Friday, December 28, 2007

Rabbi Bachman: Indulge in making peace

I met Rabbi Andy Bachman a little over 5 years ago at NYU. He was the director of the Jewish Center at NYU and I had reached out to him to have an interfaith gathering during our tense post-9/11 days. I had the pleasure of attending two Reformed worship services and then being a part of the Interfaith dinner where the Rabbi, the Priest, and the Imam led a panel discussion on their common ancestor, Abraham.

In addition to all the formal events, I also got to know Rabbi Bachman as a very intelligent, thoughtful, and caring family man. I was delighted to have stumbled upon his blog recently, it's rare that you get some insight into the thoughts of a religious leader.

Here I present to you his piece on Christmas Day. For those of you not from NYC, there's a very common New York experience that happens on Christmas Day -- Chinese Food!

Many non-Christians - most commonly Jewish and Chinese folks - end up going out for Chinese food and then maybe catch a movie. As a Catholic who celebrates Christmas on Christmas Eve and Midnight I was able to participate in this inter-cultural/inter-faith experience on occasion.

Rabbi Bachman and his family now participate in a similar event (minus the movies and plus a Christmas service). Read on:

Indulge in Making Peace

The first step was the Chinese Food. “Two?” said the hostess at the entrance but I heard, “Jew?” And why not? One quick look around the restaurant indicated that the two tribes most represented last night were the Judeans and the Cantonese.

“Where are all these people from, serving us the Chinese food?” my five year old asked. It suddenly occurred to her that there was a discernible pattern at work. That there was a relationship between the people and the food. A cultural-anthropological moment to behold!

“They’re Chinese,” I said. “The come from China, the largest country on Earth. We’re Jews, and we are among the smallest nations on Earth. But on Christmas we come together since neither of us really celebrate Christmas.” (Too complicated to explain that there are Chinese Christians. We’re dealing in broad strokes, cultural tropes. Nuance can come a bit later.)

We eat, share the meal with friends, and then head out.

Just like last year, we stop at one of the churches in the neighborhood. Baby Jesus is missing from the Nativity scene.

“Where’s Jesus?” one of my kids asks.

“Maybe the church puts him out in the manger at Midnight,” I offered.

They’re used to asking questions about ritual settings, I think, pondering the Seder table’s set-up for the Four Questions.

We head over to Old First Reformed Church, where my friend Rev. Daniel Meeter is nursing the same wicked upper respiratory infection I had last week. Despite his ailing state, he looks great in a tuxedo and black robe. He came to us on Yom Kippur. We go to him on his holy day. That’s what friends are for.

“Thank you for coming, brother,” he says. And then is off to his procession. My kids grab candles and take their seats to listen to the music, a beautiful collection of hymns and melodies they don’t hear in Shul but nonetheless represent our neighbors’ best efforts at reaching God on their terms, in their language.

The candlelight service is a great touch. It’s very effective ritual theater. We Jews do a candlelight service once a year as well–on Tisha B’Av, to commemorate the destruction of the Temple in Jerusalem. I think back to last summer, in Jerusalem, where we sat on the ground overlooking the Old City and listened to Lamentations sung in Hebrew while holding candles. A Yahrzeit candle of mourning representing one new light of hope. Always intertwined for us Jews–mourning and renewal.

Back to the Church. The service is alternating expression of text and song. Each hymn illuminating in some form the prior words read from Scripture. One of our congregants read from the end of the Sacrifice of Isaac, a devotional reading that for Jews is about the struggle and promise of faith; and for Christians is about representative of the promise of Jesus. The Hebrew was chanted beautifully. My kids shot up and followed along, beaming with pride. The ecumenicalism of the moment seemed to work.

I imagined earlier sages visiting Churches, experiencing the wonder of other nations seeking God and having the confidence to appreciate that when done right, religion can be a great, unifying force in the world.

For me the climax of the service was hearing Gloria in Excelsius Deo, a classic hymn from the early church still sung today. “Glory to God in the highest” ring its words and I thought, “that’s right. In the highest. Beyond the reach of hatred; beyond the reach of division; beyond the reach of suicide bombers and fanatical martyrs; beyond the reach of those who would take the branch from the Tree of Life and destroy all that is good in what we ultimately strive for, in the highest: blessing and peace.

