I know that there are certain themes that repeat over the course of time in our thinking and thus reflected in the letters I write. And although I try to remain fresh, I know that it is difficult to bring something new and something different regularly. And yet, I also believe that there are themes that remain with us and need to be repeated. We simply cannot escape certain realities. That’s the way it is.
For me, a strong effort must be made not to define my world by the news or so many of the articles that come into my cyberspace. If we stay there, then our perceptions of the world become totally bleak, and we can easily not only succumb to a world of anxiety and fear, but actually become depressed. It’s why it is so important to take a fresh look, read something from other places, and open our eyes and our world to others.
Recently a wonderful man in this congregation offered a grant to some students to create a newsletter that reports on human progress and examples of human goodness. I’m looking forward to sharing the results of this. You will be the beneficiaries. And it is so important.
I recently completed teaching a class from The Florence Melton School of Adult Learning. As is often the case, this group of adults and I sat together weekly discussing really important issues. The subject matter began with the ideas of our Torah tradition, but the conversations went to places both in our lives and in our world. Connections between the two were made. At the end of the course, I realized how the hour we spent together weekly enabled us to transcend the ugliness of the outside world and really put our minds and hearts into thought, values, a literature and engagement with meaning. And I thought about the beginning of the period for our people, two thousand years ago, when we lost autonomy and needed to find a way to survive. Then, in a place called Yavneh, rabbis began a tradition of learning and ideas that became the basis of Judaism and enabled the survival of our people. And, they articulated a value system that has contributed mightily to all of civilization. Throughout the generations this continues, whereby learning and the exchange of ideas became a place where Jews centered their reality.
We still do this and its important. We cannot allow our reality to only be defined by “the news” – however that is defined. I’m not suggesting to live in denial. I am suggesting that we create different realities and cannot only live in one.
Finally, yesterday I went to the annual meeting of the board of Family Promise.* I learned more about the incredible work being done locally that has saved and transformed lives. It was not only informational, it was also inspirational.
At the meeting, people shared their individual connections to Family Promise and its work. An Episcopal Priest told the story of walking by the playground on the grounds of his church. There he saw the kids of Family Promise, primarily minority children, being supervised and entertained by our Jewish teens. And he thought, Jewish teens taking care of homeless children from minority backgrounds on the grounds of his church…this is the meaning of “the kingdom of God.” And we all said: “Amen.”
And I thought, this too must define the reality of our lived experiences. We have the possibilities to create our world again and again, and perceive it through different lenses.
See you in shul.
Rabbi David Steinhardt
This column is dedicated to the memory of Rubin Shafran z”l