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“There’s No Use Hidin’ It”

09/25/2023 07:13:25 PM


Peter H. Grumbacher – Interim Rabbi

“There’s No Use Hidin’ It” Peter H. Grumbacher – Interim Rabbi Temple Beth El – Newark, Delaware Yom Kippur 5784 – September 25, 2023 ____________________ For those of you who’ve seen the movie Golda, you probably know that Helen Mirren sat for three hours every day to have the prostheses and makeup transform her into Golda Meir. And what a job they did! You’d never know it was Helen Mirren. On a smaller scale for sure, with Halloween becoming the second most-celebrated secular holiday, people go out of their way to masquerade, with costume stores galore dotting the scene. And lest I forget, if you’ve ever been in Israel, especially in Tel Aviv on Purim, well, they go all-out as well, transforming themselves into all kinds of characters. The masks are spectacular; the costumes colorful and exotic. And the ones our kids in America wear aren’t too bad either. So why am I telling you this today, the holiest day of the year, the exact opposite of the day for merrymaking, noisemaking and hamantaschen? A quick Hebrew lesson. While we call it Yom Kippur, does anyone know the real name of the holyday? (Pause) It is officially called Yom HaKippurim. Now the Hebrew letter Kaf that sounds like “k” is not only a letter but also a word, and that word “k” means “like” or “as.” So our brilliant sages of old tell us we should read it, Yom K’Purim, “A day that is like Purim.” What does that mean? In Yiddish it’s like this: Oyf Purim Yiddin farshtelin zich, und oyf Yom Kippur farshtelt men zich vi Yiddin.” Translated in the King’s English that means, “On Purim Jews masquerade (as various characters); and on Yom Kippur people we masquerade as Jews.” My Christian clergy colleagues have a similar phrase, though their Yiddish isn’t as expressive. They say theirs are “revolving Christians,” in on Christmas and out on Easter. I don’t have to concern myself with that inasmuch as I’m confident that the same crowd we have here this morning and all day long will fill our sanctuary this Shabbat and every Shabbat that follows. Just know that in all my years on the bimah, I’ve never chastised those who may be called “revolving Jews,” in on Rosh Hashanah, and out on Yom Kippur! If you’re a mensch outside these walls: a decent American, a decent Newark community member, a decent Jew, then in my book you’re not wearing a mask. Of course the tendency is to continue this thought, to examine our masquerade, and to show how today is indeed k’Purim, “like Purim,” but in the past few months I’ve been seriously thinking about masquerading in a different sense, one that touches far too many people, in fact more today than ever before…and it doesn’t matter what religion you are, what race you are, where you come from or your economic position. You know those innumerable commercials for drugs, medications, what-have-you for this serious ailment or that one. You know what I’m referring to…. the ones where you’re convinced a dozen scientists from each pharmaceutical company, stand around a circle which they drew on the floor. They throw in the air a bag of Scrabble tiles. Those that land in the circle are the basis for the names of the drugs, some of which have either no vowels or no consonants, and if they do (and, of course, they do), they’re hardly able to be pronounced regardless. While their names are sometimes laughable, their intent is noble: to help us in our struggles against cancer or Parkinson’s or other dreaded diseases. But the one that has struck me is Rexulti, the anti-depressant. A woman is walking around with a smiley-face mask; underneath is her real countenance: sad, sullen, depressed. You and I know she’s not a patient but an actress, but, regardless, it should be no secret that she – meaning those who would take Rexulti, is in pain, and while that pain is different than that of a physical disease, it is a pain nonetheless. And for sure, her pain has impacted so many other people in her life. I know nothing about Rexulti except what the commercial proclaims; I’m not a stock holder in the pharmaceutical company that produces it. All I know is that if there is medication that can lift that pain, we should be grateful. Those medications are desperately needed. From what I’ve read and seen and heard from friends and congregants across the past decade or so, including those who have come to me for counseling, underneath our smiles are serious concerns. We fear what’s happening to our country; we fear the scourge of murders; we fear the impact of drugs on our children; we fear the unknown of so-called technological progress such as Artificial Intelligence; we fear the illnesses so many are facing… we fear, we fear; we fear; and these very real fears are leading to intense depression, indeed, even a rising rate of suicide. We wear the masks but underneath there is a growing emotional pain that must be addressed. I was blown away by an article I read by a colleague of mine in another state. He and