Sunday, March 28, 2010

Pesach Thoughts

At last Passover is here - and not a minute too soon. Not that there is any rest for the weary, but, despite the bustle, this festival takes us away from the craziness of the everyday and expands the boundaries of present-time to include all generations, past and future. The Seder suspends us in time, allowing us to see clearly, if only for an instant, our precise and significant place in the vast tableau of Jewish history. So things really do slow down for a week, as we go straight from the Merritt Parkway to the shores of the Red Sea.

And we can use that break! These past two weeks have ranked among the busiest we've had in quite some time - busy with programs and busy with people. Just this past weekend, you responded in tremendous numbers to our call for people to come out and meet Cantor Mordecai. Over 250 on Friday night and again on Shabbat morning, and about a hundred more on Saturday evening. I am so grateful to all who helped to navigate us through the numerous challenges of putting this weekend together, so quickly and so successfully, on the weekend before Passover. Please take the time, if you have not already, to share your reflections on the person we met and the spiritual places you would like us to go.

The candidate and his family were lovely, but what moved me the most about this weekend was the mirror that it held up to ourselves. The Mordecais were most impressed with the warmth with which they were welcomed, the strength of our commitment to a Jewish future, the melodious sound of our voices in song, the earnestness of our prayer, and the genuine harmony that extends far beyond the music. I joked when the cantor commented on how well we sung, saying, "I bet you say that to all the congregations," but he was serious. And I could hear it too. Our voices, so many voices, united in song. It was a proud weekend to be part of the TBE family. Our guests could sense that this is a very special place (and we had a number of additional guests this weekend, aside from the Mordecais); they see us as a congregation with a very promising future.

As we move forward with important decisions (some of which were described in Eileen Rosner's recent letter to the congregation), we are increasingly guided by the realization that congregations - not just Conservative ones - can thrive in this challenging environment only if they act boldly and creatively. During this search process, we've seen a number of qualified candidates whose cantorial positions were eliminated or cut back, often at once-successful congregations. These places that have fallen on hard times, in part because of a sour economy and local demographics, but also in no small part because their leadership has failed to adjust to a rapidly changing Jewish landscape. We've learned some important lessons from this process, ones that we have taken to heart. Those congregations who fail to think out-of-the-box eventually find themselves boxed in. The projects we've been initiating, such as the Community Garden, Young Jewish Professionals and enhanced Early Childhood programming (did I mention that we had a hundred-or-so people at Friday night's Young Family Pesach Fest as well?), these are all our initial responses to that quest for boldness and excellence. "Good enough" just isn't good enough anymore.

Just as I am proud of our growing reputation for warmth and harmony, so am I excited by a sense of purpose that is bubbling up from below as it simultaneously coalesces at the leadership level. This season of liberation is a good opportunity to take stock in our collective goals and objectives - and to take pride in our accomplishments.

So as Passover approaches, we can feel very good about the future of our congregation - but we share concerns about Israel's immediate and long term future, and we are confused about what is happening between Israel and the US right now. I've included in my blog a Pesach letter from Jan Gaines in Netanya that reflects some of the frustration being felt by Israelis right now. I appreciate that frustration - we all share it - though some blame one party more and some the other. What's clear from all accounts, including Jan's letter, is that Israelis (many not them, not merely the Prime Minister) have badly miscalculated President Obama - his positions, his needs, and his political strength. No doubt the reverse is true as well. My own position regarding Jerusalem - and in particular the Jewish neighborhoods of post 1967Jerusalem - is unchanged. These neighborhoods should be part of Israel and will be. They are not settlements. But to stick that in the eye of your only friend in the world was either a colossal blunder or a reckless provocation. Why the person who caused the ruckus during the Vice President's visit hasn't been fired yet is beyond me. For all of us who love Israel and love America too, there is more than enough frustration to go around. But, eternal optimist that I am, I tend to take the long view. The US-Israel relationship has taken hits before (remember AWACS with Reagan and James Baker's shots at the Israel lobby?) - this too will pass...over. Sometimes, these things work out for the best.

Finally, many people have commented positively on the video Pesach Greeting I sent out last week. If you didn't receive it, my apologies, as I had to cull together email addresses from various lists, some of them dated. But at last count, it has been opened over 300 times - and many have "passed" on its message to family and friends. As one who has devoted so much time toward fostering mutual understanding between Jews and people of other backgrounds, I found that message to set the perfect tone for TBE's Pesach observances. We're playing our small part in fostering love and understanding in our little corner of the planet. May that message resonate throughout the world during this week that is holy for so many.

And may that message help transform this Seder night, and every night hence, into a night different from all other nights.

Best wishes from myself, my family and our entire professional staff, to all your families - to our entire TBE family, and to the world.

Rabbi Joshua Hammerman

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