2020 for Good — or Not?

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By Rabbi Robert L. Kravitz, D.D. 

As you read this column, the newest year 2020 has already arrived. It’s the year we will refer to in the phrase “hindsight is 2020.” So, if this newest year does grant us the opportunity to reflect on the past, what do we see?

2019 was a year of amazing pain and conflict in the United States, not just in the streets of our cities, our schools, our houses of worship, but even in the halls of our government. It was 12 months filled with murder, rancor, swearing, bullying, harassment and mis-statements or lies. No matter the side of the aisle where you sit, 2019 presented itself as the opportunity to challenge and argue, besmirch and belittle anyone and everyone who is different. Hardly a day went by without someone using public or social media to verbally spit in the eye of someone else, without apology.

Seldom did we hear or read of people doing good for each other, except the occasional tribute to America’s military or vets. All the rest of us were fair game for targeting. We sent our “thoughts and prayers” to millions around the world who became cannon fodder for monarchs and oligarchs. Many praised ill-informed leaders. Thousands attempted to bury — online, sometimes in person — those who did not uphold their “values.” We felt the derision of those who saw human beings differently, and who made us the objects of their lunacy, the focus of their fury. Compassion and truth evaporated.

2019 was not a good year. True, we had some successes in medicine to heal the hurting; we saw advances in communication to connect us; and we responded with millions of dollars to care for victims of man-made and climate-made disasters. Nevertheless, 2019 now is over. How many hundreds of thousands remain hostages to war and displacement, seeking freedoms no longer offered, because of squandered resources.

Ours now is the responsibility to make 2020 a year where we can proudly say next year at this time — in hindsight — 2020 was better, because we worked together to make it so.


Rabbi Robert L. Kravitz, D.D., is known Valley-wide for his more than three decades of support for civil and human rights, and the positive efforts of law enforcement. A volunteer police chaplain, he regularly lectures on related subjects, while working part-time as Hospital Chaplaincy Coordinator for Jewish Family & Children’s Service. Contact him at rrlkdd@hotmail.com.


Photo by Andrew Zuber; courtesy of Scopio.

A Most Important Season

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By Rabbi Robert L. Kravitz, D.D. 

So here we are again. The season of Jewish High Holy Days and Festivals has concluded, with hope and joy. November brings us closer to another set of holidays, another season… Of shopping and parties and good wishes, beginning with Thanksgiving Day modeled after the Jewish (harvest) festival of Sukkot.

Prior to a single day of thanksgiving, we will have a day of voting…and exercising our significant privilege as Americans to participate in the formulation of our government. How many will register, and more importantly how many will actually vote, is now the critical issue for our American democracy.

Americans — and others around the planet — will spend millions of dollars to buy products for themselves and others that have little lasting value beyond “the season.” Granted some gifting is more long-lasting, but much is purchased because we feel it necessary to do so. Much thought goes into that gift. Little time is granted to the value of voting, and its existential impact and potential to change everyone’s life.

When we vote, we become participants in the future of our country, and its future relationships around the world. When we vote, we need to take a little time in evaluating the nature of the candidates, the issues, the initiatives on our ballots. That is time well spent, and critical.

So, it’s a new season. Not the toys and games and perfumes season, but the season of democracy. The season that will impact our world well beyond our time on this planet. What we vote for, for whom we cast ballots, how we view our participation in America’s most sacred requirement will show our friends, families and people of the world whether we care or whether we don’t give a damn.

Let us also make this new season a valuable one. Register and VOTE!


Rabbi Robert L. Kravitz, D.D., is known Valley-wide for his more than three decades of support for civil and human rights, and the positive efforts of law enforcement. A volunteer police chaplain, he regularly lectures on related subjects, while working part-time as Hospital Chaplaincy Coordinator for Jewish Family & Children’s Service. Contact him at rrlkdd@hotmail.com.

Words Hurt and Heal

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By Rabbi Robert L. Kravitz, D.D. 

A few years ago, I delivered a sermon expressing the need for civility, integrity and honesty in government. It seemed like a normal appeal to do right, speak appropriately and act within norms established by society.

