Sign In Forgot Password


03/02/2023 10:33:27 AM


Rabbi Deana Sussman Berezin

Over the past few weeks, I’ve been thinking a lot about life lessons my mom taught me as I was growing up. In my family, we refer to these pearls of wisdom half-lovingly, half-sarcastically as “Motherly Advice.” I may have shared some of them with you before. But they’re worthy of repeating. 

They range from small things like “your sleeve is not a napkin” to somewhat larger things like how we process and encounter the world around us. 

The specific piece of motherly advice I’ve been thinking about in recent weeks is the age-old debate of whether the glass is half-full or half-empty. Many of us identify with this metaphor and imagine ourselves embodying a half-full or half-empty perspective. But the point, according to my mom -- and I may have already let some of you in on this secret -- is that it makes no difference whether the cup is half-full or half-empty. The point, she says, is that the glass is refillable. There will be times in life when our glasses begin to drain, but we have the power to fill them and empty them and fill them again.  

Now, this shift in perspective is critical. It’s an acknowledgment of two important things: one, that nothing is permanent – the glass will not forever be only full or only empty; it can and should and will inevitably change. And second, that while it may, at times, seem that we are passive observers of the water level, that we are anything but passive– it takes active participation in our own lives to refill the glass. 

They say that Rabbis sometimes give the sermons that they themselves need to hear. And I’ll be honest this Shabbat and tell you that this is the sermon that I both needed to give and the one that I needed to hear tonight. Because for the past couple of months, in particular, I have felt in many ways, that the glass is half empty and that I have not been in the director’s chair in the world around me. 

Over the past several weeks, I’ve been engaged in a great deal of advocacy work – praying with my feet, as Rabbi Heschel taught us, and working to bring our Jewish values to life through sharing our stories and sacred texts with our elected officials. 

In late January, I went with our teens to Washington D.C., as we joined hundreds of other Jewish teens from congregations around the country at the Religious Action Center’s L’Taken program, and learned about the intersection of Judaism with the laws and policies of our nation. 

The teens then select topics of personal significance and work to craft speeches and lobby our congress members and senators. Or, rather, they are supposed to lobby their congress members and senators. On this particular trip, our teens went to just one office, not the three offices we had been anticipating. 

Out of three potential visits, we only went to Representative Don Bacon’s office. Why, you might ask? Because his office was the only office to respond to repeated attempts to request meetings; neither of our state’s senators responded. It was deflating and frustrating to bring our students all the way to Washington DC and not have our elected officials grant them meeting time to listen to their voices – voices that we teach are critical for them to use as they speak truth to power and demand and fight for the world that they want to live in. 

I came back home from that trip, and two days later, I drove to Lincoln to join Temple members in the fight for reproductive rights and abortion access, offering testimony in opposition to LB 626. We waited for hours – arriving before noon, and not leaving that evening until after 8:30 – to testify. And yet, our representatives cut off testimony before the majority of people who had come to Lincoln had a chance to speak.

One week later, I was back in Lincoln to join the fight for our trans youth, to offer testimony in opposition to LB 574, a bill that would deny essential gender affirming care to transgender youth until age 19. And again, our representatives cut off testimony before most people spoke. 

Spending entire days in Lincoln fighting for bodily autonomy and the right to make healthcare decisions with our families, physicians, and faith leaders, is draining, both physically and emotionally. It is exhausting and uncomfortable to sit on the floor of the capitol lobby or in cramped, hot rooms, waiting for a chance to speak. 

But more than anything, it is painful to hear the oftentimes horrific and traumatic stories that those brave souls who are giving testimony feel that they must share in order to help others understand why these laws are so deeply personal and why they would have such significant personal impact to so many.
It is painful to hear doctors speak about how their ability to practice medicine and care for people would become compromised if these bills were to become law. It is painful to hear of the mental and emotional and spiritual anguish that real people carry with them when they or their loved ones have been denied access to care when it was so desperately needed. And it is painful that, despite the hours and the physical and emotional toll, that the bills continue to advance and that, in certain moments, it feels as though the cup is half empty, and that there is very little that I, or anyone, can do about it. 

