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Individual Acts, Communal Impacts

May 12, 2023 - 21st of Iyyar 5783 - Parashat Behar-Bechukotai 5783 / פָּרָשַׁת בְּהַר־בְּחֻקֹּתַי

Dear Beit Rabban Community,

Inspired by the laws of land ownership and cultivation in this week’s double parashah, I want to take a moment to reflect on shared ownership. Parashat Behar-Bechotai includes a variety of laws that set parameters on the rights of private ownership with time and use limitations. I read these laws as highlighting a certain truth irrespective of differences of opinion concerning economic systems- exclusive control does not maximize impact, whether it is exclusive control of the land or other enterprise. The double parashah also devotes significant real estate to describing the repercussions of personal actions; if a person behaves a certain way, God will react a certain way. Interestingly, the actions of individuals, whether following the word of God or defying it, are met with consequences that have a collective impact: the withholding of rain, the vengeance of warring armies, and the disappearance of the presence of God from within the whole people. This double parashah can easily be read as a quid pro quo between God and the Jewish people. Alternatively, it can be read as a treatise on the natural consequences of the breakdown of a shared society. Things work out when we are in it together, caring for each other and our shared land, people, and well-being. When we don’t- even when some of us do not- everyone suffers.

This resonates deeply with me as a community-minded person in so many different ways. I am thinking about it right now in the context of the negative repercussions of the acts of few on so, so many. I am thinking about it in the context of the war in Sudan and many other geopolitical conflicts. I think about it all the time in the context of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, particularly in flair-up times like these when people are dying and living in fear. And this idea of cause and effect also plays out on micro levels. Have you, like me, ever felt that it takes everyone to build and protect a communal culture but only one person to destroy it?

This sort of thinking can lead a person to heavy feelings of futility. I like to believe that it can also communicate the critical importance of each person and motivate the individual toward productive behavior. Each of us is needed to contribute because building requires everyone. Each of us must avoid destructive behavior because one person can take it all down. We each hold a mighty power for the community.

This week I spent many hours with volunteers in our community between board meetings, construction meetings, budget meetings, staff appreciation endeavors, and planning our upcoming gala. Each of these volunteers commits a lot of valuable time to our school, holding essential responsibilities for the health of our community. Since I joined Beit Rabban, I have marveled, remaining in awe of all these very busy, very committed individuals. Like all schools, we rely on the talents, wisdom, and time of every single one of our volunteers. I often leave a meeting wondering how we could possibly function without a particular volunteer.

This week I want to highlight three people who have been particularly instrumental in advancing our community. Our annual gala honorees- board members Michelle Ender and Stacey Karp and Chief Operating Officer Nicole Weiss- have been profoundly instrumental in leading us to the new home we will be moving into this summer. Over the past years, Stacey has visited many buildings on her own, accompanied by real estate agents, and schlepping along with others. Michelle has reviewed more draft agreements, lease documents, and permitting laws for Beit Rabban than she likely has for her actual employment as an attorney. And Nicole Weiss has followed every potential lead on interim and long-term space, running numbers and assessing feasibility in all the ways. Fun fact- while Nicole works on staff at Beit Rabban, she joined as a quasi-volunteer ten years ago. She dropped everything to help her rabbi and friend Andrew Davids, then the Beit Rabban head of school, for a few weeks, which turned into ten years. Like Nicole, Stacey and Michelle will also drop everything when communal needs come calling. In fact, they will drop everything when they see an opportunity, even if not summoned for help. We would not be where we are today without each of them. And, together, they are a force far greater than the sum of their parts.

I invite you to join me in celebrating Nicole, Michelle, and Stacey at our annual gala fundraiser on Wednesday night, May 31. We recognize this wonderful trio and all the people who support and sustain our community. We are in this together, and our communal blessings are a natural consequence of all of your investment.

Wishing all a restful and rejuvenating Shabbat,


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