Expanding Our Gates - Opening Our Windows to the World
Shabbat Shalom Shaarei Kodesh,
Over the next few weeks, I will be sharing some of the new initiatives we are starting this year at Shaarei Kodesh. I like to call these initiatives innovations. It is our duty to make the old new and the new holy, and our annual 'innovations' are one way which we live out these words famously uttered by Rabbi Avraham Kook. I will begin with the outside, the difference we hope to make this year in the larger community, and then, focus inward on the difference we will make in each other's lives this year.
If you stayed in town for Hurricane Dorian, there is no doubt that you were hunkered down in your homes. Many of us, even if we had power, were sitting in the dark due to our hurricane shutters blocking the sun light. The question I have, like so many of you, is when do we take the shutters down? Are we scared to open our windows to the outside world because of the fear of another hurricane in season? This tension, of protection versus openness has been with us for the 2,000 years we have been in the diaspora. There have been some pretty dangerous times to be a Jew in the lands where we have lived. Much of the high holiday liturgy is a reminder of those times of living in fear in our homes. During the Crusades (the first Crusade began in 1096), Jewish communities in Germany and France were decimated from attacks by marauding Christian soldiers and mobs. Thousands of Jews hid in their homes, fearing a violent end to their lives, and some Jews even taking the lives of their families rather than having them forced to convert or be murdered by the hands of their attackers.
In other times, we have lived in harmony and peace with our neighbors. Even though we have experienced unprecedented anti-Semitism in the United States in this last year, we are still relatively safe and accepted in American society. In fact, in a Pew Report from 2014, Jews are the most admired religious groups in the country with 63% of the population viewing us 'warmly'. Nevertheless, after a year which saw the worst attack against Jews at Tree of Life Synagogue, and Orthodox Jews in Brooklyn being attacked, we are left with a choice: do we put the shutters up and live in darkness, or open our windows to let the light in?
There is a danger to living in the fear and darkness. Leaving our shutters on after the hurricane is actually dangerous because it blocks exits in case of a home fire and does not allow first responders in to save families.
One of my favorite Jewish texts about the nature of the windows in the Holy Temple/Beit HaMikdash (Vayikrah Rabbah 31):
"Rabbi Chanina said, "There were windows in the Temple, and light would go out from them to the world, as it is stated (in I Kings 6:4), 'And for the house, he made windows broad and narrow.' They were broad and narrow, narrowing on the interior and widening on the exterior - so as to give out light to the world." Rabbi Levi said, "[There is a relevant] parable of a king who built a palace for himself and made its windows narrowing on the exterior and widening on the interior to bring in light into it. But the windows of the Temple were not like this. Rather they were narrowing on the interior and widening on the exterior - so as to give out great light."
The windows in our homes serve the purpose of bringing light into our homes, but the windows in the Holy Temple served a different purpose: to bring the light of God to the world. The concept of light is ingrained in our purpose statement:
Congregation Shaarei Kodesh exists to ignite (
- lehadlik) the Jewish spark within each individual, journeying together as a holy, Jewish community (
- Kehillah Yehudit Kedosha).
The light that we cultivate in each one of you must be shared with the outside world, especially during dark times. With this intention in mind, I wanted to share some of the ways that we are 'expanding our gates' this year at Shaarei Kodesh.
Bringing light to the recovery community
Last year, Shaarei Kodesh co-sponsored a speaker, Lisa Hillman, who spoke about her book, Secret No More, about her son Jacob and his struggles with addiction. Through her writing and speaking, Lisa is helping to break the stigma that Jews are not affected by substance abuse disorders. Last Rosh Hashanah, I spoke about recovery in the Jewish community in my sermon, The Voice of the Voiceless, where I spoke about the hidden voices in our communities: people struggling with addiction and their families. On Shabbat Shuvah, we welcomed Rabbi Mark Rotenberg, an expert in recovery, to speak to our congregation about addiction (he will be joining us again this Shabbat Shuvah). This year, we received a grant from the Jewish Federation of South Palm Beach County and funding from Gelt Financial to offer a high holiday program for people in recovery. The program, called Minhag, actually began weeks ago, and meets on Sundays at Shaarei Kodesh, culminating with a high holiday program in between Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur on October 6. If you have anyone who might be interested in our new Minhag program, please share this information with them. We have been blessed to have a nice group meet every Sunday, some of our congregants as well as people on the outside who are looking for a place to come in. You can find more information on our Facebook page and and on our website.
We are called Shaarei Kodesh, gates of holiness, for a reason - because holy gates are open for all who seek a connection to God and the Jewish community.
Education - Talmud Torah
Last year, we piloted a program called Food For Thought where we brought good food and Torah to people's homes. We held three events over the year in different congregant's homes, but also making sure to invite half Shaarei Kodesh chaverim and half who are not part of our congregation. One focused on parents with children where I taught about the importance of family dinners in Judaism; another was geared toward men where I taught about the importance of male friendships (bromances), and the third focused on empty nesters where I taught about the Eagles and Doves and their Nests: God, Parents and Children, and the importance of the second half of life. We thank the Jewish Federation of South Palm Beach County for helping us fund this initiative. Our sessions were so successful that we will be doing more Food for Thought classes in people's homes this year. Last year, we welcomed a Jewish singles meet up group to Shaarei Kodesh where I taught a lesson on the importance of companionship in later years, and we hope to welcome more sacred guests this year! In my next weekly message, I will talk about our vision for adult education for our congregation.
Social Action/Tikkun Olam
While our community did not suffer the effects of Hurricane Dorian, our neighbors to the east, the Bahamas, were decimated by the storm.
We must not let our neighbors suffer during this time, therefore, I ask that you help in any way you can.
Our Federation has put together a fund to help rebuild the Bahamas (we will be sending a separate email out about this tomorrow).
We will continue our hunger initiatives like Project Isaiah, where we collect food for Palm Beach Food Banks over the high holidays, and our gleaning program through CROS minitistries, our interfaith program where we pick fresh produce from the fields for local food banks.
We can make a difference in the world through our wallets, but we can also make a difference in the world with our legs.
Rabbi Abraham Joshua Heschel, a 20th century Conservative rabbi and philosopher, famously said, after marching across the Edmund Pettus bridge in Selma, Alabama with Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. and fellow civil rights activists: 'For many of us the march from Selma to Montgomery was about protest and prayer. Legs are not lips and walking is not kneeling. And yet our legs uttered songs. Even without words, our march was worship. I felt my legs were praying.'" This year, our congregation will take our first ever social justice mission to walk those steps and learn about the Jewish role in civil rights in America in our Civil Rights Journey of the South. This summer, we had the unique opportunity to hear from one of the famous freedom marchers, Rabbi Sid Shanken, who shared his story of praying with his legs.
This trip is open not just for adults, but for our teens.
Please click here for more information.
There is much more to come this year, and I hope you join us our journey in bringing light to the world. Next week, I will talk about our internal initiatives and the thought behind it.
May we all pray and help those who are suffering the effects of Hurricane Dorian, and may we continue bringing light to the rest of the world.
Rabbi David Baum