I have never forgotten the first Hebrew sentence I ever learned – Aych ani holaich l’kikar dizengoff? – how do I walk to dizengoff square? My grandfather taught me that the summer I was 11 years old. Along with “ani Yehudi” – I am a Jew – and a lot of other things that did not strike me (as an 11 year old from New Jersey) as important, but which turned out to be, on reflection, the most vital lessons I ever ignored. I think often of Grandpa as I approach the age he was when I came to know him and this month I am stuck on the word “holaych.” To walk…and as it turns out, “halachah”, the Hebrew word we accept as meaning “law” or perhaps “rule,” comes from the same root. For Grandpa and me, it meant, and still means, “walking in God’s path.” After escaping from a Russian hospital in World War I he walked to Italy to search out the family roots in Ferrara and then walked back to the Pale of Settlement. For my Grandpa, walking was a big deal and walking with God was even bigger.
By now you are wondering “what does this have to do with anything?” and I will tell you…August begins with Tisha B-Av, the least happy day of the Jewish year. On this day, both temples were destroyed and, if you didn’t know, the first crusade started with the massacre of the Jewish community in Wurms, Germany. I am pretty sure that there’s other stuff we could assign to this horrible day, but those three should suffice. Three weeks later Elul arrives, the month of S’lichot, reflection, preparation for the Yamim Nora’im, the Days of Awe.
August is the month of transition. From mourning to joy, summer fun to fall reflection. When Tisha b’av arrives, my internal jewish clock says “hey – only a few weeks until Yontif.” And every year I ask myself, why does Isaiah get to run the table? Just so you know – I am a haftorah guy. I love them – think of Jonah getting spit out of the whale and walking straight into Nineveh stinking to high heaven proclaiming the word of God as he shambled across that great city. He walked for three days and he was so good, they all paid attention and changed their ways!!! These were the original street preachers, pouring forth their vision to all who would listen. The prose and poetry, the trope, the message. Maybe it was growing up with a knock your socks off sermonizing rabbi, maybe it was becoming Jonah one day each year, pretending to walk from one end of Nineveh to the other on Yom Kippur afternoon, maybe it was being Isaiah on Yom Kippur morning. We don’t really do Haftorot in Reform Judaism, so you might not know this; from Tisha b’av to Rosh Hashanah, Isaiah is the man. The Second Isaiah…the one who spoke to the remnants of Israel as they saw their lives destroyed and were led off to Babylon. These are the “Haftorot of Consolation” – and the message is simple – life is hard now, things really don’t look so good, but if you walk in god’s path, follow his way, do what you know is right, life will be really good in the future. My Grandpa would look at me, wag his finger and say “Be a Mensch!” Jonah walked from one end of Nineveh to the other, proclaiming the path of God. In other words, be a “DO-er!”
Walking is active…if you are walking you are “doing” in space and time, affecting the world around you, and if you are walking the path of God, you are making a positive impact on that world. My hope for Bet Chaverim as we get closer to Rosh Hashanah is that we become a “community of doers.” There’s a lot going on in the next few months and I invite all of you to join “The House of Friends” in “Doing.” For you outdoor types, the Naches Loop Trail Hike is August 1st and our Lakewold Gardens Tour is August 11th. Peter Smith and I are looking for Shofar Blowers to join the “Rock-Shofarians” for Yontif and September is shaping to be a busy month in the Sanctuary. If you like to sing, join the Choir (they are really good). We are planning a 30th Anniversary celebration for Bet Chaverim sometime in the spring, the Chanukah party needs Latke Mayvens and we will be firing up the First Annual Bet Chaverim Kugel Cook-Off after Tu B’Shevat. Dig out those old family recipes and get ready – next to Latkes, Teiglach and Brisket, Kugel is just about the best thing you can either make or eat!
A Community of Doers…
If I am not for myself, who will be for me? – Do stuff for us, for Bet Chaverim…join a committee, help with the Oneg after services, join in a social activity, sign up to host an Oneg (talk to Chris Bogart about that), be an ambassador for Bet Chaverim on the holidays as a greeter during Yontif or anything else that fires up the embers inside you. The best thing about Bet Chaverim for me is that we love and care for each other and I invite you to be a bigger part of that.
But if I am only for myself, what am i? Do stuff for others – join the caring committee and help launch our new idea, Miriam’s Well. Jump in to collect stuff for the Federal Way Day Center. Perhaps you live near someone who needs a ride to Erev Shabbat services or a social event – pick them up and come together! Bring your ideas for Repairing the World, Tikkun Olam, and excite us in your passion.
And if not now, when? Indeed…the new year is almost upon us…what better time to start walking, start doing, start bringing your Torah to join with Bet Chaverim. I am looking forward to hearing from all of you and welcoming you to our Community of Doers. As always, my email address is firstname.lastname@example.org