by Rabbi Sonya Starr
It might not surprise you that I have spent a lot of time in the last year thinking about how to say goodbye. At first, those ruminations were abstract and seemed far away. It has been a very long goodbye. But now, June 30th is right around the corner. So how do we have a Covid Safe/hopefully meaningful goodbye? (Which includes party favors for each of you—you just have to keep reading!)
Throughout the year I have shared with you many different lessons I have learned from being your rabbi. Today I will share one more. When I came to CJC, I had tunnel vision when it came to ritual development. One created one ritual for one purpose. Over time I have learned how multi-dimensional any one ritual can truly be. So I created one ritual/one party favor for each CJC household that combines many different minhagim/customs/mitzvoth/commandments.
The most obvious mitzvah/commandment is the commandment Talmud Torah, the commandment to study, learn and/or engage in Jewish study. The rabbis defined Torah in this case not only as the five books of Moses, but rather all Jewish learning. As Maimonides, a Middle Ages rabbi and doctor wrote “None of the other mitzvoth can be equated to the study of Torah. Rather, the study of Torah can be equated to all the mitzvoth, because study leads to deed. Therefore, study takes precedence over deed in all cases.”
The second mitzvah/commandment I incorporated into this party favor is the mitzvah of Hiddur Mitzvah, the commandment to beautify our commandments. The system of rabbinic blessings is designed to open our eyes to the most sacred aspects of our very mundane existence by taking mundane ritual objects like cups into works of art (Kiddush cups), candle holders into menorahs, fabric to cover the Torah into an elaborate Torah cover, table cloths into white table coverings, bowls and/or plates to hold food into Seder plates, napkins into challah covers (the list goes on). For this reason, although there are traditional Jewish artists that have Jewish content in their art work, one of the most common Jewish art form is making something completely mundane beautiful. (or at least I tried to!)
The third minhag/custom that has been wrapped into this party favor (curious yet?) is the Kabbalistic minhag of opening the bible to any given random verse and studying that verse believing that either Gd has raised that verse to your attention because you have something to learn from it or every verse has something to teach all of us at all times.
The final saying/minhag/belief is the phrase, Klal Yisrael, literally all of Yisrael. It says in the Talmud/ Shevuot 39a that “all Israel are sureties one for another.” This has been interpreted to mean all Jews are responsible for all Jews not only those we like or agree with. As part of interfaith dialogue I have heard Christians remark they envy how for the most part in public space Jews take care or at least try to take care of each other. We have learned how to depend on each other because for much of our history there was no one else upon whom to depend.
So how do these four mitzvoth, minhagim, phrases come together into one party favor. As some of you know I like to make things with my hands. In this case different crewel stitches flew from my mind through my hands to blank bookmarks. Each bookmark is unique and different. Each one contains a verse that I believe in and/or aspire to implement in my life. I have
made enough for one bookmark for every CJC household. The only thing you have to do is sign up to come and say goodbye by clicking this link. This will be Covid safe, masked, one pod at a time gatherings. Not what I imagined when I gave notice, but it will be meaningful none-the-less.
There will also be free books, a minimal amount of Judaica, and maybe a picture or two for you to leave with as well. In this way, each of you will have a small physical reminder of my presence in your lives. You also share with each other a piece of the whole picture of what it means to be a complete congregation.
Maybe someday after you have studied your bookmark, you will come together and trade with each other. For the true mark of a sacred community is when you can see Gd not only from your perspective but also from the perspective of each other.
So what am I asking you to do? I am asking you to sign up at the following link to come with your family to say goodbye and collect your party favor. Rabbi Starr’s Farewell Visits — Signup Sheet | SignUp.com. In May I will open up any remaining slots to other non-CJC people to come and say good bye as well.
For now, L’hitraot, See you soon!