RABBI’S AUGUST MESSAGE :
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
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.
July Rabbi's Massage:
June has been quiet in some ways and busy in others. On the one hand, the Jewish holiday cycle was
quiet this month, with no major Jewish holidays to keep us busy with extra cleaning, special
baking, or additional holiday-specific spiritual preparation. Many of our members travel
or plan a vacation at this time of year, taking advantage of this quiet and peaceful moment
in the Jewish calendar.
For me personally, it has been a busy month. Bina and I have been occupied with unpacking boxes,
settling into our new home in South Roanoke, finding our way around town, and meeting new neighbors
and friends. We have also found a little time to explore some of the many beautiful hiking trails
in the area. At the same time, I have begun meeting with officers and board members of Beth Israel
and preparing myself spiritually for a life of joyful service to the Beth Israel community. I am
really looking forward to joining the community in July!
There has also been much poignancy this month in our Jewish community. Several of you observed
important births, birthdays and anniversaries. A few of you are transitioning into grandparenthood.
Our community also supported several congregants as they observed meaningful yahrzeits. Together we
remembered the life of our member Morton Rosenberg as we embraced Carol Rosenberg and her family
at the unveiling of the memorial stone for her beloved husband. I would also like to thank you
personally for your care and concern during my shiva period and as I continue to mourn the passing
of my beloved mother, Ramona Morton Purser, z”l.
The Jewish calendar begins to “heat up” in the month of July, as we immediately transition into the
period of the Jewish calendar referred to as the “Three Weeks.” This period begins on July 1
with the 17th day of the month of Tammuz, marking the three-week mourning period leading up
to the 9th of Av on July 21 (Tisha B’Av). This three-week cycle at the beginning of July
commemorates the breaching of the walls of Jerusalem and the ultimate destruction of both holy
Temples (the first by the Babylonians, and the second Temple at the hand of the Romans).
At Beth Israel’s Tisha B’Av service on July 21, I am preparing a special study session
about “Eicha,” the Jewish poem of Lament for the destruction of the Temple. I will also help
lead a brief service after the study session, including a chanting of the poem by congregants and
the Rabbi. After Tisha B’Av, our somber mood will quickly change to one of renewal, as we look
forward with anticipation to the sounds of the shofar and the upcoming joys of the High Holidays in
the months of Elul and Tishrei.
Life has a way of blending sadness and joy, and I am grateful that our Jewish tradition, sacred
texts, and rituals can accommodate all seasons and emotions, of both stability and
change. I look forward to the bonds of sharing and caring we will create together as we
continue to mark in a sacred way the special moments in the ongoing life of Beth Israel.
Rabbi Jama Purser