Happy New Year 5771! Jews & non-Jews restart …

Happy New Year! And: Shana Tove! (“Good Year”!)

Rosh Hashanah begins at sundown Wednesday, September 9. For most American Jews, it’s a single day, but Israelis and more traditional American Jews celebrate for two days. If you work with a Jewish colleague or have Jewish friends and neighbors, wish them well throughout the middle of this week. As you do, you also will be celebrating that the calendar is turning to new beginnings for all Americans. This year’s convergence of Rosh Hashanah and American Labor Day is rare; next year, the lunar cycles move the Jewish New Year to late September.

The “entrepreneurial rabbinate” and the scattered community

WESTON, VERMONT. Rabbi Bob Alper (right) talks with two brothers at Weston Priory.Last week toward the end of our 9,000-mile American journey, my son Benjamin and I spent a couple of days with standup comedian Rabbi Bob Alper in the wood-frame home that he and his wife, Sherri, built on a Vermont hillside. Just leaving our van felt like we were stepping into a picture postcard of New England. Bob graciously served as host, taking us to the various places showcased in our earlier story about Bill W and the Weston Priory.

He also was busy, with a little editorial help from Sherri, preparing his High Holiday sermons for Temple Micah near Philadelphia. If you’re from Philly or are one of our alert Jewish readers, you probably have never heard of Temple Micah. Bob describes this 24-year labor of love as an “entrepreneurial rabbinate.” Years ago, Bob served on the East Coast and always was moved by the thousands of unaffiliated Jewish families in that area. Eventually, he agreed to organize High Holiday services using a large church that he transforms each year for these occasions. That led to the creation of this congregation called Temple Micah that only gathers in one short season each year.

His congregation welcomes people largely unconnected with other congregations for a series of services that he carefully plans with professional musicians from the Philadelphia area. All seats are quickly booked each year by word of mouth, email and some snail-mail as well.

In fact as we visited in his home, Bob was taking telephone calls from people embarrassed to ask him about his annual note to past participants: “Please contact Rabbi Alper if you are facing a financial hardship.”

Without mentioning any names, he told us about one caller: “This woman was so nervous and she launched into what would have been a long explanation, ‘Rabbi I was going to call you earlier, but each time I couldn’t make up my mind so I didn’t call. It’s been a hard year, and I wasn’t sure if I really should call and ask about …’

“But, I stopped her and simply said, ‘How many tickets would you like?’”

The woman couldn’t believe that Alper would simply pop free tickets in the mail in response to her call without a more detailed explanation of the problems she was facing this year. But, as she began again, he said kindly, “You don’t need to explain. You’ve been with us in the past. I want you to be there this year. I know just from the fact that you picked up the phone and called me like this that you need to be with us this year. I want to make that happen. Just tell me how many tickets you want.”

The envelope went out the next morning from the picturesque little East Dorset, Vermont, post office—personally stamped and delivered to the post office by the rabbi and his constant companion, a dog named Barney who Alper describes as a mixed breed with a taste for apples: a Golden Delicious Retriever.

With that envelope of free tickets on its way to the woman, the rabbi had made sure that one more worried, isolated family was knitted back into the fabric of the community.

Running the race to help feed those in need

Finally reaching our home a couple of days ago, I was surprised to find an email from my brother, John Crumm, whose day job is powerful enough to make a substantial difference in the world around us. As a community planner, he heads county-wide programs for Macomb County, a burgeoning region north of Detroit. Over the years, he has supervised such major projects as the development of a trail system through some of Macomb’s most beautiful areas.

What surprised me was John’s response to one of our America stories featuring Buddhist writer Geri Larkin in which she talked about coping with fear and rebuilding communities one step at a time. When he’s not directing large-scale projects, John also is a long-distance runner and organizes running events.

To start the new fall season, he’s got a half marathon coming in mid September and here’s what he wrote:

I have kept in the back of my mind the interview that ReadTheSpirit did with Geri Larkin as you traveled to the many places in the US seeking true responses on how individuals see the world and how they are handling the upheaval of a global economy gone bad. Just a simple few sentences in your article with Geri hung with me for weeks. She feels she can make a difference in this larger-than-life struggle by taking simple actions. She carries energy bars in her car and distributes them to those who are hungry. That small act of kindness and her connection to those in need by the handing of these bars is helping her make it through the crazy times. No, she will not end hunger and, no, she will probably not be remembered by the world but she will truly be remembered by those who came in contact and experienced her open generosity. So, maybe we can only make little changes in the corner of Earth where we wake up each day. Maybe that is enough. I am beginning to think so and God has sent me a simple word to grapple with over the past few months: action. For me, a community of faith is not alive without action. And, action in the larger world is not likely to become a part of our lives if we’re not active among those we can touch close to us.

So, in the year ahead, I’m redirecting my life toward small actions that assist my small corner of Earth. On September 19, 2010, there will be a half marathon that will go from Romeo, Michigan, to the City of Richmond, Michigan. It will cover back roads and trails and pass through agricultural lands. These races take place all the time across America, so one race more or less isn’t worthy of space in a newspaper column—except that those who run in this event will be running to generate funding for the Macomb Food Program. This program provides food to local pantries for those who are in need of the basics of life—sustenance for survival.

Those volunteering to put on the race and those running come from all walks of life. And at 8:30 a.m., September 19, 2010, when the gun goes off to start the 13-mile race—this group will become a community in action. We put away our differences, we remove our concerns for our specific demographic segment of the population because hunger is an experience that can happen to everyone.

ReadTheSpirit’s readers live in countries all around the world, including countries like India, Indonesia and South Africa. But, this small bit of news may inspire someone else. If you do happen to live near Michigan and would like to run in this race, visit our website for the Romeo2RichmondRace and you’ll find all the details you need. Most readers live too far away, of course, but I urge anyone who reads this note to participate in some way: Donate to food programs near your own home.

Small efforts? Yes. But by reading this note right now, you’re aware that you’re not alone in taking action. There are others, like me and our marathon volunteers, out there helping in small ways, this month. You might think of small ways you can help near your home. If you’re reading this article in Los Angeles or in Kenya, then this spark of vision I’m sharing already is global.

That’s what we will need to do to start making changes in our world—articulate what our neighbors truly need so that the universal connection becomes obvious. Everyone needs food, shelter, heat in the winter, and hope that getting up the next day is worth the effort.

Thanks, John, for that note! And, thanks Bob for your example! A rabbi and a runner in different parts of the U.S. are out there doing something good for the world this month. Not a bad start, right? Oh, and here’s one last thing I found that might add to your Rosh Hashanah reflections …

A Rosh Hashana postcard from “before”

The toughest challenge in this new year is finding ways to share our needs, our stories, our ideas for hopeful and helpful action.

Sometimes, a tiny note or a brief glimpse changes one’s entire outlook. While preparing this story, I found an online archive with a couple of Rosh Hashana postcards made in Tel Aviv in the early 1930s. They were made by families who posed for photos and had them printed as New Year’s greetings. The postcard below is in the public domain, now, through Wikimedia. It’s so simple, yet it stopped me in my tracks: The card was sent by a happy, hopeful family from Tel Aviv in 1931. Think about that era, the very early 1930s, the era “before” so much history …

The associations in this cluster of images from that era made me stare in wonderment for a long time. Perhaps you’ll find it an appropriate Rosh Hashana card from ReadTheSpirit as the year 5771 begins this week.

Shana Tove!

You might also like to read our Rosh Hashanah and Jewish High Holy Day coverage in 2012.

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