Afterwards, we go for ice cream. One of us orders Mint Chip; another orders Chocolate Chocolate Chip. A third orders Dolce du Leche. Each of us have ordered double flavors. What a rich and indulgent night. We hurry the kids home. In the morning we will go deliver toys to some less fortunate kids who are celebrating their holiday at a free meal. Even to give is an indulgence in blessing.

And I find the symmetry. Our personal lives are completely Jewish. We keep Shabbat. Our kitchen is kosher. We travel to Israel as a family. And, in our broader neighborhood, we respect and appreciate the paths others take to find blessing and peace.

What a rich and indulgent life.

To indulge in making peace where there is strife.

Thursday, December 27, 2007

Ahmadinejad expresses desire for peace to Pope

Found this on Catholic World News. I wonder what Pope Benedict XVI's response is going to be. What do you think he'll say? How should he respond?

Read on:

Tehran, Dec. 26, 2007 ( - Iran's President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad sent a Christmas message to Pope Benedict XVI, saying that he hoped the Christian feast would "bring peace and tranquility, founded upon justice and spirituality, to the international community."

The leader of Iran's Islamic republic, who recently completely his own pilgrimage to Mecca, expressed his own desire for "peace, friendship, and respect for human rights." He told the Pontiff that he hoped the new year 2008 would bring "the elimination of oppression, of violence, and of discrimination."

Iran's government leadership has sought to cultivate ties with the Vatican in recent months-- reportedly hoping that the Holy See will take diplomatic action to avert a confrontation between Iran and the United States.

Tuesday, December 25, 2007

Merry Christmas!

Merry Christmas everyone!

Remember that in the chaos that can be the Christmas season we should all take a moment to remember what it's really all about.

Believer or not, it's always good to take a moment to contemplate, meditate, or pray.

So as you enjoy your day off and/or gifts received and have yourself a Merry Christmas!

Monday, December 17, 2007

Do you hear what I hear?

By accident I started a subscription to St. Anthony's Messenger, a Franciscan publication that highlights wonderful things happening in faith.

This past month's issue included an article on the song "Do you hear what I hear?" most popularly sung by Bing Crosby.

It tells how the song was not just meant as a Christmas song but was written as a call for peace:

Many people mistakenly assume this Christmas classic has been around for years and that it is of European origin. But it was written in 1962 during the Cuban Missile Crisis as a powerful plea for peace by a man who had experienced the horrors of war.

. . .

Of all their works, that simple Christmas song is the one that will continue to be treasured. Here is how it came to be:

In October 1962, the Soviet Union and the United States were involved in a crisis centered on missiles the Russians had installed in Cuba. The United States threatened military action if the missiles were not removed. The world trembled and prayed as these two nuclear powers stood eyeball-to-eyeball.

That October, as Noel Regney walked through the streets of New York, a sense of despair was in the air. No one smiled.

Regney had endured the horrors of war. He knew the fear and terror of being close to death. The safe and secure life he had built for himself in the United States was on the verge of ending.

Christmas, which was supposed to be a time of peace and goodwill, was approaching. Noel Regney had been asked by a record producer to write a holiday song.

"I had thought I'd never write a Christmas song," he recalled. "Christmas had become so commercial. But this was the time of the Cuban Missile Crisis. In the studio, the producer was listening to the radio to see if we had been obliterated.

"En route to my home, I saw two mothers with their babies in strollers. The little angels were looking at each other and smiling. All of a sudden, my mood was extraordinary."

A glimpse of these babies filled Noel Regney's heart with poetry. The little ones reminded him of newborn lambs. Thus, the song begins, "Said the night wind to the little lamb...."

As soon as Noel arrived home, he jotted down the lyrics. Then he asked Gloria to write the music to accompany his words. "While walking down the street in New York, my mother heard trumpets playing the melody in her head," explains Gabrielle Regney.

. . .

