Where am I right now, as I write these words? I am in the Social Hall at Beth Evergreen (CBE). No surprise, right? Well, this time, it’s different. This night, even the social hall has become the sanctuary, literally. As of this writing, the Emergency Shelter Program (ESP) is hosting its first official guests, providing food and a warm, safe place to sleep to folks who would otherwise be out in the snow facing single digit temperatures. As such, we have now lived even more fully into what it means to be inclusive and hospitable, responding to the call of hachnasat orchim, receiving the honor of welcoming guests.
I feel grateful, thankful to be a part of a community that has invested in (and led) the effort to bring so-called ‘outsiders’ inside, offering under housed neighbors, in the words of recently honored poet laureate, Bob Dylan, ‘shelter from the storm.’ It feels so good to see CBE be a sanctuary in this way. Gratitude. It’s gratifying in part because we have invested so much time and effort in this just cause. Justice. It’s part of our effort to pursue justice for all, to pray with our feet, to paraphrase Abraham Joshua Heschel. Witnessing the first fruits of our collective effort to meet this communal need is deeply gratifying.
Amazingly, earlier this morning marked another milestone for Beth Evergreen when we became the new home for a 96-year old survivor. Born on the east side of Berlin shortly after World War I, she managed to escape from Germany to New York in 1935 as the climate there was turning bitter and brutal. She arrived here in Evergreen in December 2016 just in time to be the guest of honor at a family bar mitzvah. She is an exquisite Torah scroll. After spending decades dormant in a crowded ark in the Big Apple, this Tree of Life, newly transplanted to be tended by our hands, will treat our hearts and minds with its fruit, and its story shall continue. Truly, to be a host is to be blessed.
The holy Ark of the Covenant described in the Torah of Moses (the one that envisioned a just society free from hunger and homelessness) carried two sets of the Tablets of the Law, the Ten Commandments. And now, our ark, houses two sacred scrolls – on this same day that our synagogue became a refuge from the winter storm to two souls that otherwise would literally be out in the cold.
Our ark is full. The shelter is open. The heart is full.
How fitting that the spiritual attributes we’ve decided to focus on this coming month (January/Tevet) are Justice and Gratitude! These traits are poles of one another. The former seeks, while the latter receives. And when the two come together in the same home, in the same heart, well that’s a blessing, maybe even a miracle. Baruch atah…She’hechiyanu v’kiyamanu v’higiyanu laz’man hazeh. Grateful am I, blessed by life, and this opportunity to stand and bear to witness to this time. AMEN!