Monthly archives "July 2018"

Beautiful Words to Live By

Beautiful Words to Live By

By Rabbi Corinne Copnick

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One of the good things about growing older is that you remember many historical events because they were personally lived. In 1948, I was 12 years old. I remember as if it were yesterday the excitement of my family and neighbors as we crowded around the radio, straining to hear the words of the courageous Declaration broadcast direct from the spiritual homeland that had only been a dream sustained by the dedication of those who had believed in it through the centuries. Israel was once again a national homeland for the Jewish people.

In the aftermath of the controversial Nation State Bill so recently passed by the Israeli Knesset, we would do well to remember the inspiring words of the Declaration of Independence proclaimed by the brand new State of Israel on May 14th (the fifth day of Iyar, 5708), 1948. These very words, inscribed on a brass plate along with the courageous signatures of people now well known in Israeli history, were given to my father in thanks for his help — among many other Canadian and American ex-soldiers who had helped Holocaust survivors make the difficult journey to the Promised Land — in establishing the State of Israel. This plaque has had a favored place on the wall of every home I have ever lived in since 1948.

Despite the assertion in the 1948 Independence proclamation that, as a national homeland for the Jewish people, Israel would be a welcoming place for everyone, history has recorded that the surrounding Arab countries (with their own catastrophic narrative) sent their armies – five armies — against Israel the very day after Independence was proclaimed. The brand-new Israel was able to hold its ground because it had no other choice. Despite countless negotiations and almost continuous hostilities, a lasting peace, 70 years later, has not yet been found.

Here is the excerpt from the 1948 Israeli Declaration of Independence that remains etched, not only on the brass plaque, but in my memory:

“The State of Israel, will promote the development of the country for the benefit of all its inhabitants; will be based on precepts of liberty, justice, and peace taught by the Hebrew prophets; will uphold the full social and political equality of all its citizens, without distinction of race, creed, or sex; will guarantee full freedom of conscience, worship, education, and culture; will safeguard the sanctity and inviolability of shrines and holy places of all religions; and will dedicate itself to the principles of the Charter of the United Nations…..

“In the midst of wanton aggression, we call upon the Arab inhabitants of the State of Israel, to return to the ways of peace and play their part in the development of the state, with full and equal citizenship, and due representation in all its bodies and institutions provisional or permanent.

“We offer peace and amity to all neighboring states and their peoples, and invite them to cooperate with the independent Jewish nation for the common good of all. The State of Israel is ready to contribute its full share to the peaceful progress and reconstitution of the Middle East. Our call goes out to the Jewish people all over the world to rally to our side in the task of immigration and development, and to stand by us in the great struggle for the fulfillment of the dream of generations – the redemption of Israel.”

Would that it were so. Amen.


Seeing With Different Eyes as Well As My Own

Seeing With Different Eyes as Well As My Own.

By Rabbi Corinne Copnick

On my very first trip to Israel, almost four decades ago in 1979, I toured Israel flanked by the silver crosses of two Roman Catholic nuns.

“If you ever tell anyone you toured Israel with two R.C. nuns, no one will believe it,” laughed Sister Mary Lou, one of the grey-haired nuns. Later I would simply call her Mary Lou, and her companion, Mary Grey. They had just been decorated with huge silver crosses at an audience with the Pope in Rome. It was a reward for years of service and achievement, as was this trip to the Holy Land.

And so, in the summer of 1979, I walked between their two crosses in safety anywhere in Israel. Anywhere in the Old City. And to East Jerusalem at night. In 1979, it was already imprudent for foreign women to walk alone in Arab neighborhoods.

Actually, we had been thrown together, Sister Mary Lou, Sister Mary Grey, and I because terrorist attacks in 1979 were already plentiful. It was a time of bombs in market places and garbage cans. The tension was such that most tours were canceled that June. And so El Al Airlines (on which our motley group was traveling) organized a special tour for those passengers who wanted one. We were strangers, staying at different hotels, but united by the common purpose of wanting to see Israel from a religious and historical point of view. Each day a bus would pick up all the tour participants from the various hotels at which they were registered.

