Message from Rabbi Elizabeth B. Hersh

June 6, 2020

How did you respond to the outrage of injustice committed against an unarmed Black man? And now, what action will you take? Our hearts are broken as we weep with his family. I demand that we need more than prayer to combat racism and violence. Words are only words. Now is the time to act. Our religion demands that we cannot stand by the blood of our brothers and sisters. We are commanded to actively pursue justice, not simply to rage against these acts of hatred against human souls created in the Divine Image. This is a human cause. 

 

Why are we so frightened and intimidated by the “other?” Why must we dehumanize based upon color, religion, age, gender, and ethnic identification? Have you tried to meet and understand the one you call “other?” You may find (s)he has the same hopes and dreams for their families. Dispel your fear. You were once “other.” Silence is a sin. The late Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. said, “I have a dream that my four little children will one day live in a nation where they will not be judged by the color of their skin but by the content of their character.” It is within your ability to end the judgement and begin the justice!

 

The Jewish People are socially and morally commanded to be part of the change. Rabbi Emanuel Rackman said that “Judaism presents a unique form of justice, an ‘empathic justice’ which seeks to make people identify themselves with each other - with each other’s needs, with each other’s hopes and aspirations, with each other’s defeats and frustrations.” BE THE CHANGE.

 

Tikkun Olam, repairing the world, is a Jewish principle. We are God’s partner in making the world whole. The demand for justice is not based upon race, color, sexuality, or age.  Judaism forbids us from being indifferent or silent. We study to DO! Be an integral part of the change. Become a mentor or Big Brother/Big Sister. Donate or volunteer for an organization you believe affects positive change. I trust you to look for opportunities. Because YOU CAN BE THE CHANGE.

 

As one who represents religion, I urge you not to politicize this but to open your minds, hearts, and human compasses to act.  I am inspired by the words of Jack Doueck who said, “When boiling water is poured on the head of a human being anywhere in the world, others must scream.” You must teach with your actions. You are a Torah scroll. You are incomplete if another is suffering.

 

You have raised your voices. Take the next step and pray with your feet. I implore you to channel your outrage into actions. “And if not now, when?” Tomorrow, I am afraid, is too late.

Message from Rabbi Elizabeth B. Hersh

June 3, 2020

Lately I have been attuned to the idea of what we call fairness. People feel badly for the graduates who missed the pomp and splendor that accompanies these momentous celebrations. It is unfortunate that children of all ages will not attend the much-anticipated summer camps and programs. We carry heavy hearts for those in retirement and assisted living homes who cannot see their loved ones. Their lives have become even more limited and smaller. And we ache for those who are fighting this illness, and their families and caregivers.

            

I was rereading A Practical Spiritual Guide to Happiness, by Dannel I. Schwartz, who included this famous story. "Once, a rabbi prayed daily that God would make a perfect world in which there would be no hatred, jealousy, pain or problems. One-night God appeared to the rabbi in a dream and took him on a tour of the world made perfect. The rabbi saw his house, his synagogue, his town; lions, and lambs laid down together. Still, the rabbi was troubled. Something was missing. 'Where am I in this perfect world?' the rabbi asked. God offered an apologetic answer: 'This is the perfect world you requested. You must understand that you are not perfect, so you cannot be included."

            

The writers of the Talmud understood that "because the world is not perfect, it is neither fair nor unfair. It is just time and space that we must fill with the best we have. We must strive to live our lives well." (Dannel I. Schwartz)

            

An English proverb reads, "We cannot be master over the wind, but we can trim the sails." We can only control ourselves and our responses to life. Everyone is challenged by the current situation in the world. I am reminded of the Yiddish proverb, "To a worm in horseradish, the whole world is horseradish." However, we also have a response in common. We can reply with kindness in both words and actions.

            

Smile. Call or email someone who may feel lonely. Write a letter to an old or new acquaintance. Bring in fresh-cut flowers from the garden. Find options other than anger. Look for the "little things" that were once so important and celebrate them.

            

It has never been fair or easy. It is even more exaggerated now. We occupy time and space. The challenge is to find meaning in both and to enjoy this purpose. Trim the sails and go forth in peace and wholeness.

Message from Rabbi Elizabeth B. Hersh

May 27, 2020

Tomorrow at sunset the Festival of Shavuot begins. We have verbally counted each day from the second day of Passover to this holiday when we recall the period when our ancestors stood at Sinai and received God's laws. With each generation and more specifically, every year, we metaphorically receive Divine words. Ongoing revelation allows each of us to contemplate and embrace or struggle with the commandments and way of life that has defined us for so many years across various lands and cultures.

