Gathering the Waters of Our Neighborhood

Oasis Songs: Musings from Rav D
July 22, 2016 / 16 Tammuz, 5776

In recent weeks, one disaster after another filled our screens and our minds. In comparison, this past week has felt like a quiet time of reprieve, and two topics closer to home have been on my mind. Frankly, it feels good to refocus on more positive and life-affirming matters. One is the closing of our community mikveh after many decades of service; the other is to introduce you to an occasional column topic I’ll be writing about now and then–the people in our neighborhood. 

The following bolded message comes directly from the Oregon Board of Rabbis: 

After 64 Years, the Portland Community Mikveh is closing its doors.
Join the Oregon Board of Rabbis in a short ritual to close the Mikveh
4.00 pm Sunday July 24 2016 / 18 Tammuz 5776 (Tzom Tammuz)
All are welcome to witness this rare and historic moment at 1424 SW Harrison

According to halakha, a sacred space can only be sold in order to create another sacred space. The Oregon Board of Rabbis has gifted the Mikveh to the Jewish Federation of Greater Portland for the purpose of underwriting the new Portland Community Mikveh, soon to be under construction.

Many of us have celebrated important life cycles at this mikveh. Some of us have gone there before our marriages. Others have entered into the covenant here as the final phase of their conversion process. In addition to those purposes, I’ve been fortunate to use the mikveh as a holy space for those seeking healing from troubled episodes in their lives. On a very personal level, I have been blessed to use this venerable mikveh last year before Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur as part of my own spiritual preparations.

While I am sad to see it go, our community is dedicated to creating a modern and beautiful mikveh that will be located on the grounds of PJA and the MJCC. The plans are for a gorgeous new facility, and my understanding is that the permits have been pulled that will allow construction to begin. This is all quite exciting.

I’d like to invite you to witness the decommissioning of the old mikveh, and am pleased that Rabbi Stampfer will speak about the history of this important communal institution. Additionally, now that this project spearheaded by the Federation is gathering momentum, and at the suggestion of our congregant, Ronnie Malka, who is very active in raising funds for our new mikveh, I intend to offer some learning opportunities about mikva’ot. After all, they are one of the three required institutions that every Jewish community must have.

Neighbors-An Occasional Column:

Here at Neveh, we’ve been building a community in which our encounters with one another have a certain depth.  That takes time. In an age where people often feel disconnected with one another, there is also some skill building involved in all that. One tool we’ve discussed is how dialogue plays a central role in that. Dialogue itself is dependent on us taking a certain stance of openness and receptiveness to the world and its many people. Openness and vulnerability is also how we develop friendships that matter.

Understandably, when we were leaving Cleveland, we first had to say goodbye to a number of dear friends. That’s to be expected. A healthy society, however, consists of more than our inner circle. A functioning society is one in which we maintain connections with a wide range of people. Saying good bye to my barber Jimmy was a poignant example of that.

Jimmy wasn’t part of my inner circle, and I wasn’t part of his. But over four years, he cut my hair with tremendous care and precision. In between, he would pull out a big book on architecture that he kept in a drawer to peruse when business was slow and we’d discuss architecture, something we both had an interest in. We also talked about his Catholicism and my Judaism. He had sufficient Jewish clients that he knew not to cut the sideburns above the bone-that’s the traditional understanding of where the “corners of one’s beard” (or peyos) are found, and which the Torah instructs us not to shave. He showed me pictures of his grandchildren. I showed him pictures of my boys. Because there was a mutuality to our relationship, we mattered to one another. Because we mattered to one another, I miss Jimmy.

These second order relationships that we all have are very important. They tell us that we are part of a place, and that we therefore have responsibilities to that place and its residents. Indeed, the word for neighborhood in Hebrew is “shekhunah.” The word for neighbors is “shekheinim,” and the word for God’s presence in the world is “shekhinah.” In a very real sense, to know your neighbors is to know God. To state that a bit more philosophically, God is the field in which we encounter others.

If you’d like to tie that into some of the painful current events that have absorbed so much of our national attention, it’s not too far a reach to argue that the best defense against the lone wolf terrorist is to build robust communities where our care and concern stretches beyond our own in-group and where we become aware of and responsive to those who appear in pain or whose behaviors arouse suspicion.

Given the importance of our acquaintances, now and again, I’d like to regale you with tales about some of my friends and neighbors from beyond the confines of our Neveh Shalom community. Stay tuned.

Shabbat shalom,

Rav D


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