I went to Florida last week to visit my mom. It was a great trip. Lots of warmth and sunshine, blue skies and low humidity. We visited with friends, ate a lot, I swam in the pool, and we had a great time together. Lots of people do this during the winter. I never have but now I understand the allure. It’s a break from the drab, grey skies of New England in winter.
But alas, it also broke my rhythm of attending Shabbat services and thinking about my existence and how I can give back to the world. I have to admit that I enjoy attending Friday night services as well as those on Saturday morning, and they’ve become a part of the rhythm of my life.
On Sunday December 8, Rabbi Poirier and I had the opportunity of attending the USCJ / RA conference in Boston and hearing Bari Weiss give the opening keynote address.
Bari Weiss is a New York Times Op-Ed staff editor who writes about culture and politics. She grew up in Pittsburgh, graduated from Columbia University in 2007, and worked at The Tablet, the online magazine of Jewish politics and culture. Her first book, How to Fight Anti-Semitism, was published in September. Her book is “an urgent wake-up call” exposing the alarming rise of anti-Semitism in the US and explaining “what we can do to defeat it.”
At a recent TBS Board meeting, we talked about what TBS means to each of us and why we belong. It was good to share our stories with each other since we all have different reasons for attending services, joining committees, and participating in events at TBS.
Generally, we all want to be part of a Jewish community. TBS provides a warm and welcoming community where we can meet others and share intergenerational stories about our past shared (and differing) experiences. For some people, the ritual is a responsibility or tradition, a connection to our families who are still with us or who have passed.
“If I had a magic wand, I would do a lot of things with it. But what I would really want is $10M. I would want $10M because then I would be rich. With this, I would want to go to Hebrew school. The Hebrew school that I would go to is Temple Shaare Emeth. I go there this year and I think it is the best Hebrew School in the world. If I had extra money, I would give some to the temple for charity. The rest I would give to my mother and father. This is what I would do if I had a magic wand.”
In 2004, I worked with a consultant who recommended that we follow the advice of a large corporation – pair a younger staff member with an older one, so that the younger person could mentor the older. This was unheard of – what could a younger person teach an older, more experienced worker? A lot!
We are so lucky to have our new rabbi, Rabbi Allison Poirier, join us this summer. We have learned so much from her already! She is smart, focused, energetic, and optimistic about the world and our future. She has a lot of great ideas about how we can engage more people in Judaism and in our TBS community.
This month, we bid a fond farewell to our cantor, Rav-Hazzan Scott Sokol, who for many wonderful years has led us in prayer and song, helping us find our spirituality, delighting us with his musical abilities and versatility, and teaching us about our Judaism. I still wonder how we lucked out when he moved from Brookline to Framingham. We thank him for bringing his talents and wonderful extended family into our TBS lives. We look forward to welcoming them all back for Rosh Hashana!
We also say lehitraot to our rabbi, Rabbi Gordon, who has led us through this year with his wisdom, teachings, and support to help us find our path to the future.
When I first joined the TBS Board, I became a member of the Education Committee. My children were in the Religious School at the time, so it was a way for me to deepen my connection with TBS while learning about and supporting my children’s needs and interests. They loved TBS religious school, just as our children today love their religious school classes. Then, as now, we struggle with class size. “How can we attract more children to our Religious School” has been a constant refrain, and not just at TBS. Other Religious Schools, even those affiliated with the Reform movement, are asking the same question.
When I was 10, I was in love with my religious school teacher. Her name was Mrs. Gruen and our class was so close that she invited us to her wedding. She was Orthodox and I remember wondering how she walked down the long staircase with a veil over her face. Now that I think back on it, she must have been very young, but she taught us so much and my love of Judaism was definitely stoked by her leadership and involvement with our class. Those were the days of growing up Jewish in Brooklyn, when everyone in the neighborhood was Jewish, and there were delis, kosher markets, and bakeries on every street.
In our many conversations with rabbi candidates over the last few months, I’ve learned a lot about the changing needs of the Jewish community. All of our discussions address prayer, rituals like kashrut, and how to build connections within our communities. They all suggest that the “key to success” is building relationships with each other. There are many ways to do this, and TBS currently provides several touchpoint events. But do we really know each other? I wonder if we might want to look around us and think about how to make our relationships with each other more meaningful, how to learn more about each other, and even how to reach someone who has yet to get engaged with TBS.
Last month, I attended one of the Town Hall meetings set up by the CJP to meet their new President and CEO, Rabbi Marc Baker. Rabbi Baker (I think he prefers to be called Marc) talked about the significant leadership transition at CJP given that Barry Shrage had been head of CJP for over 30 years. He started the meeting by saying that in a time of leadership transition, it’s important to listen and learn together, to have open minds and open hearts to think about where we’ve been, where we are, and where we want to go. He then spent the next two hours listening to people talk about what’s working and what’s challenging about the greater Boston Jewish community.