Posted tagged ‘This Blog’

A Pebble in the Ocean

May 9, 2012

What do the United States, Canada, the United Kingdom, Israel, Australia, Indonesia, Taiwan, Brazil, the Russian Federation, Saudi Arabia, Bulgaria, Papua New Guinea, Chile, Kenya, & India have in common?  They are just some of the 31 nations in which my internet blog has been read.  No.  I am not bragging – well maybe just a little.  Indeed, I was as surprised as you are, and maybe more so, when I checked the statistics of my blog only to discover that at least some of what I have written here in Iowa has been read in as many as 31 nations; in many places that I never in my wildest dreams believed that my thoughts and words would ever reach.  But there it was, staring me in the face, with both a list of the various countries  and a color coded map of the world showing that far more of the surface of this planet have been touched by my writing than remains untouched.

Quite some time ago, New York Times journalist Thomas Friedman wrote a book about “globalization.”  He told the reader that we have to come to grips with the fact that our world is truly shrinking; that we on Planet Earth are far more interconnected then we choose to assume.  He was right on target!  The international coverage received by my blog is but one small testimony to that truth.  But you may be further surprised to learn that what Thomas Friedman was espousing in modern times was anticipated by a Hasidic rabbi in the 19th century.  In TALES OF THE HASIDIM, Martin Buber shares some of the teachings of Rabbi Avraham Yaakov of Sadagora, who died in 1883.  Rabbi Avraham said:  “Everything can teach us something, and not only what God has created.  What man has made also has something to teach us… One Hasd asked dubiously, ‘What can we learn from a telephone?’  What we say here is heard there.”  From the statistics, it would seem that the readership of my blog testifies to the truth of Rabbi Avraham’s, and Thomas Friedman’s, teachings.  What is said here is heard there.

The point is that what each and every one of us say and do can, and indeed does, have an international impact.  We can, and do, make a difference in this world.  All too often we think of ourselves as small and insignificant when it comes to changing the world around us.  But in truth we are like the pebble that is dropped into the ocean.  Being so dropped, the pebble does create ripples which travel outward and ultimately  result in changing the very face of the entire ocean; whose impact is felt as far away as a foreign shore.  Like the pebble, our words and our deeds travel outward, and continue to travel, traversing great distances and touching countless people; people whose names and faces are completely unknown to us.  When we think we do not matter, we are merely selling ourselves short, for we do matter.  We matter greatly.

Recently, the students of my Jewish community’s joint religious school packaged meals for a program called Kids Against Hunger.  In the course of one Sunday morning, they packed the equivalent of 2,880 meals.  When you consider that the ideal goal is that every human being should consume 3 meals a day, every day, then doing the math, we discover that to feed one person adequately for one year, we need to provide 1,095 meals.  In the course of a morning, our small religious school provided almost enough food to feed one person for two years or two people for one year.  The representative of the Kids Against Hunger program informed our students that this program recently reached the 1 million meal mark.  In other words, they have created enough meals to feed over 913 people for a year.  This program has made a difference.  Our children, in the course of 90 minutes on one Sunday morning have made a difference.

Each and every one of us can make a real difference in this world.  Whether or not we do so is purely up to us.  Each and every one of us must come to recognize that it is within our power to change the world for the better, and then proceed to choose to work to bring such change into our world.

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Dare I Speak of the Tea Party Once More?

July 28, 2010

Last April was by far the biggest month when it comes to readership of this blog.  It received 493 hits, which is over twice the number of hits it received on the next most viewed month (last May – 243 hits).  When you consider that the average hits per month are 218 and that the lightest month had only 105 hits, the volume for April is really quite remarkable.

Why this significant spike in readership?  Controversy!  Everyone loves to savor a juicy controversy.

What was the source of this controversy?  It centered around two of my postings – “The Perfect Storm” and “The Perfect Storm Revisited.”  These postings addressed my deep concerns about the actions and directions of the growing Tea Party movement, and my concerns about the connections which I perceived existing between the Tea Party and the Republican Party.

Well, let me start off by saying that my posting of “The Perfect Storm” was far from perfect.  Indeed, the very fact that I followed it up with, “The Perfect Storm Revisited” testifies to my own sense that it did not successfully communicate the message I intended for it.  But one need only read the comments to the “Revisited” posting to see that my critics were far from satisfied with my clarifications within expressed in this revisiting.  While today, I could readily revise my statements in that posting as well, I still maintain that the heart of its message was on target.

Recently, the Tea Party has once again become the center of public attention.  This time it is because the NAACP, in convention, ratified a resolution chastising the Tea Party for not repudiating (or as Sarah Palin would say, “refudiating”) those elements within its ranks that proclaim a racist ideology.

