Friday, January 11, 2013

Shabbat-O-Gram for January 11: TBE's Uf-ROOF Vision, Understanding Islam, Jerusalem in Snow, the Mitzvah of Being There, Shabbat-O-Gram

Shabbat Shalom!

Join us this Shabbat morning as we welcome Azra Asaduddin, an active member of the local Muslim and interfaith communities.   Azra participated in last year's Interfaith Seder and when I brought her in to speak with the teens in my Kulanu comparative religions class, she wowed the kids.  Service begins at 9:30 and Azra should begin her presentation in the 11 range. Of course, Friday night services continue to draw big crowds. Join us at 7:30 tonight.  And this weekend we are several important new programs, a women's Rosh Hodesh Havdalah program tomorrow and a conversation on gun control with our teens this Sunday night, led by Rabbi Dardashti, and on Sunday morning a brunch for our day school families.  Our past presidents will also be sharing breakfast this Sunday morning here.  And join us next Shabbat as Beth Boyer talks about her bees and in two weeks, Gershom Gorenberg is our scholar in residence.
And the beat goes on.

Shorashim 1.10.13  

TBE's Vision, the Conservative Movement and the New Roof
The latest news about the United Synagogue of Conservative Judaism's budget woes is not good.  When our board decided to step back from membership in the USCJ a couple of years ago, it was with deep reservations and concern for the future of Conservative Judaism.  I had some hope that the synagogue arm of the movement would revitalize itself with the implementation of its new strategic plan.  That may or not be happening, but we, for our part, are making a greater contribution from the outside, using the tens of thousands of dollars formerly given to the national organization to hire new staff and upgrade our programming. 

We've done our part.  The past two years have been a time of growth for TBE, as we have refined our mission and drawn in scores of new families and individuals looking for a vision of Judaism that is inclusive, egalitarian, open, honest, spiritually engaging and vital.  Just last week our Shorashim nursery school welcomed its second class and we are nearly full for the fall.  Our January class for twos and not-yet twos is also nearly full.  

If you've happened by TBE this week you might have noticed quite a bit of activity going on, especially if you happened to look up.  We are getting a new roof (I call it our Uf-ROOF :)).  You may notice that the workers, in strict accordance with Deuteronomy 22:8, installed a parapet at the edge to minimize the danger of falling.  When our James Taylor sound-alike joins us for Temple Rock Cafe on Feb. 2, no doubt we'll expect him to sing, "Up on the Roof."

This new roof is part of a long-term project that will ultimately bring us to the forefront of environmentally friendly religious institutions in the country.  We already enjoy the fruits of our Mitzvah Garden, but the current project will propel us light years beyond that.  More details will be shared over the coming weeks.  Being the greenest synagogue isn't about being trendy, or, for that matter, thrifty (although the project will save us lots of money).  It's about being God's stewards in sustaining our fragile planet, at a time when we've experienced the hottest year on record and one of the most devastating storms ever.  That photo of our Shorashim students with the hard hats is a perfect way of demonstrating TBE's vision.  Those hard hats are our kippot.  From the very youngest to the oldest, we roll up our sleeves to repair our fragile earth - and in doing so, we engage the world on so many levels.

We are leading the effort to educate our families about the dangers of gun violence, to engage interfaith dialogue, to support both public and Jewish education, to encourage voluntarism of all sorts along with vibrant, life-affirming prayer and meaningful engagement with Israel.  In short, we are doing what a Conservative synagogue should be doing and, as such, are making an important contribution to the movement.   But for us to be able to make those investments, we needed to, ironically, leave the synagogue arm, at least temporarily.  We are still very much Conservative, but we are helping to reinvent it.

Our board has been engaging in a process of strategic planning, and very soon, the congregation will be invited to participate in that effort. As we move forward along this path, one thing is clear about this congregation:
We are determined to make a difference.

BEING THERE: A Guide for Bikur Holim

On Wednesday, I had the privilege of speaking with TBE's new Bikur Holim Committee, dedicated to visiting people in need.  About 30 people were there, which bodes well for this important in-reach project.  

It has been said that 90 percent of life is just showing up.  In that case, so is 90 percent of being Godlike simple a matter of being there.  Being there: so simple, yet so important.  How often do we say of a friend or relative: "He was really there for me."  How often are we brought to tears by the thought of that person who traveled that far to visit while we were sitting shiva; how often do we gain strength from the phone call or visit received from that person when we've been hospitalized. 