But, the cup is not empty. It is refillable. And it is my job, our job, to refill our own glasses. So in a world where it feels that the glass is half empty – how do I refill it? I look to the ways that my life has been fortified and I have found joy and meaning in this work.

I think about what it meant to take four teens – Zac, Renatta, Mia, and Fiona to Washington D.C. and teach them about why advocacy is a Jewish value. I think about the pride that I felt sitting in Representative Bacon’s office, as they shared why mental health education and abortion access were important to them. I think about the pride Renatta and Zac themselves felt when they read their speeches and taught Representative Bacon’s Chief of Staff that “Judaism teaches that the government has an obligation to ensure that all people can access health care, including mental health care. In fact, Maimonides, a Jewish scholar and physician, placed mental health care on his list of the 10 most important communal services a city must offer its resident if the city is to be found worthy for a great scholar to live there.”  I think about the pride that Jay and I felt as we listened to Fiona and Mia take what they had learned from the conference and teach about the Mishna and its connection to reproductive choice. 

My glass is no longer empty, because I am actively refilling it. 
I think about the fact that I did not go to Lincoln to do this work alone – I went as part of a Temple Israel team. In Lincoln over those two weeks, I stood with Wendy and Ilene and Meagan and Joseph and Dan and JohnCarl and Noemi and Charlie. And yes, we stood in line for hour after hour, and yes, we sat in cramped, hot rooms, and no, we did not get to speak -- but we did it together. We decided to raise our voices and remind our friends and our neighbors and elected officials that our religious values are at stake in these conversations. We allowed Torah to become a living, breathing, sacred text that weaves into our lives in real and deeply meaningful ways. 

My glass was refilled when I read our very own Noemi Gilbert’s poignant and beautiful testimony in opposition to LB 574, in which they shared, “My religion teaches me that transgender young people are b’tzelem Elohim, made in the image of God, deserving of affirming spaces, schools, and people. Transgender young people, according to my religion are radiant and brave in the gender we identify as, and we need our schools to recognize and validate and love us exactly as we are.” 
And my glass overflows when I think about the text message I received from Noemi, who, on the third trip down to Lincoln, finally got to share their words, these words, before a committee. 

My glass refills when I think about the interfaith partnerships that I have developed through this process– partnerships that have grown stronger in these past few weeks than in the several years prior to this – because we keep showing up, together, to remind our communities that people of faith can and should speak out. I think about an ad that will be in the papers this weekend that brings together voices of over 120 clergy members and 14 institutions from around the state, including all four Tri-Faith partners, which calls for our friends and neighbors to connect with their elected officials and make their voices heard. 

Our cups are refillable. WE have the power to refill them. 

Parshat Terumah begins with God speaking to Moses, instructing him to “tell the Israelites to bring Me gifts; you shall accept gifts for Me from every person whose heart is so moved.”  And then God proceeds with a laundry list of what Moses should accept – a wide range of materials and items from gold and silver to yarn and linen and even goat hair. Only after the list of items does God tell us what the items will be used for – to create a mishkan, a sanctuary in which God will dwell among the Israelites. 

It’s curious that God tells Moses to gather the gifts before we ever know what they will be used for. Usually, it would be the other way around. And yet, I think the order here is important. God isn’t beginning a capital campaign based upon what we need with an end goal in mind, but instead celebrating the gifts that the Israelites already had with them. Wandering in the desert, they could not go out and find materials – rather, these are the items that came with them, that were part of their journeys all along. They were part of the story, from slavery in Egypt, across the shores of the sea, into freedom, and through the desert. These gifts of all kinds, gifts from every person whose heart is so moved, would be part of this celebration. 

These gifts would come together to create a dwelling place for God to be among the people so that when the glass seemed half empty, they would look to the mishkan, the place that God would dwell among them constructed by the gifts of their hearts, and they could refill their glasses. Because in 40 years of desert wandering, the glasses might seem a bit empty now and again. But they are always refillable. 

So too are our glasses, if only we change our perspective.

Shabbat Shalom. 

Watch the entirety of Friday’s service here

Watch just the Sermon portion here

You can also watch the service from Saturday, February 25. 

Temple Talk is a recap of sermons given from the Bimah for those who missed a Sermon or who wanted to revisit the words spoken at a previous sermon. 

Fri, March 31 2023 9 Nisan 5783