            

This notion of counting each day as we go up towards Sinai has new meaning for our lives. While this period of time correlates to a harvest in the Land of Israel, it has a particular meaning for us as a period of gratitude not only for our lives but for all the plenty that blesses our tables and lives. And as we live in a period of social distance, it may also help us count our priorities and appreciate our lives in new and meaningful ways.

            

Do you find yourself counting? How many more days until our county opens? How many more days until you can embrace a loved one separated by six feet? How many more days until it is safe for me to return to the routine that was once a source of comfort and way of life?

            

Rabbi Abraham Joshua Heschel wrote, "I prayed for wonders instead of happiness, and You game them to me." And let us continue to count, not how many more hours, days, weeks, or months, but count our blessings, blessings of wonder and awe. Let us count blessings of friendship and health, and blessings of beauty and kindness. Number the opportunities you spend time with a loved one or speak on the phone instead of saying, "If only I had the time". Count aloud your accomplishments that were waiting for a rainy day.

            

"No fraction of time . . . should slip through the fingers, left unexploited; for eternity may depend upon the brief moment." (Rabbi Joseph Soloveitchik) It may feel like you are in am endless cycle of eternity. If only eternity could be felt in a moment in time and counted aloud.

Message from Rabbi Elizabeth B. Hersh

May 20, 2020

A favorite reading in one of the prayer books was written by Rabbi Abraham Joshua Heschel. You may be familiar with the words, "Prayer cannot bring water to parched fields, or mend a broken bridge, or rebuild a ruined city; but prayers can water an arid soul, mend a broken heart, and rebuild a weakened will." 

            

I hear from many of you that you have been joining us on Friday to stream the Shabbat Service. I am moved that we are joining as a community in creative and meaningful ways. Each of us defines prayer in various ways. Some have little or no need for prayer. We do, however, need and embrace community. 

            

There are countless ways to define prayer, many more than space will allow. Waking each new day to wonder is prayer. Acts of social justice are prayer. Words of kindness and love are prayer. "There is no specialized art of prayer. All of life must be a training to pray. We pray the way we live." (AJH).

            

You are communicating with a higher source, or the world, in your own unique approaches. I enjoy contemplating techniques that bring me closer to the sources of life. And while prayer does not mean waving a magic wand to birth a new reality, prayer can gird our souls and provide a pathway to hope. 

            

I leave our beautiful sanctuary on Friday feeling like a burden has been lifted from my being. My smile is broader, and my mind is reflecting the meaningful words of the prayer book and the music we shared. I contemplate the many TE family members who are safely at home streaming the service on a device, and I feel community. I know my prayers are feeding my soul, my heart and my will.

Message from Rabbi Elizabeth B. Hersh

May 16, 2020

Do you remember the large boxes of Crayola Crayons with an assortment of sixty-four colors? I always wanted one! I understand there is now a ninety-six count as well as 120 and 152. I am not sure where I would even begin! With a rainbow of each color family, how would I know whether to select "Bittersweet" or "Burnt Orange"? Imagine the team who dreams of such enticing names such as "Razzle Dazzle Rose", "Screamin Green" and "Burnt Sienna". 

            

As our days are slower, I am open to noticing what I may have absently forgotten or unintentionally (or intentionally) ignored. I was in my backyard last week and looked up at the many trees surrounding me. Previously, at this time of year, I believed leaves were green. How wrong I was. As I gazed far above, I saw, really for the first time, the various shades of green! Staring at the variety of colors against the clouded sky made me wonder what else I was missing. The variation of colors kept me spellbound.

            

Suddenly, that brownish-red bush looked different. There was a "pop" of red hidden in the middle. I noticed little flowers emerging, adding colors and scents I had not recognized. I watched squirrels run around and saw birds I could not identify. Nature was beckoning me to turn off the chatter, put down the device and appreciate the glory in my midst. It was time to open my virtual box of crayons and appreciate the choices.

            

Clichés of slowing down and smelling the roses and taking one day at a time have new meaning in an age where we really can embrace these opportunities. They are no longer pithy expressions but newfound realities. We can live the aspiration! 

 

I frequently walk or run the same route near my home. When I did it once a week and had other choices, I was bored. Now, I treasure the familiarity of the landmarks with which I have become accustomed. I pass bushes that ask me to pause and enjoy the outstanding aromas of spring. I am grateful for the cars that slow down or stop when approaching walkers and runners. The new courtesy brings a smile to my face and a wave of appreciation to the drivers.

