High Holy Day Sermons

Jonah Moments
Kol Nidre, 5778

Rabbi Philip Ohriner

The acceleration of global warming; Growing Anti-Semitism; Charlottesville; The scourge of racial inequality; The polarization and accompanying deterioration of civil discourse in our country; Income inequality; Food insecurity; Poverty; Xenophobia; Terrorism in Israel, Great Britain, Spain, and elsewhere; The marginalization of liberal Jews and liberal Judaism by the Israeli government; Syria, North Korea, Iran; Hurricanes and earthquakes….

Each year, beginning in June or early July I begin compiling a list of potential sermon topics for the High Holy Days. This is a fraction of this year’s list. I have been a rabbi for the better part of a decade. Never have I felt so overwhelmed and troubled by the shear length of the list of topics. This past year calls to mind the words of the 19th C British statesman and politician, Joseph Chamberlain, who remarked: “I think that you will all agree that we are living in most interesting times.  I never remember myself a time in which our history was so full, in which day by day brought us new objects of interest, and, let me say also, new objects for anxiety.” In the face of the tremendous work of repair confronting our country and world, there has hardly been a minute to breathe this year. For many, our compassion is fatigued, our hope for the future diminished, and our strength sapped.

I imagine right now many of us find ourselves closely identifying with Jonah, seeking to hide, sleep, or run away from our collective troubles. Jonah struggles mightily to fulfill his sacred obligations. Even in his ultimate acceptance of the work to which he is called, Jonah never musters the ability to say, “Hineni”. I am here. I am present. I am ready to fulfill my sacred obligations. This has been a year in which we all likely had moments when we felt the desire, perhaps even the need, to hide from our own sacred obligations under the desiderata of daily life, like Jonah in the belly of the fish. In those moments we find ourselves saying: “Who am I?” “What can I do?” “How can I affect such systemic issues?” “What do I have to offer that isn’t already being offered by others?” There is a reason the great American psychologist, Abraham Maslow, named this state of being the “Jonah complex”. It is the “Jonah” in all of us that precludes us from being able to utter the word, “Hineni” in the model of Abraham, Jacob, Moses, Samuel, and Isaiah. I am here. I am present. I am prepared to fulfill my sacred obligations. I am ready to repair the world.

I thought about these questions quite a bit while on Sabbatical this summer. What do I really have to offer? How can I best utilize my skills and knowledge? How am I being called to address the burning issues of our day? When we find ourselves in  “Jonah” moments how do we find the strength, compassion, and dedication to move ourselves to “Hineni” moments?

In my struggle with my inner Jonah, I found three pieces of wisdom from our tradition particularly helpful.

The first is a statement by Rabbi Tarfon who said: לֹא עָלֶיךָ הַמְּלָאכָה לִגְמֹר, וְלֹא אַתָּה בֶן חוֹרִין לִבָּטֵל מִמֶּנָּה.[1] “It is not your responsibility to finish the work, but neither are you free to desist from it.” Rabbi Tarfon reminds us that as Jews we are not permitted to live our lives like Jonah. As Jews, we accept our partnership with God in creating our world anew each and every day, elevating the values of our people and bringing holiness into the world through sacred acts of mitzvah, the fulfillment of sacred obligation. We can never opt-out. We are never given a pass, regardless of how overwhelming the work seems. Yet, Rabbi Tarfon also reminds us that it is not our responsibility as individuals to have all the answers, fulfill all the needs, write all the checks, and stand up to each and every injustice. The truth is that change, response, and repair require us to share in the obligation as community members, Jews, fellow citizens, and members of humanity. In my Jonah moments, I often remind myself of this teaching: “Philip, you can’t do it all.  So what is one small act of repair you can perform? What opportunity will present itself for you to do a mitzvah for someone else today?” When I take a step back and remember these words of Rabbi Tarfon, I regularly find those opportunities. One example: In February, we welcomed members of Saratoga Federated Church and the West Valley Muslim Association to join us here at Beth David for a Shabbat afternoon of learning and fellowship. During the dessert reception I saw a Muslim man standing behind my friend, Sheikh Al-Addin. The man looked almost ashen and was visibly shaking, clearly experiencing his own “Jonah” moment. I went up and introduced myself. Unable to speak himself in that moment on his own, Sheikh Al-Addin took the initiative to introduce Yusef to me. Yusef and I sat down together and over the next 10 minutes or so, we got to know one another. Yusef grew up in Hebron, a flashpoint in the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. He had never spoken with a Jew, other than the IDF soldiers posted at security checkpoints, he had never been inside a Synagogue, and he had certainly never conversed with a rabbi. He shared his abject fear of Jews with me and his struggle in reconciling his experience that day with the rest of his own life experience. In the end, we embraced and took our leave from one another, Yusef’s ashen face replaced with a smile and my own life immeasurably changed. Yusef and I didn’t solve the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. We didn’t even try. We simply sought to encounter one another as human beings. I spent weeks thinking about what Torah to share at that event, planning how the day would unfold, toiling to ensure we had a good turn out from each of the houses of worship. Yet, the biggest impact Yusef and I made that day took place during an impromptu conversation over a cookie.

