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From the Rabbi – This is the community I want us to be

Jewishly knowledgeable and engaged.
Reaching out beyond our own borders to impact our wider community.

Scene 1: Rob Blumberg, our current Temple President, met with me for coffee, perhaps three or four years ago. He has a vision. What if we could make MLK Jr Day into a real day of service for our community, and Congregation B’nai Shalom could be a leader in making that happen? A day of real meaning for our youth and adults alike.

Scene 2: Shabbat Rishon during Hanukkah. Over one hundred and fifty congregants gathered to light, to sing, to celebrate. The voice of our youth filling our Social Hall as they chant the Shema and v’ahavta, the Avot and Gevurot. The sound of youth who are becoming Jewishly literate.
Scene 3: Solidarity Shabbat. The overwhelming experience of people of all faiths and none from across the community lining our hallway to greet us with beautiful notes of kindness. The powerful words of community leaders, sending a clear message that hate has no place here and we stand up and show up for each other. As I looked at all of the faith and community representatives who joined us for the motzi blessing over the challah, I realized that I knew each and every person up on the bima, because we had already built relationships with them all through our interfaith and community activities.

In the midst of our 40th anniversary celebrations, I’ve had the privilege of hearing from founding members and gathering the stories from our archives, and they provide context for the three scenes outlined above, and more. Congregation B’nai Shalom has always sought to be forward-thinking, looking for ways to take what we have and make it better. We’ve recognized our place in being the early arrivals in creating a more diverse local community and understood our responsibility to be welcoming of others. We’ve always been active with our local interfaith clergy organizations, but now we have established a reputation for being bridge-builders and leaders, in local town initiatives and more broadly. A few weeks ago, when members of the core planning team of Central MA Connections in Faith came together to discuss their role in the first local MLK Jr Day of Celebration, I noted that eight of the thirty or so participants were our members.

When Rob shared his vision of an MLK Jr Day for our community several years ago, I knew that we would find the right time and place to make it happen. Partnering with Westborough School’s Superintendent’s office and Westborough Connects (both of whom coordinated our Solidarity Shabbat with us), along with Central MA Connections in Faith, we are excited about the plans for January 21 — an inspirational speaker (the “Free Hugs Guy”), some hands-on service projects, and an opportunity for youth to sit together and adults to sit together in diverse groups for facilitated conversations about the legacy and inspiration of MLK Jr.

Beyond the specifics of this new initiative, Rob also embodies what so many lay leaders in our congregation have done — bringing fresh ideas and programs that enable us to experiment, connect with more of the congregation and/or more of the wider community. Being led by vision and seeking ways to turn vision into experience is what makes a community vibrant and responsive. We’ve spent the last few years building the opportunities for our empty-nesters to create and participate in more culturally-oriented activities in order to embody our vision of a socially-connected congregation. Now we are beginning to seek out ways to better embody that vision for our parents of school-aged children, so that our congregation can be the same social hub for them as it is for their children.

Finally, I look at Scene 2, and I know how much thought and work Rabbi Eiduson and our educational team has put in to continue to evolve the ways that we teach Hebrew and create community for our youth. We see the results in the literacy of our children, but also in the high levels of engagement as leaders and learners among our teens. As much as we have built bridges with our wider community and become a leader in interfaith activity, we do so from a place of pride in our particularity — in ways that enable us to share our Jewish culture and practices and create a hub for Jewish life here.

In the coming months we will be having some very special celebrations. See the front page of the bulletin and plan to be a part of those celebrations with us. As much as we are proud to look back on the past forty years, I see that who we are today and the work we do to aspire to do and be even better, is rooted in who we have always been.
Rabbi Rachel Gurevitz

Sat, January 19 2019 13 Sh'vat 5779