From the pages of Kadima, the newsletter of Congregation Adas Emuno:
A Message From Our President
Dr. Lance Strate
I have often been struck by the fact that the most sacred object in our sanctuary, the Torah scroll, is a book. Sure, we dress it up nicely with our finest fabrics, decorated with lovely embroidery, and further adorned with silver breast plate and crown, as well as the silver yad or pointer, the silk sash or girdle that binds the scroll and keeps it closed, and the wooden shafts that the scroll is wound around. But it's still a book, a fancy book sure, a sacred book most definitely, but a book nonetheless.
Our worship is centered around the book, as we repeatedly face the Ark that holds the Torah scrolls during our worship services, show our respect by standing whenever the Ark is opened, and show our love by kissing the scrolls when they are carried down to the pews, albeit indirectly by kissing our prayer books. Reading from the Torah is one of our most sacred rituals, and our rite of passage from childhood to adulthood.
Our veneration of books extends to our printed prayer books and bibles, and in our tradition whenever one such text is dropped or falls to the floor, the person picking it up also kisses the book. And these books that contain the name of God are never destroyed when their usefulness is at an end, but rather buried as we would a loved one that has passed on.
Judaism is not the only religion that is centered around a sacred text, and in fact it was the Moslems who referred to Jews and Christians alike as people of the book. But there is something unique and special about our relationship to books, so much so that here in the United States, Jews purchase 23% of all hardcover books published, while we constitute only about 2% of the population.
As a people, we are bibliophiles, booklovers. And we are bookmakers, writers, authors. The Torah features Moses, who took dictation from God, and the Tanach ends with Ezra the Scribe. We gave the world the Bible, including the Christian version, which may be considered the all-time bestseller. More recently, of the 110 Nobel Prizes in Literature given out since 1901, 15 have been awarded to Jews including Henri Bergson, Boris Pasternak, Saul Bellow, Isaac Bashevis Singer, Elias Canetti, Joseph Brodsky, Nadine Gordimer, Harold Pinter, Patrick Modiano, and Bob Dylan. (It's often cited that we Jews constitute less than 0.2% of the world's population, while accounting for over 22% of Nobel Prizes awarded in all categories, 11,250% above average.)
It should come as no surprise, then, that we have more than a few published authors among the membership of our Congregation Adas Emuno, not the least of them our own Rabbi Schwartz. As you may know, his new children's book, Adam's Animals, was published this past summer, and his newest book, Paths of the Prophets: The Ethics-Driven Life, is due out this March.
Have you published a book or article, essay, story, or poem? Let us know, and let us celebrate together!
We express our love of books during services, Saturday morning Torah study, adult education programs, and especially through our religious school. We are the people of the book, and our houses of worship have always been houses of learning as well. The secret of our survival and our success is intimately linked to our religious tradition being wrapped around the Torah scroll, revolving around spirituality and schooling, and a love of books. On Rosh Hashanah we ask God to write our names into the Book of Life, and as readers and writers ourselves, we become authors of our own destiny. For this reason alone, we should never forget to write our shul into own book, the book that we all write, the book of our own lives, and those of our family, friends, and community. May it be so.