Transcending our “Jonah” moments does not require us to shout “Hineni” from the rooftops while bearing the burden of our society’s tensions and world problems alone, but rather to allows the word “Hineni” to emanate from us like God’s own still small voice in response to the needs of the human being before us. לֹא עָלֶיךָ הַמְּלָאכָה לִגְמֹר, וְלֹא אַתָּה בֶן חוֹרִין לִבָּטֵל מִמֶּנָּה. “It is not our responsibility to finish the work, but neither are we free to desist from it.”

Which leads us to the second piece of wisdom, this time from Ben Azzai. Ben Azzai teaches us the concept of מִּצְוָה גּוֹרֶרֶת מִצְוָה.[2] One mitzvah, the fulfillment of sacred obligation, often leads to another mitzvah. Sometimes all it takes to move us from our “Jonah” moments to “Hineni” moments is a single step which in turn catapults our mission forward. Let me introduce you to Mason Wartman. Mason runs Rosa’s Fresh Pizza in Center City, Philadephia. Three years ago, Mason opened his pizza shop modeled on the dollar pizza places in New York City. While researching the concept, Wartman learned that in New York these shops attract many homeless customers seeking affordable food. So, when homeless people showed up at the counter in Rosa’s, Wartman wasn’t surprised. However, he was surprised one Sunday afternoon when a customer came in and asked if he could purchase a slice for the next homeless person who stopped in. Wartman built on that moment by encouraging others to do the same if they could. He would put a post-it note on a board each time someone donated a slice that could be redeemed by anyone who was hungry. Word spread among the local homeless population and many people began stopping in to donate slices. In the first six months of the program, Wartman gave away more than 5,000 slices of pizza.[3] Today, Rosa’s Fresh Pizza provides between 50-100 meals a day to the food insecure. Were it not for that one Sunday afternoon customer doing one small mitzvah, 50-100 Philadelphians each and every day would have to look elsewhere for their next meal. Each day 50-100 Philadelphians, many of whom are likely facing their own “Jonah” moments step up to give tzedakah and say “Hineni” I am here. I am present. I am prepared to fulfill my sacred obligations. I am ready to repair the world. מִּצְוָה גּוֹרֶרֶת מִצְוָה One mitzvah frequently leads to another, and another, and another. Even if we count in pizza slices.

And finally, the third piece of Jewish wisdom that has been my guide in transcending my own “Jonah” moments—the story of how Akiva became Rabbi Akiva. At the age of 40, having never learned Torah, Akiva found himself standing by a well. Peering at a stone in the well he asked, “Who engraved this stone?” They told him, “It was the water, which drips upon it every day.” Akiva replied: “If something soft like water can chisel its way through stone, then surely the words of Torah can penetrate my heart. Immediately, he returned to begin studying Torah.[4] Akiva went together with his son and they appeared before a teacher of young children. He took one end of the tablet and his son took the other as he learned aleph and then bet until he learned aleph to tav. Akiva learned the book of Leviticus, all of Scripture, midrash, halakhah, aggadah, and parables, becoming the great Rabbi Akiva.[5]

