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Let there Be Light

Synagogue Emanu-El President Craig Browdy

This message from Board President Craig Browdy is adapted from his High Holiday remarks shared on Rosh Hashanah, 5781/2020.


The first thing we say on Rosh Hashanah afternoon after being stirred to our core by the sound of the shofar is Hayom Harat Olam, "Today the world stands as at birth."  The ancient rabbis taught that during the high holidays, it is as if all humanity and all creation are re-created anew. "Let there be light… and God saw that the light was good… and there was evening and there was morning the first day…"

According to Jewish mysticism, the kabbalah, the light of the creator dwells within each person.  This spark of primordial light, this soul deep within us, is at the heart of our highest aspirations on the high holidays.  As the sounds of the shofar bring us back to creation--to the light--so too the rituals, customs, apologies, and self introspection, that are the core of the high holiday experience, all serve to help us focus inward, to transform negativity in ourselves, and in the world as a whole, into light.

Regardless of what life throws at us, if we can connect to the light within on Rosh Hashanah and indeed every day, if we can connect with the light of our creator within our souls, each of us can separate light from darkness filling ourselves and collectively filling the world with good. The soul of man is God’s candle. As individuals it is up to each of us to live up to the words of the proverb.

In a most basic way, is this not what synagogue, Emanu-El, is all about?  After all, what is the fundamental role of the Bet Knesset, of the synagogue? Is it to enable us as individuals, as families and as a part of a broader community to somehow get in touch with the good light within ourselves? There is light when we gather together virtually and in person on the high holidays to seek and to stoke the internal good. We, as a community, socially distant but spiritually together, bring our individual lights together. We unify the sparks of the divine as a community, feeding off each other and multiplying the effects.

Imagine the powerful force that a synagogue community can be, a bright light filling a void, and together with other communities of faith, illuminating the world!  This is the prayer, this is the vision, this is the dream of what Emanu-El is and what it can be.  And as we will it, it transforms, as if mystically, from a dream to a reality.

In Psalm 97 it says: Or zarua laTzadik, u’l’yishray lev simcha:

Planting Seeds of Joy and Light Hebrew text

Plant the seeds of Joy and Light; Tend them carefully day and night,
In this soil so dark and deep, I plant the dreams that love will reap.

A few years ago, a team of lay leaders reached out to the community in an extended process harnessing the communal vision into a strategic plan for Synagogue Emanu-El. The plan celebrates egalitarian, conservative Judaism. It focuses on lifelong learning, on service to others, and on creating a place of belonging. Over the years, we have worked hard towards the goals and vision laid out in the plan.

But who could have imagined 5780 -- the things we have faced over the last 12 months? Parting ways with our beloved rabbi, a months-long void in the executive director position, dealing with a fundamentally dysfunctional and dangerous kitchen, proactively addressing the growing security threats emanating from a whirlwind of social disunity that seems to grow and grow. And then, just to make it a bit more challenging, a global pandemic threatening our very lives, forcing us all to stay at home and to socially distance.

Nevertheless, as a community we came together. A kitchen renovation committee, a huge capital fundraising drive, a nominating committee to build lay leadership, a rabbi search committee and an executive director search committee.  All the while praying, how we can fix the kitchen, where the will funding come from.  What if there are no good candidates, and even if there are, how can we afford to offer a package that will entice them? How can I start to name and to thank those that came together giving so generously of their time, of their talents, and of their resources to make all of this happen? Like a miracle, our prayers have been fulfilled in ways we could not have imagined!

We have a fully-funded kitchen project nearing completion to feed our insatiable Jewish appetite for sharing a nosh and a l'chaim. How blessed we are with our new rabbi and executive director. Bob Greenberg brings wisdom borne of years of experience as a director of synagogues and Jewish day schools.  It gives me chills to see him in shul with a tallit on, doing what he does best, building relationships while working on the details that make things happen at Emanu-El. I am simply in awe of Rabbi Evan Ravski.  I cried as our community shared in the naming of his twin boys, witnessing the powerful love that emanates from the family Abby and he have built. Talk about energy! The rabbi is powering forward incredible ideas and vision for what Emanu-El can be. Throughout the shutdown and restarting process, we have unwaveringly supported and we have been supported by, our professional team.

The potential we have today to nurture the light of Conservative Judaism in Charleston is an awesome thing to behold.  Even under the fog of COVID we are planting new seeds and finding new ways to bring the meaning that power the internal flame of Judaism in each of us. But as our tireless treasurer reminds us, spiritual flames need energy that will not come from words and visions.  We need to pay bills and to pay salaries. We need resources to bring the programming that we are so thirsty for. 

And times have never been more challenging. Membership numbers are remaining stable at best. Many are struggling financially and need help as never before. We rely on fundraising for a very significant portion of our budget. How can we pull off a barbecue or a gala during a pandemic?  Typically, funds raised during the high holidays are a critical component of our operating budget.  But this year, two of the three pillars of high holiday fundraising, seating and honors revenue, are at zero. So what do we do? 

We tell it like it is, we have faith, and we rely on the generosity of each and every one of the members of this community to give as they can to this appeal. Each of our congregants will be receiving a letter urging you to participate in our High Holiday Appeal.  I would encourage all of our supporters to take some time between now and Yom Kippur to consider the words I have shared today. If you gave last year, is there any way you can meet or exceed your commitment? If you are new to our community, now would be a powerful time to support Jewish life in Charleston.  Will you help?

The story is told of a wise and kind old Ethipoian King who loved his three children with all of his heart and soul.  To determine who would succeed him he devised a test.  He asked each to fill a hut completely by the end of the first week of the new year.  The first a strong and hardworking son, set to work filling his hut with stone.  He sweated and labored the entire week dragging stone showing his dedication strength and will.  The second son, wise and no less dedicated to the cause, filled his hut with feathers which, when compressed, were able to fill every crack in the entire space. The third child spend the week in deep meditation and thought on the meaning of the challenge at the end of the final day as the sun set, with a deep recognition of the meaning of emptiness, she entered the quiet gloomy and dark third hut. She invited her family in and proceeded to light a candle and to sing sang a beautiful song filling the hut with light and joy. She was indeed the future leader of the people.

My dream for 5781 is that we can all come together as individuals, as families and as a community in this time of great darkness and fear.  To kindle the light that is the good within our souls, into a brightness that will spread far beyond us as individuals and even us as a synagogue.  Please make a commitment to support these efforts.

Together we can not only keep the lights on, but plant new seeds of light for the future, so that we can reap the joy of the love that we plant. God willing: let there be light in 5781.


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Tue, September 21 2021 15 Tishrei 5782