When this past Saturday turned into Sunday, it was the first day of the holiday of Shavuot. We had finished counting 49 days since Passover. It was time to receive Torah. Together with about eighty congregants, I was cozy in the synagogue, studying words of Torah in groups of four, eating coffee ice cream with chocolate sprinkles.
When the sun rose on a new day, I was sleeping for a few hours before holiday services began again at 9:00 a.m. I was a bit groggy as I began chanting the blessings of the morning, but I felt happy and fulfilled in one of my favorite holidays, when we would be celebrating the giving of the Torah at Mount Sinai. I was blissfully unaware of the outside world.
When this past Saturday turned into Sunday in Orlando, Florida, a mad man whose soul was poisoned with hatred and a fanatical view of life was holding more than 100 people hostage in a nightclub intended as a gathering place for celebration. While I was studying words of Torah, he was shooting 49 people dead and wounding 53 others. In the morning, the world that was attached to media started reeling from the news of yet another mass murder, another act of terrorism, a horrifying targeting of the LGBTQ community, an attempt to bring down the joy of Pride Month.
As Saturday turned to Sunday, I was discussing the meaning of: “You shall be holy because I the Lord your God am holy.” In my havruta (study group), we thought that if we could possibly agree on a definition of holiness, we would know exactly what God expects of humanity and particularly of Jews. We would have the key to making our world a better place. At 1:30 in the morning on Sunday, it all felt so simple and uplifting. And all the while, a terrorist was shooting people dead.
How can there possibly be any sense in the world? How can God possibly expect us to be holy?
Since Sunday, people I have spoken with want to know how goodness can possibly matter in the face of evil. My stubborn answer is that goodness is the only thing that does matter.
Every act of kindness takes away the power of hatred and cruelty. I refuse to become a nihilist or a pessimist. Being an optimist is not frivolous or naïve or weak. Being an optimist in days like these requires immense courage.
Author Rebecca Solnit says: “Hope is not a lottery ticket you can sit on the sofa and clutch, feeling lucky. It is an axe you break down doors with in an emergency. Hope should shove you out the door, because it is going to take everything you have to steer the world away from endless war, from the annihilation of the earth’s treasures and from the grinding down of the poor and marginal.”
This past Sunday, the Jewish people celebrated Shavuot, the Festival of Revelation. In our all night study at the OJC, Rabbi Scheff taught that creation and revelation lead us toward redemption. Redemption will not fall out of the heavens above. The promise of redemption is in our hands, and it is what keeps us moving forward with optimism and hope, believing against all odds that we can repair the world. Join me please. Act by act, moment by moment, we can bring redemption to a world desperately in need of repair.
Rabbi Paula Mack Drill
One of my favorite Talmudic teachings asks what one should do if she is lost in the desert and does not know what day it is. How can she know when it is Shabbat? The rabbis answer that she should count six days from the time she remembers and the seventh day will be Shabbat. [Talmud Bavli Shabbat 69b] I love this response because it reminds me that Shabbat is not just a day on a calendar but a sacred time we can enter once a week… and a time that enters us. When Tradition tells us that we receive neshama yeteira (an additional soul) every Shabbat, I think it is talking about this mystical, tangible quality time takes on when it becomes holy.
I was thinking about this Talmudic source as we entered into Shabbat here in Tel Aviv. When I am away from Orangetown Jewish Center for Shabbat, I picture myself sitting in the sanctuary before our stained glass windows and colorful ark curtain as the room fills up with people I love. But of course, I also enter into Shabbat where I am.
Wherever I go and whatever is happening around me, Shabbat enters me and I enter Shabbat… even in Tel Aviv, the City that Never Sleeps. (Ask any Israeli and they will tell you that New York comes in second to Tel Aviv.) On Friday afternoon, as we made our last minute purchases of challah and fruit in the shuk (market) and I dashed back to Sarah and Sagi’s apartment to check on the chicken soup,
young people in Tel Aviv were settling into pubs and cafes for the beginning of their weekend.
We ate Shabbat dinner on the roof of Sarah and Sagi’s apartment and Ben’s voice reciting motzi mixed with the sounds of a band playing at a bar just outside the Kerem haTemanim neighborhood. In the quiet peace of our Shabbat, I blessed my children and we ate our meal.
