Have you ever read People of the Book by Geraldine Brooks? It is one of my favorite books. Through clues, it traces the Sarajevo Haggadah through its history and owners. I highly recommend it.
I thought of it tonight, as I closed my Gates of Repentance for the last time as Yom Kippur drew to a close. I had thought I had done that last year since we had been gifted the Reform Movement’s newer machzor Mishkan HaNefesh to be used this year…until Covid-19 kept us in our homes. We had decided to stay with the familiar, the maroon book that was already on many of our shelves at home. But this was the last time.
Like Ms. Brooks’s book, there will forever be hints of our history within my volume: the many post-its that will remain with the names of congregants who led prayers and read Torah and Haftarah. In it are the cues for our choir–first led by Sharon Leibowitz, z”l, and now Norm Chapman. Tucked away within the pages were photocopies of readings I would share.
I have never been an e-book kind of person. I like to hold the text, turn the pages and close the book at the end, whether a novel or a prayer book and now I think of the history that is encased in my machzor, my own Book of Life.
A couple of weeks ago, Exxon Mobil got expelled from the Dow Jones Industrial Average, which is one measure of how the stock exchange is doing. It averages 30 large U.S. companies which track the stocks of many economic sectors. Exxon Mobil is the oldest member of the Dow, descended from Standard Oil which was John D. Rockefeller’s which merged with Mobil, another part of his empire. It means that neither lineage nor marriage for economic sake is sacred in the world of stocks.
Why did this happen? Apple split its stock. For every one share someone owns, they now own 4; each being worth one-fourth of its previous price or in apple language: one whole apple was quartered. Skin, seeds and all.
The lower price of Apple stocks make the segment of the tech industry smaller and in order to find a new proportional balance, huge companies including: Exxon Mobil, Pfizer, Raytheon are out and other software companies are in. They say it won’t affect their business though for Exxon Mobil, the glut of oil, consumer concern about global warming, and the drop in demand due to Covid-19 does.
What does this have to do with our final approach to the High Holy Days? Everything.
We can use the metaphor to consider how we value ourselves – is it in absolute terms based on how we are commanded by Torah and tradition or in relative terms based on how we are seen by others? Are we investing in wholesome and holy aspects of ourselves or spending time and resources on the opposite? Are we living in the past or the present? Are we investing in the future?
The High Holy Days are a time to ask important questions and strive to answer them mind, body and soul. The dividends are priceless.
Mr. Rogers says to look for the helpers. Today, I looked and what I saw was a beautiful day in the neighborhood.
As part of the Monroeville Interfaith Ministerium’s work, we have a community arm called Community Network. The mission of the Community Conversation is: “To strengthen the community by gathering information about needs and resources and addressing them through tools and information.” Included in our group are representatives of the school district, police, library, hospitals, houses of worship, RAMP, food pantries and others. Since the beginning of COVID-19, we have increased from meeting every six weeks, to meeting weekly.
Today’s goal was to bring a bit of joy coupled with resources. After gathering information about the United Way and programs to assist people with rent, we created a flier and during the Gateway School District’s food distribution at four sites over three days, we gave the flier together with a red, white and blue beach ball. I and my counterparts at the other sites were met with smiles and appreciation.
So who were these helpers? They were the Gateway maintenance staff who put up the tent and tables and they were the “lunch ladies.” For two hours, I sat near these three ladies who welcomed families, often by name, talked about how big the baby was getting, commiserated with current conditions and heard about job prospects. In-between clients, they talked and joked and shared concerns regarding the people who are not eligible for these meals. They talked about the “bad rap” that lunch ladies get, pinning it to the hair nets and the attitudes of previous generations.
Today, I thought that I was delivering a bit of joy but I came away with a smile and appreciation that is much fuller than an inflatable ball. Thank you, Gateway lunch ladies!
Love your neighbor as yourself. We all say it. Sometimes we live it. Sometimes, we don’t know how to live it. One way to begin is to learn about others.
For the past six weeks, I have participated in The Multi-faith Neighbors Network in which local rabbis, evangelical ministers, and imams are put into triads to learn together and to do together. The latter is a challenge given the Zoom-limitations. The goal is to allow ourselves to be vulnerable, to learn through asking and wrestling with challenging questions and to bring our communities into these relationships. The six weeks are only the beginning.
On our way from Pittsburgh to Cincinnati, we stopped at the Palace of Gold. This Palace and its compound are nestled in the hills of West Virginia near Moundsville. It is exquisite, from the gardens to the palace itself. Per its website: “His Divine Grace A.C. Bhaktivedanta Swami Prabhupada (1896-1977) is widely regarded as the foremost Vedic scholar, translator, and teacher of the modern era. He is especially respected as the world’s most prominent contemporary authority on bhakti-yoga, devotional service to the Supreme Person, Krishna, as taught by the ancient Vedic writings of India. He is also the founder-acharya of the International Society for Krishna Consciousness.”
Going into the Palace of Gold in ways was uncomfortable but so are some of the conversations in our triad. However, if I stay home and don’t speak with others, ultimately I am more isolated. I invite you to journey with me – even if while staying at home – and allow yourself to love your neighbor as yourself.
As Debbie Jacknin, our resident artist, said to our students: when we as Jews think of broken glass, we think of Kristallnacht. And while the shards of colorful broken glass that were to be used to create our memorial to the horror of October 27, 2018, she noted that while they would not become whole, together they would create something new. And so they did.
Hand after hand – congregants of every age, neighbors of every age, skin tone, gender, religion, ethnicity, our elected officials and every single one of our religious school students placed glass onto our glass mosaic, designed by Debbie, inspired by our Remembrance Committee and based on the poem “In the rising of the sun and in its going down, we remember them” written by Rabbis Syvan Kamens and Jack Reimer.
The first to place the broken glass were Committee members who placed 11 stars for the 11 victims. The very first star was placed by the hand of Rachael Farber, great niece of Rose Mallinger (z”l) in the top right corner.
Carefully placing glass shards is healing. As it was when I asked students to choose a piece of glass that reflected, through its color or shape, how they were feeling at that moment. Red for anger; blue for comfort; red for violence… And then those emotions became art.
Thank you to Debbie, to our Committee, to all who joined us on Saturday night and to every hand that touched a piece of art that reflects brokenness and wholeness all at once.
It was the Tuesday before Thanksgiving and I sat on the “bimah” of the Monroeville United Methodist Church along with the clergy and lay representatives of the Monroeville Interfaith Ministerium as we expressed our thankfulness and celebrated the diversity of America.
It was a powerful evening.
But it is the quiet moments that might count even more. After the horrific shooting of a Muslim taxi driver in Pittsburgh, I texted my Muslim colleague to express not only my sorrow, but that our interfaith work is stronger than hate… but only if we express it.
As you wrap your Chanukah gifts, set up your chanukkiot, buy your potatoes and oil, and consider the beneficiaries of your end of the year giving, give the gift of tolerance. One phone call, note or text at a time.
Are you ready to make your voice heard? If so, go to the Religious Action Center petition urging the Israeli government to ensure that oversight of the Kotel includes a range of Jewish views and voices and protects gender equality.
I’d like to welcome everyone to the new Temple David website. We hope you will add this to your “favorites” list and visit us often to stay up to date with all the activities at Temple David.
I’d like to thank everyone who helped put together the initial content for the website. It was a team effort and I appreciate everyone who wrote, info herpes edited, commented and attended our meetings!
Also, a big thank you to the Board for funding this effort and to Image Box, the company that developed the web site for us.
Now it belongs toallof us. If you have pictures, videos, suggestions, etc. to help improve the website please let me know!
L’Shalom – Julie Cohen