Faith matters, rabbi’s social work teachesAchare Mot, Leviticus 16:1-18:30
There is so much to do in preparation for Pesach with all of the cleaning and cooking, the cleaning and arranging, the cleaning and inviting, the cleaning setting the table. With all there is to do, we celebrate last Shabbat just prior to Pesach as the Great Shababt, Shabbat haGadol. It is marked by a special Haftarah reading from Malachi anticipating the coming of Elijah and the Messianic end of days. It is intended to prepare us for redemption.
This Pesach is different for me than all others before because it serves as a milestone in my education as a Jewish social activist. Blessed to serve Temple Sinai as the Lead Rabbinic Community Organizer in areas of social justice, I find myself surrounded by an inspiring group of community organizers from both within and beyond the congregation.
Our Just Congregations Core Team at Temple Sinai dedicated the better part of a year listening to our congregants in small gatherings as they told stories about the issues related to life in Pittsburgh that keep them up at night. After listening, they organized. After organizing, they assembled nearly 200 congregants to vote on our social advocacy agenda. Having committed ourselves to improve elder care in the Pittsburgh Jewish community, to make smart decisions about Marcellus shale, to work for education reform in the Pittsburgh Public Schools and to ensure that every resident of Greater Pittsburgh has access to quality public transportation, they have taught me the true meaning of Pesach: don’t wait for redemption to come and sweep you away. Rather, each and every one of us has to put our foot in the water before the waters will part.
Our tradition teaches us that we left Egypt with a mixed multitude of others, non-Israelites, who joined in our redemption. In that vane, I have learned so much from the Moslems and Christians, the African Americans and the Latinos, the Whites and the Middle Easterners whom I now consider my brothers and sisters in the work of Pittsburgh redemption through our shared efforts in the Pittsburgh Interfaith Impact Network (PIIN). We are the largest interfaith coalition working for social change in Western Pennsylvania and blessed with tolerance and diversity. Each and every time I sit with them in a church basement in the Hill District, in a church board room in Oakland, in the Pittsburgh Chief of Police’s office or Mayor Ravenstahl’s board room, they teach me that faith does matter, that faith must impact our lives beyond the sanctuary.
With so much to do in preparation for Pesach, take a moment on this Great Sabbath to consider how you will bring redemption to our Pittsburgh. Perhaps these words from the Reform Movement’s prayer book Mishkan T’fefilah might guide you on redemption”s road:
Standing on the parted shores of history we still believe what we were taught before ever we stood at Sinai’s foot; that wherever we go, it is eternally Egypt that there is a better place, a promised land; that the winding way to that promise passes through the wilderness.
That there is no way to get from here to there except by joining hands, marching together.
May you and your family join hands during this Pesach in order to bring redemption to Pittsburgh.
(Rabbi Ron Symons is director of lifelong learning at Temple Sinai.)