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Saturday, January 19, 2013

Sh'Yatchil Iti...Let it Begin with Me


 Dear Family and Friends:

Rabbis probably listen to other rabbis differently than most folks.  At least I expect that I do.  During T’fillot, when the rabbi gets up to speak, my ears pick up in a professional kind of way.  It is not that I don’t pay attention to the message, I do.  But I also pay particular attention to how the message is delivered.  I’m talking style, structure, language, spontaneity.  I’m not advocating that anyone listen to their rabbis this way. Better to think about what the rabbi is saying instead of how it is said.

Last night we attended the installation of our new rabbi here in Bloomington, Indiana at Congregation Beth Shalom.  Beth Shalom itself is a unique synagogue made up of Reform, Conservative, traditional, Renewal and secular Jews.  It offers prayer opportunities for each group.  Yet there is a sense of community here that is wonderful.  It is a Jewishly knowledgeable and intelligent congregation (lots of IU professors in the crowd).  Last night the place was packed, the service was beautiful and the rabbis were interesting.  That’s a good night in Temple.

One of our rabbi’s mentors was present and gave the installation sermon.  He spoke very well but I couldn't help thinking that we were hearing a traditional three-point sermon.  He told us what he was going to say, made his three points, and then told us what he had said.  Just the way you’re supposed to.  It was good that he explained that the role of the rabbi has three aspects; 1. As Rav, a teacher and transmitter of our heritage; 2. As rebbe, a spiritual leader, and, 3. As pastor, aiding congregants through all of life’s joys and challenges.  Nothing revolutionary, but well said.

Thinking back on the evening though, I am happy to say that my cynical, professional listen style broke down when our rabbi addressed the congregation.  He articulated something that has been a part of my philosophy and even character; something that I've not heard before and I was moved by it.  In a nutshell, Rabbi Besser stated that the goal of our Jewish lives is redemption.  He said that it is our job to make the world a better place, and that we, individually and working together, in what we do and how we act, accomplish God’s design.  Rabbi Besser told the congregation that he felt there would always be wars, poverty, evil in the world and that hoping or praying that God eliminate those things is OK, but the reality is that we can only do what we can do.  We can pray for these things, but WE have to make them happen.  Like they say, “all politics is local.”  The rabbi was saying Judaism is local as well.  This is an over simplification of the message, but that’s what I walked away with.

At camp we translated Tom Paxton’s song, “Peace Will Come,” into Hebrew…Shalom Yavo.  The next line is, “Let it begin with me.”  Translated to Sh’Yatchil Iti.  That Sh’Yatchil Iti always stayed in my head and rang in my ears all of these years.  I had one of our Israeli artists paint the words on one of my banjos.  And I believe that the basic motivation and direction I followed all of those years at camp was my attempt to create a place where we repaired the world daily, where by our actions and relationships, where through the work the struggle and the triumph (and sometimes defeat) we reached a sort of redemption.  We bring God into our lives.  We create the sacred.  It is all local.  And, as I've said many times, we are God’s mirror.  God sees God’s reflection through us and the good things we do for one another.  She’Yatchil Iti.  Let it begin with me.

I couldn't tell you if the rabbi’s sermon was well said.  I can’t remember the structure or the style.  But I left feeling like one of his congregants and that was a good thing. 

Be good to each other.  Bring peace into the world.

Ron

Tuesday, January 15, 2013






Just back from a family gathering on the West coast of Florida where one of the daily activities was watching the magnificent sunsets (always one of my favorite things).  Here's an old "Sunset" staff letter that still rings true for me.  
                                                                                                          October, 1993


Dear G.U.C.I. Staff:


Well, I have once again taken to the highways with slide projector in hand, to
converse with kids about coming to camp, and persuade their parents to part
with their progeny by sending their sons and siblings and savings to us for
another summer ("A" for alliteration).  So, I'm out promoting camp, right?  So,
it's weekends around the region, long stretches on the road, usually a familiar
face or two at each destination, and a lot of time to think.


So, an amazing thing happened to me on this, my first trip.  I left camp about 4:00
in the afternoon last Thursday, heading west to St. Louis, on my way to K.C.
and Des Moines.  It was the beginning of a 1300 mile trek, probably the longest
weekend trip of the year.  So, I'm westbound on I-70, around Terra Haute at
5:30 P.M., and the sun is setting right into my eyeballs.  So, I pull down the
visor and focus on the few yards of highway I can see between it and the dash.
It was a beautiful fall day and Indiana was breathtakingly technicolored.  So,
about a hour goes by when I decide to raise the visor and see if there is a
world out there beyond the highway immediately in front of my bumper.  That's
when it happened.


As I raised the visor, I was confronted, no, surprised by a most magnificent
sunset.  While hidden behind my visor it had spread its pinks and reds across
the entire horizon.  In and of itself, this sunset was remarkable, but my
immediate response to the surprise gift of seeing it is what lingers in my
mind.  I would have expected the first words to jump into my mind to be, "Holy
cow," or "Wow," but my mood had moved me to a different place.  My first
thoughts at that moment (I kid you not) were the words, "Ma'ariv Aravim,"
("...who makes the evening fall").  It's from the prayer we say each evening,
"Baruch Ata Adonai Ha Ma'ariv Aravim."  " Blessed are you Adonai, who makes the
evening fall."  That I should respond to the sudden beauty before me with a
prayer, in an almost automatic kind of way, was as eye-opening as the sight
itself.


So, I watched the reds become purples and the blues blacken.  I thought of
another line, this from the morning T'filla,"... Michadesh B'chol Yom Tamid
Ma'asey B'raysheet," "...Who renews daily the acts of creation."  These were
the words in my heart at that particular moment in time, expressing my feelings
of gratitude for the gift of that beauty. 

                        
So, for 45 minutes, while evening became night and headlights replaced the
sunset, I thought about these prayers and how naturally they came to me there
in the front seat of my Pontiac; and how real they felt.  I decided that my
liturgical response made me happy.  It was like the first time I responded to a
question in Hebrew, without having to think in English.  The Hebrew had become
a part of me; so had the prayer.


So, now it's on to various parts of our camp region, north, south, east, and
west.  With long stretches of highway before me, jazz and cups of coffee for
companions, and lots of time to think.


Ron