Friday, May 26, 2017

B'Midbar: Who's Ready for Another Annual Tradition??

I like rituals. Maybe you already knew that about me. Sometimes I enjoy the ancient ones, other times I prefer modern alternatives, and I ESPECIALLY love
helping create new rituals and ceremonies! For example, there's our "Lostice Shabbat," where we're trying to solidify an annual Ohev tradition of celebrating the Czech community from which we inherited a Torah scroll after the Holocaust. I've also helped create a yearly interfaith Thanksgiving service in our region, as well as a tradition of biennial theatrical Ohev Players' performances. Oh, and we try to run a trip to Israel every few years (with yet another one coming up in the fall of 2018...). What can I say? Creating new traditions helps us keep the concept alive, and makes us active participants in the various cycles of our own lives. It's meaning-making at its finest! Sooo, is there room for yet another annual event in our congregation? I sure hope so...

Over the last 2-3 years, you've heard me speak a lot about an incredible art project in our Main Sanctuary, called the Children of Israel Collection. Well, the project is done. There are no more panels to create, no more
facets of the endeavor to explore. The final pieces were hung on our walls, and our "formal" dedication ceremony took place last June, in 2016. So we're done, right? Nothing left to talk about. Well, except that artwork isn't ever really meant to be background noise. Certainly not sanctuary art, anyway! These panels represent the Ancient Tribes of Israel, but also the modern Children of Israel, i.e. YOU AND ME!! Our ancestors' stories are our stories; and ours represent vital links in the ever-growing chain of Jewish history. Creating new traditions and fusing them onto existing ones is a great way to bind together our individual and collective narratives to those of the Jewish people everywhere! And this Shabbat is the perfect weekend to bring together the Biblical text and our modern artwork.

Our parashah this week begins the Book of Numbers, the fourth book of the Torah. The Israelites are preparing to continue their march through the desert, and the reading begins with a census of all the Israelite tribes; who are the tribal heads, and how many people are marching under the FLAG of each group. And it was
from this Torah portion, B'Midbar, that we drew the inspiration for our mosaic art collection! Our panels are hanging in the exact order listed in Numbers 1:5-15. I also believe that connecting an annual ceremony to THIS particular parashah helps us identify some important lessons that we can all learn. Before the people can set off on their Exodus, they need to know who is present. Each person and each tribe needs to essentially declare "Hineini!" - "Here I am!" It is as if they are saying: "I matter! I am important, and my narrative is crucial to the story of my people. And we are stronger when we bring all our tales and myths and legends together into one." So let us celebrate, and let us, perhaps, call this our "Peoplehood Shabbat."

What, then, is our focus and our objective? Unity and diversity. Our mosaic art collection reminds us to bring together all our myriad cups, keys, shards, and jewelry, and respect others' family lore while giving voice to our own.
Hidden behind the artwork and the tribal names are also many different narratives that are sometimes ignored or unknown: Ethiopian Jews claim descent from the Tribe of Dan; the Bnei Menashe in India from the Tribe of Menashe! Furthermore, our panels highlight a gender disparity, and challenge us to think about ALL groups within the Jewish community today. The "Peoplehood" question may prompt us to consider who is "in" and who is "out," and where & when we engage with non-Jews, both inside Ohev and in our surrounding area. The blog is too short a space to dig much deeper, but I'll end by just encouraging you to think about the power of ritual, both ancient and modern. And also to URGE you to see your personal story as vital to the history of our people. Only when we can firmly declare "Hineini!" and feel rooted in knowing who and where we are, can we then go out and engage with the world around us and learn from one another. Sometimes it takes a collection of artwork to keep that message in focus.

Photos in this blogpost:
1. The Tribe of Asher (The Olive Tree) - The first mosaic panel we made.
2. The Tribe of Zebulun (The Ship) - One of my personal favorites
3. Seven panels along one wall of our Sanctuary
4. The Tribe of Menashe (the Oryx/Mountain Goat)

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