The only tour members staying at my hotel, the Moriah, were the two elderly nuns. Sister Mary Lou was plump and cheerful, her round, happy face creased from time to time with worry about her heart condition. The trip demanded a lot of exertion. Sister Mary Grey, tall and lanky, austere in appearance, and, at first, rather severe in manner, suggested we three have dinner together the first night. Rather glumly, I complied. Touring with two nuns didn’t fit my initial idea of fun in Israel.

The first evening was somewhat stiff as slowly we got to know each other a little. They were nuns from the Sacred Heart. This, I learned, was the crème de la crème of orders. (Through the two Sisters, I was soon able to meet a whole fraternity of Sisters from different countries.) And through the two Marys, I was able to see Israel with different eyes as well as my own. I was to learn how important this land was to them as well, to see through their eyes the places that mattered to them as Christians. And in turn, they would learn the places that were significant to me as a Jew and be enriched with widened perception as well.

That first night, however, we were just getting acquainted. Neither wore headdresses or habits. Later I was surprised to find they put curlers in their hair at night. Just like other people. I was not yet a rabbi; nor did I have any thought yet, nor would I for many years, that I wanted to be one.

Fast forward to two weeks later: Like happy schoolgirls, Mary Lou and Mary Grey spread out their “loot” for me to ooh and aah over on the twin beds of their hotel room. They may have looked like sorority friends chuckling over purchases in a college dorm, but I already knew that they were brilliant Ph.D nuns simply thrilled beyond belief on their last night in Israel. In the morning, they would return to their convents in New Orleans and Texas. In the meantime, they had bought out Israel. Candlesticks, menorahs, chalices, crucifixes, and linens cascaded all over the beds onto the floor of the hotel room, obscuring the carpet. They had bought presents for every bishop, priest, nun, and relative (an embroidered blouse for a young niece) they could remember.

“We’ll never be able to come back,” Mary Lou whispered, clutching her heart. “This is the trip of our lifetime.”

Mary Lou had gripped her bosom in horror earlier in the trip. We almost had to carry her out of Yad Vashem, the Holocaust memorial in Jerusalem. “We didn’t know, Corinne. We didn’t know,” she sobbed to me. I held her against me gently. “I’m sure you didn’t know, Mary Lou,” I answered softly, reassuringly.

They were wonderful nuns, splendid people. Side-by-sided with their two silver crosses, I attended the Bar Mitzvah of a thirteen-year-old tour member. His parents extended an invitation to the whole touring bus – now cohesive and groupy. Total inclusion. We sang the service happily together and sampled the Kiddush with gusto.

When I got home, I bought a six-pointed Star of David studded with little diamonds. I have worn it on a delicate chain around my neck ever since. It would be ten years before I would be able to visit Israel again.

©️Corinne Copnick, Los Angeles, 2018. Excerpted from my much longer article entitled “A Star is Born…” and published in The B’nai Brith Covenant, Toronto, Ontario, 1989.



By Rabbi Corinne Copnick

Just finished reading the book co-authored by Bill Clinton, our past U.S. President, and James Patterson, author of countless, spell-binding espionage novels. It’s titled “The President Is Missing.” This spy-thriller is about a fictional American President (not Bill Clinton although the text sure bears plenty of resemblance to his way of thinking and dedication to the country he loves and still serves). This fictional President is called President Duncan, who, despite personal injury, goes missing from the public view for five days. (That’s why the President is missing.) Of course, he knows where he is, but he has to keep himself under the radar – like an honest-to-goodness covert agent — in order to counteract dire threats to the safety of America.

In “The President is Missing,” the U.S. is facing an imminent cyber attack in ways that we readers know are not just imaginary but will be catastrophic if enacted. In fact, if I have any criticism of the book, it is that the fictional account is too close for comfort to what could easily be reality. The cyber attacks, code-named “Dark Ages” and presaged with several concrete “warnings” when the nation is indeed plunged temporarily into darkness, have the potential to shut down everything essential to the running of the country, its communication, electrical grid, transportation, industry, and military –let alone the food supply chain and other necessities integral to one’s individual, family, and work life.