There have been over 100 versions of "Do You Hear What I Hear�" including early recordings by Perry Como and the Harry Simeone Chorale. Gladys Knight and the Pips, Destiny's Child and Vanessa Williams are among the artists who have made more recent recordings. Noel Regney's personal favorite was a recording by Robert Goulet, who nearly shouted out the line, "Pray for peace, people, everywhere."

But it was the Bing Crosby 1963 recording that brought Noel Regney and Gloria Shayne's song of peace to the nation's attention. In those days, Crosby's recordings were often instant hits; his version sold more than a million copies.

"Do You Hear What I Hear?" carried a beautiful message close to people in all walks of life. It became a popular Christmas carol, "a song high above the tree, with a voice as big as the sea." But the message of peace was lost on many people.

"I am amazed that people can think they know the song and not know it is a prayer for peace," Noel Regney once told an interviewer. "But we are so bombarded by sounds and our attention spans are so short."

Let us hope and pray that, when it is sung in churches worldwide during the Christmas season, this song of peace will remind us that "The Child, The Child sleeping in the night" came to "bring us goodness and light."

Sunday, December 16, 2007

The Best Way to Give:

The past few years has made me very aware of how much people can do to make a difference in the lives of many. One of the best ways is through a donation that affects an entire classroom. Many of you may have heard of - if you haven't, go there now - make a donation for the holiday season!

Teachers upload a request for supplies or materials in the form of a grant proposal and anonymous donors fund them. It's awesome!

The feature article from

The Best Way to Give

How one online charity is making a difference in public schools, one pencil at a time. By Dena Ross

How many people do you know who would shell out hundreds of dollars per year just to do a job they're not getting paid much to do in the first place? Your answer just might depend on how many teachers you know.

Nationally, teachers spend over $1 billion a year on classroom supplies, everything from chalk to books to microscopes. According to a 2001 study by Quality Education Data, Inc., on average, teachers in grades K-8 spend about $520 of their own money annually, with new teachers, who make the lowest salaries, spending about $700.

Enter Charles Best, a 28-year-old teacher at Wings Academy, a high school in the economically depressed South Bronx. Four years ago, Best started the Internet-based non-profit,, for teachers in New York City. Earlier this year, he was able to expand it for teachers in North Carolina. Here's how it works: Teachers submit proposals for classroom supplies, which are then reviewed and posted on the site. Potential donors can then browse these proposals and, if they choose, fund them fully or partially. Donors then send their financial contributions to DonorsChoose, which purchases the items for the teacher and ships them directly to the school. In return, contributors receive photos of the students using the gift and thank-you notes from the teacher and the entire class.

Kids pose with their new bags full of books, funded by a DonorsChoose citizen philanthropist.

Initially, Best financed many of the proposals himself and put much of his salary toward the organization's administrative costs. He even went so far as to give up his apartment and move back in with his parents. Who or what inspired him? "My dad was an inspiration to me growing up," he says, "because of his values and character. He was a corporate lawyer, but he encouraged me to do whatever it was that I'd most enjoy, not to care about money."

Best was determined that DonorsChoose succeed, especially since its model was unlike many online charities where donors give money and don't see the direct results of their contribution.

"I think not only do [our contributors] want to choose where their money is going to go," says Best, "but they want to see the impact that they've had and want to know that dollars were spent as intended."

The letters from recipients are both heartfelt and heartwrenching. One teacher wrote to her donor, "Many of my students live in shelters and do not possess books to read. I require my students to read for at least thirty minutes each night, and sadly I have had at least three students approach me and inform me that they didn't have any books at home..."

A student in her class added, "Now I get to take my books home over the weekend to show my parents how I have improved. Thank you for thinking about us. Your kindness is great. Your parents should be very proud of you."

Cindy Rosado, a first-grade English as a Second Language teacher at P.S. 169 in the Sunset Park section of Brooklyn, applied to DonorsChoose to supplement the inadequate supplies she was given for her classroom. Rosado was used to spending $2,000 a year of her own money on classroom materials.

