The View From Retirement (December 2020 KOL)
The View from Retirement by Rabbi Amy R. Perlin, D.D., TBS Founding Rabbi Emerita
As a member of the Strategic Planning Advisory Committee for our Reform Movement’s seminary, HUC-JIR (Hebrew Union College-Jewish Institute of Religion), and its Executive Board, I have been spending a great deal of time this fall visioning the Judaism of tomorrow with the leadership of our Movement so that we can make sure we are preparing the finest Jewish leaders for the 21st century Judaism that is yet to be. Not only has the College-Institute given TBS rabbis and cantors, it has also educated our many TBS homegrown rabbis, and hopefully will continue with those yet to be.
Although some may herald the end to the synagogue and Jewish institutional life as we know it, none are predicting the demise of the synagogue, just its evolution. And this pandemic has proven not only the resilience of our institutions, but the brilliance of our clergy, as around the globe we see Jewish vitality, innovation, and creativity in abundance. As our Christian neighbors face their first online Christmas services, we have paved the way with our incredible online Passover seders and the amazing transformation of High Holy Days in our living rooms or wherever your computer, iPad, or phone might have been. And week after week, day after day, Jewish vitality is exploding, Zooming, and reaching beyond the walls of our buildings into the homes and hearts of our people.
In our isolation, we crave community. In our loneliness, we seek connections. And in our deprivation from what normally fills our lives, we have discovered that the institution of Jewish survival, the synagogue, has stepped up and been there in times of sorrow and moments of celebration to offer comfort, connection, and education. In a webinar I took just today, I learned that 28% of all Jews feel closer to their Judaism now in the pandemic than they have been in a long time. That is an astounding statistic.
I believe in the synagogue as an institution of Jewish survival. I believe in the synagogue as the center of Jewish life, especially outside of major Jewish cities. All of us belong to TBS, because we know that our lives are richer for the sacred bonds we share, even if we are unable to enter the sacred space or see one another face to face.
For nine years, we wandered the wilderness of Burke and throughout that time our mantra was that wherever we were, we were B’nai Shalom. From community center to JCC, Abiding Presence to people’s living rooms, TBS grew in our hearts long before we poured her foundation and watched the first brick being placed upon it. What this pandemic has reminded us of those humble beginnings, when we needed to make an effort to bring Judaism into our homes and our lives. We really do need to be a part of something bigger than ourselves with those who share our values and our history. Like the generation before you, you will shape the synagogue of the future, and in shaping that future, you will secure the Jewish people for one more generation.
The Hebrew word “chanukah” means rededication. Judah, his brothers, and those who followed the Maccabees rededicated the Temple at this time centuries ago. For them, it was so much more than a building being reclaimed, it was an ideal reborn. They knew the Temple was worth fighting for and as they rededicated that ancient structure in Jerusalem, they not only secured Judaism for their generation, but for ours as well.
It would be so easy to write off this Chanukah as the last holiday of a really bad 2020, but that would not be faithful to the Maccabees. For even when they couldn’t enter their sacred Temple, they continued to fight and dream and vision. Even when they couldn’t gather together as a faith community, they took their faith into their homes and schools, markets and businesses, communities and relationships. When they rededicated the Temple, they did it with hope in their hearts for better days to come.
I believe in our Reform Movement – its values and its vision. I believe in our synagogues and our clergy, our educators and our Jewish professionals. I have faith in our lay leaders and our congregants and all those who come through our doors seeking to be a part of something special and enduring. I believe that there is a bit of Judah Maccabee inside all of us. I believe we will keep that flame alive. For I believe in my heart that there are better days to come.
From our home to yours, Happy Chanukah, Rabbi Perlin