Divrei Tikvah

From Rabbi Johanna Hershenson

As the month of November ushers in the colder nights and crisp, sunny days, of Autumn, I find myself waking from the stupor of loss and and existential angst stirred up by the death of our friend and Temple Beth Tikvah founding member, Gary Reynolds. It was just May 20th that a quorum of us cheered Gary on as he earned his eighth ceramic mug for his impressive finish in Pole, Pedal, Paddle. A month and a half later we all learned about his rare and aggressive brain cancer. And three months later we buried Gary, promising to ourselves we would do our best to comfort Terry as she comes to terms with the immense loss of her lifelong love.

Viktor Frankl wrote in Man’s Search for Meaning that a person’s “suffering is similar to the behavior of gas. If a certain quantity of gas is pumped into an empty chamber, it will fill the chamber completely and evenly, no matter how big the chamber. Thus suffering completely fills the human soul and conscious mind, no matter whether the suffering is great or little. Therefore the “size” of human suffering is absolutely relative.”

Frankl’s observation suggests that we need to proactively “fill our chamber” with pleasant experiences, intimate interpersonal interactions, and purpose for being so that there is less space for the grief and anger to expand. We can live even when death and disease are present in our experience.

Ultimately I think Temple Beth Tikvah, itself, is a manifestation of the shared effort of individuals in our community to create a venue in which we can practice noticing and celebrating life’s profundity and pleasure as well as hold space when loved ones among us need to be reassured that the pain and suffering they are experiencing in a given moment does not preclude the existence of compassionate presence and purpose. Our mission is to celebrate the rites of the Jewish calendar in their season, engage in lifelong learning and reflection rooted in the sacred literature of our ancestors, and build a loving community that cares for its members and humanity at large. To that end, I believe part of our healing process in the wake of Gary’s death is to attend to our shared efforts to create safe, sacred space and a meaningful way of being in the world.

In coming weeks Temple Beth Tikvah’s leaders offer events, programs, and practices to facilitate our community building.
  • Adult Learning/Connections will facilitate a workshop during which we will have the opportunity to share with one another the blessings and curses we have experienced trying to build a multigenerational Jewish community in an age of distraction. Following time for listening to one another’s stories we will break up into small groups to brainstorm strategies for building Jewish community in the world we live in today.
  • Our Adult Learning evening this month is entitled “What Would Moses Do?” We move our exploration of the historic platforms of Reform Judaism to Reform Responsa literature. This literature applies a rabbinic ethical decision making model to contemporary questions and challenges such as ethics in business, family, society, medicine, and scientific advancement.
Of course we will meet for Shabbat celebration, Torah study, feeding the hungry, as well as November’s annual Interfaith Network of Central Oregon Thanksgiving service and pie fest. There are also committees engaged in ongoing work strategizing and preparing future programs and initiatives as well as tending to our institutional health and growth.

Feeling down? Feeling like you need to engage in something meaningful outside your day in and day out concerns? Attend! Get involved! Life happens. Our task is to build a vibrant foundation that can withstand the storms while sheltering us when we feel vulnerable. The Talmud says: It is is not up to us to finish the project, neither do we have the right to abstain from engaging.

~~ Rabbi Hershenson’s office hours are by appointment. If you would like to set up an appointment, please contact her by email at: johannahershenson@gmail.com, or by phone at 541-213-9880.