Sept 6 2021 1st Night Rosh Hashanah
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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.
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.
Temple Beth El is like Abraham. As a community, we have been around, officially, since January 26, 1922.
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
“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
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
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.
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?
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.
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,