Who We Are/Our Mission
Beth David Reform Congregation: Inspiring a community of seekers, learners, and doers to pursue the best in ourselves and the repair of the world (tikkun olam תיקון עולם).
WHAT PEOPLE ARE SAYING ABOUT US
D’VAR TORAH/VAYEIRA – By: Vicky Weinstein (2018/5779)
This week’s Torah portion is Vayeira, a portion that is significant due to its message of interfaith community. I am focusing on Chapter 21 of Genesis.
When Sarah and Abraham were unable to have a child, Sarah gave permission to Abraham to have a child with their hand servant, Hagar. After Abraham and Hagar had a son named Ishmael, Sarah and Abraham had Isaac. With the birth of her own son, Sarah does not want Ishmael to share Isaac’s inheritance. The jealousy that Sarah feels towards Hagar and Ishmael poisons her relationship with them, to the level of her demanding that Abraham send Hagar and Ishmael away. God tells Abraham to do as Sarah asks, thereby resulting in Abraham casting Hagar and Ishmael out into the wilderness of Beersheba. When their water runs out, Hagar casts Ishmael under a bush because she could not bear to see him die. She walks away and weeps. God hears Ishmael’s cry, and from heaven, an angel calls to Hagar and saves them both.
In reflecting on this portion of the Torah…
I draw on the words of Rabbi David Segal who highlights that “[W]e read repeatedly of God’s special love for…the children of Israel, and that we maintain a “unique covenant and election to receive God’s word.” Rabbi Segal also points out that God reveals to “… others outside the community of Israel. Noah precedes Abraham and receives both blessing and law,” while Hagar “…receives God’s direct blessing and protection after her expulsion.” And this is an important message – that our tradition would preserve stories of God’s revelation to outsiders; an important message to remind us that we do not, according to Rabbi Segal, “have a monopoly on God’s blessing or an exclusive claim on God’s word. We have our special sacred text; others have theirs.” If we can keep this message in mind, we are closer to the humility needed to understand that “God transcends religion.” Rabbi Segal also calls us to the responsibility of respecting and protecting “the Divine word in every tradition and the Divine image in every person – our fellow Jews, our neighbors and the strangers in our midst.”
This portion is extremely significant to me on a personal level, as I have experienced and appreciated many religious traditions and have come to witness Beth David’s respect of others. I come from a family where my mother is a practicing Roman Catholic and my father is a practicing Protestant. My brother, sister and I were raised Catholic, we attended Catholic grade school and made all of our sacraments at the small Catholic Church in our town. We were also very involved in my father’s Church. We would sit with him in the choir loft while he sang on holidays. We attended Bible School, youth group and summer camp at his Church. We attended and volunteered at social functions at both churches throughout my life. My husband Michael and I chose to raise our three children Jewish. It is important to us that they understand and respect not just Christianity and Judaism, but other religions as well. When we were searching for a synagogue, we prioritized finding one where our interfaith family was accepted and welcomed. We have certainly found that at Beth David. We are welcomed to the point that we were asked to participate in Rosh Hashanah services. Welcomed even further that I, a practicing Catholic, am sitting here on this board of trustees.
I am proud that my family belongs to a synagogue where the Rabbi, Cantor, Board of Trustees, and members take seriously the call to respect and protect the divinity of all humans, regardless of religion. This is clearly seen in Beth David’s interfaith approach to social justice issues, including our work with hosting families from IHN, the Seeking Shelter program advocating for immigration reform, and the interfaith Thanksgiving celebration, to name a few.
In closing, I know that my engagement with this portion of the Torah has reignited in me a sense of humility so that I can continue to view others through God’s image, regardless of religion or political stances or other factors that divide us rather than unite us. And I am thankful that Beth David serves as a guiding model in helping to create a community of interfaith neighbors working to find common ground with others during very complex times.
Segal, David. Protecting the Divine image – in everyone. Retrieved on [10/11/2018] from [http:// reformjudaism.org/learning/torah-study/vayeira/hearing-cries-mothers-and-children]
Vayeira, Genesis 18:1–22:24 Retrieved on [10/11/2108] from [https://reformjudaism.org/learning/torah-study/vayeira/english-translation]