Rabbi Akiva’s origin story reminds us that change, growth, return, and repair never happen all at once in one fell swoop. Like water chiseling through stone, change occurs a drop at a time incrementally, sometimes over extended periods of time. This story of Rabbi Akiva hangs in our mercaz opposite our front door. It also serves as the inspiration for the art glass that adorns each of our hero panels. Over the course of both Jewish and human history many who contributed to social change never saw their work realized. They stood up, shedding their own “Jonah” moments to say “Hineni” perhaps even with the knowledge that they would neither benefit from nor even witness the fruits of their labor. Healing our fractured country and world will not be a short-lived campaign. It will require a lifetime of effort from us all and that of our children and grandchildren, as well. All that is asked of us is to be a part of that healing one incremental step at a time. It is not our task to complete the work, but each small act of repair we can perform will lead to another. And when we reach out ultimate Yom Kippur, the day of our death, we will be able to look back upon the nourishment we provided our world one drop of water at a time, rippling outward. There are times in our lives when we feel like Jonah, fatigued, overwhelmed and burdened by the weight of the world and the immense healing it requires. In our Jonah moments, we must remember לֹא עָלֶיךָ הַמְּלָאכָה לִגְמֹר, the work is not all ours alone, מִּצְוָה גּוֹרֶרֶת מִצְוָה but one small act of repair might lead to another until drop by drop healing waters of justice, hope, peace, equality, dignity, and kindness undulate through our country and world, giving strength to one person at a time to say: “I am here. I am present. I am ready to fulfill my sacred obligations. I am prepared to repair the world. “Hineni”

Gmar hatimah tovah and Shabbat shalom!

[1] Pirkei avot 2:16

[2] Pirkei Avot 4:2

[3] http://magazine.babson.edu/2014/11/21/when-hunger-hits-home/

[4] Avot  d’rabbi Natan 6:1A

[5] Avot  d’rabbi Natan 6:1B

 

The Pebbles We Carry
Yom Kippur 5778

Rabbi Philip Ohriner

I still recall the very first time I recited a memorial prayer for the deceased. It was during my preparatory year in rabbinical school. A friend of mine lost her mother, and she asked me to do the funeral. I recall practicing the El Maleh Rachamim paragraph over and over again and being struck by the words. A decade and a half later, I couldn’t even guess how many times I have chanted the memorial prayer’s hallowed words. So many of those occasions have been with you, the members of Beth David–at funerals for your loved ones and shivah, at shloshim and yartheits in our daily minyan. Over all these years, the memorial prayer has become my close companion, accompanying me in my sacred work of seeking to bring a modicum of comfort in the midst of grief.

The end of El Malei Rachamim asks that the souls of our beloved departed be bound up in the bond of life.  U’tzror bitzror hachaim et nishmatam. As each year passes, I am increasingly comforted by these words. Many of us find solace in the idea that even though our loved ones are no longer physically alive, something of them remains living. And yet, this phrase, “bound up in the bond of life” is an enigma. For all its emotional impact the actual meaning of this phrase is not at all clear.

What exactly do we mean when we pray that those whom we have lost will be bound up in the bond of life? Does it mean they are living in olam ha-bah, an eternal existence in the world to come? Does it mean they are rejoined with the infinite oneness of the kadosh Baruch Hu? And perhaps more importantly, what does it mean for those of us still living in this world, those of us who will invoke the names of our loved ones when we recite El Malei Rahamim on their behalf?

Many scholars believe this phrase, u’tzror bitzror hachaim et nishmatam, bound up in the bond of life, is an allusion to the pastoral practices of the Ancient Near East, the cultural milieu in which our Israelite ancestors lived. In order to keep track of their flocks, shepherds would place a pebble into a bundle for each sheep that went out to pasture. Then, as the sheep returned, the shepherd would remove the pebbles, one by one from the bundle, allowing him to keep track of the numbers in his flock. This bundle was a record of living sheep, a tzror hachaim.

