Wow! The 5780 Days of Awe are behind us and we can take a slight break. I say ”slight” because the High Holy Day Season continues with the amazing holiday of Sukkot, just 5 days after Yom Kippur. In fact, it’s traditional to begin building the sukkah right after the fasting of Yom Kippur ends. To fulfill this mitzvah, the Brotherhood will be meeting this Sunday at 9am to get our Sukkah up in the courtyard. All are welcome to join. I look forward to marking this 7 day holiday with you as we gather for dinner at 5pm Sunday, followed by Services in the Sukkah at 6pm.
If someone asked me what my favorite holiday was, I would always respond Sukkot. After the intensity of the High Holy Days, we relax with levity and happiness. It is a time of rejoicing and focuses on several critical themes: gratitude for life’s bounty, connecting with God through nature, and the value of hospitality and Jewish unity.
Speaking of Jewish unity, I wanted to share one of my sermons from the High Holy Days for those of you who missed it. May we always strive to elevate the Jewish People and, especially, our sacred House of Peace, our Beth Shalom.
Enjoy, and Shabbat Shalom
Erev Rosh Hashanah 5780
September 29th, 2019 / 1 Tishrei 5780
How we Claim each other
When I was a kid, I always dreamed of watching the Olympics in person. When I was older, and when I traveled to former host cities, I would make it a point to visit the old grounds and try to drink in the atmosphere that remained. The international unity, the promise and the purity, there was so much that attracted me.
As I grew more Jewishly literate and as I learned history, I grew much more cynical about the Olympic Games…how they were hijacked in 1936 and used for propaganda by Nazi Germany and, how in 1972, after 11 Israeli athletes and coaches were murdered, the Olympics went on as the world watched, as if nothing happened.
And yet, we all know, the Jewish path teaches us that, even as we never forget, we do not let the curses define us.
On this critical holiday, Rosh Hashana, it makes sense to think about these kinds of unifying events. After all, this is the birthday of the world an event of universal, and not just Jewish significance.
By a show of hands, how many of you prefer the Winter Olympics, events like skiing, figure skating, louge, and bobsledding? And how many of you prefer the Summer Olympics, events like gymnastics, running, and diving? It looks like it is a tie…winter or summer? As for me, I was always a fan of the former, the winter olympics, ever the lover of winter climates. Come to think of it…That probably explains my love for Baton Rouge…
And yet, that preference might be changing as the next Summer Olympics creep up on us in Tokyo. As you know, the IOC, the International Olympics Committee has added many new sports to the Games in recent years. Nearly one hundred since the 1980s alone. And 5 new sports will grace our screens next summer from Tokyo: karate, skateboarding, sport climbing…baseball…and…
Surfing, though I’ve never tried it, excites me as part of the Olympics. Embracing, and harnessing the water’s power for artistry and sport. It excited Israel as well as I learned from an Israeli news segment months ago. And thus begins an amazing story that ties the destinies of these two great centers of Jewish life.
Ethan Osborne is a 19 year old Jewish American from California and happens to be an incredible surfer. Israel is claiming him as one of their own for these upcoming Olympics, as he hopes to represent Israel on her first ever Olympic surfing team. Visiting his mother’s family in the sea-side city of Netanya, he wowed everyone with his abilities. One judge proclaimed, “He is one of our own: Ethan Osborne.”
Of course, let’s pause for a second: Ethan’s Jewish American, not Israeli, How could he compete under Israel’s flag? As many of us know, that is an easy fix. As so many did before him, he made aliyah and became an Israeli citizen.
In the words of the newscaster, Ethan is a “Neches she’cdsay l’hashkia bo / an asset that Israel should invest in.” Indeed. The Jews are one big family, and Ethan is fulfilling the possibility open to all Jews around the world, participating in that giant adventure of becoming Israeli.
Remember how I mentioned baseball above as well. Ethan Osborne’s story repeats. The Wall Street Journal ran a full page article a couple of weeks ago entitled “Israeli Baseball: Now Starring actual Israelis: A group of Jewish-American players became citizens to help the country qualify for the Tokyo Olympics.”
Over the past year, more than a dozen Jewish-American professional ball-players have obtained Israeli citizenship and made aliyah. As pitcher Joey Wagman, a former minor leaguer, says, “It might not be the country we were born in, but it represents so much…We’re representing the entire Jewish People.”
