hazzan Diana Brewer was ordained through the aleph ordination program. she leads prayer services regularly at the jewish community of amherst, and is on the staff of the davvenen leadership training institute.

What Would Mr. Rogers Do?

As I continue to experience this week's rude awakening on the wrong side of the thin film that separates our accustomed universe from an alternate, sinister, parallel universe, I've known the time for a check-in here was due. As I was mulling through some thoughts during my cherished morning jog, I was struck  by a remarkable moment in a Terri Gross interview with TV critic David Bianculli. In the interview he introduces his new book, The Platinum Age of Television, and takes us through his all-time favorites of TV in several different categories. In his discussion of children's TV, he placed the inimitable Fred Rogers in center stage. 

Mr. Bianculli's focus on Mr. Rogers, however, was primarily a couple of very grown-up moments in the life of that extraordinary man. What follows here is the text of a song that he wrote for his children's show, which proved to be the tipping point in the 1969 congressional hearings that led to a federal grant of $20 million to PBS.

What do you do with the mad that you feel
When you feel so mad you could bite?
When the whole wide world seems oh, so wrong...
And nothing you do seems very right?

What do you do? Do you punch a bag?
Do you pound some clay or some dough?
Do you round up friends for a game of tag?
Or see how fast you go?

It's great to be able to stop
When you've planned a thing that's wrong,
And be able to do something else instead
And think this song:

I can stop when I want to
Can stop when I wish.
I can stop, stop, stop any time.
And what a good feeling to feel like this
And know that the feeling is really mine.
Know that there's something deep inside
That helps us become what we can.
For a girl can be someday a woman
And a boy can be someday a man.

What does this tell me in a time like this? At this time of fear, when people are feeling free to let hatred be their guide, we can feel mad. We can feel however it is we feel. In fact, we HAVE to feel whatever it is we feel. No way around it. But this remarkable song tells me that I get to decide how I behave, even when I feel so mad I could bite. 

I'd like to share some wonderful teachings from a couple of my esteemed teachers in the Aleph Ordination Program that I've picked up along the way, that seem a propos. 

1) In a response to the upset that we were all feeling the other day, Hazzan Saul Wachs offered us a beautiful thought on the importance and relevance of Jewish education (and, I would add, education in general). Through the particular way that we study, we learn to read - REALLY read. We read deeply and critically. We listen likewise. We ask questions that elevate the level of honesty and accountability. The Talmud asks thousands of times, "How do you know this to be true? What is your source for this knowledge?" So, read deeply, listen intently, ask unremittingly.

2) A teaching offered by Rabbi Marcia Prager, which I had the privilege of hearing on the word "religion": She told of a fairly frequent conversation she has with couples who want to work with her as they walk the path towards marriage. The conversation starts something like this, "We're not really religious, will that be a problem?" She explains to them that the root of the word comes from the Latin ligare - to connect, tie. So, it turns out, religion is merely an act or practice that grows from a desire for re-connection. Connection to what? You'll have to decide that for yourself, as you work towards the re-connection you seek. 

Today, I read an article in which the author wrote, "I have a relationship with a higher power that guides me towards moving closer to other people in hard times, rather than isolating and cutting myself off." I feel this is of the utmost importance, even urgency right now, when the person who is about to step into the Oval Office got where he is by creating, unlocking a culture of division. Let us read, listen, and "lig". Let us act and raise our voices. Let us do this work looking through the lens of love rather than the lens of fear. 

Parashat Miketz

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