When I first heard that report, I admit that I smiled.  After all, that is the very message which I attempted to communicate in my “Revisited” posting, and for which I was so thoroughly castigated by so many, even to the point where the leadership of my congregation strongly encouraged me to place an open disclaimer on the blog itself, distancing the congregation from the contents of the blog.  Now, my posting did not only reference the racism found in elements of the Tea Party, but other hate ideologies and the endorsement of violent actions as well.  But then, of course one would rightfully expect an organization like the NAACP to focus on racism.  After all, that is their mission.

Though I smiled at first hearing the news reports, that smile quickly faded as I started to hear the responses coming from Tea Party supporters, and even from some who would not be considered supporters – such as President Obama and Vice President Biden.  From the Tea Party itself came a rather bizarre mixed message.  The first thing they did was to remove from their coalition one of the most offensive of groups along these lines – the group called the Tea Party Express.  But then Tea Party spokesmen started making remarks about how the NAACP itself is a racist organization, even pointing to the fact that their name uses the “racist” term “Colored People.”  In other words, while on the one hand, they admitted that racism was a problem within their ranks, and needed to be repudiated, on the other hand they sought to deny that racism was their problem but rather chose to declare that it was far more the problem of the NAACP.  Talk about projection!

It should come as no surprise that I support the NAACP in their recent action.  While I hesitated to publicly proclaim this support at first – for fear of stirring up that previous hornet’s nest – I came to realize that more than I feared being caught up in another controversy, I feared that my silence on this matter could somehow make me complicit in the promulgation of hatred and prejudice.  Our past is full of bystanders who may not have agreed with the purveyors of hate, and who may have been repulsed by the actions of those hate mongers, but who, for various reasons, but mostly out of fear, chose to remain silent and on the side lines.  I cannot and will not become one of them.

As I stated in my “Revisited” blog, in no way do I challenge the right of the members of the Tea Party to hold and express their political opinions, regardless of whether or not I agree with them.  That diversity of thought and expression is what makes America great.  However, when such free discourse turns into expressions of hatred, that is where we need to draw the line.  All people of good conscience – whether they be Democrats or Republicans or members of the Tea Party – should and must feel duty and honor bound to purge such prejudice from their political rhetoric, and they must actively denounce and distance themselves from those who promote such messages.  That is what I said in April.  That is what the NAACP has said in July.  I stood by that message then and I stand by it now.  However, I have to admit a certain relief in finding that others, especially those of the caliber of the NAACP, seem to agree with me.

Controversy and Disclaimer

April 16, 2010

I serve as a rabbi of a congregation and that is not always the easiest of jobs.  Congregational rabbis are highly visible creatures and perpetually vulnerable.  With every Jew possessing at least three opinions on any topic, the job is not that different than that of herding cats.  And to make matters all the more complex, there exists this truly interfaith phenomenon that when some people come together into association for the expressed purpose of raising up the will and work of God, for some unexplained and inexplicable reason, these individuals seem to leave both reason and compassion at the door and become easily provoked into behaving more like a lynch mob than like a sacred congregation when dealing with their clergy.  For when they find that they have differences of opinion with their clergy, they do not approach their clergy to discuss these differences rationally, in a respectful, and hopefully productive, dialogue but rather they expend great energy to spread their discontent far and wide and gather their forces to seek out the congregational lay leadership in order to pursue some sort of administrative solution which often can mimic Alice in Wonderland’s Queen of Heart’s call for “Off with his head!”  Several years ago, a Protestant clergy person wrote a fairly popular study on such people and entitled his work “Clergy Killers.”

I share this with you because in my community, somewhat of a firestorm has arisen over the views that I have expressed on this blog in regards to two recent entries – “A Perfect Storm Threatens Same Sex Marriage in Iowa” and “Revisiting The Perfect Storm.”  While only two members of my community demonstrated the good character to approach me in order to dialogue about their discomfort over these articles, there seem to have been several others who have taken great pains to run to the president of my congregation with their cries of outrage.  I have been a rabbi for 35 years.  Having people disagree with me on issues is not exactly a new experience.  I welcome disagreement and the healthy discourse that it can lead to, for it is out of such discourse that we all can grow; that is if we are open to growth.  Venting one’s anger is quite another story, especially when one vents it in such a way as to attempt to do material harm to the object of their anger and that person’s family.  There is something fundamentally mean spirited about such behavior.

While these people have legitimate reasons to disagree with me – and to take issue with the content of these blog entries – they did not have  legitimate reason to seek an administrative solution to their problems through the mechanisms of my congregation.  Let me explain why.

No clergy person is the “property” of their congregation, with the congregation possessing the “right” to regulate and control their every waking action and word.  All clergy have both their professional lives and the personal lives.  What they do within their professional lives is most certainly open to scrutiny, and if necessary, censure by their congregation.  What they do within their personal lives is not.

For me, my blogging is a function of my personal life and NOT my professional one.  I write my blog entries on my own time, from my home computer.  I utilize neither work time nor work resources upon them.  One might say that my blog is my hobby.  As such, it stands outside the purview of congregational control or regulation.  Indeed, I see one of the functions of my blog being that of providing me with the opportunity to address topics that I could never address within my official role as rabbi of my congregation; topics I could never speak or write on in a newsletter article, or a sermon, or in the context of a synagogue class; topics such as partisan politics, for doing so would endanger the congregation’s 501c3 not for profit status.

