All of the People of Israel are Responsible for Each Other

Remarks delivered by CBI President Mariela Markelis Dybner on Rosh Hashanah 2020/5781


As we prepare to usher in a new year, a year which we hope and pray will be easier, safer, healthier and more joyful than this one, we reflect on the year that has just passed. From the High Holidays of 5780 until the building closed in mid-March, we enjoyed a time of vibrancy and transition. We welcomed Rabbi Paul Resnick as our Interim Rabbi and Rabbi Julie Schwarzwald as our new Director of Congregational Learning. We studied topics from Talmud to Gender and Ritual. We knit, we knoshed; we shared scotch and comedy in our beautiful new sukkah and chicken and pasta for many a Shabbat dinner. We met in our building, at Liv Breads and on walks around our community. We prayed together with ruach and chanted in our chanting circle and enjoyed what seemed like an endless stream of celebrations in our sanctuary and social hall, culminating in an incredible Gala honoring the Linver/Askin, Engel and Katzman families in the beginning of March. We even spent a weekend getting to know a fantastic young rabbi and his engaging wife and unanimously voted to bring him into our kehila as the new spiritual leader of our congregation.

It was amazing!

When it became clear that the Coronavirus was an imminent threat in our community, we made the painful decision to close our building on March 13. Zoom minyanim replaced our daily times for prayer in our chapel; we faced Pesach, our first pandemic holiday with improvised seders and days turned into weeks which turned into long months of staying home with dramatically limited social interaction. Our medical professionals, first responders and essential workers braved the new virus with little information or protective equipment. Some of us fell ill or buried loved ones, without the support of our time honored traditions like shivas surrounded by family, friends and community.

During this time of pandemic, it is easy to feel alone. Originally legal and still now, moral, social and physical restrictions keep us from congregating as we did, as we would love to do, as it is natural for us to do. And the longer we are apart, the deeper we fall into ourselves. While our High Holidays, these days of awe are meant to be a time of self-reflection, as Jews, we pray together. I am reminded of the Talmudic text, Kol yisrael arevim zeh bazeh, all of the people of Israel are responsible for each other. In normal times, this phrase has vast implications — if one Jew sees another Jew at the verge of sinning, the first has an obligation to step in and help. Additionally, we are obligated to ensure that all the Jewish people have their basic needs met, that each one has food, clothing and shelter.

This communal obligation has added meaning in the time of a global pandemic. Not only are we responsible for our own acts in the face of a new and dangerous virus, but we are even responsible for the acts of our fellow Jews. We must care for and with each other. It is incumbent on each of us to consider the needs of the other, to reach out in whatever way we can. We should consider the health, mental and physical, of each of our members. During these holidays, we hope that you, our kehila kadosha, our holy community, has felt the care and love of CBI. As I am sure you are aware, our clergy and volunteers have spent countless hours preparing these services, coordinating COVID protocols and expanding our offerings to include in person, Zoom, livestream and outdoor opportunities for our community to pray together. The greater Jewish community has supported our efforts with grants from our Jewish Federation to help us reopen our preschool and from the Healthcare Foundation of New Jersey* to further improve our indoor air filtration.

While I hope you allow some time in the coming days to take a personal inventory of where you are in life — use the Days of Awe to look around yourself as well, to consider the needs of your loved ones, your neighbors, your fellow congregants and all those impacted by the havoc imposed in our world in 5780. And when you see the change that is necessary to help heal the world this year, if it feels overwhelming or like too much to bear, remember the wise words of the late, great Ruth Bader Ginsburg, a true tzadik, who reminded us that “Real change, enduring change, happens one step at a time.”

L’shana tova u’metuka — May we all be written in the book of Life.


* The Healthcare Foundation of New Jersey has roots in the Jewish community of MetroWest NJ from more than 125 years ago and is not affiliated with Jewish Federation of Greater Metrowest.