Tag Archives: Temple Torat Emet

Farewell to Temple Torat Emet: Remarks delivered April 29, 2017

29 Apr

 

Rabbi Edward Bernstein served as Spiritual Leader of Temple Torah/Temple Torat Emet from 2011 to 2017.

My tie for this week is a medical-themed tie. I wear it this Shabbat as a reminder of the role of the kohanim (priests) to check people for physical blemishes, such as skin disease that would disqualify them from participating in Temple service. The text tells us:

ג וְרָאָ֣ה הַכֹּהֵ֣ן אֶת־הַנֶּ֣גַע בְּעוֹר־הַ֠בָּשָׂ֠ר… וְרָאָ֥הוּ הַכֹּהֵ֖ן וְטִמֵּ֥א אֹתֽוֹ:

The Kohen shall examine the blemish on the skin of his body… when the priest sees it, he shall pronounce him impure.

Meshekh Hokhmah (Meir Simcha of Dvinsk (1843–1926)) notes that

וְרָאָ֥הוּ הַכֹּהֵ֖ן (v’ra-a-hu hakohen)means when the priest sees him—the person—not it—the disease. In other words, the kohen is to examine the whole person, not only the diseased limb. He is to see what is whole and healthy about the person, not only what is affected.

A Kohen is responsible to look out not only for flaws but to look at a human being and appreciate him or her beyond any flaws. The Kohen is charged to look out for a nega, a blemish. However, in order to fulfill that mission, he must have a vision of healing and wholeness. If he focuses only on the blemish, the person will only be seen in terms of the blemish. With a broader perspective, he is able to unlock qualities of kindness that bring about healing for the individual and the community.

Our society is being torn apart by unthinkable cruelty, violence and hatred. In a society in which airline personnel violently remove a paying passenger from a plane, or a candidate for high office mocks the physical disabilities of a reporter, or vulnerable populations such as Hispanics and Muslims live in fear, our job as a Jewish community must be to bring more kindness into the world. The stakes are high. Religious institutions, such as synagogues, are uniquely positioned to be laboratories for kindness. When we are at our best we not only provide refuge from the world, we develop skills and habits within our community to bring healing and kindness to the world. If we who care about synagogue life fail this basic mission of modeling kindness, the synagogue will become utterly irrelevant to the vast majority of our community. Abraham Joshua Heschel in his later years said it best: “When I was young I admired clever people. Now that I am older I admire kind people.” Sometimes in synagogue life, we lose sight of our community’s broader mission to model kindness.  It is easy to get stuck and see only an individual’s flaws and not appreciate the totality of each person. In such a reactionary state of mind, we deprive ourselves the opportunity to appreciate the gifts that each individual brings to bear. We need occasional reminders of our role as a Jewish communal institution to model radical kindness, radical hospitality and radical compassion.

As I reflect on the broader purpose of a shul and its rabbi, I of course acknowledge that this is a Shabbat of transition.

Whatever blemishes there may be in me or our shul, I’d like to pretend we are all kohanim and look at the bigger picture or, if you will, the entire body. Today is a time for Hakkarat HaTov, recognition of the good. Just as I hope that I will not be judged for any single shortcoming, I strive to do the same for the congregation.

I am grateful for the six years that we have had together. I am pleased to share that my family and I are remaining in the community. I have been hired as a chaplain with Vitas Hospice. I will also be teaching in various capacities. I have joined the faculty of the Florence Melton Adult School in Boca Raton and invite you to contact me privately if this intensive program of learning might be of interest to you next fall. I also plan to do freelance rabbinic and educational consulting, including lifecycle events for unaffiliated Jews in Palm Beach County. Having caught the writing and publishing bug in the last couple of years, I hope to spend time writing as well.

As I look forward to new endeavors, I also look back on my service at Temple Torat Emet.  I am grateful for the learning many of us have done together. I am grateful for your trust in allowing me to facilitate services. I am grateful for the accomplishments we achieved together from the merger to create Temple Torat Emet to our Adult Education Consortium  of five synagogues to JACATT to goofy YouTube videos that some of us created together. Moreover, I’m grateful for the opportunity to enter the lives of our congregants and for the trust you invested in me to provide guidance at critical moments.