While, in my professional capacity, I cannot broach such topics, that does not in any way mean that I am devoid of opinions on them or that I am completely restricted from ever addressing them at any time in any place.  No.  Clergy, like every other citizen of the United States of America possess the right to freedom of opinion and freedom of speech, as guaranteed in the First Amendment to the Constitution.  The very idea that clergy, by stint of being clergy, relinquish their constitutional rights and surrender them over to the powers of their congregations is patently absurd.  Clergy most certainly have the right to publicly express their opinions on any and all matters, as long as they restrict those expressions within the legal parameters of the tax codes when they are serving in their official capacity within their congregations.  But outside of their congregational life, they are as free as any other American citizen to speak their mind.

Does this mean that the members of their faith community do not have the right to express their dissatisfaction with whatever they say, outside of congregational life?  Of course not!  It does, however mean that it is extremely inappropriate and fundamentally wrong for such faith community members to turn to and use the administrative mechanisms of their congregations in order to express that dissatisfaction.  If such people wish to take issue with what is being said by their clergy outside of their congregation, then they should go to the clergy person him or herself – as did the two individuals who actually sent me emails and entered into dialogue with me.  They can pick up the phone.  They can send an email.  They can even knock on the door.  And, in the case of my blogging, then can also make comments directly on my blog site.  But they cannot seek institutional redress for matters that are extra-institutional.

In discussing this issue with my congregational president, he pointed out that there was no place on my blog which stated that the views expressed here are exclusively my views and are not to be considered the views of my congregation.  Though such a disclaimer is not required, considering the fact that the blog is mine and not the congregation’s, I was more than happy to add such a disclaimer to the header of this blog, simply for the sake of clarity.  Indeed, after my president left my office, I immediately called my good friend, and past synagogue president, Alan Garfield, who helped me set up this blog, and asked him to help revise the header.  He did so within one hour!

Personally, I would be interested to learn of how many of the OTHER 18 blog entries, over and above the ones in question, were read by the folks who called my president to express their outrage.  I wonder if there were any of those entries with which they agreed, and whether or not they expressed their approval for those entries along with their disapproval of the two in question.  But that is probably too much to ask for, seeing that human nature tends to focus on getting upset about what you don’t like and disregarding the rest.

I know that there still will be those who will claim that no one is trying to deny me my freedom of speech, but that whenever I speak, or write, there will be those who will choose to believe that I am speaking and writing for the Jewish community as well as for myself.  In fact, what such folks are saying is that of course I have my freedom of speech, as long as they agree with what I say.  However, whenever they disagree, that freedom somehow has been revoked.  For such folks, I hope that the disclaimer now present on this blog will satisfy them.  If not, I pray that they will learn to live with it, just as I pray that the lay leadership of my congregation will learn to respond to blog complaints by saying that the blog is outside of their jurisdiction and that they suggest that the dissatisfied party seek me out directly.

By the way, as far as my presenting a questionable face of the Quad Cities Jewish Community, and of Temple Emanuel in specific, via some of the entries in my blog is concerned, the numbers tell the story.  I truly wish that this blog was so well read by others, but it is not.  Since I started it in December, it has received some 1,053 hits.  Of those hits, some 243 of them followed my posting of the first “Perfect Storm” entry.  About 23% of the total hits on my blog come from these entries and are most likely the result of the actions of those upset community members who energetically went around telling whoever they could, “Have you read what Rabbi Karp wrote on his blog?”  Over the last two days, as the word has by and large finished making its rounds, the number of daily hits has dropped back down to its typical 2 to 15 per day.  How ironic that those who were concerned about the exposure of this blog were in and of themselves responsible for providing it with its greatest exposure.  Indeed, since the complaints started coming in and making their rounds, my blog had its two best readership day.

I do not seek out ways to generate controversy nor do I get any pleasure from being embroiled in one.  But as those who know me can attest, I always have been one to speak my mind and to follow the dictates of my conscience, regardless of risk.  In the world of Western Religion, we call that possessing a “Prophetic Voice.”  And like the biblical prophets, those of us who speak “prophetically” sometimes find that we get beaten up for doing so.  We don’t like it but we are willing to pay the price.  What we are not willing to pay is the price for keeping silent out of fear of the consequences.  In the realm of Holocaust studies we call such people who surrender to such fear “bystanders”.  Now I know how some people just cannot abide with Holocaust analogies, but if the shoe fits…

So in the future, if anyone has an issue with anything I say on this blog, don’t call my president.  Call me.  I will be more than happy to enter into dialogue with you.  If our dialogue is successful, then hopefully we both will benefit and grow from it.  In Yiddish we say that is the “menschlekite” thing to do.