Wednesday, October 31, 2012

Unity and the Next Twenty Years

            During our last Consecration service, we rejoiced in the beginning of a new cycle of reading the Torah as we initiated three new students in the path of Torah study. It was a touching moment to see so many of our children parading around the sanctuary with little plush Torah scrolls. Our 5773 Consecration class made us all proud as they recited the Shema and shared some fun Shabbat songs with our congregation.
            Many of you saw the pictures on our Facebook page. The pictures showed a congregation united in celebration, yet, the pictures only tell part of the story. The view from the bimah was a sanctuary with empty seats. Excluding the families and teachers of our consecrants, other attendees were sparse. While no one is taking “roll call,” I am concerned by the unspoken message this may be sending to the families and to those children of our next generation. Do we truly exemplify the achdut, “unity,” that our founders envisioned when they named our congregation?
            I am proud that our congregational community is comprised of individuals and families with many diverse interests. This diversity extends to the energetic support of both Jewish causes as well as other activities in our general community. However, many of our personal schedules fill up quickly each season, forcing us to carefully prioritize how and where we can be physically present to lend our support. Surely, the event which marks the beginning of Torah study for this Consecration class and their families merits a high priority for our congregation.
            Let me offer a statistical perspective. This year, enrollment in our Religious School is about 30 students –- that is a third of what we had 20 years ago. Twenty years ago, a Consecration class might have been four to five times bigger (I do not have to guess, their pictures are hanging in our hallway). In those days, if we did not have a child in school, and perhaps chose not to attend that particular Shabbat service, our new students would still have been welcomed by a warm and engaged crowd. The sheer number of families and friends was enough. Fast-forward 20 years and that circumstance yields this year’s rather meagerly attended celebration. I do not know how to say it enough: We need your support for our next generation. 

So, how can we engage you to help them on their paths to enrich their lives and to become adults with living Jewish values? What are you willing to do to reach our achdut? Please, feel free to leave a comment so we can continue the conversation.

Sunday, October 14, 2012

Why Shabbat Matters?

During a Shabbat Symposium held in 2007, Rabbi Eugene Borowitz said, “Let’s start with the main problem. We don’t take God very seriously. If we took God seriously, we would want to say hello once in a while. If we took the covenant between God and the Jews seriously, we would want to renew our [covenantal] relationship with God and with the Jews as a community every once in a while. And if we did that, if we cared about that, we would have a little sense of what it means to have a day that is holy. Holy has something to do with God. And that it has to be on Saturday is because this is a Jewish community thing and not just an individual thing, even though you are doing it by yourself.
Shabbat observance was crafted by our ancestors with one purpose in mind: to connect us to God and to lead us to be ethical, moral human beings. But in the last 200 years, we, as a people, have struggled with keeping Shabbat. Decades ago, our response to the challenges of Shabbat observance led our Reform movement to emphasize, “Make Friday night Shabbat.” Limiting our observance of Shabbat to Friday night (or to Sunday in some cases) allowed us to avoid many of our conflicts with American culture (shopping, errands, sports, which take place on Saturday).
In the book of Exodus, the Torah uses superlatives for Shabbat –words like covenant  (B’rit) for all time and a sign (ot) for all time. The implication is that we should take this mitzvah very seriously. Yet, what the Torah requires of us regarding Shabbat seems a bit different than what our Sages suggest. In the Talmud we read, “Shabbat is committed to your keeping, not you to its keeping. (Babylonian Talmud, Yoma 85b). A great midrash says, “Six days you will labor and do all your work” (Exodus 20:9). But is it possible for us to do all our work in six days? Rather, we should rest as though all our work were finished.” (Midrash M’chilta, Yitro 7).
The rabbis understood that we need a more attainable goal: Keep Shabbat but not at the expense of your own well-being; work but do not rush to finish everything before Shabbat –lest you are too tired to enjoy it! Observing Shabbat means being nice to yourselves: take a shower, put on clean, nicer clothes, and make time to study and eat special food. In the year ahead, I invite everyone of us to face the struggle of keeping Shabbat head on; I would like that each one of us, as individuals as well as a community, can find our place in the chain of Shabbat observance. Stepping back from our lives to see the “bigger picture” doesn’t come naturally to us. The day of Shabbat was created to help us do just that: It can be an antidote to so much of what worries us about the world in which we live today.