Reflecting on Our Past for the Sake of Our Future

Rabbi's Message - December 14, 2021

Rabbi Tina Sobo

There’s a Talmudic tradition that, “Bad things come to pass on an unlucky day.” (Babylonian Talmud, Taanit 29a).  This statement is brought in the Talmud as proof that the Second Temple was destroyed on the same calendar date (the 9th of Av) as the First Temple.  Today is not Tisha B’Av (the 9th of Av), but a different fast day: Asara b’Tevet, the 10th of Tevet.  While major tragedies in Jewish history are ascribed to Tisha B’Av, today is a minor fast, traditionally marking the siege of Jerusalem in 588 BCE.  This siege eventually led to the destruction of the First Temple two years later.  This day marks the beginning of the chain of events that lead to an unfathomable catastrophe for Jews at the time – the loss of Temple, sacrificial service, and religion as they knew it.  As historians, we might see the almost two-year period from the siege to the destruction as a series of political and military acts.  In Jewish tradition, we are told that prophets foreshadowed the imminent destruction of the Temple if the Jews did not change their behavior.  Unfortunately, they didn't listen.

What I find significant about this fast is that it makes us look further back in the chain of events.  We are not supposed to eat, but it is more than that.  Think about Yom Kippur – we set aside the attention we would give to our physical needs to focus on our spiritual needs.  We repent and promise to change ourselves and our behavior.  The point of today's fast is not primarily to evoke grief and mourning, but to recall our own deeds.  We are encouraged to be mindful of our actions and the chain of events that could occur because of these decisions.  We also reflect on those behaviors of our ancestors as a guide to change our ways before it is too late.  It is as much about remembering our past as it is about changing our future.

In the last week, the devastating images and news of the tornadoes from Arkansas through Kentucky have been a reminder.  I cannot help but wonder how climate change and our societal carbon footprint are enabling some of the more recent super-storms.  Those images make me think back to the tornadoes that devastated our own community right here in Dayton.   There was one story that stood out among the others – the individuals who were working at the candle factory in Dayton, who asked to leave, to find a safer spot, when the tornado warnings went off and were allegedly threated with being fired if they left.  It is hard to imagine feeling so trapped, so stuck, so vulnerable, that one would have to choose to risk their own life to keep their livelihood.  For me, that is a bigger call to action to protect not just our earth, but also all people who dwell upon it.  The Biblical rationale for us protecting the most vulnerable in our community (the widows, orphans, poor, resident aliens, etc.) is that we were once slaves in Egypt and know what it was like.  We have a higher capacity for empathy and sympathy based on our own experience.  There are so many who are vulnerable in our days due to inequity based on intrinsic parts of identity (race, sexuality, gender, and more).  The tornadoes are devastating in and of themselves, and they highlight even more devastating parts of our society.  The siege on Jerusalem was devastating, and in hindsight, it was indicative of more to come.  If we can listen to the warnings, we can change.

So whether you are fasting or not during the daylight hours today, may it be a day of reflection, a day to consider your own behavior, and a day to use our past to change the future.  In addition to prayer and fasting, we can also acknowledge the tragedies of our days, the things that we are doing now that could be part of the beginning of larger chain of disaster.  We can begin to heal ourselves and our world.   If you’d like to contribute to the tornado victims, you might join the Jewish Federation of Louisville’s efforts in partnership with the American Red Cross.

I pray for strength, healing and comfort for all the victims of the tornadoes and their families, for our earth, for all its inhabitants.  I pray that we hear the call of this day, and every day.  Borrowing from the words of Cantor Leon Sher in his famous song Heal Us Now, “We pray for healing of the body.  We pray for healing of the soul.  For strength of flesh and mind and spirit.  We pray to once again be whole… We pray for healing of our people.  We pray for healing of the land.  And peace for every race and nation; every child, every woman, every man.

The Healing Powers of Music

The Healing Powers of Music

Music Director’s Message – November 24, 2020

Courtney Cummings, Music Director

“Music can lift us out of depression or move us to tears – it is a remedy, a tonic, orange juice for the ear. But for many of my neurological patients, music is even more – it can provide access, even when no medication can, to movement, to speech, to life. For them, music is not a luxury, but a necessity.” -Dr. Oliver Sacks

Music inspires so many things – it can alleviate depression, mirror our feelings of sadness or joy, move us to dance, and allow us to communicate with others and with ourselves on another level.  In his book, Musicophilia: Tales of Music and the Brain, Dr. Oliver Sacks investigates the power of music to move us, to heal us, and to haunt us.  As a neurologist, he explains how the brain functions differently with music, and how it occupies more portions of the brain than language alone.  This particular book follows individual stories of how music has improved the lives of patients with Parkinson’s disease, Alzheimer’s, and amnesia, among other medical conditions.  Lines of communication open for the first time, memories are unlocked, and words are spoken when there once were none.  If music has that kind of power, what impact does it have on the rest of us? 

Think about your favorite song.  Did it just bring a smile to your face?  Did you start to hum the melody or sing the lyrics in your head?  Did your mood shift?  Music stimulates the brain centers that register reward and pleasure, which is why listening to that favorite song can actually make you feel happy.

We are all living in the pandemic world of 2020.  It’s not one we have seen before.  Sadness, loss, chaos, and uncertainty have the potential to overwhelm us at any moment.  But what if we make a different choice?  What if we choose to harness to power of harmonized sound to improve our well-being?  What if we create our own soundtrack, filled with love, light, and hope?

Lucky for us, our Jewish tradition is filled with beautiful melodies that inspire and evoke awe.  The soulful words of our liturgy have been artfully set to music by Jewish masters of composition dating back to the time of King Solomon.  Music has been used by our people for thousands of years as a means to tell a story, set a tone or mood, and keep our traditions alive.  It has sustained us this far and will continue to do so, as long as we allow it.

This being the 21st century, we can access music with the touch of our finger, likely from the device sitting in our pocket.  Streaming services such as Spotify, Apple Music, SoundCloud, and Pandora make it easy to listen to our favorites –  anytime, anywhere.  Harness this age of technology to explore new music and expand your horizons.  Need some guidance?  Here are a few soul-nourishing Jewish favorites:

Noah Aronson and Elana Arian’s collaboration of Ahavah Rabbah is a soulful, simple setting of a prayer from the morning liturgy that reaches into your soul and celebrates the power of God’s love.  

In Heal Us Now, composer Leon Sher writes a heart-felt prayer for healing, health, and stability, utilizing texts from different sources and a gentle driving chord structure.

This prayer of thanks, Modim Anachnu Lach, has both a grounded feel, but also an air of whimsy and triumph in its musical-theater style approach to the liturgical text and interpretive English translation.  It reminds us to be grateful for the little things. 

Louis Lewandowski’s 19th century setting of Halleluyah harnesses the power of the voice to sing praises to God.  This particular performance from the Boston Zamir Chorale also gives insight into the composer’s history and life story and is sure to leave you exhilarated.  

Stand Strong by Laurie Akers encompasses themes of strength, togetherness, inclusiveness, and peace, and it is sure to inspire every listener to feel uplifted and empowered.

Our journey this year has been tough. And the road may continue to be bumpy for a long time, but we have a tool to make our own experience just a little bit smoother.  Make time and space for music in your life, as it might just be the medicine you need to survive this trying time with an open heart, gentle mind, and nourished soul.