At the end of August I received a truly touching letter from a woman in Denver, Colorado. After the events in Charlottesville, the Union for Reform Judaism had asked rabbis to let them know if they planned to speak on the matter at their Shabbat service and whether they had livestreaming available. I submitted our information and did not think much more about it until the letter arrived. We created a livestream feed for all of our sanctuary services four years ago, primarily to create access for our members who might not be able to join us in person. We average around ten viewers on a Friday night, and approximately thirty to forty viewers per service at the High Holy Days. Our viewer in Denver was not Jewish. But she expressed how angry she felt after the events in Charlottesville. She wrote:
When I watched your Shabbat service, I was struck by how you were honest without being ominous, and you focused on how people can move forward and heal themselves and others by shining light in the darkest places.
That someone would take the time to write was very touching to me. As I thought more about the message that had been gleaned from our reflections that Friday night, it warmed me to know that the ways that we make ourselves present and seen beyond the walls of this temple can be such a positive light worth sharing. Once a month, I write a blog article for “Rabbis Without Borders” at http://myjewishlearning.com. These articles often garner response and conversation and, on occasion, a “thank you for writing this!” as something particular touches a need for someone who is seeking meaning or acceptance. Over the summer, I participated in two vigils to bring local communities together, and we have members of our social action group working on building interfaith connections that are beginning to build some momentum. Several times a year I lead a “Lunch and Learn” program at The Willows, attended by Jews and non-Jews alike in what is always a stimulating conversation. I am always so touched by the feedback I get from both our Jewish learners who are so pleased to share some of our traditions and teachings with others, and from our non-Jewish learners who find the teachings grounding and offering a broader context for some of their own faith teachings.
We run a very full program of activities within the walls of our congregation. Our priority is always to provide for and do our best to meet the diverse needs of our membership. But when I came to Congregation B’nai Shalom five years ago, I also expressed my desire to make us a presence within the larger community. Through partnering with other faith groups, being in dialogue with our civic leaders, taking the lead on initiatives that bring Jewish celebration and culture into public space (our pre-festival events at Julio’s Liquor store before Passover, as an example), and being a loud and clear voice against racism, discrimination, and hate when that is needed, we are growing our presence in the wider community, both locally and beyond.
We have every reason to be proud of our Jewish presence in the public square. We have wisdom and insight inspired by Jewish traditions and teachings that are worth sharing. I hope that the work we continue to do together will, as my letter writer shared, continue to shine a light into the darkest places, helping us all to move forward as we seek out meaning and joy in our lives.
Rabbi Rachel Gurevitz