On Shabbat morning, we walked to a Masorti synagogue, Kehillat Sinai, where we were warmly greeted and where I was asked to help out as a gabbai. The chanting was different, the faces were new, but the atmosphere was friendly and open. It reminded me of the OJC in its lively community feel.
We spent Shabbat afternoon on the Tel Aviv beach, admittedly one cannot do that in Orangeburg! But while I was here in Israel for Shabbat, I was also in New York for Shabbat, and this is where the teaching from Shabbat 69b comes in handy. When I entered Shabbat, my community was in the midst of busy Friday afternoons back home. When I was hearing the Torah reading of Behar, everyone in New York was sound asleep. When I was relaxing on the beach, the congregation was hearing our intern Paula Rose give her sermon. And when Shabbat went out and I counted the twenty-ninth day of the Omer, my friends at the OJC were beginning their Shabbat naps! How could I be two places at once?
Shabbat enters me and I enter Shabbat. It’s not just time on the clock or a day on the calendar. Shabbat is far more than that. Shabbat is a place I go once a week to replenish my soul. Whether here or there, whether surrounded by people keeping Shabbat or having Saturday morning eggs at a café on Dizengoff, it’s all Shabbat. What more do I need?
See you all next Shabbat at the OJC! Blessings from Israel,
Rabbi Paula Mack Drill
As February draws to a close, it is time to look back to consider the Orangetown Jewish Center’s commemoration of Jewish Disabilities Awareness and Inclusion Month #JDAIM.
By the end of the month, we will have posted seven spotlights of congregants who have eloquently reflected on lives impacted by disabilities. Rabbi Scheff and I have blogged, taught and reflected in our classes on Jewish values with respect to people who have disabilities. Tonight, congregants will join with our Education Director, Sandy Borowsky, to view and discuss the important film “How Hard Can This Be.”
This coming Shabbat, February 26 and 27 will be dedicated to Disability Awareness as fellow congregant Scott Salmon speaks on Friday evening at 7:00 services. His topic is “Ask Me: the Challenges of Inclusion.” On Shabbat morning, Rabbi Scheff’s sermon will be dedicated to the topic of awareness and inclusion. After kiddush, I will be facilitating a text study tracing Jewish attitudes toward people who are Deaf or hearing impaired from the Torah through Rabbinic texts, leading up to the 2011 watershed Responsa of the Committee on Jewish Law and Standards which grants full obligation and rights to Deaf people and which affirms that ASL is a language by which people can fulfill mitzvot.
At the OJC, we have much of which we can be proud. The month of February and #JDAIM, however, will only prove its lasting value if we reflect carefully on what we have learned and continue to strive toward being an ever more inclusive community.
I offer here the lessons that I have learned and look forward to your adding more to my list:
1. “Persons with a Disability” is not a useful catch-all phrase. People are first and foremost people. To paraphrase a powerful idea of the autism advocacy movement, if you know one person who has a disability . . . you know one person who has a disability. We cannot unilaterally provide services “to the disabled” as there is simply no such thing.
2. Along the spectrum of people and their families whose lives are affected by disability, there are those at one end who never identify themselves or their loved ones according to disability. They go about their lives without regard to hearing loss or the inability to walk. At the other end of the spectrum are those whose identity or whose family is subsumed by the insurmountable challenges of disability. I often think of one congregant who said to me, “We can never see a flier of an OJC activity and make plans to go and enjoy. We always must ask ourselves first, ‘What about our child? Will she be able to handle the program? And our answer is usually no. So then we ask ourselves which one of the parents will stay home.'”
3. We owe gratitude to the congregants who opened up their lives to us through their beautiful words in our spotlights. Sharing vulnerability requires courage and strength. (If you would like to write next year, let Rabbi Scheff or me know. If you do not receive emails from the OJC, you can find all of the spotlights on our Facebook page, Orangetown Jewish Center.)
4. Creating circles of inclusion is hard work. It requires the very best of ourselves. It requires us to take risks and step out of our own circles of comfort. But one thing is certain after a month of awareness: We have created a community of safety and thoughtfulness where anything is possible!
