Intro to Haftarah, 2019 by Seth Lieberman
I stand before you as a flawed vessel, joining you in reflecting on last year’s disappointing behaviors and contemplating how I am to be judged.
As we recite throughout these High Holy-Days, Prayer, Tshuva and Tzedakah can mitigate the severity of the heavenly judgment. We spend ample time during services in prayer, and we practice Tshuva throughout Elul and the Days of Awe. But what of Tzedakah? Today I want to consider Tzedakah, but not its common and overly narrow description as “charitable contributions.” Let’s explore the biblical meaning of Tzedakah as righteous behavior in pursuit of justice.
Think about a time in history characterized by the ugliest injustices. I came across a provocative quote recently. If you wonder what you would have done had you lived during that time, look at what you are doing now.
As we ready ourselves to hear the forceful words of the prophet, Isaiah, I want to introduce myself. I am Seth Lieberman, and along with Joyce Lieberman – no relation -- and 60 other GJC members, I am engaging in Tzedakah as part of the Refugee Immigrant Justice Initiative.
Almost every day, images of cruelty at our Southern Border devastate us, and it can be tempting to look the other way. Despair and overwhelm are understandable, and the demands of daily life constantly tug at our attention.
While family separation and kids in cages repulse many of us, there are pivotal moments that can turn that revulsion into constructive, public action. For me that moment occurred when a NY Times photo caught my eye. Perhaps you saw it. On seeing the photo of a Honduran mother at our border, holding each of her twin girls by the hands, with another daughter struggling to keep up, while running from American tear gas bombs, I couldn’t help but see my Bubbie’s face in her’s ... my Bubbie who left everything she knew in Europe to seek safety in a foreign land. Even though I wanted to look away from the photo, I could not. I could not un-see her face.
The Torah tells us once to love our neighbor, but 36 times to love the stranger as God does. How are we to respond?
As Jews and GJC congregants, we have showed up in Mount Airy living rooms, Congressional offices and a vigil at the Liberty Bell. We organized an advocacy training here at GJC that included 60 people from 16 congregations across greater Philadelphia. We have studied, cried, and raised our voices against family separations and remain-in-Mexico policies that diminish and insult the right to asylum.
In this Haftarah, Isaiah calls us out ...
Is this the fast I desire,
A day for people to starve their bodies?
Is it bowing the head like a bulrush
And lying in sackcloth and ashes?
Do you call that a fast,
A day when Adonai is favorable?
No, this is the fast I desire:
To unlock the fetters of wickedness,
And untie the cords of the yoke
To let the oppressed go free;
To break off every yoke.
It is to share your bread with the hungry
And to take the suffering poor into your home
On behalf of the Refugee Immigrant Justice group, I warmly invite you to take Isaiah’s words to heart – come do Tzedakah with us. Please grab one of the fliers out front, where we have a variety of concrete ways to get involved.
- If you have just one hour, you can join us in urging our elected officials to ensure access to asylum and to end prolonged detentions in inhumane conditions.
- If you have just three hours, you can provide direct support to immigrants here in Philadelphia.
- If you are a lawyer, you can receive CLE credit, be trained by HIAS in asylum law, and take on a pro bono case. Yes ... this training is designed for non-immigration attorneys.
- Our initiatives stem from fellow GJC congregants who identify new ways we can put our values into action. If you have additional ideas, please let us know. We are an energized group of congregants who want to make a difference. I hope that you will join us at our next meeting, here in Mount Airy at Joyce Lieberman’s home on October 23rd.
Let’s not waste the opportunity that today’s fast represents. Together, may we turn this fast ... into a fast that the Holy One desires.