Yom Kippur Address delivered by RS President Michael Hauptman on September 30, 2017.
Language has always been an interest of mine; how language evolves, where words come from and how language provides a window into a society or culture. So, a book I read recently, Aphrodite and the Rabbis by Burton Visotzky, really satisfied my tendency to be a bit of a word nerd. The author documents how after the destruction of the Second Temple, Judaism reinvented itself as a religion based heavily on Greco-Roman civilization, adopting their stories, ritual and language to create a Jewish liturgy and culture that we still practice today. In fact, Jews at that time were more likely to speak Greek than Hebrew.
In one of his more fascinating examples, Visotzky describes how the Passover Seder as we all know it, borrows liberally from the Greek symposia, cocktail parties where the Greek literati got together to tell stories and socialize. A symposium, a Greek word meaning “to drink together” involved many glasses of wine and many of the familiar foods that you find on your Seder plate. Diners reclined on pillows and afterwards, there would be entertainment: api komias—Greek for to the comedians! – perhaps not much to do with hiding matzoh from children.
Greek and Roman references continue to permeate our modern culture through our art, music, architecture and language. Take the word “philanthropy”, Greek for “love of people”. An interpretation of that sentiment is reflected in our Torah, Parsha Terumah , where God tells Moses to “accept gifts…from every person whose heart so moves him”, confirming that giving is an emotional act that invokes a depth of feeling as an incentive to give.
It is said that philanthropy provides an opportunity for a donor to fulfill their dreams and to live more Jewishly by giving to a cause they love.
There are congregants sitting among us today whose love of this community along with their passion for young children inspired them to fulfill their dream of creating a Jewish early learning center at Rodeph Shalom. There are congregants here today whose love of this congregation and their interest in ensuring a Jewish education for our children compelled them to provide generous support for our religious school. And there are congregational families here whose love of music and of the people of this synagogue has moved them to give us all a gift of music at Shabbat services every week.
There’s a story I’d like to share that was told by Rabbi Alan Rabishaw of Temple Or Rishon in California.
A wealthy nobleman, who lived in a small Jewish village, was getting on in years, and he wanted to create a lasting legacy for the people whom he loved so dearly. He decided that he would construct the most perfect synagogue as his special gift to the community. He hired the best architect in town who produced a magnificent design. The nobleman shared with everyone his dream that this place would reflect the very best that he had to give. Finally, the new synagogue was completed. The doors were opened and the people flooded in. After looking around at the darkened new building, someone asked, “But, where are the lamps? Where will the light come from?”
The nobleman pointed to rows of elegant iron hooks that lined each wall of the synagogue.
Then he gave each family a lamp with a ring at its top. “You must bring these lamps when you come to the synagogue,” he told them. “Whenever you are not here, your part of the synagogue will be dark, but when you come, when you participate, and when you contribute, your contribution will illuminate our building.”
If you look closely, you will find hooks all over our building. Is your connection to Reform Judaism through social justice? We have hooks for that. How about food equality? There’s a hook for that, too. Is your passion Jewish art, historic preservation, caring community, lifelong learning? We have hooks for every member of our congregation.
Bring your lamp. Find your hook. Light up this building with your presence, your participation, your passion and your philanthropy – your “love of people” of this congregation. Make Rodeph Shalom your philanthropic priority, and the light from our building will be a brilliant beacon for this city and the entire Jewish community.
As we read in Siddur Sim Shalom, “May the One who blessed our ancestors bless those who unite to establish synagogues for prayer, and those who enter them to pray, and those who give funds for heat and light, and wine for Kiddush, bread for the travelers, charity for the poor and all who devote themselves to the needs of the community and to all of Israel.” Amen.