In this series of short blog posts from TOS staff and lay leaders, you’ll learn what each of us is most proud of about TOS. Each of these aspects is a snapshot that represents part of the diverse collage that makes Ohabei Shalom so special. Enjoy! And let us know what you think.
This Tuesday afternoon I had the pure joy of meeting with all of the fabulous ARS teachers who will be working with your children this year. We sang together our ARS theme song for the year, Kehillah Kedoshah by Dan Nichols. (You can find a video here and the lyrics here). I wanted to share with you a bit about why ARS is thinking about kehillah kedoshah (holy community) this year—what it means to us, to you, to your children, and to the whole TOS community.
Within this song, the musician also included words from the Torah portion Nitzavim—which happens to be this week’s Torah portion! (It’s amazing when that happens!!) Torah portions are named after the first line. In this case, the first line is: Atem nitzavim hayom kulchem lifnei Adonai Elohechem: You stand here today before Adonai Your God. At this point in the Torah, the Israelites are standing on the border of Israel, preparing to enter the Promised Land. This is a monumental moment—a moment of preparation, of the deep breath before taking the step. Kind of like this moment in Jewish time—the week before Rosh Hashanah, as we take a deep breath to prepare for the heshbon hanefesh, the accounting of our souls, that we do to begin the new year.
The word nitzavim means standing, but it has a specific implication: being firmly planted, actively unshakeable, and deeply committed. (On some level, it’s reminiscent of being an upstander—a term many of your children know from the anti-bullying campaign OLWEUS that’s used in the Brookline Public Schools.) To stand up for what you believe in, to commit to your values and your causes. And there’s a reason we read Nitzavim at this time of year, when we are preparing for the High Holy Days. It’s a time for us to really think deeply. To prepare, to set intentions, to assess, and to recommit ourselves—to become more nitzav, steadfast in our values. To take a stand for what we believe in.
I want to share with you one of the things to which I am recommitting myself this year. I believe that ARS is a kehillah kedoshah, a holy community, just like the song says. It is a place where we welcome new friends, we help others find their own way on their personal Jewish journeys, and we elevate our individuality in the bonds of community. ARS, when it’s working right, is filled with the magic, the secret sauce, the awe-inspiring feeling of kehillah kedoshah.
How do we do it? How do we actually be a Kehillah Kedoshah?
Through three ancient values as written in Pirkei Avot, the words of our sages: on three things the world stands: Torah (Learning), Avodah (Worship), and G’milut Hasadim (Acts of Loving Kindness). What are these three things at ARS?
Torah is more than simply the bible stories we pass down from generation to generation. It’s the learning and the teaching we do in our classrooms. It’s the history we live when we learn about the Jewish stories of our own families. And it’s our commitment to our own stories and journeys—from baby namings to preschool to kindergarten Consecration to ARS learning to b’nei mitzvah to high school exploration and Confirmation and beyond.
Avodah may literally mean work, but it’s work in the service of something greater. Work for others—whether volunteering in our own community and being a teacher’s helper at ARS, or weekly TELEM visits to the Boys & Girls Club of Dorchester to be reading buddies. And also service in terms of prayer: holy service. Learning the components of the Shabbat service, feeling a sense of mastery and understanding of prayer, and being able to lead the ARS community in prayer.
G’milut Hasadim, acts of loving kindness, are a crucial component of being a holy community. The way in which we treat each other—with kind words, with kavod (respect), with caring—we are enacting the world in the way we want it to be. G’milut Hasadim starts at a student-student level and builds to a whole class, to the whole school, and to the greater TOS community. It also includes the things we do for each other because we’re all in this together, whether it’s calling a friend who’s been sick and home from school, inviting every member of your ARS class to your bar/bat mitzvah, or making a shiva call—we enact holiness when we create community through g’milut hasadim.
There is something special, different, and awe-inspiring about a holy community. ARS is certainly that.
And one of the ways in which we are kicking off our year of kehillah kedoshah is that we are going to help families in Houston who have been impacted by Hurricane Harvey with a book drive. TCEE, ARS, HomeBASE, and TOS are collecting books which we will box up and ship to colleagues in Houston who will distribute them to those who have lost their books. We will have collection boxes around the synagogue until the end of September.
Building a kehillah kedoshah includes a lot of the work of tikkun olam, repairing our world. Sometimes it feels like we can’t do it all. Sometimes we feel overwhelmed. But to pull in one more of my favorite Jewish texts, also from Pirkei Avot—Lo Alecha Hamlacha Ligmor—It is not our job to complete the work, but neither are we free to desist from it. Which means that even when we’re overwhelmed, we need to take that first step. We need to nitzav, to recommit ourselves, to stand up for what we believe in.
So today, as we prepare to open our doors for our 22nd year, I’ll reiterate: ARS is our kehillah kedoshah. Ken y’hi ratzon—may it be so.