Friday, October 16, 2020

In this Moment: The Power of Prayer - The Mitzvah of Voting


In This Moment
 Shabbat-O-Gram, Oct 16, 2020

Mazal tov to Sydney Kassel, who becomes Bat Mitzvah this Shabbat morning

Shabbat Shalom!

All the holidays are finally behind us and we can now get into the "routine" of the fall season.  Right. Routine. Well, as routine as it can get, knowing that we are facing the very real concerns of a national Covid-19 resurgence that is inevitably creeping back to our area, despite the heroic efforts of so many to maintain responsible and safe practices.  

As you can see, we are in the "yellow zone," and statewide, an uptick in cases is most definitely occurring. This week we begin our fall b'nai mitzvah season.  For the next 9 weeks, we will celebrate b'nai mitzvah, and we will do so safely.  All of the services will be Zoom-based, with some of the b'nai mitzvah families opting to be based at home and others in the sanctuary.  But the operative word is "celebrate." I've been working with students on their speeches over recent weeks and I am happy to inform that they are all rock stars.  They "get it," and while they are naturally disappointed that things aren't going according to the original plan, they also sense their deeper obligation to the safety of their families and community as well as the historic call of this moment.  They will have something to tell their grandchildren about, and they understand that they are, for all of us, a symbol of hope and resilience.  They are embracing their moment.

I prepared a brief training video to help families navigate some of the challenges of services in these socially distanced times.

Torah Tutorial for B'nai Mitzvah Families
Torah Tutorial for B'nai Mitzvah Families

So join us on Zoom to celebrate with Sydney Kassel and her family tomorrow morning at 10, and every subsequent week when another student ascends our virtual Mount Sinai.  And join us for Kabbalat Shabbat tonight at 6.

And with the holidays behind us, I would love to meet with you for a Zoom coffee.  I'm setting up virtual office hours and would love to set up a time to talk!

The Power of Prayer - The Mitzvah of Voting

"I believe in the power of prayer," said Amy Coney Barrett this week in her prepared testimony. Jews do too. But prayer takes on different forms. We pray with words, but we also pray with our feet. We pray with our commitments and we pray with our ballots. As I dropped off my ballot this week at the Government Center, I recited a blessing, grateful to have lived to reach this moment, grateful for the freedom to vote, and aware of my obligation to fulfill the mitzvah of saving lives - including potentially my own. It was a sacred moment, a moment of pure prayer. Jerusalem, in a parking garage. This box was my Kotel, a note inserted into its crevice, a ballot containing my response to the Cry of our times, a Cry that demands action - action that we can all take, that all Americans must take. The fate of the nation will be determined in parking garages and school gyms and libraries, by long lines of voters waiting 3,5,8 hours or more to do something so simple, yet so earthshaking. It's all worthy of a blessing.

Blessing the Ballot
Blessing the Ballot

At times like these, it's important to remember that voting is a prime Jewish value expressing our deep belief in the power that we have to change the world.  Jews were deeply involved in both the women's suffrage movement of the 1920s and in the civil rights struggle of the 1960s, which, among other accomplishments, achieved the extension of the right to vote to African Americans.  Some early Jewish voting-rights advocates included Clara Lemlich who, in 1909, following the Triangle Shirtwaist Factory Fire, organized one of the most important strikes in American history and who then turned her energies to creating a working class women's suffrage organization; and Gertrude Weil, a leader of the North Carolina Equal Suffrage League beginning in 1915 and a crusader for voting rights and election reform.

I remain committed to the notion that religious institutions and clergy are best served (and are on more solid constitutional grounds) not endorsing candidates. Still, the urgency of this moment demands that clear and articulate values-based voices be heard.  It is in that spirit that I'll be engaging in a dialogue with conservative faith leaders in a panel next Thursday, on the Faith Community FB Group page of the Lincoln Project.  The letter that I wrote to you on November 10, 2016, holds as true today as it did then.  And the act of voting has become more of a mitzvah - and a prayer - than ever before.

Torah "To Go"
Chalk one up for disruptive innovation! Simhat Torah was always going to be the toughest Jewish holiday to celebrate during the pandemic. How can you circle the sanctuary with the Torah safely, with all the requisite dancing and singing and without sacrificing the kind of "ruach" (spirit) we've come to expect? Last Sunday, we circled the sanctuary - and the rest of our building - seven times in cars, while Katie Kaplan and Koby Hayon played and sang over our new FM radio station created specifically for this event, WTBE. People decorated their cars and waved Israeli flags. I must admit, at times I felt like was on the last float of the Macy's parade (the one with reindeer) but considering there will be no Macy's parade this year, even that seems appropriate. And to top it off, we distributed candy through a chute.
Click here for the Zoom video of the procession

Photos by Leslie Heyison

And this week, we start the Torah cycle all over again, from the book of Genesis.

Shabbat Shalom!

Rabbi Joshua Hammerman

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