Dear Members of Congregation B'nai Torah,
As this week draws to a close, we reach a well-deserved hiatus from our typically busy routines of school and work. It is hard to believe that the High Holy Days took place nearly four months ago and that Thanksgiving and Hanukkah, too, have long since gone by. As we get older, the passage of time accelerates; the days turn more quickly into months which then evolve into years.
As we approach a new secular year, we think about the year that is about to conclude. We wonder what may be in store for us as we look to the future. Predictions and prognostications abound; there are so many variables in our lives. Will our nation's economy stabilize so that Americans can continue to support themselves through their hard work and have enough to contribute to those who are not as fortunate? Will we begin to find new ways to preserve our planet for our children and grandchildren so that the many beauties of our land, sea, plant, and animal life are able to grace the next generations of those who inhabit the earth? Will places that have been ravaged by war finally experience some measure of peace so that children may be educated rather than sent off to war?
In addition to our global concerns, we each have more localized and personal hopes as well. We hope we are able to maintain health of body and mind; we worry about elderly parents and our growing children. We are concerned about the quality of our lives and our ability not only to survive, but to thrive in the year ahead. We hope that with a combination of skill, hard work and a little luck that the year 2019 will be even better than 2018.
As members of Congregation B'nai Torah, we have many reasons for gratitude. We have caring and devoted leaders, talented staff members, dedicated teachers, and wonderful children and teens that light up the building on even the darkest winter days. We have a new and improved Teen Assistant Program in our Religious School thanks to the Zev Heilman Committee that oversees the Fund. We took our first group of Grades 8 and 9 students to Philadelphia this Fall for two days of travel, learning and fun that included exploring the historic Jewish sites and the Museum of American Jewish History. Our Boston-Haifa Metrowest teens and their families hosted our Israeli partners in October in the Boston area, and in just two months, we will be traveling with our Grade 10 students to Israel for the second half of our school-to-school program. On the ritual front, we have settled into a variety of Friday evening Shabbat services with Jodi and Adam: CBT members and guests enjoy our new monthly Kick-Back Shabbat services, our Children's Shabbat services led by students in the Religious School, and special "themed" services with themes and guest speakers. There have been numerous adult learning opportunities, social action initiatives, monthly volunteers at The Pearl Street Café in Framingham, Book Club, Mah Jongg, Books and Bagels, and an adult trip to Israel and Jordan. We enjoyed "Shabbat on the Beach" this summer at the Wayland Town Beach, celebrated with B'nai Mitzvah students and their families, and observed Jewish holidays and festivals together.
We also witnessed a fair amount of violence in our country this year, and a significant up-tick in Anti-Semitic incidents in America. The memories of the tragic shooting at The Tree of Life Congregation in Pittsburgh, PA that left eleven Shabbat morning worshipers dead, are still fresh and will remain in our minds and hearts a long time. Who could imagine that such unmitigated brutality could occur in a synagogue on a morning in which only a few handfuls of elderly "regulars" were present for Shabbat prayer? Not only is anti-Semitism becoming more prevalent, but racism, misogynism, and a whole host of movements that identify individuals who may not fit someone else's norm as "others" rather than as human beings, have occurred with greater frequency and intensity.
It is easy to lose hope and forget all of the opportunity Jews have enjoyed in America the past few centuries. Cynicism is seductive when doubts overshadow certainties. During times like these, it is convenient to define ourselves as Jews from the anti-Semite's point of view, rather than take the responsibility to create healthy and meaningful Jewish identities despite our challenges. We cannot allow anti-Semitism to be the final authority on our self-definition as Jews, just as we must resist the inclination to flee.
During the week following the Pittsburgh synagogue shooting this Fall, Professor Deborah Lipstadt, Dorot Professor of Modern Jewish History and Holocaust Studies at Emory University wrote: "Though I spend my life studying the many grievous wrongs that have been perpetrated against Jews throughout history, that is not the foundation of my Jewish identity. Jewish culture, traditions and the accumulated wisdom of a millennia old tradition constitute the foundation of who I am."
I agree with Professor Lipstadt wholeheartedly. No generation of Jews has ever permitted itself to be defined by those who seek our demise. Our time is no different. In fact, if we have learned anything from Jewish history, it is during times of darkness and despair that Jews have been known to celebrate holidays more joyfully, to pray more fervently, and to live Jewish lives more meaningfully.
May the beginning of 2019 bring you and your loved ones the abundant joys of family, fervent moments of self-reflection, and meaningful moments along your Jewish journey. From our home to yours, we wish you a healthy and peaceful New Year.
Rabbi Lisa S. Eiduson