Friday, January 31, 2014

Building and building

Before reading this, I’m feeling pumped today.  Good Torah day.  Good counseling day (lots and lots of counseling day).  Good follow-ups to good work being done.  And.  Lunch was delicious.

I've been thinking about the act of building all day.  It's the 18th anniversary (L'chaim) of my Bar Mitzvah (Terumah), and for the first time in six months I will be sharing words of Torah at the Okinawa Jewish Community Chapel.  Terumah is almost entirely about the building of the Tabernacle in the desert: building a home for the nomadic people of the Exodus narrative to be with God.  I don't think the analogy needs to be spelled out further, it pretty much screams "darsheini" (rabbinic for "sermonize about me!"; add Pete Seeger's death/"If I had a Hammer" to the equation and a rabbi can't avoid talking about building this shabbat). 

When I got to Okinawa two years ago, I spent way too much time trying to rebuild the chapel.  The infrastructure was in place (more or less), and the personnel were present.  But lacking any pass down from my predecessor and never really on good footing with the lay-leader, I often felt like I was building a Jewish community from scratch.  We did programs from scratch.  We dismantled Friday night and restarted from scratch.  We literally changed the layout and walls of the space.  It was a complete rebuild job.  That is not to say that the community was replete of natural resources, but its certainly a lonelier place to be a Jew than the Upper West Side (or even Hampton, VA).  And there was work to be done.

In rabbinical school, we talk about building communities based on vision.  When I look back on it now, it seems less like building and more like bulldozing.  Not exactly visionary leadership based on the Torah portion, but not a bad deal when you look at the haftarah.  In the haftarah, Solomon builds the Temple.  Not a temple nor a fixed tabernacle.  He builds THE Temple for an extended period of time.  To do so he uses the finest materials and builds upon a solid foundation.  The foundation is just as necessary as the building.

I like to think, I cleared the foundation for some serious building.  Not for me, but for the future of military personnel in Okinawa.   This week, I had a major sit-down with Rabbi Creditor.  As it is looking like I will be at sea during Passover, we wanted to sit down and talk about Pesach needs and how the seder runs.  When I first got here, I had to make serious compromises just to keep from having a completely treif seder.  There were hurt feelings; there were overlooked rituals.  The fights are behind us now.  The bumps are cleared.  The transition from completely lay-led community to rabbinic-led community - striving continually to rise in holiness and never decline - is pretty much complete. 

This week, I felt for the first time, that the work being done here isn’t just an ad-hoc mess.  I felt like I was watching something really permanent take root.  It was a good week.

Speaking of Pete Seeger, I think his hand is on my wife's back.

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