We learn in Leviticus 19:23 "When you enter the land and plant any kind of fruit tree, regard its fruit as forbidden... it must not be eaten. In the fourth year all its fruit will be holy, an offering of praise to the LORD. But in the fifth year you may eat its fruit. In this way your harvest will be increased. I am the LORD your God."
Trees are a long-view crop. For the first three years, they may not be harvested at all, as they establish strong roots and adapt to their environment. In year 4, the whole harvest is dedicated, raised up to its holy source, as a sacrificial offering. In year 5 and following, the original purpose, for human nourishment, is fulfilled.
I often feel that I am a gardener at Temple Israel. I've made sermons about trimming trees, weeding out plant matter that chokes out growth, adding compatible plants, nourishing the soil. These are all apt and beautiful parallels to nurturing community development. But now I see there is a part of my work here that is closer to being an orchardist.
In my first 18 months here, I mostly cleaned rooms and threw out moldy papers. Here and there, I led services, usually poorly attended. Over time, we modernized office procedures and capacity. New leadership came on to give a deserved break to some of the board members who had steered the ship thru the difficult years of rabbinic transition. We offered some stellar programs and began to take our place again in the wider Greenfield community. There were definite signs of growth, but not a full crop of edible fruit.
In those early months, I dreamed about bringing more music to TI. I set the intention to attract young families and individuals. I wished for more learning, maybe all ages learning together in a yeshiva-like model. I hoped to bring Jewish culture, book talks, movies and plays to our community; and special guests to enliven our learning. I dreamed all these dreams for 3 years. I am in the very middle of my Seven Year Plan here.
"When God returned us to our place, we were like dreamers... We planted with tears and harvested in Joy."
Here is what I see at Temple Israel, in this 4th year, this year of offering up "the fruits of our labor." We have a healthier, cleaner and more livable building (although more work is needed and is underway). We host an intergenerational Yiddish music orchestral group, meeting once a week. From 4-8:30 on Thursdays, a succession of classes involves older and younger members and not-yet-members in Hebrew language and Jewish literacy. We have a list of 30+ younger families including a core group of 6-10 who attend events regularly and have begun to help lead and guide programs for their cohort. We have a teen group that has been meeting for two years; they have done several social justice projects and are currently planning a film series on racism and civic strife.
We removed from the member rosters folks who had become inactive or moved away. We reached out to former members who had become alienated and re-established improved relationships with many of them - to our mutual benefit. Our membership is growing in age, numbers and diversity. We are so glad to be the Jewish home for so many in the region. We have 3 youth preparing for bar mitzvah, a vibrant first Friday Dinner each month, a well-attended Shabbat morning service twice a month and many other ritual celebrations, with a diversity of leadership and participants.
Our second annual Shabbat Shira/Women's Celebratory worship was observed with 20 participants in leadership, including a small chorus. We are creating our third iteration of a film program as an important vehicle for public education and advocacy. We offered our first play reading as the first effort in a new programming line, bringing interesting and content-rich readings to our own creative friends and members, for the edification of the Greenfield community. Our grounds are beautiful and well tended.
"When God returned us to our place, we were like dreamers...We planted with tears and harvested in Joy."
There is a kind of essential joy, nachas in Yiddish, when dreams long dreamed can be seen before our eyes. This is what I see at this halfway point of my tenure here. I have personal and professional goals for the next few years. I'll share them as we go along. God willing, at the right time, I'll help the community define and seek the kind of rabbinic leadership that will be needed for the next steps of growth and consolidation. In the mean time, I am grateful for the encompassing task of human and community development we work towards here at TI. And I am grateful for the many partners, peers and student who walk together in our Jewish and human journey.
Here, have some fruit!