a few rabbi friends of his decided to experiment. They asked their congregants what it was they wanted to hear their rabbi speak about for these holydays. The rabbis expected that their responses would be Israel, Antisemitism, Jewish continuity, subjects like that, issues that they’ve spoken about for years. But that was not the case this year. The vast majority of responders said they wanted not to hear about the “big” issues; they wanted to learn how they could sleep better each night. They go to bed not knowing what they might find when they awake. How do they confront illness and death? How do they deal with the feelings of helplessness and hopelessness? Will an uptick in Covid once again turn their world around? How can they once again speak to loved ones and friends whose political views are so different from theirs that there seems to be a sundering breach in relations, not able to be healed? And there were more. Feeling the pain evident in so many replies, this particular rabbi wrote, “I probably should have focused more on the personal, introspective, existential themes (as well as the usual grand themes so prevalent in my sermons). I must be open to you about this issue. For years I’ve taken a mild anti-depressant and it has been most helpful. The condition has made me particularly sensitive to this problem whose symptoms can be masked by the patient. In fact, people believe they can easily lose friends if they wear their feelings on their sleeve, if those feelings of sadness aren’t masked. Do the lyrics from a song from Bye Bye Birdie, highlight the attitude so many of us have regarding the need to masquerade our feelings and the discomfort others have when we don’t? Gray skies are gonna clear up. Put on a happy face. Brush off the clouds and cheer up. Put on a happy face. Take off the gloomy mask of tragedy It’s not your style You’ll look so good that you’ll be glad Ya’ decided to smile… The song goes on…the message is clear: the mask makes other comfortable. But what does it do to us? In my introductory words of welcome on the two days of Rosh Hashanah I spoke about the two ends of the shofar. It was the author Cynthia Ozick who made the point that no sound will come out if we blow from the wide end, yet we clearly hear the sound when the shofar is blown from the narrow end. And she went on to say that the lesson of that phenomenon is to let the big things rest for a while during these Days of Awe. Work on the little things…work on yourself! Despite my various degrees and certification in the field of mental health, this rabbi cannot heal you, and that’s why I encourage you to seek professional help if you’re down. Even a bit of conversation with a professional can help you even if your sadness is not overwhelming. After my father’s death – which left me an adult orphan…and believe me, regardless of age, the death your parents makes you an orphan…I told my congregation at our Yizkor service that year how speaking to a therapist did me a world of good. I said it then and I’ve said it a few more times. A few congregants later told me that they sought help after my words. But one said it this way, “Rabbi, you just gave me permission to do what I hesitated doing.” To you, my new congregants, just know that if you need it, you have my permission. The Prophet Zechariah said that his people were “Prisoners of Hope.” Whether it was during the days of the fallen Temples, the cruelty of the Romans, the scourge of the Cossacks, or the Holocaust, we have always, but always had hope. And just as we did in the communal sense when our People were at the precipice, so too when each person might be standing at the precipice. When we Jews are asked, “Has the Messiah arrived?” we never answer “NO!” Indeed, our answer is “Not yet!” We look forward to better days, and we’re encouraged, no, we are commanded, to do our share to create those better days in the Messianic Era, and not leave it to the rider on a white horse. How much the more so when you or I are in need of better days. Each of us is pained by something; fear is not reserved for one specific demographic; anxiety seems to be the condition du jour in this country. We might not be able to alter what it is that creates such depression, sadness and concern, but we certainly need not suffer needlessly. The smiley mask the Rexulti patient lifts in front of her face is paper, cardboard at best. And, we pray, may the authentic smile that’s deep within your soul emerge for your sake and the sake of your loved ones. You deserve to be healthy in body, mind and spirit. Yom K’Purim, “a day that is like Purim.” Today is not Purim. On that holiday our focus is on our People overcoming the adversity brought on by an outside enemy. But the enemy can be unseen, within us, and that’s our focus today. We need the courage to look inward not only on our misdeeds that might have pained others, but the pain we feel ourselves. After all, we deserve to be healthy in body, mind and spirit; we deserve to be written and sealed for a good year!

Fri, February 23 2024 14 Adar I 5784