January Message from Rabbi Leis
Dear Hebrew Congregation of Somers,
I am writing to you on a day which feels both ominous and illuminating, a day in which we have witnessed the best and the worst of humanity. In the past 10 months, we have had no choice but to adapt, adjust and await redemption from the scourge of pandemic. Teachers, health care providers and so many others have navigated a new normal and overcome daily fear in order to provide a day to day life that feels as normal as possible, risking infection, witnessing fear, pain and loss, every day. They have done so with the hope that this situation would be temporary, and that we could eventually return to the days when the sacred work of health care, education and other forms of work did not feel like a high-risk occupation. “These past few weeks mark the first flowering of the realization of that hope. Hope and optimism during challenging periods have been cornerstones of the Jewish experience throughout history.” (Rabbi Michael Kaye)
Meanwhile, an average of 3,000 Americans have died in recent days. The numbers are impossible to grasp. Each one a sacred story, with countless beloveds left grieving a terrible loss of life. We live day to day on fragile ground, the tectonic plates of our reality shift with every passing hour and news flash. It can be exhausting, and also exhilarating to maintain constant contact with the news cycles. Please take some time in the next winter weeks to enjoy the quiet, visit the gorgeous natural areas with beautiful wildlife (Jill and I saw a coyote today!) set up limits on your news intake, and experience the incredible strength and quiet solidity of the earth. The promise of springtime can be felt with every day of increasing light, and with it, the hope for our shared future on this planet and in our country.
Doing acts of hesed/lovingkindness for another member of our community gives us purpose and meaning in a time of shift and change. Let’s continue to show up for one another whether it be at a shiva minyan, a life cycle moment or just a regular Shabbat. Make a call to someone from the new directory, even a new family you don’t yet know. Your presence makes a huge difference. You matter. We need you. Our storytelling program led by Jill is such a gem that has evolved during the pandemic. Join us and take a seat for a good listening experience that will no doubt move you to laughter and tears. There are some other lovely programs coming up including a Grief program on the 24th, Adult Education on the 17th and the 31st, and shared Tu b’Shvat seder on the 31st. Save the date for a Havdalah + screening of the movie Purple* with Sisterhood on Saturday, March 13.
Martin Luther King Day
Please join us for this lecture by a dear friend, Tamara Fish, who will be speaking on the topic “Counting Jews of Color” and will address racism and white privilege. Tamara is one of the leading voices on Jews of Color and the immediate past president of the Jewish Multiracial Network (JMN). She joined us at HCS at my installation last year. You need to register to get a link.
Second, join us at the Shames JCC MLK Day of Service on Monday at 1:00-2:00 pm. If you want to pick up a Blizzard Box at the JCC, you can, or you can make your own Blizzard Box. More information is at the link above.
Rabbi Abraham Joshua Heschel, whose yahrzeit is observed this month, was a friend and colleague of Reverend Doctor Martin Luther King Jr. He wrote that “the opposite of good is not evil, the opposite of good is indifference. In a free society, some are guilty, but all are responsible.”
We are all called to work to create a more equitable society. Heschel also famously said that when he was marching for civil rights he felt like his “feet were praying.” I am proud of our nascent tikkun olam committee which has begun meeting and exploring together our path forward through study and dialogue.
Blessings on this sacred journey, this auspicious and redemptive time, and on the holy day in which we continue the legacy of a great prophet and leader, Dr. Rev. Martin Luther King, Jr.
Be well, and stay safe. You are a blessing, and I miss you!!!
*PURPLE is a 21-min documentary* created by Resetting the Table.
PURPLE tells the story of everyday Americans with opposing viewpoints addressing their differences head-on and discovering the concerns and humanity that lie behind each other’s positions. Designed to build greater empathy and recognition in the face of deepening U.S. divides, PURPLE models a rare conversation that uplifts and inspires even while going toward the heat of passionate political differences.
The film takes place in rural Wisconsin and Iowa, two swing states where “red” and “blue” still live in the same neighborhoods and where many people feel unrepresented by the two-party system. This politically pivotal region was home to the greatest concentration of counties that flipped Obama-to-Trump in the 2016 presidential election.
PURPLE is produced by Resetting the Table (RTT) – a non-profit organization that strengthens democracy through building collaborative deliberation across political silos in America today – in partnership with Transient Pictures, an Emmy-award winning production firm. RTT equips community leaders with the tools and skills to open courageous and constructive dialogue on political fault-lines issues within and across their communities. RTT’s programs include facilitation training, communication skill-building workshops, multi-perspective educational classes, and decision-making forums across the country.
As we enter one of the most weighty and charged election seasons in our history, thank you for helping to deescalate our country’s divisions and to foster greater recognition, empathy, and insight in the face of them.