Tuesday, September 3, 2013

Coming Home to Your Birthright

from the pages of Kadima, the newsletter of Congregation Adas Emuno:

From the desk of …                    
 Rabbi Barry Schwartz


At this new Jewish year, 5774, I invite you to come home to your birthright. And what is this birthright? I’m glad you asked. Simply put, it is Torah. The famed novelist Chaim Potok said it well:
Torah is a Jew’s sense of self; the beginning of it, the foundation stone of it. Then you can pick and choose, quarrel with it, discard this, accept that; but at least know where the shoreline is before you begin to row away from it. If you are rowing and there is no shoreline at all, then you are navigating blind, and to navigate blind is to live in dread.

Or as my friend David Lerman, the immediate past-president of The Jewish Publication Society once wrote: 

Torah is, effectively, our genetic code. Torah explains who Jews are, why we behave as we do, and why we are perceived by others in the world as we are. Whether we embrace Torah and live it, reframe it and live informed by its values, we always react to it—and that is the defining element of our experience on this planet.

Torah explains why we are called The People of the Book. Torah explains why we celebrate the Sabbath and holidays the way we do. Torah explains why our synagogues are constructed the way they are. Torah explains the way we pray. Torah explains our veneration of the written word and reverence for education. Torah explains our moral empathy and passion for social justice.

My friend David describes himself as “a reasonably educated but largely secular, non-spiritual Jew who attends shul weekly in order to have the privilege of reading and studying Torah.” I invite you to do the same, on a weekly or monthly basis:

Weekly:  Our Shabbat morning Torah study (10:00-11:30 AM) has become a big deal. Now is the perfect time to join, as we begin a new year. Our theme: All in the Family
Biblical Portraits. The Torah is great not only for its lofty ethical pronouncements, but because of its truly insightful portrayals of family life. We can all relate to the issues of spouses, siblings, and children. This year we will read the family life stories of the Bible, and enhance our discussion with a commentary written by a leading psychotherapist.

Monthly:  At every Shabbat Family Service we read from the Torah and relate the story to our lives. Making this commitment with your family keeps you anchored to the Jewish year. So while I have your attention, here are the Family Service dates for this year:

  • October 18
  • November 22
  • December 20
  • January 24
  • February 7
  • March 7
  • April 4
  • May 16
  • June 8

The family service is for everyone, not just the class that may be honored at a particular service.

Of course, the Torah is also read at the holidays. And speaking of which, our celebration of Simchat Torah (Wednesday, Sept. 25 at 7:00 PM) will be extra special this year. Thanks to the extraordinary mitzvah project effort of two of our recent b’nei mitzvah cousins, Julian Pecht and Oliver Racciatti, our primary reading Torah has been restored to top condition by a scribe and will be rededicated at this festival.

The poet Heinrich Heine called the Torah, “the portable homeland of the Jews.” The Hebrew Bible is our contribution to the world even as it remains our guiding light. This year make the pledge to become reacquainted with the Torah…  and reclaim your birthright!

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