Friday, March 19, 2021/6 Nisan, 5781
Parashat Vayikra Leviticus 1:1–5:26
This week I was blessed to attend a four-day virtual conference with the Central Conference of American Rabbis. Over 400 colleagues from North America and beyond gathered to pray, study Torah, and be inspired by brilliant minds. Isabel Wilkerson (author of the book Caste), faith leaders Rev. Angela Sims and Dr. Emilie Townes, historian Julian Zelizer, and countless others spoke about faith, justice, innovation, Israel, political polarization, and the responsibility we have to one another.
My favorite part of the conference was the opportunity to reflect on this past year with friends and colleagues, as we dreamed about how the future might look. As more people receive the vaccine and restrictions lessen, there will be opportunities for us to gather safely in-person. We might even feel the pull to return to a past normal as if this “lost year” had not happened. My former HUC professor Betsy Stone warned against this. She explained that we can’t go back to what we did before the pandemic because it has changed us as individuals and as a community. This has not been a “lost year.” Rather it has been a year of disruption, loss, and also of growth. We have acquired new learnings about ourselves and the community at large. We cannot merely go back to in-person programming because doing so would mean losing so much of what we worked for all year long. During the pandemic, Temple Beth El has become more accessible than ever before. People all over the country have joined us to pray, learn, mourn and celebrate. Many of us have forged friendships we might not have otherwise. We have more regularly attended services or adopted new traditions – from Havdalah to counting the omer, to marking the days of Elul. We have meditated or taken part in Torah on and off the trails. We have joined the cantor weekly for Cantor’s Corner or storytime, participated in meditation, sound healing, Torah study, Resetting the Table, or Artists’ Beit Midrash. Judaism may not have taken place in our beloved building this year, but we have celebrated it in our homes.
We don’t yet know what the future will bring, but we are committed to learning from this past year and creating a mixture of in-person and at-home experiences which celebrate the depth of our traditions, teachings, and holidays. We are dedicated to ensuring that whether you participate in temple programs from around the corner or across the globe, and whether you attend programs in-person or virtually, you can have a full and enriching experience immersed in the temple community.
I have put together a hybrid worship task force to envision what services may look like in the future. Our reopening committee continues to stay on top of CDC recommendations and Los Angeles county restrictions as we brainstorm future programs. If you have concerns or ideas, please don’t hesitate to reach out.
This past year, we have learned just how strong we are. May we go from strength to strength.
Rabbi Cassi Kail