Listening & Learning: Preparing for Yom Kippur

This past Tuesday, JCRC was privileged to host the Connie S. Birnbaum Memorial Lecture, with over 350 people in attendance. There were two notes that evening that I find myself reflecting on as we head into Yom Kippur.

In introducing the lecture, Herbie, Connie’s husband who founded this lecture 14 years ago, talked about her commitment to K’lal Yisrael. He pondered a discussion he’d had with a friend about the meaning of this term (literally: the “Whole,” or “Unity,” of the people of Israel). Is it about a shared faith, culture, nationality, an ethnicity? Herbie, in this conversation, arrived at the conclusion that what we are is a family.


Lecture founder Dr. Herbert Birnbaum

And then we had the privilege of an extraordinary lecture from Rabbi Dr. Meir Soloveichik. It is hard to do justice in describing his talk about preparing for Yom Kippur and Rembrandt’s depiction of Jacob blessing his grandsons Ephraim and Menashe. Soloveichik covered a wide range of material. He grappled with Talmudic sources and Christian theology, cited the Simpsons and baseball, and read from an exchange of letters between a rabbi and a Catholic priest in Boston in the 1950’s. Suffice to say that he imparted a powerful meditation on repentance, about that which belongs to the Divine, and on our relationships with our children (Sadly, you had to be there as we are not able to share this amazing talk online. I hope that you will join us next year! You can view more photos of our evening on Facebook.).


Featured speaker Rabbi Dr. Meir Soloveichik

As the lecture ended, an additional thought came to mind:

Rembrandt’s art was deeply informed and enriched by his relationships with his neighbor, a rabbi. Four hundred years later, our understanding of the most ancient of Jewish practices and holidays is deepened through understanding the work of this Dutch master.

Today our Jewish family struggles in our relationship with each other. We have strongly held opinions and deep disagreements. We have divides that often seem unbridgeable, differences that some choose to exacerbate, which drive us even further apart.

If Rembrandt could learn from a rabbi to enrich his own understanding, and if we can learn from Rembrandt across the ages to enrich our own, then surely we can learn to hear and appreciate each other across our differences; not to create a false unity of agreement, but to foster the understanding and respectful relationships that define a family committed to its shared future.

Let this be a central piece of our work, as a family and a community, in the coming year.

Wishing those who are doing so a meaningful fast this weekend.

Shabbat Shalom,

Jeremy