            

What looks different to you during this period of isolation? What new skills have you discovered? Do you cherish the opportunities to spend more time outside watching a sunrise or sunset? We are blessed with days of additional sunlight. How can this add meaning to your days? My eyes are open to recognizing growth and life. (And I appreciate the photos of flowers and nature that many of you have shared with me.) 

 

Now, I label the variety of "green" colors as "Fern", "Shamrock" and "Pine Green". I have entered an entire new world of grace, beauty, and shades beyond the rainbow. Open your virtual box of crayons and join me in adding depth to our worlds, and splendor in our midst.

Message from Rabbi Elizabeth B. Hersh

May 13, 2020

I frequently hear that the shelter in place feels like the movie, "Groundhog Day." We ask ourselves, "What day is it?" There is a repetition of new routines that limit our interaction with one another and the world as we were accustomed. How can we make a distinction from a Monday to a Tuesday?

            

Rabbi Abraham Joshua Heschel wrote about the heartbreak of us "To dim all wonder by indifference." Where can we find wonder in the routine of limitations? As AJH wrote, "Replete is the world with a spiritual radiance, replete with sublime and marvelous secrets. But a small handheld against the eye hides it all," said the Baal Shem. "Just as a small coin held over the face can block out the sight of a mountain, so can the vanities of living block out the sight of the infinite light."

            

Let us lift the veil from our eyes. May we learn not to simply look but really see. And may we listen instead of merely hearing. There are so many miracles and gifts that we have become comfortable with and assume without giving them much thought or appreciation. The new routines of our lives invite us to see everything anew with intentionality.

            

In the meaningful words of Rabbi Heschel, "Our goal should be to live in radical amazement...get up in the morning and look at the world in a way that takes nothing for granted. Everything is phenomenal; everything is incredible; never treat life casually. To be spiritual is to be amazed."

            

This is the advice I want every day. These are the words I want to inspire my actions during our shelter in place especially on mornings that I am unsure if it is Sunday or Wednesday. In the larger sense, it does not matter what day it is if I awake each morning committed to being amazed and taking nothing for granted. This is my daily prayer. This is my hope for each of you. Amen.

Message from Rabbi Elizabeth B. Hersh

May 9, 2020

One of my greatest joys in the rabbinate is our close TE family. I take tremendous delight in learning about our membership and what is important to your being and lives. You are far too modest about your accomplishments. Your professional and volunteer endeavors are matched by your outstanding families and life experiences. You have heroic and everyday tales that are worth sharing. To you, they are perhaps a moment in time from years past. To others, they are fascinating stories of courage and character. 

 

Maya Angelou wrote, "There is no greater agony than bearing an untold story inside you." You have stories. Many of them are untold. I am encouraging you to tell your stories to your families. And if you would like, I will happily listen to what is important to you! 

 

Stories present us with renewed empathy and compassion. We relearn the timeless lesson not to judge. We think we know someone but have never walked in their shoes. Stories give us hope. They remind us of the resilience of the human soul. They tell us we are not alone in this world. And the more we learn about one another, the more our hearts grow.

 

How many of us wish we had asked a parent or grandparent more questions? Perhaps they were not comfortable speaking about themselves. Make a list of questions you would like to ask. Begin slowly and savor the answers. Realize what you may deem as unimportant, others value! Share recipes, stories, and memories.

 

Write them down, video record, or voice record your words. Tell us what life was like growing up when you did. What were the challenges? Share with us the joys, both little and large! You are never too old or young to begin!

 

A story. "At a party, the guests were discussing which season of life was the happiest. The host, an octogenarian, asked if the guests had noticed a grove of trees before the house, and then said, 'When the spring comes, and in the soft air the buds are breaking on the trees, and they are covered with blossoms, I think, 'HOW BEAUTIFUL IS SPRING!' And when the summer comes, and covers the branches, I think, 'HOW BEAUTIFUL IS SUMMER!' When autumn loads them with golden fruit, and their leaves bear the gorgeous tint of frost, I think, 'HOW BEAUTIFUL IS AUTUMN!' And when it is winter, and there is neither foliage nor fruit, then I look up, and through the leafless branches, as I could never until now, I see the stars shine through.'"

            

One does not need to reach an age to share moments. Take the opportunity to talk. We are living in an unusual time where distractions are fewer and the chances to have conversations, even at a distance, are greater. Keep a journal. Work on a photo album, either in a book or virtually, to share with your loved ones. 

            

In the words of Ecclesiastes, "For everything there is a season." This is the season to share. This is the time to listen.