I was invited not to return to that pulpit.

Ever since, I have been trying to decide whether words really do matter and whether they are more significant than actions.

Children are most often cautioned about the use of ‘naughty’ verbiage. We don’t want them cursing, making nasty comments, or today — bullying online. We tell our kids what is appropriate and what is not. We set standards for our family vocabulary and offer punishment when those standards are violated.

Words mean something, to me. Ethnic slurs, extraordinary hyperbole, swear words have impact. Using inappropriate language is just plain WRONG. Likewise, words of love, kindness and support can heal.

The letters of the English alphabet by themselves are merely symbols for the sounds we want to connect into words. By themselves, letters are totally innocuous, without impact or meaning. Joined with other such symbols, they take on a life, a reality, a meaning — for good or for evil.

When these sounds emanate from our mouths, we become responsible for their impact, or we should be held accountable for their meaning. Letters when combined with other letters yield words, and words when blended into sentences have import and impact well beyond the individual letters.

Teaching children not to use ‘dirty’ words is something parents just do; it’s the proper way to educate the younger generation. When ‘dirty’ words are used by adults, kids often call us to task and rightfully so. (Even if the hammer smashing on my thumb does feel better by my offering an expletive.)

So why did that group feel so challenged by my words? Why were so many offended by my use of the words “integrity, honesty and civility”? Maybe it hit home, putting them on notice that language that violates these standards is a critical error in the public forum. We’ll never know.


Rabbi Robert L. Kravitz, D.D., is known Valley-wide for his more than three decades of support for civil and human rights, and the positive efforts of law enforcement. A volunteer police chaplain, he regularly lectures on related subjects, while working part-time as Hospital Chaplaincy Coordinator for Jewish Family & Children’s Service. Contact him at rrlkdd@hotmail.com.


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A Palm Tree, a Ficus and Some Chimes

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By Rabbi Robert L. Kravitz, D.D. 

It was one of those unusual Sunday afternoons when not much was going on. The temperature was below average, and a cool breeze woke the hanging chimes prompting them to ring every now and again.

I took a sip of my drink and lay on the chaise on the back patio. Not much happening. Cool breeze, the chimes, an unusual quiet.

Then I looked up and the palm fronds were synchronized in their swaying, side to side. Long narrow stalks expanding into full, broad fronds that looked like horses’ heads nuzzling each other. Like a mother and her foal.

And the birds began a chorus of sounds starting nearby and being answered from a distance. Back and forth in their private language, only interrupted by the sweet chimes in the breeze.

As formidable as were the palm frond horse heads, was the happy face of a Disney dwarf, formed by the years of trimming branches from the ficus tree. Now the knots showed a smiling profile of a seemingly mischievous cartoon figure.

And the silence was broken by yet another bird call, and a breeze blowing through the swaying horse head palms, and the playing chimes.

Not the usual afternoon, because above the swaying horse heads and round face in the trunk of the ficus tree, were light clouds. White, fluffy and continuously moving west to east. Snails and bears and giant eagle wings hovering but for a moment, then moving on, transforming and reshaping as the chimes rang and horse heads swayed.

The little Disney character, looked like one of the seven dwarfs, still smiling as the breeze wafted by.

Just a quiet Sunday afternoon with nothing much happening, but with so much going on. I’m sitting and watching and listening as these forever friends do what comes naturally. A great day for all of us.


Rabbi Robert L. Kravitz, D.D., is known Valley-wide for his more than three decades of support for civil and human rights, and the positive efforts of law enforcement. A volunteer police chaplain, he regularly lectures on related subjects, while working part-time as Hospital Chaplaincy Coordinator for Jewish Family & Children’s Service. Contact him at rrlkdd@hotmail.com.


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Happiness… and Holocaust

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By Rabbi Robert L. Kravitz, D.D. 

Joy-filled times of redemption and rebirth.

Many of us just celebrated the holy days of Pesach (Passover) and Easter. Family time. Good food. Fancy new spring clothing. Travels to enjoy seeing relatives. Days of revelry and joy, happiness and fun.

And now we are into the month of May where many eyes tear, families gather in sadness, and memories are all we have of our ancestors from the Holocaust.

