A few months ago, some members of our community’s leadership and staff went on a mini-retreat to begin to plan the new year of 5783. Like everyone else, we didn’t know what was going to happen with COVID and how some of the details would play out. So we put a lot of that stuff in the “parking lot” and stepped back to consider the bigger picture.
What do we want to be this year as a community? What do we all need? How can Judaism continue to nourish and sustain us?
Honestly, I would love to hear what any of you who are reading this right now think about those questions. Perhaps your reflections connect to what came out of our deep and heartfelt conversation in which two intersecting themes emerged: joy and comfort – simcha and nechama.
Simcha is a mitzvah in our tradition! We are to perform all sorts of mitzvot with joy. We can bring ourselves to joy during holidays and for “simchas” or smachot – joyous events like weddings, births, b-mitzvah celebrations.
But Jewish joy isn’t only about being at parties and kiddushes. It’s also balancing the accumulated difficulties weighing us down with the need to just be present in life. Look at the beauty here and around us. Seek the good. Say a blessing to bring us to gratitude and enable us to be in the moment, and feel truly alive. We need to up the joy that is inherent in being Jewish.
Nechama has the word noach (resting, comfortable) in its first two Hebrew letters. We need to comfort each other or find comfort in times that are difficult personally and globally. We need solace in the face of loss and often overwhelming concerns for our children’s future. We want our community to be a comfortable place in which to hang out, a home. Noach of course was the one who built the ark and gathered animals to survive the flood of biblical proportions.
In a stormy world of cascading sorrow and anxieties, we want to build a sort of Noah’s Ark to hold us; a safe place to experience connection, celebrate, and mourn, find inspiration to work for social change, learn and question. And of course, we want to give all of our children a sense of safety and Jewish spiritual tools to help them build resilience. We want music, art, and culture that can renew and nurture our bodies and souls and containers in which we can safely and Jewishly explore the major questions, issues, and threats of our times. We want life and love. Joy and comfort.
We have compassionate, thoughtful spiritual leaders across the region who are engaging their – our – people in innovative ways. We are connected, and we are here for each other. Our greater Jewish community can provide and nurture a kind buoyancy amidst the storm, engaging ancient Jewish wisdom and rituals that have enabled us to survive and thrive for millennia.
You already are experiencing all of this as you read the words of the various rabbis in these pages. And I think you will, too, when celebrating Rosh Hashanah and all of our fall holidays in whatever ways you can and want.
Blessings to all for simcha and nechama, health, safety and well-being.
L’shana tova u-metuka, a year of sweetness and goodness.
Rabbi Alison Adler leads Temple B’nai Abraham in Beverly.