Exalted Moments

President Obama last week gave out 13 medals of honor, the highest award he has it in his power to grant: to folks whose contributions range from

  • efforts for peaceful co-existence in the Middle East,
  • music that has touched generations and cultures around the world,
  • leading collegiate athletics with distinction and integrity

and many others.

A candidate running for re-election himself, he hinted at a topic that has been on my mind recently. Namely: who gets to choose to distinguish one effort from another as worthy of a medal of honor?  The President said, and I paraphrase him: I wonder how many of these award winners imagined that they might, if they worked hard enough, and persevered enough, one day receive the Medal of Honor from a U.S. President named Barack Obama!

I was appreciative of that line in his presentation, which was certainly a politician’s not-very-subtle way of linking the moment to his own story and narrative.

But what I realized in hearing his words anew: is that the President was also revealing something that makes him just like the rest of us, doing what we all do when we hear or see something wondrous behold, something that gives us pause and causes us to tremble.

  • For some folks at temple: last Friday morning in our Mandel Sanctuary was one of those wondrous moments: the graduation of the pre-K children in our Early Childhood Center at Fairmount Temple. You are so proud of all your child or grandchild accomplished, a wonderful feeling touches you.
  • For others it was early last week when history changes for Jews seeking equality in Israel from its authorities, as Reform Rabbi Miri Gold was announced to receive the same stipend from the Israeli government as her Orthodox counterparts.
  • Yesterday was momentous as well, when the Conservative Movement’s Committee on Jewish Laws and Standards discerned that it was time to go ahead and endorse same-sex marriage for Conservative Judaism at the chuppah.

When you are in such a moment and history is happening right in front of you, what do you do?

I seek to get near it. I want to climb on a ladder to a high point that allows me to take a view of such a moment. And soon I feel that tremendum of the world’s possibilities opening before my eyes.

In other words, I seek to exalt a moment instead of demeaning it, to hold it precious without objectifying it. What do you do?