Fortunately, we do not need pebbles any more to keep track of the living. We have phones, and email, and apps for that. And overall, we are probably more connected to those whom we care about today than ever before. But what we all yearn for, what we wish were feasible in our hearts but know in our minds is impossible is to connect to those no longer with us. We wish we could have just one more conversation to say “I am sorry”, or “I Love you”, or “thank you”. Recognizing we cannot have that conversation, we are left holding our memories of them. We clutch them to our hearts in a bundle like the shepherd. For these memories are the pebbles we carry.

Years ago an old Jewish gentleman in his eighties decided to run in the Boston marathon against his doctor’s warnings, and actually came in with a very respectable time. Spectators standing nearby were astounded. How did you do it?, they asked. “How?” he answered, with calm and assurance, and a deep inner faith. “I had companions running with me.”  “Who were your companions? We did not see them?” they replied. “You did not see them, because they were in my heart, and in my memory. My zadie, olov hasholom, ran with me. My father, olov hasholom, ran with me. Everyone from the shtetl of my youth in Poland ran with me. We all ran together!”

For that older Jewish runner, the pebbles he carried, the memories of all those who had gone before him, gave him the strength to do something others thought impossible. The memories he carried of his departed family and fellow villagers drove him to do what they never could. He ran. But he ran without being persecuted, or chased. He ran because he wanted to run. He lived a life of freedom and opportunity in the Goldene Medina. And his memories of those who never made it out of the shtetl fueled him. They pushed him to do something remarkable.

Memories can be extraordinarily powerful. They can give us the strength to go on. They can fuel us to do tremendous things.

This is why Judaism gives us a number of opportunities each year to remember, to recite Yizkor, the memorial prayer. Yizkor is a time set aside for us to untie our bundle and admire the pebbles, to remember those whom we have lost. To recall those people who had the greatest impact on our lives. But of all the Yizkor services throughout the year, many of us sense that today is different. For some reason, yizkor on Yom Kippur stands out. Perhaps our fasting allows us to maintain better focus. Or perhaps the solemnity of the day carries into our experience of Yizkor. But I believe there is something much deeper and more important that occurs during Yizkor on Yom Kippur. I believe our experience of Yizkor is different on Yom Kippur precisely because WE are different.

We have spent the last month and a half in our very own spiritual marathon, evaluating our performance, contemplating our pace, deliberating over our direction.   We have done the work of teshuvah, the self-reflection necessary in our ongoing struggle to be our very best. In the midst of our internal work, we take out that small bundle, open it up, gaze upon those pebbles. On this day, we begin to ask the really important questions. Would they be proud of what I have accomplished this year? Am I carrying out the lessons they taught me? Have I carried on the legacy they left behind? Others of us, unfortunately, look at tarnished pebbles and ask different questions: Has our memory of them compelled us to live our lives differently than they lived theirs? Have the lessons we learned by the ways we wished they would have treated us infused themselves into our being? Have we overcome the trauma we suffered because of them? On Yom Kippur, we look at those pebbles, we reflect back on our memories and we wonder whether we have truly bound them up in the bond of our own lives. u’tzror bitzror hachaim et nishmatam

In his beautiful meditation on the Twenty-Third Psalm Rabbi Harold Kushner, suggests that we bind our loved ones who have passed on in the bond of life in two ways. One way is to continue to live the kind of life they would have wanted us to live. To remember the values they imparted to us and the critical lessons they taught us by commission or omission. The other way we do this is to acknowledge that we have inherited their unlived years. Part of that inheritance is to do the things they never lived to do.

On this day, as we prepare to recite yizkor, we each untie our own bundle and realize that the pebbles we carry with us speak volumes about who we are as individuals. We reflect on the lives our loved ones lived, the lessons they taught us, and the legacy they left for us. Have we truly bound their souls in the bond of our own lives?

As we prepare for Yizkor, we remember them. We remember them because they are the pebbles we carry. u’tzror bitzror hachaim et nishmatam. May the souls of our departed be bound up in the bond of life.

