I'd truly like to be remembered as a good guy, a good husband, a good grandfather. A good sportscaster? That'll be disappearing as the sands blow over the booth. I want to be remembered as an honest man, a man who lived up to his beliefs. I think it's been God's generosity to put me in these places and allow me to enjoy it.
Scully has always been admired for his characteristic decency and humility. But let's stop to think about the words that he uses - honest, living up to one's beliefs, goodness, God's grace and generosity. Where are these words in our vocabulary today? Quoting three different studies, New York Times columnist David Brooks writes in his remarkable book, The Road to Character:
Over the past few decades there has been a sharp rise in the usage of individualist words and phrases like “self” and “personalized,” “I come first” and “I can do it myself,” and a sharp decline in community words like “community,” “share,” “united,” and “common good.” The use of words having to do with economics and business has increased, while the language of morality and character building is in decline. Usage of words like “character,” “conscience,” and “virtue” all declined over the course of the twentieth century. Usage of the word “bravery” has declined by 66 percent over the course of the twentieth century. “Gratitude” is down 49 percent. “Humbleness” is down 52 percent and “kindness” is down 56 percent.
We see this reality playing out on the news, the Internet, and throughout this year's endless political campaigns where we have unprecedented access to insulting, demeaning, belittling, bullying, fear-mongering remarks grounded in a sense of perverse entitlement and downright petulant narcissism. Worse yet, all of these comments are readily available to us and to our children.
I recently asked a long-standing member of our community who is eighty-seven years old "Is it worse now than it was earlier in your life?" She responded, "This is the worst I have ever seen it." "Not just the election?" I asked. "Everything," she said. "People are so angry right now."
We are angry, incensed, but also desensitized. Another mass shooting, another episode of racial violence, another comment about the deportation of illegal immigrants leaves some of us numb and unresponsive. One increasingly common response to our world is for us to reach into our pockets, pull out our cell phones, and retreat into our own six-inch corner of the universe. Mind you, I do it too.
Robotics and electronics have taken over our lives and our relationships, leaving us, according to psychologist Sherry Turkle, unbelievably lonely, threatening the very intimacy and vulnerability that we seek and crave from our relationships. Attending a recent conference, where Wi-Fi was accessible, Turkle observed that attendees sat with their eyes on their personal laptops, checking their E-mail, surfing the Internet and catching up on other work, rather than paying attention to the lecturer. But the problem is much larger than what happens at conferences. The problem happens everywhere. Turkle explains:
Research portrays Americans as increasingly insecure, isolated, and lonely. We work more hours than ever before, often at several jobs. Even high school and college students, during seasons of life when time should be most abundant, say that they don’t date but “hook up” because “who has the time?” We have moved away, often far away, from the communities of our birth. We struggle to raise children without the support of extended families. Many have left behind the religious and civic associations that once bound us together.
The problem is even deeper when we acknowledge that our children and grandchildren are more fluent with online gaming, social networking, screens and emoticons, than with actual conversation. When we pull ourselves away from our screens, we find that our relationships are increasingly suffering from superficiality and an absence of trust. Turkle surmises that all of us are asking the question, "Why do people no longer suffice?"
If lonely and self-absorbed is situation normal in our world, maybe we ought to look elsewhere for answers. Brooks suggests, “The answer must be to join a counterculture. To live a decent life, to build up the soul, it’s probably necessary to declare that the forces that encourage the Big Me, while necessary and liberating in many ways, have gone too far. We are out of balance.” Is there a place in our lives where we can join and be part of a counterculture?
We are here, in the midst of our own counterculture, right now. To the rest of the world, today is Wednesday, hump day, the middle of the week, but when we choose to regard today as the most sacred day of the year, spending time in the synagogue, seeking forgiveness, going through a values check, and evaluating our lives, Yom Kippur becomes countercultural. When we light candles on Friday night and set aside time for rest and reflection with our families on Saturday, Shabbat becomes countercultural. When our teens discuss and engage in social action projects like cleaning up the Hackensack River, when our volunteers prepare food to serve at "Feeding the Hungry," or our volunteers sleep over at the Family Promise homeless shelter, and in the words of Leviticus, "we don't stand idly by" when our neighbors are suffering, our actions become countercultural. When, juggling our children's activities as we do, we ensure that Jewish religious education has a significant and lasting role, and we take time out of our schedules to learn and engage in practicing a meaningful Jewish life, our learning becomes countercultural. When we express faith in a God who challenges us and commands us to envision and build the world as we hope to see it, a world we would be proud to hand on to our children, rather than simply taking the world as it presently is, and we act on that faith with every fiber of our being, we become countercultural.
Being countercultural means that we ask difficult and meaningful questions of ourselves and of others. Brooks asks, "Toward what should I orient my life? Who am I? What is my nature? How do I mold my nature to make it gradually better day-by-day? What virtues are the most important to cultivate and what weaknesses should I fear the most? How can I raise my children with a true sense of who they are and a practical set of ideas about how to travel the long road to character?”
But being countercultural must also involve doing and commitment. Countercultures don't exist as "mere" feelings; we have to act upon those feelings. In the book of Deuteronomy we read, lo tuchal l'hitaleim or lo hit'alamta, meaning that you cannot cause yourself to disappear, or in another translation, with regard to ethical, moral, and spiritual matters, you shall not be indifferent. Nobel Laureate Elie Wiesel, who died earlier this year, once said, "The opposite of love is not hate, it's indifference.”
