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Terumah 2017

Sociologists of religion have been writing recently a lot about the fastest growing group in society—the “nones”. No, not “nuns,” but people who will check “none” on a survey that asks what their religion is. “Nones” are the second largest “religious” group in North America. Rabbi Rick Jacobs, the President of the URJ, writes, “Too often I hear Jewish leaders describing those who have no religious affiliation as people ‘who don’t know and don’t care.’ I disagree. The 2012 Pew Forum on Religion survey, “‘Nones” on the Rise,’ disproves this notion, finding that many of these “nones” believe in God, seek spirituality, and pray regularly. They just do not relate to the world of organized religion. Seventy percent of “nones” reported that religious institutions are too focused on money and power, and reflect worldviews alien to their own.”

People who self-identify as “none” skew young. This phenomenon is not foreign to the Jewish world. Granted, many Jews might check off “Jewish” on a survey even if they don’t pray or go to shul because Jewish identity is more than just “religion,” many young Jews might be similar to a “none.” Synagogue affiliation in non-Orthodox settings is down. We all seem to be searching for the proverbial Millennial Jew.

Holy Blossom has many different strategies to reach out to young Jews—young adults and those with young families. I would like to highlight one successful program, our Terumah membership model. This program for families with young children breaks down barriers to membership at Holy Blossom and lets each family determine a membership contribution that works for them. Our website calls it, “a gift from the heart.” Terumah is about relationship—between us and families—and relationships are about giving. We as a community give, and hopefully our young families are also moved to give.

This word “Terumah—gift of the heart” comes from this week’s Torah portion of the same name. At the beginning of the section about the building of the wilderness sanctuary that the Israelites will carry with them through their wanderings, God spoke to Moses saying, “Tell the Israelite people to bring me gifts; you shall accept gifts for Me from every person whose heart is so moved.”

An ancient Midrash reads our verse more literally: “Tell the Israelites to take for me an offering; from all whose hearts prompt them to give, you shall take my offering.” (Translation from Rabbi Avital Hochstein) The Midrash asks, “What is God’s offering?” Through a similar word, it links our verse to a verse in proverbs that we sing at the end of the Torah service, “For I gave you a good doctrine, My Torah. Do not forsake it.”

God gives Torah, we give gifts-offerings to God. This is not about payment for services. This is about relationship. Relationships are about giving and receiving. When one is in a real relationship, one wants to give. (In a healthy family) Our parents gave us our lives, and so we yearn to give back. Our lovers give, and we strive to give. God gave us everything (through Creation), so, as the late 19th-early 20th century Rabbi Shimon Yehuda Shkop writes in his Shaarei Yosher, “[God] planted eternal life within us, so that our greatest desire should be to do good to others, to individuals and the masses, now and in the future, in imitation of the Creator.”

Shkop: “The entire ‘I’ of a coarse and lowly person is restricted only to his substance and body. Above him is someone who feel that his ‘I’ is a synthesis of body and soul. And above him is someone who can include in his ‘I’ all of his household and family. Someone who walks according to the way of the Torah, his ‘I’ include the whole Jewish people, since in truth every Jewish person is only like a limb of the body of the nation of Israel.

“And there are more levels in this of a person who is whole, who can connect his should to feel that all of the world and worlds are his ‘I’, and he himself is only one small limb in all of creation. Then, his self-love helps him love all of the Jewish people and all of creation.”


Eliyahu Dessler: we feel gratitude from the “miracle” of Purim

“Gratitude is a form of giving, and giving leads to love. At the time of the first Purim, our Rabbis tell us, Israel reaccepted the whole Torah in love. The more gratitude, the more joy; and the more joy, the more gratitude. We need time to build up this tremendous experience, and so with every day of Adar that passes, our joy increases.”

  • Talk about Pope in NY Times Editorial: Click here
  • How do we as the HBT community increase joy and gratitude that will lead to relationships that will lead to terumot?
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