Rosh Hashanah 5775
Our Beautiful Heritage
One year ago, on Rosh Hashanah morning, I spoke about what it means to belong to a Jewish Synagogue and the many reasons why Temple Beth Sholom was chosen by my family to be OUR Synagogue. While I listed several reasons for choosing TBS, the most meaningful reason was, and still is today, because of the relationships; the personal connections — the face to face interactions that we have found within our congregational family.
As I stand here today, one year later, having served as your president for the past 15 months, I can state without hesitation that my love for all that is TBS is greater, stronger and deeper now than it was 1 year ago. WHY, because, my circle of friends and acquaintances has grown exponentially throughout this past year. Some of these new friendships have developed through shared tears and sorrows, deaths, illnesses, and the business of fire recovery. But most have come from shared experiences with laughter, joy and hope for the future — through Shabbat service attendance, learning opportunities, TBS sponsored meals, Reservations Only events, and yes, even through some joyous connections with the business of fire recovery.
Last year, right after the High Holy Days, I was driving my car and listening, as I often do, to a Jewish music CD. A Julie Silver song was playing and, of course, I was singing along, probably at the top of my voice, when I really, really, listened to the words I was singing:
How goodly is our portion, how pleasant our lot, how beautiful our heritage: Ashreinu, Ma tov kelokeinu,Uma naim goralenu, Ashreinu, Ma tov kelokeinu,Uma iafah yerushatenu. How goodly is our portion, how pleasant our lot, how beautiful our heritage!
And I knew, right there and then, what I wanted to speak with you about today. And, what I ask you to reflect upon now from your own Jewish journey.
How goodly is our portion: Our portion. This could bring to mind several definitions including wealth, ample food and water, the number of our children, or even our clothes, gadgets and toys. For me, it’s a combination of all of these, and I’m so thankful for the wonderful portion that I have been given. Yet, I’d like to think of “portion” religiously, and religiously, my portion is that which allows me to worship as a Jew, in a dwelling of my choosing, lead spiritually by Rabbi Cohen and Cantor Reinwald, without fear, surrounded by other Jews, as we proclaim together,
Sh’ma Yis’ra’eil Adonai Eloheinu, Adonai Echad. Hear O’Israel, Adonai is our God, Adonai is one.
How goodly is our portion, how pleasant our lot: interesting to hear the word lot described by the word pleasant. Often, when we talk about people’s lot in life, there is a negative connotation. “Lot in life” is when we speak of the downtrodden, enslaved, or poor. After all, Lot is associated with pillars of salt, Right?
Several times during these Days of Awe we read these words, “On Rosh Hashanah it is written, on Yom Kippur it is sealed. Who shall live and who shall die.” Is our lot in life also pre-ordained? We go on to read that we can temper judgment’s severe decree through repentance, prayer and charity. Can we also change our lot in life?
In 1965, I was 9 years old, (you’re doing the math right now aren’t you?) – I was 9 years old and a news-worthy event changed my life forever. I was, and I still am, a huge baseball fan. That year the Dodgers were set to play the Twins in the World Series. Arguably, one of the greatest pitchers of all time, Sandy Koufax, played for the Dodgers. Sandy Koufax was scheduled to pitch in game one of the series, which, as it often does, fell on Yom Kippur. Sandy Koufax’s lot in life was to be a professional baseball player – to lead his team to victory in the World Series – yet Sandy Koufax is a Jew. His dilemma, whether to pitch or not to pitch on Yom Kippur?
Tom Verducci of Sports Illustrated wrote, “Koufax was the kind of man boys idolized, men envied, women swooned over, and Rabbis thanked, especially when he refused to pitch game one of the 1965 World Series because it fell on Yom Kippur.” Mr. Koufax explained that while he wasn’t a particularly religious man, he felt he needed to set an example for all the young Jewish children who looked up to him.
Thank you Mr. Koufax, you profoundly changed the “lot” of this young Jewish athlete on that day.
Eleven years later, I was a member of the women’s basketball team in college. In my sophomore year I was voted by my teammates as the Most Inspirational Player and awarded a trophy that is still on display in my office. That award was more valuable to me than if they had voted me the MVP, and I cherish their acknowledgment that I was able to inspire my teammates to be the best athletes they could be.
The following year, we got a new coach. This coach was affiliated with an organization called Campus Crusade for Christ. One night she called a mandatory team meeting of all the players. Little did I know that the purpose of the meeting was for everyone to get up before the group and give “testimony for Christ”. I was in shock and didn’t know what to do. I politely waited for the first player to finish her testimony and then I quietly left the room. When the meeting finished, I explained to the coach that I was Jewish and felt uncomfortable in the meeting so I had left.
Following that day, I never received another minute of playing time in any game for my team. I went to see the Hillel Rabbi and we filed a formal complaint with the Athletic Director but my complaint was denied. I had a decision to make. I had worked so hard to be a member of the team. Yet, being Jewish and standing up for my own beliefs was more important. I quit the team. The following year, while a senior in college, instead of playing ball, I became a coach in a high school, we won the conference championship my very first year. Over time, through coaching, I developed my leadership skills, which served me well in my career choices. I believe that this singular event in college, a defining moment of being true to my Jewish identity, changed my lot in life. Changed it for the better, and what a pleasant lot it is!
How goodly is our portion, how pleasant our lot, how beautiful our heritage. The beauty of our heritage is something that I have cherished since my youth. It’s all of the reasons combined for why I have maintained my strong Jewish identity throughout my life. I can still recall where my family sat during the high holy days of my youth in our temple in Wichita. I can still remember, before I could read the words in the prayer book, my mother tracking the words for me with her finger. I remember my own joy when I could finally read the words myself. I still remember the wonderful Passover Seders that we held at my Aunt Barbara and Uncle Walter’s house, with so many relatives that we could barely fit in their home. I recall the scent of Aunt Barbara’s matzos ball soup mixed with Uncle Walter’s cigars. The beauty of our heritage.
This past winter, about a month before J.D. became a Bar Mitzvah, I received a call on a Monday from our friend, the keeper of our gift shop, Sarah Schweitz. Sarah called to tell me that JDs Tallit had arrived from the vendor and asked me when I wanted to pick it up from the gift shop? I told her that I would be attending services on Friday night and asked her if I could pick it up then. Of course, she said yes, and that’s what I did. The next morning was February 15th, the morning of the devastating fire. Everything in the gift shop was destroyed. Perhaps one of the most enduringly beautiful symbols of our heritage is the wearing of a Tallit. JD’s Tallit, the one he had personally selected, was home, safe and sound. It was especially meaningful 5 weeks later when he put that Tallit around his shoulders, in prayer, for the very first time. How beautiful our heritage!
Ashreinu, Ma tov kelokeinu,Uma naim goralenu, Ashreinu, Ma tov kelokeinu,Uma iafah yerushatenu. How goodly is our portion, how pleasant our lot, how beautiful our heritage!
In the years to come, may your lives be filled with a goodly portion, may you have a pleasant lot of your choosing, and may you rejoice in our beautiful heritage!