Invocation of the San Jose City Council Meeting – January 24, 2017

Thank you Councilmember Jones for your warm introduction, and for inviting me to deliver the invocation for this meeting of the San Jose City Council.  Mayor Liccardo, Councilmembers, Friends.  It is an honor to be here.

In our annual cycle of reading the Torah, Jews around the world began the Book of Exodus this past Sabbath.  Exodus opens with ominous parallels to our current situation.  “A new King arose over Egypt who did not know Joseph.  And he said to his people, “Look, the Israelite people are much too numerous for us.  Let us deal shrewdly with them, so that they may not increase; otherwise in the event of war they may join our enemies in fighting against us and rise from the ground.”  (Exodus 1:8-10)

Pharaoh plays on fear.  He identifies a foreign element, an ‘other,’ and stokes an atmosphere of distrust among the Egyptians.  When he assigns taskmasters to enslave the Israelites, the Egyptian people do not rise up in protest.

The Egyptian authorities gradually increase the labor and the suffering of the Israelites, and nobody objects.

When Pharaoh orders the midwives who deliver the Israelite babies to murder any male child who is born, finally someone does something.  Shifra and Puah, in the first recorded act of civil disobedience, refuse to commit infanticide.  They stand up to Pharaoh and reject his immoral order.

But this does not deter him.  Pharaoh doubles down, commanding the Egyptian people to throw all Israelite male children into the Nile River to drown.

Again, nobody stands against him.

It is a pattern that has been repeated all too many times over the past three and a half thousand years.  And we Jews, a people who remember, know this all too well.

The United Nations resolution which created International Holocaust Remembrance Day in 2005 “condemn[ed] without reserve all manifestations of religious intolerance, incitement, harassment or violence against persons or communities based on ethnic origin or religious belief, wherever they occur.”

While International Holocaust Remembrance Day is devoted to a particular act of genocide, the moral declaration is one that could apply just as well to the situation of the Israelites in Egypt, and to so many other tragedies throughout history.

Like so many, I am deeply troubled and fearful by the tone that our new President has set.  It is shocking to witness, in 2017, the normalization of hatred based on religion, skin color, country of origin, and sexual orientation.

We ought to know better.  Because we ought to know our history.

If we do not actively oppose hate in our day, then today’s speeches and proclamation are all just a waste of our time.

I was inspired to see millions of women and supportive men come out this weekend to declare our rejection of hate and discrimination, including 25,000 people who gathered in the plaza outside on Saturday.

But it will take more than rallies in the streets to move our society in the direction of justice and righteousness.  Let us find strength in the bold actions of Shifra and Puah.

You, our elected city officials, must be courageous.

We are blessed to live in a state, and a city, which holds great influence.  San Jose is the capital of Silicon Valley.  We are leaders in innovation and creativity.

Why is San Jose the most innovative place in the world?

It is in no small part because we are the most ethnically diverse large city in the county.  Immigrants, who bring different experiences and ways of thinking, contribute to making us great.

Rather than building walls, creating registries, and deporting those who are “other,” we ought to be doing the opposite.

I urge you to resist, with all the powers at your disposal, any efforts to stoke fear and hatred; all forms of discrimination; all efforts to build walls, both literally and figuratively, between us.  May God give you strength to further the causes of justice and righteousness in our city, in our nation, and in our world.  Amen