Rabbis share sermon excerpts

Congregations: Jews reflect on reconciliation and renewal during the High Holy Days.

September 17, 2004

The High Holy Days, which began at sundown Wednesday with Rosh Hashana and culminate in 10 days with Yom Kippur, the Day of Atonement, are a period of introspection for Jews. It is a time when Jews examine their lives and atone for any misdeeds between themselves and God and between fellow humans.

Four Howard County rabbis have offered excerpts from their sermons touching on the holidays' themes of reconciliation and renewal. Rabbis from two of the synagogues, Beth Shalom Congregation and Temple Isaiah, address the excitement and challenges that come with building or planning new worship spaces. The spiritual leader of the Columbia Jewish Congregation wrote a poem on the meaning of being Jewish. And the rabbi from the Lubavitch Center for Jewish Education addresses the question of why Jews celebrate on Rosh Hashana when it is a time of judgment.

Vacuuming our warm home before lighting candles.

Listening to my children belt out their prayers

Smelling chicken soup cook before the holidays.

Drinking from Miriam's cup, dining with Sarah

Following in the footsteps of Rav Buriah

Hoping my feet will pray with the Times Square Rabbi.

Remembering the homeless in my safe Sukkah

Pursuing Justice, practicing peace, being whole

Applying the lessons of the past to our needs

Doing teshuvah year after year after year

Benefiting from the trees my parents planted

Hoping to plant seedlings my grandchildren will reap

Searching for the new song that the earth will proclaim

Spending Shabbat in Jerusalem with new friends

Kissing the kotel filled with tears, notes, hopes and dreams

Studying words found in Qumran, Spain and CJC

Casting my lot with a living community

Bringing food, visiting the sick, saying prayers

Feeling the Shekina unite us together

So tonight on Erev Rosh Hashana as we gather during this intense reflective period ... may we take time during the next 10 days to let ourselves rediscover ourselves. What is important to us and why?

As we do so, I offer the previous poem as a springboard, a beginning, an encouragement for you to write yours as the beginning of a dialogue of who each of us is, as well as what we hope to be collectively, and as a reminder of how fleeting and ever changing time truly is.

This Rosh Hashana may we take the time to infuse the form with our own meaning and experience of the sacred. And may that awareness transform us and propel us to be the people we never knew we had the power to become.

Rabbi Sonya Starr, Columbia Jewish Congregation

You see, our expansion plans are about more than just a building. The point of having more space is to take us to the next step in our growth: to allow us to provide more programs, from parenting and family education classes when the kids are in Sunday school, to a full teen lounge, to our own nursery school, to more outreach programs, to more choices of religious services, etc. etc. etc., to meet the ever expanding needs of both our new and veteran members. All these programs are possible; they lack only the space in which to hold them.

I believe we can achieve all these goals and more: we can achieve the truly unseen.

I believe we can become a congregation that reaches out so warmly and widely to the unaffiliated that they feel the need to come and stay.

I believe we can become a congregation that meaningfully engages every member in some aspect of our congregation.

I believe we can become a congregation that teaches our kids how to understand the Hebrew they now can so fluently chant.

I believe we can raise our spirituality quotient, to make even more services more meaningful for more of our members, and to make Shabbat as moving as the High Holidays. ...

I believe we have the talent, commitment and courage to expand our building and fill it with a dynamic, authentic, compelling expression of Judaism for the twenty-first century.

I believe we here at Beth Shalom are believers and children of believers. We are the children of Abraham and Sarah. Like them, we believe in things unseen: in a God who hears our prayers, in a community that helps us survive tragedy, in a group of people who work together to transform a modest synagogue into a dynamic community within which God dwells and through which God works.

In every generation and to each individual, God whispers, "Do not fear, for I am with you." We really have nothing to fear except fear itself.

Rabbi Susan Grossman, Beth Shalom Congregation, Columbia

Not many of us ever have the opportunity to build and to dedicate a new synagogue. Not many can say, "We were there at the beginning." We have the privilege of being that generation that established a Reform Jewish legacy in Central Maryland. So my hope is that each of us greets the New Year knowing that we have participated in an immensely worthy cause.

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