"It's been the best resource," she says. "It's the first time that somebody asked me as a teacher what would help me--and didn't then give me a million guidelines and restrictions. I've had people say, 'What would you like?' and then before I open my mouth they've given me a list of what I was allowed to get. I've never had anybody just say, 'What do you want to do and how can I help?' No problem is too small or too big."

DonorsChoose accepts almost all proposals, regardless of the amount of money needed. Although the average request runs about $500 to fund, proposals range from a $60 request for pencils to a $20,000 proposal for a new school playground, which was underwritten in about three months by a wealthy couple in Manhattan.

According to Best, there are three basic criteria for proposals: "The first is that the materials have to be for students, so we can't accept a proposal for teacher education," he says. "The materials have to be tangible resources for a student-centered experience. Number two is that proposals can't discriminate. And number three is that proposals can't proselytize for a particular denomination or religious group."

Teacher Cindy Rosado's first application to DonorsChoose was prompted by a little girl in her class whose father died on 9/11. The first-grader had written a story about her dad, which Rosado found crumpled up in the child's book bag. Rosado felt sad that, unlike the better-funded schools she had observed, her class had no book-binding machine to publish student work so that it could be displayed with care and respect.

She believed a book-binding machine would help boost student morale; her hope: that the more effort put into publishing and presenting a student's work, the more the quality would improve. A fellow teacher suggested she send a proposal to DonorsChoose to purchase the $300 book-binding machine.

Since then Rosado has received $7,000 worth of supplies-including the machine-as well as books and art materials.

Best has expansion plans in the works for his organization. Colorado, Chicago, and the Bay area of California are the next areas that the organization will serve. He says that he hopes to eventually be able to serve all schools in the United States to help with what he says is "definitely a national problem."

"[DonorsChoose] has really taught [the children] that people outside of our little area care about them," notes Rosado. "We never know who's going to be the next president, the next governor. People are very generous-they just don't always know where to go to help."

Thursday, December 13, 2007

Muslim defends Jews - Happy Chanukah!

It's terrible that it happened. But at the same time it's a great story about people, regardless of where they come from or path to God, who are always willing to help out those in need. Happy Chanukah!

From the JTA:

A Muslim saved a group of Jews being attacked on a New York subway in an apparent hate crime.

Hassan Askari, a student at Berkeley College in Manhattan, came to the aid of Walter Adler when he and three friends were attacked on the Q train running between Manhattan and Brooklyn on the night of Dec. 7, according to The Associated Press.

Ten men and women, aged 19 and 20, verbally and physically assaulted Adler and his friends after they wished the assailants "Happy Chanukah" in response to their "Merry Christmas" wish.

Askari, 20, tried to fight off the attackers, which gave Adler time to pull an emergency brake on the Brooklyn-bound train. The assailants were arrested at the next stop.

The attack is being investigated as a hate crime. One of the attackers reportedly had been arrested previously for a hate crime.

"That a random Muslim kid helped some Jewish kids, that's what's positive about New York," Adler, 23, told AP. Adler suffered a broken nose.

Sunday, December 2, 2007

New York City helps the hungry

Unfortunately, as individuals, we sometimes fail to meet the basic needs of the hungry around us. It's at moments like these that government must step up to act as the compassionate force that helps alleviate the suffering of the people.

In last week's NY Daily News I read the following article about Mayor Bloomberg's initiative to eliminate hunger in NYC:

Bloomberg: City to give $1M to soup kitchens, provide hunger assistance

Monday, November 26th 2007, 4:00 AM

The city will give $1 million more to soup kitchens and food pantries and plans a new 311 system to provide information on hunger assistance, Mayor Bloomberg said Sunday.

"Basic human compassion fuels everything we do to eradicate hunger in New York," Bloomberg said on his weekly radio show.

The extra cash will help the 500 or so community groups keep up with inflation and provide more nutritious meals to the needy.

Most of the money came from eliminating fraud and waste in existing programs, Bloomberg said.

Bloomberg also said city workers will now staff a hunger hotline. Previously, callers would get shunted to an automated line.

He reminded New Yorkers they can drop off canned goods and other nonperishable items at any police stationhouse or fire station until Jan. 4. All donations will go to City Harvest