Congregation Sha’aray Shalom turns 60 this year!!
Stay tuned for a schedule of events for our year-long celebration – Concerts, Learning, Special Services, Dinners and so much more…!
When do you think the Rabbi’s daughter learned what Tikkun Olam meant? 15 years old? 10 years old? Maybe even at 5? If I had to answer that question before our trip in November, I would have said that I was so young I don’t even remember learning it. Repairing the world was talked to about so often in our house and in the synagogues I grew up in that it felt like an inherent value. A core principle. One I’ve tried to live up to through my career and community service.
But something changed on our journey through Alabama and Georgia, as we talked in the footsteps of the men and women who faced systemic racism, humiliation and physical brutality. As we learned about the heroes who fought for justice through non-violent protests. Who were willing to and often did lose their lives in an attempt to repair the world.
What I realized is that you cannot fully understand what tikkun olam is unless you fully understand the brokenness that is left to repair.
We live in a world fractured by a once and still held incomprehensible belief that people are inherently unequal. That people with darker colored skin are inferior, and that because they are inferior, they don’t deserve freedom. That they are property to be owned, traded, exploited and abused. Slavery left a wound on our country so deep that it has yet to heal because slavery is not a thing of the past. Slavery continues to this day every time a person of color loses out on a job opportunity, is sent to prison, and is even killed for the color of their skin. Mass incarceration. Economic inequities from generations of discrimination. The killing of black men and women by the people we entrust to protect us. All of us.
In order not to overwhelm us by the magnitude of suffering around us – Tikkun Olam tells us that we do not have to repair the world alone. But we must do something.
I know that not everyone here is able to take the physical journey that we did. I wish there were words or stories we could tell that would truly capture what it’s like to stand in a greyhound bus station that used to be segregated, to stand on the corner where Rosa Parks refused to stand up on her historic bus ride, to offer a prayer in front of the church where 4 little girls with their whole lives in front of them were killed. There are no words that replace the empty feeling in your stomach as you imagine how scary it was to wake up every day never knowing when it would be your last.
Martin Luther King Jr was so sure he would not survive the battle for civil rights that he gave his own eulogy. In it, he said “I want you to able to say that I did try to feed the hungry. I want you to say that day that I did try in my life to clothe the naked. I want you to say in that day that I did try in my life to visit those who were in prison. And I want you to say that I tried to love and serve humanity. Yes, if you want to, say that I was a drum major. Say that I was a drum major for justice. Say that I was a drum major for peace. Say that I was a drum major for righteous.”
We may not be in Alabama but there is work to do right here in our local communities. We can make a difference in so many lives. There are men and women of color in jail right now on minor violations that they are disproportionally arrested for who lose their children and jobs because they can’t pay bail as low as $100. By giving to the Bail Project, we can literally free them. For government workers of color currently out of work – the impacts are often felt even stronger because the lack of financial security. We can bring food to our local food pantry to ensure they make it until their next paycheck. Even in our Jewish community, our brothers and sisters of color feel like outsiders. We can and must do more to make them feel welcome and equal.
Today, I ask myself and all of us – when we die. What will our friends, families and communities say we were a drum major for?
Penny and I were both born in 1948. We were 15 in 1963 – old enough to hear the news on TV and recognize that important events were unfolding in the South, but not sufficiently engaged to fully understand or comprehend what occurred that year. Simply stated, our view of the events of that year were naïve and vastly oversimplified. Our belief in our present-day national forward progress in Civil Rights, already badly damaged by the shadow of Charlottesville and the resurgence of the Alt-Right, was stripped fairy naked by four days in Atlanta, Birmingham, Selma, and Montgomery.
We never really understood how the tap-root of Slavery – born out of economic avarice – was transformed into Jim Crow. Or how Jim Crow has morphed in the present day, reincarnated in our criminal justice system in every state in our country and embodied in voter suppression and gerrymandering initiatives.
We never really understood the extent of the application of terror by Whites against the Black citizenry in the post-reconstruction era through the 1960s.
We never fully appreciated the bravery and non-violence self-discipline of African American protesters in Selma, Birmingham, Montgomery, Jackson, Greensboro, and Memphis… and hundreds of other locations throughout the South. These men and women placed their lives on the line. They faced physical assault and jailing with Ghandian stoicism. In Montgomery they sent their children to march knowing they were going to fire-hosed. We doubt we could have sent our own pre-teen and teen-aged children into such a maelstrom.
And we certainly never really understood how today the criminal justice system has been turned into a tool of voter disenfranchisement for minorities or how our “law and order” policies of mandatory “three strikes” sentencing and lengthy incarceration guidelines have increased recidivism rather than deterring it. Nor had we realized how significantly the right to vote in minority communities has been significantly curtailed by newly enacted restrictive voting laws in the past five years.
Because we were travelling in a carefully planned group tour, we had the opportunity to meet with a survivor of the March in Selma and a Southern Baptist Bishop who was part of the leadership of the Montgomery protests. Their first person narratives were incredibly powerful – bringing to my mind our guide for a CJP mission to Poland in 1994 who was an Auschwitz survivor.
