Here are my remarks from last Shabbat. The first focus is on housing and homelessness and the work of Leah Levinger, our recent guest, and her work with the Chicago Housing Initiative. The second focus is a brief reflection on the proceedings of the Senate Judiciary Committee and the confirmation hearing for Judge Kavanaugh. If you’d like to talk about either of these matters, I look forward to hearing from you. You can reach me by email or phone: firstname.lastname@example.org or 773-561-5173.
If Passover sets in motion our Jewish hope for redemption, and Shavuot confirms the moral claims of being free and being a force for good in a free world, then Sukkot points out the practical path upon which we make progress in the world as it is toward the world as it should be.
So, when our ancestors left Egypt, they left slavery. But, they also left behind the certainty of shelter; although this was surely a worthwhile consequence of freedom. On the way, our forebears really came to know what it was like to live with homelessness, to live with impermanence. Our sukkot of today represent the temporary shelter our ancient ones constructed. But however, temporary, however impermanent, however fragile, at least they had housing. So many people today don’t, and our history compels us to care, to have compassion, to take action--especially since most of us have the privilege to return to our homes tonight--our permanent homes--every single day forward. Thousands upon thousands, even hundreds of thousands of residents in Chicago of various races, ages, and ethnicities have been forced out of their homes or cannot afford to pay for them.
Chicago's working families, low-income households, seniors, and people with disabilities have been offered two choices by City Hall and the developers that hold inordinate influence there: Face systemic divestment and neglect or face displacement by development that was never been intended to benefit current residents of the communities that developers covet.
We are so blessed tonight on this special Shabbat of Chol Ha-Moed Sukkot, the Feast of Tabernacles, to give thanks for our homes and to show gratitude for those who are fighting on the front lines to ameliorate the housing crisis affecting our city. One such warrior is Leah Levinger, the Executive Director of the Chicago Housing Initiative. We welcome her to Emanuel Congregation.
I want to speak for a moment about the proceedings of the Senate Judiciary Committee and the confirmation hearing for Judge Kavanaugh. I do so not because I care to make a partisan statement. I don’t. For what I have to say, it doesn’t matter what your political party is or is not. I am interested only in what matters Jewishly and humanly. And, I seek to educate you in a clear and open-minded way.
First of all, you may be wondering why the Reform movement even cares about the confirmation hearing of a Supreme Court justice. Well, as you know, the Supreme Court weighs in on numerous issues we champion as Reform Jews and as citizens of the United States of America: women’s reproductive rights, immigration, workers’ rights, gun violence prevention, LGBTQ+ rights, affordable health care, safety net programs like Medicaid, protections for freedom of religion like separation of church and state, environmental protections, voting rights, and constitutional checks and balances. And because Supreme Court justices have lifelong tenure, it is vital they remain fair and open-minded in interpreting the constitutionality of laws pertinent to these major American concerns.
Secondly as relates directly to the nominated Judge Brett Kavanaugh, I don’t know with certainty if the judge is guilty of sexual misconduct or not. But, I do know that I have great admiration for Dr. Christine Blasey Ford, not only her composure and her believability but also her willingness to reveal herself in the most vulnerable of ways--on a most powerful and (emotionally) dangerous stage. At dinner, my wife Betsy was talking about how a college classmate, who is Christian minister, was wondering what to say about Queen Esther. Her church, like many others, focuses on the Book of Esther this Sabbath. Well, at the table, we talked about how Dr. Ford is like a modern-day Esther, putting herself on the line to protect the dignity of women and all victims of sexual abuse. Like Esther, Christine Blasey Ford is pretty heroic. That said, I also believe Judge Kavanaugh deserves a fair trial--whether before the Senate, in the FBI’s investigation, or in the court of public opinion.
The abundance of sexual misconduct in whatever form it takes, the fear of many to come out into the open, and the difficulty many have in believing a victim’s truth are real and painful problems that need courageous attention. Dr. Ford’s example helps move us forward. And, whether one favors the judge or doesn’t, reducing the seriousness of these accusations to partisan “background noise” strikes me as cynical, if not cruel.
Make it a day of blessing and be a force for good.