Here’s to making February all year long! B’yedidut,
Rabbi Paula Mack Drill
Join me now to consider four possible levels of conversation: Conform, Confront, Connect, and Co-Create as taught by Dr. Otto Scharmer, Senior Lecturer at MIT and co-founder of the Presencing Institute. https://www.presencing.com/
This past week, I spent two days continuing my work of visioning a new identity for the Rabbinical Assembly, the professional organization of Conservative Rabbis worldwide. We were challenged by Liz Alperin Solms and Marie McCormick, our change project facilitators, www.insytepartners.com, to understand and experience deep levels of productive conversation.
Our work over the past year has been anchored in a passion to re-envision a new path for the RA, ensuring a vital and vibrant future for Conservative Judaism.
Over the past year, I have been part of this exciting Vision Team of fifty rabbis representing a variety of years of experience and professional paths.
Throughout the work, I have been sensitive to the fact that the change work we are doing for the RA is translatable to our OJC community. I share with you now the ideas of deep conversations so that we can apply them to our synagogue life.
At the first level of conversation, Conforming, we talk “nice,” speaking to try and provide what the other person wants to hear. We use polite routines and empty phrases to conform to expectation. “Yes, of course, what you care about is important to me.” “No, of course, I don’t think that you are being difficult – I am glad to hear your thoughts.” “Sure, that’s just fine with me.”
Next, Confronting. We talk tough. We speak from an unshakable position of our own beliefs and understandings. Because we are our point of view, we become defensive. In these conversations, I am right and therefore you are not.
At the third level, Connecting, our conversations are reflective inquiries. Now I speak from a place where I see myself as part of the whole. I might still think differently from you, but now I want to know why. Rather than defend my position, I want to connect with you and come to understand your viewpoint. “I may not agree but I hope that you will tell me more about that.” “I have never thought about the issue in that way before.”
Finally, Co-Create is the fourth level. At this deep level of experience, conversation is a generative flow. I understand my place as being part of a collective, I practice stillness and experience the flow. This final level of conversation leads to collective creativity. In co-creating conversations, we might feel that something extraordinary has entered the space.
When I learned about collective creativity, I suddenly saw that our Rabbis of Tradition understood generative flow. Talmud teaches that when two people sit together to study Torah, the Shekhina, the nurturing aspect of God, rests upon their shoulders. The students of Torah lose their sense of separateness in the connection through Torah.
Our project facilitators explained that most conversations in our lives happen at one of the first two levels, and indeed, both are necessary to live successfully in the world. Sometimes we have to just be polite. Sometimes we just have to say what we really think and stand by it.
But if we want something to change and grow, we must dig deeper in our conversations. If we want our synagogue to prosper and thrive in adaptive and exciting ways, we must practice conversations at the third or even fourth level.
Scharmer’s theory about conversations for change feels very Jewish to me. To succeed as a community, we must let go of the inclination to begin every conversation from our own point of view. For success, we must say: I am part of something bigger than myself: this synagogue, this history, this particular people, this covenant with God. To fully participate in such a collective endeavor, I must listen carefully for clues about what you think and remain open to the possibility that my thinking is not enough. Together, we are stronger, wiser and more creative.
I look forward to continuing the conversation,
Rabbi Paula Mack Drill
His seat was directly across the table from me. He called me Rabbi Drill, but he did not look directly at me. I know that calling me “Rabbi” was a concession he made for me and he knew that my understanding of his lack of eye contact was a compromise I accepted from him. Rabbi Mayer Schiller represented the Skver community in the Village of New Square and I represented a very different religious world. We were two of twelve religious leaders from Rockland County and New York City who gathered at the invitation of Rockland County Executive, Ed Day. Everyone around the table accommodated each other so that we could meet in the middle, in a place where we could listen to each other and truly feel heard.
When I was invited to the two hour summit that took place at Rockland Community College President’s Office yesterday, the meeting was described as an opportunity to sit down to open lines of communication between various religious groups of Rockland County. I accepted with the hope that a process of healing and reconciliation could begin.
