This week is Shabbat Across America. Last night’s services were led by members of the Youth Group. Shabbat isn’t going anywhere, and soon you will all have your turns at leading the Torah services at your Bar and Bat Mitzvahs and hopefully the Friday night services for Shabbat Across America in the future. So I want to ask you all now:
· What does Shabbat mean to you?
· What does it mean to be Jewish in America?
· This week’s Torah portion describes a lot of rules for Priesthood and guidelines for holiness that don’t mean anything anymore. There are a lot of other rules that could or might still be meaningful or relevant to some Jews, but we as Reform Jews don’t follow them. Maybe because they get in the way of your American identities, maybe because you haven’t been able to find the meaning or relevance in them, maybe just because the people around you don’t observe them and you wouldn’t even really know how if you wanted to (keeping kosher, observing Sabbath, etc). So then, what makes you Jewish?
· Why are you here? And please don’t say because your parents made you.
How about community? Maybe you’re here for that? In this week’s parsha, the Israelites are still newly freed from Egypt, still sort of figuring out what kind of community they are, and G-d commands them to take two onyx tablets and inscribe onto them the names of the 12 tribes of Israel. This LITERALLY sets into stone the Jewish community.
In today’s world, it probably feels like it doesn’t make much sense to set your name into stone for anything. We have a lot of choices in this country, in this century, and beliefs change. People join a congregation, people leave a congregation. Some people switch from Reform Judaism to Orthodox, Conservative to Reconstructionist, Lutheran to Jewish. Some people lose their faith in G-d completely, some people find or regain it.
But everyone needs a community. And this is yours. Your names are inscribed here. Shabbat Across American celebrates the idea that there are Jews of all sorts across this multicultural country. Wherever you go, there’s always someone Jewish, and that gives you an instant connection. Ideally, that should extend your community across America, too. In this week’s parsha, G-d already feels the need to remind the people, “They shall know that I am the LORD their G-d, that led them out of Egypt that I might dwell among them.” All of them. Together. In our fickle world, with all the choices and distractions and hardships and secular joys and scary adventures, it’s important to have a home to come back to. As you go on your scary adventures, make your choices, get distracted, fall on hardship, find your secular joys, Judaism can always be your home. Across America and across the world, there will always be a community to embrace you as a Jew. And may G-d always dwell among you, wherever you dwell. Amen.