I hope you all enjoyed a splendid Hanukkah! A hartsiken dank, to Lyle Gartenlaub and his incredible team of volunteers for another lip-smacking Latke Brunch. Special thanks to Pamela Elisheva for being Norma’s “right hand” in getting things organized. And another round of applause, please, for the Temple Beth El Torah Learning Center players (aka, our students), under the direction of Principal Stacy Davis, for their original theatrical performance, which reminded us of all the wonderful holidays we get to enjoy together between one Hanukkah and the next.
I also wish to thank Irvin Pike, and all of you who so generously responded to his asks, for literally keep our roof over our heads. When the rain does come (and we pray it comes soon), we will be thankfully dry!
I don’t know about you, but as we were kindling our Hanukkah lights this season, I was especially mindful of the power of fire.
In recent weeks and months, hundreds of thousands of acres have burned in California. Lives have been disrupted. Beloved people and pets have been lost; precious homes and property have been melted, burnt and scarred.
Yet, as we have learned over and over this past year, through hurricanes and floods as well as from fires, disasters have a mysterious way of bringing people together, of building connections between perfect strangers.
Recently, I spoke with my dear friend and colleague in Ventura, Rabbi Lisa Hochberg-Miller. It had been just over a week since the Thomas fire scorched its way through her community, and the flames were still a threat. Ten Temple Beth Torah families lost their homes, and at least one enterprising young man, a product of their temple, also lost his business.
Even so, as we spoke, I heard cheer in her voice, optimism breaking through the pain. Through all these losses, Temple Beth Torah has been and continues to be a source of healing and light – just as Congregation Shomrei Torah in Santa Rosa was during the fires that scorched Northern California during the holiday of Sukkot.
I often describe Bakersfield as a town in which everyone is only one or two degrees of separation from everyone else. Everyone seems to know everybody, and when we don’t, we share a friend or acquaintance in common. It is also true that, from one day to the next, most of us take those connections very much for granted – at least until we need something from someone.
The truth is that we need each other, in some way or another, every day. We need to know that we have each other’s backs. We need to know that, come sorrow or joy, our Temple would be here for us, and for our community.
It is on all of us to make that happen, to keep making it happen. As the shamash lights the other candles of the Hanukkiah, we must be the shamashim that light up our friends and family and neighbors, by pointing out to them the importance of their connection to us and to our Temple.
We need fire – not the sort that burns us, but the kind that inspires us. The flame we need to perpetuate extends beyond the candles of our hanukkiot. It is reflected in the Ner Tamid, the perpetual flame that burns steadily over our Aron HaKodesh, our Holy Ark.
Hanukkah is over; Tu Bishvat, the Jewish Arbor Day, is on the horizon. But every Shabbat, we gather to celebrate the lights of faith, of community, and of connection.
See you in shul!
Rabbi Cheryl Rosenstein