I frequently have the opportunity to be the person to open the front door of the Temple. It is an act of kindness, welcoming and connection. When people thank me, I tell that them that being the “Temple door man” is what I want to do when I retire.
The Torah reading on the day that I become Bar Mitzvah, November 18, 1967, at Temple B’nai Jehudah in Kansas City, Missouri (it’s since moved to Overland Park, Kansas), was VAYERA, beginning with Genesis, Chapter 18. I read the first 15 verses of the chapter at that service. I have since learned the chant for some of those verses since my milestone day.
I just attended, on November 2-5, Shabbat Shira (Sabbath of Song), the fall worship/music workshop presented by Olin-Sang-Ruby Union Institute Camp in Oconomowoc, Wisconsin. The program was created especially for veterans of the late spring gathering for songleaders, Hava Nashira (come, let us sing). It didn’t take me long to realize that I would be at Shabbat Shira on Shabbat VAYERA, exactly 50 years after becoming Bar Mitzvah.
It is also 50 years since I attended the inaugural session of Tzofim (Scouts), a new program created at the camp, then called Olin-Sang Union Institute, which featured living in tents and engaging in activities similar to those campers who resided in the cabins “up the hill” for their session
I can still remember the welcome I received when I arrived for Tzofim, and how, when I returned the next year, I darted from the car to run down to the campsite. The initial sense of an “open door” at the camp extended, for me and many others, into the immediate and distant future.
In Genesis Chapter 18, Abraham’s tent did not have a door, of course, nor did it have an entrance flap that closed with a zipper, like the Tzofim tents in which I spent 22 days of my life.
Abraham’s tent was open on all sides. He, his wife Sarah, and other members of their household knew what to do when visitors came. The went into “extreme emergency welcoming and ‘open door’ mode.” They dropped everything and made sure that their guests received the care and respite they deserved.
In the case of Abraham and Sarah, because of their “open door” approach, they received a special message...and, later, a gift. The message was that Sarah would bear a son, and the gift was their son Isaac - Yitzchak - “he will laugh.”
In this biblical story, the “open door,” or, better put, “open tent,” seems to have made something special happen, because it may be that the delivering the message was contingent on receiving a warm welcome.
It was an honor for me to chant the beginning of my Bar Mitzvah portion at the Shabbat Morning Service at Shabbat Shira on November 4, 2017.
After the service, I called my wife, Rhonda, to tell her about the experience and shared my thoughts about the importance of openness and open doors. During our conversation, one of the other Shabbat Shira participants, whose hands were full, asked me if I could open the door of a nearby building for her. And so I did!
Opening a door inside our hearts, minds and souls allows us to receive new ideas, innovative approaches, and deep expressions of emotion and thoughts from peers, colleagues and friends. That happens constantly at Shabbat Shira, both in sessions with our very talented faculty members and peer leaders, and in individual conversations about what we do in our respective settings to find inspiration and to engender a sense of community. In the sessions I attended, we focused on which modes of worship and music are suitable for our own congregations and explored the enduring value of songs about justice.
Opening a door allows us to fashion and sustain connections with people from various locales who can provide support and sustenance throughout the year. Some of us have closely followed our respective careers (and families) over the course of years after meeting at past conferences. For me, one conversation in particular led to the realization that several of us were all at the same regional youth convention program (they were youth group members, I was a rabbinic student who led a break-out discussion group). Other discussions made us realize how much we have in common, both inside and outside the realm of music.
Opening a door enables us to hear the significance of every note, every chord, every word in a song that we know well or that we are hearing for the first time. At Shabbat Shira, that approach is a prerequisite to appreciating the creative gifts of colleagues and fellow community members, enabling us to “cheer each other on” as we sculpt songs of faith and voice the overflow of our souls in melody and lyrics.The themes of being “part of a circle” and sharing light pervaded the Shabbat Shira program designed by the faculty this year. They guided us to create a circle among us that emanated light, and encouraged us to enlarge our circle and to share the light we discovered and created together when we return home. So...opening a door is what all of us who attended Shabbat Shira hope to do when we return to our respective settings of musical leadership. We trust that our community members will, like the guests who visited Abraham and Sarah with unexpected news, accept our invitation to refresh their souls in our communal holy spaces, nurtured by the light of the divine presence that can open our eyes to recognize the circles of faith and song that bind us together as one family.