From the Rabbi - September 2012 Print
Dear Members of CBI,

It was Wednesday evening, and we were steaming northward aboard the Star Princess between Juneau and Skagway, Alaska.  I was wondering if there were going to be Shabbat services of any sort aboard the boat, so I addressed that question to the people manning the Guest Services counter.  It took a little effort to make the non-English speakers understand what I was asking about, but eventually comprehension broke through.  They looked at the Friday evening schedule and reported that nothing was scheduled.  ”Would it be possible,” I asked, to arrange something?   It doesn’t have to be fancy, but some of us would like to welcome the Sabbath in an appropriate manner.”  They called someone who was not in and left a message with the request.  By the time we got back to our stateroom an hour or so later, there was a message on the phone that services would be held in the ship’s wedding chapel on Friday at 5:00 PM.  “Unfortunately,” the voice announced, “we do not have a rabbi on board, so one of the lay people will have to lead the prayers.”  Little did they know!

By the appointed time, the small room was filled to overflowing – standing room only.  A good number of the attendees were members of a tour group from Jerusalem, but there were also people from Seattle and San Diego and other American cities.  We read and sang the short service to welcome the Shabbat and then made Kiddush with Manishevitz wine and challah that the ship had provided.   The Israelis got into the  mood, singing and dancing and drinking (We even had to get more wine!) until the crew finally ushered us out of the room so that they could decorate for a renewal of wedding vows that was scheduled at 7:00 PM.  It was an unexpectedly glorious Shabbat.

Why do I tell  you this story on the eve of the High Holydays?  It called to mind a passage from Public Ethics, a book by James Sellers.  There, he wrote: “In a democracy there is no prince furnished with an army to maintain the laws by force.  And since the people are established on the basis of parity, there is no pride of rank to exploit.  If there is any will or motivation to see that the laws are obeyed and that justice is done, it must come out of the hearts of the citizenry, from the will and ability of the people to act on behalf of the greater community.  It is this quality, rather than fear or ambition, that makes things work in a democracy.”

All that was needed to make a shabbat evening service possible was for one citizen to step forward and ask.  A simple request and a momentary involvement made the difference.  I put it to you that congregational life is not much different.   As the new year approaches, you might think to yourself – or with others.  What do I want from Congregation Beth Israel?  Do I want something changed at services?   Are there adult education offerings I would enjoy?  Do we need to see a greater CBI presence in the community, more social action involvement?  What is it that would make my congregation, our congregation more satisfying and fulfilling to you?

And now you know what to do.  Simply step forward and ask.  Ask President Jim Gold, ask me, ask anyone on the Board of Trustees.  Just like Shabbat services on the cruise ship, it’s very likely that your request will fall on listening ears and what you dream of will become a reality.  But first you have to ask.

Phyllis and I wish  all of you a most joyous, healthy and fulfilling New Year.

                Shalom,
                Kenneth D. Roseman, Rabbi