Shabbat Shalom!

On this sad day, we await news about the condo collapse near Miami, in a heavily Jewish area.

The Shabbat-O-Gram (and I) will be taking a hiatus over the coming weeks, but before I wish everyone a pleasant, safe and relaxing summer, I hope you will be able to join us this Shabbat. On Friday night - outdoors, once again :) - the last during Pride Month, our guest musician will be Leo Mahler, a local musician and friend of the congregation, who will lead the prayers and also talk about their spiritual journey. They love Jewish music and ritual, and are a passionate advocate for queer and trans inclusivity and leadership in synagogue communities. During the service, you'll have the chance to ask them about speaking ancient languages, about how to make our spaces more welcoming to non-binary people like them - and yes, that includes pronouns - or about crocheting!

Join me in welcoming Leo - in person or on live-stream - this Friday.

And join us on Zoom this Shabbat morning as well. The portion is Balak, which includes one of our most beautiful and most inclusive prayers, Mah Tovu. Here is a comprehensive study guide that I put together to teach that prayer.

Also, Sunday is the Seventeenth of Tammuza minor fast leading into the Three Weeksculminating in Tisha B'Av. (We'll be joining with our sister Conservative congregations in Norwalk and Westport for services on Tisha B'Av.)

Mah Tovu is all about the presentation of physical space as sacred space, a perfect topic for a time when we are transitioning back to our physical sanctuaries. Come pray with us, and then turn your prayers into action.

"Not One Person"

This week, our reopening committee set protocols for in-person events during the upcoming months, including the High Holidays. Our goal is to be able to assemble safely, and with hundreds of people expected, we've determined that we can do that only by requiring vaccination for those who will be indoors, while providing outdoor options for children and adults who are not vaccinated or who simply want a less formal, family-style service. We will also continue to provide a live-streaming or Zoom option for all services. We want everyone to feel both welcome and safe. Protecting lives is our sacred obligation. As the Talmud states, "Save one life and save the world."

In that regard, for the past year, I've been inspired by a nearby church that to this day is still doing services remotely, despite all the pressures to reopen. They adopted a "not one person" policy, meaning that to the degree that they can control matters, "not one" parishioner should suffer from Covid because of their actions. That's a high standard to keep, and now that the end is (we hope) in sight, we can look back at the wisdom of choices we've made, including the decision last year to do the High Holidays remotely. People forget, but at the time that choice was not a slam-dunk, and there was considerable pressure to accommodate those clamoring for an in-person High Holidays. We resisted, and for the High Holidays at least, that most sacred obligation of "not one person" was upheld.

We also resisted the temptation to open up life cycle events to greater attendance and relaxed boundaries. Only this week did we have our first in-person funeral in our sanctuary (our first in-person shiva service is tonight), and b'nai mitzvah attendance has been severely restricted all year. Meanwhile, we've discovered that Zoom and hybrid services present lots of opportunities for creativity. We had relatives joining in from as far as Australia, Israel and Amsterdam; we had game shows, shared screens and in one case, a dog from the Israel Guide Dog Center sending personal best barking wishes to the bar mitzvah boy. We could do all that and save lives too. "One mitzvah leads to another," to quote another famous rabbinic saying.

It's been a hard year, one that has reminded us of the primacy of preserving life and health in our tradition, as well as the helping us to appreciate anew the power of our physical spaces.

Sharing Sacred Spaces

For the past couple of years, we have been involved in a cohort of Sharing Sacred Spaces, an international interfaith alliance represented locally by TBE, along with these congregations:

Guru Tegh Bahadur Foundation
Rose of Sharon Fellowship
The First Congregational Church of Greenwich
Islamic Cultural Center of NY - Stamford
Sathya Sai Baba Center of Stamford, CT
Union Baptist Church

You can read learn more about our Sacred Spaces partners here. Here is the video presentation that showcased our congregation and our sacred architecture for the group.