Among hundreds of encounters, I’d like to highlight three specific interactions across generations that come to mind:

  1. Teenager Seeking Answers—Two years ago, a young man from our congregation, a high school senior on spring break, asked to meet with me. This hip, athletic young man could have been doing a million other things on his spring break, but he wanted to meet with his rabbi. He had spiritual questions and was seeking in depth exploration of issues. He had had some exposure to Chabad but was looking for guidance from within the mainstream Conservative tradition in which he was raised. I thought the conversation might last 20 minutes. Instead, we wound up talking for two hours studying texts and creating a reading list for further studies. We’ve kept in touch, and he is an amazing young man in college who represents the future leadership of our people. I’m honored that he entrusted me with those two hours during his spring break, and I’m humbled that I was able to meet him where he was at and offer what I hope was meaningful guidance.
  2. Transition to Hospice—At the other end of the lifecycle spectrum, a woman was battling cancer. She had a beautiful marriage of more than 60 years. After years of treatment, her situation was not improving. She had a razor sharp mind and she and her family were faced with a difficult decision on next steps. For me, personally, the answer was obvious not to continue any more invasive treatment. But I refrained from saying that. I asked: “What are your goals? What tradeoffs are you willing to accept?”

She articulated very clearly that she wanted to die peacefully at home, not at the hospital. She chose not to continue with treatment and enter home hospice. She had a beautiful final week in the comfort of her home surrounded by her children. I was honored to earn the trust of this woman and her husband to enable me to orchestrate these final days of peace and dignity. I am grateful to have been a part of these sacred moments.

3. Conversion—One of the most spiritually uplifting roles I play as a rabbi is the opportunity to facilitate conversion to Judaism. At Temple Torat Emet I facilitated over twenty conversions. Last year, a family in our community came to me shortly after enrolling their daughter in Wiston Family Torah Tots. Since the mother was not Jewish, the child was not either. While our pre-school would have welcomed the child anyway, the couple had committed to raising their daughter exclusively Jewish according to the father’s tradition, and they were eager to convert their daughter as soon as possible. The mother was not yet ready to convert herself but supported her daughter doing so. We had a beautiful day at the conversion at Lakeside Park on the Inter-coastal. Not long after that, the mother enrolled in the Board of Rabbis Introduction to Judaism course for conversion candidates and has expressed her desire to formally embrace Judaism in her own right.

I  could share numerous other examples, but, suffice it to say, it is stories like these that remind me why I do what I do. The stories I described did not just happen. They happened because of the relationships I cultivated as your Rabbi with congregants of all ages.  I am filled with gratitude for these sacred moments.  In the day-to-day hustle and bustle of life, it is easy to get caught up in daily stresses. We get distracted by each nega, each blemish. However, in zooming out and looking at the bigger picture, we see a beautiful wholeness, similar to what the Kohen saw when examining a person. A community rabbi’s role at its essence is to cultivate relationships and facilitate meaningful engagement with Jewish tradition, particularly at key moments. It is humbling to realize the extent to which I have been part of changing people’s lives, one person at a time.

I would like to acknowledge a few specific individuals who were important to me over the past 6 years. During this tenure, I’ve conducted roughly 100 funerals. Of those, two special people are very much on my mind today: Dr. Kenneth Cohen, z”l, who was co-chair of the Rabbinic Search Committee in 2011, along with Richard Katz, may he enjoy length of years and good health. Kenneth called me during Hol HaMoed Pesah in 2011 to invite me to interview. After I began my service, he became a trusted friend and mentor. We worked closely together on a synagogue strategic plan that paved the way for important initiatives, including our merger to become Torat Emet. I miss Kenneth’s visionary leadership and steadfast confidence.

Elliot Fagin, z”l, is also on my mind. His dedication to this institution and his kindness were inspirational. He helped me in numerous and immeasurable ways—reminding me of people’s names, organizing services and just knowing every nuance of synagogue culture.

