The Real TBS Tapestry (Volunteer Shabbat Sermon 7/29/16)

Thu, August 4, 2016
As first-time visitors enter our sanctuary, there are a few things that may immediately catch their eye: The warm wood and sculptural face of our ark. Our large windows and how they let in the beauty and light of the outdoors. The warmth of the color scheme.

But among the real stand-outs in this holy space are the specially commissioned tapestries lining the walls – each one designed to represent a month or a season in our Jewish year as well as the corresponding Jewish values that we hold dear.

This month’s tapestry – the piece corresponding to this Jewish month of Tammuz – hangs in the middle of the right-hand wall. As is true for every other month’s piece, its beauty stems from how so many themes and images, colors and textures, combine to form a richly layered impression of our history, our concerns, our passions, our hopes and dreams.

In this piece, we see patriotism for America, concern for safety, love of liberty, dedication to Israel, hope for a future of freedom for all.

One little known aspect of the Tammuz tapestry I find to be particularly interesting —

Our Israeli tapestry artist – Berachah Lavee – had most every color and fabric imaginable at her disposal. EXCEPT the special green we all associate with the Statue of Liberty. But how could this special July tapestry be whole without Lady Liberty? Nowhere in Israel could this color be found. So what happened was that her daughter used her own talents and artistic eye, mixed a variety of colors and spray paints, applied it to fabric, and created the necessary ingredient that uplifts the entire piece.

I love this part of the tapestry’s story. Because it speaks to me of the real life creation of the tapestry that is a Jewish community – and specifically the community of Temple B’nai Shalom. Our TBS community is, like each of our tapestries, a richly layered whole: composed of the ever-evolving gifts, talents, passions and values of each of our members.

That Statue of Liberty green should evoke for us how many times a congregational need requires some creative thinking to be met. How each time a question arises as to whether or not we might be able to fulfill one of the innumerable responsibilities required to maintain our vibrant Jewish community, someone looks within themselves and decides that maybe it’s not an exact fit – but they are willing to take on the challenge.

It reminds us that so many of our member volunteers end up stretching themselves in ways they might not have envisioned – but they do so out of their commitment to our tradition, our values, our community. And the health and strength of our congregation depends on that continued commitment to growth and to service.

So many of you sitting here this evening have demonstrated that commitment as a TBS volunteer. You may have taken on a Torah reading or service leadership, learned about Jewish mourning practices to support the bereaved, taken on a well-defined Board position and then realized the unanticipated need to become an expert in such areas as pipes and sprinklers, freezers and folding tables, hiring rabbis and cantors, just to name a few.

You may have said “yes” to chairing a project or a committee, even when you were a little unsure of whether you could adequately take it on. And yet – whatever it was that was needed of you – you dug deep within yourself and rose to the occasion.

Our TBS community is built on the willingness of our members to say “yes,” out of love of community and tradition, even if they may possibly have some doubts. But that is when beautiful things happen.

For two weeks, David Cherington and I have been corresponding with the purpose of devising a complete list of all the things that our member volunteers contribute to the life and health of this congregation. And multiple times a day one of us would think of yet another important area that our volunteers have touched and shaped. What we finally realized is, even though we attempted to capture the bulk of the areas in our 18 categories you see in your service folder, it is just simply impossible to contain and label them all. Temple life is so much more than the sum of its parts and what our Temple volunteers bring surpasses the itemized categories you see on the page. Because our Temple survives and thrives with a combination of the “roll-up-your-sleeves and pitch in” contributions mixed with heart and soul and love.

Our traditional teaching that many of us know through song is Al Sheloshah Devarim – the three core components to Jewish life – and life in general. These are spiritual arenas that make up the heart of why TBS exists. And each of these three aspects of Jewish life would be unable to thrive here without the time and talents and energy of our member volunteers.

They are:

Avodah: Prayer, spirituality, connection to God and Godly values

Torah, comprising: Jewish study, reading, learning, growing Jewishly as individuals or in our role as parents or teachers

And Gemilut Chasadim: The range of ways we do good and show our care and concern for people within our own community and out in the world

Whether you are leading a service, setting out a beautiful Sip n Schmooze, providing bagels to our religious school families, pulling the foil off a Spartan’s entrée, cooking for an ill TBS member, bagpiping at Purim, pulling wax off the Shabbat candleholders, leading a Jewish study session, directing traffic safely through our parking lot, filling your car with cereal boxes for the needy, improving the Temple website, reaching out to a new member family, sitting in our lobby to keep our community safe, handing out prayer books with a smile, helping a religious school teacher – whatever your unique and valuable contribution: you make this congregation a home worthy of being called a house of God.

In our Torah portion this week, we read about each of the Israelite tribes who were assigned an inheritance of land from God. All of them: except the tribe of Lay-vi: the Levites. This tribe – given the holy responsibility of doing all that was needed to maintain the holy tabernacle – later the Jerusalem Temple – was to live on the contributions and gifts of every other member of the Israelite people.

TBS is a family of Levites. We, like the Levites of old, survive and thrive on the contributions of every other member of the tribe. As lovely as our wall hangings are in our breathtaking sanctuary, the real TBS tapestry. . . is us.

What makes us distinctive is how we work both individually and collectively to create an environment of holiness.

Thank you to everyone who has brought the offerings of your heart – who has shared time, talents, energies, creativity and love: all the gifts that, when woven together, produce this very special work of art. Temple B’nai Shalom.