A Drash for VaYeishev 5774 (2013)
by Marc Mangel
“And dwelt Jacob in the land where had lived his father in the land of Canaan”.
As Jews we dwell in many lands. We carry the mitzvot with us, in order that we can make this world a place in which God can dwell, regardless of where we happen to be.
For a combination of personal and professional reasons, I visited a number of different synagogues in October and November and would like to tell you a bit about the places where Jews dwell.
I began Netivot Shalom in Berkeley on Shabbat VaYeira.
Netivot Shalom grew out of a commitment to create an egalitarian spiritual home for Conservative Jews in Berkeley.
Netivot Shalom describes itself as an egalitarian, participatory Sacred Community that encourages and engages in Tefilah (Prayer), Torah (Learning), Tzedeka (Social Justice), and Kehillah (Community) within our congregation and the broader community.
The Rabbi, Menachem Creditor, gave a word of Torah before the reading, but the drash afterwards was given by the President of the Board of Directors of Shalom Bayit; the BoD had decided that every synagogue in the Bay area required a drash in October about the mission of reducing domestic violence.
And as an added treat, a Rabbi from Albany, NY and her husband were visiting, so I could send greetings to and from Eli Cohen.
The following week, Chayei Sara, found Susan and me in Charleston, South Caroline where we exploring the rich Jewish history, which goes back to 1695, including a pre-Revolutionary war Jewish cemetery.
We visited Emanuel-El, where Adam Rosenbaum (writer of Torah Sparks for the Conservative movement) is Rabbi. It is a ‘non-heritage’ synagogue, only going back to 1947, since Charleston also houses Kahal Kadosh Beth Elohim, the second oldest operating synagogue in the US and the oldest operating Reform synagogue in the world (Reform in the US began there in 1824).
Emanuel-El describes itself as a modern Conservative congregation emphasizing the continuity of Jewish traditions while being responsive to the challenges of a changing world.
As at Netivot Shalom, Rabbi Rosenbaum gave a brief dvar Torah before the reading. The drash afterwards was given by Carrie Ben-Yisrael, who is a black woman. Consider that. Consider that.
For Toldot, we visited Heska Amuna in Knoxville, TN, where Alon Ferency is rabbi.
Heska Amuna was chartered in in 1890, but roots go back to the 1860s. Its Eastern European founders apparently didn’t know how to transliterate the Hebrew words Chazkei Emunah or “Strong holders of the Faith” into the English alphabet. Once written into the state charter, however, “Heska Amuna” became the official name.
Heska Amuna describes itself as a sacred home, animated by Jewish tradition: Finding purpose through reflection (Chesbon HaNefesh); Healing lives through service (Chesed);Celebrating God with awe and joy (Yirat Shamayim)
Rabbit Ferency gave the dvar Torah before the reading, but the drash was given by a member of the congregation who had taken a drash class that the Rabbi had offered over the summer. It appears that this was the first time a grad of the class was on the bima.
The next week Susan was back here and on Erev Shabbat Vayeitzei I went to Romemu on the upper West side of NYC with my cousin David. The Rabbit there is David Ingber,
Romemu describes itself as a progressive, fully egalitarian community committed to tikkun olam, and to service that flows from an identification with the sacredness of all life.
I have been a believer in Jewish Renewal since Zalman Schacter spent a Shabbaton at the University of Illinois in the late 1960s. (That semester, in which he, Shlomo Carlebach, and Art Green came, was transformative for me).
I have been involved with two Renewal congregations, both relatively small and early in their history (Or Shalom in Vancouver,1982-1995 and Chadeish Yameinu here in Santa Cruz).
Like Or Shalom and Chadeish Yameinu, Romemu has great ruach, but it also has amazing numbers (I guess that there might have been 300 people there — most of whom knew the songs and services). It was a remarkable and amazing experience for me in which I saw Zalman’s vision for what renewal can be actualized. It was pretty amazing.
Shabbat morning, I went to Or Zarua on the Upper East side, Scott Bolton Rabbi. Here I learned about the six inch Torah that was parachuted into North Africa during WW II and traveled with Jewish soldiers throughout the war.
Or Zarua describes itself as a congregation centered on three fundamentals of Judaism: Torah (study and practice), Avodah (religious worship), and Gemilut Hasadim (doing good deeds). While traditional and authentic in our Torah study and religious observance, we are an egalitarian, Conservative synagogue, offering men and women equality in all aspects of religious worship, participation and leadership.
Or Zarua is part of the TLC: Torah Learning Coalition of the East Side – a multi-denominational coalition of about a dozen synagogues who are building bridges and gaining from the wisdom of Torah and text study. For Hanukkah, the TLC is sponsoring 7 nights of classes on a wide variety of topics. I have put a couple of the flyers in the back for you to see what they are doing. Such is the power of many Jews together if they put their minds to one purpose.
Yes, Jews do indeed dwell in many places. And in each place we put our stamp our making a dwelling for God in this world. It was a great joy to experience these synagogues, but I sure am happy to be back home.