What was the moment we remember most? For us it was the National Memorial for Peace and Justice (aka “The Legacy Museum” and “National Lynching Memorial”). The museum traces the evolution of slavery from the late 1600’s through Reconstruction, into the era of Jim Crow, and then to the present day using primary source materials. The monument has a power I have only experienced three times before: at Auschwitz, at Yad Vashem, and at the Viet Nam Memorial.
The words on the entry to the memorial read:
For the hanged and beaten
For the shot, drowned, and burned,
For the tortured, tormented and terrorized
For those abandoned by rule of law
We will remember.
With hope because hopelessness is the enemy of justice.
With courage because peace requires bravery.
With persistence because justice is a constant struggle.
With faith because we shall overcome
The trip left us with niggling question, but one stands out: In the 1960’s the Jewish community forged a strong bond with the African American community, supporting the Civil Rights movement on its many fronts. Jews understood and identified with persecuted minorities. But in 2019 that bond has frayed until it is nearly completely severed. The historic relationship forged with the NAACP and SCLC by the Freedom Riders and a host of Jewish organizations has been largely forgotten. African American organizations are gravitating towards BDS initiatives. On college campuses, many African Americans view Jewish students as entitled — unable to understand or empathize with their status and situation — and civil discourse between Jews and African Americans is strained or nearly non-existent. It’s easy to blame this on the current political environment, but the dissolution of these bonds started several years before the rise of the Alt-Right.
We have always recognized that growing up African-American in the USA carries residual risks and challenges and that racism is still a significant force in corners of America. That Racism remains an underlying, endemic stain on our collective body politic can’t be debated. This trip highlighted the depth and breadth of that stain, lurking almost undetectable until it is illuminated by a CSI-like ultra-violet light.
We all have to ask ourselves what we can do to change this haunting status quo. “If not us, who? If not now, when?”
Like my fellow travelers, I wrote a reflection which I tossed aside as I asked the same question posed at the end of Susan’s photo montage we just saw. Like David, I didn’t know, I did not know, but now that I do, what can we do?
I was reminded of a piece that we learned from my teacher and friend, Cantor Ellen Dreskin, at a prayer and study retreat I attended last September, that may be appropriate for this evening’s service theme to raise consciousness and hopefully inspire. It was composed with Jewish singer songwriter, Dan Nichols. Here is how it came about:
Over the years, Ellen had noticed discomfort among many with the wording in Aleinu L’shabei’ach (it’s on us, to praise), the prayer at the end of communal worship. We bow in acknowledgement that we have a unique obligation, that we are not the same as others, that we are special; many have seen this as chutzpa-dik…a holier than thou kind of statement. Perhaps this is not about privilege, says Ellen, but about responsibility.
In Ellen’s words, “ I hear Aleinu as an expression of appreciation for my community’s assumed responsibility for the betterment of the world. I am obligated L’shabei’ach/to sing praise. In reality, the attempt to live in that way IS the praise. We say Aleinu at the end of the service, with one foot out the door, to gather communal strength for the journey and be reminded of that responsibility. This may be my favorite prayer of all,” she says. “Especially in these troubled times, there is great work to be done.”
Dan shares the following:
“Ellen and I got together for a couple of days of creative work focused on what’s going on with Aleinu L’shabei’ach. Here’s what we came up with:
If Bar’chu at the beginning of the service can be thought of as “the call to worship,” then it might be reasonable to think of Aleinu at the end of the service as a “call to action.” We have shared our communal redemption story through moments such as Mi Chamocha; we have remembered the deeds and faith of our ancestors in the Amidah, and we have re energized our spirits in communal expression of our dreams and visions. Hopefully, it has had some impact and changes us for the good. With that in mind, we crafted an English setting for Aleinu L’shabei’ach that intends to unpack the core themes of our responsibility and the world’s need for action.”
I hope these new words and melody may help to give us new meaning as we follow this with our traditional chanting of Aleinu. The words are in your handout.
Myron E. Schoen Service to Community Award recognizes outstanding contributions through service and engagement
The National Association for Temple Administration (NATA) has selected Congregation Sha’aray Shalom’s very own Ellen Bernstein as their 2018 recipient of the Myron E. Schoen Service to Community Award. In her nomination, former congregation president Scott Garland wrote: “Ellen… embodies Mizvot and Tikkun Olam every single day. She is a role model for service to the synagogue…whether she is chanting Torah or working behind-the-scenes to help with a fundraiser. Ellen is our Congregation’s first connection to non-members, and she plays a significant role in Sha’aray Shalom’s position as the spiritual and social home for Jews on Boston’s South Shore. Ellen… regularly goes above and beyond the responsibilities of her position, tirelessly and without complaint. She does so not for recognition but because it benefits our congregants, strengthening the connections between members and improving our congregation now and into the future. Sha’aray Shalom truly wouldn’t be the same place without her.”
Reprinted from the Winter 2018/2019 Newsletter:
The Social Justice poll taken during 2018 Mitzvah Day showed that adults and teens want to work on ending hunger and gun regulation issues. The committee has listened!
