Dear Friends,

As  I  am  writing this  note,  our  community has  just  turned  the  corner  from  our annual  three-week  period  of  mourning  for  the  loss  of  the  first  and  second Temples.  From  the  17th  of  Tammuz  until  Tisha  B’Av,  we’ve  explored  the relationship between two Biblical words that without vowels are spelled alike in our Torah: Ayeka – Where are you? And Eicha – How did this happen to me/us? The similarity in  the  Hebrew  spelling encourages  us  to  reflect  on  the   thematic connection.  Perhaps  this  past  period  in  the  Jewish  calendar  encourages  us  to
examine our own current moral status in terms of how it might be impacting the suffering  we  see  and  experience  in  our  own  lives  and  in  the  world.  At  Beth Israel,  we  do  an  awful  lot  of  good  in  the  world,  but  as  Jews,  how  can  we  do better? Are there those who we can better reach out to, or social justice issues we are avoiding lending our voices to? Are there blind spots and real suffering in our community that is going overlooked?

At our recent Tisha B’Av prayer gathering, we had some deep and meaningful experiences as we studied together  the  poetic  and  metaphoric  structures  and  social  implications  of  our  Lamentation  poetry.  We listened  as  Rebecca,  Gabriel,  Uri,  and  Jacob gave  poignant  and passionate expression to our traditional liturgy.  The chanting of the Biblical poetry gave ear to  voices of suffering and protest that really resonate with anyone who has ever experienced devastation, loss, poverty, hunger,  or  abuse.  Too  often  we  see  those  who  suffer  without  an  ability  to  connect  to  their  pain  or  to facilitate a voice of protest. Participating in Eicha gives voice to our lament: “Why has this happened to me, to us, to our community, to our country?”

On July 27, we celebrated Tu B’Av, the Festival Day of love, a fitting metaphor for the gradual uplift in our spirits that we begin to feel as we begin the long and gradual build-up to maximum joy at Rosh Hoshanah and Yom Kippur. Once we have turned this corner and have re-dedicated ourselves anew to doing good that will make a difference in the world, we begin to experience God’s love on a different footing. Each year we have this opportunity to make this same turn, in our relationships, our commitments, and our caring. As we are doing so, each of our Haftarot during this period leading up to the High Holidays is designed to bring comfort to sufferers. But how do we make that transition? What is it that brings healing and comfort to us after experiencing
personal suffering and loss?

Trees when they are wounded are said to heal over but never completely rid themselves entirely of a wound. Perhaps trying to help someone heal is a futile endeavor without a real ability to see and witness the whole living  being.  Our  brokenness  and  our  wounds  are  an  integral  part  of  our  being,  and  we  take  comfort  in community as a place where we can safely share our vulnerabilities.

Like the magnificent tree who, despite her wounds, sprouts new leaves and reaches out with new branches each  year, we have the capacity with each new Holiday season to really listen to each other and to grow together and strengthen ourselves and our communities in unexpected ways. May we leverage our comfort and our wholeness to move eagerly and with intention toward the jolting sounds of the Shofar in the month of  Elul,  reawakening  ourselves  to  reach  out  to  others  in  our   community  in  need  of  our  listening,  our presence, and our care. Let’s all take a new visionary hold on our sacred tree of life, Etz Chaim, so that we experience the upcoming Holiday season with renewed depth, commitment and joy.

L’Shanah Tovah!

Rabbi Jama