#BlogElul via the Movies 29 – Justice Justice

“Justice, justice shall you pursue.”

This Torah verse from Deuteronomy 16:20 is the inspiration for the name of the synagogue that I am honored to lead through the High Holidays starting tonight. They chose the name Congregation B’nai Tzedek (Children of Justice) inspired by that verse noting, “Our sages pointed out that the word tzedek is repeated in the verse to show us that justice must be our goal and that our means of achieving that goal must also be just.”

The United States is certainly no stranger to the challenge of doing justly while seeking justice. The amazing George Takei’s musical Allegiance, which premiers this month in San Diego, tells the shameful story of the incarceration of Japanese-Americans during World War II. Abu Ghraib torture, Guantanamo, and even the arguments to enter in the war in Iraq are all examples of the striving to balance justice, the challenge of the end justifying the means. America – who has rightly been a champion and model of justice in its history – is also confronted by the huge lapses in it to this day – our dealings with people unlike those in power – race, religion, gender, sexual orientation, economic status, country of origin, etc. – are littered with attempts to make a difference, but often fall short of doing so justly.

Such is the theme, obvious or underlying, of most every courtroom drama ever made. I cannot type these words without hearing Al Pacino shout, “You’re out of order! You’re out of order! The whole trial is out of order!” from …And Justice for All. But outside the court and its structure, justice gets even murkier.

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Remembering 9/11

This is what I wrote for Congregation B’nai Tzedek‘s weekly email:

It was also a Tuesday. I remember because it was my day off and I was in my home in Dallas, Texas working on a Rosh Hashanah sermon when someone called from Temple in a panic. The rest of the morning is a blur interrupted by very clear searing moments that I will never forget.

Whether you were in California, Texas, New York, or anywhere on Earth, September 11, 2001 is a day that sticks with us of one of pain, shock, and that changed our country and our lives.

I spent the morning on the phone. My brother was working at a school on the Upper West Side, so I knew he wasn’t near the Twin Towers. But I still wanted to hear his voice. He was unavailable as the school was being evacuated and parents were coming to get their children. We didn’t talk until later in the day. My parents were on a trip to New Jersey. I watched TV in Texas talking with my dad, the architect, in New Jersey as he tried to comprehend the forces that could bring down these massive skyscrapers.

We hastily put together a service for the Temple community in Dallas. It was the largest attendance at a service that wasn’t a High Holy Day. Everyone’s first response was the need to be together, to form community, to find a caring face. Prayers felt more significant. Patriotic songs and symbols had new meaning. Interaction with other human beings had strength and intensity. For all of us, whatever our story, of the many lessons of 9/11, the power of another person came sharply into focus.

This year, as recognize the 11th anniversary of the terrorist attacks, we remember those who fell. We commend our first responders, our sailors, soldiers, airmen, and marines, and all those who give of their own being to defend protect, and serve.

This Sunday night, we get a chance to gather together in our greatest numbers. We’ll welcome the New Year and look ahead with hope that the future is still bright and that we can best move forward when we stand with each other.

I am honored to share these days with you. In sadness, in strength, and in hope, we reflect back today, and we march ahead towards the best of tomorrow – together.