From Sadness to Celebration

Yom HaZikaron & Yom HaAtzmaut

Rabbi's Message - April 13, 2021

Rabbi Karen Bodney-Halasz

Earlier this afternoon, I watched Masa’s Yom HaZikaron Memorial, remembering all who have died to protect the State of Israel.  After completing the recitation of the Mourner’s Kaddish came the soulful words of Hatikvah to remind us that “our hope is not lost yet.”   This hope is one that has kept the Jewish people alive for thousands of years.   But our hope often is coupled with loss; Jewish life sometimes appears on a continuum of sadness to joy. It is no coincidence that Yom HaZikaron was set to be the day before Yom HaAtzmaut, Israel’s Independence Day.  The cost of our independence has been heavy.  Even when the loss has not been ours, we do not rejoice without remembering.  We see this in our retelling of the Exodus from Egypt.  When we chant from the Song of the Sea, we whisper the words of Torah when it tells how horses and riders were hurled into the sea behind us.  Our celebration of independence has always been complex.  It is hard, especially for those who are grieving, to switch so quickly from the depths of sadness to the heights of joy.

But it is the joy that helps to sustain us and give us a glimpse into the possibilities of our future.  This is why we savor the lingering scents of candle, wine, and fragrant spices at the end of Shabbat.  We have all done a lot of grieving this year and for some of us, those moments were made harder by the limitations put upon us by the pandemic.  But now, with the onset of spring, the count up to Shavuot, and the initial success of vaccines, hope is in the air again.

Last year we were disappointed we could not celebrate our 10th anniversary of the Jewish Cultural Festival.  But this year, we have the opportunity to honor years of successful fun-raising and fundraising with our creative hat-tip to our most successful continuous event.  And it comes at a time when we are feeling hopeful that things will not stay closed up and closed off indefinitely.  This Friday’s Taste of the Jewish Cultural Festival will be a safe opportunity to say hello to friends and community members again.  We can also take home the scents and tastes of delicious baked goods, to help us savor the sweetness of community until next month, when we gather again.

I look forward to greeting all of you this Friday at Temple between 4:00 - 7:00 p.m. when you drive through the “Greet the Rabbi” station!  

One Year Later

Reflecting on the Last 365 Days

Rabbi’s Message – March 16, 2021

Rabbi Karen Bodney-Halasz

March 16, 2020:  This was the last day I sat side by side with my colleagues at 130 Riverside Drive. Our closing would be temporary, I thought.  We wanted to be cautious, announcing our reopening after Memorial Day weekend.  A hand drawn calendar stands on an easel in the corner of my office, with plans for a meaningful 2020-2021 fiscal year, filled with learning, worship, and gathering.  As I collected my resources to take home with me, I was blessed by an unexpected visit from a former student, who reflected on her life as a young Jewish adult.  A thoughtful token of appreciation still sits on my desk, waiting for me to find the perfect place to hang it.  My heart was filled with hope and uncertainty.  The staff and I began to prioritize the ways in which we could sustain Jewish life in our absence.  Technology was still a bit of a mystery, but were committed to finding ways for congregants to recite names of loved ones for Mi Shebeirach and Kaddish.  We would help meet the urgent needs of congregants and encourage new congregational relationships through a calling committee.  We would increase our communications –TIDBITS would go out twice a week, and be filled with updates from the synagogue, songs of comfort, practical information on how to use technology and order food, and a collection of some of the best virtual programming across the country, including links to congregational services in communities that had been streaming for years.  We would send cards to let our members know we were thinking of them.  We would ensure ways to observe our holidays together, beginning with a virtual second seder.  

March 16, 2021: Today, I sit here in my home office, stepping away from what has proven to be the largest conference of the Central Conference of American Rabbis (CCAR), with emails coming in from rabbinic school classmates for virtual class dinner and notifications from Google Sheets about calls reported from our incredible Caring Committee.  We will surpass having made more than 1650 calls by the time I finish writing.  I am surrounded by video equipment – a boom mic, bright lights, and second computer screen. There is a report by my side showing that over the past 365 days we have gained 148 new YouTube subscribers, uploaded 83 videos, had almost 3,100 views, and more than 155 watch hours on our YouTube channel.  My Ring doorbell informs me that my produce has arrived on my doorstep, joining another box filled with shampoo and parmesan cheese.  My phone dings to remind me to report any side effects after my first dose of the Pfizer vaccine. This life hardly resembles the one I inhabited a year ago.  

As I take this moment to reflect I am filled with many emotions and healthy tears. 

Sadness, Loss, and Pain:
For lives ravaged by Covid-19, taken too soon and without loved ones 
For families forced to mourn without the comfort of community and ancient ritual
For the postponement of weddings, B’nai Mitzvah, graduations, and baby namings 
For individuals living in solitude
For my own struggles in learning to balance congregational responsibilities with the need to care for and educate my own children 
For the moments spent with you this past year, especially at times of mourning, when I could not hold your hand, offer a hug, or just sit together and be present with you

Gratitude and Appreciation:
For the teachers and caregivers who have gone above and beyond to keep our children healthy and provide them with a sense of normalcy
For the medical professionals and frontline workers who have had to risk their own health and wellbeing to serve the needs of the community 
For those who have reached out to check on others, including me, and helped sustain a sense of community
For community leaders who continue to make difficult decisions on our behalf
For my husband, my children, and my family who fill my heart with joy and love
For scientific and technological advancements that have saved millions of hearts and souls 
For an amazing team of co-workers who support one another and excel in their jobs
For the email that came across my screen today to announce that as of Friday, anyone over the age of 40 may be vaccinated, together with those who suffer from cancer, chronic kidney disease, COPD, heart disease and obesity.
For a light at the end of the tunnel

I hope you will also take a moment and reflect on this past year and allow yourself the space to feel all the feelings, cry all the tears, and express joy for surviving this year.  

To this effort I offer both a prayer and a poem. The Shehechiyanu, thanking God for allowing us to reach this moment, and Amanda Gorman’s poem “The Miracle of Morning,” which reminds us that “like light, we can’t be broken, even when we bend.”