Rabbi Message March 2017

The Spiritual Practice of Kindness

I’ve been thinking a great deal these past few months about the role of the congregation, and of faith communities in general, at a time when there is a great deal of tension in the air, especially in the realm of political matters. I’ve had a number of conversations with members and one thing is very clear to me. Here at Congregation B’nai Shalom, where we have been working hard to place community connection at the heart of who we are and what we do, our members deeply care about preserving our congregation as a place where that value remains at our heart. Of course, that doesn’t mean that we can never speak of differences of opinions, or that we cocoon ourselves from significant events where core faith-based values call upon us to speak up. But I am committed to being very thoughtful about what can genuinely be expressed as Reform Jewish values, and when strongly held opinions and calls to action belong in other settings and not in our congregation. I am committed to ensuring that the broad cross-section of people with different backgrounds and experiences continue to feel that this is a safe space that they can call their spiritual home.

By placing one of our most precious Jewish values, such as performing acts of lovingkindness, at the heart of who we are and what we do as a Jewish community, it helps us to keep our equilibrium at a time when we could so easily be blown off-course and off-center. It helps us remember that it is a spiritual practice to truly listen to those we call friends and neighbors, those we share towns with, and those we share a congregation with. We just finished reading about the Pharaoh whose heart was hardened in the flow of the weekly Torah portions. The practice of kindness softens the heart, enabling us to hear each other more deeply, and to be more responsive to others at their times of need.

Already this year, we have launched CBS Cares, making our entire congregation aware of when someone is in need of short-term assistance following illness or loss, on a town-by-town basis. Our Spiritual Journey Group is making kindness the focus of a multi-month long exploration and practice. Our Social Action group has brought new opportunities to our congregation through family education programs, and an invitation to participate in a larger conversation about ways we can all fit volunteering and giving back to those in need into our busy lives. Our Membership Committee is helping to create new opportunities for connecting through social and cultural activities. And on April 1 we make music the vehicle for placing kindness at the center of who we aspire to be as a congregation. Our Concert for Kindness is an opportunity to elevate the core values that lie at the heart of our faith through song. In addition to our wonderful soloists and other local guest musicians, our headliner is Beth Schafer. Beth last played at Congregation B’nai Shalom at my installation weekend, five years ago. Her songs such as ‘Love Your Neighbor’, ‘Im ain ani li mi li (If I am not for myself, who am I but if I am only for myself what am I, and if not now when)’, and ‘In this House’ are joyful expressions of love and caring. We are blessed to be bringing her up from Atlanta to join us, and the following morning she will be helping us continue our focus on kindness with a special family education morning that we are running with Beth Tikvah. All money raised from the concert will be donated to the Anti-Defamation League (ADL). The ADL has done incredible work in responding to acts of hate directed toward minority groups, and leading educational programs that help our students respond to bullying, antisemitism, and more. We are delighted that their regional director will be joining us for this special evening.

In the midst of challenging times, the most important thing we can do is to walk our walk with mindful awareness of how we treat each other, placing kindness at the heart of what we do. We must be here for each other and for those who are most vulnerable in our society. Please know that my door is always open to those who would like to speak with me about things taking place beyond the walls of our synagogue and the ways we respond to them.

Rabbi Rachel Gurevitz