“All the world is a narrow bridge, and the essential goal is not to be afraid”
Dear members of the North Shore Jewish Community,
At times of crisis and distress it is our custom to turn to our tradition for guidance, comfort, and strength. We read in the book of Psalms this poignant prayer: “O Eternal One, Heal me, for my bones are shaking with terror.” (6:2) Fear is the prevailing sentiment of our present experience. We fear for our own health. We fear the health of our dear ones. We face the uncertainty of financial strain and we worry about the unprecedented disruption of our communal life, our work and careers, our social and family connections.We must acknowledge these discordant feelings if we are to seek a way forward from the present moment.
Rabbi Nachman of Bratzlav, one of the great Jewish teachers of Chasidic lore, wrote these words, which have become an often-heard song in our synagogues and prayer gatherings:
Kol ha-olam kulo – gesher tzar meod- ve’ha-ikar, lo le-fached klal.
All the world is a narrow bridge, and the essential goal is not to be afraid…
This translation does not do justice to the teaching, which if taken at face value, would be absurd. How could a person, walking on a narrow beam, a tightrope of sorts, across a deep chasm, not be afraid? The goal must lie in not giving in to the fear – not becoming paralyzed or frozen, but to move forward despite the danger.
How will we, as Jews and as members of a larger community, find the courage to move forward to get us through this perilous time? Prayer is certainly one response which gives us comfort and strength. Since gathering in our synagogues is largely impossible, we have found ways to connect electronically. Every synagogue we know is live-streaming their services, and we have found new ways to stay connected. We have often lamented the power of the Internet to divide us and to alienate us from one another. Now we see that that same technology can serve to connect us in new and unanticipated ways.
Jews love to study – and we are finding new and effective ways to keep adults and children engaged in Jewish study, confronting Jewish sacred texts, watching films, discussing fiction and, and addressing the issues of the day, including disseminating access to accurate medical information and useful resources.
Jews love to do Mitzvot – Gemilut Chasadim – acts of charity and compassion. Our communities are rising to the challenge to care for our elders and most vulnerable; to continue to stock food pantries, make deliveries, provide essential care to those in need.
Prayer – Study – Tzedakah – these are the ways Jews respond to crisis. These are our natural antibodies to despair, anxiety, fear, sadness, evil, and ennui.
A story is told of a rabbi with clergy of other faiths on a boat in a flood that, as in the days of Noah, will soon cover the entire earth. The other clergy begin to pray earnestly for a miracle, but the rabbi jumps into the rising waters of the deluge. The others yell to the rabbi in their concern, “What are you doing? You will soon drown.” The rabbi replies, “I am learning how to breathe under water.” This anecdote is not meant to belittle the power of prayer, but rather to emphasize the quality of resilience that has characterized our people through the ages, and that has allowed us to survive many a crisis and dislocation.
As a Jewish community, we need to tap into the wellspring of Jewish strength and adaptability, and channel that to the good of the entire North Shore community and beyond.
The festival of Pesach will soon be upon us. We may be unable to gather together in person this year, to follow our accustomed patterns. Nevertheless, perhaps even more than in other years, the lessons of Passover will be impressed upon us and our children. The plague of coronavirus has already given us a sense that we are linked together by fate and by faith as we confront the terror of the present and the promise of the future. The biblical prescription to observe the first Seder in the wilderness was meant to include everyone – even the stranger in our midst, without asking for identity checks or visas. This hard and fast requirement for the Passover drives home for us that the well-being of all is dependent on the sharing the bounty and blessings of the sacred meal with everyone! This requirement translates today in the need to provide for the health, including food and medical care to everyone within in our borders, and perhaps even beyond.
We rabbis and cantors of the North Shore wish every member of our community strength in the coming days. We are privileged to serve you, to teach and to lead, in partnership with our communal leaders and all those who are charged to bring healing and hope to our beleaguered world.
Wishing all Health,
Rabbi David Kudan,
Temple Tiferet Shalom, Peabody
Rabbi Richard Perlman,
Temple Ner Tamid, Peabody
Co-Presidents of the North Shore Rabbis and Cantors Association (NSRCA)
Rabbi Alison Adler,
Temple B’nai Abraham, Beverly
Rabbi Rim Meirowitz, Rabbi Emeritus, Temple Shir Tikvah, Winchester
Rabbi Michael Ragozin, Congregation Shirat Hayam, Swampscott
Rabbi David J. Meyer,
Temple Emanu-El, Marblehead
Rabbi David Cohen-Henriquez, Temple Sinai Marblehead
Rabbi Greg Hersh,
Temple Emmanuel of Wakefield
Cantor Vera Broekhuysen, Temple Emanu-El of Haverhill
Alex Matthews, Spiritual Leader, Congregation Ahavas Achim, Newburyport
Rabbi Steven Lewis,
Temple Ahavat Achim, Gloucester
Rabbi Bernie Horowitz,
Temple Ner Tamid, Peabody
Congregation Sons of Israel, Peabody
Student Rabbi at Tifereth Israel