Every year as the High Holy Days approach, I contemplate how amazing it is that Jews all over the world are about to do the same thing. Sure, different languages are spoken and prayed, different tunes are sung, most of us are liberal and some are more traditional in our religious outlook, but Jews all over the world are going to synagogues, eating with families and friends, and repairing relationships. The High Holy Days shows the unity of the Jewish world in our breathtaking diversity. Jews, of course, feel a special bond with each other, ahavat yisrael, and we are tied to our localities. To be a modern Jew is to be in relation to Jews everywhere, and to be a citizen of the world.
In this reflection, I would like to highlight some ways Jews from around North America have volunteered to help each other and the wider world. Two of these stories involve Holy Blossom specifically.
As many of you know, members of Holy Blossom Temple have sponsored families of Syrian refugees to make a new home in Toronto. More people will be coming to Toronto in the near future including members of the persecuted Yazidi minority. This effort takes a lot of organization and it is led dutifully by our member Jacqueline Friedland. Our reputation made its way down to New York. A group of Jews in Brooklyn wanted to help. This is their story:
In the aftermath of Donald Trump’s election, and the outpouring of hostility toward Muslims and immigrants here in the United States, a lot of us felt a sense of despair at the direction our country had taken, and a concomitant desire to take concrete action to benefit the refugees the U.S. had been turning its back on. Many of the members of our group were at the airports and courthouses in January, protesting the implementation of Trump’s cruel and unconstitutional ban on entry from seven majority-Muslim countries. But we also felt that we wanted to do more.
We learned about the Canadian sponsorship program, and were lucky enough to have the opportunity to partner with Rabbi Satz and Holy Blossom. We first raised money privately, among the members of our group, as well as from family and friends, and then hosted a film screening and discussion in Manhattan. We wound up raising $30,000, enough to sponsor a refugee family of eight to move to Canada, and begin a new life, free of violence and unrest. We are so pleased to have the opportunity to work together with such a wonderful and devoted congregation, and hope that we have many further opportunities like it in the future!
Because of ahavat yisrael, our Jewish bond of love, Jews in Brooklyn can help another Jewish community help refugees.
The next story is not as dramatic as helping refugees, but it will change our High Holy Day worship is conducted at Holy Blossom. Our congregant Les Rothschild wanted our prayers on Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur to match our egalitarian ideology. So, we put out a call to Reform congregations in North America asking if they have any gender-neutral versions of “Gates of Repentance” that they could donate to us. Several congregations answered our call, and we received enough prayer books so that all Family Services and services in the Philip Smith Congregational Hall during the Days of Awe will use machzorim that include our Imahot, our Matriarchs, and non-gendered language for God.
And now, simple things that we can do to help others:
Out of the Cold needs Coats
- Winter shoes and Boots
- New underwear, socks, undershirts
- Sleeping bag and blankets
(Only adult sized items, please)
You can bring them and sort them into the bins in the Ava Road parking lot during the High Holy Days.
Also, many of us have been following the devastation from Hurricanes Irma and Harvey and now Maria. The Jewish Federations of North America has ways that you can act https://jewishfederations.org/hurricane-irma-relief-fund .
L’shanah tovah. May you all have a sweet and meaningful 5778.