A community of communities

August 2015

Mon, 08/31/2015 - 1:18pm -- Rabbi

The world is a very loud place.  We often find that our ears are constantly filled with the sounds and words and noise.  Overwhelmed, we can find it hard to hear our own thoughts or to sense the promptings of our hearts, and we become distant from ourselves.  These weeks of preparation for the New Year offer us a way back.  We are reading the book of Deuteronomy, in which Moses is constantly exhorting the people, "Sh'ma! - Listen!"  We need to take that advice.  Finding a quiet spot and a quiet time to listen in silence, even for five or ten minutes, can help us reconnect with ourselves.  The hours of the High Holiday services also provide ample time for this kind of quiet listening.  In the silence, we can listen for what our hearts need, what they are calling out for.  We can listen for the pain that may be hidden there as well as the joy that may have been drowned out by the noise of the world.  If we listen closely enough, we may even discern the next steps on our path toward change and growth.  May we all embrace the blessings of silence as we approach the New Year together.

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Mon, 08/24/2015 - 10:12am -- Rabbi

ElulElul, the month preceding the High Holidays, is a time of introspection and deep thought.  Where are we going in our lives?  What is leading us away from the right path, and how can we re-orient ourselves for the coming year?  It can be overwhelming to contemplate the past year and to try to get a sense of the whole.  To avoid this overwhelm, we can take bite-sized pieces, do little bits of remembering and considering each day, so that by the time we reach Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur, we can start to try to put it all together.

One excellent tool to stimulate our thoughts is the project known as Jewels of Elul.  This resource brings together thinkers from many different parts of Jewish life to write short, thought-provoking pieces, one for each day of Elul.  Just a few minutes of reading these pieces and thinking about their import for our own lives can pay great dividends in the process of t'shuvah - turning and returning.

The custom during the month of Elul is to begin using the greeting of the New Year with each other, to remind each other and ourselves that we are in the middle of this process that leads to growth and renewal.  So I say to all of you:  L'shanah tovah tikateivu - may we inscribe ourselves for sweetness, blessing, and goodness in the year that is coming.

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Fri, 08/14/2015 - 3:21pm -- Rabbi

 

This week, so many of us were heartbroken at the tragic, sudden death of Neely Snyder, a former member of our community, in a traffic accident in Baltimore at the age of 37.  Neely and her husband Josh were active members of our community from 2001 to 2008, and they made deep connections here, hosting Shabbat meals at their home, singing at services, learning and teaching Torah, and engaging people in the hallways.  Josh studied at RRC and Neely worked as an educator at Akiba (now Barrack) Hebrew Academy, and they built close ties in both of those places as well, as they did wherever they went.  Neely was instrumental in creating a "Shabbat Cafe" at GJC, a time after services on Friday night for people to socialize, play games, and enjoy each other's company in the warmth of Shabbat.  With her brilliant, warm smile and her open heart, Neely was always reaching out and bringing people into her world with joy and curiosity.  She was a bright and vital presence in our community, and it is so hard to believe that she is gone from this world.  Our thoughts and prayers are with Josh, with their three young daughters, and with their family as they mourn.  We will have a memorial gathering on Sunday, August 23 at 10:00 AM in the Charry Sanctuary to share our memories of Neely and to record them to give to her family.

The ancient rabbis wrote about the love that God has for humanity as "ahavah y'teirah" - "unmotivated love."  God has no illusions about human beings; God knows our faults and our sins better than anyone.  God does not love us because God thinks we are perfect.  Rather, through and beyond humanity's flaws, God sees our potential.  God sees the human capacity for goodness, the ability that humans have to bring light and love and justice and hope into the universe, even if those beautiful ideals have not yet been put into action.  So God's love for us is not motivated by our deeds but by the unrealized potential that God sees within us.

The deep and abiding love that Neely had for people - the love that you could see shining in her face when she saw an old friend or met someone new - was ahavah y'teirah, unmotivated love.  She had the rare ability to see beyond and through the faults of the world, faults she knew very well and worked hard to repair, to see the potential in the people around her to be good and to do good.  She poured her love into them like water, and they surrounded her with love in return.  May we learn from her memory to face the world and to encounter the people in it with that kind of love, with ahavah y'teirah.  May the light of her smile light up our faces when we meet each other.  And may her memory be everlasting blessing to us all.

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Fri, 08/07/2015 - 4:16pm -- Rabbi

DialogueThis Shabbat we recite the blessing for the new month of Elul, the month that precedes the High Holidays.  We are about to enter into a period of preparation, a time of personal reflection on the past year and new resolve to move toward change in the coming one.  But this is also a period of engagement with each other.  The ancient rabbis taught that the letters of the name of the month, אלול, are a Hebrew acronym for "I am my beloved's and my beloved is mine" (Song of Songs 6:3).  The rabbis saw this as a time of love and re-connection between the people and God, but the same clearly applies to relationships between human beings.  During the year, we can become disconnected from each other, whether in our most intimate relationships or in our casual acquaintances.  We move past each other rather than engaging, settle for superficial exchanges rather than deep talks, and lose the richness that our interactions with each other could bring to our lives.  This coming month of Elul is the time to rebuild our relationships in our families, among our friends, and in our community.  Please take this time to re-connect, to draw each other close, just as our community gathers together to celebrate the High Holidays together.  Renewing our relationships, the most precious parts of our lives, is what can really make this coming year different and more enriching for us all.

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