Maya Angelou somehow hears/speaks our hearts.
Much as our homes this past pandemic year plus for most, have been havens, safe port in a torrential storm. Besides the recent onslaught of Ida, those in our own neighborhood, around the country…our hearts are with them as they seek to recover/rebuild. Still these many months we have longed, ached, to come back “home,” to be together in the places we love, the spaces we congregate, that help us connect, that enable us to know, to feel, we are not going through all of this alone…
HOME, we’ve come to discover, is not simply an address, not even so much a physical place, as it is the space wherein the people who gather there, through the interactions they share, create what it can mean/means to be home.
For us, coming together this year as a Larchmont Temple community is a gift we can never take for granted. For those of us safely able to do so, to be here, it is a blessing beyond words to see faces, hear familiar voices, to gather in this place of prayer and heart and hope together again. And for all on our Livestream, we pray the connection is palpable, so heartfelt, it feels as if you are in the third row.
Yet, wherever you happen to find yourself—all of us gathered in hope, because of all we have been through, all the concerns our country must still confront because of all we have learned as a result, our return to this “Home” we call LT is in some respects coming home to a new place, a “home” that is ours to refurbish, in many ways, to remake.
Witness to such unthinkable loss, safe—we pray—from this unrelenting virus, surviving the isolation, yet unquestionably impacted by the social, emotional, psycho-spiritual disconnection, this return “Home” feels so very different that it presents us with a timely, epic challenge: How can our coming home for the Holy Days this New Year help us begin to put our lives, our world, back together?
Jewish tradition understands the House of all houses, the Home which carried our heart as the Bayt Ha-Mik’dash, the Holy Temple of Jerusalem, the sacred center which still radiates 2,000 years after its gone. Curiously, though I’m guessing few of us mark it on the 9th of Av, usually in the midst of our summer getaways, we pay tribute by remembering not its dedication, but this holiest of houses destruction…the loss is so Jewishly central that we recall it every time we pray—facing in its direction,
every time we eat—salting our bread in blessing like a sacrifice, every house we construct—leaving one little corner unfinished in remembrance.
It is this commemoration of Israel’s ultimate historic destruction that frames our understanding of how we must rebuild our home today.
Rabbi Ed Feinstein points out the irony: It is not through Jewish continuity, but rather at moments of greatest historic discontinuity that we undergo the essential critique/questioning which results in a reinvention of who we are.
Preaching in the shadow of Jerusalem’s coming destruction and the fall of the first Temple about 2,600 years ago, witness to the people’s suffering, the crumbling of its communal core, the Prophet Jeremiah holds onto hope, as catastrophe becomes an invitation to rebirth and rebuilding. “See, a time is coming, YHVH declares, when I will make a new covenant with the House of Israel. It will not be like the covenant I made with their fathers when I took them out of Egypt…for this is the new covenant: My Torah will be within them, My Teaching inscribed on their hearts.” [Jer 31:31-33]
The great strength of our peoplehood comes from its uncanny ability to recreate in the face of devastating loss, to rebuild from the ruins of destruction. In this singular moment of coming back home, having lived through the devastation—our reality irrevocably altered, how will we remodel our Jewish House to be that safe place we can just be… And how will LT, thereby, help us rebuild our world?
The Building Code to constructing a Covenant Home we know very well. It has been on the LT books for decades, and in the Rabbis’ Pirkei Avot playbook for two-thousand years. But reading it today reveals a whole new vision, a process/a purpose we may never have before perceived. “Al Sh’losha Devarim Ha-Olam Omed…” Not “On three things the world rests” but “resting on 3 pillars we can rebuild our world.”
On Torah, not simply the study of our ancient text, but a living dialogue on why/how they matter. When all is said and done, Torah is not found in a scroll, but in the struggle for life-answers we share with each other.
On Avodah, not alone prayer, but spiritual seeking: mindfulness and meditation, walking and sitting, dancing and singing and silence, and most of all seeing, really seeing…God is not waiting for us in the Sanctuary, but awaiting our daily discovery of holy moments hidden right before our eyes…
On Gemilut Hasadim, not just “good-deeds,” but a commitment to kindness, repairing the brokenness bit by bit, person by person. It is not some obligatory set of commandments we keep, but actualizing the power we possess to bring light to an, at times, very dark world. Yet claiming to know the code itself is not enough,
for it must be inscribed on our hearts.
As pandemic life has painfully yet powerfully taught us: the key to our reconstruction is vision. Can we envision a reality informed by a healthier, more humane future that is fueled by the problems of the present? Can we see beyond the challenges to the possibility of change? Contrary to the classic one-liner often cited by old rabbis and congregational presidents, the textual citation inscribed above the Ark does not read: “But We’ve Always Done It This Way.”
As adventurer, author-activist and President of Giraffes Heroes International, John Graham understands: “A powerful vision pulls people in…creating the energy and the will to make change happen…It inspires individuals to commit, to persist, to give their best. A vision helps keep groups together, especially in stressful times…But don’t try to think your way to a vision…A vision comes from the heart.”