Message from Rabbi Elizabeth B. Hersh

May 6, 2020

A teaching from our tradition: "The eye has a dark part and a light part. One can see only through the dark part." And there is an old Czech saying that reads, "The darkest shadow lies beneath the candle."

            

We often miss the obvious when looking for the easiest or "lightest" way. What do the shadows hold for us? Do you shun or trust the shadows? Do you look for answers in all the sense or only what feels comfortable? Often, we cannot select only what is convenient.

            

Furthermore, what do you SEE when you look? Do you see what you are looking for, or do you see what makes you uncomfortable? The obvious may reside in the shadows. And are your eyes even open?

            

A story. The followers of a certain leader "approached him with the complaint about the prevalence of overpowering darkness in the world. Intent on driving out the forces of evil, they implored him to advise them. At first, he suggested that they take brooms and attempt to experiment in a nearby cellar by sweeping the darkness which filled the atmosphere. The bewildered disciples proceeded to this curious task, but to no avail. Then he suggested that they take sticks and beat vigorously at the darkness to drive out the evil. When this too failed to bring the expected results, he said, 'My children, one can readily overwhelm the challenge of darkness by simply lighting a candle. Thereupon, his followers descended to the cellar and kindled each his candle, and the darkness vanished.'"

            

Light the match. Kindle your candles. Open your eyes to the shadows and the lights. Be prepared to see both what you seek and what makes you question. When we say the blessing over the Havdalah lights, we bend our fingers towards us in order to see the shadow. And there we find the blessing complete. We recognize the ending as only a new beginning.

Message from Rabbi Elizabeth B. Hersh

April 29, 2020

Today is Yom Ha'Atzmaut, Israel's Day of Independence. It is a celebration that was millennia in the making. It was a dream to return to one's homeland to finally live in sovereignty. The Zionist debate covers the spectrum of religious to secular nationalism. The anti-Zionist base is an entirely different discussion. The American Jewish community is preoccupied with Israel on many complex levels. No one is without an opinion or voice.

            

Rabbi Jeffrey K. Salkin shared the words of Rabbi Yitz Greenberg who so aptly wrote, "Show me a people whose hands are not dirty and I will show you a people which has not been responsible and has not truly lived in the real world. But show me a people which has stopped washing its hands and admitting its guilt, and I will show you a people which is arrogant and dying morally."

 

Our daily prayers focus on a return to Zion. At the conclusion of a Seder we say, "Next Year in Jerusalem." Many worshippers face Jerusalem as they stand in prayer. Rabbi Sidney Greenberg, in Lessons for Living: Reflections on the Weekly Bible Readings and on the Festivals, wrote, "Jerusalem is mentioned in the Bible 750 times. Zion, another name for Jerusalem, appears 180 times...All in all, there are some 2000 references to Jerusalem in Hebrew scriptures."

            

In debates in the Talmud, we are told both sides are the words of the living God. The challenges Israel, and every free nation, faces are vast. They are complex with moral and ethical dilemmas demanding answers from every side of the aisle, so to speak. 

             

We rejoice in the many innovations born in Israel. For many who step foot on the soil, it is a feeling of stepping back in history to a familiar, yet far away place. And we struggle. We struggle because born of Jacob, we are Yisrael, one who struggles with God. 

Message from Rabbi Elizabeth B. Hersh

April 25, 2020

I awoke to the songs of birds. Listening to their chirping made me wonder what my metaphoric song would be today. Like the early story in Genesis, I want to channel my inner divine and bring forth order from chaos. Arrogant and lofty? Perhaps. I am driven by overwhelming senses of instinct, motivation, courage and optimism to remain in a place of safety so we may all emerge in health and wholeness. 

            

I desire my song to be uplifting. It need not be unique but inspired by the melodies of those who walked before me. It is the very act of participating in the recreation of a world we want to re-enter that matters. For those of you planting a garden, you believe spring and summer will yield the needed beauty our souls crave. 

            

To those of you baking and cooking, your creative spirits are warming bodies and nourishing the simplest of our needs. To the walkers, runners and bicyclists, among us, you are engaging your legs. Our readers have enlisted their minds to share fiction and news alike to those without the patience to concentrate. Watching movies and series allow time to pass in a realm far from the reality we need to be excused from occasionally. To all whom call, text, and email, you represent humanity at its finest.

            

I awoke to the sound of rain. The pitter/patter brought a blanket of warmth over my being. It was as comforting as a parent's embrace and gentle kiss upon my forehead. Rain assures me of growth and life. I embrace the sound. It is a form of music with its crescendos and rhythm. 