Let Wagman’s beautiful statement resonate for a moment: We’re representing the entire Jewish People.” Many of us know the famous talmudic saying, kol yisrael arevim zeh b’zeh / all Jews are responsible for one another. Yet, there’s a corollary to this also widely attested to in Jewish literature. All Jews elevate one another.
The Hasidic Master, Rabbi Moshe Teitlebaum said, mi’she mikasher atsmo im kol echad me’yisrael k’nafsho / one who binds herself with every other Jew as to her own soul / harey nechshav k’guf echad im kol yisrael / is considered as if she were one body with all of Israel.
He goes on to say that by virtue of the mitzvot that your companion fulfills, it discharges your obligation as well. Even if one member of the Jewish People is unable to fulfill them, he will not be considered deficient, for he will be completed due to his unity with all others. A modern corollary to our above example:
Even if some members of the Jewish People are less proficient, say at surfing…because, for instance, they live in Israel with small waves, and another member of the Jewish People, a surfer-dude who lives in California with big waves, can complete them. Or baseball…Or name a passion in which you excel, that you can contribute to the universal Jewish enterprise…to complete us.
The power of this is clear and provides an amazing framework through which to understand the two great axes of Jewish Life in the world: the United States and Israel.
Two distinct countries, separated by thousands of miles of distance and a huge cultural divide, grow…together. Israel claims Jews from America, gets “mitzvah points” so to speak from them, and hopefully some Olympic medals in the process. America, whose own national surfing and baseball teams do not quite need the help, lends some of her Jewish talent.
The common bond, the spiritual and emotional connection of homeland and heritage transcending all else. As Rashi famously said of the Israelite multitudes at Sinai, we stood “k’ish echad b’lev echad / as one person with one heart.”
Continuing with our earlier surfing example, our tradition often likens our journey to one of a boat. In one ancient telling, we are like boats tied together, drifting at sea, and need to help one another to navigate, to anchor lest we crash on the shore. The Zohar takes this story and said that “boat” refers to the body, and when we are bound together by ties of love, even if we never see each other and are thousands of miles away, we each fulfill each other.
In another telling, from the teachings of Shimon Bar Yochai and quoted in the Midrash (Vayikra Rabba), a group of people were travelling in a boat. One of them takes a drill and begins to drill a hole beneath his seat.
His companions said to him, “What are you doing?! Replied the man: “What concern is it of yours? Am I not drilling under my own seat?” Said they to him: But you will flood the boat and take all of us down with you.”
Who causes us to sink and who raises us up? In terms of the Jewish People, this past year has been difficult in many ways and we pray for a better 5780.
Adding to the likes of the Harvey Weinsteins and the Bernie Madoffs, Jeffrey Epstein joined that shameful list, hitting many of us like a punch in the gut. Remember the saying: All Jews responsible for one another? And remember next week, how on Yom Kippur, we pray in the collective, including everyone amongst us?
And yet, we have so many more of the Ethan Osbornes and Joey Wagmans, men and women that lift us up collectively, a badge of honor for our People.
I think about us, our rabbinic and congregational relationship here, how we lift each other up. And yet, I would be lying if I said I weren’t tired at times. You would be lying if you said you didn’t want more at times. Our arrangement can be a bit exhausting. For me and my family, for you and your needs.
And yet, we make claims on the other because that is what a sacred community does. Just like Israel and her athletic aspirations, we attempt to elevate each other in the process…and it doesn’t always go perfectly smoothly, and we love each other nonetheless.
That is what a synagogue is and what it should be. As you have heard tonight from our president, and how you will hear even more from Ari and Amanda, we begin to mark, to celebrate 75 years of Beth Shalom blessings these high holy days. 75 years of loving one another by making claims on one another. The founders, those on whose shoulders we stand, our youngest ones who kindled the festival lights this evening, in whose eyes we see the future and the meaning of our own existence.
To borrow the words of Tom Cruise in Jerry Maguire, we complete each other, and during this, our 75th year of celebration, we need all hands on deck, all of our individual skills and passions to complete and elevate each other.
One of the two big weekends on which we’ll be celebrating this 75th milestone is August 7th and 8th, 2020. It turns out the Tokyo Olympics, baseball and surfing’s debut, will be taking place and ending those exact days. Israel’s baseball team has already qualified…surfing remains to be seen, as Israel and her diversity elevate Jews the world over.
As we come together to celebrate this year, we elevate Jews the world over, and Israel in all her forms: eretz yisrael, the land, medinat yisrael, the state, am yisrael, especially. The people
Shana Tova. May it be one of goodness and sweetness