Message From Rabbi Gold
PARSHAT VAYAKHEL – PEKUDAI
A HOLY COMMUNITY
“Moses gathered the entire community of the children of Israel and said to them, these are the things that the Lord has commanded you to do.” (Exodus 35:1)
Last week I flew to the island of Barbados in the eastern Caribbean for too brief a visit. It is a beautiful place and I hope to return soon. My official purpose was to supervise the conversion of a teenage girl to Judaism. She had been raised Jewish by her grandparents who had converted many years before, but now she needed her own formal conversion. But while I was visiting, my other purpose was to give a talk and learn about the Jewish community in this small nation.
Barbados has the oldest synagogue in the Western hemisphere, founded by Sephardic Jews in the seventeenth century. There is a cemetery with tombstones dating back more than 250 years. In the last few decades the synagogue became Ashkenazic and decided to affiliate with the Conservative Movement. They reached out to me through this Movement.
The synagogue still conducts services every Friday night and on Jewish holidays. There is no rabbi nor cantor, so they are dependent on learned lay people. There is a large synagogue complex in downtown Bridgetown that is going through a major refurbishing and rebuilding, including the synagogue, the cemetery, a museum, a social hall, a recently discovered mikvah, and various shops. The community uses the downtown synagogue for services during the winter months when the cruise ships are in town; the rest of the year they use a smaller venue outside of town.
What impressed me was the deep commitment these Jews hold for their community. Without any Jewish professionals, they must do everything themselves. About half the Jews I met were white, having grown up in Barbados or relocated there from the United States, Canada, Great Britain, or Israel. The other half were people of color, either converts or people desiring to convert. Barbados is a religious country with beautiful old churches, but many people are looking for an alternative to Christianity. I asked if race is a problem, and they told me that it is a non-issue. It is a color blind community. The Conservative movement uses the term kehillah for its synagogues and communities. The was a wonderful kehillah.
The Hebrew root of the term is k-h-l (kuf-heh-lamed) which literally means “to gather” or “to convene.” This week’s portion begin with that verb; Moses convenes (vayakhel) the people Israel for the purpose of creating a portable tabernacle to carry through the desert. But in last week’s portion the Torah uses the same Hebrew letters when the people gather to build a golden calf. It says the people gathered themselves (vayikahel), using the passive form of the verb. There was no leadership. Rather the people gathered together in an unruly mob. According to Jewish tradition, they murdered Moses’ assistant Hur when he refused to build the golden calf. They then threatened Moses brother Aaron, until he built the calf. Last week they gathered themselves for an unholy purpose. This week Moses gathered them for a holy purpose.
People can gather together to do evil. Or people can gather together to do good. In Jewish tradition one will often see the community designated with the letters k – k (kuf kuf). The letters stand for kehillah kedushah – literally “a holy community.” I saw those letters on some of the tombstones in the very old cemetery surrounding the synagogue in Barbados. The people saw themselves as a holy community, gathered together to do God’s work.
I spent a day with a holy community trying to do God’s work on a small island in the Caribbean. I spend much of my life in a larger community of people trying to do God’s work in suburban south Florida. Religion is about people joining other people to do important work. There is a reason why the traditional name for a synagogue is a kehillah kedushah – a holy community.
With Rabbi Gold
RAP WITH THE RABBI – Once a Month on Sunday Mornings, 9 am bagels and coffee, 9:30 am Class.
JUDAISM AND THE SOUL
April 9 – (Class cancelled, too close to Passover.)
May 7 – The Contemporary View of the Soul
WEEKLY CLASS – The Bible and Everything Else Under the Sun – Wednesdays 12:15 – 1:15 at the office of Ken Rubin in Coral Springs, 9900 Sample Road Suite 404, Coral Springs 33065. (No class March 15.)
May you and your family have a restful, joyous Shabbat.