            

We awake each morning to renewed life. It may not be the way of life you anticipated several months ago. It never really is. We are partners in creation. And each new day is an opportunity to recreate. You decide what to plant and what to sew. It is up to you what and how you hear the birds, the rain, and the voices of your dear ones.

 

My daily prayer is for the appreciation of my soul restored. The pathway may be from one room to the next or it may be extended. It is with freedom and courage that we take the next step. Join me in making order out of chaos. Participate in creating each new day with optimism and courage and hope. Join me in life.

Message from Rabbi Elizabeth B. Hersh

April 22, 2020

Last week the governor of New York quoted Winston Churchill who in 1942 said, "Now this is not the end. It is not even the beginning of the end. But it is, perhaps, the end of the beginning." We know that with every end comes a new beginning. It is an opportunity. Think of Simchat Torah. As we finish the last book of the Torah, Deuteronomy, we immediately start to read from Bereshit, Genesis. It is not a straight line but rather, at the very least, a circle, but I prefer the vision and meaning of a spiral. 

            

One cannot help but wonder when our lives will return to even a fraction of what we deemed as "normal." Likely nothing will ever be the same, because it cannot be. The world is drastically different and so are we. But human beings are resilient. I have heard wonderful stories from you about challenging times in your lives when you had no choice but to begin anew. You are my inspiration. I applaud your courage and insights and carry these lessons in my heart. 

            

An ending is a gift. Both beginnings and endings are stimulating and opportunities for growth, spiritually, emotionally and educationally. To my Temple Emanuel Family, let us virtually hold hearts, and place our arms around one another as we end and begin together. We are a devoted community dedicated to the values we have embraced for years and will continue to share with generations to follow.

Message from Rabbi Elizabeth B. Hersh

April 18, 2020

Confessions about reading. I read newspapers and magazines from the back to the front. Frequently, I skim the end of a novel while still in the middle. And as I eventually approach the end of a cherished book, I start reading slower and slower in a vain attempt to delay knowledge of an outcome (I may or may not already know).

 

I attribute the habit of reading from left to right from years with a siddur (prayer book) opening the way of Hebrew books. I was bewildered the first time I opened a Reform prayer book. These, my friends, are a few of my endearing eccentricities in the realm of reading.  

 

It reminds me of the period between Passover and Shavuot where many Jewish people count the Omer. From the second night of Passover to Shavuot we count forty-nine days. At the time of the Temple, offerings of grain were brought forth marking the spring harvest in the Land of Israel. 

 

Today, we are commanded to verbally keep track of the days and formally recite a blessing each night in the position of standing. "Rabbi Joseph Soloveitchik teaches that this practice of verbally counting days and weeks makes us aware both of where we have been and where we are going, this evoking a sense of movement from one state of being to another." (Quoted in David Shapiro, Rabbi Joseph B. Soloveitchik on Pesach, Sefirat ha-Omer Shavu'ot.)

 

Counting the days from the Exodus to receiving the Torah at Mount Sinai is likened to a spiritual sanctification, a way of preparing ourselves as a people to freely accept God's gift of Torah. Passover and Shavuot are bookends framing a holy period on our calendar. The time between these two festivals is rich with meaning and historical significance. The kabbalists and Hassidic Movements imbued vast meanings to carry us into modernity and beyond. It is an opportunity to grow spiritually one day at a time.

 

Interestingly, we count upwards. It is human nature, however, to count down. We look forward to a holiday or special event by stating "five more days; four more days; three days until we depart." During this period of seven weeks we count upwards in anticipation as we approached, literally, a higher level of being, Sinai. As each day passes, we are one step closer to Torah.

 

There are days I am tripping over my own feet as I approach Sinai. I question the journey. I look for meaning in the moments between the days and nights of counting. I am a Jew, one who is forever questioning. And there are moments I cannot wait to step one foot closer to the mountain of my being. 

 

Rabbi Karen D. Kadar shares the following story in her book, Omer: A Counting. "Martin Buber tells this tale: 'Rabbi Mendel once boasted to his teacher Rabbi Elimelekh that evenings he saw the angel who rolls away the light before the darkness, and mornings the angel who rolls away the darkness before the light. 'Yes,' said Rabbi Elimelekh, 'in my youth, I saw that too. Later, you don't see these things anymore.'" ...

