On Mickey Mouse, Guns and Outing Myself as a Congregational Rabbi

Noble reader,

In writing these posts I have resisted the occasional urge to share specific congregational work or teachings with you.  I have endeavored to focus, in this forum, on the particular ways in which I believe Jewish values can inform urban living in Baltimore and in many cities around the country (and perhaps the world).

So I hope you will not think it an intrusion to share two recent sermons that I delivered at  Beth Am.  The first, entitled Charlton Heston’s Two Weapons, is an exploration of gun violence in America, one that I offered in the wake of the Tucson shootings.  In addition, I have been making my way through the third season of The Wire which deals with the particular issue of violent crime.  If you have not seen this terrific and terrifying series, I would strongly encourage it. And while I am happy to report that it is a particular view of life in Baltimore — there are rosier pictures that one could present —  it is an important invitation to peer within the cracks of urban-living, the seedier underbelly that those of us who believe in the strength and future of cities ignore at our peril.

The second sermon is called Widespread Exceptionalism and includes some musings about a recent family trip to Disneyland.  What are the ways in which (even perfected) consumer experiences fall short of a divinely inspired ideal for human interaction?

As always, I welcome your thoughts, questions and responses.

The World’s Smallest Front Yard

We just returned from a trip to LA where we visited with family and enjoyed the warm weather.  Taking a walk along the Venice promenade, we came across a house with a tiny patch of AstroTurf.  A sign reads: “World’s Smallest Front Yard.” Ironically, of course, this is a home with an enormous front yard – the expansive Venice Beach and the ocean beyond.  It is the shared property of all who come to enjoy the sand and surf. 

Our Reservoir Hill home has a small front yard (though not quite as small as this one).  Our Chicago condo had no yard at all.  And yet we have enjoyed, in the both cities, a close proximity to expansive city parks.

There is a story in the Talmud of a man who once observed a farmer picking errant stones from his field and throwing them into the street.  Said the stranger to the farmer, “why are you throwing stones from land which is not yours onto property which belongs to you?”  The farmer dismissed the comment as the confused statement of a simpleton.  Some time later, the man fell upon hard times and had to sell his farm, and as he walked down the street, he tripped on one of the stones that he had thrown there.  Only then did the man begin to understand the stranger’s prescient comments.

Some yards, like some houses, are big and some are not.  City-living in the New Jewish Neighborhood means being concerned not simply with our own property, our own space, but with the shared public spaces that surround us.  One can never entirely predict the whims of a fickle economy.  But the park, God-willing, is always the park, and the ocean is always ours.