“The Eternal One spoke to Moses, saying: Tell the Israelite people to bring Me gifts; you shall accept gifts for Me from every person whose heart so moves him. And let them make Me a sanctuary that I may dwell among them.”
These verses, which begin this week’s Torah reading, TERUMAH, established a means for individual participation in creating the holy space for Israelite worship. “Bringing gifts” made the people feel a sense of ownership of the spiritual center of their community. Today, we might feel that same sense of ownership in community life through giving charity/tzedakah, giving our time as volunteers for worthy causes, helping with Temple programs and decision-making, and when we enter a voting booth in an election to make a choice between a number of different candidates (from different political parties).
The events in the Middle East (Tunisia, Egypt, Jordan and perhaps other nations as well) demonstrate how the feeling of valued and equal participation in political life is integral to the stability of a government and the collective community of citizens. I wrote a few days ago (in my “Facebook” status message), “In light of the events in Egypt and Jordan, I suppose that the strength of our own political process to sustain itself, even with what we might call ‘vociferous discourse,’ has been put into proper perspective. Here is hoping that any changes in the Middle East will be peaceful but will also allow for diversity of opinion without the threat of violence.” In Egypt and other nations, there are many forces and views coming into play, including supporters of Hosni Mubarak, the Muslim Brotherhood, the Egyptian army, and the “people on the street.” The fact that apologies for violence against protesters have been forthcoming from some government officials offer a sign that the voices of the people have been heard, to some extent. Some analysts are concerned that the protests will be “commandeered” by a group that would enter power and adopt repressive policies. One article I read noted that democratic governments lasted only for a very brief time prior to the Communist takeover in Russia and the ascendancy of the current regime in Iran. What seems to be certain is that people who feel oppressed for too long, or perceive that they have been denied a true opportunity to take part in the political process, will eventually make sure that their voices are heard. I would be interested to hear perspectives from congregants/community members on these current events (perhaps at a face-to-face discussion program – let me know if you are interested).
Rhonda and I attended the tribute event to honor the memory of Debbie Friedman at Temple Israel in Boston last Sunday. That gathering was also an illustration of “bringing gifts” to the community. First, there was the gift of Debbie Friedman’s leadership and music that pervaded the event as individual Jewish singers/songwriters/performers offered renditions of Debbie’s songs: Rabbi Larry Milder, Sue Horowitz, Cantor Jeff Klepper, Cantors Jodi Sufrin (her late brother Kerry was at Kutz camp with me and Lynne DeSantis in the summer of 1970 for a seven-week program) and Roy Einhorn, Julie Silver, Peri Smilow, Josh Nelson, Peter and Ellen Allard, and Rabbi David Paskin. Local cantors joined in Debbie’s “Mi Shebeirach,” a Boston Jewish community chorus sang Debbie’s “Oseh Shalom,” and over 50 “cantors, songleaders and soloists” (a group in which I participated) joined the others on the bimah at the beginning of the gathering to sing Debbie’s Havdalah blessings and “Im Tirtzu,” and at the end for “L’chi Lach” and “Miriam’s Song.” You can find a video of the entire concert at www.rememberingdebbie.com (there are links on the main page of this website for the video as well as photos of the event). Also, if you click the “tributes” link at the top of the home page, you will go to a screen with a video “box” on the right (which starts with “Remembering Debbie: David Paskin) – that also has a number of videos sent to the site which you can see if you click on the arrows on the left or right side of that box/screen. One of the videos is my “cover” of Debbie’s “Shelter of Peace.”
What was powerful about the event last Sunday was the music and the people. I knew almost everyone sitting around me from one convention or another, and sat next to Rabbi Shaul/Paul Levenson, my 9th Grade teacher whom some of you know from his short time filling in here at Temple Israel Dover in the early 1980s. There are so many songs composed by Debbie that I haven’t had a chance to share, which I hope to include in services and in Religious School song sessions in the coming months. Debbie’s songs are not just songs. They each bear a lesson, or bring a Jewish text and teaching to life. There is so much to learn, and music with a message offers a special spiritual means for incorporating Jewish values into our lives. Please be a part of our chorus of voices as we bring our own gifts to Temple gatherings to allow God to dwell among us in the sanctuary of community.