Yom ha-Shoah, Holocaust Remembrance Day is May 2, or the 27th day of Nisan, on the Hebrew calendar. Reflecting on the multiple generations lost to the Nazis, six million murdered, including a million and a half innocent children.

We cry as we remember so many whose death was needless, without reason, absent of compassion.

In everyone’s life there are times of happiness and times of sadness. But grief so deep that it carries through generations around the world is seldom noted. There will surely be commemorations; names of the murdered will be read publicly; solemn memorial services will be conducted.

And still we ask… why? Why such hatred, prejudice, bigotry and horrific acts?

As rabbis, we are taught that the most difficult answer is to the simple one-word question, “Why?”

For some, there is no answer, never will there be an answer. How can we recall all the precious children whose lives could have brought us cures to disease, beautiful music and stunning inventions? How can we look back at the faces of family members eradicated from the planet, surviving only in smoke?

Why do we still have to endure swastikas and anti-Semitism in Arizona, the United States of America and globally? When will hatred, prejudice, bigotry and violent acts be squashed, and its vitriol washed away?

Our world could be celebrating joyous times in harmony. We should be recognizing the faces of so many who do good and not evil, showing love for neighbors, lifting up the righteous.

But day after day we see acts of hatred spilling into our homes and cities, and few stand against bigotry. Kudos to those who do.

Yom ha-Shoah is just one day on the calendar. A day to remember the atrocities that occur even today because of hate. Yom ha-Shoah, a moment in our busy schedules to reflect on what happens when good people stay silent, when those who could make a difference slide under their covers and allow their neighbors to continue to suffer the pain and horror inflicted by demagogues and hate-mongers.

Maybe this year, the world will finally begin to recognize that bigotry, prejudice and hatred — from the top of the mountain to the deepest valley — is wrong. Maybe this year we will be able to join hands in love and compassion: to challenge hatred and bigotry and anti-Semitism wherever it spews its odious and disgusting violence.

Maybe this year, starting with this Yom ha-Shoah, we will retake our world; and by remembering those faces, begin to heal and then celebrate both rebirth and redemption.


Rabbi Robert L. Kravitz, D.D., is known Valley-wide for his more than three decades of support for civil and human rights, and the positive efforts of law enforcement. A volunteer police chaplain, he regularly lectures on related subjects, while working part-time as Hospital Chaplaincy Coordinator for Jewish Family & Children’s Service. Contact him at rrlkdd@hotmail.com.


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Once Upon a Time There was a Bunny …

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By Rabbi Robert L. Kravitz, D.D. 

A fluffy little bunny was scampering across a green field. Alone. With nothing special in mind to do this day. Enjoying the green of the field and the comfort of the quietude.

Suddenly he was struck by the appearance of another bunny on the other side of the field. She was going her own way and didn’t even notice him.

Bounding across the field he smiled at her; she at him. Soon they were ambling about enjoying the countryside and each other’s company. It was a special time and each bunny felt comfortable with the other. He went back to his place and she to hers.

But he could not forget the incredible joy and comfort he felt being with her. They shared so much in common; even having lived in the same cities at the same time, but not knowing the other was there.

They agreed to meet again and continued these afternoon amblings for a while, until it was time for a decision to be made.

To be forever together, or friends, or to sever their connection. After all he had a prior obligation at home. Their pain was mutual, and tears and apologies could not break the bond that had been established that afternoon in the field of green.

But bunnies have feelings, and bunnies know right from wrong and good from bad. So, they said their goodbyes and each one went home, sadly recognizing the inevitable grief they each would individually experience later, in private.

What an amazing experience. Affection and joy coming seemingly from nowhere, from a fleeting glance across a pasture. Then pain and discomfort from a needed moment of parting, forever.

Life has its ups and downs. Joy and sadness present themselves to moderate our existence and keep us on track to be human.


Rabbi Robert L. Kravitz, D.D. is known Valley-wide for his decades of support for civil and human rights, and the positive efforts of law enforcement. A volunteer police chaplain, he regularly lectures on related subjects, while working part-time as Hospital Chaplaincy Coordinator for Jewish Family & Children’s Service. Contact him at rrlkdd@hotmail.com.


