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 Rosh Hashana Drasha 5762

~ Multidimensionality ~
by Jodi Perelman

Shalom and shana tovah. I'm honored to be up here again and to share with you my thoughts for us as a community as we celebrate Rosh Hashanah and begin a new year. One of the images that I gravitate toward during Rosh Hashanah is that of turning, tshuvah. I'm grateful that Rosh Hashanah offers us this incredible opportunity to personally and collectively renew our turning -- toward spirit, practice, holiness, oneness, or God.

In this community we invoke many different names for God and often use them interchangeably -- Shechinah, Yah, Adonai, Yud Hey Vav Hey, and others. And with all due respect for invoking God's name so many times, I want to affirm all of these different names, and affirm that we each have different life histories and styles of prayer within the context of a Jewish community. For me it has been liberating to invoke a name that has meaning. That has the right pitch. That brings me further into prayer. That moves me deeper into the mystery of the universe rather than stopping me from engaging with it.

But it's almost a funny contradiction -- here we are using different names for holiness while affirming oneness or unity. It's tricky. I know many of us sense this not so much as a contradiction but an important tension. The recognition that God or spirit or holiness may be revealed to us in a multitude of ways. What I love about this community is that we share with each other the different ways that holiness is revealed to us. We see this even today in the Rosh Hashanah service. I love that we have a capacity to hold differences among us. That we can celebrate these differences and that they can enhance our prayers and practices. It's a beautiful example of what I want to bring our attention to today: the notion of multidimensionality -- holding more than one reality at a time.

This has two parts: the first is holding multiple realities; the second is knowing that they may be in conflict and even oppose each other. This is a vital practice for us to cultivate as individuals, as a community, and as citizens of a global world that is very much in conflict right now. These are the challenges we are turning toward in the new year -- whether we want to or not. In this practice of holding multiple realities -- of knowing that my version of reality must be in conversation with others and holding the differences between them -- can be relevant to us on many different levels: personal, family, social, cultural, and political.

On a personal level, we all hold conflicting ideas inside ourselves -- it could be as simple as wanting to hear two bands play on the same night or wanting to pray with two different communities on the same Shabbat. Going deeper, I bet that we all have parts of ourselves that we don't like, or don't sanction, or are simply in conflict with. And that's where multidimensionality first comes in -- this practice can help us hold the different pieces without shunning, shadowing, or pathologizing them. And as we bring awareness to these parts of ourselves, then we truly have the opportunity to ask why they're there, what can we learn from them, and if we desire, how can we change them?

It's not only on a personal level that we experience this. I bet that each of us has some experience with our families having conflicting versions of reality, sometimes even ten different versions. And as we all know, it's not always possible to change someone in our family. They may never see it like we do. So how do we live with this? As we increase our capacity for multidimensional thinking -- for thinking with complexity -- we increase our capacity to live with it, stay present, make better choices. To turn toward the complexity rather than away from it.

Certainly on the community level we are a diverse group of people. If you've ever come to a va'ad meeting, which I highly recommend, you can see many different realities in action. And at Keneset HaLev we open our doors to anyone who is interested in the kind of prayer, service, and lovingkindness that we practice. As an open community, we have a responsibility to increase our capacity for tolerating differences because it's part of everything we do and within everyone we are, even when we gather together with a common purpose. And it can be difficult -- we don't all experience the world in the same way. So how do we pray with someone and have wildly divergent political views from them? How can we build community together? If we value community, how can we learn to really be in one? Practicing multidimensionality is one of the best tools I've found.

I want to make the leap from talking about our Jewish community to talking about the Jewish nation, because it offers an excellent opportunity for how we might complexify our thinking. Each of us grew up in families with our own understanding and relationship to the state of Israel, whether one of total ignorance or total conviction or something totally else. There are many different positions. And I know that many of us here are involved with organizations that represent our stake in this conflict. And as American Jews it's common to think that we don't have to choose a political position in relationship to Israel, although I believe that the lack of a position is very political.

I have a sense that one of the reasons we don't face this crisis straight on -- and it is certainly a crisis of significant proportion -- is that we don't understand it, we don't know the history, and we're in conflict over how to respond. Or we think we don't have a right to respond. I would argue, and encourage us to consider, that not only do we have a right, but we actually have a responsibility to respond. And part of that responsibility is to educate ourselves and to use the resources of our tradition and our community in doing so. Here we can definitely use multidimensional thinking, because we have to hold our own conflicting ideas based on our early education, what we learn from the media, what our families think, etc. Even trickier is that we need to think multidimensionally not only about ourselves and about Jews and Israel, but about Palestinians and Palestine, and about the many people in the Middle East and around the world who have a stake in this conflict. Obviously there are many realities in opposition to each other. We can make ourselves stronger allies of security, peace, and justice for all peoples by learning to think in complex ways.

In the past week there's been a lot of talk about good and evil. I think there's a temptation to use these terms of biblical proportions because the actions in our country were so horrifying and such a destruction of life. But when we call something evil we say it's not connected to us -- it's just a pathological aberration without any historical context. We no longer have to hold it, or try to understand it, or even simply sit with it -- because it's out there, it's evil, it has no origination, we have no relationship to it. And in the spirit of multidimensionality, I would encourage us to try something different. Instead of thinking in terms of good and evil, I would ask us to think in terms of relationship and context. Challenging ourselves to think in multidimensional or more complex ways doesn't give over our outrage or our horror. Thinking in more multidimensional terms about the Israeli-Palestinian conflict doesn't mean we have to give up love for Judaism or for Israel. I ask us to hold this idea for a moment -- together.

I know many Jews who are so appalled at Israeli government policy or simply don't understand it that it hinders us from further exploring our relationship to Judaism. And I also know many Jews who feel it's their duty to support whatever Israeli policy is. These kinds of positions more locked and tight than perhaps they need to. To think with complexity and historical context doesn't make us worse allies. If anything, it makes us better allies, and allows us to act more responsibly, not less.

The upshot of all of this is that we're not alone and we don't have to hold all this complexity by ourselves. Today we choose to come together in community -- to turn together -- and my hope is that we can rely on each other to help educate ourselves, to hold all these different pieces, to practice compassion and what we want to see in the larger world. To learn how to pray and take action at the same time.

So I bless you, and please bless me back, that we find strength and comfort in greater complexity, that we find new ways to build peace and justice for all peoples, and that we not only find pieces of ourselves but that we find each other. Shana tovah.



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