Here’s a piece of trivia for you: I am the first Rabbi in the history of the former Temple Torah and Temple Emeth under the age of 50. I am the first rabbi in our combined history of more than 70 years to have school-age children at home. For some, this was almost as shocking as a rabbi who rides his bicycle to synagogue! There may have been some growing pains along the way as the congregation and our family adjusted our new reality. However, I’m grateful for the opportunity to be this guinea pig of sorts, and I hope for the sake of our community that I’m not the last such rabbi.

Anything I did for the congregation over the last six years would not have been possible without the steadfast support of Ariella and our children.

In Ariella, I am blessed with a partner who supports me and encourages me always. She has opened our home to guests and did the bulk of the work to enable us to host numerous congregants and potential congregants in our home for Shabbat and holiday meals as well as shomer Shabbat overnight guests. Ariella volunteered her skills and contributed her talents to our community when she created Mitzvah Matters, Mitzvah Day and served on the board of the Temple Torah Foundation.  She is an unsung hero, and I am here to sing her praise for all that she did in her own right to strengthen our community and to support me in my work.

We are blessed with three amazing children. Sam and Noam have been leaders in the resurgence of our youth groups in recent years. They have served as ushers for the High Holidays, installed hurricane shudders, facilitated junior congregation services, volunteered in Torah Tots Day Camp and so much more. Esther has been a joy to watch as she has literally grown up in shul and has developed confidence in coming up to the bimah every week. My children have not had it easy. They live in a glass house. While they are blessed to have many good friends who come to shul regularly, there have been many occasions when they were the only children in services. They have been watched more closely than other children and occasionally judged unfairly in comparison to other kids for what they might do, say or wear.  Yet, through it all, they have been gracious. I couldn’t be more proud of their menschlikhkeit. Moreover, my family patiently endured my frequent absences at home due to professional commitments: Sunday afternoons when I had to cancel family plans to do a funeral; Numerous weeknights that I missed Little League games or special school functions due to committee meetings or shiva minyanim; Friday evening Shabbat dinner that we rushed through so that I could get to services on time. While I’m proud of my work and accomplishments, I recognize the sacrifices made by my family and wish to thank them publicly from the bottom of my heart. I love you all.

The five of us draw strength from our extended family, particularly my parents, Roberta and Chuck Bernstein, my grandmother, Adele Bernstein, and Ariella’s parents, Sheila and Jerry Reback. In fact, Sheila and Jerry have been full members of the congregation since our arrival, and Jerry, a licensed electrician, contributed occasional electrical work to the Synagogue. We are grateful for their steadfast love and support.

There are a few other people I want to thank. I’ve worked with four presidents of the congregation: Cheri Deutch, Alan Aronson, Lori Charnow and Phil Avruch. Over the years, there were times we agreed and times we did not. However, I want them and the congregation to know that I appreciate their efforts as volunteer leaders of the congregation. Every day they volunteer their time to field complaints, manage crises and maintain the good will of our community. Volunteers can never be thanked enough, so I want to thank them, as well as all those who volunteer their time for the well-being of our community.

Our professional staff are also not thanked  enough for their tireless service to our congregation and to the Jewish people. I have been enriched and inspired by their work on a daily basis. To Michelle Kantor, Mike Klein, Orly Jacobs, Sharon Feinberg, Stephanie Rubin, Stacey Ripin, Sharon Black, Alyssa Fix, Kathy Slutsky, Susi Wood and Yvette Baugh, thank you for your partnership and support. To: Bob, Richard, Maria and Olga, thank you for managing our large facility and making incredibly complex work of setting up events seem so easy and seamless. A special thank you to my partner on the bimah Hazzan Howard (Hamid) Dardashti. The last year has been a true blessing to work together. I served earlier in my career with his brother Hazzan Farid Dardashti, a dear friend and mentor, and strengthening my bond with the Dardashti family through Hamid has been a special bonus. I only wish we had more time together as a team on this bimah.