But I arrived with low expectations. I knew that leaders of Rockland Clergy for Social Justice, of NAACP and of parent groups in East Ramapo have tried to meet with members of the Ultra-Orthodox community for open dialogue. I knew that these attempts had not been successful. I wondered what could possibly be different.
And here is what was different: Mr. Day invited religious leaders from Spring Valley and Suffern churches, the Islamic Center of Rockland, the Board of Rabbis (Conservative and Reform colleagues) and the Orthodox Jewish and Chassidic communities. Mr. Day told us that he is working to make Rockland County a place where we can live next to each other with respect and cooperation, with fair treatment for all and special privilege for none. He asked us to speak our truth and established an atmosphere of safety. Rabbi Joseph Potasnik, Executive Vice President of the New York Board of Rabbis, was invited as our facilitator. He established the tenor of the meeting when he said that it is better to discuss without resolution rather than resolve without discussion.
Two powerful pictures of broken community emerged from our conversation that struck powerful chords with me. First, Rockland County was compared to a ride on a New York City subway. We get on and get off at different stations, and while we share the space, no one makes eye contact or greets the other. We are as close as can be, but we pretend that the others are not there at all, sharing a bench or even hanging onto the same subway strap. Such travel through our days may be adaptive for New York City’s underground (though I would disagree) but it is not the way to be a cohesive county where all citizens have a profound sense of belonging.
The second description was shared by Reverend Raymond C. Caliman of the Fairmont Baptist Church in Haverstraw. He described a visit to Walmart in Suffern. People pass each other as they shop, but no one looks at the other. Instead, they look away. He said that the turning away speaks volumes about distrust and a refusal to know the “other”.
We spoke honestly and with open hearts from the anchor of our various religious traditions. Reverend Dr. Weldon McWilliams Jr. of the First Baptist Church of Spring Valley reminded us that we are all God’s children. Rabbi Schiller acknowledged that members of the Chassidic community must be taught that all people are created in God’s image. We talked about the need for a balance of power and empathy.
We explored next steps which include Rabbi Greenwald and Rabbi Schiller bringing members of their communities to the table, a statement of principles to which religious leaders can sign on, and a confederation of religious leaders who can stand together to condemn actions of bias against any group in the county as well as to celebrate positive steps forward.
It was only a beginning. But I feel optimistic. I felt heard. And Rabbi Schiller called me Rabbi.
With optimism and friendship, Rabbi Paula Mack Drill
This past Sunday night, our OJC community and friends celebrated our community. Yes, Rabbi Paula Drill was the honoree for the evening, but—sorry—the night was only in part about her. It was a love-fest that spanned the generations: a night of Jewish learning, music, food and appreciation of one another. The night was about our community: our heart, our simplicity, our humility, our relationships, our Torah, our mission and our vision.
In trying to summarize our community’s success, I realize that we have not relied upon any new strategies. We haven’t created any unique ways of doing business; nor have we abandoned our commitment to traditional models of Jewish life. It is the Jewish values exhibited in the building of the Mishkan (the Israelites’ portable sanctuary), described in this week’s Torah portion, that serve as the blueprint for our own community.
The very idea that the people can participate in a process that will invite God’s presence is enough to inspire participation. Perhaps there is an element of guilt or a desire for repentance in their motivation, but after the debacle of the Golden Calf, the Israelites have a chance to merit a legacy. And the project is as much about the process as it is about the ultimate edifice that is constructed. The freewill service to a higher calling adds meaning and the sense of God’s presence to a life that is otherwise enslaved to fear and uncertainty.
God instructs Moses to engage the community by inviting them to donate to the project whatever they are moved to share. Several opportunities are created for that giving by virtue of the many types of materials being collected and utilized in the project. Engagement is transformed into empowerment as each individual becomes a participant in the processes of manufacturing, design and construction.
The appointment of Betzalel as project manager, the inclusion of artisans, and the participation of the broader community creates a new dynamic for the Israelites’ engagement with the Divine One. Before this change, leadership was purely hierarchical, and the population was steps removed in relation to God. As a result of the new appointee, the community operates in partnership with its leadership. In partnerships, the success of one is the success of all. Relationships deepen between the volunteers who recognize that they are working together towards a shared vision; relationships also deepen between the volunteers and the leadership, who now recognize the value of the other’s contributions towards a shared goal.
