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Kol Nidre Sermon 5778/ 2017, ‘Love your Story.’

10/08/2017 12:36:15 PM

Oct8

Good Yontif,

 

I was once at La Guardia airport in New York, and there was a man walking from person to person, looking them up and down. Eventually, he came to me, and looked me up and down too. He hesitated for a second, and then said in Hebrew, “Have you prayed Minchah?” (The afternoon prayer).

 

Surprised, I said, “no.”  He smiled knowingly, then said to his wife as he walked away, “Yadati shehu shelanu,” I knew it that he was ours.

 

Those words touched me so deeply. I felt like someone had taken me into their family. I had suddenly gained relatives I had never known.

 

Shelanu, he is ours.  One of ours. It is one of the reasons we are all here tonight.

 

At the Kol Nidre service.  We all are each other’s - we belong to one big family, we do not want to lose touch with it. A beautiful story that I heard from years ago.

 

Of a group of Jewish leaders in the 80s and 90’s, young leaders, rabbis, upcoming stars, who had a teacher, a rabbi of rabbis who guided them. Together with their teacher, they went deeper and deeper in their exploration of Judaism and confronted some difficult truths about our faith. As the discussion progressed, the participants began to question some of their most deeply held beliefs. “Is it all true?” they asked. “Is this what God really wants of us? If it isn’t -- why even stay Jewish?”

 

One day, in the midst of their anguished debate, their teacher turned to them and said: “Love your story!”

 

Love your story.  Love the story of the Jewish people. Where we come from. Who we are. What we are all about.

 

We have all been standing here on Yom Kippur for 3500 years. Part of a story that has been going on throughout the generations.

 

This is why we are standing here, to reengage in that story and with the God of Israel.  To express our love for our fellow travelers.  Those who are ours.

 

We come from the same place in a distance past – As we say at the Passover Seder, my father was a wandering Aramean.

 

We share a common story that we love.  It is why we never stop speaking about our story.

 

What shtetl did you come from? What did your father do? Who were his father and mother?

 

It is why we have refused to let go of our people and religion, despite the tragedies of our history. Despite threats, despite living as an oppressed minority. Despite death.  Our story is precious to us.

 

It has endless chapters.  That pull each one of us in our own way.

 

Some of us love the Yiddish chapter, others the Biblical, the Golden Age in Spain, the heroes of Masada.

 

We love our story by learning it, discussing it, reliving it

 

And we learn, discuss and live our story in so many ways.  To keep it alive in our hearts.

 

It is not universally the case but most Jews have libraries full of books about our people and our history and the places we have journeyed. Jews keep books in their homes because they tell our story, the story that we love.

 

I remember being gifted a book by my uncle Srul, ‘La Familia Y’Aguilar’ about a family of Spanish Marranos, Spanish Jews who were forced to convert when the Jews were expelled from Spain in 1492. However, they kept their faith in secret; they continued to participate in the story. Holding Yom Kippur services in the basement of their home, salting their meat, lighting candles. Doing whatever they could, even as the eyes of the Inquisition were looking on.

 

The Kol Nidre prayer was very important for Jews such as the family in this book. In fact, some people believe that the prayer was written specifically for the Marranos. Kol Nidre allowed them to annul the vows of conversion that they had been forced to make, and the declaration at the beginning of the prayer:

 

"In the tribunal of heaven and the tribunal of earth, by the permission of God—blessed be He—and by the permission of this holy congregation, we hold it lawful to pray with the transgressors."

- declared publicly that they were still part of our story - still ‘shelanu’.

 

Another important book for me was Chaim Potok’s book ‘The Chosen’, about two young Jewish boys in New York in the period of the 2nd war, who come to learn about their place in our story. As they pour through our ancient texts in the Talmud, each finding their way of being Jewish and American. The Ultra-Orthodox son of a Chassidic Rebbe, a genius, eventually shaves his beard and payes, side curls, and goes to study psychology at Colombia, while the more modern boy decides to be a rabbi,

 

These books and stories warm our heart and bring us into their light and fire. They remind us that both those individuals who follow path that deepens their commitment to the tradition, as well as those who move further away from a more traditional past are all part of our story. All of them our shelanu.

 

There is a passage in ‘The Chosen’ when Reuven, the young boy who eventually decides to be a rabbi asks his father a professor, who was the Baal Shem Tov? (The founder of the Chassidic movement). The book describes how his father pauses, and gathers his thoughts. Reuven can see he is waiting to organize what he will say.

 

I’ve always loved that moment because it is a symbol for all of our story, and for all of our storytellers who love to teach our story to others.

 

When I was becoming more interested again and engaged in Jewish life, a friend once asked me what do I identify as? I said: “As a Jew”. He said “not as a human being?”

 

I said, “of course as a human being, but as a Jewish human being.”

 

It is difficult to explain to others, but the more we love our story, the more we realize it is our story, the more it lives inside of us, the deeper we uncover how it is already working within to shape our lives.

