Yom Kippur 5778
Following our services on Rosh Hashanah, nine people said they liked my speech, and one person said it was too long. Being a scientist, I wanted to take an empirical approach in preparing my remarks for today, so I decided to shorten it by 10%.
For those of you who don’t know me, I am Rob Ore, President of Sinai Temple, and I’d like to welcome you all on behalf of the Sinai Board of Trustees to our special service today in honor of Yom Kippur, the holiest day in the Jewish calendar. Let me begin by thanking our many participants in the services this morning and throughout the day. Rabbi Alan, thank you for your thoughtful sermon; Jennifer Seeger, our guest Cantor, thank you for leading us in song; Larisa Chasanov, our pianist and Larry Adelston, our guitarist; Martha Alwes, our Music Director; all those who have read and will read later today; all those who have helped set up the sanctuary for the service; those who have ushered; and those who have prepared the break-the-fast we’ll enjoy later today. We appreciate everyone.
I spoke last week of how we draw lines in our life between ourselves and others, and I suggested an experiment we could all participate in this week. Briefly, when we encounter others in our daily life, how are we viewing them? Are we judging them based on how they don’t measure up to the way we would like them to be? Are we focusing on how they differ from our image of them? What if we could turn that around and look for things we have in common instead? That was the simple experiment.
If you performed this experiment yourself, how did it turn out? What did you learn? I learned how quickly I judge people based on appearance, and how important appearances are to me. Even more, I noticed how much easier it is to see what I don’t like about the person, how quickly I close my circle to exclude them, if I don’t agree with what they say or how they act.
I tried looking a little deeper to discover just one thing the other person embodies that I respect. It’s not hard to find something. Did you know that we humans share 60% of the DNA of the common fruit fly, 80% of the DNA of a cow, and 98.4% of the DNA of a chimpanzee? And, of course, the difference in DNA between any two people is very small indeed. So, biologically, we’re almost identical. Why do the other differences seem so important to us that they obscure the considerable number of things we have in common?
So, assuming I can find something about the other person I respect, the hard work is bringing that respect to the front, when what I really want to do is criticize them. Criticism feels good in the moment, but it doesn’t do us or the other person any good in the long run. In fact, it can do considerable harm. Look at what is playing out on the world stage if you have any doubts about the dangers of criticism.
What I’d like to talk about today is thresholds. We as people create many thresholds in our lives. You might call them our comfort levels. They help us figure out what we’re comfortable with in our interactions with other people and the world. In simple terms, what are we able to tolerate before we are moved to act?
I know this has been a difficult year for many of us, because of what is happening in our country and the world. What tips the scale for us? When do we say enough is enough? And how do we decide what action on our part is appropriate? Everybody has his or her own threshold and comfort level. And these thresholds are dynamic: They change with time and experience.
For the Temple, what is your threshold? What could you live without? If you see a need in our community, what does it take for you to get involved? Our community at Sinai Temple depends on each of us pulling together to make the whole greater than the sum of its parts. Whether that means a financial commitment and/or a commitment of time and energy, the Temple needs you.
Last year, we came together on a Sunday afternoon as a group to brainstorm a vision of how our physical space might be improved. In response to your suggestions and the realities of our needs for the future, we selected Ratio Design Associates, a local firm of architects, to help us visualize the possibilities. The initial result is depicted in the display showing in the lobby. This display is intended to solicit further comment. Take a moment to look at the slide show and let us know your feelings. Whatever design ends up being chosen by the community, it will require a financial commitment on the part of our membership above and beyond our annual dues. The amount we need to raise will depend on the scale of the project. We hope to present a capital campaign to the congregation in the coming year to help realize this dream and ensure that Sinai Temple will continue to thrive and support the needs of our children and grandchildren well into the future. Our current building has been in use for about 45 years. What will it take for it to be here for another 45 years?
As for time and energy, we need everyone’s help to make this the community it deserves to be. I urge you to get involved. I would love to talk with you individually about ways you can be a part of our community effort. You may not believe this, but giving your time and energy to the Temple can actually energize you further! Service can be inspiring and broadening. Give yourself the chance to experience it!
When I agreed to be Vice President two years ago, knowing that I would be standing before you here today as President of the Temple, looking forward to at least four more years of service on the Board stretching out before me, I entertained some doubt as to my sanity. I don’t anymore. The surprise of it all is that I’m beginning not only to settle into my new role but even to enjoy it. Often it is the things we dread the most that end up giving us the greatest satisfaction. While I am still learning how to do this job (and I will be all the way up to May 31, 2019, when I turn over the gavel to Jake Sosnoff), I am already feeling the benefit of taking it on. My life is richer for the experience.
I encourage you to take yourself out of your comfort zone. Who, at the end of their life, ever says, “Boy, I wish I had spent more time sleeping and not been so busy!” Nobody! What brings joy in life is getting involved, and the Temple affords many opportunities of doing so.
As a matter of fact, you can start tomorrow! We’ll be putting together, under the direction of Tony Soskin, our Temple sukkah just north of the Davis Chapel. Come help us begin the next phase of our holiday season! I mentioned some other holiday events coming up in the next week or two in my article in the monthly newsletter coming out this week. I hope you can join us for them as well!
I’ll leave you with a bit of mysticism from the numerological art of gematria. This is year 5778 in the Hebrew calendar. This turns out to be an interesting number, equal to the product of 18 (chai, or Life) and 321. Now, the number 321 can mean many things in gematria. Since 321 = 40 + 200 + 80 + 1, one possible combination is Marpei, from mem, resh, pei and aleph, meaning “healing or refreshing of the body and mind.” So, taking this altogether, may this New Year, 5778, bring us a healing and refreshing of our life!
I wish you all Shana Tova and Tzom Qal, a happy New Year and an Easy but Meaningful Fast. And, of course, Shabbat Shalom!