 

I pray we continue to see and count all things in their natural order. I hope we can find the angels among us doing the tasks of humanity. I hold in my heart all the Divine acts that are not counted or acknowledged but without, the world would not exist. Our sages tell us the world is carried on the backs of the Lamed Vavneks, the thirty-six righteous for whom the world survives. I count so many more. I treasure the work each of you is doing to roll away darkness from light and bringing forth the sunset in its due course. I only pray you continue to see the beauty in our world well into adulthood and beyond. Visions of angels must be an integral part of our lives long after our youth is a fond memory. 

            

I do not count the pages until the end of my book. However, I am filled with anticipation as I prepare myself to bid farewell to characters. I know many will continue to fill my thoughts and shepherd my actions. For others, a simple farewell cannot come soon enough. I acknowledge an ending in my journey, and search for enlightenment and even pleasure. Back to front or front to back. Both are part of who we are.

Message from Rabbi Elizabeth B. Hersh

April 15, 2020

This evening we conclude the Festival of Passover. During the service this morning we read a special portion. It included the crossing of the Sea of Reeds, including Mi Chamocha, a familiar and welcome melody. 

            

I read that “God gave our ancestors time to sing.” Caught between slavery and the unknown of the wilderness, they paused to rejoice. They sang because they were relieved, and they sang to set the fears of the unknown aside. They rejoiced as an entire community. They were able to praise God and declare their faith. 

            

A story. There is a legend which says that after God created the world, God called the angels and asked them what they thought of it. One of them said, ‘One thing is lacking: the sound of praise to the Creator.’ So, God created music, and it was heard in the whisper of the wind, and in the song of the birds; and to humanity was given the gift of song. And all down the ages this gift of song has indeed proved a blessing to multitudes of souls.”

            

And so, my friends, pick up your instruments, and sing aloud. Sing from your heart and sing with your feet. Sing from the depth of your soul. Dance like you are on Zoom with your friends and family! 

Message from Rabbi Elizabeth B. Hersh

April 12, 2020

During this period of isolation, amid the concerns and anxieties of this horrific pandemic, I thought of Plato's words, "Everything changes and nothing remains still." For the vast number of Americans, we are sitting still. We remain in our homes, fortunate to have the ability to communicate with others in a variety of ways. And yet, we are frozen in time. Or are we? 

 

The future is never certain. How much more so are we experiencing waves of doubt and vulnerability? Our minds are forced to wander where we previously avoided or set emotional boundaries not to be crossed. We are made to question our health and finances - both immediate and long-term. Living in the moment of perpetual repetition has become a reality one cannot escape.

 

Social media and friends are constantly reminding us of the benefits of staying at home. Physically, we are grounded to a definitive space. I will not bore you with the lessons we are learning about our new reality. I cringe when people call it a plague. (Remember in the Exodus story only the last one is a plague. The others are signs.)

 

And yet, I have been immersed in the notion of healing. There is the physical healing, which has acutely consumed us. The fragility of life and vision of standing on a precipice have exhausted my daily thoughts. Moreover, I ponder what emotional and spiritual healing will resemble when we are given the green light to offer a hug that isn't virtual.

 

People are rightfully scared. I read it in social media posts. I hear it in voices and the written word both explicit and implied. It is ever present in ZOOM classes and chats. We have surges of energy destined to fill a void with optimism. We are grateful to waken each new day to health. We silently express words of thanksgiving to have a warm home and food. We look for creative ways to make each day count. Every act, each phone call, and moment of peace is a welcome friend in the loneliness of seclusion.

 

More than ever before I am holding humanity as a single entity in my prayers. No one is exempt from this illness. And yet, I wonder what healing will resemble. Will we continue to check on one another? Will our words taste differently when we are released to roam the supermarkets and parks, and fill the beaches to feel the sand between our toes? When we kiss our children goodbye as they aptly return to classrooms that are not our kitchens and lounge rooms, will sadness fill our hearts, knowing we will miss their presence even though school is where they need to be? Will healing come in the form of hugs or apologies for taking liberties, saying what we did not mean but was driven from a place of insecurity or fear? 

 

Nothing remains the same. Everything is in motion, and everyone is changing. I pray we emerge in peace and wholeness. I pray we become better versions of ourselves. I pray humanity remembers we really do love one another. 

Message from Rabbi Elizabeth B. Hersh

April 8, 2020

As the full moon shines brightly upon us, we welcome the Festival of Passover. This night, however, is so unlike other religious gatherings, especially a Seder. Judaism encourages us to gather as a community. And yet, tonight, and tomorrow, and the next night, we cannot. There is no opening a door for Elijah to welcome the stranger and all who are hungry. 

