By Steve Gordon, Temple President
“Faith,” is certainly not an unusual title for an article in a house of worship’s monthly bulletin. My use of the word, however, has nothing to do with religious observance. The “faith” that I’m thinking of has more to do with needing the patience necessary while we wait for some normalcy to return to our world.
As I sit to write this article, I’m coming off the joyous occasion of Rabbi Fox’s first Shabbat with us. That included Friday night services, Saturday night Havdalah, both of which I attended, as well as Torah Study and services on Saturday morning. I also thoroughly enjoyed being part of the drive by caravan in front of the Temple on Friday afternoon welcoming Rabbi Fox to our community. Prior to the caravan, I chose to enter the building (with my mask), for the first time in nearly four months.
The wave of emotion I felt as I sat in an empty sanctuary was completely unexpected. This was a place where all of us would gather, pray, and practice our own observances, in whatever form that took. I also wandered through the empty halls of a building that is the centerpiece of our congregational community; the place where we catch up with old friends, share a nosh at an oneg, and wrap ourselves in the culture of our people. For the last four months, we have been deprived of the full enrichment our synagogue has to offer. Walking through the building that afternoon brought all of that back to me.
The technology of Zoom and other virtual means of connection are all wonderful. Much has been written, and accurately so, of the effort our Senior Staff have put in to provide our congregation with as much as they possibly can during this shutdown. They have been beyond fantastic. But let’s be honest here… it’s just not the same. Attending services and other activities through Zoom is a great way to stay connected, but it’s nowhere near the same as chanting melodies with friends while sharing a pew.
The phrase “new normal” has been used quite a bit. For me, I prefer the phrase “temporary new normal.” Being in our current situation is beyond our control. We also have no idea of when we will be able to return to the “regular normal.” But despite our not being able to exist as we once did, nor as we would like, we are still congregants of Temple Israel. Our building still sits on the corner of 3rd and Loma, but more importantly, the soul within our building is bursting through the walls just waiting for our return, whenever that may be.
Given our inability to gather, and the very scary environment we are living with, it might seem strange that the next thing I want to tell you is how excited I am. The excitement I’m referring to is the arrival of our new spiritual leader, Rabbi Fox. The sheer joy and effervescence he is displaying with every interaction, is a delight for all of us. It has picked me up and reminded me of why I love Temple Israel so much. We are on hold, to be sure. But deep in my heart, I know that hold button will not stay pressed forever. And I cannot wait for the flow of beauty when it is released.
In the meantime, please remember that we all still have work to do. That work includes making good decisions so as to remain safe and healthy, embracing the blessings in our lives, and staying engaged with our beloved temple. I fully acknowledge that it isn’t easy. But it’s important. Very important.
During my remarks on Rosh HaShanah last year, I said the following:
“Five years ago, we changed our dues structure to a voluntary membership commitment. At the time, there was concern that our commitments would decrease. But that’s not what happened. I am very proud to report that during the last five years, our commitments have increased… I just used the word proud. I am proud. I’m proud to be part of an organization that is giving its membership what it wants and what it needs. And I’m also proud to be part of a membership that understands the importance, the absolute necessity, of supporting its organization. Even now, during this time of transition and uncertainty, people are doing what they can. Simply put, we cannot sustain this model unless people do what they can, at whatever level that may be. And you are doing so. Thank you for that.”
My intention here is to remind you of the temple we are, not the temple we are forced to be during this crisis. It is currently the season of membership renewal. For those of you who have already sent in your paperwork, thank you for doing so. If you have not, I ask you to consider renewing at the same or even a higher level than last year (I suspect that even if you have returned your materials and would like to increase your membership commitment, that can be arranged.)
I started this article off with the words faith and patience. I now want to use the word excitement. With Rabbi Fox now among us, the joy and excitement (even through Zoom) is palpable. Even though I felt pangs of loss while I was sitting alone in the sanctuary thinking about what we currently don’t have, that sadness quickly dissipated as I witnessed the forty or fifty cars drive by the temple to say hello to Rabbi Fox and his family.Are we living through and enduring a “new normal?” Yes, unfortunately we are. But that “new normal” is only a precursor to what the real normal is. And that real normal is going to be just as terrific as ever.It’s just going to take a little faith, patience, and commitment to get there.