Wednesday, October 19, 2011

Creating Jewish memories this Simchat Torah

There's always a lot of energy at B'nai Israel on erev Simchat Torah, which we celebrate this evening at 5.30p.m.  Our Junior choir sings and our Temple Band plays.  It makes for a special service with young and older brought together.

This year we have an additional special component, bringing in some of the youngest people in our community, and their families.  For over a year now, Rabbi Nicole Wilson-Spiro has led a weekly Young Families Chavurah on Shabbat morning.  Breakfast, yoga, music and prayer, stories, crafts, snack and play time - the chavurah offers a rich morning of Shabbat celebration for pre-school aged children. And it offers a great place for parents to meet each other and create new friendships in the Jewish community.

The chavurah has evolved and has generated innovative ideas and ways of celebrating Jewish life that are often out of the box.  A summertime Havdalah gathering included an Earthwalk at a local nature reserve, topped off with making smores around a campfire.  Apple picking before Rosh Hashanah at one of our local (and congregant-owned!) farms, Silverman's, has been a big hit two years in a row.  In a couple of weeks, when we read the story of Noah, a special convoy of animals from our local Beardsley Zoo are coming to visit the children at the chavurah on Shabbat morning at our Temple.

This Simchat Torah, the creativity and innovation that the chavurah has brought to B'nai Israel will be front and center of our Bima at the start of the service.  After a year of the cuddly torahs that our kids march around the chapel with every Shabbat coming in and out of a large cardboard box, the Young Families Chavurah will be dedicating their very own Ark, especially designed to house these baby torah scrolls.  Sponsored by one of the families, designed by a local artist, and including the artistic contributions of many of the children who attend regularly, this is a very exciting project for our youngest children to see in its completion.
Our services are starting earlier than usual (6pm, after flagmaking at 5.30pm) so that our youngest children can enjoy them.  They'll get to experience the music, see older children that they look up to singing and leading the prayers, and get to dance with their Torah scrolls when we take out the rest of the Sifrei Torah from our sanctuary Ark.  And then, in a tradition that many congregations are now sharing, they'll get to see an entire scroll unwrapped around the room.

For children who are 2, 3 or 4 years old, tonight is going to be an exciting night that I don't think they'll easily forget - creating a Jewish memory that is special and something that I think they will want to experience again next year.  Their parents too!

But Simchat Torah is not just for kids! For the rest of us for whom this isn't so new, imagine coming to celebrate Simchat Torah tonight and trying to see and feel the experience as if through the eye's of one of these children.  What Zen Buddhists would call 'Beginner's Mind.'  Imagine the renewed joy we would bring to responding to the music; when we felt our toes tapping, we would get up and dance because we don't have any layers of self-consciousness that have built up over decades, blocking our access to that joy and movement.  We would sing and clap, because we were moved to do so and we hadn't built up years of inhibitions about whether our voices were good enough.  We would smile and laugh, because we would find the smiles ad laughs of the children around us infectious.
Now stop imagining.  If you are local, come and join us for Simchat Torah this evening!  And if you are reading from further afield, I hope you have a community close to where you live - check their websites or give them a call, and celebrate like its 5772!  We all deserve new opportunities in a new year to make meaningful Jewish memories.
Rabbi Rachel Gurevitz

Friday, October 7, 2011

Wishing you Well over the Fast

May you delve deeply into the pages of your life, seeking understanding, love and compassion.
May you release yourself from the ink smudges, strike-outs, poor choices and long-winded yet aimless passages of past chapters.
May you weave deep and meaningful connections with others into the story you tell of your own life.
May you recommit to writing all that is essential and significant in your Book of Life.

Wishing you well over the Fast,
Rabbi Rachel Gurevitz