I’m hoping that, by the time you read this, it will still be possible for you to join us for Temple Beth Ami’s production of Guys and Dolls and, then, the following week for our Purim Schpiel — Esther’s Guys and Dolls. The first couple of weeks in March are going to be filled with fun and festivities!
I love how the Jewish calendar works. A few weeks after we finish the frivolity of Purim we start the solemnness of Pesach. Sometimes it feels like we’re on a crazy emotional roller coaster, but isn’t that life? At any moment, celebrations can turn to tears and tears into laughter. In Hebrew we say: ”Gam Ze Ya’avor” — this too shall pass. It is a reminder that we must enjoy the gifts of life to the fullest - people, health and ability - even as we have to face darker times of loss, sickness or incapacity during our lives.
Celebrations are when we tend to look around our tables and feel the loss of our loved ones a little more strongly. It is why we say Yizkor at these times. Five times a year we remember those who are no longer with us: Pesach, Shavuot, Sukkot, Yom Kippur, and the anniversary of the date the person died. Why do we have a remembrance during these times and not Purim or Chanukah? Pesach, Shavuot, and Sukkot are known as the 3 Pilgrimage Festivals. These were the times when all Jewish families would make their way to the markets in Jerusalem to sell their crops. And, at these times of gathering, they’d remember, kibbutz and, of course, eat. Yom Kippur is a Torah dictated time of gathering, directing the community to assemble. Whereas Purim and Chanukah are minor holidays; they are not Torah-based festivals and are thought of as home celebrations.
Pesach offers strong imagery for anyone who is going through a loss. As the Hebrew people left Egypt, they left behind all that they knew. They left behind their work and their identities. They entered in to the desert - an unknown space - in which they had to recreate for themselves a life and a future.
As we experience the loss of our loved ones, we too move into an unknown space without those people who helped form our identities. We are tasked with making ourselves anew. Even though we have lost our loved ones, they still guide us by the memory of their ethics, ideologies, and teachings they imprinted upon us.
Moving forward is not easy but our faith supports us by acknowledging that the first 7 days we will be lost and disoriented. During shloshim (the first 30 days after burial) when we reenter life, trying to get back to “business as usual,” we may find in many ways that, although things look familiar, profound change has occurred. Most profoundly, in the year that follows, every festival and celebration reminds us that our world has morphed and will continue to morph into a new version that no longer includes the physical relationship with the person who we have lost.
What is the commonality of our mourning rituals? And of leaving Egypt? And of all celebrations? And, in fact, all of life? Community.
It is our community which surrounds us in our times of need. It is our community which propels us to continue forward with our lives. It is our community which rejoices with us. We will never know the importance of our community until we are in need and surrounded by it. You have this community.
Always know that you have community at Temple Beth Ami.