In this week's Torah portion, we zoom in on Abraham and Sarah, the founding patriarch and matriarch of the family that will ultimately give rise to all of Jewish history. The Book of Genesis moves quickly here, and Parashat Vayera covers lots of ground!
In this week's Torah portion, we zoom in on Abraham and Sarah, the founding patriarch and matriarch of the family that will ultimately give rise to all of Jewish history. The Book of Genesis moves quickly here, and Parashat Vayera covers lots of ground! In just the first third of the parasha (the triennial section that we'll be reading this Saturday morning at the minyan!), Abraham and Sarah welcome three strangers into their tent; Sarah laughs upon learning that she will bear a child in her old age; and Abraham bargains with God on behalf of any righteous people who might be among the residents of Sodom. This couple is clearly a little different than everyone who has come before, and they set a new (and very high) bar: demonstrating radical hospitality, playing a key role in the transmission of the covenant to future generations, and calling on God to do justice in the world!
This weekend, here in Seattle, we will also be celebrating another new beginning... this one a slightly humbler undertaking than Abraham and Sarah's new nation, but still innovative and audacious in its own ways. Thirteen years ago, Suzi LeVine and I, together with a talented "launch team" and an incredibly committed group of initial partners, founded a new Jewish community here and called it Kavana (meaning: intention). Like Abraham and Sarah, we believed in an open tent, to welcome the wide range of individuals and families from a variety of backgrounds who might seek to be part of a new Jewish community. Like them, we believed that we had a critical role to play in Jewish continuity... in our case, by building an updated community model that could appeal to the next generation. Like them, we had a sense that our beliefs and values called on us to demand (and also work to achieve) justice in the world. Many of Kavana's specific ideas were unique... from our geographic presence in Northwest Seattle to our pluralistic approach free of denominational labels, and from our personalized approach to Judaism to our strong commitment to each other through our "cooperative" identity.
As we celebrate the B'nai Mitzvah milestone at Kavana, we draw a direct line between ourselves and the family story that Abraham and Sarah began some four thousand years ago. Importantly, this story is not finished... we are still writing it, together, each and every day. Thirteen years into our local experiment, Kavana is a vibrant and increasingly multi-generational community made up of the most incredible people, where Judaism is brought to life in a rich variety of ways. Kavana has touched thousands of lives directly, and our work now reverberates far beyond Seattle, as Jewish communities around the country draw on our example as a source of inspiration. As our organization celebrates this "coming of age" milestone, our community takes on even more responsibility for our own Jewish experiences and identities, and for leaving a positive imprint on the world around us. I have to say, we are growing up quite nicely!
Please join us this Shabbat for services -- on Friday evening, Saturday morning, or both! -- where we can celebrate our coming-of-age together through communal prayer and words of Torah. We look forward to seeing many of you on Saturday evening as well, for our B'nai Mitzvah Party in South Lake Union. And then, beyond this weekend, if you keep reading below you will find so many incredible opportunities to participate in the kinds of intimate, community-building experiences that are the hallmark of this Kavana community.
Looking forward to celebrating this incredible milestone with all of you. Mazel tov to all of us, and here's to the next 13 years (and beyond!)
The Torah is usually terse and concise, but this week's parasha, Chayei Sarah, centers around a long story that is anything but! All 67 verses of Genesis chapter 24 are devoted to a single narrative: the tale of Abraham sending his servant on a journey to find a wife for his son Isaac, and returning with Rebecca, a woman of great agency, strength and generosity.
We Jews know how to wait. That is, we deeply understand humanity's imperfections, and that the presence of injustice or cruelty in our world cannot undermine our steadfast focus on trying to achieve our vision of a more perfect, more just future. We have lots of historical experience to draw on, and much language for this kind of spiritual resilience. One line that's been swimming through my head this week is from the prayer "Ani Maamin": "v'af al pi she-yitmameah, im kol zeh achakeh lo." Translating loosely here (and transposing what we're waiting for from a messianic figure to a time characterized by messianic ideals), this means: despite the fact that it's taking a long time for the world to change in the ways we believe it should, still, we are undeterred; we will wait - and work - until we arrive at an era of peace and justice.
Yesterday was the second anniversary of the violent attack on the Tree of Life Synagogue in Pittsburgh. Its memory casts a long shadow for me, and this year, the anniversary feels like a powerful reminder of the very high stakes of next week’s election.