 

The Day the Rabbi Wore a bathing suit: What I Learned about the Future of American Judaism While on Sabbatical
Rosh Hashanah 5778
Rabbi Philip Ohriner

It was a bright, muggy summer day in Knoxville, Tennessee. A day perfectly constructed for a trip to the JCC pool. The truth is that my childhood summers were full of days like this one. Yet, this particular day engrained itself in my mind. While my mother scouted out the best loungers, I scanned the pool and pool deck for friends or casual acquaintances I might spend the day with playing. To this day, I remember precisely where I was standing when I saw the spectacle. I remember the shock, the sense that I stepped into an alternate universe devoid of reality. I remember looking away for a moment, pretending I hadn’t seen it, but I could not un-see it. And I could not look away either! There, not 10 feet away, was our rabbi. And you, you would not believe it. He just stood there in front of everyone—EVERYONE—not in a jacket and tie or even slacks and a shirt. No, he was at the swimming pool wearing (gasp) a swimming suit.

Immediately, I was blinded by a searing white light like those that emanated from Moses’ face. At first I thought I might become blinded by being exposed to such an event. Yet, my rational nine-year-old self quickly realized that this searing light was not ethereal nor religious. It was merely the gleam bouncing off my rabbi’s rabbinically pasty white legs. And, of course, having a research scientist as a father, I could kind of understand the pasty white legs, but even that comfortability could not squelch the litany of questions racing through my Jewish boyhood head. Did they even let rabbis come to the swimming pool? And if it was allowed, was he really permitted to wear a swimming suit? And if he was permitted to be at the pool and wear a swimming suit then surely he must have some kind of water-proof kippah to wear while he was swimming. Right?

You see, my Jewish upbringing, like most of my peers and probably a significant number of folks here today, took place mainly in Synagogue. I never interacted with my rabbi or any rabbi outside those sacred walls. The fact is that even today, close to 30 years later, synagogue life is still the predominant setting for an overwhelming majority of committed and engaged, American Jewish children. I do not mean this as a critique. Judaism in formal communal setting is beautiful, vital, and compelling, and it is also insufficient. For many of our children and grandchildren the experience of Judaism exists within a formal construct. Our welcomed assimilation with all its benefits lifted what American sociologist Peter Berger referred to as the “sacred canopy” of religious life. In the United States, we live outside an all-encompassing Jewish landscape. And if our Judaism is relegated to the construct of synagogue, then rabbis only wear formal attire, prayer is only offered in sanctuaries, and Jewish values are only encouraged at religious school and hopefully at home. As I look towards the future of the Conservative Movement and liberal Judaism I worry we are not doing enough collectively to expand the settings in which our children and grandchildren live, think, speak, and act Jewishly.

As most of you know, I spent this summer on sabbatical, where for perhaps the first time in my life, I lived mostly outside the context of formal Jewish communal life. Many have asked me what I learned and experienced during that time. This was the highlight:

In early July, Shoshana, the boys, and I took off for Watsonville where Shoshana and I served as rabbis-in-residence for the new Ramah Galim Jewish overnight camp. In preparing and packing for the trip we saw that swimming suits were recommended (even for the rabbis-in-residence?). So, with images of my rabbi’s gleaming, swimming suit-adorned legs and my existential concern over the Jewish future both in mind, I made the short drive to camp. Having never had the experience as a youth, I went to camp this summer devoid of any real expectations. What I found was an immersive, authentic, joyful, and exciting Jewish landscape populated by enthusiastic and motivated Jewish young adults, teens, and children. In a brief amount of time, it became abundantly clear that Jewish overnight camps, and particularly our very own Ramah camping system is a key to addressing the relatively cloistered nature of liberal Judaism in America.

The first element that, quite frankly, blew me away was the commitment, creativity, and communal mindedness of the teens and young adults working at Ramah. Whether I was partnering with, teaching, or just hanging out with college, rabbinical, and cantorial students, it struck me how dedicated they all were to their Judaism, building am immersive Jewish community at camp, and sharing their passion for Judaism with the campers. Each day, I spent time helping rabbinical students hone their ideas and translate them for the immersive educational setting of overnight camp. I worked with a cantorial student who shared her first composition at camp, a setting of a Shabbat morning prayer that mentions the power of the natural world and God’s presence within it while we all gazed at the ocean. These young people joined together from communities across the country (and Israel). Yet, almost all of them attended Jewish overnight camp as kids and, to a person, acknowledged the tremendous influence Ramah or their respective camp had on the Jewish decisions they make in their lives today. It is well documented in numerous studies that the desired outcome of lifelong Jewish engagement is most heavily influenced by our Jewish experience as teenagers and young adults. From my vantage point, the teens and young adults working at Ramah and other Jewish summer camps throughout the country are well on their way to crafting, participating in, and perpetuating the next iterations of American Judaism. They are the exceptions to all the statistics. They are inspiring. They are thoughtful. And they are dedicated. And while the Ramah experience starts with them, their impact on our children is what is truly astounding.

