â€œDo you love me?â€ Okay, my singing may not be the greatest. I do appreciate, though, the many comments which came my way after my vocal introduction to the sermon on the second day of Rosh Hashanah. More importantly, I received even more comments about Mahzor Lev Shalom. The many positive comments confirmed my belief that our new mahzor is groundbreaking. Its use of transliteration, its stunning commentary, and its artful design made our time together in shul so much more meaningful.
The contributions made by members of our community were also quite important. The Shlichei Tzibur davened with beauty and with passion. Each led us at a particularly important moment during our days together and provided us with the opportunity of seeing a liturgy come alive inside the prayers of a community. The gabbaim, the office staff, the volunteers with the childrenâ€™s programming, those involved with food preparationâ€“they all made yontiff special inside the shul this year. Those of you who hosted others for meals and those who were guests in othersâ€™ homes provided for new connections inside the shul community.
Sukkot was also beautiful this year at shul. I want to particularly thank the congregation for its understanding of my absence towards the festival’s close. My need to be in Israel with my parents to address their health concerns was made easier knowing that my colleagues at shul along with several congregants were able to insure that the close of the Tishri festival cycle was joyous and meaningful. And while in Israel, I was still able to have a Beth Jacob yontiff by joining together with Rabbis Amy Eilberg and Julie Gordon to celebrate Simhat Torah.
While yontiff was beautifulâ€”filled with meaning, celebration and purposeâ€”the atmosphere in the larger world was quite the opposite. I have been stunned by the tragedies that unfolded inside America these past several weeks. The animus found during this off-year election between the various political parties and the bullying increasingly evident in high schools and on college campuses seem to me to be connected. Both the outrageous attacks filling the political
airwaves and the bullying of young people targeted as a result of their sexual preference (or for other reasons) seem to be an outgrowth of a society’s reluctance to embrace a code of civility.
Anger infects our society at a variety of levels. Our shared society is in need of constant attention. All too often we turn a blind eye or a deaf ear to insulting behavior directed at migrant workers or those less capable of speaking up for themselves. All too often we tolerate politicians who paint their opponents as â€œcousins of the devilâ€ as opposed to fellow Americans who are simply looking for solutions that differ from their own. We donâ€™t address those who bully to make their points and to “settle” differences. And we donâ€™t adequately reach out to high school and college kids and to remind them of their inherent value and worth.
In truth, each of us has made a comment or two in our life which has gone beyond the acceptable. During the years leading up to the decision to ordain women at the Seminary, opponents were often labeled “Neanderthals.” While mild in today’s terms, the truth is that we are all too quick to paint another person’s views with such broad strokes that we end up actually redefining their humanity. We need to relearn a truthâ€”that we can disagree with each others politics without defining one another as a “Neanderthal’ or a ‘crazy.’ And equally important we need to remind one another that we can affirm another person’s core truth about their identity, even when one might be uncomfortable with that truth.
I am touched by that reality every Shabbat inside our shul. We are a living embodiment of the ability to create sacred space where peoplesâ€™ lives can be fully lived with a real perceptible sense of acceptance, tolerance and affirmation. In describing the shul to me some 25 years ago, Larry Savett once said, â€œWe want to create a community where Shabbat influences the six other days of the week.â€ In this way, we must see what we are doing here inside the shul on Shabbat morning as a model for how we are to live Sunday through Friday.
One way to do that is to affirm our congregationsâ€™ commitment to the Keshet pledge which we signed:
â€œAs members of a tradition that sees each person as created in the divine image, we respond with anguish and outrage at the spate of suicides brought on by homophobic bullying and intolerance.We hereby commit to ending homophobic bullying or harassment of any kind in our synagogues, schools, organizations, and communities. As a signatory, I pledge to speak out when I witness anyone being demeaned for their actual or perceived sexual orientation or gender identity. I commit myself to do whatever I can to ensure that each and every person in my community is treated with dignity and respect.â€
Finally, my prayer for the year is simply thisâ€”that the joy and beauty evident during yontiff this year at shul continue in our individual and communal lives throughout the year.
Rabbi Morris Allen