You are all probably familiar with the Chinese expression “May you live in interesting times.” We live in what are probably the most interesting times that any of us ever have, especially those born after WW II. We have all heard the words: ‘unprecedented, unreal, surreal’ and so forth. As Americans, we are simply not equipped to go into exile like this – especially an exile into our own homes (which is a paradoxical kind of exile, isn’t it?). As Americans we haven’t seen anything like this. But as Jews we have.
Exile plays a big part in Jewish history. Name a country, we have probably been exiled from it. And the exiles started long before then. First the Assyrians, then the Babylonians, then the Romans and leading up through the Dark Ages and the Middle Ages. Jews and exile were as common as poverty and disease in those Middle and Dark Ages.
So ingrained is that notion of exile is that, in the thousands of homes I have visited over the decades, I have seen the picture of the old man running away from a burning village with a Torah in a tallit in his arms and escaping with his community. (Thanks to Rabbi Google, I have found that an artist named Stanislaus Bender painted it). My grandparents, of blessed memory, hung that very picture on their wall of their front foyer. It seems to me now a reminder that upon going out and coming in there is a warning: exile can happen at any time and in a great many ways.
I don’t know how the present exile into our homes is going to be portrayed in the future. But I do know the images we are seeing now and the created words are all now part of our identity.
None of us will forget our Seder this year. Many of us were either alone or with one or two others while many of us were leading or participating in Zoom S’darim throughout the world.
We will also never forget our Shabbatot, either. We are coming together as a community and as a temple in numbers that far exceed our regular worship numbers.
For sure, at least one reason is that it is so convenient. Turning on a computer and tuning into the Zoom Room or Facebook Live is simple and there no driving involved. But there is something else, too. People need the anchor of the temple. People are looking for reassurance that there is hope and a place of comfort. People are looking for the familiar and the friendship, a place to share a prayer and a laugh. And they are finding it at our temple. Even people who have not been involved for years are finding a way back to the safety of our holy place.
We will never forget our classes. I am still teaching Saturday Torah, Sunday Talmud, Wednesday Theology, Sunday morning Shmooze sessions with the temple teens. The teaching never ends and the anchor of Beth Miriam has not wavered. The temple leadership and board pivoted as we had to and the continunity has been amazing. With the flexibility of the office staff, Rosy and Cantor Camhi, we have adapted as we needed to.
This is totally Jewish. There is not a single tradition that was not borne out of an exile experience, either ancient or modern. Everything has its roots in the past and the past is colored and shaded with exile. Today, too, we color our experiences with exile and I suspect will continue to do so. But in the midst of this latest exile, we Jews do what we have always done: we band together as a family, we adapt worship, we continue studying any way we can, and we support and take care of each other. That is the Jewish way and it is the Beth Miriam way.