As a kid, I wasn’t perhaps the most perfectly well-behaved of children. The words “rambunctious” and “exuberant” and, possibly, “tempestuous” spring to mind. I remember feeling like there was a lot going on inside my head—and, likewise, like there was a lot of energy pent up in my body. And because the world isn’t necessarily child-proofed for kids like me, I felt like there were few safe spaces. My bedroom was one, and there was my grandparents’ shabbat table and, perhaps oddly to some of my readers, synagogue was another.
Growing up as I did, we weren’t particularly observant, but we were deeply connected to our synagogue community and, more broadly, to our Jewish community. I spent a lot of time at Congregation Beth Joseph; the shul had been established by, among others, my paternal grandparents, and it’s where I spent many Tuesday and Thursday afternoons in Talmud Torah and countless Saturdays as a member of the junior congregation. There was Sunday school and holidays, high and otherwise, and in truth, Beth Joseph was my Cheers, the place where everyone knew my name—and my parents’ names and my grandparents’ names and my great grandparents; names and all of my cousins’ names too.
And, considered in this context, this week’s Torah portion, Kedoshim, has particular resonance for me.
For a kid like myself, one unsure of his place, well… anywhere, an environment as hierarchically structured, as categorically dogmatic as a house of worship—and this is no different for any religious place or body; religions are, by their nature, rigid—such an environment should have activated every rebellious bone in my body and of those, there were many.
But the opposite was true.
In the sanctuary of Congregation Beth Joseph, in the sanctuary that was that building, I felt myself held in an even-handed and loving embrace. Kenny Halpern, Risa Buckstein (z’l), Rabbi Lipchitz and Cantor Kohl, and many others, modeled the reverence and deference due such a place; they modeled the rights and responsibilities due to and incumbent upon members of such a community.
In fact, one of my earliest memories is a Shabbatone at the YMCA Camp in Estes Park. I remember it as if it was yesterday: the stone-lined fireplace, the logs and chinking in the walls, and the teachers and counselors arrayed in front of us as I was called up for an aliyah. Jeff and Jerry reassured me as I recited the blessing. Lovingly they guided me to bring the end of my tzitzit to touch the Torah scroll. And in that moment, I felt a deep understanding that our tradition is not out there; it is not a far-off destination. Rather it is a place that lives within each of us and exists between each of us, through the acts of loving kindness and sanctification that we create and witness in each and every moment.
This week’s Torah portion, in its revolutionary spirit, makes accessible the inspiration and aspiration of holiness once reserved for the priesthood, now made attainable to each of us.
Rabbi Jay Strear
President & CEO
Please email Rabbi Strear at CEO@JEWISHcolorado.org with comments or questions.
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