I was invited to speak to you tonight to tell you why Or Chadash is an important part of my life. I suspect the actual reason I was asked to speak to involves one of my family members: my 4-year-old daughter Sylvia. Her favorite thing, maybe in the whole wide world, is going to Shabbat Services. She can’t wait every week for Friday to come. She asks me, “Mommy? Is tomorrow Shabbat?” And I patiently tell her where we are in the week relative to Friday night. The ongoing love for Shabbat has been going on for a surprisingly long amount of time now, especially considering her age, I think we’re almost to 25% of her life!
Perhaps it’s fitting that she loves it so much. It has to do with last minute errands that were happening the day before Sylvia was born. Almost five years ago, I was in the hospital, very pregnant, when it became clear that she was going to be born the next day. My husband, Larry, had a long list of the things that absolutely had to be done before we became parents. In his mind, one of those crucial items was dropping off our check (by hand) to become members of Or Chadash. Who was I to object? So that’s how our membership officially began. We have been members ever since. This congregation has been supportive of us while we welcomed two beautiful children into the world and as we said goodbye to both of Larry’s parents.
Sylvia’s insistence on attending Shabbat services every Friday night has become a source of amusement and sometimes bewilderment to Larry and me. We would look at each other and wonder what it was that she was so drawn to. We thought: “There’s no way this is just about oneg, is it?” I mean, we are a bit strict about sweets and special treats, but to sit through services for an hour a week just for a cookie seemed a little much. So I started asking her. “Sylvia?” I said. “Why do you love going to Shabbat services?” She thought about it for a second and then rattled off a list: “I love the Rabbi, and the Cantor, and oneg, and the songs and getting dressed up.” “So, basically everything, is that right?” I asked. She nodded and smiled.
I’ve kept thinking about her list ever since and all the things she said but also the things she didn’t say. I thought about my own experience attending with her and the wonderful things that stuck out in my mind. The number of people at services who know her name and have become her friends is amazing. People I’ve never formally met greet her by name and say “Shabbat Shalom Sylvia”. The welcoming nature of our community is highlighted in the way she is treated. Also, the patience and willingness for everyone to accept her presence, even though she is one of a few children who are in regular attendance. The corner of quiet toys has been so helpful in easing her into an adult environment. She can only sit still and display her “shabbat appropriate behavior” for so long before her inner 4-year-old is raging to go on display. I have been so relieved when one person in particular told me not to be so hard on her; that they understand she’s little and her presence, even if she’s not having the best-behaved night is much better than her absence.
Sylvia has learned so much about tikkun olam and tzedakah through this community. Recently, Richard Wahl spoke during Friday night services to discuss how we as a Jewish community can help asylum seekers in Tucson through the Casa Alitas program. How the problems they face are the same problems that we as Jews have faced throughout our history. At the end of his speech, he mentioned that more details would be discussed in Room #5 during the oneg. After services and grabbing a cookie, Sylvia turned to us and said, “Ok, now can we go to hear about how we can help?” She was adamant that she find out more. We were a little surprised she was paying so much attention and also pleasingly shocked by her passion to help others. Just this past weekend, I took both kids with me to the grocery store on a special mission to go buy non-perishable food for Project Isaiah. My parents, who had joined us here for Rosh Hashanah, had given me some money to go buy food. I was explaining to Sylvia and her younger brother that I was going to use some of their money and some of our money to pay for all the food. Sylvia insisted that she too wanted to get money out of her tzedakah box to help contribute. These little acts reaffirm that the experiences she is having as a Jewish child are teaching her to be a kind and compassionate person who understands the importance of making the world a better place.
Some of my favorite moments in our congregation involve singing. Particularly on “Friday night live” evenings, when extra chairs are being added to the back of the room and there are so many voices singing along, it overjoys me to see our common love for Jewish religion. And for all of you here this evening, that love for Judaism is on display. Even though Sylvia’s love for Judaism will very likely fluctuate throughout her life, just as it does for many of us, Judaism will be in the fabric of her soul. She will never remember a time when she didn’t know the sh’ma or the v’ahavta. Even if she forgets some of the words, she will still hum along.
The notion of “the future” to a four-year-old is very different then the future to most of us. Our sense of time and scale is different. Most of us worry about the future; our collective future as a congregation. Sylvia is fortunate to still be naive to the complications that will come her way. But her love for Judaism and Shabbat reminds me that there is still something captivating about being here together. She feels what we feel when we are in a room full of voices, saying the words that generations of Jews have said together. And that is something worth remembering as we all have to evaluate the role of religious Jewish life and choose to support it. I ask you to help in supporting Congregation Or Chadash, if not just for yourself but also for the future of Reform judaism in Tucson and kids like Sylvia.