Tradition and Change

Pekudei Drash by Sandra Z. Armstrong

When I taught preschool, I explained to the children the concept of same and different. It is a pretty elementary school basic concept and easily understood by most. These 3-5 year olds could grasp it but we as adults are now struggling with the reality. The last time we were back in person at Sof Ma’arav was December 18, not quite 2 months ago. And here we are back again, yet we and our world are not the same and very different.

I can count the ways for you, but that might not be the proper thing to do. And yet perhaps today on this Shabbos we finally understand what it means to be different to be a stranger in a strange land that we continue to call home. As the refugees, Jewish and not Jewish leave their beloved country under harsh conditions, so do our hearts and souls go with them. We want to reach out, make it better, make the world a better place for all but now all we can do is be together and pray, send money and continue to look to the heavens for relief. We Jews have been struggling for thousands of years. And as we begin again seeing our own struggle in a faraway land we struggle inside in the pit of our stomachs aching to do more to help.

I sent around a Federation response to the congregation yesterday, But there are plenty of ways to reach out and connect to help. We are Sof Ma’arav the westernmost synagogue in the world and we stand with the people of the Ukraine in spirit and in Jewish advocacy. Just the fact that we have spent 2 years bouncing back and forth between Zoom hybrid in person and total Zoom from our homes speaks volumes of who we are as a people and the strength that this small congregation in the middle of the Pacific can whip up on a minute’s notice.

Has any of this been easy? No on the contrary, it has been hard yet, and I say yet, because with the incredible work of keeping us close to Torah we have been creative and found peace and joy.

In addition, our loss of Naomi Olstein most recently has made us weep with sorrow. Naomi embodied a personal strength that now we can all tap into as our days without her move ahead. It is because of Naomi that we came together to help one of us in great need. And even in the darkest moments on the day that I found her helpless in her apartment. I knew that neither she nor I would ever be alone. This journey she took up to the end, we stayed with her, helped her, told her we loved her and she knew it. Yet it was time for her to leave us on earth and time for us to connect to her in heaven.

In Pekudei, the Israelites continue to build a home among them for HaShem’s presence to come to earth in a cloud, in their midst because the need was great and these were new people who had to learn the ways of heaven. How to embrace a greater good even when things looked awful and how to have the strength of character to do so. We at Sof Ma’arav have been granted 50 years of growth, change, and now a movable feast of loving Shabbat and being together. Has this been a miracle in itself that we are able to keep reading out of our Torah, the same Torah that Moshe received from God 3,000 or more years ago? Yes, I believe this is the miracle of Sof Ma’arav. We represent the Pacific Southwest Region of the United Synagogue in the Conservative movement of Judaism. We are in the middle of the ocean and we are in the middle of the range of Jewish religious options of worship.

Will our lives in Hawaiʻi and around the world ever be the same before Covid and now war in Ukraine? Probably not. But we as Jews understand what it means to live differently, what it means to cling to our traditions and hope for a brighter future when we will all be together, all of us in great peace and joy. Today on Shabbat, let us sing and rejoice as our forefathers and foremothers danced and rejoiced in the desert on a path they didn’t know, in a place they didn’t know, accepting strangers they didn’t know and accepting a God they were learning to know.

As the Jews built the Tabernacle and covered parts of it including the Aron Kodesh with gold, the brightness of the gold, the golden face of Moshe after he came out of his session alone with HaShem. Let these golden moments in our tradition, these streaks of lights and compassion, the love Moshe had for his people and the golden love we all have in our faith continue to guide us as Jews in a place far, far away in the state of Hawaiʻi.

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