I am just back from an amazing experience called LimmudNY.
We learned so much, both as individuals and as a family and we met some wonderful and inspiring people.
I hope to be able to share some of what I learned this in this forum so allow me to start with this one anecdote.
This story was recounted in the course of a session entitled “Pledges of Jewish Allegiance: What does conversion to Judaism really represent” which was a talk given by Daniel Gordis.
One day, Rabbi Gordis was making a visit to a synagogue in Florida. After his lecture he was tired and retreated to his hotel. To his surprise there was a lady waiting in the lobby who was insistent that she had to speak to him. Wanting to be polite, he agreed to listen to her story (I guess he made a point of telling us this to demonstrate his attitude as the outset of the episode).
The story of the Florida lady that she was from a French family, born in the first part of the 20th century. She grew up barely aware that she was Jewish. Her parents were in thrall to French society and life and that was the atmosphere and culture they surrounded themselves with. When the Nazis invaded France her parents were carted off to concentration camps but they were able to leave her and her sister with Franciscan nuns. Miraculously the parents survived the war and the family was reunited some years later and moved to the United States. In the US, the family continued their life and also the religious upbringing that the nuns had started, The daughters thought of themselves as Catholics because the nuns had showered them with so much love.
Many years later, she is a grown woman, she has married and had children, throughout this time with no connection to Jewish life. She retires to Florida and one day walks past a building with stained glass windows. She goes inside thinking that the building is a museum. Inside she meets somebody who tells her that this building is not a museum, it is a synagogue and here are the times of the services if she is interested. Her curiosity stirred, she decides to return on Friday night to see what it is like. She tentatively takes a seat at the back of the synagogue, not knowing anything that is going on or what to expect. A woman comes up to her and takes her by the hand and says “I see you are sitting alone at the back, please come and sit together with me, we like to see people sitting together at this synagogue”. That single gesture of human kindness so deeply impressed the lady that she came back, attended services regularly and has now fully embraced her Judaism.
I feel that this story has a profound lesson for us as a community. It serves as a reminder that we can do more to welcome people to our community, both brand-new members and also to help those members who connect with Temple Beth-El infequently, to become more engaged and feel more connected to our community.
As I unpack my time at Limmud I hope to be able to share more of what I learned to continue the learning and inspiration. I feel incredibly fortunate to have been able to attend this intense, invigorating and wonderful event.