Friday, 29 September 2017

One More Thing - Neilah Yom Kippur 5778

It’s been a journey. To everyone who has played a part in making these services, these days, so special, thank you. All that is left is one more service. And from me, one more thing. Actually ‘one more thing’ is probably not the best thing to say to a room of Jews. We tend not to be so good with ‘one more thing.’

In fact, our un-easiness with ‘one more thing’ is possibly at the heart of the greatest challenge in contemporary Jewish communal existence. It’s most manifest at the Bar Mitzvah. Mazal Tov, we say, to those who accomplish so much, and now for your future as an adult Jew - as they head away from the Bimah, if not never to be seen again, then only rarely to be seen looking for opportunities to do one more thing.

I’ve a certain sympathy with anyone who feels, certainly at this point in the day, that they’ve had enough already - 24 hours into a super-concentrated dose of doing Jewish. I’ve this sinking feeling that in an hour’s time we’ll toot the Shofar, and too many of you will head away from the Synagogue if not never to be seen again, then only rarely to be seen looking for opportunities to do ‘one more thing.’ But I hope we can do things a little differently this year. I’m a Rabbi, I deal in the commodity of hope.

Maybe it’s taken the journey up to this point to open us up a bit - maybe it’s taken the last 10 days and the last 24 hours to quieten the distractions of the world out there and allow us to appreciate a bit more this - this Jewish thing we are so blessed to have as our spiritual inheritance. I hope you are feeling hungry - aside from the anything else - for a bit more Judaism this year. Ready to give this Jewish thing a chance to occupy one more bit of space in your lives this coming year.

I hope that’s the case because the, ‘I’ve had enough already,’ thing leaves us with a voiceless unlived and unloved Judaism for 10 days shy of a year. And that breaks my heart. We could be so much more.

There’s certainly something to build on. I don’t, in my various conversations over the year, encounter many members of the community who share - “Oh, just this, a bit of RH and a burst of YK, and really, I’m done at that point - see ya’ next year.” I know some people just say nice things to a Rabbi, but I think it’s more than just that. The sense I have is that there is at least a theoretical hunger to know more, feel more and even do more Jewish stuff. Ah, how to convert that theoretical wistfullness into something practical. There’s the rub.

I think there are two things that keep our desires to do one more thing in the realm of theory - for so many of us. I’m going to be doing my best to solve one impediment. The other one - is going to be up to you.

The bit that has to be up to you is this - find the time. I know it’s busy. I know we are all so busy, busy. We like to kid ourselves that this business is some radical new departure from the great flow of history when everyone had so much more time to do things that we would like to do if only we had the time. I’m not sure that’s the case. This one comes from the Mishnah, the time of the Second Temple. ‘Hillel used to say, “Don’t say, ‘When I’m free to study, I’ll study. Perhaps you’ll never get free.’”’[2] It’s as good a piece of advice today as it was 2000 years ago.

I’m not even sure all this business is getting us anywhere; not only the obvious stuff, like missing out on the growing lives of our children, our friendships, a sense of meaning in our lives. I’m not even so sure that all this business makes us better at business. Here’s my best tip - once you start to make time for the stuff, other than business, that you are prepared to value in your life it gets easier you just have to start and then commit. But I can’t magic more time out of your busy lives. You’ll have to do that piece yourselves.

Here’s my side of the deal. I’m not sure we, at New London, have got the offering right. What’s the thing that would give our members the insight and understanding and the opportunity to feel ‘one more thing’ is indeed the step they would wish to take. Sure we put on classes and lectures and meals and talk about the Asylum Drop-In centre. But it’s all too easy to hear an invitation like this and think, ah, that’s not really for me. It’s not going to fit quite right .... Oh I don’t know. We are all so good at these kinds of justifications of not doing, ‘one more thing.’ But I’m sure you are all right. It hasn’t quite been right so far.

So we are going to try this.

I want to make an ask from every member of this community. I want you to join me on a journey called Chai Mitzvah. Chai Mitzvah is a programme a number of my colleagues have been running in the States for some time and I’m excited New London stand to be the first community to bring the programme to the UK. I’m grateful, in particular, to my friend and colleague Rabbi Adam Rosenbaum for putting me in touch with the organisation.

Chai Mitzvah is a way for a group of Jews to go on a journey around the three central pillars of Jewish life; Torah, Avodah and Gemilut Hasidim - a triumvirate translated as Study, Spirituality and Social Action.[3] The idea is that the group meets once a month for nine months for an evening of study. At some point in the year the group engage in a service project together. And, each member of the group choose one Jewish ritual that they will celebrate for the first time.

That’s it. This is the ask;

Will you be part of the first Chai Mitzvah group at New London? We’ll be starting at the back end of October. Once a month for nine months, a new piece of Avodah and a social action project.

OK, that’s not quite one thing. Depending on how you count it’s ... well it’s definitely more than one. Forgive me, I’ve never been good at maths.

But the point is Chai Mitzvah is designed for the sweet spot I think we, as a community need. It’s sufficiently serious to make a difference, but sufficiently thin and spread out to be manageable.

And it’s good stuff. The study materials are thoughtful, insightful, inspiring.
The new engagement with Avodah - one step on a spiritual journey of connection to Jewish ritual observance - you get to choose for yourself. Is there anything you would like to do, but never done - an Aliyah perhaps, a blessing for your children, something for the Seder? I hear a lot of people share their nervousness about doing the really practical Jewish stuff. We’ll support that journey in any way we can. Cantor Jason’s up for it.
And you’ll get a bunch of me - if that counts as an inducement.

And a project of Gemilut Hasidim - literally a project of loving kindness. I’ve a great one to recommend. I’ve been so proud of our the work of the heroes of the New London Synagogue Asylum Seeker Drop-In Project, now a year old - having helped hundreds of those who have arrived on these shores just a blink of an eye after our own immigrant ancestors. I want to take just a moment to salute and celebrate the hard work and generosity of so many of you here tonight. I am deeply in awe. I love the Drop In, but you don’t have to choose that for your piece of Gemilut Hasidim. You can do anything that makes the world better for someone else, doing it with other people who are part of this community. We would love to support that. It’s a cliché but no less true for being so oft repeated. The best way to feel grateful is to do something kind for someone else.

It’s a simple ask. Will you be part of a Chai Mitzvah group here at New London? I want 100 people.

That’s a good chunk of people here tonight. In other words, this isn’t one of those sermons designed to remind you of all the people you know who should heed its call. It isn’t a sermon about the person sitting next to you. It’s a sermon for you.

I want enough people so we can find ways to schedule the learning and the rest of it in such a way that we all get to be part of the journey.

Are you up for this.

There’s are a couple of things on the table outside as you head for the door.
There’s a sign-up sheet, or three, you can grab a pen - once we are done with the whole Yom Tov thing, leave your e-mail and I’ll be in touch in the coming days.
There are some fliers - you can take one of those and if you are interested, get in touch with me.

I’m giving us two weeks - the weekend after Simhat Torah to get ready for this. There will be more in emails and announcements to come.
And we’ll be looking to start the classes at the back end of October.

So come, join me on this journey towards, ‘one more thing’

As we begin this one last journey through Yamim Noraim, more generally, let’s open our hearts to the possibility of all this making a difference in our year to come.
It would be a terrible waste to have come so far, only to slide back into the world from which we emerged only ten days ago.
Before these gates close, take a leap, make a promise to yourself, one more time, one more thing,
Chatimah Tovah

[1] With thanks to Rabbi Adam Rosenbaum for the inspirtation behind this sermon
[2] Pirkei Avot 2:5
[3] Pirkei Avot 1.2

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