I want to close with where I began. Each one of us today is like that Kohen of long ago who can only heal blemishes by bearing witness to the whole, complete person before us. As I finish my tenure I challenge all of us to fulfill the essence of synagogue life: look for the good in others and bring more kindness into the world. Finally, particularly since I am staying in Palm Beach County, I pray that we will cross paths on happy occasions. I’m reminded that in Hebrew we don’t say farewell. We say l’hitraot—till we meet again. Shabbat Shalom.

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#CarpoolKaraoke for the #JewishNewYear – Happy 5777!

25 Sep
Temple Torat Emet staff sing in the Jewish New Year with #CarpoolKaraoke

Temple Torat Emet staff sing in the Jewish New Year with #CarpoolKaraoke

Warm wishes to all for a sweet Jewish New Year. May it be filled with joy and song. Enjoy this video I produced!

Open Letter to “The Voice of Formerly Affiliated Seniors”

30 Jul

letter-writing-clip-art-745083
Yesterday, I received in the mail an interesting letter. The envelope was hand-addressed to me and marked personal; curiously, however, there was no return address. I opened the letter and immediately scanned to see who wrote it. It was merely signed “The Voice of Formerly Affiliated Seniors.” The letter was cc’d to Temple Torat Emet (my synagogue in Boynton Beach) Temple Anshei Shalom (Delray Beach), Temple Beth Kodesh (Boynton Beach), Temple Sinai (Delray Beach), Temple Beth Tikvah (Greenacres) and Temple Shaarei Shalom (Boynton Beach). These are all Conservative and Reform congregations in the south-central portion of Palm Beach County.

As Rabbi of one of the congregations to whom the letter addresses, I wish to acknowledge the pain and frustration expressed by the author and believe the author raises important points that should concern all synagogues in our area and beyond. It troubles me that the author did not feel safe personally approaching any of the rabbis of the congregations to whom the letter is addressed. In this light, I’m sharing this letter publicly, not to embarrass the author but to give a public voice to the genuine concerns expressed. I will then respond to the individual concerns and offer a helping hand.

July 27, 2015

Dear Rabbi:

From time to time, articles appear in the Jewish newspapers about the low rate of affiliation among Jews in Palm Beach County. The rate is well under twenty per cent.

Some of the reasons given are “retired people already joined up North and do not wish to do so again,” “other Jewish organizations and activities suffice”, etc. Sometimes efforts are made to remedy this, such as recent programs to welcome LGBT Jews, which is as it should be. However, I believe that many more of the unaffiliated Jews would be members, or at least attend services from time to time, and donate some revenue, IF THEY FELT WANTED.

As a 20 year resident of Palm Beach County who was always and is no longer affiliated, here is what I see:

  1. When a member drops out of a temple, nobody calls to ask why. It would be nice if somebody noticed the sudden absence and called to see what happened. Membership retention activities do not seem to exist. Maybe the person is ill, has financial problems, or other reasons for not attending. Long time members do not suddenly abandon their Jewishness. Nobody inquires. Yet sometimes arrangements can be made.
  1. Many seniors are visually impaired and cannot read the prayer books. There are large print prayer books and they can be obtained FREE OF CHARGE. Most temples do not have any and refuse to stock them. Sitting through a two or three hour service with no text to follow is not pleasant so such members drop out.
  2. Transportation to and from services is a major problem for many seniors. Many do not drive at night or do not drive at all. Two things could be done about this. Every temple could have a volunteer group to drive people to services — occasionally, not every week. Volunteers could be recruited from each community and lists of potential drivers made available to anyone needing a ride to services. Also, just as the JCC has a minivan available to take folks to their activities, temples could do this on a low-cost-fee basis.
  1. Regarding adult education courses, it would be nice if some of them could be offered in the afternoon rather than the evening. Also, let us enroll in just the course or courses we wish to attend — not an entire list of courses that are too expensive when all we want is one!

