Last Friday as I was leaving services and said “good by” to Steve our security guard, he pulled me aside. “I want you to be aware that there is gang graffiti spray-painted on the tarp of TBS’s fence alongside of the building. It will need to get painted over right away.”
Steve is one of the co-owners of the security company. I trust that he is aware of this type of thing as he knows the meaning of the word and symbols sprayed on our property. At the same time, we weren’t sure if it was “just” vandalism, or graffiti meant to depict something nefarious. We took photos to send to the police and cleaned it up right away.
Why am I sharing this with you? As the oldest Reform congregation in Orange County and the only Reform congregation in Santa Ana, we take tremendous pride in our strong and positive Jewish identity. Yet we are acutely aware that we must always remain hyper-vigilant: we live in an era of unprecedented antisemitism. Like many synagogues, we have fences, locked gates and security guards. The Union of Reform Judaism (URJ) and the Anti-Defamation League (ADL) have partnered to Combat Antisemitism and Hate. The Reform Movement also highly endorses and supports the new White House strategy to combat antisemitism (and many Reform leaders were part of the task force that developed that strategy).
Physical security measures, strategies, policies and programs can only protect us from the outward manifestations of antisemitism and hate. True security comes from having a strong, positive and healthy connection to our Jewish identity and community. It means joining together and participating during the good times, ordinary moments, daily activities as well as the difficult and sorrowful times.
Our Torah portion for this week, Naso, gives us some wonderful guidance for how to embody this. Naso begins by reminding us that God will be present in our midst only if everyone carries the weight of caring for the community, if each of us does our part – large or small, our community will be strong, healthy and vibrant.
Naso, gets its name from the Hebrew root “to carry.” The text begins by outlining the responsibilities of the different Levitical families in transporting and maintaining the portable mishkan (portable sanctuary) through the wilderness. Much of this job was to physically carry everything on their shoulders throughout their journey. No role was too menial. Each task was imbued with a sense of k’dusha, holiness. If the Levites didn’t fulfill their obligations, the whole community would suffer.
It was a physically, emotionally, and spiritually heavy responsibility that rested upon the Levites’ shoulders. It did not seem so burdensome because they were doing God’s work on behalf of the community. The mishkan brought people together: the Israelites gathered around it to set up their camps (Numbers 2:1), they offered their sacrifices to God within its confines, it was the central gathering place for the entire community.
Our text teaches that God will be present in the community’s midst only if everyone carries the weight of the burden. In ancient times, this meant observing God’s laws and “acting justly, loving mercy and walking humbly before the Eternal.” (Micah 6:8)
Just as it was for our biblical ancestors, so too is it for us. If we each do our part, our community will be strengthened, whole and complete. Each of us, as individuals, will feel strengthened, whole and complete as well.
This weekend at TBS is an example of many people coming together to pray, celebrate, study, and enjoy being together. It is a microcosm of the concepts embodied in Naso and provides many different opportunities for creating that powerful, positive, and strong Jewish community. Here is an example of what we are doing in just the next few short days:
Our students in our ECC are gathering this morning in the Sanctuary to celebrate Shabbat with me. This evening at our Kabbalat Shabbat service, we’ll usher in Shabbat with music and prayer, bless those celebrating birthdays and anniversaries in June, and then welcome three of Scott and Patricia Brooks’ grandchildren into the covenant of the Jewish people by giving them their Hebrew names. On Shabbat morning, Donna Wolffe will lead a beautiful Torah study on a most special aspect of this week’s Torah portion: Birkat Kohanim, the Priestly Blessing. Our TBS Torah study group has been gathering for over 40 years, always welcoming newcomers with open arms, sometimes enhancing the notion of “community” by sharing brunch. Beginning Saturday afternoon, we have our TBS “Campus Camp Out.” This is a fantastic event that will entail Shabbat afternoon family-oriented activities, a barbecue, Havdalah and song session and so much more. While they’re roasting marshmallows over the campfire and telling bedtime stories, I’ll be officiating at the wedding of Samantha Abrams-Widdicombe (daughter of Patti Widdicombe) and Cesar Vargas Nunez. We wish Samantha, Cesar and their families a hearty mazal tov! Sunday continues with the morning activities of the Campus Camp Out, I will be doing some pastoral care visits, and we have our final “Jewish Food for Thought” session in the afternoon, led by Jeff Merkow and Soni Sanberg.
We understand that while others may attempt to harm us with words or actions, we know that when each of us does our part to strengthen our community and each other, we emerge renewed, energized, empowered and whole.
Rabbi Sharon L. Sobel
Senior Rabbi, Temple Beth Sholom