Keeping Connected with Rabbi Perry
April 2022. Keeping Connected
In just a few week’s our congregation, along with Jewish communities around the world, will be celebrating Pesach. The spiritual and moral themes of Pesach have always been profoundly meaningful to me, but this year the messages of freedom, liberty and welcoming the stranger feel particularly resonant. Last week I participated in an on-line meeting hosted by the World Union for Progressive Judaism. Together with Reform rabbis from around the world, we listened to our liberal rabbinic colleagues from Ukraine, Russia, Belarus, Hungary, Poland, the Czech Republic and Slovakia. It was a powerful and humbling experience to hear their personal stories. These rabbis and their congregants are facing challenges few of us could ever imagine. Because of issues of security all of those participating in the call promised not to quote anyone directly, to share the speaker’s names or their current locations. I have been provided a summary of their stories and requests for help. In this brief note, I will try to highlight some of the important points and information.
Please reach out to me directly if you would like to get more involved.
L’shalom and Chag Pesach Sameach,
Rabbi Shoshana M. PerryMore
February 2022 Keeping Connected
As I sit to write this letter, we are all expecting another “bomb-cyclone” which seems to be the new dramatic terminology for a huge blizzard. By the time this newsletter arrives in your inbox we will all hopefully have fully dug out and have power. Also, for those of us who like football, we will now know who we will be watching on February 13th in the Superbowl!
During the High Holidays, I spoke about the spiritual and emotional power of having a sense of purpose. Since then I have tried to be more intentional about some of the choices I have made with my time. What activities could I participate in that would bring me a deeper sense of meaning, as well as knowing that in some small way I had made a difference in someone else’s life? Perhaps these ideas will spark your desire to get involved in a similar vein or motivate you to reflect on what new opportunities and goals you might pursue.More
January 2022 Keeping Connected
Next week will be the beginning of 2022. Personally, I am ready for a new year and I am grateful that as Jews we have Rosh Hashanah and the secular New Year. To have multiple times of year in which we are encouraged to make change and set a new course feels like a blessing. Inertia makes it hard to break from the ingrained patterns and beliefs that guide our daily lives and the ability to step back and focus in on what matters most to us and to review our sense of purpose, is an important and at times profound opportunity. I know that one can engage in this type of process at any time, but it does seem easier to have a time demarcation to formally say good-bye to the past and to embrace a new beginning. It also helps to know that your entire community is involved in the same process at the same time.More
December 2021 Keeping Connected
This week, as we have been celebrating Chanukah, I have been thinking a lot about the symbolism of light and the power of illumination. The Torah opens with God’s first act of creation. “God said, ‘Let there be light.’” God needed the light to separate light from darkness. God observed that this primordial light, this first act of illumination, was good. Later, in the Talmud, there is a debate about how to light the chanukiah. It is written in Tractate Shabbat 21b:5-7, “Beit Shammai say: On the first day one kindles eight lights and, from there on, gradually decreases the number of lights until, on the last day of Hanukkah, one kindles one light. And Beit Hillel say: On the first day one kindles one light, and from there on, gradually increases the number of lights until, on the last day, one kindles eight lights. The reason for Beit Hillel’s opinion is that the number of lights is based on the principle: We increase holiness, we do not decrease.”
Beit Hillel’s insight feels both profound and simple at the same time. As we go into the darkest days of winter, it seems obvious that we would want to increase illumination and to diminish some of the oppressive darkness of the shortest days of the year. Perhaps this is why winter festivals of light are so universal across religious and cultural traditions. We feel moved to bring the light of hope to our spirits when the days are dark and cold. Rabbi Larry Milder understands that the act of kindling light has more significant moral and spiritual overtones as well. He writes, “Adding one candle each night represents the deeds that we must undertake to restore healing to our world. In matters of sanctity, we do not diminish our efforts. We increase our commitment, we redouble our efforts, we do all that we can to keep ourselves and others safe, and to work toward a brighter day.”More
November 2021 Keeping Connected
As we enter the month of November, during which we celebrate the secular holiday of Thanksgiving, I am feeling a huge amount of gratitude. Let me share with you why I am feeling this way. But first a story….
Jewish tradition tells us about an old man who is planting a fruit tree. A passer-by named Honi wonders why he would bother to plant a tree that won’t bear fruit until decades after the man is dead. The old man responds, “As my father planted before me, so do I plant for my children.” This Talmudic story teaches us about the Jewish ethical teaching of tikkun olam, a Hebrew phrase that means loosely, “repair the world.” There is a traditional Jewish belief that everyone has an obligation to leave this world better than they found it. Jim Friedman, who works for the Jewish Federation of Cincinnati writes, “What we give is not so much for our own enjoyment, but to sustain and improve the world for the current as well as the next generation. It is really not a choice, but rather a requirement, to make our entire community a better place for everyone.”
Congregation Shalom is blessed to have many people who take this teaching to heart and have shared their time, gifts and financial resources with our community so that future generations can benefit. Recently, our congregation was blessed to receive a gift to establish a new fund: The James and Carol Herscot Fund to Enhance Jewish Life in the Greater Lowell Community. Mr. Herscot grew up in Lowell and although he does not live in the area anymore, he and his wife want to help the Jewish community of Lowell and the surrounding area thrive in the future. In particular they want to help those people who have difficulty finding a doorway into Jewish life find that welcome. This year we will be able to use some of the monies in this fund to sponsor monthly programs for Jewish families in the greater Lowell area. Our next event will be on Saturday morning November 6th at 10:30 am. Please see the publicity that is in our weekly updates. One does not need to be a member of Congregation Shalom to participate in these events.More
October 2021 Keeping Connected
I remember learning in rabbinical school that every Jew is commanded to write their own Sefer Torah (Torah scroll). The Talmud teaches that this commandment is actually the last mitzvah found in the Torah and the Talmudic scholar Rava, (3rd-4th century sage) based this on a passage from Deuteronomy 31. In this text, Moses and Joshua were commanded: “So now write this song and teach it to the children of Israel. Set it in their mouths, so this song will become a witness for me among the children of Israel.” (Translation by Richard Elliott Friedman). In time, this mitzvah came to be interpreted in many ways and most people fulfill this mitzvah by either helping to pay for the actual writing or purchase of a Torah scroll for their synagogue.
When I learned about this mitzvah I was very inspired and imagined that at some point in my life I would learn the traditional Hebrew calligraphy of the Torah scroll as well as the many rules that guide the scribal artist in creating a scroll. This past summer I had the opportunity to put my big toe into this process when I studied with a soferet named Rachel Jackson. In addition to being a bookbinder, designer and artist, Rachel is a full-time scribe and wonderful teacher. Below my letter you can learn more about her and see some of her work at the links provided.
A Torah scroll should be checked every few years to make sure that it is in good condition. In this way, small repairs can be made before any larger problems develop that might make the scroll unkosher. This year, I am excited that Rachel Jackson, will be coming to our community at the end of October and early November, to review our scroll and make any necessary repairs. She will also be leading education programs for the students in our school as well as the adults in our community. Keep a look out in the weeks ahead for more information regarding her visit to our congregation. I hope you will join us for this amazing opportunity.
Rabbi Shoshana Perry