Leaving the Oasis

Oasis Songs: Musings from Rav D
Friday, March 15, 2024 / 5 Adar Sheni 5784

Summary: This week’s column will be the final regularly occurring weekly installment of the Oasis Songs. As important events in the world transpire, or other matters that require a thoughtful and sustained response arise, you can expect to receive an occasional Oasis Song.

Reading Time: Four minutes

For many of us, the image of an oasis has long been embedded in our cultural and personal memories. Certainly films such as Peter O’Toole’s portrayal in Lawrence of Arabia contributed to that, yet the concept of a sanctuary in a harsh world has a special resonance, and oases sometimes figured in childhood cartoons. The juxtaposition of a verdant, palm-filled watering hole set amid seemingly unending sands creates a sense of relief.

One possible translation of the Hebrew Neveh Shalom is an oasis of peace. Many of us experience our time at the synagogue in this way—a respite from the rest of our work week and a place where it is comfortable to be unabashedly Jewish. I hope that this is your experience when you step through our congregational gates. But it wasn’t only our congregational name that led me to call this weekly column Oasis Songs…

In an incredibly magnanimous act of generosity, my paternal grandfather took our family of nearly twenty people to Israel the summer after my bar mitzvah. That trip was magical, cementing an enduring connection to our ancestral homeland. I was particularly taken by those experiences that seemed most exotic to a suburban New York kid, such as riding a camel or visiting a Bedouin camp, where the sounds of coffee beans being pounded by hand created a rhythmic song that reached us long before we set foot within the Bedouin tent. The desert’s emptiness allows these sorts of songs to travel far and wide. It was this type of sense memory that inspired me to call my weekly message to our community Oasis Songs. At its best, Torah study, whether it is hyper-focused on the weekly parshah, or indirectly inspired by Jewish concepts that can inform contemporary life, offers us an expansive mental space in which we, too, can take temporary refuge from our daily demands or the nitty gritty concerns that often occupy our thoughts.

For nearly nine years, I have challenged myself to create a variety of “songs” for this column, which in turn have ranged from emotionally-laden poetic reflections to intellectual thought pieces that attempted to offer fresh perspectives on the world. As part of this latter process, my writing process involved a great deal of self-interrogation and critical thinking in which I would challenge my own thoughts and assumptions midstream, abandoning what I had previously believed. Often, substantial research was required so that I wouldn’t regurgitate what I thought I already knew. All of this took time and effort, which, as we know, are limited resources.

After last year’s High Holidays, we sent out a survey to the community to best understand what its needs were, and what people desired from their synagogue and clergy. The professional staff and lay leadership took these results seriously; we have tried to be responsive by evaluating the diverse needs you expressed (look for a future article about this). Of necessity, this has required rebalancing different staff members’ work priorities. As we have each embraced these new goals, we have also been challenged to consider how to reallocate time to best meet them. What would we keep? What would we release? Often, experimentation is required when we make these sorts of changes. We should never shy away from recalibrating our lives, even though we can never be sure of the outcome.

Simultaneously, it has been very valuable to connect with you this way. It’s always been enjoyable to share perspectives and to hear your reactions and responses to a given Oasis Song. Starting next week, therefore, please look forward to receiving weekly thoughts on the Torah parshah or upcoming holiday from me in our weekend eblast.

Finally, one of the greatest gifts we offer one another is our attention. From the bottom of my heart, I want to thank you for the attention you have given to this column over the years, which has been humbling. The oasis has always been a way station in humanity’s journeys, and rarely a place to settle permanently. We go there to recharge, cool down, and drink deeply. Then, we saddle up again, hoping for the chance to return at some future point, but knowing, regardless, the value that temporary sanctuary provides to us all. Thanks for stopping here with me along the way.

Shabbat Shalom,

Rav D

Shabbat Table Talk

  1. Time is our most valuable non-renewable resource. How often do you consider how you spend your time? Has doing so led you to make changes to your schedule or commitments?
  2. We all operate out of a wide set of assumptions about how the world works. Those assumptions influence what we think about our relationships, politics, economics, religion: indeed, any area of human endeavor. Have you ever felt compelled to challenge your own assumptions? What led you to do so? Did you develop a method to help in this effort?
  3. What have been some favorite places for you to recharge? They might be close to home or further afield.

If you’d like to continue this discussion, follow this link to CNS’s Facebook page to share your own perspectives on the topics raised in this week’s Oasis Songs. Comments will be moderated as necessary.