All of us love this place. We wouldn't be here if Temple Avodat Shalom didn't mean something to us, whether we come twice a year, twice a month, twice a week, or even twice a day. But I sense that we want to feel even more from our Jewish lives. And that feeling comes more than from just "being" Jewish, or "being spiritual." It comes from "doing" Jewish. It comes from "living" Jewishly. How we do Jewish and how we live Jewishly will be defined differently by each one of us in this room - but there is one commonality, and that is, in order to be countercultural, we cannot, we must not, and we will not allow ourselves or others to be indifferent.
Are you craving hope, light and the promise of a better tomorrow? Are you craving togetherness, community, camaraderie, a place where joys are heightened, where sorrow is embraced, and where we strengthen each other, and attempt to bring healing to our ever-darkened world? If you are frustrated and find aspects of our world stifling, if you are no longer happy to settle for the status quo, remember that you are part of an ancient and timeless Jewish counterculture and together, let's act upon that very reality. Judaism offers our deeply broken souls a sense of healing, challenge and comfort. Judaism invites us into covenant, a sanctified partnership and relationship with one another and with God.
A synagogue's purpose is to be a countercultural community. And if we are going to get through this journey of life, if we are going to tackle and overcome just how bad our world actually is, then we have to recognize that we are sitting here together, with our greatest resources - each other.
You have heard Rabbi Paula and me speak throughout these holidays about the need for courageous dreams and hope-filled visions. You have heard us challenge you regarding involvement in environmental affairs, building a conversation and effort surrounding the Syrian refugee crisis, and creating an even more caring congregational community. What would it mean for all of us in the coming year to pick one project, to select one activity, that made a difference in our congregation and the wider community, and to organize around these sacred tasks? What would it mean to gather here more than on Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur and to see our synagogue not as a place "we have to go" but as a place "we want to go" because all of us need a place to sing and regroup, to seek support and friendship, a place to strengthen our convictions and rededicate ourselves to our life's tasks?
A better world isn't being handed to us. We have to work for it. But it's right here for us to access it. The tools have been given to us. In the Torah portion that we will shortly read, the Israelites are standing on the shores of the Jordan River as Moses offers them his final address. He reminds the Israelites that Torah is not in the heavens that someone should have to ascend skyward to bring it back for the people. He explains that Torah is not on the other side of the sea that someone should have to cross the oceans to bring it back for the people. No, Moses teaches. Torah is closer, so much nearer. Torah is in the words we speak. Torah is in the love that we share willingly from our hearts. Torah is in the sacred acts that we perform, the responsibility that we accept in making this world a better place.
Today on Yom Kippur, our tradition teaches us that we stand in judgment before God, seeking atonement, forgiveness, a new beginning. It is so easy to turn away, to be indifferent, to leave this call to someone else. It is so easy to be cynical, distrusting and disbelieving. It is so easy to claim our individuality, to shun the message of our texts, to shun community.
But one look at our deeply broken world shows us that our values and our society are being tested, day in and day out. Former host of Comedy Central's The Daily Show and political satirist Jon Stewart once said, “If you don't stick to your values when they're being tested, they're not values: they're hobbies."
Are we living our lives with as clear an understanding of our values as we desire? Do we see our values represented in the world of which we are a part? How are we speaking and acting with honesty, decency, humility, and goodness? Where do we see God's grace and generosity guiding us throughout our lives and how are we expressing gratitude for our blessings?
A teaching from the Zohar suggests that actions working toward the perfection of our world help to perfect the heavens at the same time. Our world and the heavens will not benefit from indifference. But our world and the heavens can be the beneficiary of greater honesty, gratitude, decency, humility, and love, as well as our pursuit of stronger character, more clearly defined values, and our ongoing commitment and dedication to improving upon our community and our world. A better world isn't being handed to us. We have to work for it. And with each other's help, and with God's support, we will do just that.
 David Brooks, The Road to Character, Kindle Locations 4942-4950. Quoting Jean M. Twenge, Keith Campbell, and Brittany Gentile, "Increases in Individualistic Words and Phrases in American Books, 1960-2008," David Brooks "What our Words Tell Us," New York Times, May 20, 2013, and Pelin Kesebir and Selin Kesebir, "The Cultural Salience of Moral Character and Virtue Declined in Twentieth Century America," Journal of Positive Psychology, 2012.
 Sherry Turkle, Alone Together: Why We Expect More from Technology and Less from Each Other, paraphrased from Kindle Locations 158-301.
 Ibid, Kindle Locations 524-526.
 Turkle, Kindle Locations 3181-3187.
 Turkle, Kindle Locations 635-639.
 Brooks, Kindle Locations 4996-5014.
 Leviticus 19:16, the actual quote is "Do not stand idly by while your neighbor bleeds" but "bleeds" seemed to extreme in this context.
 Brooks, Kindle Locations 5011-5014.
 Deuteronomy 22:1-4.
 Deuteronomy 30:11-14.
 https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Zohar, http://www.yeshshem.com/zohar-tzav-section-15.htm