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Rabbi's Message


We have all heard of a “silver lining.” Beth Hillel’s current crisis of aging and cracking trusses above our sanctuary ceiling, causing us to temporarily vacate our beautiful worship space, may seem like a black cloud hanging over the Temple. But like most black clouds, this one has at least one proverbial “silver lining.” Maybe we’ll call it an unexpected “brilliant sunset” rather than a silver lining.

One of our members snapped this photo during Shabbat services in our makeshift auditorium worship space shortly after we began to meet in there. Who knew that we could watch the sky change from pink, to orange and purple as we welcomed in Shabbat? In the sanctuary, we have lovely stained glass windows, but we can’t see outside.  Our forced exodus from the sanctuary gave us the gift of welcoming Shabbat in living color. Many have also commented on watching the trees in the backyard during services this autumn, as they changed from green to red and yellow.  In each and every worship service, we thank God for light and darkness and the miracles of creation. Now, for a limited time, we can look out on that world as we thank God for the gifts of nature.

Of course, these blessings occurred because of a serious and somewhat alarming problem that has compromised the structure of our historic building. Just one year after we completed such an impressive and beautiful renovation, here we are unexpectedly facing further renovation and repair and needing to raise funds again. As I write, the leadership of the congregation is actively working on a plan forward. In an old building like ours, there will always be things we need to fix and restore. This is part and parcel of the privilege of being the stewards of a unique landmark that we have inherited from those who came before us. While sometimes that privilege can seem more like a burden, cultivating an attitude of pride in being part of the generations who have been entrusted with the maintenance of this special synagogue is something we can all seek to achieve.

In the Mishnah, we find the proverb: “Do not look at the flask, but at what it contains; a new flask may be full of old wine, and an old flask may not even contain new wine.” (Pirke Avot 4:27) On the surface, this proverb seems to be the equivalent of the well-known statement: “Don’t judge a book by it’s cover.” But it is deeper than that. It is most likely intended to be a metaphor about how we deal with other people, taking the time and having the sensitivity to get to understand what those we encounter are really all about instead of viewing them in a “transactional” way as in: “What do I get out of this relationship?”  

If we apply this Jewish proverb to our current building situation, I think we can find another message: It is not the building that makes our congregation what it is. It is the people inside and the relationships we form within it. Even in a state of disarray, as we experienced during the last renovation, or while forced to pray and learn in less than optimal spaces, as we are doing now,  our focus is on the spiritual life we are growing, the Jewish learning we are achieving, and the community we are building. It is not the “flask” but what it contains that is the essence of who we are.

Our congregation will weather this storm, and maybe the adversity we are now experiencing will even make us stronger as we join together in the sacred work of building a Jewish community and a Jewish future for ourselves and the generations that come after us.

Rabbi Dena A. Feingold

Sun, January 26 2020 29 Tevet 5780