Random acts of kindness

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As we were walking to Temple this past Shabbat morning a woman pulled over in her car. I was certain that she was about to ask me directions to one of our local schools (People often stop to ask directions as we walk to Temple). Instead, I was surprised when she jumped out of the car with a Bar Mitzvah invitation in hand and asked whether we would like a ride to Temple. Apparently she just dropped her son off at the Temple moments earlier to attend the Bar Mitzvah, and was now driving back home. She went on to apologize for having passed us earlier and not stopping to offer us a ride when she saw us.  She now offered to go out of her way and turn around to transport us back. We thanked her warmly for her consideration, and explained our custom of walking. But the whole rest of the way we smiled and were warmed by this touching random act of kindness.

One of the many gifts that my father, of blessed memory left me was his gift of kindness. No one ever had a bad word to say about this man, and he was always helpful to anyone in need. So my colleague Rabbi David Wolpe’s story about one of the many gifts his father left him really touched home.  David’s father (also a rabbi) left him a small box of a few hundred index cards with quotes, stories and teachings. David shared one from a James Hodgson from Salt Lake City.  The clipping read:

I was lounging in front of the TV watching a western when dad came in from shoveling snow. He looked at me and said, ‘In 24 hours you won’t even remember what you’re looking at now. How about doing something for the next 20 minutes that you’ll remember 20 years from now and enjoy   every time you think about it?’

“What is it?” I asked.

“Well son, there’s eight inches of snow on old Mrs. Woodbury’s walk” he said. “Why don’t you see if you can shovel it and get back without her knowing?”

I did it in 15 minutes. She never knew who had done it. And Dad was right – I’ve enjoyed it every time I’ve thought about it.

Last winter after a day of unusually heavy snowfall I got back home and found that my driveway had been secretly shoveled in my absence. (I later learned that it was members of my own congregation and their sons who decided to do this for me out of the goodness of their hearts – and I am still warmed by their kindness).

As we begin the New Year and begin to celebrate the festival of Sukkot, the Festival of ultimate joy, I hope you will join me in looking for acts of random kindness that we can do this year and that will remain in our memories for a lifetime.

I wish you a joyous celebration and the satisfaction of performing many good deeds.

A new heart and a new spirit

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newheart and new spirit

For the first time in decades I found myself immersed in a New Year with new personal beginnings.  After 40 years with one congregation (Temple Sholom in Bridgewater), this year I spent Rosh Hashanah “down the shore” in Wildwood NJ where I began serving as Beth Judah Temple’s interim rabbi.

Entering the synagogue for the very first time was a spiritual experience unto itself.  Almost one hundred years old, the sanctuary radiated light from its beautiful stained glass onto the lovingly burnished wood of the original pews.  As I tuned my guitar and tested the acoustics, the arched ceiling rounded out and echoed my notes back to me.  Gratitude for the opportunity to use my vocal gifts and guitar to create a very different Rosh Hashanah celebration washed over me.   In a very short time the community came together through song and sharing.  The congregants joined enthusiastically in the singing – which only further nourished my energy and spiritual experience.  When participants in the service took opportunities to lead the congregation in readings, we asked them to briefly introduce themselves before leading their part.  Each told of their current and past connections to the community.  One gentleman proudly proclaimed that he was the Temple’s oldest member – and that he had celebrated his bris at Beth Judah.  The sounding of the shofar was one of the highlights of the service.  Leora (my wife) was the ba’alat tokaya (shofar blower).  Each clear note pierced the air – and I was struck by the way an ancient practice was made new by a woman blowing a magnificent hand-painted shofar.  Everyone’s skin tingled when the final tekiah gedolah was sounded from the Temple’s balcony – which had once been the women’s gallery!

Tashlich was also a “first” for me – the first time I ever cast away my sins on the Atlantic coast.  We gathered at an off-shore lake (because the beach was not accessible due to excessive rain earlier in the week).  As we cast our bread into the waters, a swarm of sea gulls flew in to catch our bread crumbs – even before they hit the water.   At the conclusion of Tashlich we gathered in a circle with our arms around each other’s shoulders, and sang the Shalom chant. Even two Wildwood police officers who were there for our protection joined for the service and the circle of peace.

Psalm 96 has always been one of my favorite psalms.  It begins with the exhortation:  “Sing a new song to God.” Over the past few days I have lived those words.   Accompanying the service with guitar, drum and tambourine and introducing some new uplifting melodies has renewed my spirit.  Following the injunction of King David the Psalmist that God wants to hear a new song, this New Year has truly been a time of renewal and rejuvenation of mind, body and spirit for me. Like the prophet Ezekiel who was told by God that he would get a new heart (mindset) and a new spirit, I now feel that I know what God had in mind as I am experiencing it first-hand.

I hope that God will enable all of us to feel the full joy available to us in these holy days. My experience these past days has surely reminded me of the possibilities of growth and the power of renewal.  I plan on embracing the coming year with my whole being and will try to strive and reach toward having an even deeper experience of the all the blessings of life. I hope that you will as well.  Wishing you all an inscription in the Book of Life for a Year of Blessings and Renewal!