Thank you for the very warm welcome you have extended to me and my family in our first months here at Temple Beth Sholom. We already feel so at home here, and are settling into our new house, neighborhood, and community.
I am enjoying getting to know all of you and learning about all the things that make this community special. I bet you already know that the “Sholom” part of Temple Beth Sholom means “peace,” but did you know that it comes from the word that means “complete” or “whole?” The idea is that we are truly at peace when we are complete, when we are able to bring our whole selves to the community.
SHALOM AND LIHITRAOT
Thank you to the Temple Beth Sholom community for welcoming me and my family with such open arms during this year as your interim rabbi. This has been a year of making new friends, learning from wonderful students and having the opportunity to experience the blessings (and some of the frustrations) of being an “interim” rabbi. In many ways, the role of the rabbi makes being interim especially hard. Rabbis enter people’s lives at moments of loss and celebration; we learn about the intimate details of people’s personal histories and visit people at home, over meals, and at the hospital bed.
ISRAEL: THE PLACE TO WHICH I RETURN
I first travelled to Israel with my family in the summer of 1968 as a twelve year-old. That winter I returned with my mother as a guest of the young state for my bar mitzvah at the Kotel in a newly reunited Jerusalem. We were chosen to be the millionth and million and first passengers to arrive at Lod Airport that year, the first time that number was reached. We returned again the following summer and throughout my high school and college years, most summers were spent in Israel, eventually on trips with my girlfriend and later life partner, Lori.
The highlight of the month of April is the celebration of Passover. Our Seder nights are April 19th and 20th. To help enhance your experience as you prepare to lead or join in at a Seder, I offer some thoughts to stimulate conversation.
Acknowledging Slavery/Celebrating Freedom: HA LACHMA ANYA
One of the first readings in the Haggadah is HA LACHMA ANYA, this is the bread of affliction, during which we symbolically open our doors to the poor, a gesture that acknowledges our communal priority that every Jew who wishes to should have the means to celebrate the Seder meal.
Why We Need Purim
Judaism does not have a lot to say with certainty about what the messianic world to come will be like, but there is one thing we know – in a perfect world we will no longer need the holidays, except for one, Purim! Why Purim? Let’s start with why we won’t need the other holidays. In a world of peace, human behavior will be transformed for the good, so no more Yom Kippur with its emphasis on repentance. We will be living with a constant awareness of the Divine, so no more Rosh Hashanah with its theme of Divine Kingship.
Praying for the Government
I recently saw Fiddler on the Roof in Yiddish in New York City and once again heard the rabbi share with the community his prayer for the Tzar, “May God bless and keep the Tzar – far away from us.” That joke captures the ambivalence I have always felt about reciting the Prayer for the Country at Shabbat and Holiday services. As a child of refugee immigrants, deeply aware of how exceptionally positive the Jewish experience in America has been, I love our country and what it stands for. But I am also aware of the history of this prayer that includes times when the Jews felt weak and needed to add a prayer that mentioned, by name, the Kings, Queens, Tzars and other rulers who were not always friends of our people.
NEW YEARS AND THE HOLIDAY OF EVERY DAY
Happy New Year! While as Jews we celebrated the turning of the year back in September, January 1st is a helpful day to remember Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur and our hopes for a fresh start. As we sat in the synagogue or around the table with family and friends we made promises to ourselves to re-examine old habits and reconsider patterns of behavior and patterns of mind. If we are sometimes short-tempered, we thought about how we might become more patient. If we have been ignoring our bodies, we thought about small steps we might take to live more healthfully.
THE POWER OF MUSIC
Reflecting on my 30+ years as a rabbi, the biggest change in synagogue life I have seen is the growing power of music to transform people’s Jewish lives. In the synagogue of my youth, we were taught that synagogue music was curtailed as an act of mourning for the Temple in Jerusalem. Psalm 150, which we read every Shabbat morning, lists all of the instruments that were part of Temple worship:
Praise God with the call of the shofar … the harp and the lyre … timbral and dance … flute and strings … clashing cymbals … rousing cymbals.
I am writing this message in mid-August during the first days of my year as your interim rabbi. I am delighted and honored to join your community during this time of transition as you think about the future of Temple Beth Sholom. Transitions are exciting and filled with potential, but they are also times of anxiety. My hope is to help each of you navigate the year ahead secure that there is a listening ear and an open hand to greet you, get to know you, and welcome you to our programs and services. If I need to be reminded of your name, please be patient with me!
I was recently asked about the importance of Tisha B’Av or the 9th day of the Av in the Jewish calendar. Most people aren’t familiar with it as it falls during the summer months. On the other hand, most Jewish campers do know about Tisha B’Av as it is the day when most of the activities are curtailed and some people fast for part or the whole day. It’s supposed to be a “sad day” and something connected with the destruction of the Great Temple in Jerusalem. Both correct but there’s so much more to the 9th Day of Av.