Every rebuilding begins in vision…architecturally speaking, the dreaming and discussion that leads to sketches and eventually schematic design, and then to construction documents, enabling permits to be issued, contractors to make bids, and finally, the best-equipped chosen so that the real building can begin…
So, consider yourselves the construction crew, our Covenant Community the general contractor…and with the Creator of All-Being having drawn up and placed the schematic design before us—indeed, within us, as the 21st century crew, equipped not with hard hats but open hearts, How will our renovating LT help renew our world?
There is one People of Israel Building Project which must be our model, the only one which has stood the test of time…What was the magic in making the Mish’kan, The Tabernacle—that portable Sanctuary Israel shlepped for 40 years through the wilderness, that enables it, metaphorically, to stand to this day?
The call came from the Holy One: “Make Me a Sanctuary that I may dwell among you.” [Exod 25:8] The People Israel responds enthusiastically, not just by bringing all the materials but by doing all the construction and creative work themselves. With so many parts to this portable Sanctuary, a spectrum of skilled artisans had to step up…And they did!
Yet even they may not have realized what they were actually building. The Tabernacle command is our construction code in disguise, not meant for our hands but for our hearts. The 17th century commentator Tseydah LaDerech notes: “Make me a Mishkan, that I may dwell among them...the Torah states not B’tocho—in it, but B’tocham—in them teaching us that the Divine Presence does not rest on the Sanctuary by virtue of the building, but by virtue of its builders.”
The Sanctuary is not where God lives, as the Tabernacle construction makes clear. God lives in us—between us…by coming together this New Year, what are we actually building? We are constructing a Community of Heart, a sacred space where every voice is heard, where a person’s story matters…where the struggles and life-tsoris of any one, and likewise the joys and successes, touch us all…
We are refurbishing our Community of Faith, not in some Grand Puppeteer pulling the strings, but—seeing the sacred potential in one another, faith that our relationships, real and resilient, our connecting in common care and common cause, might make God’s Presence felt…
We are rebuilding a Community of Hope, courageously seeing beyond the collective/personal pain to a place of healing; beyond the hurtful hate to a society stitched back together by love.
What destroyed the Holy Temple of Jerusalem, that sacred center of our people, the Rabbis teach, was not structural irregularity but human irresponsibility. As they put it: Sinat Chinam, causeless, baseless hatred. Something our 21st century America knows a bit about…making anyone who disagrees the enemy, demonizing difference, remaining indifferent to the pain of others…dialogue becomes defunct, politics becomes polarizing, and the welfare of all takes a back seat to the perceived liberties of some…then the cherished halls/walls of our House begin to crack, to crumble, and the world feels like it’s falling apart.
Which is why our LT return is so monumental…75 Larchmont Avenue is the place we call home-base, our resource center for rebuilding, the Holy Home-Depot that retools our resolve to the Covenant we keep—and that likewise keeps us, and ultimately inspires us daily, in any little corner of the world we find ourselves to do all we can to put life back together again, to make this world feel more like home.
This summer we as a clergy team have been busy, eating and drinking in your backyards! Our LT Backyard Summer Schmoozes have been wonderful, I’d even say, a sacred success…and not just because a few of them served Sushi!
Over July and August we gathered in close to ten LT member backyards, as they welcomed in around 20 or so LTers, demographically divided, on select evenings…and the agenda? To delight in/enjoy just/ being together…to talk, and to listen…to share how hard this past year has been, to be honest about the pain we’ve felt, and the unexpected gifts of family our adjusted work/life schedules have given us…to realize how much we have in common, the frustrations and the blessings…to appreciate each other, to support each other, to hold one another up…and to have the chutzpah/courage to see a new tomorrow dreaming together what we can do as LT to make it brighter.
At one of the Schmoozes of late-30—40-something parents with kids, after over 90 minutes of sharing, as people were saying “good night,” one LT Mom of three whom I have known since before she was a Bat Mitzvah, having grown up at temple, thanked me, remarking: “You know, this is what Larchmont Temple’s really all about?” “Schmoozing?” I joked…And she explained: “No. Just giving us a chance to connect family to family, and helping us feel like we’re all in this together…” Our Backyard Schmoozes will continue in the Fall, to give more members a chance to connect house to house/heart to heart to commiserate and hopefully celebrate why we are here…
Unbelievably, this is the start of my 35th year here, and with all that has changed, with this singularly meshuganeh past year and a half, unique as our return to LT feels, one thing remains the same:
Larchmont Temple is here not merely to create a vibrant Jewish life, a warm-heimish welcoming home for all who belong, but to inspire us, to compel us with a vision that fills our hearts, a hope that strengthens our hands, to generate light whenever life gets dark and to know, simply by being who we are, we are rebuilding our world.
So this New Year, person by person, caring hand by loving heart, may it be: AMEN