In Palm Beach County, we are largely an aging population which has caused temples to close or merge, leaving many former members without accessible temples. For the first time in their lives, they have no way to get there. Doesn’t anyone care? If not we will see continued erosion of affiliation — and financial support. If only 30 people come to a temple occasionally and donate $100 each in a year, the temple gains $3000 in revenue. And, if more become members, the revenues will result in the needed funds to continue running the temples.

Overheard in a recent conversation among active temple people is the following: “If they are not active, who needs them?” Hardly a Jewish attitude, I think.

I believe the elderly Jews in Palm beach County deserve attention. Many of us want to come but, with present conditions, we are completely disenfranchised. We are the ones who built and sustained these temples with our work and our money. We are the former founders, officers and committee members who built and sustained these temples. We want and deserve better.

Rabbis should use their community leadership positions to make temples more welcoming to everyone, not just the young and the wealthy. Many elderly Jews become poor due to the expenses of ill health and loss of spousal income. We still love Judaism and wish to participate but it becomes impossible for many. We are “Jewishly homeless.” With your help, this could change!

Sincerely,

The Voice of Formerly Affiliated Seniors

 

CC: Temple Torat Emeth

Temple Anshei Shalom

Temple Beth Kodesh

Temple Sinai

Temple Beth Tikvah

Temple Shaarei Shalom

 

 

Rabbi Edward Bernstein responds:

To Whom It May Concern:

Thank you for your letter. I very much appreciate that you took the time to express your concerns. Our Torah teaches Mipnei seivah takum, v’hadarat p’nei zaken, “You shall rise before the elderly and honor the presence of the aged” (Leviticus 19:32). The value expressed in this verse is a cornerstone of Jewish tradition.

 

It pains me that even one Jew in our community feels underserved by our area synagogues, which, I believe, are the bedrock for Jewish life in the broader community.  It also troubles me that you felt the need to remain anonymous. I don’t know how many people for whom “The Voice of Formerly Affiliated Seniors” speaks; however, whether it’s one person, 30 people or 1,000, you are welcome in my shul.  I honor the wealth of experience that you have earned through years of Jewish communal involvement both prior and since your relocation to South Florida. The community can only benefit from the contribution of your wisdom to meet today’s challenges.

 

I detect from your letter a yearning to return to synagogue life, but perhaps you’re not sure how to take that first step. Let me address the specific points you make, and perhaps we can find a way for you to reenter the warm embrace of shul.

 

  1. It sounds like you had a prior affiliation with a local shul, you did not renew your membership and no one called. That troubles me, and you deserved appropriate outreach. You remind us that we in synagogues need to do better. That said, at Temple Torat Emet, we have a hard-working Tov Team that keeps close tabs on members who are ailing or feeble or who otherwise have difficulty coming to synagogue. In many cases, they organize rides to synagogue, deliver meals to the home during acute illnesses and make phone calls just to show we care. Our membership committee also tracks members who may be on the margins to remind them that they are important to us. You note the financial challenges and write, “sometimes arrangements can be made.” Indeed, many of our members have made special need-based arrangements in a dignified, confidential process. Our membership dues provide vital funds without which we could not exist. At same time, our doors are open 365 days a year with an active daily minyan morning and afternoon and vibrant Shabbat services every Friday night and Saturday. These are open to the public. Please come.
  2. I’m sorry that you have not found large print prayer books at shuls you’ve attended. I can assure you that at Temple Torat Emet we have an ample supply of large print books easily available at every service. Recently, a visually impaired member of our congregation pointed out that while the words in the large print siddurim were readable, the page numbers were too small. So, we fixed that! A young lady performed her bat mitzvah service project by working with the congregant and placed stickers of enlarged page numbers throughout each of the 20 copies of our large print siddur. In this one act of kindness, an intergenerational bond was created between a senior adult and a teenager, plus the congregation will benefit from the product of her labor for years to come. That’s what a synagogue community is all about. By the way, Temple Torat Emet also has assisted listening devices available to congregants who need for all services and programs in our Main Sanctuary. Our bimah is equipped with a ramp so everyone can receive an honor, irrespective of any mobility limitations.
  3. Transportation should not be a deal breaker for you. For one thing, as I’ll note in #4, we have lots of programming during the day. Unfortunately, a shuttle service is very costly and investment in that service would necessarily divert funds from other precious programs and services. That said, give me a call and I’ll find you a ride. We have many congregants who drive from different parts of our area, and many people carpool to services and events. As you may know, last year our congregation became Temple Torat Emet when the former Temple Emeth of Delray Beach joined forces with the former Temple Torah of West Boynton Beach. As such, we have many members who regularly make the modest five-mile trek up Jog Road from Delray to Boynton. Plus, you never know—maybe a cost-effective plan for a shuttle could be found. You can help determine that by contacting us directly, and we’ll research the matter with you.
  4. Three of the synagogues on your list, Temple Torat Emet, Temple Shaarei Shalom and Temple Beth Tikvah, formed a vibrant consortium for adult education. Here is last year’s course lineup (last year it was just Torat Emet and Shaarei Shalom; Beth Tikvah joined us for the coming season). You will see that the majority of courses are during the day, and the pricing is very reasonable (my weekly Talmud class is free!).

