23 Jan 2018

Tuesday Morning Torah – January 23, 2018

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Sharing Sacred Space
Last week I was had one of those accidentally profound and sacred moments that happen in the life of a synagogue rabbi. It was a Wednesday night and I had just finished teaching some of our Hebrew High students. As happens often, we finished in time to head into our evening service to help make a minyan for those saying Kaddish. With thanks to our recent Whatsapp minyan group (email me if you would like to join), and a few who had brought friends to support them as they recited Mourner’s Kaddish for a loved one — the room was packed with standing room only.  But it was not the amount of people that caught my attention as much as the quality of what happened in the short 25 minutes that we were all together.


I watched as a woman who had lost her father just days before, himself a religious Christian, joined with her community to say Mourner’s Kaddish using the language of her Jewish faith that she had adopted long ago. Surrounded by friends and fellow congregants who she had never met — she and her husband were able to share memories of her father — of his humor, his compassion, and his interest in his daughter’s Jewish faith.  I listened as two other members, who happened to have yahrzeits that night, shared memories of their fathers’, of their life’s accomplishments, and of those large and small ways in which they were both still missed so many years later. And I watched with a profound sense of emotion as one of our members stood to say Kaddish on the first-year anniversary of her husband’s death. Taken much too soon, the deceased was remembered by immediate family, extended family, and the congregants in the room who knew and loved him. What’s more, the memorial prayer was not recited by me, but by a fellow congregant who had sat by this mourner every morning for the past year to offer her a shoulder on which to lean and cry. Breaking through the Hebrew of the memorial prayer word by word, with a caring quiver in her voice, this fellow congregant offered a beautiful prayer in memory of her friend’s late husband. It was a reminder that she was, and would continue to be, here for her friend as she continued the next phase in the life-long journey of recovering from loss. As the memorial prayer ended, it was the mourner’s turn to speak. Through tears, she shared what this minyan has meant to her.  She described the power of regularly hearing shared memories of loved ones who have passed away, saying:


“As I listen to everyone’s stories of their family members after the El Male Rachamim is chanted, I realized we can only capture a glimpse of the person being spoken of.  The true story is experienced by the look in the eyes and the emotions expressed by the story teller.”


She  continued to speak lovingly about her own religious practice of coming to minyan -which started as a way to honor her husband, but ended as a journey that brought her purpose much comfort over this first difficult year of loss. She committed to paying it forward now that she too was a “minyanaire.” 


As I left the room that night I was filled with immense pride and gratitude for what happened in those few sacred moments. For what I encountered was the very reason that minyans exist; indeed the reasons that synagogues exist. We are a family of families. We are a place that focuses on relationships and on empowering others to take hold of their Judaism. We are a place that stresses the importance of being there for one another in times of joy and times of struggle. All of this was on display last week on what began as an ordinary Wednesday night and ended as an extraordinary sacred event. 
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