Happy secular new year! It is so nice to have this season separate from Hanukkah, and to look at the next holiday of Tu B’Shevat as a corollary to this season. In fact, our Birthday for the trees is the opposite of the Celtic tradition of the evergreen tree (or the artificial one invented by Si Spiegel): our trees look barren in winter, but it is the first sign of a bud that marks the beginning of renewal. Not full-blown, not merry happy, but a fledgling sapling ready to blossom in the spring.
I pondered this contrast last Shabbat as we had 5 for services and could not say Kaddish. If Kaddish is said at shul, and no one is there to hear it, does it get an Amen? Well, the answer is yes and no. Any prayer is a call to the One and all, and any prayer, even one that requires a quorum like Kaddish, has a resonance for the prayer giver. For those in mourning who have found themselves in front of a tombstone, or on the highway, or even on vacation in a foreign destination, the murmured words of the kaddish bring tradition and healing to the ones that offer it in any form or place. While rabbinically proscribed to ensure people show up for one another and the sacred right of minyan, a gathering of 10, I will never forbid an individual or small family from declaring God makes peace in the heavens and for all on earth. I have been a witness many times to a group of nine that asks if we can use a child holding a Torah, or some other calculus, to create the sacred quorum.
However, it does not get an Amen, in the literal sense. We cannot claim as individuals the power to ratify God’s formula of grief. Amen is so much more than a “Yes!”, it is a sign of ratification and a communal answer to the question “who will remember me when I am gone?” The answer is Judaism, made up of Jews you may not know or were even born (or Jewish) when you were alive. Kaddish in a group of 10 offers more than comfort and interpersonal support. It is a satellite of consistency, a gauge of community, and a barometer of Jewish health. Contrary to minyan becoming a cult of grief and a place of lament, kaddish and its necessity for minyan insists that life is for the living, and a primary way we show our love of divinity is the support of humanity.
During COVID TNS has used online, in-person and hybrid models to ensure this right is not lost or forgotten. None should be put at risk to ensure we see and hear one another. We have the technology and power to make minyan in these uncertain times. As we navigate the law of the land and the Law of Torah, let us be the best of Conservative Judaism, combining our tradition and innovation to keep the chain of generations vital, la dor va dor.
We are blessed to have a committed group that will show up rain or shine. This is our trunk, our tree of life. For those of us who are perhaps one rung away from this commitment, more a branch on this tree, or perhaps further out, like a potential bud at the tip of tomorrow, happy birthday to us! We all have an opportunity to ensure minyan, online and in person, by turning on our phones to make sure there is 10 for Kaddish each Friday evening. It’s ok to sign off if we have the numbers. It's alright to come to shul only to leave once we are sure amen will be declared. Put it in your calendar. It’s Shabbat. Friday at 6:15. Who knows, your Amen may make the difference in a soul, past, present, and future.
Rabbi Lord Jonathan Sacks
An international religious leader, philosopher, award-winning author and respected moral voice, Rabbi Lord Jonathan Sacks was awarded the 2016 Templeton Prize in recognition of his “exceptional contributions to affirming life’s spiritual dimension.” Described by H.R.H. The Prince of Wales as “a light unto this nation” and by former British Prime Minister Tony Blair as “an intellectual giant”, Rabbi Sacks was a frequent and sought-after contributor to radio, television and the press both in Britain and around the world.
Rabbi Micah Hyman
Rabbi Micah Hyman has returned to SLO county after five years around California. He has served pulpits in Los Angeles, San Francisco and Paris. Rabbi Hyman has also been an innovator in experiential education, serving the Jewish Museum in New York, the Spertus Institute in Chicago, and ANU: The Museum of the Jewish People in Tel Aviv. He enjoys SLO living in all its Nature and Culture, smoking lox, on the water, and hiking with his sons Nathan and Theo.