“In These Times”

Av / Elul 5777

VOL. 50 NO. 10


Aliza Goland, Executive Director Marcy Goldberg, Director of Education Donna Becker, ECC Director

Sandy Greenstein, President Alan Greenbaum, Rabbi Emeritus

Andrew Straus, Rabbi David Shukiar, Cantor

From the Rabbi’s Desk

Jews and Words

I am in the midst of reading a beautiful little book, “Jews and Words,” by Amos Oz and his daughter Fania Oz-Salzberger. Oz is one of Israel’s leading writers and thinkers; his daughter, Oz- Salzberger, is a writer and historian on the faculty of the University of Haifa. This book struggles with an eternal question: What makes us Jews? Is it genetics, is it belief, is it ethics? Their answer is that it is a commitment to words: to reading, studying, and debating words. Words matter to us. As the authors note, “verbs signifying “speak,” “say” or “talk” appear more than 6,000 times in the Hebrew Bible, whereas the verbs “make” or “do” show up fewer than 2,000 times.” The book picks up on a truism of the Jewish community. We are the people of the book. But what Oz and Oz-Salzberger mean is that words are of utmost importance to us. They beautifully write that this is because of our unique history. “For thousands of years, we Jews had nothing but books. We had no lands, we had no holy sites, we had no magnificent architecture, we had no heroes. We had books, we had texts, and those texts were always discussed around the family table. They became part of the family life, and they traveled from one generation to the next — not unchanged, not unchallenged, but reinterpreted in each generation and reread by each generation.” These challenges and conversations lead us to be a people of arguments and disagreement. We all know the old adage “two Jews, three opinions,” but as the authors write, “ It’s difficult to find one Jew who agrees with himself or herself on something, because everyone has a divided mind and soul, everyone is ambivalent. So our civilization is a civilization of dispute, of disagreement and of argument.” It is this commitment to words and discussion, and yes, even disagreements, that helped make us into the people we are.

Throughout the centuries, we have learned that learning is of paramount importance. They can take your land, they can take your house, they can even take your money, but when all of that is gone and you flee, you take your brain and your learning with you. And as you are fleeing, or settling in your new home, it was to our people’s words (book) that you turn for guidance on how to survive and thrive in this new situation. Today we Jews are in a new situation. 21st Century America gives Jews unique opportunities and unique challenges. But as Oz suggests, “We are trying to seduce people… to this wonderful heritage, and we are trying to emphasize that you don’t have to be religious and you don’t even have to be Jewish in order to be attracted to this legacy.” That is why TAE is in the process of writing our very own Torah; but it is not enough just to write a letter in Torah, I want to challenge each of us to engage in the longest ongoing discussion in history – we Jews and our words. Pick up a Jewish book, read and discuss with your friends and family. Have a dinner table conversation about a Jewish topic or a current event and let Jewish values influence your conversation. When I was a kid there was a public service announcement that said, “reading is fundamental.” I would suggest reading Jewish texts is fundamental to being a Jew. During this coming year, I encourage each of us to recommit ourselves to studying and learning Jewish words. Over the next few months, you will see a variety of adult engagement opportunities. I encourage you to engage with each other and engage with your, with OUR, words. L’shalom, Rabbi Andrew Straus

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