On a daily basis I observed children owning their Judaism and living it fully. Together, without cajoling or even prompting, they sang out the blessings over our food with a seemingly sincere sense of gratitude. Each meal concluded with a raucous recitation of birkat hamazon, the blessings recited after we eat. Campers enthusiastically gathered for prayer services. I even witnessed two campers negotiating which of them should have the next opportunity to try putting on tefillin that morning. I relished in the joy the campers felt in celebrating Shabbat in a fully observant context. And I stood amazed as children excitedly learned kashrut by engaging in the process of serving food for the whole community.

To be honest, even after months of reflection it is still difficult for me to encapsulate the power, uplift, and excitement of what I witnessed. So, I asked a couple of our Ramah campers to help me:

Mia Robinson wrote, “When I am at camp, I feel so much more Jewish than I do at home, which is awesome. In my daily life at Machaneh Ramah, we speak in hebrew about 30-35% of the time, so usually when I get back my hebrew vocab is greatly expanded….It makes me feel so important, and it is such an amazing opportunity, to get to be part of a Jewish community like Machaneh Ramah. Going to camp is like retreating back to my 2nd home, and I greatly appreciate the Jewish lifestyle they teach and encourage.”

Carl Lichy told me he loved “Tefillot Afloat”, reciting morning prayers on boogie, skim, or surf boards. Carl wrote: “Havdalah was probably my favorite part of Camp Ramah.  They made it really fun with dancing and singing on the beach.  It was really fun to just be with a bunch of Jewish kids. Going to a Jewish overnight camp felt special and more connected to Jewish religion, community and life.”

Roni Fishman said one of the reasons she loves camp so much, is because people are sensitive and won’t judge her.

Zoe Handelsman wrote: “What I loved most was celebrating Shabbat where I got to get all dressed up.”

 

The Royal Archer and the Painter
Adapted from Mitchell Chefitz’s, The Curse of Blessings

There was once a great archer, the royal archer, the best in the land. Yet, this archer was often dissatisfied because the wind regularly played with his arrows causing them to strike his target just off center. The Royal Archer resolved to find beyond the wind, a place where his arrows would be safe from interference. He set off on a great adventure.  He traveled near and far in search of a place devoid of wind until one day he came upon a barn that froze him in his steps. The Royal Archer stood mouth agape, staring at the side of the structure. For on the barn were painted twelve targets with an arrow precisely in the center of each. Precisely. “These arrows must have been shot by an archer better than me” the royal archer thought. “I must find him so that he can teach me how to evade the wind!” So, he inquired of passersby. “Can you direct me to the great archer who shot these arrows?” But each passerby just laughed at him and said, “you’re not looking for an archer! You are looking for a fool!” “Perhaps a fool,” replied the royal archer, “but a great archer nonetheless.” “You don’t understand,” they told him. “He shoots the arrows first, then he paints the targets.”

At learning this news the royal archer became angry, very angry. How could someone make such a mockery of his art? This PAINTER needed a scolding. So, the royal archer found the house of the painter.

After pounding on the door, the Royal Archer stood back as a middle-aged man with a pot belly, opened the door and looked up at him through a pair of thick glasses. The painter studied the royal archer’s face quizzically for a moment and then smiled a broad toothy smile, exclaiming, “It’s you! You’re the royal archer! You’re the greatest archer who has ever lived, standing here, at my house, in my doorway! I have admired you for years! I can’t begin to tell you . . .” On and on the painter went. And with each phrase, the anger of the royal archer diminished. When the royal archer’s anger had fully dissipated, he asked the painter, ‘Would you be kind enough, please, to tell me why you do what you do? Why do you shoot a dozen arrows at the barn and then paint the targets around them.” “A dozen arrows?” the painter replied,  “I don’t shoot a dozen arrows. I shoot a hundred arrows. I’m so thrilled when even one strikes the side of the barn! When I managed a dozen, that was reason to celebrate. I may not be much of an archer, but I am a painter, so I celebrated each hit by painting the most beautiful target I could paint. ”