Finally, there is the matter of expectations and of how we define our success. Success can’t be about the number of people who participate or about the amounts they contribute. Success is found in the knowledge that the process of building—serving, empowering, partnering and relating—is an ongoing effort.
On Sunday night, we celebrated a milestone for a community in process. God said, “Let them build Me a sanctuary that I may dwell among them.” As we continue the process of building a world deserving of God’s presence, may we continue to merit God’s presence among us.
Rabbi Craig Scheff
Growing up on the mean streets of New City, New York, I learned the hard way what it meant to be Jewish, short, skinny and unable to jump higher than 8 inches off the ground. In other words … wait for it . . . “scrappy” was my game. The experience hardened me to the outside world’s cold reality. A jaded, chip-on-my-shoulder, eat-or-be-eaten attitude pervaded everything I set out to accomplish. I learned to control most of my impulses, assuming a mild-mannered, soft-spoken persona everywhere I went. Everywhere, that is, except on the basketball court. Between the lines, I could be myself, let go of my inhibitions, run wild, heatedly pursue, charge at the hoop, display my bumps and bruises as badges of honor. Ironically, all that pent up anger, frustration and aggression that found its expression in my game was lauded as something good, something to be admired and copied.
Those of you who have seen me play over the years (with the 9- and 10-year-olds at recess, especially) have called me competitive, like a Mr. Hyde to Rabbi Jekyll. What you see is nothing, however, compared to the dark madness that once lurked in the soles of my high-top Converse sneakers (the white canvas ones). That’s just me having good, clean fun. Once I retired from competitive hoops at the age of 28 (the year I started rabbinical school), the cloud that once enveloped my heart lifted, and the beast was gone forever. Until . . . .
Rabbi Paula Mack Drill, whose thirteen years with the OJC we are celebrating this Purim, began her professional relationship with me at Camp Ramah in Nyack some 15 years ago. She was Program Director as I was Assistant Director, and Assistant Director (a position now full-time held by our own Rabbi Ami Hersh, the topic of another Purim spoof one day soon) as I was Camp Rabbi. We always had a great, easygoing, complementary style of working together. From Day One, people referred to us as the “Craig and Paula Show.” That relationship carried over into her internship here at the OJC, where I functioned formally as her mentor for the Seminary. The day she was ordained was a great day. I should have known something wasn’t quite right, however, when she informed me that her JTS GPA was .0185 higher than mine.
That single fact was the beginning of a disturbing pattern. Two-letter words like “XQ” were suddenly making their way into our Shabbat Scrabble games on triple word scores. She would casually mention to each congregant we met that she was older than me, taller than me (she took up heels), and could stand on her head longer than me. She would give her students colorful stickers and point out that I offered them nothing for their efforts. At the end of a day’s work she would ask me how many hours I had billed, as she filled my e-mail inbox with cc’s of every e-mail she sent out. I lashed back by working later, sleeping less, and leading more trips to Israel. I could feel the old Craig emerging, and it wasn’t pretty.
Rabbi Drill’s popularity has grown over the past 13 years. As has my therapy bill. But I have learned how to control the beast. Looking in the mirror each morning, I remind myself that I am good enough, that I am smart enough, and doggone it, people like me. Then I steel myself for the day ahead, trying to appreciate how good each day can be with Rabbi Drill at my side.
And then I pray . . . for the moment I will get her on the basketball court.
Happy Purim to all, and I hope you will join our community in celebrating Rabbi Drill’s 13 years with the OJC and the many ways in which she has enriched each of us and our community!
Rabbi Craig Scheff
What is a group of women doing in someone’s living room one night each month, introducing themselves with their matriarchal line and passing a candle from one to the next? We are celebrating Rosh Chodesh, the Jewish new month, a time designated by the rabbis as a festival for women. Rosh Chodesh Celebrations began this year to bring together women who are raising children at home for evenings of study, sharing and celebrating.
Each month our gatherings have been uplifting and meaningful. Through tears and laughter these women have found support and understanding in a close circle of OJC congregants, luxuriating in the gift of time dedicated to self and community.