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New Year’s: 2019 and 5779

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By Rabbi Robert L. Kravitz, D.D. 

For members of my community it is already the NEWest Year, from our calendar change in the Fall when ‘traditional counting’ suggests this to be 5779 years since Creation.

Those who enjoy playing with numbers, numerology, as did the ancients of the Middle East, note the year 5779 has the equivalence of 28. Twenty-eight in Hebrew numerology produces the letters “Kaf” and “Chet”. [Every Hebrew letter has a number equivalent: Kaf = 20, Chet = 8.]

These two letters together also spell out a word, “Koach”, pronounced KOH-ach [with the ‘ach’ sounded as in the composer’s name, Bach]. Koach means ‘strength.’ So were we to look for meaning in the numbers and words of 5779, we would be pleased to see a year offering strong potential.

The dictionary defines ‘strong’ with numerous explanations — bodily or muscular power, mentally powerful, competent, courageous, influential and 11 more descriptions. Generally, ‘strong’ has to do with power of some sort. So, as we enter this new year, whether 5779 or 2019, we have the challenge of addressing power.

The world is tugging between the powerful and the rest of us. Strength may be a positive or a negative, depending on its implementation. Just being stronger does not provide entitlement for abuse or intolerance. It takes more strength to challenge the powerful, than to cower from them.

With every New Year comes a hope — to have a better year than the previous one. The year 2018 was a difficult year for many nations, for thousands of religiously persecuted peoples, for those living through the turmoil of storms and climate issues, and for hundreds dying beneath a hail of bullets.

As we muster the strength to enter this New Year, let’s try and make it an opportunity for successes and good health.


Rabbi Robert L. Kravitz, D.D. is known Valley-wide for his decades of support for civil and human rights, and the positive efforts of law enforcement. A volunteer police chaplain, he regularly lectures on related subjects, while working part-time as Hospital Chaplaincy Coordinator for Jewish Family & Children’s Service. Contact him at rrlkdd@hotmail.com.


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How Much Is Too Much?

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By Rabbi Robert L. Kravitz, D.D. –

“Our world must strike a balance, so we can maintain a proper existence. Think of the good and evil all around us and pray for moderation.”

Some rain is good. Some rain is not.

For months we suffered in Arizona under the blazing hot sun, without any rain. We dreamed of cooler temperatures and the beauty of moisture dripping from the sky. We hoped for a light, soothing drizzle that would last a little while and fill the canals and reservoirs. Water.

Then the spigot was turned on and rain did drip from the sky. In some areas just a spritz; in others too much, resulting in flooding and disastrous damage.

So, how much is too much?

As with all life, balance and moderation are required.

Troubling that we cannot adjust the pouring of the rain, any more than we can limit the heat of the sun. We are mere humans, incapable of standing against Mother Nature and her forces.

We hoped for an end to the “dry heat.” Then, so many suffered from the torrents of the late summer hurricanes; so many lost everything because of…water. We need it, we die without it; we pray for it. And sometimes water is our mortal enemy; too much water.

In several religious traditions there are specific prayers and incantations to prompt the provision of water. I know of no prayers or incantations that say don’t give us water. And when there is too much, we think about Noah and his family and the animals marching into his Ark, two by two, not three or four or more.

In life, as with water, we need to find the point of moderation. Too much this or that, and we suffer a headache, or a wrecked vehicle. Lacking what we need, we develop pain. Children need food and nourishment for their little bodies and minds to properly grow. Seniors must have appropriate meals to maintain their well-being. Not too much, not too little…just right, as the Three Bears wisely taught us.

The blazing heat can destroy. The flooding waters will likewise. Our world must strike a balance, so we can maintain a proper existence. Think of the good and evil all around us and pray for moderation.

Noah and his family and the animals, we are told, were righteous and were saved. Our future likewise requires us to find our path that can provide balance and harmony. Not too much of this, not too much of that. Water that will hydrate, not drown. Sunlight that will warm, but not burn. Moderation that will protect us and keep us safe. And so may it be.


