One of my favorite Yiddish expressions is “Mitten d’rinen!” roughly translated as “In the middle of everything!” Two examples:
You finally settle down in the bathtub after a long arduous day and the doorbell rings! “Mitten d’rinen!”
It is some long-lost relative who happens to drop in unexpectedly; or you are on an important business call and a friend
beeps in on your cell phone who just has to ask you one question. “Mitten d’rinen!” Not now!
I tend to think of the end of February as a “Mitten d’rinen!” time of the year. Winter is not quite over, and Spring is just a few weeks away.
No mistake that Groundhog Day takes place in the first week of this month. It is a lovely tradition that is steeped in silliness and in anticipation of the end of one season giving way to the next.
This year’s turn of the season adds another and more painful aspect beyond the chilling effects of winter which will hopefully abate.
The pandemic is still with us, painfully with us! We all know the statistics for each day brings a shocking review of death and illness. The vaccines are finally here
as are other measures that if followed will minimize harm. It is human nature to practice denial. Some think they are indestructible and have some special
immunity from this plague. Some religious leaders in defiance have done what they could to ignore the proscriptions and prescriptions. One woman, a devout Christian,
was questioned why she was gathering at church service with hundreds of others. She cheerfully insisted: “I am bathed in the blood of Christ” which somehow offered her immunity.
Such foolishness is not limited to Christian devotees as many of our traditional brethren have also gathered for huge celebrations. In all instances, illness and death follow.
I am as anxious as anyone to return to our sanctuary filled with members. It is still not safe! We remain virtual! All of us are filled with an anxiety (or should be) about how diligent we need to be.
Many of my rabbinical colleagues often face pressure to allow services to resume in the temple. There is a wide range of responses to life cycle events. I have elected at this perilous time
to officiate at our cemetery sadly for funerals and unveilings, practicing distancing and mask wearing. Many of my colleagues will only officiate virtually. I respect their choice. Home visits
are out of the question for many. I have continued at holiday time to visit members with some trepidation. Hospital visits are not possible now. It is ironic that the holiday of masks is upon us, Purim!
Beyond the comedy of the normal celebrations is a subtext about the threat to Jewish life. It is for the foreseeable future Purim every day. I wish it were otherwise. In Hebrew the word for
patience is Savlanut. It is related to Hebrew root Samech Bet Lamed – S B L meaning toleration or suffering. There is an old equivalent in English. In a scene from the
film Dr. Zhivago, Yuri’s half-brother Yefgraf says, “He suffered me to buy him a new suit of clothes!” (The book is better by the way!)
I wish one and all Savlanut, patience at this time and not suffering. Purim and joy is if not around the corner – it is in view!
Rabbi Yossi Liebowitz D.D.
Until further notice, services will be at 6:00 via Facebook Live on the Congregation B’nai Israel Facebook page.
If you cannot make the “live” service, it will be available to watch any time at your convenience. Click here for the link to the Temple’s Face- book page:
Simply go to the page at 6:00 and click on the live video to view.
Saturday morning Torah studies will be held via Skype at 10:00 am. Ask to join by becoming a contact by looking up Yossi Liebowitz on Skype.
He will include you as a contact.
I subscribe widely to magazines. Reflective of my eclectic tastes are included science magazines on astronomy. Recent technological advances have made the creation of powerful earth-bound telescopes even more impressive. How far we have come since Galileo! Greatly impressed by our new marvels would he be, but quite perplexed as infrared means of gazing into the hitherto obscure heavens were unanticipated in his day. As we enter the year 2021, we are bid to take deeper looks at a variety of concerns; safety in a pandemic time, responsible use of resources and our envi- ronment, and endeavors to live in a just society, racially and economically. I would hasten to add the psychological challenge of overcoming the divisiveness that characterizes our social discourse. What kind of non-technological apparatus can we use to mitigate against what one social commentator called the “Argument Culture?” The short form of this interrogative is; how can we agree to disagree?
One of the intellectual stars of our Jewish community is the feminist Susannah Heschel, daughter of Abraham Joshua Heschel, Holocaust refugee, Rabbi, and civil rights activist. When she recently posted a tribute to her late father by African American teacher Cornell West, there was considerable blowback. His tribute included a critique of Israel’s treatment of Palestinians and thus, according to a few, merited a dismissal of all he had written. Dr. Heschel defended the tribute even as she took issue with that aspect of Cornell West’s criticism. She was not willing to jettison all he said because of the one aspect that was off putting. What one might glibly call “throwing the baby out with the bathwater!” To be sure there are men and women who assert some singular position that merits total dismissal. But of late such tendencies have become contagious. From the left and from the right so called Cancel Culture has taken hold. People take one snapshot of a person’s view on some matter and consider it to be the movie of that person’s life. This has further practical consequences to the point that there is banning of men and women from colleges and other public speaking opportunities.
From time-to-time I like having a spirited interchange even thought I prefer a more sober engagement of seeking common ground. But the spiritual path bids me, indeed all of us, to look beyond the one or two disagreements over politics, morality, etc. There are those in my community whose views are diametrically opposed to mine, sometimes to the point of my feeling the need to get “hot under the collar!” A Christian minister whom I admire was once in contention with a member of his flock. Using his Christian language, he said to him: “We don’t have to like each other but we are bid to act lovingly!” Sometimes easier said than done! But the attempt is always worthy!
Our minds, nay our hearts, are like Telescopes. As they filter out the obscurities in the heavens so that a clearer light can come through, so we earthbound mortals must practice a kind of filtration or amnesia in encountering others.
I have missed many of you as we struggle in this pandemic time. In the cold of winter, we have braved drive-in dinners so that we can safely take a glimpse of one another, even as hi tech zoom services and study gatherings continue. In that non-pandemic times, I have yearned for anonymity in public, such as in the grocery store. I found it lovely though and surprising when this week a long time and special member of our temple spotted me so that we were able to connect. In the words of Joni Mitchell – “You don’t know what you’ve got till it’s gone!”
Here is to a wonderful healing 2021! Next year in the sanctuary!
Yossi Liebowitz, Rabbi
Rabbi Liebowitz will be speaking at the Universalist Unitarian Church this weekend. The broadcast is scheduled on Christmas weekend on the 27th. The topic is “My Son the Atheist, Thank God!”
Tentative time for the broadcast is 11:00 a.m.