Praised are You, Eternal God, Ruler of the Universe, who hallows us with Your mitzvot and commands us to occupy ourselves with the needs of the community. This is the blessing that our 3rd-5th Grade Religious School class recites before the students put their weekly donation into the class Tzedakah box. On Sunday, December 16, Sarah Mischler, a transition counselor at the Mesilla Valley Community of Hope, spoke to our Religious School students about her efforts to find housing for the residents of Camp Hope (an area set aside by the city for people who are homeless and waiting for housing to live in tents next to the building that houses the local food pantry). That morning, we loaded material donations, brought by Temple Beth-El members during Chanukah, into Sarah’s car. Sarah spoke with our children and faculty about what factors might lead someone to seek to live in Camp Hope and answered our students’ insightful questions. This blessing comes from the prayerbook of the Union of Liberal and Progressive Synagogues in Great Britain, and while it was intended to be used prior to a meeting, it can apply to many of the selfless and generous acts we perform for our congregation or for other groups in which we participate.
Praised be the One who has called us to exalt our nation with righteousness, and taught us: “Seek the welfare of your community and pray on its behalf, so that all may share in its well-being” (Jeremiah 29:7). On December 6, Rabbi Jerry Kane and I hosted the monthly meeting of the New Mexico State University Interfaith Council at Temple. One of the tasks we completed that day was to prepare granola bars to be given to NMSU students during finals week, bearing a sticker that wished them well on their exams. The Interfaith Council brings together the sponsors of NMSU’s religiously-affiliated organizations to discuss programming and maintaining good relations among group leaders and members. On December 19, Susan Fitzgerald and I attended the holiday party of CAFé, Communities in Action and Faith, an event that provided us with a chance to get to know some of our local partners who work with us to improve life in Las Cruces and Dona Ana County. Many of us at Temple are involved with local organizations, and this second blessing accurately characterizes the good work that we do for the benefit of our community.
Praised are You, Eternal God, Sovereign of the Universe, who hallows us with Your mitzvot and commands us to pursue justice. As we approach yet another observance of the birthday of Martin Luther King, Jr., we will consider what “justice” means to us. The movie “Lincoln,” so masterfully directed by Steven Spielberg, defined justice, in the context of discussions related to the Thirteenth Amendment, as equality under the law. Yet, underlying this temporary compromise was the deeper sense that equality meant that all people are created in God’s image, an idea that many hoped would, one day, be universally accepted. Perhaps we are closer than ever to that goal.
Praised are You, Eternal God, Sovereign of the Universe, for giving us the opportunity to mend the world. Temple Beth-El provided breakfast for residents of Camp Hope on the morning of December 25. Congregants donated food and offered other types of support for that effort. Our Religious School students had prepared placemats, decorated candles and other enhancements that were used that morning. Fifteen congregants, plus friends of some of our members, were present to serve the meal and meet and talk with some of the residents. This was an opportunity for TIKKUN OLAM, mending the world, that members of our congregation created by taking initiative. We will likely serve a meal at Camp Hope again in the coming months, an activity that will complement our service to the El Caldito Soup Kitchen and the donations we collect for Casa de Peregrinos and other local organizations.
Praise to You, Adonai our God, Sovereign of the Universe, You call us to holiness. We give thanks for all whose labor benefits the world. This final blessing expresses appreciation for those who freely and generously give of themselves and their positive spirit to improve the lives of others, whether through providing financial contributions, devoting time to crucial volunteer tasks, or offering insight and wisdom towards the many ways in which we can put into practice the words of Psalm 133: “How good and how pleasant it is when people dwell together in unity.” May we all find new avenues of service, in the coming months, through which our labors will benefit each other and the entire world.