Everyone counts. No matter who your family is, or whether or not you marry into the Israelite tribe. You are part of us. This is what we read this week in our Torah portion Nitzavim. Moses was trying to drive home the fact that anyone who stood with him at Sinai was an Israelite. There was no such thing as patrilineal descent. Everyone will inherit Israel and, most importantly, will be equally loved and recognized by God.
Moses also warns of extremely difficult times should the Israelites decide to abandon God’s law mitzvot (commandments, good deeds). However, Moses also states God’s unconditional love by saying that even if they forsake the commandments, God will still gather them and their loved ones to Israel, and in the end, they will have redemption. Moses goes on to say that these mitzvot are not beyond our reach, rather, that they are right there for us, in our mouths, hearts, and souls. In modern day terms, to me, Moses is saying that living a Jewish life is a gift from God. And whether or not we choose to accept that gift, we will still be redeemed and that, eventually, we will all come to walk with God. Perhaps most importantly, that God will love us, no matter what we choose.
When each child in a family is born, they can sign up to have Jewish books from PJ Library sent to their homes totally free of charge. They usually come once a month. This summer, there was a huge bonus for adults too. My sweet husband Ross thought I would enjoy a book by Abigail Pogrebin entitled My Jewish Year: 18 Holidays, One Wondering Jew. Pogrebin was formerly a broadcast producer for notable TV hosts including Charlie Rose and Mike Wallace at 60 Minutes. She has been published in many magazines and newspapers including New York Magazine, and is the current President of Central Synagogue in New York City. One particular book she wrote which had a big impact on me personally was Stars of David, a memoir of interviews about the Jewish lives and customs of famous Jewish people in the US, including Ruth Bader Ginsburg, Fran Drescher, and Gwyneth Paltrow. In 2013 she collaborated with composer Tom Kitt to turn the book into a musical review. I have performed the song “As If I Weren’t There,” sung by the Ruth Bader Ginsburg character, describing the profound impact that her mother had on Ruth’s Judaism and life, particularly when her father silenced her from saying Kaddish for her mother when she died the day before Ruth’s high school graduation.
In My Jewish Year, Pogrebin describes how she was Jewish “in the way that The Olive Garden is an Italian Restaurant.” When her son was born, she writes that she scheduled his bris because “that’s what Jews do.” But during the ceremony something deep inside her made her want to truly understand why: did this bris mark the start of her Jewish family, or was she just checking the box? Pogrebin’s story gives us a living example of Nitzavim: the mitzvah of having a bris was not beyond her reach—it was something she knew she needed to do deep down in her heart, mind, and soul (and in what some of us like to call her “kishkes”). She writes about her childrens’ bar and bat mitzvah, and the impact it had on her, seeing her children being elevated and celebrated by their Judaism in this magnificent way. She describes Judaism in this way: “This is about you, and also beyond you. And none of this lasts without you.”
I believe that Nitzavim punctuates Pogrebin’s feelings in a very profound way. I also think that Moses is outlining the evolution of Judaism in our world today when he tells the Israelites “You will return to God’s law, and God will gather you into the land that you have possessed.” Just like Abigail Pogrebin says in her book that Judaism is a gift, and “a train that circles back to pick you up.” It’s my prayer that all of us will come to realize that we do not have to get on the train which require us to adhere strictly to Jewish laws of being kosher, keeping Shabbat in a certain way, or having a Jewish mother. We can get on the liberal Jewish train, the train of ever-evolving Judaism and peoplehood, and find what has the greatest meaning for us.
Jewish music is another train that can come and pick you up, allowing you to tap into and experience our holidays and customs in a fun and meaningful way. Please download these Rosh HaShanah songs and sing them with your children, in the car, with your families, and use them to help you find meaning in our holidays:
At Temple Jeremiah, I would love to invite you to participate in and experience music as a community in very different ways. If you have a child in grades 2-6, come join us every Sunday from 10:45-11:15 a.m. for Junior Choir! We will sing all kinds of music for special Shabbat services and for mitzvah programs. PLUS, we will have fun games, time together, and treats! Our first rehearsal will be on Sunday, Sept. 23!!
I’d also love to invite anyone 7th grade through college to sing in our Temple Jeremiah A capella choir! You can learn how to make those cool percussive sounds with your voice, sing tight harmonies, and have fun together. Our first rehearsal will be on Sunday Sept. 23 from 1:00-1:30 p.m.
Our Adult Choir is a beautiful group of singers of all levels of ability. Beginning Wed. Oct. 3, we will rehearse alternating Wednesday and Tuesday nights. Beginning in November, we will be singing on the Second Shabbat of each month.
Please note: No prior musical or singing experience or knowledge necessary to join any of these choirs. Even if you think you cannot sing, or don’t have a voice, come! I will help you find your voice. And lending your spirit is equally as important as singing. So even if there is a slight inkling in your soul, come!
We are also looking for players, particularly if you play a woodwind or brass instrument, to join our Intergenerational Shabbat Band. We will be playing once a month for H(OUR) Shabbat. I am quickly learning that Temple Jeremiah is chock full of musical talent, with folks who actually play in bands that perform throughout Chicagoland. If you are a teen who plays something, come learn from these great players! And they will learn from you too!
Ross, Abigail, Zev, and I wish you L’Shanah Tovah. I am so eager and excited to get to know every single one of you in our Jeremiah family. I continue each day to be grateful to be a part of you.