Friday, July 15, 2016

My Address at the East Plano Islamic Center Eid Celebration

 בִּגְדֵיכֶ֔ם וְאַל לְבַבְכֶם֙ וְקִרְע֤וּ
 Rend your hearts, not your garments.
My name is David Gruber. I am a rabbi, here in Collin County. In this capacity, I work primarily with interfaith couples and officiate their weddings. I also serve as the Development and Communications Director for the Metro Dallas Homeless Alliance (MDHA). The mission of MDHA is to lead the development of an effective homeless response system that will make the experience of homelessness, in Dallas and Collin Counties, rare, brief and non-recurring.

I wanted to sincerely thank you for the honor of speaking here tonight. Special thanks to my friend, Ekram Haque, for inviting me.
Fasting is easy. Let me repeat that, fasting is easy. Now, at this moment you might be saying to yourself, justifiably, "What does this guy know? HE never observed Ramadan!"

And, of course, you are right. So allow me to clarify. Fasting alone is RELATIVELY easy. "Relative to what," you might ask. Relative to true change, relative to true spiritual growth.

This was an idea that Maimonides, the great rabbi and philosopher, who also served as a physician in the court of Salah a-Din, emphasizes, drawing on the works of Aristotle. He explains that the most difficult things to change are not your volitional actions, but your behavioral traits and characteristics, that lead to many of your actions. Modern science backs this up, as scientists explain that 40% of what we do in our day to day lives is pretty much automatic. We don't think; we just do. And changing in this area of our lives, innate behaviors and well established habits, is so hard, because it actually requires rewiring of neuron pathways in our brains.

However, difficult does not mean impossible, and difficult certainly does not mean, "don't have to". If Ramadan teaches us anything, it teaches us that! And so, we must embark on a journey of change and growth that is not easy. We must fix faulty innate behaviors and bad well established habits. In short, in the words of the prophet Joel, we must rend our hearts, not our clothes. And as the great Quaker thinker, Parker Palmer, said, you should not be afraid to let your heart break, because once it breaks, your heart becomes open. You understand that spiritual growth is not something that happens in isolation in your heart, but by becoming a better person to others through your now open heart.

When we allow our heart to look out on the world, and take the world in, our heart cannot but soften, but also be ashamed and grievous. Here are some random facts that relate to poverty and homelessness, issues I work on everyday. We live in Collin County, one of the wealthiest counties in the country. Just south of us in Dallas County, though, 20% of the population lives below the poverty line. That is 435,000 people. Just let that sink in. In Dallas and Collin Counties we count the homeless once a year. We found 3,810 homeless individuals, and we know that is not everyone. Almost 4,000 people! Here in Plano last year, a homeless veteran received a housing voucher, a document that says that Uncle Sam will pay the landlord who rents him an apartment, anywhere within a 50 mile radius. Do you know how many apartment complexes he had to go to before he found a landlord willing to rent to him? 71. You heard correctly, 71.

What the prophet Joel, what Parker Palmer, what Maimonides, what the practice of Ramadan all call on us to do is to not accept this. They say to me, David, open your heart, you can do better! Do not accept the status quo. They call on our society, open your hearts, do not accept the way things are! You can do better. The richest country on the face of this earth can alleviate poverty, end homelessness, and make sure that everyone enjoys the bounties it has to offer. The call is out, the message is clear. Let us hope we heed this call and listen to this message. If we do, Inshallah, our community will be a better place.

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