 

I am sorry that you overheard in a recent conversation “If they are not active, who needs them.” It must have hurt to hear that. I disagree with you, however, that you are disenfranchised. Palm Beach County is blessed with a strong Jewish community of which senior adults are a significant population. All of the synagogues you address, including mine, enjoy active participation by our seniors.  Given everything I said above, I humbly ask you for your trust to give synagogue life another try. I extend to you an open invitation to participate in worship services and educational and social programming at Temple Torat Emet. My hope is that you will not only come to our events but you will stay involved because of the warm personal relationships you will develop with other members of our community.  I wish you good health, and I hope to see you and your friends soon.

 

Sincerely Yours,

Rabbi Edward C. Bernstein

Temple Torat Emet

Boynton Beach, Florida

 

 

We are our brothers’ and sisters’ keepers

9 Jan
"Am I my brother's keeper?" (Gen. 4: 9) The Torah turns Cain's protestation into the essence of Judaism.

“Am I my brother’s keeper?” (Gen. 4: 9) The Torah turns Cain’s protestation into the essence of Judaism.

(This D’var Torah was inspired by a D’var Torah delivered by Rabbi Daniel Nevins at JTS Rabbinic Training Institute, January 8, 2015)

As we begin reading the book of Exodus, it’s fitting to review one key aspect of the previous book, Sefer Bereshit, the book of Genesis. Normative Judaism, unlike Christianity, does not have a concept of original sin. We are all born with a clean slate, and we have free will to do good or evil and shape our destiny. Further, one can argue that Adam and Eve should not really be considered to have committed the first sin by eating the forbidden fruit because 1) They didn’t hurt anyone; 2) God bears responsibility for planting the tree of knowledge of good and evil in the first place; 3) How could God have NOT desired that humans understand the difference? As far as the direction of the Torah and Jewish tradition is concerned, the first real sin in the Torah is when Cain kills Abel. Not only does he kill him, but he denies responsibility. When God asks him אי הבל אחיך–where is your brother Abel?–Cain answers: לא ידעתי–I don’t know–השומר אחי אנוכי Am I my brother’s keeper?

Cain’s contempt for his brother and his brutal violence set a tone for the rest of Genesis. There is terrible sibling rivalry. Brothers are not their brothers’ keepers. True, we don’t see another fratricide, but we come close. Esau almost kills Jacob. Joseph is almost killed by his brothers. Even sisters Rachel and Leah have a painful rivalry, even if it is not physically violent. Brothers are not kind to brothers, sisters are not kind to sisters and brother are not kind to sisters, such as Laban treating his sister Rebecca like a piece of chattel to sell for a significant sum. Simeon and Levi’s response to Dina’s liaison with Shechem–they’re not protecting her, they’re protecting their honor through horrific violence. One chapter after another, generation after generation, and our ancestors are not their brothers’ or sisters’ keepers.