Last night was a special Rosh Chodesh celebration as the group of younger moms met together with Sisters in Spirit, a group of OJC women whose nests are empty facilitated each month by Sally Kagan and Miriam Suchoff.
Rosh Chodesh Tevet is unique as it falls in the middle of a holiday, on the seventh night of Chanukah each year. Among the Jewish communities of North Africa, this auspicious night was designated as the Festival of the Daughters — a time for the generations to celebrate together. And so that is what the two Rosh Chodesh groups of the Orangetown Jewish Center did last night: we brought the generations together to celebrate.
One of the Rosh Chodesh Celebrations participants wrote about how much she enjoyed the special evening, “I always look to learn from the older, wiser and more experienced women (and men) in the world and often say that those sage people (like my dad) are hard to find these days. Their simple advice is so enlightening and comforting.”
Together we lit the chanukiah and immediately felt the magic begin.
After our opening ritual, Sally told the story of brave and wise Judith who saved the Jews who were under siege by the evil Holofernes. Sally’s storytelling technique was engaging and fun; you’ll have to ask her for a synopsis, but be sure to ask what she pulled out of her basket at the end of the story!
We used the lighting of seven candles to open us to seven questions about women we admire, blessings we would bestow on daughters, our own gifts to family, and more.
There were tears and words of support and much laughter. We concluded the evening with each woman offering a blessing to the woman to her right.
Without a doubt, there is magic in a Rosh Chodesh group. A group of women empowers one another to reach inside and tap into a place we often ignore. The group energizes us so that people not only feel good about themselves, but about the women surrounding them! As Sally Kagan says, “This is the essence of women gathering for Rosh Chodesh: that we all have the ability within our souls to capture the roots of our faith, the belief that we can nurture and be nourished by one another, and to understand what those first women in the red tents knew: that through the camaraderie and learning we are stronger!”
If you are a woman of the Orangetown Jewish Center, we hope that you’ll join one of the Rosh Chodesh groups. Contact me at Rabbi.Drill@theojc.org for more information. If you are a blog reader who is not connected to the OJC, be in contact for information on how to create a group of your own. And if you are a man, be happy for the women in your life that there is a safe and nurturing place for us to grow in a Jewish context.
Enjoy this eighth night of Chanukah. I pray that the lights in the darkness bring optimism to your hearts.
Chag Chanukah Sameach and Chodesh Tov, Happy Chanukah and Happy New Month,
Rabbi Paula Mack Drill
At 6:00 this morning, I returned to the Orangetown Jewish Center after participating for five days on the Jewish Federation of Rockland County Lily Steuer ATID Leadership Mission. Atid means future and this mission fulfilled its call to set our sights on the future. As I write this, I am filled with tikvah (hope) that the future of Jewish Rockland and of Israel is bright.
I felt tikvah when we visited Susan’s House, an on-the-job training workshop for youth at risk in Jerusalem. Teens learn to make jewelry, glass plates, wooden objects and macramé as they learn life skills and self esteem. There I met a young woman named Aliana who slouched in her chair as the other teens brightly showed off the art that they were creating. When we started shopping, many of us chose beautiful wire jewelry, the work of Aliana, who joined us in the shop and proudly took pictures with each of us who were purchasing her creations. Aliana was standing up straight. I felt tikvah because I know that thanks to our Jewish Federation dollars, the vulnerable in Israel won’t be left behind.
I felt tikvah when we visited Har Hertzl, the national military cemetery of Israel. We stood, weeping, before a line of new graves from this past summer’s Protective Edge Operation. We stood before the grave of American lone soldier Max Steinberg. I felt tikvah because I know that Israel will defend our right to a Jewish home. Thanks to the support of Jews world wide, Israel will never stand alone.
I felt tikvah when we danced at the Sol and Bea Kramer Senior Center in Kiryat Ata. Elders enjoy support, socialization, hot meals and warmth thanks to Elana, the dedicated and passionate director, and thanks to Rockland Federation support from the Kramer family and from the Lily Steuer Fund. Languages from all over the world – Hebrew, Yiddish, Russian, Hungarian, Spanish – could be heard as Day Center participants sang and danced with us. I felt tikvah because I know that thanks to our Jewish Federation dollars, the mitzvah of honoring our elders will be fulfilled in Israel just as it is here in Rockland County.
