This past Sukkot was surely the most intense birthday of my life- at least since the day I was born.
Turning seventy is a milestone for everyone, but coming during the season of the flood of 5774, it will be hauntingly unforgettable. In terms of a Torah association with seventy, I keep picturing the reverse image of the Boulder situation- In the Torah, the Israelites traveling through a parched desert thirsting for water, till they finally come to an oasis of seventy palm trees and twelve springs of water. The Chafetz Chaim sees this as a general lesson that if we find ourselves feeling at the end of our ropes, we should muster just a bit more patience and trust, because who knows what reprieve and salvation lies just around the corner. That part is definitely a good thought for Boulderites to keep in mind.
For me, my seventieth year was memorable not only for a birthday party which became larger than all my past birthdays collectively, but because it happened at a time where the flooding both ripped people apart on so many levels, and is putting the Jewish community in particular back together in a way that is becoming, G-d willing, more powerful than ever before.
From Yom Kippur till Sukkot, in a state of shock like everyone else, I kept trying to think of something I could personally do. Finally it came to me. I recall excitedly cornering and whispering to Reb Zalman in the middle of services on the first day of Sukkot that I since I never had a Bat Mitzvah celebration, I wanted to commemorate my birthday by inaugurating a project that would benefit and uplift the Jewish community above and beyond the extraordinary material relief activities that were mobilizing throughout the flooded areas. I remembered that many years ago the Lubavitcher Rebbe Z’L started a mezuzah campaign, and I wanted to do something similar for those affected by the flood here in Colorado.
The sages teach that each Jew should find a mitzvah that speaks to his and her heart in a particular way- that lights up the soul with the joy of doing something that leaves the world a better place than before. I contacted someone who I knew loved the mitzvah of mezuzah and asked for a donation. To make a long story short, very soon one hundred high quality kosher mezuzot will be flown here to Boulder, Colorado. I am thrilled and thankful to G-d and those who helped to make this dream come true. I think that the mezuzah conveys a particularly inspiring and appropriate message of triumph over adversity.
The Jewish community here has been so amazing in its cooperative initiatives to help those in need. As someone pointed out in the latest schmoozers meeting at the JCC, the structure was already in place for mutual support even before the flood. The Boulder Jewish community in fact can and should be viewed as a model of inter and trans-denominational cooperation on so many levels. This has been strikingly demonstrated during and after the duration of the flood. There are so many examples. Just to mention a few that come to mind (besides my party). A non-Jewish woman came to a grief counseling session led by Jewish Family Service. She lost most of her home and was understandably distraught, but what amazed her on top of everything was realizing that she could turn immediately to the Jewish community for support. Above all of course, is the assistance provided by all the congregations in town for each other, in sharing spaces, resources, and facilities to be able to continue being a beacon of light and sustenance for the people turning to them for material and spiritual assistance and guidance.
To me the epitome of this collaboration was on Simchat Torah night, when the members of Har Hashem and Bonai Shalom came out to the parking lot to dance with the Torah. Both groups independently chose at the same time to dance outside singing the same song- without having planned the song beforehand. What was the song? A question and an answer from Psalms: ‘Esa Einai el Heharim, MEI’AYIN Yavo Ezri.’ I lift my eyes to the mountains, from where does my help come? My help comes from G-d, maker of heaven and earth.’ The Hassidic masters teach that the answer actually lies in the question itself: ‘MEI’AYIN- from the place of nothingness- of No-thing-ness, does my help come!
A mezuzah is a tangible manifestation of this quality of ‘No-thing-ness’, – a touch of eternity. It is placed on the intersection between the public and private domain, and between one room and another. It is a striking example of cooperation: there is one opinion that it should be placed vertically, and another that states horizontally. So what do we do? We literally and spiritually find a co-operative position- the diagonal! And we point it inward because it is an arrow that brings the multiplicity and often chaos of the world outside, into the warmth and embrace of our homes. And what is the primary text in the mezuzah? It is the Shema- the declaration of divine Oneness and the unity that transports us beyond everything that divides us. What could be a better model of how our community has worked together during crisis? Let’s continue maintaining this unity in any way that we can. Let the presence of a mezuzah on every door inspire and direct us to stay in touch with each other, with our soul center, and with the true divine center of all being- the Creator who carries us through the roughest times and situations.
If you would like to see the mezuzah project continue to grow, please check the JCC flood relief website soon, to donate to an ongoing mezuzah fund, which I am calling M.A.R.C.=Mezuzah Assistance Relief Campaign, and also to read some relevant mezuzah articles which will be attached. My vision as I move into the new Dor-generation- of my life, is to see a mezuzah on every Jewish door here in Boulder. The Talmud relates that in the Messianic Era, each Jewish home in exile will be transported to Israel. I think the mezuzah will be the marker and the fuel to make this happen, speedily in our days.