Most of us know how good it feels to be there; but sometimes it's hard for us to get there: We're all busy.  We all have numerous burdens, numerous people who count on us.  We often have baggage in dealing with the person in need.  At times we've not been on speaking terms with that person.  Often there is an air of alienation or guilt to overcome.  We all know how that feels.  We all want to have done more.  We all fear the lashing out, the anger that often accompanies grief.  But once we get there, we are almost always glad we came.  The rewards are intrinsic, mostly, a sense of warmth and connectedness, to the person we've helped, to the web of relationships that connect us to not only that person, but that family, that group of co-workers, that congregation.  And that connectedness, also helps us feel closer to God.  One could easily envision God as, in some manner, that glue, or that thread, that holds us together, that brings us together, that helps us to be there for others and others to be there for us.

One woman, who had just moved into the community, lost her father to cancer.  She knew no one, and in fact belongs to another synagogue elsewhere in the New York area; but she began to come to our minyan in the morning to say kaddish.  A few weeks later she sent me a note. 

"Dear Rabbi Hammerman,
It is thirty days since the death of my beloved father. I want to express my profound gratitude to you and the members of the daily minyan. From the very first day of my joining the minyan, I was welcomed and included with warmth, friendliness and sensitivity. I have truly felt healing and comfort during this period and want you to know how much I have appreciated the community in the small chapel."

The fact that those who attended our minyan during those weeks could make such a profound difference in the life of a person none of us knew, simply by showing up and an occasional kind word, is simply astonishing.  It is also terrifying. Because each of us, myself included, held the power of life and death over that person.  Not just spiritual death; not just hope and despair.  Yes, we held the key to helping her go from despair to hope -- but even more than that.  We can never know when a person comes through this door, whether this is that person's first stop, or the last stop.  I shudder when I think of this.

As a rabbi, I understand that the pastor's role is special.  At any given time, there might be hundreds of people who could be helped immensely by a simple call or visit, a kind word, or even a knowing glance.  I also understand that of those hundreds, I might be aware of only a fraction who really need me.  I also understand that when the rabbi is not there at that one time when needed the most, it is almost as if God has forgotten us.  There is no lonelier feeling.  Any clergy person with a conscience goes to sleep every night knowing that, without knowing who, he or she has let someone down that day; knowing that there is someone out there screaming for help at that moment; knowing that, no matter how much he has done, there is always more that must be done.  It is at times an unbearable burden.
But for Jews, it is a burden we all share.  For rabbis are not supposed to be surrogates for the rest of us.  We are no closer to God, no holier, no greater healers, no more human or compassionate -- and the mitzvah of being there is incumbent on all of us.  Anyone with a conscience should be feeling the same burdens every night.  What more could I have done for my child?  What more could I have done for my friend?  What more could I have done for that stranger?  Who needs me now that I cannot possibly know?

I'm not asking you to share my burden; I can handle it. For in fact, it is a privilege to be entrusted with that responsibility.  While time is limited and I might sometimes collapse with exhaustion, our human capacity to love is infinite.  My work has helped me to understand that it is possible to love one's family with all one's heart and yet still have enough love left for everyone else.  As the demands on one's care grow, one's capacity to care also grows.  The heart is, after all, a muscle.  It gains strength when we exercise it.  

But I am asking more of congregants to consider "Being There" by joining our new Bikkur Holim group.  See more of my Guidelines for Bikur Holim, including some supplementary resources.

Jerusalem of White
This week's record storms left Jerusalem coated in white, and sent Israelis of all backgrounds out into the streets to celebrate.  They also brought their cameras, as you can see below.  Snow coats the grimy pavement of conflict with a glowing veneer of tranquility,  which, unfortunately, soon melts away.  Let's hope this melting does not portend cloudier skies on the political horizon.  The bottom photo, of a snow woman wearing a Women of Wall tallit, tells an interesting tale.  As the snow fell, the barriers for women to bring tallitot into the Western Wall plaza also drifted away. Even the snow itself was able to wear a tallit.  And lots of people posed for photos along side.  A nice way to enter the new month of Shevat, which begins this Shabbat.
See photos here.

No comments: