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President's Column by President Amy Gerstein

Let the Sunshine In
September/October 2023

Last Rosh Hashanah, deep in the pages of Mishkan Ha’Nefesh — our machzor (High Holy Day prayerbook), I came across a kavanah (intention, reading) from Rabbi Milton Steinberg that has stayed with me all year. (Some of you may know Rabbi Steinberg, who died 70 years ago, as the author of As a Driven Leaf and Basic Judaism, two of the most influential Jewish books of the last one hundred years.)

Rabbi Steinberg wrote:

After a long illness, I was permitted for the first time to step outdoors. And as I crossed the threshold, sunlight greeted me. So long as I live I shall never forget that moment… And everywhere in the firmament above me, in the great vault between earth and sky, on the pavements, the buildings — the golden glow of sunlight. It touched me, too, with friendship, with warmth, with blessing… And I remembered how often I had been indifferent to the sunlight, how often preoccupied with petty and sometimes mean concerns. And I said to myself, How precious is the sunshine, but alas, how careless of it we are.

As I prepared for this Rosh Hashanah, I found myself wondering why this passage was so powerful to me. It’s not just the beauty of the prose, however remarkable. And it’s not just the notion that sunshine – and friendship, warmth and other blessings — are precious, although of course they are. For me, the critical element in this short teaching is the idea of being “indifferent” to sunshine because of being too “often preoccupied with petty and sometimes mean concerns.”

My friends, this has not been an easy year for Beth Am. We — all of us — have sometimes allowed “petty and mean concerns” to carry us away. We — all of us — have too often been indifferent to the sunshine, the blessing, that Congregation Beth Am is in our lives.

As we enter a New Year filled, as always, with great promise, I hope we will be mindful of the warmth and friendship we can find here at Beth Am. I hope we can leave behind any feelings of indifference and share moments we will never forget. Rabbi Steinberg was able to experience the sunshine as if for the first time. Can we, together, find ways to feel the joy of belonging to Beth Am as if for the first time?  

On behalf of our entire Board of Directors, I wish you a joyous New Year. May it be a year of health and happiness, of joy and justice, and of golden sunshine.

L'shalom,

president@betham.org

Tue, July 23 2024 17 Tammuz 5784