            

The Seder (order) is a celebration of freedom and a story to share with each generation. I have hope that when this horrific virus is beyond its reaches of illness and pain, we will continue to unlock the bonds of slavery: emotional, physical, spiritual and intellectual for all. We will return to our quest of freedom from hunger and illness. We will remember how to place a comforting arm around another soul and bring compassion and light to every heart. We will feed the body, mind and soul. 

            

As you taste the matza, recall once we were slaves. Are we truly free? Dip a vegetable into salt water and weep tears for those in agony and resolve to make a difference. Ask questions. Ask more than four. The questions will likely not have answers. Be the wise and wicked child at the same time, raising your fist to grapple with the world. And remember to conclude with hope. Because that is who we are.

Message from Rabbi Elizabeth B. Hersh

April 1, 2020

In Rabbi Lord Jonathan Sack's lesson on Vayikra (the first Torah portion in the Book of Leviticus) he presented a quote from Jewish law. "If your head aches, study Torah." And this is exactly what we are doing in our daily interactions.

           

Last week Val asked me about the ner tamid, the eternal light in our sanctuary which is normally changed once a week. The eternal light is symbolic of God's Presence. It is a reference to light in darkness, and faith when we may feel lost. Every synagogue, of all denominations, have one near the ark. 

            

My "Talmudic" response to Val was inspired by what we did in my childhood home when we forgot to purchase a yahrzeit candle. My mom left a light bulb on in the closet for a period of 24 hours in memory of a loved one. My dad and I were cautioned not to turn it off. It was intentional.

            

I suggest we each occasionally leave a light on in our homes for 30 minutes dedicated to eternal light. Meanwhile, I will attempt to change the ner tamid at temple. We need all the light we can shine.

Message from Rabbi Elizabeth B. Hersh

March 29, 2020

I am a creature of routine. Therefore, with the quarantine in place, I have quickly turned to new daily patterns. It involves an hour a day either walking or running outside. In the evenings we play several games of fiercely competitive Rummy Tiles. I am savoring our Temple email correspondences, and telephone calls. I spend more time writing for additional eblasts. It's a new way of living. 

            

Last Sunday I enjoyed watching the snow fall. The oversized flakes brought a smile to my face. It melted too quickly for me, while not fast enough for others! Today I received call from a member of an agency whose board I served on, and continue to support, inquiring about our community and if anyone needs their services. (Provident Behavior Health St. Louis.)

            

I am also embracing the additional quiet time to think. As this pandemic spread, I immediately thought about the Jewish adage, "This, too, shall pass." Legend tells us that King Solomon wore a ring with this engraved on the inside band. It reminded the ruler that difficult times would, indeed, pass. And while many forget to savor and enjoy the joyful moments, they, too, will pass! We have no idea how long this will last. We do know we have survived other misfortunes. This is a tribulation that for many brings grief and loneliness. It may mean we are walking in place, but we will continue to exercise our minds, bodies and souls to the best of our individual abilities.

            

A friend sent me part of an article she read from a retired rabbi in NYC. There was a beautiful passage where Elie Wiesel reminded us (after the Madoff scandal) of his two "favorite words . . . 'and yet'" Think about your own lives. These simple words convey hope, strength and fortitude. 'And, yet' we will emerge from our isolation to a community waiting with open arms. We will once again gather as a community to worship and celebrate Passover. We will meet on Friday for Mah Jongg and wonderful company. Book club will resume. We will debate in person as we struggle with the weekly Torah portion. 'And, yet' we will continue to call and check on one another. We will ensure you have food to eat. We will remember the importance of a small community who cares about the welfare of all. 'And, yet'...

Message from Rabbi Elizabeth B. Hersh

March 25, 2020

To our Temple Emanuel family:

 

In my quest for inspiration and hope, I turned to Moments of Transcendence: Inspirational Readings for Rosh Hashanah. There is a reading by Leo F. Buscaglia which made me pause and reflect. I would like to share some of it." It is entitled, Remember - Who Made a Difference in Our Lives?

            

"Who are the people in my life who inspired me, who encouraged me and believed in me? Who were the ones who recognized in me a spark of potential and encouraged me to reach beyond my grasp? We must never underestimate the power of a single glance or an encouraging word. One small expression of caring has the potential to turn a life around. A reassurance of love when it is most needed is a panacea for most human ailments. A listening ear or a sincere compliment can instill confidence and strength in another. An act of kindness can restore another's faith in people."  

            

This is timely. We can embrace the opportunity to reach out to those who believed in us. Return to letter writing or send an email. Spend time each day reaching out with a caring word or voice of love. There is nothing like hearing a voice when steeped in loneliness. 