The five days become a suspenseful count-down to the destruction of the country, and, with risk to his own life – he shakes off his security detail – President Duncan uses all his know-how to prevent it from happening. (Sounds like the making of a good movie!)

So when you read “Our President is Missing,” keep remembering that what is happening is not real – not yet; it’s a story. I don’t want to tell you  – yes…this is a spoiler alert! – how President Duncan deals with the also fictional Russian Ambassador to the U.S. who (along with the Embassy’s entire staff) turns out to have been committing espionage along with his “official” duties for years. But it’s a lot different from the spineless debacle we so recently viewed in the televised Trump-Putin exchange in Helsinki.

What makes the book a really worthwhile read is the last chapter. It’s a speech delivered by President Duncan to Congress outlining the detailed direction in which he believes the country must go in order to maintain its best self, the democratic spirit and actuality that makes it America. I must confess I had tears in my eyes for the all too recent “good old days.”

It’s energizing to be reminded of our deeply-held values.

©️Corinne Copnick, Los Angeles, 2018. All rights reserved.

Moral Imperatives: A Balancing Act

Moral Imperatives: A Balancing Act

By Rabbi Corinne Copnick

Can acts based on moral imperatives lead to appalling results? Knowing that I am a rabbi, a friend troubled by the daily doses of ever more dreadful news these days — by the dilemma of what is considered ethical and what is not — has just asked me this question. Yes, I think this statement can be true. The reverse is also true: acts based on moral imperatives can also lead to wonderful results. (That’s why Kabbalistic thinking presents a life-long balancing act as the pathway to increasing moral and spiritual growth.)

So here goes:  Early societies committed acts we consider appalling now, but they didn’t then: They sacrificed designated tribe members on altars to propitiate their gods and thus protect their society.  Some societies, like the mathematically brilliant Maya, tore out their victims’ hearts before consigning them to the volcano. They believed it was the moral thing to do to protect their society. The Spartans thought it was moral to throw malformed babies and people they considered physically or mentally unfit off cliffs to their death. Thus their society would not be contaminated by misfits. Today in America, our political “rulers” aspire to eliminate the elderly by simply denying them medical care. At the age of 82, it’s nice to know I won’t be thrown off a cliff.

In my own life span, the Nazis thought ridding society of “mongrel” Jews (labelled as globalists, communists, and fascists, all at the same time) was good to maintain the purity of the German master race. Although many Nazis remained Christian at heart, the moral imperatives of the Nazi philosophy were secular. Similarly, Communist societies horribly punished those who did not conform to their (and later Chinese Maoist) ideology with prison or death. So yes, acts based on moral imperatives can lead to appalling acts. Think of 17th century Salem in the U.S. or the McCarthy period in the 1950s. Or now. Unfortunately, for our current U.S. administration, the prevailing moral imperative appears to be the push of Mammon — with its battle cry sweeping “Me Too” under the carpet in favor of “Me First”.

By contrast, think of what the Bible tells us: The purpose of the seven Noahide laws was to instill universal moral laws into a new society after the old one was destroyed by flood for disgusting moral behavior. These Noahide values were divinely enhanced on Mount Sinai with the giving of the Ten Commandments (and perhaps, as some Orthodox Jews still believe, the whole Torah as well), precepts later carried into Christianity and adopted into early Islam. Most great Eastern religions like Buddhism and Hinduism (or Confucianism, which is a philosophy rather than a religion) also try to enunciate and instill universal values, but, in practice, their followers don’t always live by them. Or subvert them for self-interest. 

Over the centuries, the Catholic Church has committed appalling acts in the name of righteousness. The Crusades — and the Inquisition — were prime examples of appalling behavior that resulted from moral imperatives, much like the violent Islamic jihads of today.

It was unsettling, to say the least, to read in an Israeli newspaper that “righteous” elements in Israel are advocating a new Nation-State law (allowing particular communities to vote to keep non-Jews out) that supposedly will keep them pure. History reminds us that the 19th century European Nation-States turned out to be venal. As for the U.S., we are supposed to be a nation “under God, indivisible.” Our still valid currency declares “In God We Trust.”

