Recently, the weekend before we commemorated my father’s first yartzheit, I had the opportunity to speak about some lessons from the week’s Torah portion that I thought reflected my Dad and his life. I think they’re equally relevant in our communal work.
We’re All Part of a Community
My father came to the United States in 1947 with his mother, having lost the rest of their family to the Nazis and their collaborators. They got here through the generosity of relatives — and we (quite literally) have the receipt for their passage to prove it. My father never forgot that, or that his one and only summer camp experience was thanks to the New York Federation. Whenever there was a community need, whenever the shul held an appeal, he felt compelled to give, really, to give back.
It begins with family and friends, but our communal responsibilities extends wider. We remember that in the desert, the tribes of Israel encamped facing the Tabernacle. There was — it was — a common center. My father, a Holocaust survivor, had no patience for intra-communal fighting. He had his opinions on religion and on politics, but in his heart, a Jew was a Jew was a Jew, and we were all part of one communal umbrella, rising high or falling low as one.
You Can Take “It” with You
The “Ark of the Covenant” was — ever and always — ready to move. The staves and handles never left it. That’s a symbolic lesson for us all: Jewish life can flourish anywhere. Jewish history, over exile, persecution, ghetto, and terror has proven that time and again. My dad’s bar mitzvah was in a displaced persons camp. Soon after he was living freely, and Jewishly, in New York. I’ve traveled this state, our country, and beyond. It doesn’t take much to build a community — just the will to see active Jewish life and the dedication to keep it going.
We Didn’t Build This Alone
Of course the Tabernacle was the precursor to the Temples. The First Temple is what historians, archaeologists, and movie producers (see: Raiders of the Lost Ark) call Solomon’s Temple. But in Jewish liturgy, philosophy, and history it’s called something else: The House of David. King Solomon built it, but it was King David’s vision.
None of us get here on our own.
Everything we do on a daily basis is in partnership with others. And I see each day how what I do builds upon over a quarter century of such commitment to community, will, vision, and dedication.
This is what we do. And why.