Rabbi Robert L. Kravitz, D.D. is known Valley-wide for his decades of support for civil and human rights, and the positive efforts of law enforcement. A volunteer police chaplain, he regularly lectures on related subjects, while working part-time as Hospital Chaplaincy Coordinator for Jewish Family & Children’s Service. Contact him at rrlkdd@hotmail.com.


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The Beauty In A Smile

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By Rabbi Robert L. Kravitz, D.D. –

She sat there. He was sitting across, mindlessly watching the world go by. He glanced at her, a twinkle in her eye caught his.

She smiled. He smiled…and a new relationship blossomed.

Sounds like the beginning of a romance novel. Right? Maybe it’s the way human interactions begin.

Does everyone have to be “top of the hill?” Does every person have to be superior to every other one? Does equality only count versus others?

Maybe, we are all human, all created in the image of the same Creator, all defined by HOW we act, not what we look like, or how we speak, or not.

Our humanity extends into the ken of each of us. Caring about others, animals, the planet shows HOW we interpret the relationships we desire with this world.

Were every person given the time to share what’s inside, maybe the killings we see all too often would slow or stop. Were each of us to be able to find someone to “open up to,” maybe anger and hostility, road rage and fighting might be lessened, or avoided.

We need to recognize the beauty in everyone else. We need to be needed. We need to be equals among our friends and associates. No need to be better, or stronger or taller…just equal.

Some of us are born differently-abled. Some develop in unique ways. Some operate in special realms nobody can see. But, all are equals.

Relationships grow from a variety of starting points. A touch. A glance. A smile. A song. The sound of a polite comment. So many opportunities to establish our humanity and to motivate our better selves.

What’s the reality inside each of us? What can we unpeel just by listening? What is the special nature of that person, over there? And how can we better relate?

Yes, she was just sitting there. He was just glancing by. Then they became partners in a new relationship, a very special human adventure that just “happened” …. because of a smile.

Share a smile; I’ll smile back.


Rabbi Robert L. Kravitz, D.D. is known Valley-wide for his more than three decades of support for civil and human rights, and the positive efforts of law enforcement. He regularly lectures on related subjects, while working part-time as Hospital Chaplaincy Coordinator for Jewish Family & Children’s Service. Contact him at rrlkdd@hotmail.com.


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Thoughts And Prayers – Fooey!

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By Rabbi Robert L. Kravitz, D.D. –

How often do we have to offer our “thoughts and prayers” (T&P) to those who are recipients of the traumas of the world?

Doesn’t it become meaningless to constantly be repeating this phrase, when we too are traumatized, by events in our country and overseas?

If all we can do is offer “thoughts and prayers” are we not becoming culpable of insensitivity, or even worse of being insignificant? Or are we just frozen and incapable of dealing with situations, so we politely offer our “thoughts and prayers” as a means of appearing to do something valuable?

Words have meaning and value. Overused words become meaningless and void of worth.

What thoughts are we having that will assist the grieving? What prayers can we deliver that will soften the pain of their loss?

At some point in the revolutions of the earth we need to come to grips with the values we are supporting with our “thoughts and prayers.” We must address the issues, not slide by them by hoping that our T&P will resolve the problems and absolve us of any personal responsibility.

YES, T&P may offer a temporary boost to the injured and to the survivors. Real assistance needs to come from our understanding of why the events happened and what could have been done, by us, to preclude such terrible results.

T&P are the easy way out. T&P give us a quick opportunity to appear to care, then to escape to our safe places. Prayer has a place in our human experience. Forced prayers, or prayers without depth or meaning, are an empty pretending to heal.

Were that our “thoughts & prayers” were sent to others less often, and that we resolved to address the critical issues before T&P were needed. We all know the phrase, “Actions speak louder than words.” So may it be.


Rabbi Robert L. Kravitz, D.D. is known Valley-wide for his decades of support for civil and human rights, and the positive efforts of law enforcement. A volunteer police chaplain, he regularly lectures on related subjects, while working part-time as Hospital Chaplaincy Coordinator for Jewish Family & Children’s Service. Contact him at rrlkdd@hotmail.com.

 


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