Rabbi’s Corner: “Gifts” That Bring Us Hope

                 Banner in lobby of Providence/St. Joseph’s Hospital. Photo: Rabbi Sharon L. Sobel

 

Sometimes we receive gifts when we least expect. At times, it is those unexpected gifts that can lift us up and bring us hope when we most need it. Those unexpected gifts can have the most meaningful impact on our lives.

Over the past few weeks, I have received some of the most beautiful, heartwarming, uplifting “gifts.” Here is a sample of just a few of them:

  • I regularly visit congregants who are in-patient at Providence/St. Joseph’s Hospital. On my most recent visit, the lobby was adorned with the banner pictured above: “We Are One People: ‘I commit to embracing a culture that welcomes diversity, promotes inclusion and advocates for equity and justice for ALL. I pledge to serve the Dear Neighbor, without distinction.’” The hospital encourages all who enter to endorse the values embodied by the message and sign the banner. This is a powerful statement of what it means to make our community a “home” where we can always walk side-by-side our neighbors in harmony and understanding, peace and unity, no matter our religion, our politics, our sexual orientation, our beliefs. This banner made me smile and gave me hope.
  • A few weeks ago, I received the most eloquent, emotional, and heartfelt letters in the mail. It was from some of our non-Jewish neighbors who offered their support and solidarity to us during these difficult and trying days. These same friends and neighbors followed up by joining us for some of our “Building Bridges of Understanding” classes to increase their knowledge and gain insight into the complexity of the conflict in the Middle East. When others join hands with us on our journey, it helps bring us fortitude and strength, courage and hope for the future.
  • Our congregant Gail Geffon shared that her nephew, Ari Solomon and his new bride, Shira Kreitenberg Solomon, went to Israel to volunteer for 4-5 weeks and 2 weeks (respectively). Ari and Shira were married less than a month prior to October 7th. Ari served in the IDF as a ‘lone soldier’ during the 2014 Gaza war. His adopted ‘father’ in Israel during that time was Baruch Cohen, who was featured on CNN on October 8th defending his Kibbutz Magen, when Baruch was struck and lost his leg. All of Ari’s fellow IDF “band of brothers” with whom he served, attended his wedding this past September and are now serving once again in the reserves. Hearing stories of young people like Ari and Shira donate their time and effort to volunteer and help Israel during these days, and seeing so many others go to Israel and volunteer as well, reminds us that we can endure difficult times as long as others step up to fill in the gaps, hold our hands, listen to our stories.

  • Finally, we have received some extremely large financial donations to send to Israeli organizations who are doing outstanding work in war relief at this time. To date, people have donated over $21,000 to our Israel Relief Effort. If you would like to contribute to Israel relief, you can either send a check to “Temple Beth Sholom Rabbi Discretionary Fund” and mark “Israel Support” on the memo line, or make your donation online (be sure to check “Rabbi Discretionary Fund” under “Payment Type” and in the box for “Payment Notes” please type “Israel Support.”

Last week, I wrote about our Christian clergy friends who attended our chanukiyah lighting in the Old Orange Circle each night of Chanukah as acts of support, solidarity and friendship. All of these “gifts” of love moved me beyond words and touched our souls.

The message of all these gifts, as embodied by what is written on the banner at Providence/St. Joseph’s hospital, is both universal and particular to us as a Jewish people. When Joseph goes to Egypt and saves the Egyptians from famine, Pharaoh wants to return the favor and treat Joseph and his family with kindness. In this week’s Torah portion Vayigash, as Joseph is reunited with his family, Pharaoh extends a beautiful and unexpected gift to them: he offers to bring them to Egypt and to give them the best the land has to offer. (Genesis 45:18) Kindness, respect and dignity are rewarded with gifts of kindness, respect and dignity (until later on when “there arose a Pharaoh who knew not Joseph.”)

2023 has been a difficult year: the war in Israel and Gaza, the exponential increase in antisemitism since October 7th, and all the other issues that continue to plague our world. Yet Parshat Vayigash and the “gifts” we have received remind us there is always hope: if we all treat every human being with kindness, dignity and respect every day, there is hope for a brighter tomorrow. If we reach out to those who made a lasting impact on our lives to let them know, there is hope for an envisioned future. If each of us could love our neighbor like ourselves, today, tomorrow and forevermore, then perhaps 2024 will be a year filled with peace, harmony, and the celebration of the unity of humankind. That is the most important lesson of these special days.

Thank you to each of you who has contributed your special gifts to making our TBS community, our Orange County community, Israel, and our world a better place for all.

 

 

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