President’s Message – December 2011, Kislev 5772
During this season of progressively darker days, we seek to gather and be of comfort to each other. There will be several opportunities to come join the community in fun activities during the month – Gerry Berkowitz and his band, the Glorious Mud Brothers, will be bringing a dance party on Saturday, December 3; there will be gift shop sales; and a Hanukah-game night on December 24. Please join us in celebrating our season of religious freedom, Hanukah, and watch for the light to glow from our candles to bring more sun and joy daily to our lives.
In my self-declared tradition of reading a book from the Bible beyond the Torah, this month I am looking into Isaiah for inspiration. We believe that Isaiah prophetized during the 8th century before the common era (BCE), more than 2700 years ago, at a time when Israel and Judah were under attack by Assyria and Egypt, two major regional powers. The Book of Isaiah provides haftorah readings more than a dozen times during the year, with a long stretch of readings in the summer, during the weeks of consolations after Tisha b’Av.
Isaiah’s pronouncements introduced the Deity of Israel to the world and had a great influence on our neighbors. Isaiah envisions in chapter 2:3-4 that the peoples of the world “shall go and say: ‘Come ye, and let us go up to the mountain of the LORD, to the house of the God of Jacob; and He will teach us of His ways, and we will walk in His paths.’ For out of Zion shall go forth the law, and the word of the LORD from Jerusalem. (On Shabbath, we sing the phrase “for out of Zion … from Jerusalem” in Hebrew when we take out the Torah.) Isaiah continues “4 And He shall judge between the nations, and shall decide for many peoples; and they shall beat their swords into plowshares, and their spears into pruninghooks; nation shall not lift up sword against nation, neither shall they learn war any more.” You may recognize the phrase “they shall beat their swords into plowshares … neither shall they learn war any more” as being associated with the United Nations and its mission.
Isaiah chapter 58: 5-10 provides inspiration for many:
“5 Is such the fast that I have chosen? the day for a man to afflict his soul? Is it to bow down his head as a bulrush, and to spread sackcloth and ashes under him? Wilt thou call this a fast, and an acceptable day to the LORD?
|6 Is not this the fast that I have chosen? to loose the fetters of wickedness, to undo the bands of the yoke, and to let the oppressed go free, and that ye break every yoke?|
|7 Is it not to deal thy bread to the hungry, and that thou bring the poor that are cast out to thy house? when thou seest the naked, that thou cover him, and that thou hide not thyself from thine own flesh?|
|8 Then shall thy light break forth as the morning, and thy healing shall spring forth speedily; and thy righteousness shall go before thee, the glory of the LORD shall be thy rearward.|
|9 Then shalt thou call, and the LORD will answer; thou shalt cry, and He will say: ‘Here I am.’ If thou take away from the midst of thee the yoke, the putting forth of the finger, and speaking wickedness;|
|10 And if thou draw out thy soul to the hungry, and satisfy the afflicted soul; then shall thy light rise in darkness, and thy gloom be as the noon-day;”|
It is no wonder that the Covenant Soup Kitchen in Willimantic is also known as the Isaiah 58 Ministry. These lines from Isaiah are read prominently at our annual inter-faith Thanksgiving service, before the Windham Area Interfaith Ministries’ Walk for Warmth event, and are included in our service on Yom Kippur.
So if you remember to bring beans to the synagogue monthly for our communal contribution to ease hunger in the region, join with the Tikkun Olam Committee’s outreach to the No-Freeze Shelter and the Covenant Soup Kitchen, contribute to local agencies like WAIM that provides clothing and heating fuel for those in need and the American Jewish World Service that provides help to communities suffering crises internationally, and treat all with kindness and understanding, then you will have more light each day and the gloom of the darkest night shall be filled with the brightness and clarity of noon. Please join in the light of the joy of being together in community throughout this month. Best wishes to you and yours for a healthy, happy, fulfilling, prosperous, and peaceful new secular year 2012.
David Stoloff, 2011-2012 President, Temple Bnai Israel, Willimantic, CT