Message from Rabbi Brian
Friends, it’s hard to believe that I have just completed my fourth year on the Bimah here at CSOA. Where does the time go? We had an extremely successful turnout for all the holidays this year, Rosh Hashanah, Yom Kippur, Sukkot, Simchat Torah, Shemini Atzeret even! It certainly didn’t hurt that they almost all fell on Saturdays and Sundays this year. I will try to arrange that again in a future year!
This is also the time of year that my own personal Bar Mitzvah portion – Vayera – shows up again in the rotation of our weekly Torah reading. This is especially meaningful to me, because my time on the Bimah in those days – a scant 59 years ago – led directly to my time on the CSOA Bimah today.
So much has happened in those 59 years. At that time, Israel was recovering from the influx of 1 million Jewish refugees from all the Muslim countries that rejected and deported them, often with little but the clothes on their back, losing their homes, their assets, their livelihoods, after a thousand years or more of relative safety and security in all those countries. Israel emerged stronger from all the new immigrants, greatly diversifying their population, and adding a whole new generation of chalutzim – pioneers – willing to work hard to build their adopted country. It also changed the entire music and cultural scene in the country. Just three years later, Israel’s very existence would be tested once again, as it survived the 6-Day War.
Normally, each year, this week on the Jewish calendar invokes very happy but bittersweet memories for me, as I peruse the 1964 photo albums, and giggle at all the hair styles (bouffant!) and fashions – and the brightly colored men’s suits (blue or yellow “sharkskin”!) of the mid-1960s. But I’m also sad that so many of those friends and relatives are no longer with us.
However, this week other matters rest heavily on my heart. It is an incredibly difficult moment in which we find ourselves. I know that I feel completely out of sorts. I know many of you feel the same.
The ground has shifted under our feet, leaving us feeling unbalanced and unsteady. Our safety and security feel threatened by a devolving democracy, impotent leadership, and the escalation of both anti-LGBTQIA+ actions and an overwhelming growth of antisemitism.
Now, added to this is the war between Israel and Hamas.
It is now almost 4 weeks since the horrific Hamas massacres, with almost none of our hostages yet returned to their families. As the massacre unfolded on October 7 and after, like many of you, I felt so far way and so helpless. I am reminded of the many demonstrations and gatherings of American Jews during the Holocaust, like the protests led by Jewish-American leaders in Madison Square Garden in the 1930s and again during Kristallnacht, as American Jews felt totally unable to help in any way as our Jewish way of life was destroyed in Nazi Germany. Or later, while hundreds of Jewish refugees on the S.S. St. Louis almost made it to safety in Cuba or America, but were only able to see our shores, as they were shipped back to die in Europe.
At our recent Israel Solidarity meeting, some expressed the need for a forum where we might gather, simply to feel the support of our community, to connect with and strengthen each other. I am reminded of the early Zionist pioneer song, “Anu banu artzah, livnot ulehibanot bah”. “We came to the Land, to build it and to be built up by it.”
I have seen a huge outpouring of love and support by our non-Jewish neighbors. As of today, I have received almost 50 phone calls and e-mails from people all over our region, asking how they can help, where can they send money, and to let us know that they are praying for our Jewish community and for our brothers and sisters in Israel. I get stopped a few times a week in Woodman’s or Kwik Trip or Festival Foods by people seeking reassurance about the present and the future, and commiserating with all who are suffering. “Rabbi, we are praying for your community,” they tell me.
In the meantime, I’m sure you have seen so many Jewish leaders and online media who say that in light of all the antisemitic media and anti-Israel (and anti-Jewish) public messaging, now is the time to “double down” on being Jewish. Do more mitzvot, put up more mezuzahs, light Shabbat candles, they say.
One way to respond to this crisis is to take advantage of our two weekly gatherings that are already in place: Friday evening Shabbat Zoom services, and Saturday morning Shabbat services, which is live and on Zoom.
Our turnout both in person and online in recent weeks speaks to how important and personally meaningful it has been for our community to gather on Shabbat. I can’t begin to express how comforting it is for us to be in your presence in these very difficult times. I worry about the health and security of my own children and grandchildren in Israel, and the many family and friends Renana and I both have in Israel. That worry doesn’t leave us for a minute.
Being with our community on Shabbat offers us the opportunity to be with each other, to sing with each other, to share stories with each other, to comfort each other, to hold each other, and to just have a moment to close our eyes and catch our breath.
Over these coming weeks, we will respond to the war in Israel with words and conversations from the Bimah, prayers and reflections for our Israeli brothers and sisters, for the hostages, for those innocents on both sides who have been killed or wounded.
I recommend that we show our solidarity with our brothers and sisters all over the world, but especially in Israel, as we end our prayers each week with the singing of our people’s national anthem of hope, Hatikvah.
And we will, of course, continually seek ways to provide more active and needed support.
In conclusion, let me say that I could not be more grateful than to be here at Sons of Abraham in this moment – surrounded by your care, your passion and your zeal for both the future of this community and for the larger world Jewish community.
As did our ancient parents Abraham and Sarah, may we continue to move forward in the world as a source of blessing.
With prayers for peace and healing,
Rabbi Brian Serle