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A shot in the arm speaks volumes about our Jewish Tradition - Yizkor Sermon

09/15/2021 03:56:28 PM


Rabbi Weinberg

American flags flew everywhere. Who does not remember the flag placed above a pile of rubble at the Twin Towers crash site by the proud and determined members of the NYPD? In recollections over the past few weeks, descriptions of patriotism overwhelmed the story lines. Family after family spoke of the generational zeal- near obsession- to serve our country. In the police department, the fire department, in the Army, Navy, Air Force, or Marines, the level of pride in defending our American values was palpable.

We can still find those values today. But you and I are inundated with a constant dose of social media feeds that defy the values that have made this country unique.

Where there was a social contract that united our citizens today there is so much partisanship. Where there was a social covenant that reminded us of our obligations to each other today concern for number one has moved front and center. Where we used to be concerned with the good of the whole today our attention appears to consistently promote the needs and desires of the individual.

“I won’t put on a mask because you are trampling on my rights! I don’t need to get vaccinated because I have a right to do as I please. I won’t follow any mandates that attempt to usurp my freedoms as guaranteed in the founding documents of this great country. As Texans love to proclaim, especially with a flag billowing in the breeze, “Don’t tread on me.”

Do you notice what is missing in each of these statements? Never do we hear the word, ‘we’.

President Kennedy brazenly challenged this attitude when he appealed to the American public during his presidency with has famous words, “ask not what your country can do for you but what you can do for your country?”

Why do most of us agree to stop at a red light, pay our taxes, and serve on a jury? We know it is for the common good. It is part of our civic responsibility.

Four and a half million people worldwide have succumbed to this plague. The only thing greater than this tragedy is the fact so much of it could have been avoided. We are all living through a demoralizing American experiment with freedom. Hurling one lawsuit after another at each other, we are demonstrating how inept we are at appreciating the responsibilities and obligations that are the associated with the freedom we enjoy living in our free country.

That moment, when I recited Shehecheyanu before the shot was administered, represented another manifestation of my partnership with God. With God as my rock, I accepted my role to get vaccinated and lessen the degree of transmission just a little bit. As Alexis de Tocqueville observed in the nineteenth century while exploring the American experiment with freedom, “liberty cannot be established without morality, nor morality without faith.”

The past few years have been a reckoning for the United States of America. Our streets have exploded with unrest. Various social movements have challenged so many of the norms of this great country. The aftermath of 9-11 was a reminder of what it feels like to be united, to share a dedication to the same set of goals and view of history.

That reckoning, a critique of the values for which we stand is not so different from the spiritual accounting known as ‘heshbon hanefesh’ that describes these High Holy Days for us as Jews. We recall and recount, attempting to be honest with ourselves as we strive to improve on last year’s version of ourselves. What do we want to change? What were we proud of? Where did we embarrass ourselves? When did we let others down? When did we let down ourselves in the estimation of our own eyes? Teshuvah can take many different forms.

This unparalleled day on our Jewish calendar, Yom Kippur is the answer to so many of today’s critics. Every significant prayer that we recite today is presented in the plural. The Ashamnu prayer, the Al Chayt prayer, the Shema Kolenu prayer- the prayers that make up the core of our confessional- the vidui- are all composed in the plural. I may not have murdered this year; I may not have stolen this year; I may not have deceived, disparaged, mocked, or envied others. But I take responsibility for those deeds by including myself in the confessional. “I” is replaced by “we”- a subtle but so significant change reflecting Judaism’s aspirations for the world. I am not allowed to remove myself from the challenges facing the world. Every core statement representing our Jewish tradition acknowledges our responsibility to care for the world beyond our own skin, beyond our own home, and beyond our own community.

The founder of Hasidism, the Baal Shem Tov used to tell the following parable. “A man got lost in the forest and wandered for days trying to find a way out until he finally saw another man walking toward him. ‘I have been lost for days in the forest,’ he said to the stranger. ‘Can you show me the way out?’”

The other man answered, “I am lost myself. But I know the path you are on now is not the right one: Let’s try together to find our way out.”

