I don’t remember ever actively crying while voting before. I definitely remember welling up with joy while voting in 2008. But this time as I stood in my early voting cubicle at the Jackson Heights branch of the Queens Public Library and filled in those little ovals, I couldn’t stop the tears of yearning and prayer.

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In next week’s Torah portion, the outcry and the outrage of the cities of Sodom and Gomorrah has reached the Divine realm, and God plans to destroy these cities because their sin is so grave. The common understanding of the sin as that of “sodomy” is misleading, dangerous, and has led to the criminalization of gay sex. …

You remember the works of creation, and all that You have made.

In Your Presence, all that is hidden is revealed,

from the beginning of time.

There is no forgetfulness in Your Presence. Nothing is hidden from Your sight.

These words from our shofar liturgy came to me this summer as I co-led a vigil for a group of excluded workers who were remembering their loved ones who had died from COVID-19. As we know, COVID affects “essential workers” disproportionately. …

Did you know that in some ecosystems the trees are interconnected underground via complex root systems that are often much older than any of the individual trees? The oldest known such root system is in Sweden, where a tree that is only a few hundred years old has been found to be sprouting from a root system that is 9550 years old.

I also recently learned that a special, giant kind of fungus called mycelium, also lives underground in forest systems, sending threads through the soil that enter and wrap around tree roots. They bring water and nutrients to the trees and help the trees talk to each other, sending more nutrients and water from one area in the system to another area were the trees might need nourishment to protect them from things like insects or other destructive forces. …

My chevruta (study partner) Rachel had a congregant named Pinky Stern, z”l (may his memory be a blessing.) Pinky survived the Holocaust and came to the United States as a young person, having lost almost his entire family. He had the most amazing attitude towards life. Even in the darkness of his trauma and grief, he lived with great vitality. Many years after the war he learned that a brother had survived and had become a devout Hasidic Jew, living in Israel, and Pinky flew to Israel for every single family Bar Mitzvah and wedding from that day forward. At the end of his life, bedridden and suffering from pancreatic cancer, he wanted to take one last walk outside before he died. He shuffled slowly and painfully and suddenly stopped, pointed to a leaf and marveled, “Would you just look at that leaf. What a leaf.” A few years earlier, he had to fast for a whole day before a major surgery; this was a struggle for him. When Pinky awoke from the surgery, someone brought him a plain, dry, unappetizing looking turkey sandwich from the hospital cafeteria. …

I realized we were the sort of people whom the world regards as useless. We do nothing essential, we don’t produce important ideas, no vital objects or foodstuffs, we don’t cultivate the land, we don’t fuel the economy. We haven’t done any reproducing. . .. We have no power, we have no resources apart from our small properties. . ..

But why should we have to be useful and for what reason? Who divided the world into useless and useful, and by what right? Does a thistle have no right to life, or a Mouse that eats the grain in a warehouse? What about Bees and Drones, weeds and roses? . .. A large tree, crooked and full of holes, survives for centuries without being cut down, because nothing could possibly be made out of it. This example should raise the spirits of people like us. …

Remembering Tree of Life Congregation in Pittsburgh | October 27, 2018

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In response to the news of the shootings this spring at the mosque in Christchurch, New Zealand, Rafael Shimunov, a fellow Queens Jew and activist wrote:

When you kill someone praying, you are killing them at the moment they closed their eyes, turned their back to the door, tuned out every sound and decided that this will be the moment they will trust the rest of humanity the most.

This Shabbat we marked the first anniversary of the murder of 11 Jews in the Tree of Life synagogue in Pittsburgh in an act of white supremacist terror. It’s possible that in the moment the shooter stormed the sanctuary, they had their eyes closed, and were sinking into that sense of trust in humanity, opening their hearts in prayer. …

(Yom Kippur 2019/5780)

One afternoon about 11 years ago, my then three-year-old daughter and I were at the beach. We were thoroughly enjoying holding hands and standing in the surf, letting our feet sink under the sand with every wave and then wiggling our toes free.

Her pail and shovel were lying nearby, and I thought I was just teaching her to be careful.

A simple word of advice:

“Don’t leave your pail and shovel too close to the water,” I said. “A wave could come and wash it away, out into the ocean!”

From that point on, she didn’t want to go anywhere near the water. …

(Rosh Hashanah 2019/5780)

This summer when President Trump attacked four congresswomen, saying that they should “go back where they came from”, The New York Times invited folks to share their stories of being told to “go back.” Maybe you saw these stories — they were heartbreaking.[1]

Justin Vasquez from Irvine California shared that the first time he heard that, he was 12 years old. “My mom and I were at Costco and it was Christmas Eve. We went there to pick up a ham. By the time we made it to the register, the lines were huge. At some point, a middle-aged white woman tried cutting in line. …


Rabbi Rachel Goldenberg

Rabbi Goldenberg is the founder of Malkhut, a progressive Jewish spiritual community in Western Queens (malkhutqueens.org). She resides in Jackson Heights.

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