Rabbinic Reflections: Issue 199

February 23, 2024 - 14 Adar-1 5784

Parashat T'tsaveh - REMEMBERING RIMA

Dear Friends,

I hope this correspondence finds you doing well and in good cheer despite the recent wintery conditions! Please join us this Saturday morning for Shabbat services, which will begin at 10:00am in our beautiful sanctuary. This Saturday, we will hold the next installment of our series entitled Young Voices: Today’s Topics, when we welcome two special guests for a program called Melodies & Menschlicheit.

The “Melodies” component of our Shabbat will feature my former student and dear friend, Josh Sauer. Josh is a member of the world-renowned Jewish a capella group, 613, and is the featured artist on many of the group’s recordings. He is a super-talented and outgoing young man, who will bring his special talents to the CBIOTP Bimah. It will be a great Musaf treat!

Leor Wasser is a licensed social worker, who works for the Jewish Board. She specializes in working with victims of domestic violence in the Jewish community and will address the Jewish ideal of Shalom Bayit (peace in the home) by sharing with us some of the challenges and situations she regularly faces in her therapeutic endeavors with the Hassidic community. She will also share her thoughts about how to create a loving and supportive household.

As I was readying myself for services last Shabbat, I received a call from my mother-in-law in Connecticut, informing us of the passing of Rachel’s Aunt Rima, a resident of Jerusalem, Israel. Despite our best efforts, it was not possible to arrive in Israel in time for the internment and we were thus relegated to the bizarre, yet semi-normalized status of “Zoom funeral participants.”

This week, I reflected on Rima’s unique life journey.

Aunt Rima never quite fit in, here in the United States. She was what many would call “quirky” or eccentric. She was referred to as a “collector” back in the day, but today, likely would have been labelled a hoarder-in-training.

Leaving the cozy confines of New Jersey, she made Aliyah at the age of 50. After a short time in an absorption center in the south, she relocated to Jerusalem, where she embraced her neighborhood, her Shul, and the opportunity to enjoy the finest cuisine available in the Holy City.

She devoted her professional life to special needs students at a local public school and she was known for keeping all of the students’ artwork and treasuring class photos from each year’s cohort. She sensitively and compassionately took care of the difficult students that most educators would try to avoid.

Rima was passionate about her cats and dogs and regularly rescued displaced animals from the streets. (Trust me, in Jerusalem in the 1980s, there were plenty!) While diminutive in stature, she was an imposing figure with strong opinions about politics, Russian immigration, and Shul activities.

Physically, she retained her beauty, fortitude, and youthful exuberance, throughout her ninety years. Rima exuded positivity, energy, and genuine warmth towards others. Fortunately, people reciprocated in kind, offering her friendship and attention as she built genuine personal connections with neighbors from all over the globe.

While her nieces and nephews (as well as her great nieces and nephews - my kids and their cousins) lived thousands of miles across the ocean, Rima made all of us a part of her life. She was showered with weekly phone calls on Fridays and Sundays from her nieces, and daily calls from her younger brother, my father-in-law. Family photos lined the walls, fridge, ledges, and numerous nooks & crannies of her apartment.

Most importantly, when the kids were younger, every few weeks, a package would arrive at the house. The thoughtful, but sometimes curious, contents included pages and pages of Hebrew Divrei Torah for me to study, as well as scrumptious snacks and treats for our daughters (Bamba peanut butter puffs, pretzels bags, cumin packets, and zaatar spices all come to mind).

Rima was certainly unique, and her passing reminds us of the amazing diversity of humanity.

Hashem created the world with variety. He made every tree, every snowflake, every animal species very different. In fact, He created over 400,000 different flowering plants — so yes, God enjoys variety! What’s even more fascinating is that He made every human different as well. Not only does He design our physical bodies in a unique way, but also our personalities and our talents.

Imagine how boring the world would be if we were all exactly the same?

Alfred James of Pocket Mindfulness shares the following thought:

Be uncommon. Be different. Be unique. Embrace who you are and even accept that you may not always fit in. You can be the uncommon one amongst the common crowd, and remain sociable, likable, compassionate, kind, and loving. Accept that you are unique and that your singularity is definitely a blessing.

As we enter Shabbat, I pray that we can pause to relish what we have in common in community (Torah, Mitzvoth, Deeds of Lovingkindness), while still celebrating differences, peculiarities, and personal idiosyncrasies. As we are taught in the Book of Genesis:

וַאֲבָ֣רֶכְךָ֔ וֶהְיֵ֖ה בְּרָכָֽה׃

Hashem has blessed us. Now, be a blessing!

Shabbat Shalom,

Rabbi Eric L. Wasser, EdD, Hon.DM
Tel: 201-562-5277

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