 

The Jewish religion is about pouring through the first part of that story, the Torah, again and again, year after year. It is what holds the whole story together.

 

Gifting it its rhythm. Against it, all the other parts of our story are measured. In it, we find wisdom and guidance for our current chapter.

 

Like anybody who loves their story, there are those who are like that aunt or uncle who keep track of the family tree and knows who is where and how, who love to know ever more details of our story.

 

I know -– one of the members of our minyan, Herb Golinkin, is always asking me the most difficult questions he can think of on the weekly Torah parashah.

 

He is like that family member asking you if you remember the story of your third cousin once removed who stole bubbe’s ice cream.

 

You mean don’t remember that one? How could you?

We learn it and feel its power.

We savor the great moments of our story.

The devastations and the redemptions, the slavery in Egypt and our Exodus, the Holocaust.

The Redemption of the state of Israel.

 

Our holidays are built around these powerful transformative moments.

However, tonight is different. Kol Nidre night is a magical night that links them all together, when Jews of all stripes from around the world show up and stand together to express their love for our story and for each other.

 

Whether it is the great episodes of our past story or its day-to-day life. Walking through the Austin neighborhood and its market, or visiting the old Jewish cemeteries, or that decade when we came to synagogue each week with our father, our mother.

 

Those special moments awaken the warmth of belonging and the echoes of eternity.

 

We believe that our story holds valuable wisdom that will guide us in living our lives.

We want to participate in our story. We want it to continue to live and flourish.

 

It is why so many of us are afraid of the assimilation that is happening in the American Jewish community.

 

People are not loving our story strongly enough anymore.

They are losing touch with its power and beauty.

They do not care about being actors in it.

 

To all those who are wavering, we declare: love your story. Join us. Be a participant. Be part of shaping our future. Add your voice and words to its unfolding.  Be one of us. Be shelanu! You will not regret it.

 

Our story is connected to the multitude of Jewish communities that have thrived in all parts of the world through millennia. It is connected to the land of Israel where it all began and where the story has come to life in our time with renewed vigor and vitality.

 

Our story is about uplifting our people, and about uplifting the world. It is about finding brotherhood and sisterhood, being a light unto the nations, a light to ourselves and to all of humankind.

 

There is great joy in being part of the story. It is a tale of inspiration, common experiences and shared aspirations and struggles.

We cannot and will not give up on our story.

However, it is one of the struggles of our time, each one of us has a stake, to find a way to share our story, to convince others of its beauty, richness and majesty.

 

The irony is that our story is more powerful today than it has been in centuries.

 

What extraordinary events have shaped the last century for our people?

 

The unthinkable suffering of the Holocaust, arguably the most profound tragedy in our history.

Moreover, the return to Israel – perhaps the greatest redemptive chapter of our story in the last two thousand years.

 

We need to get to know our story better and learn to teacher it better – with more love, passion and power.

 

It is why PJ library is sending Jewish children’s books free throughout the United States.

 

It is why at our synagogue this year, we have a new program called Jewish Journeys to help all of us connect more deeply to our story. Whether it is through the Melton program, probably the top adult Jewish cultural literacy program in the world, or the exciting Intro to Judaism. These programs will show you the heart and soul of our story.

 

In a world that challenges the need for us to have our story, it is our task, the task of our generation, to find ever new ways to show that our story is still meaningful and relevant.

 

We need to love our story. We need to love our people. We need to love our tradition.

 

I was once at a gathering of Jews and member of other faiths. Everyone had to go around and explain what his or her job was. I responded: “My job is to teach the Jewish story, with all of the beauty of its landscapes, its mountains and valleys, it ups and downs, its power and its joys, and sadness’s.”

 

Love your story.

 

Love that redemption is always around the corner

Love that suffering and pain cannot bring us down.

Love that brotherhood and sisterhood is the foundation of a meaningful life.

Love our outrageous sense of humor

Love our remarkable capacity for profundity and depth.

Love it all.

 

Share it with others.

 

Everything we do is there to remind us of our story. From the Kiddush to Shabbat. To remind us of all that we have been through, to remind us of everything that we have yet to do. To keep the memory of those that passed before us alive in our hearts and minds. To keep our story ringing in the ears of those that will come after us in the decades and centuries to come.

 

On Passover night, we sit together with our family and tell the story of our people. Who we are, and what we have gone through.

 

On Kol Nidre night, we gather in our synagogues to stand witness to our love for our story, to express our love for those who have been part of the story over the generations before us, and to renew our love for the Eternal One who has given his precious and glorious story to us.

 

We recite the Kol Nidre prayer that begins our service, we think of all of the vows, commitments and entanglements that have taken us away from our connection to our story. The decisions and life directions that have distanced us from our community, our people, our tradition and our God. Then we ask the Holy One of Israel to wipe away the barriers that we/life have created, and to rekindle the love for our story and for all those who belong to us, within the recesses of our yearning hearts.

 

Good Yontif!

 

 

Copyright © Rabbi Adir Glick

Sat, April 20 2019 15 Nisan 5779