Then, suddenly, when we least expect it, there is a change. Judah breaks the spell when he stands up before Joseph and protects his endangered brother Benjamin. Joseph, in a position to avenge the brutality of his brothers from years before backs off. He relents. He says אני יוסף אחיך–I am Joseph your brother. He welcomes them into his palace in Egypt. This is the first recorded act of forgiveness in human history. Genesis closes with siblings serving as shomrim, guardians for one another.  Genesis begins with a question–will siblings guard one another?After generations of struggle, by the end of the Genesis, the answer is finally yes.  This resolution sets the stage for the opening of Exodus.

A new Pharaoh arises who enslaves the Israelites and afflicts them with pain. Despite the pain, the Israelites are not broken. As the narrative zeroes in on one family, we see a reason why. An infant Moses is guarded closely by his sister Miriam until he is safely in the care of Pharaoh’s daughter. An adult Moses is called upon by God to lead the people out of bondage. He’s terrified and tries mightily to avoid the task. God tries to impress him with a fiery bush not consumed by fire. God turns Moses’s staff into a snake and turns his hand white as snow only to cure it just as instantly. God presents one final ace in the hole: Moses won’t be alone. His brother Aaron will be by his side to help. Only then Moses goes forward.

Exodus presents a new model. Siblings are each others’ keepers. They support one another and care for each other. The Torah is making a powerful statement. Sibling rivalry is natural. However, when siblings are there for one another, other people who are not biological siblings are more capable of looking out for one another. Indeed, a nation is born. When a nation of disparate tribes comes together, they have the capacity to enter a covenant with God.

The power of brotherhood, sisterhood or, if you will, siblinghood is as real for us today as it was for our ancestors. This weekend we join with people of good will of all faiths and persuasions in abject horror over the brutal terrorist attacks in France this week. The massacre of at least 12 people at the satirical newspaper Charlie Hebdo and the apparent murder of at least four at a kosher market in a related incident on Friday remind the world that the   depravity of militant Islam knows no bounds. Every time a horrific incident like this occurs, whether in Israel, Europe, the U.S. or anywhere, we hope that maybe, just maybe, the world will finally understand the Torah’s teaching that we are all created in God’s image and that we are our brothers’ and sisters’ keepers. After all, what does it take for the world to get it?

It is easy to fall into despair when we observe such evil and horrendous violence in our world. To a large measure it’s beyond our control, and we feel powerless. And yet, time and again we answer the call of our tradition to affirm life and attempt to bring loving kindness into the world.

This weekend, our community is celebrating a historic moment in the life of our congregation. We honor the trust, the fellowship, the sense of responsibility to the Jewish people that brought together two congregations, Temple Torah and Temple Emeth, to form one vibrant congregation, Temple Torat Emet. Our new name means the Torah of truth, a powerful phrase that is found throughout our liturgy, including the second blessing we say in a Torah aliyah. How do we discover the truth of the Torah? By acting as guardians of our brothers and sisters as we see in today’s Torah reading.

Our new venture as Temple Torat Emet came about through courage, trust and a great sense of responsibility to the Jewish people. Our success in the future depends on choices we make based on the Torah’s guidance. As a Kehillah Kedoshah, a sacred community, our task is to create a sense of caring for one another as if we are all brothers and sisters. Let us build a community in which we see one another, listen to one another, rejoice with one another, and, when necessary, weep with one another. We must ensure that all activities in our building are conducted with dignity and respect. At every service and program, we must remember the higher purpose to which we are called in creating this sacred community. Our sense of community and fellowship must extend beyond the walls of this building and include Shabbat and holiday meals in each other’s homes where we will build true and lasting friendships.

Our world is, tragically, a vicious place. We need a refuge. We need a laboratory for goodness and loving kindness. That is what Temple Torat Emet must be for our community.  If we can model for the broader community the meaning of shemirah, looking out for one another, we will give ourselves and the world a desperately needed gift. Let me close with the words of the Psalmist:

הנה מה טוב ומה נעים שבת אחים גם יחד

“How good it is when brothers and sisters dwell together in harmony.”

May we be worthy of this sacred task.