Sept 6 2021 1st Night Rosh Hashanah 5782 2021
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Our 100th year- Like Abraham and Sarah Having a New Born
Welcome to our service and welcome to the new Jewish year of 5782.
This year, our main theme for my Shabbat study session was a review of Great Jewish Thinkers from the year 0 till today.
I included both loyal Jews, like Maimonides and Mendelssohn, as well as renegades, like Paul and Marx. What I emphasized, throughout, is that, as miniscule as we may be, we have shifted the course of events worldwide, directly, and indirectly.
One of these thinkers was the poet-philosopher, Judah Halevy, who composed his philosophy in the form of a novel, The Kuzari, built around the search of a pagan King for a religion that could answer his spiritual needs. He invited a rationalist philosopher, a Christian priest, and a Muslim Kadi. He found their answers to be thin gruel and realized that the debaters were all making reference to this insignificant people, the Jews.
He invited a Jewish wise man, who began to tell him the family history of Abraham and Isaac. The King, as he tells in the story, explodes. What kind of religion is this? Why don’t you speak of first things, origins, beginnings of the universe? Why this prattle about a family from long ago?
The wise man responds, to the effect, that what we know, we know as a people, from the collective experience of our people, not from some abstract theory. Truth, especially religious truth, is to be found in real life experience.
With this thought in mind, we can now understand an important aspect of the Jewish New Year, of Rosh Hashanah.
The story of Rosh Hashanah is really a family account. Just as we speak of Rosh Hashanah as marking the creation of the world, in truth, our celebration starts with a family and the birth of a child. For us, it’s not philosophy, after all; it’s personal. That’s the point that underlies our Torah reading.
Our family, of Abraham and Sarah, is not so happy. The couple is missing a child. Yes, there is one child, Ishmael, from the second wife, but, as we can determine, it’s not an altogether satisfactory solution. Sarah is despondent- she is, as she jokes, “Now that I am withered, am I to have enjoyment—with my husband so old?” Nevertheless, our reading opens with the words,” The LORD took note of Sarah as He had promised, and the LORD did for Sarah as He had spoken.” Sarah at 90 and Abraham at 100 have a son, Isaac.
As I said, for Jews, all religion is personal and familial, not abstract, and theoretical.
Hollywood Temple Beth El is like Abraham. As a community, we have been around, officially, since January 26, 1922.
So. Like Abraham, we are hitting 100!
Here is what Congressman Mel Levine, whose family had been involved with HTBE way back when, wrote on our 70th anniversary.:
“Seventy years ago, on January 26, 1922, Hollywood Temple Beth El was founded to serve the needs of the fledgling Jewish community that had arisen as a result of the burgeoning cinema industry in Hollywood. The first Friday evening services were held in a bungalow on Wilton Place just south of Sunset Boulevard. An improvised Ark, two Torah scrolls and some folding chairs transformed the living room into a house of worship.
A few months later a lot was purchased at 1058 North Wilton Place and plans for the erection of a temple were under way. In September of that year, services for the High Holy Days were held in their new building. Despite the fact that the interior was unfurnished, temple members began to give of themselves by donating among other things memorial lights, a Torah, and their time and energy. Rabbi Alstead was the first to occupy the pulpit and the little 600-seat temple began to attract men and women from all walks of life.
Although the temple struggled through the days of the national economic depression, its members held tough. At times it was necessary to collect a few dollars at board meetings to pay for gas, electricity, and other utilities. Yet the doors were always open and the Jews of Hollywood knew they could depend upon Temple Beth El for a `minyon' three times daily.”
Within 10 years, the founders of the Warner Brothers studios had put together a constellation of the biggest Hollywood stars to celebrate the New Years at the Temple:
. In the years that followed, notable like Edward G Robinson, of Little Caesar fame, took the helm as President. Here, he is. On the top center row of that same tribute book:
While I was here in the 90’s, we had a chairman of the stature of Joe Youngerman, who successfully led the Screen Directors Guild, that Copper colored building just up the street from us.
We are lucky to still have with us as a loyal member, Roger Rosen, a grandson of one of our founders, Morris Rosen.
Like Abraham, we have had our share of tests and turmoil. Yes, we made it through the Great Recession, through World War II when sons of the congregation set off for the battlefront and the women of the Sisterhood sewed clothing for the Red Cross. We may have been down many times, but not knocked out.
We have shared, collectively in this great challenge of the pandemic in this past year and a half We are hopefully pulling through, with the rest of the world, in what has been a collective nightmare.
Now, we ask ourselves, like Sarah, is it possible to still be fruitful?
Can an institution of 100 years still be creative and productive? In a sense, we have been. We were able to use the internet and technology to reach out and keep in touch, with fellow Jews as far as Jamaica, Canada, and Poland, even at the peak of isolation . We held a virtual High Holy Days all on-line, some pre-recorded, the great bulk live, with myself, Carmen Fraser and Geoff Buck managing the technical end, and a few people scattered in the chapel so we could at least hear an “A-A-Men”in the background.
For several months now, we have been able to gather, pray and celebrate together in person and at the same time, reach out to home-bounds and use media to enhance our Shabbat. Even nicer, we have been able to have a real kiddush once again, so we could schmooze and catch up on each other’s stories. You realize that the word “ companion” has, in it’s Latin root,” with bread”, when you eat together, you create companionship, and , in that, we bring God’s presence in our shared lives once again.
So, indeed, we are holding a new child, a new baby Isaac, in the simple fact that we are able to come together in person, and at the same time, reach out. We can have our Rosh Hashanah Honey cake and eat it too!
It is very well documented, that people who stay in touch, who socialize, live longer and healthier lives. Do you seek to live a better life? Can I suggest , aside from your personal gurus, and your fitness trainers, as good as they may be, you add us to your health regimen. Our Torah has taught us that we can choose life, and what better way to choose life, than to be together, in company, here, in our congregation, on Shabbat.
We hope that as more of us are vaccinated and that this vicious pandemic is brought under control, that we will soon be able to have even larger numbers back together to celebrate life safely and sanely.
Now, we ask you to give us your support and participation, in person, and on-line, so that we can continue the sacred mission which was set up by the founders of this Kehilah Kedoshah, this sacred community, to bring the message of Torah and the message of Life and well-being to all who seek spiritual nourishment.
May this be a sweet and good year, one of health and no malicious virus,
Rabbi Norbert Weinberg