The Art of Building Community - Yizkor - 5777

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As you look around the room you will see Jews of all ages and from all walks of life, Jews with different backgrounds and nationalities and levels of observance.  We have all joined together, we have prayed together, with one united voice: “Shema Yisroel, Hashem Elokainu Hashem Echod.” “Hear O Israel, G-d our G-d, G-d is One.” We have testified not only to the oneness of G-d, but also to the oneness of the Jewish people.  And for this, it is most appropriate to say Shehecheyanu.

This notion of Jewish unity is what I want to speak about today: that, and the function of a synagogue, which brings the Jewish community together and fosters unity.

Our Musaf service beautifully tells the story of how on Yom Kippur, the High Priest would enter the Holy of Holies in the Temple. The most important item in that sacred space was the Ark, which contained the Tablets on which G-d had engraved the Ten Commandments (On everything else in the world it says, “Made in China.” On the tablets it said made in Heaven). G-d had instructed Moses to build Cherubim — two golden figures – above the Ark. The Torah describes their design in great detail.

Here, in just three sentences, is the blueprint for Jewish unity, which the desert Sanctuary, the first shul, the first synagogue was to convey to the people. Using the precise description of the Cherubim as its backdrop, this speech charts the path towards achieving Jewish unity. This lesson is brought to life with stories, engaging
anecdotes, jokes and teachings, including:

  • The story told be the Rebbe (link included) about caring for others
  • A linguistic oddity in the Torah that sheds light on how to achieve peace
  • The humorous tale of the vain girl and her grumpy uncle
  • The moving scene at a Seder in Buchenwald
  • A beautiful message in the comment of Rabbi Aryeh Levin to a non-religious Israeli
  • The science behind your first language
  • The moving tale of the young boy who inspired a community

The task of a shul, and of prayer, is to help us outgrow our self-centeredness. Judaism directs us to think about how we can make life better for others. When Judaism has fractured into different denominations and segments, like islands with few bridges between them, we are apt to turn our faces toward those whom we regard as “good Jews.” So our text emphasizes that even though we are far removed from our fellow Jews, even though they are on the other side of the Jewish spectrum — we must still look upon them as brothers and sisters.

Yes, we have our differences. Let’s be honest, we are not always going to agree with each other. But we don’t have to agree with each other. We have to care about each other. We must learn to sing together.

That is how we should turn to one another. Don’t look for what someone may be doing wrong. Look for what they are doing right, find their mitzvah, and love them. Tell them how special they are, and how much the Jewish people need them. That is how we build a loving Jewish community.

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