Sustaining Jewish Identity

By Rabbi Steven Bayar

At this time of year we mark two events in the Jewish historical calendar: Kristallnacht and the Yahrtzeit of Rabbi Shlomo Carlebach.

Kristallnacht, “the Night of Broken Glass,” is the name given to the first coordinated national anti-Semitic act taken by the Nazis after they came to power in Germany. In a short period of time Jewish businesses, congregations and homes were destroyed. Many were injured, some killed. It is what many mark as the opening act to what would become the Holocaust.

Shlomo was unique. He was a singer and storyteller, someone who lifted the hearts and souls of Jews all over the world with his music. His passing is noted and mourned by Jews (and non-Jews) of all faiths and denominations.

So different and yet both events are bound together for they represent losses to two foundational values of our tradition: Our institutions and our souls. The brick and mortar represented by our synagogues and organizations serves as an anchor for us. It gives us a focus for our efforts and allows us a place to gather to express our communal values and individuality as Jews. The music that we find within these institutions feeds the souls and creates identities that serve to cling to each other for support and communal action and expressions of faith.

This week we commemorate the loss of both. Yet, if you will allow me some rabbinic license, our tradition teaches that our identities have three “legs” for foundations: Our institutions, our worship and our ability to help others. The beauty of our tradition is that any one of these “legs” has the ability to sustain Jewish identity.

As we commemorate the losses this week we should also be uplifted by the expression and commitment shown by our congregation’s hosting the Interfaith Hospitality Network and providing a home for those who do not yet have one. We often lift our voices together using the music of Rabbi Carlebach. On November 18, I urge you to come hear Chancellor Arnold Eisen from The Jewish Theological Seminary discuss how Conservative Jews have a future.

Our three “legs” are secure — come help make it so.