I responded that what I like best is what happens at our Temple from Friday night to Sunday morning. We pray together, we learn together, and we socialize together.
Our sages teach that those activities are the building blocks of the sacred community. According to a well known verse of Rabbi Gamliel, “The world is based on three things, torah (learning), avodah (prayer), and gemilut hasadim (acts of kindness).” These three pursuits became the foundation of the synagogue as we know it, which has been at the heart of Jewish life for two thousand years. In fact, in Hebrew the synagogue is known by three names which reflect these holy endeavors: Beit Limmud (House of Learning), Beit Tefilah (House of Prayer), and Beit K’nesset (House of Assembly). Each year when I give my report at the Annual Meeting I review the year in accordance with these three categories.
This new Jewish year I would like to challenge you to “choose one” to make a special commitment to the Temple by helping us in one of the three ways. How to do it? Easy... by showing up: on Friday night, or Saturday morning, or Sunday morning. Whether you do so weekly, biweekly, or monthly, it will make a difference to our community. We are a small congregation; everybody matters and everybody is appreciated.
Our most acute need is Shabbat evening (7:30-9:00 PM). This last year an entire group of regular synagogue attendees sadly have moved to assisted living. In all honesty, we miss them very much and need to replace them at our service. Most people who do attend during the year find the music and sermon uplifting. In the language of our tradition: it is a mitzvah to support our minyan. The fruit and cake and conversation at the oneg Shabbat is not bad either!
While our Shabbat morning Torah study (10:00-11:30 am) is vibrant and full, there is always room around the table. We learn from sacred texts (this year an extraordinary modern work of Jewish ethics), and we learn from each other. The discussion of family and faith is often extraordinary.
Everyone is welcome at the joyful religious school service every Sunday morning (9:00-9:45am), and keep a look out for the adult education and social action activities that often follow. If you are a parent of religious school students we need you as a volunteer, whether to serve as parent-in-charge, help at a holiday celebration, or serve on the education committee.
Of course, the single biggest thing you can do for our school and congregation is to recruit a new family. Our need for younger age school children is urgent; our desire for new members of any age is keen. The demographics of Leonia are not in our favor, but with our own stepped-up commitment I believe we can welcome wonderful new families (from Leonia and surrounding areas) just as we did this year. Most of the board members who were asked what is most special about us answered simply: the people. And they are right! “Choose one” and help us keep our little community the truly special place that it is.
With warm wishes for a joyful new year of commitment and caring, from my house to yours,
Rabbi Barry Schwartz
P.S. Please see below for notes on Torah Study for the New Year.
As you plan your fall calendars, this is a brief note to let you know that Shabbat morning Torah study will resume on Saturday morning, Sept. 19 every week from 10:00-11:30 am. (Please note that there are no sessions in the fall on Oct. 17 and Nov. 7 due to the celebration of b'nai mitzvah.)
I am happy to announce that we will devote the year to the study of Jewish ethics, utilizing the magisterial work of Rabbi Joseph Telushkin, entitled You Shall be Holy: A Code of Jewish Ethics, Volume I. This volume concentrates on personal ethics, including such intriguing topics as building character, judging others fairly, gratitude, civility, humility, forgiveness, repentance, anger, envy, vengeance, integrity, and speech.
I have purchased bulk quantities of the book through the rabbi's fund, but the congregation and I would be very grateful if you are willing to make a $20 donation, which would entitle you to the volume at the end of the year. Please share this information with anyone who might be interested in joining us.
Rabbi Barry Schwartz