The royal archer spent the night with the painter. Early in the morning they both left the house with bows in hand and a box of paints. They walked until they found a barn and stood a hundred yards away. The painter strung his bow, fitted an arrow and  prepared to shoot, but the royal archer stopped him. He showed him where to put his forward foot, how to hold the arrow, how to focus on the target, to meditate on the target, and let the target attract the arrow. The painter released his arrow! It rose into the air, descended in a graceful ark, and struck the barn way off to one side. But still, the painter was overjoyed. Then the royal archer strung his bow. There was a tiny dot in the center of the barn. That became his target. He pulled back his arrow. He meditated on the target and released the arrow. It rose into the sky, fell toward the target and …missed a few inches to the left. The royal archer was distraught. He had traveled so far and accomplished so little. The wind had followed him. The archer looked at the painter and said, “Were it not for the wind, it would have been a perfect hit.” The painter replied, “there is no such thing”. The painter knew it and now, the royal archer knew it, as well. And together, the Royal Archer and the painter approached the barn, and the painter taught the royal archer how to paint a perfect target.”

Rabbi Abraham Joshua Heschel teaches that we should live our lives as if painting a work of art. Each relationship provides a canvas. From this vantage point, Rosh Hashanah teaches us how to paint. The winds of embarrassment, distraction, preoccupation, neglect, and anger, frequently cause the arrows of our best intentions to fly off course. Rosh Hashanah teaches that we don’t always have to be archers. Sometimes, the path of return, repair, and reconciliation requires us to be painters, beautifully painting a picture around our errant arrows.  And sometimes, those with whom we quarrel are best qualified to show us how to paint it.

L’shanah Tovah Tikateivu, may we each be sealed for a good new year, gifted with the ability to illustrate our lives anew.

Gabe Robinson told me that Camp Ramah provides an amazing opportunity to understand Judaism on a much deeper level and make connections he will remember his whole life.

This kind of Jewish experience is one I never had as a child. To witness and hear Jewish children, teens, and young adults from our community and beyond speak about Judaism and Jewish life in these ways is more than just heartening. It points to a burgeoning commitment to living an all-encompassing Judaism where prayer and the recitation of blessings happen on boogie boards, on the beach, and in the garden. What I took away most powerfully from my Sabbatical this summer is a sense of obligation– an obligation to ensure a robust Jewish future for our children and grandchildren in which it is perfectly normal to speak poolside or in a wetsuit with a rabbi about God, the concept of mitzvah, or Jewish agricultural laws. And I firmly believe that goal requires us to ensure that every Jewish child can benefit from a Jewish overnight camp experience.

And there are barriers. The most pervasive barrier is funding. Jewish overnight camp is expensive. Period. Our families at CBD are already supporting our congregation, paying for a Jewish education for their children in our JYEP program or at Day School, and many of our teens are also paying to be involved with Jewish youth groups. Annually, Congregation Beth David allocates money to help our children attend Jewish overnight camp through the Balk Family Camp Scholarship Fund. The more donations we have to the fund each year, the greater the number of children we can help send to camp. For all of us here today: If Jewish continuity and ensuring a strong American Judaism in the next generation are a part of your giving plan, I encourage you to consider joining Shoshana and me in allocating tzedakah this year to the Balk Family Camp Scholarship Fund. For our parents and grandparents here today: I invite you to consider giving your child or grandchild the gift of an immersive Jewish experience in which the sacred canopy of Jewish life is still fully present. Make it a priority to couple your chil d or grandchild’s formal Jewish education and lived Jewish home life with an experience that brings Judaism to life in every facet of every day—where lakes and oceans are sanctuaries, where bunks are sacred communities, where Jewish values permeate everything, and no one ever blinks twice upon seeing their rabbi in a bathing suit, pasty white legs and all.

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