Thursday, May 22, 2014

Rabbi's Report - Temple Beth-El Las Cruces Annual Meeting - "Who has brought us to seasons of love" - May 22, 2014

Baruch Atah Adonai  Eloheinu Melech Haolam
Shehecheyanu V’kiy’manu  V’higiyanu lazman hazeh.
Blessed are You, Eternal One, our God, Ruler of the Universe, who has kept us alive, sustained us, and brought us to this time. 
 I know that’s a prayer that we usually say when we’re starting something new.   I do think we understand that every ending is also a new beginning.  We will demonstrate that with this meeting tonight which gives us a chance to look back and to look forward as well. 
  This is my third annual message at Temple Beth-El, and my 30th since I became the rabbi at my own congregation.  It’s always a challenge to try to summarize or measure a year in just a few moments.  The concept of “measuring a year” is prominent in the lyrics of the song from the musical “Rent,” “Seasons of Love.”  Through the language of our prayers, we do measure a year in daylights and sunsets.  With our Wednesday Breakfasts, Oneg Shabbat receptions after services, and the spreads that follow our well-attended Adult Education events, we do measure a year in cups of coffee.   With our new brick walkway and biblical garden, we will mark past and future celebrations and hold close our memories of loved ones, measuring in inches the size of each brick, the length of the walkway itself, and the specifications of the remainder of the project.  We measure a year in laughter in the course of programs and conversations, and especially on Purim.   I do have to admit that we measure years in strife, but the meditation that I often say before a meeting declares, “O God, may our controversies be for Your sake.”  We know that some of the best solutions emerge even from disagreement or argument as long as we remember that we are on the same team. The chorus of that song from “Rent” suggests that we should measure our years in love.  And whether we admit it or not, we do just that when smiles are exchanged across the generations, when we celebrate life milestones, and when we remember loved ones who have died in our hearts and minds or in the presence of friends and family.  We measure in love when we open our building to the Las Cruces community for five hours on a Sunday in the Spring, relishing the chance to welcome our many guests with the sacred symbols of our bimah, and the tree of life in the Social Hall as the backdrop for a wide variety of Jewish foods that people in our area crave. When I went to Milagro Coffee to pick up bagels for our April 26 study session, the man who checked me out told me that he needed to pick up his Silent Auction prize.  I thanked him for coming to the Jewish Food and Folk Festival, and he said, “I am from New Jersey, I had to come – where else could I have gotten Jewish food like that in Las Cruces?”  It was a m’chayeh to witness the love and care at the heart of baking sessions, committee meetings, silent auction prize collection, gathering materials for the children’s area, very colorful tickets, and a very high-tech grid for worker sign-up.  We learned some lessons that day like “you can never have too much pastrami,” and “it’s very important to pray for good weather” – I suppose that was my department.  Mainly, we learned that in our own Jewish culinary field of dreams, “if you offer it, they will come.”  Those out-the-door lines may have been a surprise to many of you, but for Rhonda and me, as we watched the constant stream of people coming in, we remembered many years of a similar sight in one of our previous congregations, which was actually doing its similar fundraiser that same day this year.   Here at TBE, the JFFF was successful and enjoyable because of you. Under th leadership of Rebecca Berkson and Aggie Saltman, you banded together, took your best wisdom from past fundraising experience, brainstormed new ideas, got lots of members involved in one way or another, and you did it.  The photo album on the table in the entry foyer contains pictures of the many, many happy faces of our neighbors, community leaders, first-time visitors, and, especially, of us – the Temple Beth-El family.   In the Torah reading for this week, God commanded the Israelites to take a census of the community.  Had we taken a Temple census that day, we would have found most of our congregation right here in this space.  Everyone who attended counted and contributed in some way.  Thank you all, and please remember that we will need you and want you to count and contribute your energy, your hospitality and even your love again next year!  
    And that is what we should strive for in all of our programming at Temple Beth-El: to make our time together a season not only of God keeping us alive and sustaining us, but a season of love.  This week’s Torah reading about taking a census teaches us that counting every person should guide us to value everyone who comes through our door, including newcomers, congregants and community members.  Our programs and events should be as open as possible, and if a limit is necessary due to space, our creativity can guide us in offering an acceptable alternative to demonstrate that we truly care.  
   And caring about each person who counts isn’t just about those who come here.  It extends to our work in the community.  Our tradition teaches us to be advocates for fairness and justice for everyone so that each person will have a feeling of dignity and prosperity.  Two years of offering a December 25 breakfast at Camp Hope, and many years of serving at El Caldito and giving to Casa de Peregrinos and to other agencies are among the ways in which we make a difference.  The prophets of ancient times and the Reform Rabbis of 130 years ago would encourage us to go even further.  At our program on “Work, Wage, Justice and the Economy” this past Sunday, I read this quote from the 1885 Pittsburgh Platform of the Reform movement: “In full accordance with the spirit of the Mosaic legislation, which strives to regulate the relations between rich and poor, we deem it our duty to participate in the great task of modern times, to solve, on the basis of justice and righteousness, the problems presented by the contrasts and evils of the present organization of society.”   That charge still reverberates from the past to our present as a reminder to find new and significant ways to love our neighbors as ourselves. 
   I am grateful to have the opportunity to serve you for another three years.  Rhonda and I are happy to continue to be your partners in making Temple Beth-El a place where we can fulfill our Temple mission “to learn, celebrate, serve and grow together.”  I thank Rhonda for her wisdom, support, and her sharing of her talents yet again.   I thank our son Adam at a distance for his unsurprising wisdom, which will stand him in good stead as the eventual spouse of a rabbi.  I mention Juli Schnur, Adam’s fiancée, for the first time in an Annual Message, knowing she will read these words online and begin to see the impact she will have on our family and, by extension, this congregation.   I am grateful to Temple president Dee Cook, to board members, to committee chairs and members, to the Mensch Club, Sisterhood and BETY, and to everyone who stands up to be counted.  The more we put into our commitment as fellow travelers on this Jewish and communal journey, the more we will gain for our own growth and for the ever-increasing spirit and passion of our community.  So let us continue to praise God, who keeps us alive, sustains us, and brings us to new seasons of connection, hope, joy and love.  

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