I am a rabbi. I believe in the Judaic purpose “to do” in accordance with a moral code intended to be both particular and universal. Our laws are supposed to be particular to Jews, who in turn, by their behavior will be a light unto the nations; that is, set an example of moral behavior accompanied by good actions that will encourage other nations to do the same. “Believe in God because God is good.” God is “Tov “(good). Think “tov,” do “tov” (to yourself and others). Study why we do “tov.” Study how to do more “tov.” That is our moral code. The difficulty is in interpreting what is “good,” something we have debated in our Talmud, in our houses of study, in our congregations, in our hearts and souls, for thousands of years. And now, in our open society in 2018, we are asking, “Is everything relative, a moral equivalent? What’s good?”

The Hebrew Bible sets it out plainly. “He has told you, O man, what is good, and what the Lord requires of you: Only to do justice and to love goodness, and to walk modestly with your God. Then will your name achieve wisdom.” (Micah 6: 8-9)

That’s it.

These requirements seem to me to be a worthwhile political agenda too: Do good, be just, be humble (love the widow, the orphan, and the stranger — treat others the way you would like them to treat you).

©️Corinne Copnick, Los Angeles, 2018. All rights reserved.

MORAL INJURY: Learning to accept things you know are wrong.

MORAL INJURY: Learning to accept things you know are wrong.

By Rabbi Corinne Copnick

I am deeply concerned about the moral injury, the psychic wounds, our political leadership is currently inflicting on a new American generation. Two of my grandchildren are currently college age, and a third is in high school. On a daily basis now, intentions that are morally wrong are being transformed into what is being promoted as morally good. This is done deliberately by leaders we have unfortunately elected. Their rationale is that these actions are necessary for the growth and well-being of our society. In an Orwellian kind of transformation, what is plainly evil to most thinking people is deceptively cited as the “right” path to follow for the ultimate good. Biblical quotations are misguidedly used to bolster grandiose speeches. Facts are simply overlooked in a society driven by instilled fear, divisions, and repeated lies.

Thankfully, growing segments of our society are beginning to raise their voices in outrage: Children — no matter where they come from, let alone the color of their skins — should not be forcibly separated from their parents and certainly not, to add insult to injury, without a coherent plan for reuniting them. School children should not have to worry about being shot when they go to school.

In a poetic cry of outrage in his must-read book, The Line Becomes a River, Francisco Cantu draws on his own experience as a border agent and a human being on both sides of the Rio Grande.  He first encountered the term “moral injury,” he explains, in a veteran war reporter’s book called “What Have We Done?” This author, David Wood, “examines the pervasiveness of ‘moral injury’ among soldiers who have returned from the battlefronts in Iraq and Afghanistan. As Cantu explains:

“Long confused with PTSD, moral injury is a more subtle wound, characterized not by flashbacks or a startle complex, but by ‘sorrow, remorse, grief, shame, bitterness, and moral confusion’ that manifest not in physical reactions but in emotional responses as subtle as dreams….” [1]

He makes the point that people do not have to be on battlefields to be exposed to moral injury. It is something that can happen from immoral societal exposure that seeps deeply into individual consciousness. It’s a gradual process. The wounds develop slowly.  

In America we are watching these wounds begin to fester on a daily basis, through the mouths and actions – or inactions — of our leaders. The wounds first show themselves through acts of incivility, even hatred, through acceptance of lying as a new normal, through crazed individuals who take their rage out by shooting innocent people.

As a grandmother and a rabbi, I too am outraged. I know that deliberate moral injury to the generation who will be our future leaders can only have disastrous consequences. We must  — each of us — continue to speak out to sustain our values. And vote with all our conviction.

[1] Francisco Cantu, The Line Becomes a River: Dispatches from the Border (New York: Riverhead Books, 2018) 150-151.

©️Corinne Copnick, Los Angeles, 2018. All rights reserved.