Over the years I’ve noticed that something could have happened to millions of people before you, but when you have the experience, it is like you have experienced it for the first time. This is even true of witnessing an extraordinary sunset, a daily occurrence! Tobi’s daughter and son-in-law, Caroline and Steve, gave birth to a beautiful boy! And the sense of becoming grandparents nearly overwhelmed us with joy and love and hopes and dreams. Seeing the baby literally took my breath away! I felt like this was the most unique moment! This is the first life that we have shared in its birth, and the first that represents the next generation. He bonds our family in a new way, with all of our kids. Through him, different cherished hopes and dreams are born. He will be named after a grandfather, Tobi’s father, Rabbi Milton Richman, who together with Janet (may their memories endure as a blessing), are looking down upon their family! And this new boy brings us closer to Steven’s family with whom we now share the most precious gift.
Birth is a miracle. Life is an extraordinary gift. And it is ours to behold and make meaning of it. The potential of love increases in the world with every newborn child.
But here, this week, we also lost a friend. Lenny Cohen, our catering director, died after a short but painful battle. Lenny was deeply committed to us. He catered our parties, he catered our holy days, he catered with food and catered to us with his love and commitment and hard work. Lenny was one of the hardest workers I have ever seen or known. Lenny loved this synagogue. Lenny loved kids. Lenny loved parties. We will always remember him with honor and for goodness. May Dianne find comfort and may Lenny’s memory serve as a blessing.
At the beginning of life and at the end we can pause to think about what it all means. In my work as your rabbi, I am constantly reminded of the transient nature of life itself. I am reminded of how little control we have, but also how much we can determine the qualities of our lives, how we are known and what we stand for, and what is meaningful.
This weekend, the Jewish world commemorates Tisha B’Av. This is a remembrance of the destruction of our Temples and also other destruction in our history. In the contemporary Jewish world, there are critiques that claim we focused too much on destruction. The repetition of trauma sustains trauma and we need to create a different world view and image of Jewish life. Maybe in the times of statelessness and powerlessness this served a purpose. But now, we have to look at ourselves, where we have come and what we have, and understand our power realistically.
I love the fact that the rabbis of old chose prophets to be read on these days that not only told a truth about our behaviors and predicted what would come if we didn’t get our behaviors just and right, but also gave us hope for the future, even in the most difficult times.
They spoke to the place where we had control and where life, well lived and devoted to goodness and kindness, is a life that experiences blessing.
At the end of the day, we know we have limited control. But that which is in our power should be lived with goodness, fairness, justice, love and confidence…That is a choice.
This column is dedicated to the memory of Rubin Shafran z”l