For more than a year, I’ve been working with Dr. Ron Wolfson to plan a ten-day lecture tour to visit communities across the South. Every detail imaginable had been checked and double checked to ensure that each of the twelve partner congregations on the tour would have their expectations not only met, but exceeded!
But no matter how much you plan, you can’t plan everything.
Two weeks before the start of the tour, Dr. Wolfson mentioned something that I should have thought of myself: his beloved father, Alan Wolfson, had passed away a couple of months earlier, and Ron wanted a minyan each day in order to say Kaddish. My answer was to assure him we could make that happen – but honestly, my heart began to pound because in the mostly smaller Southern communities we were heading towards, a daily minyan is not always the easiest of things to find or create on short notice.
There needn’t have been any worry, because one by one, each host congregation stepped up with true Southern Jewish hospitality to make it happen. Many of the people who showed up to enable Dr. Wolfson to say Kaddish are quite familiar with the process and frequently participate in such rituals; However, many, like myself, have never been called upon or volunteered to be counted for this beautiful mitzvah. Each of us received more than we gave in performing this mitzvah. Dr. Wolfson thanked everyone with genuine appreciation, but the response was almost universally “My pleasure!”
And it was. It was our pleasure to participate in this process in each of the 10 communities – creating a “minyan of minyans” across the South.
Have you ever stepped up to be counted for a Kaddish minyan? How did you feel about the experience?
Each week at our staff meeting, one of the ISJL employees gives a brief “d’var,” sharing some thoughts about either the weekly Torah portion, or words of wisdom about an upcoming holiday, our time on the road, and so on. This week, Ann Zivitz Kimball is on the road with Dr. Ron Wolfson, sharing lots of words of wisdom with communities across the South – but before heading out of town, she wrote this “for-the-blog-d’var” with her musings on destiny vs. free will … which might also provide some good car conversations while she’s on the road with the Wolfsons. Enjoy!
I believe with perfect faith that we are all created in the Divine image with a purpose, destiny, path and fate. On the other hand …
I believe with perfect faith that we are all created in the Divine image with complete and total free will. On the other hand (in her best Tevye voice) …
I believe with perfect faith that we are all created in the Divine image with a purpose, destiny, path and fate, and free will — AND I believe that when we use our free will and follow our hearts and minds, choosing unselfishness and compassion over ego and control, that we are much more likely to be present and aware in the moments that our lives intersect with Divine destiny.
Moses, by his own account, was a “stranger in a strange land”. Through hap and circumstance, miracle and tragedy, he was just passing by a bush, like many others before him; what makes the story different is that he took the time to notice the bush was both on fire and also not being consumed by the fire. From that moment on, he became the central figure in the Torah. Or was it from the moment he was born, or even before his birth, in some pre-destined plan, that he became a great figure? What if he had chosen to walk away as every instinct in his being cried out for him to do? Did he have that option?
Joseph, another stranger in a strange land, was placed in a foreign land by God’s divine plan, as he clearly believes … but was it a plan, or a series of random events? Either the events, or his destiny, led him to a pivotal moment of revelation to his brothers and saving not only the Israelites, but also the Egyptians – and becoming a hero!
Esther, a Jewish Queen of Persia, (undercover of course) found herself in just the right place, at just the right moment in time to save her people. Was it only because Mordecai insisted she apply for the job, or would she have been there anyway through destiny?
It is in those special moments, the great ones recorded in history and the every day ones we experience in our own lives, when we elevate ourselves and others, that we exhibit ourselves in the Divine image and God is experienced as a verb.
Fate, or free will? Can it be both?
Have you ever had a moment (great or small) when you felt that your very presence in that place, at that time, or with that person changed an outcome for the better or saved a life? Did it feel like pure chance … or destiny?
Because the Jewish population of the Deep South is small and spread out, it is common for Jews in the region to be the single source of Jewish information for Christian friends and acquaintances. When my son was in school and any Jewish holiday came around, I would make sure he had had enough information to reply to the inevitable questions of his friends: Why do Jews celebrate_____? What does it mean? Why don’t Jews believe in Jesus? Why did “you” kill Jesus? Aren’t you afraid of going to hell? Is Chanukah the Jewish Christmas?
And the truth is that the questions are wonderful! I believe it is our responsibility to be informed and have an understanding of the basics of our faith not only for ourselves but also for the friends and neighbors who—with the utmost respect—want to understand more about our religion. Down here, each of us has to act as an ambassador of Judaism, which means doing our best to answer questions, even “while standing on one foot.”
Just last month I was getting my nails done, when the woman in the chair next to me noticed my Star of David and started overflowing with questions. I could barely answer one before the next one came. It was for her a rare opportunity to ask, and for me it was an honor to answer.
I think the most common misconception about Jewish life in the South is that we are faced with a tremendous amount of Anti-Semitism. The reality is that we are faced with a lot of folks who know little about Judaism and most of the time, they simply want to be better and closer friends and neighbors! The only way to deepen friendships is through understanding and respect. I also believe it is our responsibility to have a basic understanding of what Christians believe. Outreach is a two-way street!
What is your most memorable “While standing on one foot” experience?