“So, it is with us,” concluded the Baal Shem Tov. “I know that the road we are on now will only lead us further astray. But, if we join together, we can find the right way forward.”

We can’t make it alone- we need each other. We are social creatures who thrive on sharing, interaction, debate, and dialogue.

That is why we join synagogues. We share a spiritual journey. Together, we find our way through life, buttressed by the guidelines and practices, the rituals, and ethical underpinnings of Judaism. Committed to egalitarianism and offering a unique blend of traditional and contemporary practice we are charting our own course here at Anshai Torah.

Now, with 23 years of experience under our belt we begin to cast our eyes on the horizon. What is next? What set of opportunities is waiting for our attention? Who is going to champion the

strength of our congregation, especially at a time when there is so much angst in the synagogue world?

At Anshai Torah, our membership today is larger than it was a year ago! Do you realize what that means? Eighteen months into this harrowing Corona virus experience and we are holding our own! With the amazing dedication so many of you have demonstrated we are meeting our goals, exceeding expectations, and continuing to dream about the future.

You will hear much about our Endowment Campaign to be kicked-off this fall. Spirited along with so much dedication by Mitch Moskowitz and his committee, we are now beginning to address the financial security of our shul for future generations. Designed to lessen the need for yearly fundraising, a strong endowment program will generate the much-needed sustenance to operate our home away from home, relieving pressure on the membership to support the holy deeds of education and prayer that exemplify a shul’s mission.

Additionally, as Dan Cohn mentioned our building needs have not been addressed since we were so fortunate to move into our stunningly beautiful Behringer Sanctuary and the bright and airy, aesthetically pleasing space known as the Haymann Foyer eleven years ago. The need to move forward, finishing our Social Hall space with dairy and meat kitchens, as well as addressing our education needs, remain the leading concerns. It is an exciting time for Anshai Torah.

I mention these initiatives at this Yizkor hour because not one of us moves forward without the values and memories of those who nurtured us. I will never forget the way in which my mother described her shul, the West End Synagogue in Frankfurt, Germany. I can hear her say, “it was so beautiful even Hitler chose not to destroy it on Krishtalnacht.” The little silver Kiddush cup, engraved with the name West End Synagogue will be the Kiddush cup Yaffa and I will use under the huppah in a few weeks. That pride burns brightly deep inside of me, compelling me to carry on my mother’s legacy- adding my own dimension to our family’s heritage.

At a time when Antisemitism attempts to impose its disgusting will on Jewish communities across the world, Israel continues to be our witness to God’s hand of redemption. Acknowledging what too few are willing to state, the imperfect, unfinished work of God’s unfolding redemption- “reishit tzmichat geulateinu” the state of Israel is modern Jewry’s greatest treasure. With pride and a sense of obligation may each of us make a commitment to purchase an Israel Bond as soon as Yom Tov is completed. Our connection to our people will be deepened and our horizons will be extended as we appreciate the impact each of us can have on our world, especially when we work together.

Too many of us have lost precious members of our family during the past 12 months. We will never be the same. The sense of loss we experienced will affect the rest of our lives.

It has been said many times, as one door closes for us God opens another. But, like Hagar we often are unable to see what is before us, to appreciate the blessings that seem obscure, to understand our journey through a new set of lenses.

The Neilah service later this afternoon will include a piyyut that begins with the words, “P’tah lanu sha’ar, ayt neilat shaar- Open a gate for us, God, as the gate of Neilah is closing.”

May each of us find a way to honor the memory of our loved one. Their service to mankind may inspire us to serve. Their love of Judaism may instill in us a hunger to pursue our treasured tradition. Their love of music may compel us to walk in their footsteps, bringing the joy of music to others. Whatever the path, wherever the journey takes us, may each of us live in such a way as to honor their memory. May we discover the gate that allows us to feel the inspiration of those who have loved us, touched us, nurtured us, worried about us, and instilled in us a sense of courage and independence that will be, forever a mark of their enduring presence.

G’mar Hatimah Tovah

Thu, August 18 2022 21 Av 5782