Friday, September 1, 1995
Dear GUCI Staff:
Those of you who know me may recall that I do not often prepare well in advance of an event. It seems that I work better under pressure. I’ll usually be putting the finishing touches on high holiday sermons, for example, just a day or so before the delivery date. Not so this year.
Two weeks ago I was reading an article and was struck by the amazing announcement that the New Year was 5776. My mind started to play with that number. Throughout history, Jews have played numbers games; we call it “Gematria.” Gematria is the manipulation of numbers and letter in order to understand their hidden meanings. A Jewish mystical game. Being a mystic myself (right!), the number 5776 caught my attention.
Kallah Bet’s theme this summer was Jerusalem 3000, celebrating 3000 years since the founding of the city by King David. King David reigned around the year 1000 BCE. My mystical mind did a somersault and landed on the idea that if you add the 3000 years of Jerusalem’s history to the year of King David’s reign, 1000, and subtract that (4000) from the new year, 5776, you arrive at the number 1776. So, by adding and subtracting Jewish numbers we see a connection between two significant years. 5776 and 1776. Of course, 1776 is a year dear to the hearts of all Americans (and one the British remember as well). It brings to mind the struggle for independence and value of freedom. What does this mean to us Jews?
It was easy for my magical-mystery-tour mind to conclude that during the year 5776 we Jews need to think about and appreciate the religious freedom we enjoy. We celebrate Jerusalem 3000 this year, but let us do so with a sense of pride and thanksgiving that Jerusalem is a free city in our Jewish homeland. How many times during its history did the Jews in Jerusalem long for independence, suffering under the harsh rule of some foreign power? But today, our children study in its universities, our rabbis and cantors take their first real Jewish steps up the stairs of the Hebrew Union College there, in the heart of our ancient city. Jerusalemites and all of our brothers and sisters in Eretz Yisrael breathe the clean air of freedom. 5776/1776 reminds us to be thankful for that freedom.
And we certainly can’t avoid relating the year 5776 and its declension into 1776 with our own sense of religious freedom and independence. The number of the year demands that we pause to give thanks for the opportunities we have to pause and give thanks. Our country stands on the ideals of religious freedom and we Jews bask in that light. How lucky we are to be able to openly and proudly gather to usher in this new year, with songs and prayers (and even sermons), in Hebrew and in English, with friends and family.
One other 5776-freedom mystically appeared to me. I think we should appreciate the freedom of creativity our Reform Jewish heritage affords us; the freedom of choice, the freedom to mesh our 90’s life-styles with our religious value system and choice of Jewish practice. Reform Judaism has provided us with a modern spin on our ancient religion. As modern thinkers, without this freedom of Reform Judaism to experiment, to learn, to adapt, to choose that which has relevance and meaning, and to reject that which does not, how many of us would be gathering to worship on this eve of the year of our independence, 5776?
But hold on. Could it be? Soon after I read that article I realized that it is not the year 5776. That was a misprint. The real year, the correct number is 5756. My Gematria was off the mark, twenty years premature. Well, the ideas stand, but I’ll have to hold on to them until the year 2015 and pray in the meantime that Israel, American and Reform Judaism continue to bask in freedom’s warmth. Hey! Who says I don’t prepare in advance?
Shannah Tovah from camp to home to home.