SAMS are thrilled that Rabbi Carl Wolkin, Emeritus Rabbi of Congregation Beth Shalom, agreed to join us over the High Holydays (or High Holidays for Rabbi Carl and our other American readers!).
Here’s the article Rabbi Carl provided for SAMSnews
I write this article more than a month before we arrive at SAMS. Judy and I are looking forward to being with you for the High Holidays plus. Happily, this will not be our first visit, because I was there at your beginning more than 20 years ago, through my involvement with the Assembly of Masorti Synagogues. Judy and I have watched you grow and thrive and have made multiple visits, most recently in January 2013 to marvel at your brand new building.
We know many of you among the forward looking founders who are still very involved. While serving as your interim rabbi, we are excited about becoming a part of the SAMS community and getting to know you all. By the way, I am still involved in the world movement, as secretary of Masorti Olami. Our love affair with the UK began on our first visit in 1973 and has grown through every one of our 15 or so visits since, spending three summers in flats both in Maida Vale, worshipping at New London Synagogue, and in Belsize Park.
I was a congregational rabbi for 43 years, serving as associate rabbi at Temple Israel of Great Neck, New York for eight years, then serving as the Senior Rabbi of Congregation Beth Shalom, Northbrook, Illinois for 35 years. I retired in June 2015. I tell you this by way of letting you know that like all rabbis, I like to tell stories and after 43 years, I know which ones are my favorites by how many times I have repeated them. Just ask any of my former congregants.
The story I am going to share is actually a British story told by one of the UK’s most distinguished rabbis, Hugo Gryn, of blessed memory; there is a good chance that you have heard it before.
At the beginning of this New Year, we find ourselves living in a world more filled with hatred and violence than I can remember in my entire life. I have told this story whenever the global situation seemed hopeless, unfortunately the reason I have repeated it so often and why I share it now.
I am going to share it in Rabbi Gryn’s own words (although I heard it first in 1996 from the couple who rented us a flat in Maida Vale). You can find a more complete version in A Different Light: The Hanukkah Book of Celebration, edited by Noam Zion and Barbara Spectre.
My Father’s Miracle
I did not learn this lesson in a theological college but in a miserable little concentration camp grotesquely called ‘Lieberose’ (Lovely Rose) in German Silesia. It was the cold winter of 1944 and although we had nothing like calendars, my father, who was my fellow prisoner there took, me and
some of my friends to a corner in our barrack. He announced that it was the eve of Hanukkah, produced a curious‐shaped clay bowl, and began to light a wick immersed in his precious, but now melted, butter ration. Before he could recite the blessing, I protested at the waste of food. He looked at me — then at the lamp — and finally said: ‘You and I have seen that it is possible to live up to three weeks without food. We once lived almost three days without water: but you cannot live properly for three
minutes without hope!’
This story and its last word, ‘hope’, are emblematic of what it means to be a Jew. No better word than ‘HaTikvah’ (The Hope) could have been chosen as the title of Israel’s national anthem. We, the Jewish people, now once more with the State of Israel, would not have survived and thrived through the best of times and the worst of times for these thousands of years if we did not live with indomitable hope. Now more than ever, we must continue to embrace hope and embrace each other with hope every minute of every day!
L’Shanah Tovah Tikatevu,
Judy and Carl Wolkin