1) Join us tonight for the "Shabbat Experience" at our new start time of 7 PM, as we welcome Shabbat (and welcome neighboring congregations) with music, meditation and prayer. But the "feel good" Shabbat story that has also been our best kept secret in 2014 is our TBE Shabbat morning experience. While still a work in progress, what progress we have made! That was on display last Shabbat morning, when we had over a hundred people here, including a number who were guests for a baby naming - the morning after we had over 250 for our Hanukkah celebration (which was also spectacular). Thanks to Bert Madwed, who has been slowly growing our cadre of regular Torah readers, all eight Torah readings, plus the haftarah, were read beautifully by congregants - including Joy Katz, Beth Boyer, Bert Madwed, Matt Miller, Steve Danzer, Josh Olin and Steven Everett. The service was so comfortable and "home grown" that one of the relatives of the baby's family, who lives in nearby Westchester, commented, "Everyone thought the service was very special - warm, intimate and your cantor is amazing." We get comments like that all the time, but it's especially nice to know that special things are happening here on Shabbat morning too. So let us know if you would like to join our growing Torah reading corps.
2) Another feel good story was our annual Christmas Eve at local homeless shelters. Part of that 3-decades long ritual was in peril this year. We discovered several weeks ago that one of the two shelters we typically visit had inadvertently given our signature mitzvah to another group. Rather than bemoan this Grinch-like theft, we scrambled and found another shelter to replace it. With dozens of congregant families counting on this annual opportunity to spread cheer, we were desperate. Fortunately, we were able to make arrangements to visit Inspirica's family shelter on Franklin St, along with Pacific house. There were lots of kids and when Santa Claus (Steve Lander) entered the room bearing a bag full of toys there was palpable excitement. The photos above and below depict our volunteers, not the guests, but the smiles you see on our faces were direct reflections of theirs. I also must say that similar smiles were seen on the faces of volunteers and guests at Pacific House, which was especially full this year. My thanks go out to everyone who helped, and to Amy and Ken Temple for their leadership of this crucial project. Maybe next year we'll have no homeless shelter to visit - because there will be no homeless. We can only pray that it be so.
3) We spread Hanukkah cheer wherever we went last week; including Stamford's Government Center (see the video report here).
The Jewish Home in Fairfield (our 7th graders prepared cards and cookies, which I delivered)
The Emunah Center in Israel, which gave a special award to recent Bat Mitzvah Alyssa Goldberg, who raised considerable funds for needy children as part of her mitzvah project.
And right back here, where our seniors celebrated the holiday with lunch and a cantor's concert.
And at Hebrew School on Sunday, which culminated in a creative song contest.
And even my dog Chloe found endless fascination in the lights of Hanukkah.
4) Speaking of music and mitzvah, perhaps the greatest TBE feel good story of all this month is Jewels Harrison, whose virtuoso skills at the piano were on display as part of his mitzvah project. Read all about Jewels in this article from the New Canaan Advertiser.
5) Finally, on a personal note, a feel-good story of discovery. With my father's 36thyahrzeit approaching (it was yesterday), I discovered this photo of him (he is on the right, with Rabbi Manuel Saltzman), which was uploaded just a few months ago by The American Jewish Historical Society. I had never seen it before. Here he is at a wedding, in Boston in what appears to be the early 1960s. He looks so young! I posted it on my Facebook page and received lots of testimonials and reminiscences from far flung corners of my life's journey. An extremely cool experience.
Now, back to reality. Ari Shavit, the Ha'aretz columnist and bestselling author, who spoke here this fall, has an interesting "Plan B" for Middle East peace. Worth a look. And in this column, he looks at 2014 from a realistic perspective: "Summer was a warning siren, autumn a wake-up call, and the last six months tell us loudly that the past will not turn into the future, that the status quo is unsustainable." Yes, 2014 has been an annus horribilis for Israel and much of the world. But there is some good news out there. And much of it is right here - in the kind of inclusive, loving community we are striving to become.
To that point, on Tuesday January 6 at 3 PM we will be having an organizational meeting for our first TBE LGBT havurah (fellowship group). Let me know if you are interested, even if you can't make it. It is open to members and non members of TBE.
Meanwhile, a happy 2015 to all! And Shabbat Shalom!
Rabbi Joshua Hammerman