrated the horrible Kristallnacht pogrom

That saw 250 synagogues set aflame

7000 Jewish shop windows smashed

And 30,00 Jewish men in Germany placed in concentration camps

Anti-Semitism, racism and other forms of hatred continue to run rampant in our world.

Indeed they are on the rise!

Today,

2800 years after the prophets dreamed of day

When we,  “shall beat our swords into plowshares and our spears into pruning hooks,” (Isaiah 2:4) —

2800 years after they dreamed that one day, “No one will ever again train for war.” (Ibid.)

We still must fight the forces of evil in our world.

And we ask as the sweet singer of Psalms asked:

“How long, O Eternal One?” (Psalm 74:10)

How long will we pursue the folly of violence, greed, corruption and war?

Instead of kindness, caring gentleness and compassion

How long?

Help us O God to realize that the best way to honor the valor and the courage with which soldiers have fought for the values America holds dear

Is to find a way that our children and grandchildren will never have to fight!

Help us, Eternal One, to find a way to end bloodshed and violence

And, help us, please, to find away to finally create the world in which

As the prophet Micah dreamed:

Where all shall sit under their vines and under their fig trees

With none to make them afraid! (Micah 4:4)

Amen

 

A Day that Will Live in Infamy

Today in the Jewish world it is the twelfth of Heshvan, the anniversary of the assassination of Yitzhak Rabin at the hands of the Jewish terrorist, Yigal Amir.
I use the word, “terrorist,” purposely. He ranks with the worst of the Palestinian terrorists who have attacked Israel over the years.

Amir’s savage act of barbarism scuttled the hope for peace that burned so brightly in 1995.

Since those days of hope, the government of Benjamin Netanyahu has flung the hopes for peace so far back into the shadows that they are almost out of sight.

Make no mistake, Netanyahu has done wonders for Israel’s economy. He has opened markets around the world, cut taxes drastically and made Israel into a far more prosperous nation than it was before. He has held the office of Prime Minister longer than anyone in Israel’s history.

He is also under investigation on serious charges of corruption.

Worse than that, he has hurled Israel from the brink of cooperation with the Palestinians–who also lay claim to our land–to the shoals of terror, mistrust and confrontation. Thus, staining the conscience of the only Democracy in the Middle East, and of the Jews like me and others around the world who support her.

We support her because we believe there should be a tiny Jewish State in a vast sea of Arab/Islamic hegemony. We have known what it is like to live or die for 2000 years at the “by-your-leave” of rulers.  These rulers whom, with every turn of the economy, transformed their Jews into pariahs who faced persecution, isolation, forced conversion, expulsion or extermination. Forgive us that we will never willingly give up sovereignty over the one tiny sliver of real estate where Jews control their own destiny.

The greatness of Yitzhak Rabin is that he recognized, after years as a hardliner, that living in peace was better than living under a state of siege.

For that, his political future was in dire jeopardy while Benjamin Netanyahu fanned the flames of violent protestations of the concessions for peace Rabin’s government had agreed to make. Netanyahu exacerbated the distrust of many Israelis who — from bitter experience — were unwilling to trust that our enemies could become allies.

Indeed Rabin’s widow, Leah Rabin went on record as pointing the finger at Netanyahu for encouraging the atmosphere of anger that led to Yigal Amir’s barbarous act.

Amir will spend the rest of his life in prison, but in the words of Brenda Lee, “That don’t right the wrong that’s been done!”

On this sorrowful anniversary I cry for what might have been.

I will never abandon the hope that peace will come, and I pray that leaders on both sides will soon realize as Yitzhak Rabin realized: It is our destiny as Jews and Palestinians to share this land and to proclaim as Rabin did:

Enough of war…Enough of bloodshed, Enough.”

And I pray that these leaders create two independent states that live in peace, harmony and mutual cooperation with one another.

 

Rabbi Stephen Lewis Fuchs

ameinu.net

 

 

Joy in Jerusalem

Rabbi Stephen Lewis Fuchs

Leo Fuchs and Rabbi Stephen Fuchs. Jerusalem 10/21/2018

Jerusalem, October 2018

How blessed I am to be on this trip. It is far from my first, but in several ways, it has been my most gratifying.  

I have not gone to the Dead Sea, Masada, Tsevat, Tel Aviv and all the other places Pastor Dr. John Danner and I look forward to seeing with our group from Bat Yam Temple of the Islands and Sanibel Congregational UCC at the end of April and the beginning of May.

No, on this trip I remained exclusively in Jerusalem.  I have had the joy of witnessing the Bat Mitzvah of Zahra Levy, a young girl I have known for four years now from the work Vickie and I have done in Germany where she and her family live.  Zahra’s mother, Yancy Sol Velasquez Levy translated my first book, ״What’s in It for Me? Finding Ourselves in Biblical Narratives,” into Spanish, and I am so grateful to her.

When, over a year ago, Yancy invited me to come to Zahra’s Bat Mitzvah ceremony at Robinson׳s Arch at the Western Wall, I knew I wanted to be here.  I have also had the joy of delivering Divrei Torah, in Hebrew and English respectively, at Kehilat Har El, Israel’s oldest Reform Congregation, and to first-year Rabbinical and Cantorial students at Hebrew Union College in this city.

By far, though the biggest pull that brings me to Israel this time is the presence of our older son, Leo.

At the age of 42, Leo decided to step away from his successful career as Principal of Learning Without Limits in Oakland, CA.  LWL is the academic elementary school Leo and a group of others founded to give inner city kids a better shot at life.  By all measures it has been a great success.  In his role as Principal, Leo stressed to his overwhelmingly Latino and Afro-American student body the importance of knowing their roots and on whose shoulders they stand.  Increasingly, in recent years, while encouraging his students to be in touch with their roots, he was feeling the pull of his own.  So, “b’kitzur” (“in brief”) as we say in Hebrew, that is why he decided to study to become a rabbi. The HUC program mandates that all first-year candidates to be Rabbis and cantors spend their first year of study in Israel, and that is why Leo is here.

My great joy is sharing a small slice of his experience. We get to hang out together after classes, to stroll the streets of Jerusalem and just talk.  How often does a father get to spend with an adult child the amount of quality one on one time we are sharing? I thank the Eternal One continually for these shared hours.  As objective as I can be, I was amazed at Leo׳s sensitivity, skill and poise in co-leading with an Israeli Rabbinical student, the first shared worship service between the American students in Leo׳s program and the Israeli rabbinical students.

I have also gotten to see and observe many of his future colleagues. This purpose-driven group is well-aware of the issues of assimilation and declining synagogue involvement that has Rabbis, Cantors, Educators and lay volunteers wringing our hands with concern.

I admit that the Jewish leaders of my generation have not found effective solutions to these realities. But the qualities of intellect, spiritual depth and compassion I observe in the current crop of HUC students gives me real hope for the Jewish future.

 

 

Rabbi Stephen Lewis Fuchs

Leo Fuchs and Rabbi Stephen Fuchs. Jerusalem 10/21/2018