By Barry Shrage, CJP President
Throughout all Creation, just beneath the surface, joining each person to every other person and to every other thing in a luminous organism of sacred responsibility, we discover invisible lines of connection. - Rabbi Lawrence Kushner, Invisible Lines of Connection
As I pack my office at CJP and prepare to start my new life as a member of the faculty at Brandeis University, I have been reflecting on my time here and on the Honoring Our Past, Shaping Our Future events on April 29. I’ve realized that I haven’t really been able to convey everything that was in my heart with all of you who joined me on that day and to the many friends who could not be there. These sentiments are my love letter to a community that has nourished me and challenged me over the past 30 years, one for which I will forever feel tremendous gratitude and eternal dedication.
I want to express my profound appreciation to all those who created the celebration: the Rashes and Friezes who co-chaired the event, all the volunteers, our moving speakers, my rabbis, my friend and teacher Robert Kraft, and the scholars who filled our Day of Learning. I especially want to recognize the truly amazing CJP staff, who exceeded all expectations with excellence and love. I must thank all of you who were there to honor Torah, community, and our friendship. And, of course, I give gratitude to God, who watched over us all and brought us to this place.
These collective efforts led to a morning event for more than 400 people that honored Torah and learning with great scholars. It was followed by a magnificent night that brought more than 1,000 people together that resonated with incredible warmth, love, and a real sense of community. We were united by a dedication to common values, to a vision of Torah and Tzedek and Chesed, to each other, and to community and by our love for the Jewish people, our neighbors, and our brothers and sisters in Israel.
I was deeply humbled by the celebration. I knew how little credit I deserved for the miracle of Boston’s beautiful Jewish community and how much credit belonged to our staff, our leaders, and to God. I was humbled knowing that the real heroes, those who really deserved that honor, were those who sacrifice for our people and our values, like the young Israeli soldiers standing on guard this night and every night or like the parents who struggle to provide a dignified life for their children with disabilities while fighting for a just community that supports a dignified life for all our children.
As I listened to the beautiful speeches, I couldn’t help feeling that they were talking about someone or something else, and then I realized what it really was: a celebration of community. Together, the day of learning and the incredibly moving evening were a celebration of the threads of our community coming together on a night when warmth and friendship and love illuminated the room.
Standing at the front of the room filled with so many friends, looking at so many diverse parts of our community, I could actually see the connections that so many of you have labored so hard to create. Synagogues and day schools that are filled with learning and caring and spiritual energy were linked through common members to hundreds of Me’ah groups to create our community of learning. These were tied to agency leaders who care for the poor, who lift up the lonely and isolated and people of all abilities, and who make us a community of caring.
We are also tied to those who work for equity and justice in the larger community, through our partners at Catholic Charities, United Way, The Boston Foundation, and so many other organizations who are linked to this sacred network of gemilut chasadim, loving kindness. These are truly the “invisible lines of connection” that create a kehillah kedosha, a sacred community. And in those invisible lines of connection I believe we can also see, if we look closely, the fingerprints of God, an indication of the way God works in the world by quietly bringing people together to do God’s work.
We were there, each in our own way, to participate in that sacred network and to pledge ourselves to fulfill our best dreams for our future as a community.
We have tremendous potential as a community and as a federation. We are united, generous, focused, and possess the capacity to influence the thinking and the actions of individuals and institutions within and outside the Jewish community, within and far beyond Greater Boston.
Robert Kraft talks about the “chalom gadol” that motivated him and shaped his work. So let me describe our “chalom gadol,” the dreams we have dreamed and created together and the dreams that I believe can define our future.
At a time when most believe that there is no interest in Jewish learning and that federations are in decline, we are creating initiatives and programs that touch thousands of people to bring our community closer to each other and to Torah.
When some say the Jewish future will be challenged by demographic trends, we are creating an inclusive community with space for all, including in-married and intermarried couples, gay and lesbian households, and people of all abilities. We have established a $7 million Bridge to the Future Fund to find, create, and invent ways of engaging a generation that we believe still yearns for meaning, purpose, community, and a connection to a people with a 3,500-year history and an infinite future. Built on the success of Birthright Israel and IACT®, the Bridge to the Future is an unbreakable promise from a brilliant and powerful community to its own future: to its children, grandchildren, and great-grandchildren, and to the future of the Jewish people.
We also are pledged to uplift all who are hurting in our community, the poor, our lonely and isolated elderly, and people of all abilities. Inclusion will remain our sacred obligation. There is and must be a place for everyone at our communal table — without it, we will never truly be a kehillah kedosha. We pledge this in the name of our ancient God whose name is compassion and who is the protector of the stranger, the widow, and the orphan.
And we are committed to this promise not only for our own community but for our neighbors. We will work with you as partners in the name of justice. Just as we worked with our partners at Catholic Charities to provide legal support for undocumented immigrants, we will work with all our partners to create a more just society. We have joined JVS, a powerful engine of workforce development, to create a large scale program of training with the potential to narrow the gap between rich and poor so that, in ten years, it might be said that the Jewish community took responsibility for the needs of the wider community, changed the paradigm of the future, and created an infrastructure of hope.
And we will always stand with Israel. We will glory in its successes, mourn for its losses, and remember that its very existence is a miracle, the fulfillment of an ancient dream that was created and sustained by the sacrifice of its founders and citizens. When Israel is under attack, we promise to stand by our brothers and sisters with support and love; and when we must in good conscience differ, we will remember that they are our brothers and sisters, the closest of family, and we will do so with love.
To those who say that the gap between American Jews and our Israeli brothers and sisters is growing, we can show the results of the Boston-Haifa Connection. Only real people-to-people relationships developed over many years with caring, love, mutual respect, and thousands of mifgashim (personal encounters) can turn the tide, undermine the stereotypes, and restore the love for our people that is at the very heart of Jewish identity. The relationship between American Jews and Israel is sacred. We simply cannot live without each other. We will expand the promise of Boston-Haifa and work to make it a model for other communities seeking to bridge the gap and save the Jewish future.
We are deeply blessed to have the resources, the talent, and the connections to make real every one of these promises, dreams, and visions as well as the terrible responsibility to assure that we succeed.
Someday, you may be asked by your children or grandchildren — who may have learned that the beginning of the twenty-first century was a hinge in Jewish history, and that Boston was a tipping point leading to a new renaissance of Jewish life in America — where you were and what you did.
And you can say, “I was there. I saw the renaissance as it developed. I studied and learned, supported and encouraged, and, most of all, I believed in the great possibilities of our Jewish future. I was part of the generation that bridged a glorious past to an infinite future.”
God and history, as well as our children and grandchildren, will bless us for our success or curse us for our failure because they will know that it was in our power to determine our future as a community and the course of Jewish history.
Finally, I offer a blessing for Marc and for all the leaders of this very special community. It is a prayer and a blessing that some of us sing for our children after havdalah every Saturday night as Shabbat draws to a close:
The God before whom our ancestors walked, the God who has been my shepherd all my life long unto this day, the angel who has redeemed me from all harm, please continue to bless Marc and this beautiful and miraculous community.
With love and joy,
About the Author
A passionate advocate for Jews in Greater Boston and around the world, CJP President Barry Shrage has worked tirelessly to create an inclusive community and drive positive change.