I felt tikvah when we visited the Mevaseret Tzion Absorption Center to meet with new olim (immigrants to Israel) from Ethiopia. We experienced awe as we watched Mission Mentor and Federation Campaign Chair Bob Silverman meet family members with whom he flew from Ethiopia to Israel one and a half years ago. I felt tikvah because I know that we in Rockland County help to ensure that all Jews are responsible one for the other.
The experience of our trip was heightened for all of us (but for me most of all!) by the participation on the mission of my son Josh, a student in Mechinat Rabin (a preparation year for the Israel Defense Forces). Josh’s passion for Israel, his questions and many conversations with mission participants made me proud as a mom and made me feel tikvah for the future of the Jewish people.
I thank Diane Sloyer and the staff of Jewish Federation of Rockland County for educating us, lifting us and giving us hope.
It is easy to be a cynic. Things go wrong and one can say, “See, I told you so.” But it takes courage to be an optimist. We continue, against all odds, to find hope and possibility in our world. Our plans and dreams might fail and we are often disappointed, but still we get up the next day and start again. It takes courage to be an optimist.
The 2014 ATID Mission gave us all many reasons to be optimists.
Shabbat shalom, Rabbi Paula Mack Drill
The 2013 Pew Research Center’s recent survey of the American Jewish community reported that, among those people who identify themselves as Jewish, a whopping 73 percent say that remembering the Holocaust is an essential part of what being Jewish means to them. That element of Jewish identity received the highest response rate, outpacing other suggested elements such as leading an ethical life (69 percent), caring about Israel (43 percent) and being part of a Jewish community (28 percent). Why does this element of Jewish identity receive such prominence? Is it the guilt that would accompany not remembering, the notion that we might afford Hitler (may his name be blotted out) a posthumous victory if we forget? Is it the particularistic notion that we must remain vigilant against our enemies who are constantly seeking to eliminate us? Is it the universal lesson that makes us better human beings because we will not idly stand by the persecution of any group?
This past Sunday night we commemorated Kristalnacht, the 76th anniversary of the Night of Broken Glass, the event that many say was the official starting point of the Holocaust. German Jewish shops were destroyed, men were beaten, detained and killed, synagogues burned. And rescue workers stood by to make sure that the fires didn’t spread to the neighboring non-Jewish homes and businesses.
The Rockland community observed the commemoration ceremony this year at the OJC. Over 200 people gathered to see the presentation of colors by the Jewish War Veterans, to hear the words of County Legislator Harriett Cornell and the personal testimony of survivor Paul Galan, and to stand in solemn solidarity with the 30 teens holding candles as the words of El Maleh Rachamim, the Jewish memorial prayer, filled the sanctuary.
As I think about the surprising Pew survey statistics, I can understand the relatively high importance we place on remembering the Holocaust in light of what I witnessed Sunday night. I felt our children’s hearts swell with pride as they watched our Jewish veterans salute the American flag, pledge allegiance and sing Hatikvah.
I felt our children’s souls ignited by the memorial candles they held. I felt our children’s minds understand at a level beyond words what it means to remember. Our children recognized that Jewish remembering is not passive. Our remembering is an obligation we fulfill that shapes our Judaism, our identity as Americans, and our humanity. For our children, the lessons of the Holocaust also inform their obligation to defend the values for which they stand, and shape their responses to social issues they confront on a regular basis, like bullying and intolerance. The Holocaust is six million individual Jewish stories of vulnerability, fear, insecurity, cruelty, powerlessness, hope, courage, faith, redemption and love. It is the story of our people as much as the exodus from Egypt, and it is a part of our narrative that must be told.
How will you remember? Participate in our Kaddish project. Match yourself with an individual who died in the Holocaust with no one left to observe their yahrzeit. Learn their story. Say Kaddish for them. Contact Larry Suchoff, our Holocaust Remembrance Committee chairperson, or just walk into the OJC office, to adopt a story. Perhaps remembering the Holocaust will become an essential part of what being Jewish means to you.
Rabbi Craig Scheff