Gratitude, Light and Miracles at the OJC

Like you, I cannot count the number of emails and posts I have received regarding the confluence of Thanksgiving and Chanukah this year.  Before I delete them all from my in-box or my attention, I want to consider the importance of this week for us as Jews, Americans, and members (or friends) of an amazing synagogue in Rockland County, New York.

GRATITUDE: Two holidays falling together on one day helped me ponder the gratitude I feel about being an American who is free to be an observant Jew.  In our family, we take turns around a table filled with three generations, sharing what we are thankful for. This year, we then turned to a chanukiyah sculpted by my father-in-law and chanted the blessings of the holiday. We had too much to eat, laughed at family stories told year after year and held quiet conversations to catch up with family members who live far away. We are blessed and recognized it with thankfulness.

LIGHT: The rabbis taught that the soul is God’s candle. When we kindle the lights with the shamash each night, it is clear to see the wisdom in this teaching. The flame is not diminished in the least as it touches the wicks of each night’s candle, causing each one to light.  So too with us. When we share the light of our unique souls, we are not diminished in the least. Rather, we spread light to others.

MIRACLES: This past Shabbat, Rabbi Scheff spoke about the requirement of human initiative to bring about miracles large and small in our day.  Consider the fact that Mitzvah Day has turned into Mitzvah-Week-and-a-Half and we can see how many congregants have taken the steps to bring about moments that should not be taken for granted.

Mitzvah-Week-and-a-Half began on Sunday, November 17 when a dozen congregants joined Rabbi Scheff in Israel for the annual Orangetown Jewish Center Mitzvah Mission.  Members of the group carried with them cozy hats knit by our congregants for children in Kfar Ahava, our beloved residential program for children who must be removed from abusive or neglectful homes. Watches were wrapped with gift cards created by our sixth grade Religious School students as b’nai mitzvah gifts for the children.  Teenager Tamar Weinger (traveling with her dad) brought rainbow looms with her and taught the children how to make the bracelets that are all the rage. Members of the Mission spent important time at the residence, renewing bonds, assisting children in a mitzvah project of their own, and celebrating the milestones of Kfar Ahava.  They also volunteered with Leket Yisrael and toured a handicap-accessible nature path in the north.  I hope that you read all about the adventures and miracles created by our fellow congregants in Rabbi Scheff’s daily letters from Israel.

Like all important Jewish days, Mitzvah Day began at sundown of the day before. Young children and their grownups gathered with Rabbi Ami and Loni Hersh and their boys for Havdalah and a movie. While the kids were engrossed in the movie, the adults created blankets for hospitals and nursing homes.

Youth Director Sharon Rappaport and kids make art

At the same time, our Ruach group (grades four and five) led by April Kupferman met to bake for the homeless.

Mitzvah Day, November 24, was an example of the OJC at its very best. A dozen congregants were trained in CPR at the Orangetown Ambulance Corps while one hundred congregants donated blood.

volunteer breakfast

After a breakfast and presentation about Leket Yisrael, congregants participated in a variety of activities in the synagogue as well as at a local nursing home, the Hi Tor Animal Shelter and the Salmon House, one of the Jawonio Group Homes for adults with disabilities.  In each gesture and interaction, our congregants were empowered to know that they can change the world. We can argue over the definition of “miracle” — but to me, the day was miraculous.

Mitzvah Day co-chairs Carolyn Wodar and Lorraine Brown

Kol hakavod to Lorraine Brown and Carolyn Wodar and their amazing team of volunteers for creating a meaningful, successful day.

We didn’t stop there!  Tuesday evening, November 26 was the OJC’s first hosting for Helping Hands of this new season.  For eight years, we have participated in this important interfaith Rockland County initiative that provides warm, dry places to sleep and hot meals to people who are homeless in our neighborhood.  OJC takes it to a different level under the enthusiastic guidance of Gabi Lewy, Geof Cantor, Jack Teadore, Susan Edelstein and Bruce Machlis who gather a large crew of volunteers to shop, set up, cook, greet and stay overnight (thank you Bruce and Liza Machlis!). Helping Hands guests at the OJC experience gourmet meals, donated warm clothing, and the respectful friendship of a crew of teens who participate year after year.

Opportunities for your own miracle making abound at the OJC!  Contact Adele Garber or Maddy Roimisher to find out how you can give your time and energy to the Chesed Committee.  Maybe next year, when Thanksgiving and Chanukah no longer coincide, I’ll be writing about Mitzvah Year instead of Mitzvah-Week-and-a-Half!

Join us on Tuesday, December 3 from 6:30 to 7:30 pm as we light Chanukah candles together as our amazing OJC community celebrates our countless miracles!

Rabbi Paula Mack Drill

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