Posted September 29, 2020
On Yom Kippur afternoon we read a section of the Torah known as the holiness code. This section, found in chapter 19 of Leviticus, is at the heart of the Torah and contains some of the most moving commandments within our tradition. We asked a few of our members to reflect upon one of these commandments. They did so virtually for our community just after we chanted from the Torah. We are grateful for their personal and moving insights which are shared in this video below as well as text:
Today I have chosen to speak about Leviticus Chapter 19 verse 1 through 4 which describes as follows:
The Eternal One spoke to Moses, saying: Speak to the whole community of Israel and say to them; you shall be holy, for I, your Eternal God, am holy.
Revere your mother and your father, each one of you, and keep My Shabbat;
I the Eternal am your God. Do not turn to idols, nor make yourselves molten gods; I the enteral am your God.
I rarely go to the beach, but I did this past Labor Day weekend
The weather was spectacular, the sun was high in the sky and bright, not a cloud to be seen, nor a drop of humidity felt.
A violent storm the night before left the water rough and frothy, waves crashing on the shoreline.
As I stared out into majesty of the Atlantic, I was suddenly distracted –
I saw a parent and child eagerly walk into the water up to the point where the waves began to peak!
Hand in hand, they jumped up each time the waves washed over them, again and again.
With my gaze affixed – I began to share in the joy they were clearly experiencing.
I was momentarily propelled back to my childhood, recalling the days when my mother Nettie, of blessed memory, and I would go to the beach at Coney Island.
She would say Lenny, let’s go in the water – with such joy! And I would take her hand and follow along.
We would walk into the icy water determined to get far enough to jump the waves. I would laugh with excitement as the waves kept crashing over us – our hands grasped tightly together - we would jump together as each wave headed toward us – never wanting it to end.
I am blessed to have had wonderful childhood memories filled with parental values that have sustained me throughout my life.
I had a role model of resiliency – whatever the adversity;
I was encouraged to be a leader and stand up for what is right;
I learned that nothing is more meaningful than inviting people to your home to share in a holiday meal and create a new tradition;
And so important, I was raised to have a strong sense of community and always think of others!
As I reflect on what it is to be holy – I am reminded that these virtues, taught to me by my parents, are the measures of holiness.
As I reflect on watching those two walk into the water –
I am reminded just how much comfort there is in the notion of our parent’s taking us by the hand physically or spiritually and giving us the much-needed guidance and support to navigate the rough waters of our time.
In Leviticus 19, God commands us to refrain from reaping to the very edges of our fields, leaving the crops that remain for the poor and the foreigner.
Some commandments are easy to follow. Some not so much. Taking our inspiration from Leviticus, every Thursday and Friday morning at daybreak, the Central Synagogue breakfast program fulfills this commandment. We strive to nourish New York’s hungriest—the working poor, the unemployed, the homeless and the mentally ill—with a filling breakfast and a takeaway lunch.
Anyone who has participated will tell you: this is a humbling experience. Along with a meal, we do our best to serve up a generous portion of respect and kindness. The interactions with our guests are not always easy. But we’re not in this to be thanked. We do it because it is right. That said, the rewards are without measure.
One unforgettable cold morning I handed Franklin, one of our “regulars”, a takeaway meal. Franklin is a senior citizen who often carries his few belongings with him in a shopping bag. I smiled and said, “Come back anytime.” Franklin returned my greeting with a simple, “Thank you for feeding me.” But as he walked away, he paused, turned around and met my gaze, “And thank you for seeing me.”
In our world, with the tremendous stress and anxiety that has become a daily experience, people have become protective and scared about the unpredictable future. Individual survival instincts cause us to put up walls and separate ourselves from others. This reality leads to the alienation of people in our lives and removes us from vital communities. In this challenging time, we must overcome these barriers.
In Kedoshim, Leviticus, chapter 19 verses 33 and 34, we are reminded, “When strangers live with you in your land, you must not oppress them. The strangers who live with you shall be to you like citizens, and you shall love them as yourself, for you were strangers in the land of Egypt.”
In early June, we welcomed 20 staff to one of our summer camps in Massachusetts. One of them, a doctoral piano student named Cadis, joined us from Illinois, though she is from Malaysia. When she arrived at Belvoir, she was nervous as she had never been to camp before and she did not know what to expect during this challenging time in our history. All of the staff members, along with my family, welcomed her. We worked together during weeks of pre-camp planning, following all COVID-19 protocols throughout the summer with the families that joined the Family Camp Program. Cadis enjoyed interacting with all of the families, teaching private piano lessons, performing with other staff members, accompanying musical theater classes, and being in a clean and safe environment for the summer. During the last campfire, each person shared their experience from the summer. When it was Cadis’ turn, she looked at everyone and said that she could never have imagined being in a place, during such a stressful and challenging time, where she would be so included and loved and that everyone in this community had become her family. She told us that she had not been home since December, but here, at Belvoir, she found her second home. This sense of community is what we are all about.
Our lives are uncertain right now, but helping each other and welcoming strangers into our community, will change all of us. Following the words of Leviticus we can create the community we all want to be part of. We can all make a difference.
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