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Give from the Heart and the Return to Judaism – Dr. Elliot Morris (Vayeilech – 10/01/22)

Give from the Heart and the Return to Judaism

By Dr. Elliot Morris

Shabbat Shuvah is all about the opportunity to return to the spirituality of Judaism afforded by the High Holidays. A year is a long time and it’s easy to lose the spirit in the flurry of daily life events. It’s comforting that Judaism provides for this renewal process.

That said, I’d like to be something of a “homer” for MHJC and it’s Give from the Heart effort to bring people back to Judaism here at MHJC. There have been so many changes to Judaism and congregations in the last generation or two and many Jews have been lost to the unaffiliated.

I think there is at least some analogy to what was happening among the Jews at the time of the Jewish Revolt against Rome from 66-70 C.E. There was great dissension between numerous Jewish factions, such as Zealots, Sicarii, Sadducees, Pharisees, and others. They were so at odds with each other that some groups committed worse acts against fellow Jews than did the Romans, including destroying stores of food and materials that would allow Jerusalem to survive a siege. Many Jews became disconnected from the Temple service, spirituality, and their relationship with God.

Along came the Roman general (and soon emperor) Vespasian to lay siege to Jerusalem. However, he initially stood by and observed as the Jews fought among themselves. For sure the Jews needed a way to survive and return to those Jewish ideals. Fortunately, there was Yohanan Ben Zakkai, a leading Pharisee scholar, who saw what was happening to the practice of Judaism, and also foresaw the destruction of the Temple (with the loss of the Temple service) and Jerusalem. He, with other Pharisee scholars, devised a decentralized model that would survive the destruction of the Temple and allow all Jews to return to Judaism and its spirituality. He managed to be smuggled out of Jerusalem (the Zealots were preventing Jews from entering or exiting the city) and made his way to Vespasian. Yohanan convinced him to grant Jews the city of Yavneh as a scholarly center and promote what became Rabbinic Judaism. Once the Revolt ended, the surviving Jews could and did return to Jewish practice and their relationship to God, albeit in a very different way.

While considerably less dramatic than this story, the Give from the Heart initiative is providing a new way for Jews in our area to connect or reconnect with Judaism, to find and express their spirituality. Is MHJC the modern Yohanan Ben Zakkai? Maybe not, but we now have a chance to redefine our relationship to God. No longer will there be financial limitations to affiliating and connecting spiritually, and families are already showing their desire to return to Judaism in whatever way they choose to express it. Covid only exacerbated the financial burden to belong to a synagogue but as the pandemic slowly evolves and resolves, MHJC has created a better way to provide a Jewish home. Along with our world-famous menschlichkeit, Give from the Heart hopes to continue to attract the unaffiliated and return Jewishness to their lives.

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