            

May you and those you love be blessed with good health. May peace reign within your hearts, minds and souls, and may you feel the love and friendship of your TE family.

Message from Rabbi Elizabeth B. Hersh

March 22, 2020

My mother, may she rest in peace, was born in September 1929. My father, may his memory be for a blessing, turned six in October 1929. I know this timing forever affected my mom's actions and her frame of thinking. Moreover, her father was an immigrant.

 

If I close my eyes and travel back in time to my childhood home, I can visualize closets filled with Kleenex, toilet paper, toothpaste and soap. (Apparently, if you unwrap the bar soap and allow it to remain in place before using, it lasts longer.) The unfinished basement had shelves with condensed or evaporated milk in addition to cans of vegetables, fruit, pasta and mixes like Bisquick. We had supplies to make split pea soup, barley and homemade spaghetti sauce. Mom canned everything imaginable. After hand picking fruit, she canned pears, peaches, plums, tomatoes and made her own grape jam. I think there was more. My job was to listen for the "pop." Of course, I grew up in Buffalo so we, like our neighbors, were always prepared. 

 

I share many traits with my mom, but food preparation is not one of them. With the increasing scare of the Corona virus, I called the library to request books. It did not matter that my home office has several stacks. I needed to be prepared. 

 

Amid reading, I have enjoyed conversations with my TE family in various forms of emails, telephone calls, texting and old fashion letter writing. You have once again moved my heart and soul with your generous and sincere offers to check on those who are isolated, grocery shop for others, and to make calls to those who would love to hear a warm voice. You have spoken these words from the very essence of your being to assist your fellow temple members. 

 

You know me well enough that this makes me weep tears of happiness. I know I am part of a community who acts upon the values we teach. We learn and study in order to perform mitzvot - commandments. You are prepared to push up your sleeves and do whatever is necessary. You have extended your words of concern to my family as well. I am grateful for all of this. In addition, I am enjoying our interactions. Please continue to be in contact with me, and PLEASE let me know what we can do to serve you. 

 

A few of us have exchanged book titles. Please continue to let me know what you are reading or how you are occupying your time. I know creativity is the "mother of invention" and many of you are putting it to good use. Tell me about your walks, the shows you are watching and the moments of peace you are experiencing. I want to hear about your knitting, crocheting and jewelry making. 

 

Allow me to share what I read and where I am going next. Aside from the Tanach, there are three books I reread throughout the years. I finished As a Driven Leaf recently. It is a powerful read that begs to be kept within an arm's reach. As a very young woman, I read The Razor's Edge. It may be time to return to it soon. Many of you already know Elie Wiesel's Messengers of God is a favorite as we have read it together in groups. 

 

Earlier this week I finished In Full Flight. I am still talking about it with friends. It is a true account of a woman seeking redemption from choices she made during WWII. She fled to Africa and was known as The Flying Doctor. All that You Leave Behind written by Erin Lee Carr, the daughter of the late writer, David Carr was a thoughtful and insightful read, also touching upon the notion of personal redemption. Upon suggestion I devoured The Dutch House. Next in line are American DirtLife After LifeGerminal, and a kindle book about the construction of the Brooklyn Bridge, and a half-finished novel entitled, A Little Life. There are more!

 

As I did last Wednesday, I will continue to send a small eblast with words, I pray, of inspiration. The Friday eblast will continue as such. Let us keep the sparks of our minds, souls and hearts burning bright with flames of hope, strength and peace. You are all in my prayers. 

 

For the record, I have recently made my Greek lentil soup, and Rob and I dusted off our never used gifted Crock-Pot and made a pot roast for the boys. Apparently, one needs to add more than water and potatoes and onions in order to have flavor.

Message from Rabbi Elizabeth B. Hersh

March 18, 2020

To our Temple Emanuel family:

 

I came across a reading we used on a Sunday morning family service. Each line began with "I am thankful for...". I would like to share a few verses with you and encourage you to add to the list.

 

I am thankful for the beautiful light which illuminated my soul.

 

I am thankful for faith that I carry in my heart.

 

I am thankful for privilege. In this life, I have the tools to accomplish anything.

 

I am thankful for history which lives inside me and for such a rich education.

 

I am personally thankful for a community that genuinely cares about one another. I am happily overwhelmed by the offers from our TE family to help anyone in need of groceries, being checked on, or a friendly telephone call. Do not hesitate to let me know how we can assist you.

 

I look forward to our continued communication through email and telephone calls. I will write an additional article in the Emanuscript about Passover customs, and a personal eblast on Wednesdays.  Please know you are in my heart and prayers.