I’ve had some incredible Shabbat experiences in my lifetime thus far…but this past Friday and Saturday have won the prize for best ever. Biennial attendees woke up Friday morning, and most of us only thought about one word: “Obama.” Yes, friends, President Barack Obama was going to be paying us all a visit at the 71st URJ Biennial here in Washington, D.C.
I slowly walked down the stairs, brain still half asleep, eyes half-closed. I saw my dad seated at my dining room table, wide awake, staring intently into his Kindle. My parents were in town for the High Holy Days, a time of year we hadn’t spent together in a long time. “Whatcha reading?” I mumbled, mid-yawn, and he promptly told me that he was enjoying his early morning Rashi. Rashi – on his Kindle! And then he was planning on studying a bit of Talmud before continuing with his day.
It’s easy to let opportunities for gratitude pass you by. Many of us might find it easier to talk to God when we need something, but then forget to express appreciation when things go well. We might get frustrated or angry when life doesn’t go as planned, yet not take a moment to pause when things are, well, just fine.
Among the variety of incredible lifecycle moments throughout a Jewish life, it goes without saying that a wedding is certainly one of the sweetest to experience. Surrounded by family and friends, dressed in our finest, cameras at the ready, taking part in a wedding celebration has always been considered one of the greatest mitzvot for us to perform.
Recently, a congregant told me about a wonderful program in which she participated as a teenager. While on a youth group retreat, the attendees were asked to reflect on big, defining moments for their involvement in Judaism. They were asked if they could identify one event which was a turning point, which led them to say to themselves, “Hey, I like this Judaism thing, and I want it to be a part of my life.”
“When a person eats and drinks in celebration of a festival, he is obligated to feed converts, orphans, widows, and others who are destitute and poor. In contrast, a person who locks the gates of his courtyard and eats and drinks with his children and his wife, without feeding the poor and the embittered, is not indulging in rejoicing associated with a mitzvah, but rather the rejoicing of his gut … This rejoicing is a disgrace…”
Just a few more days….Can you begin to picture it? We will all gather together, in anticipation of the New Year, and the new beginnings that come with it. The melodies we wait for all year will be surrounding us. Our prayers and supplications will rise towards the heavens and we will pray “Sh’ma Koleinu” - that God will hear our voices. The Shofar will wake us from our physical and spiritual slumber. The sweet apples and honey will delight taste buds of all ages.
The slide was just silvery and shiny, and all the kids were doing it. We were in my friend’s backyard, playing on her swing-set, and all the kids were taking turns walking down the slide. Yes, it was slippery, and yes, it was most certainly not safe. But, as a six-year-old, I didn’t know how to say no. So, I climbed the five steps up the slide’s ladder, took a deep breath, and began my descent. I slid down on the soles of my feet, accelerating along the way, until, at the bottom, I realized that I couldn’t stop myself.
“When I was in junior high, and all my friends were having their Bar or Bat Mitzvahs, I just enjoyed celebrating with them. It didn’t really occur to me that I wasn’t having one of my own. It wasn’t until college that I really began to regret it…” With these words, Jessica Yanow, my best friend since we were eight years old, began reflecting on her own Jewish upbringing and education.