Julia Preble and so many others are helping to collect, sort and deliver food all year. Our Yom Kippur team included Kris Goldberg, Diana and Marty Block, Rich Westelman, Mike and Chana Snyder, Peter, Meghan and Molly Bloomfield, as well as the entire Preble family: Rusty, Naomi, Jacob and Julia.
Since Yom Kippur, more than 1,500 pounds of food have been delivered to the Scituate, Weymouth and Hingham Food Pantries.
Thanks to the efforts of Tom Jenkins and Marci Bracken, we now have two new bins at Sha’aray Shalom for year-round food collection.
For Thanksgiving, Sha’aray Shalom raised money for the Hingham Food Pantry to provide turkeys for 15 families, and to help homeless members of our communities during the winter months, we are collecting 200 pairs of wool socks.
Looking ahead to 2019, we will sponsor three programs for adults and teens on balancing our children’s safety with the right to own a gun. CSS will again participate in the annual Boston Pride Parade in June. Sally and Steve Bergstein are organizing again. Mitzvah Day on Sunday, May 5, will include a Blood Drive chaired by Marty Gall and the assembly line packaging of 10,000 meals for South Shore residents.
Much to do and many ways you can participate! Our team is growing daily: Jessica Badiner, Adam and Leia Rudikoff, Susan Evans, Suzanne Ruminer, Jordan Sommer and Cheryl Hurchand have all volunteered to help. We hope you’ll join us!
I am writing this to sing of the pleasures and satisfaction one gets from volunteering and helping in the myriad ways that keep our many-faceted temple activities running smoothly—all ages and genders are welcome!
Helping Ellen, our Executive Director, with some of the many responsibilities that rest on her shoulders is extremely worthwhile. For our retirees, this can be a great way to spend some of your spare time. It’s also a wonderful way to make new temple friends or share an hour or two with close friends. You pick the day, time, and hours that you are available. The “chores” vary from day to day, with some as simple as folding and stuffing into envelopes the notices that go to the Congregation or wrapping gifts for our Hebrew school students, and others more involved, such as readying the temple for holiday events.
It’s a huge effort to run the business of our temple. I recently organized into two binders (punch the holes, put them in the binders) the unbelievable amount of paperwork—invoices, statements, contracts, documents, and more—that keep the temple up and running! I was totally “blown away” and it gave me a much greater appreciation of the time and experience that our clergy and members of the board and committees give. I have been a volunteer for a little more than ten years and it would be a stretch to think I could continue for ten more (being a very senior senior). But as long as I wake up in the morning, put my feet on the floor and they move, I shall continue to move them to Sha’aray Shalom, where whatever time I give is always warmly welcomed and thanked. It’s such a nice way to “feel the love.”
Breathing. A normal, healthy adult takes between 12 and 20 breaths per minute. Assuming the average breathing rate is 16 breaths per minute, adult humans take 23,040 breaths per day without giving it so much as a second thought. I know I never really thought about it, until March 14 of this year.
As some of you know, I recently had a terrible battle with pneumonia that landed me in the hospital emergency room. I remember laying in that bed thinking, “is this it? Have I celebrated my last Passover? My last Shabbat? Am I going to die never having married? I grew up Catholic. I know all about Last Rites, but I have no idea what Jewish customs are!” And I started to pray. I couldn’t speak, and I was too tired to move my lips. All I could do was think the words and hope that, somehow, they would reach G-d.
I asked Rabbi Joseph to add my name to the Mi Shebeirach list that week, as I was still in the hospital during Shabbat. Once word went out that I was seriously ill, a magical thing happened. I began to see a side of this community that I had heard about, but never experienced firsthand.
People called to see how I was doing, and if I needed anything. The Caring Committee reached out. Rabbi Joseph came to visit, which was exactly what I needed. Sometimes, I need a voice of reason to tell me to slow down, or as she likes to say, “take a breath.” I have to laugh at the irony of that statement in this particular case because literally, all I wanted to do was take a breath without pain or coughing or effort. I wanted it to come as naturally as it used to.
Ellen came to visit on the day I was discharged, and I received one of the lovely “knitzvah” blankets made by our knitters. Once I was home, I was scared. I was going to have to rest, but somehow do things for myself, too.
And here’s why I love that blanket so very much – I wrapped myself in it and set up camp on my couch. It was as if my entire community was reaching out and hugging me. In that moment, I wasn’t scared anymore because I knew that I wasn’t alone. All I had to do was reach out, and somehow, things would happen. And yet, it was the idea of being in a giant hug for as long as I needed that was truly comforting. It isn’t just any old blanket, nor is it a collection of pieces of woven yarn. It is a physical manifestation of the healing wishes of those who physically assembled it and the community as a whole. That blanket, in particular, is a give of love, compassion, and caring.
I’m still not better, but I have all of you in my corner. And sitting here, on this Shabbat afternoon writing this, wrapped in my “knitzvah” blanket, I realize that I’ve just had another lesson in what it means to be part of a Jewish community. It’s a strong and powerful bond, reminding me once again, what an absolute privilege and an honor it is to be Jewish.