APRIL 7, 2006
Mah tovu ohalecha- How Goodly are your Tents O Jacob, your dwelling places O Israel! I look out tonight and bear witness to the power of renewal. Since August 29 we have been immersed in Refuat Haguf, physical healing and Refuat Hanefesh- spiritual healing of our congregation.
After 3 feet of water turned our sanctuary into a well, and inches of water spread throughout the building, countless individuals have worked non-stop to bring us back physically, to restore our prayer space, revive our learning centers, re-activate our business systems. Those who have participated in tonight’s service deserve particular attention, as I have mentioned earlier. I have maintained for years that as a rabbi, I have been blessed with outstanding lay leadership. In the face of an enormous crisis, Miriam Latter, her officers and board rose magnificently to the occasion. She entered office with her agenda of spirituality and caring, to have it replaced by search and rescue. I know that as we start looking to next year, spirituality and caring will take on a whole new dimension.
Special mention must be made about the outpouring of support that has come to us from the entire Jewish community. The role of our organized Reform movement through the URJ has been nothing short of fantastic, providing us with both resources and expertise to navigate through the morass. Through Katrina Relief and the SOS Fund combined with our local Jewish Endowment Foundation, we have received hundreds of thousands of dollars to meet many of our expenses. In addition to that we received $125,000 from the American Jewish Committee to rebuild our sanctuary and thousands more from numerous synagogues and individuals from across America. Though no funds have yet been directly forthcoming from the Federation movement, we are anticipating that as well. All of this has enabled us to repair our building, assist our members and prepare for the future. It has been both humbling and gratifying. Refuat Haguf- the physical recovery and healing of our building is almost complete and we could not be more delighted.
Refuat Hanefesh, the healing of our spirit takes longer, but we are on our way. Looking out each week and seeing so many returnees lifts us as we rebuild our congregational family. Each new face at Shabbat services adds to our strength; watching the children as they walk into the building on Sunday; sitting down with our Zekenim our elders for lunch and friendship; realizing there are added members deliberating around our board tables; sharing with adults gathered in study; processing all those walking into the building to buy scrip and saying hello; meeting with Nursery School children on Friday mornings and B’nai Mitzvah students during the week culminating in their leading worship; These are the real signs of healing. The doors are open and it is invigorating to return to business as usual.
Perhaps it is not quite as usual. We are cognizant of those of our friends and family who have not returned yet or may not return at all. For those who are here and have returned home, we are fully aware that home is not the same. Many if not most of you are not living in the same conditions as you were on August 27. Homes have been damaged and destroyed. Businesses and jobs have been ruined, disrupted and diminished. All of us continue to suffer financially, emotionally and spiritually and that will not change over night.
Know that your synagogue is here to help. Coming at the end of this month and throughout May, we will be offering four different support groups, one for those struggling with family issues- helping their children and grandchildren to cope and/or dealing with multiple generations under one roof; another group specifically for business people to receive professional business coaching; a third designed for those who feel as if they are too old to deal with all of this, but have to anyway; and a fourth for all those just feeling the stress, anxiety and worry of our Post Katrina life. All four groups will be led by qualified professionals. I hope you will take advantage of these opportunities.
On a more delicate subject, I and the entire congregational leadership are fully aware that many are suffering financially. Income has been lost, or even if it has not, all sorts of expenses have increased. I have received thousands of dollars, as well as gift cards for a variety of stores to share with my members. Please don’t feel as though this is intended for someone else. Recognizing that one is in need and accepting assistance is a positive act of healing.
On this Shabbat we officially rededicate ourselves to the mission that this congregation has fulfilled for 156 years to be the spiritual home for our members, as always, committed to reaching out to God, studying Torah and embracing Am Yisrael- the Jewish people.
I look out tonight and envision beyond, enabling me to say that which the prophet of old pronounced as he scanned the Israelite encampment- Mah Tovu Ohalecha Yaakov: How goodly are your tents O Jacob, your dwelling place O Israel. So, may it be.