Here is the prayer and the Rabbi’s Report which I offered at last night’s Annual Meeting.
Holy One of Blessing!
Open our hearts to Your presence in this room
as we convene this congregation’s annual meeting.
Help us to see Your face
in the faces of everyone present tonight.
Guide us to honor all of those
who helped us reach this moment.
Inspire us to look forward
to the future we will create here together.
May the work we do tonight
bring us closer to our ideals of holy community.
And let us say together: amen.
In this week’s Torah portion, Jacob camps a night alone by the river Jabbok. A mysterious stranger — according to our tradition, an angel — wrestles with him all night until daybreak. In the morning, the angel blesses him: your name will no longer be Jacob, but Israel — Yisra’el, one who Wrestles With God.
We hint at this story every time we gather for morning prayer here, as we sing Mah tovu ohalecha ya’akov, mishk’notecha Yisrael: how goodly are your tents, O Jacob, your dwelling-places, O Israel. Most of you have heard me say that it is our task, as we daven here, to transform this beautiful ohel, this beautiful tent, into a mishkan: a dwelling-place for God, a place where God can dwell among and within us.
Over the last year, we have often lived up to that ideal. When we have gathered faithfully for Shabbat prayer, and whether we are a crowd of four or a crowd of thirty-five have sung and prayed and rejoiced with fervor. When we have gathered one Sunday a month to prepare hot, nutritious meals for those who would otherwise go hungry. When we’ve fed our own beloved elders during Senior Lunch Bunch.
We’ve made this place a holy place when we’ve gathered to watch Mexican Jewish movies and to remember that Jewishness takes many forms in many lands. When we have participated in High Holiday services, Yom Kippur yoga, b’nei mitzvah celebrations and funerals. When we’ve met to talk about Anzia Yezierska’s 1925 classic Bread Givers, or Rebecca Goldstein’s Betraying Spinoza: the Renegade Jew Who Gave Us Modernity. When we have come together to learn about kaddish and minyan and Jewish mourning customs, or to begin delving into the poetry of Jewish prayer.
Here’s the secret to making an ohel into a mishkan, a worldly building into a sacred space: what makes the space sacred is our connection to each other, our coming together to sanctify our lives and to offer praise and thanks together, our accompanying each other on the journeys of education and b’nei mitzvah — chuppah and parenthood — grief and mourning.
Others can share statistics: how many meals we’ve made for Take and Eat, how many people attended this year’s services during the Days of Awe, how our annual appeal is doing. And let me be clear: all of those numbers are awesome! But for me what’s most awesome, in the original sense of the word, is how we create this community together, and how we connect with holiness when we notice and lift up and love the spark of God in each other.
May we go from strength to strength!