Sometimes you get to experience a Hannukah miracle in April. For the last few weeks, I have been leading our Tel Gator archeological simulation with our Fourth and Fifth Grade class. They made artifacts, which we buried in a tub of sand. Each week they “excavate” and find an artifact. I have written stories and activities to go with each artifact, so that students can learn about Ancient Israel history and geography, as they have the experience of an archeological dig. In the third week of the project, the students unearthed an olive oil lamp. While this was part of my original plan, I had never finished the associated story or activities. By coincidence, that week part of our activity was to walk the campus looking for Mezzuzot. While on our walk, the students explored the gardens and came across cotton that was ready to harvest. As they excitedly pulled the cotton seeds from cotton ball, I had a brainstorm. If we have cotton for wicks, and olive oil to burn, was there someone who could help us make the lamps? I reached out to Bev Swatt, a member of our congregation who does pottery. She agreed immediately, and set us up to make pinch pot lamps. She took our creations, glazed and fired them and returned them to us. We made a wick from the cotton, added oil and walla…our olive oil lamp was lit. How long would it burn? As we watched, we all joked about feeling like Maccabees waiting to see how long the oil would last.
After class, as I put away supplies, I realized that it wasn’t quite a miracle, but it was an experience that embodied something powerful in our congregation. Each of the elements was a contribution of time, resources, creativity, and knowledge from members of our community. The Lupin family, Bill Compton and Harold Levy were instrumental in creating the Olive press. The Heyers bring us the olives. Neal David refines the oil. Countless minyans/minions help us mill and press the olives. The Zoffer’s shared the cotton seeds. The Stenn’s helped set up the garden where it grows. Then, Bev helped make the lamps. Finally, students and their teacher, Josh Hurwitz (with help from Jacob Hoekzema and Jeff Hurwitz) brought the projects all together.
We are living out, in our day and age, the pattern of our ancestors as they constructed the Tabernacle and then the Temples of Jerusalem. In Exodus, in Samuel, Betzalel or Solomon, someone has an idea, someone has knowledge, someone contributes resources, someone offers energy, time and labor and a community builds a sacred project or space. We keep doing it here at Temple Beth Shalom: Caring Community and the Mishloach Manot bags, Sisterhood rummage sale, Enrichment programs…In each case different, disparate parts of our congregation each invest a little piece and we end up with a final product that brings a smile, enlightens a soul or brings a little bit of wisdom.
That is how we built the Tabernacle, this is how we built the two Temples of Jerusalem, this is how in our day and age we build a synagogue- not the edifice but the sacred human community. Whether study, ritual or act of loving kindness, each member has something worth contributing to help our kahal stand higher or bring us closer together in a sense of caring community. May each one of us find and weave the thread of Jewish experience that pulls you in, and draws our community closer together.
Rabbi Michael Birnholz