I hope you have heard that Oheb Shalom has engaged in two new initiatives. In November, our Board of Trustees voted to join BUILD, a 35 year old, multi-congregational advocacy organization that works to improve life for all of us in Baltimore. We are the first synagogue in Baltimore to join BUILD and the first in Maryland to join such an organization. Over 160 Reform congregations belong to similar organizations around the country. BUILD is responsible for hundreds of new homes in Baltimore City, after school programming for thousands of students, and most recently, the $1 billion school bond issue that will build and renovate over thirty schools in the City. BUILD listens to the concerns of its members and strives to make changes in our community based on what it hears at the grassroots. We are now in a listening campaign at Oheb Shalom that will last until the end of this month. We have over thirty volunteers reaching out to 150 of our members, learning about the issues that personally concern them. We will collate our information and see if we can act on any of these issues, along with those of other BUILD congregations. Since this is an election year and none of the gubernatorial candidates are from Baltimore, it is crucial that we express our concerns in a consistent and organized manner.
We also recently created Isaiah 61, a joint task force of Oheb Shalom and Bethel AME which will do “hands on” projects while helping to create relationships with one another. Co-chaired by Shelle Schnell and Rev. Lorraine Castain, we will work on restoring Bethel’s outreach center on McCullough Street. We have planned two clean up days in the spring. Read your emails and Pathways for more information.
I have personally conducted seven listenings of our members over the last few weeks. Our members have spoken about what issues keep them up at night- public education, crime, local water quality, and student loans. One member spoke to me about a heart-felt issue, one that particularly resonated with me. Let me explain what I mean.
Our member spoke about the epidemic of drug deaths, especially among young men in their twenties and thirties. I understand this, since a year does not go by when I have not officiated at the funeral of a young person who died of a drug overdose or complications of addiction. I have done funerals for children at whose bar mitzvahs I have officiated. Every single funeral of a young adult is a tragedy which might have been prevented had these kids gotten the help they needed. Even so, many did receive help and were in rehab at least several times. They were not able to shake the habit, reverting to drugs or not taking prescription medication that was necessary for their mental stability. Addiction is a terrible disease. Today’s heroin is so potent that one can literally become addicted to it after one or two injections. While it sounds idiotically simplistic to just say “no” to drugs, it is the best policy. Once one starts using, it is so hard to stop.
Our Torah portion this week is Ki Tisa, in which Moses, descending the mountain with the Ten Commandments, was astounded by what he saw. The people’s revelry around the Golden Calf infuriated Moses, who threw down the two tablets in a fit of anger. After punishing the people and castigating his brother, Aaron, who made the Golden Calf for them, God told Moses to once again ascend the mountain where he would receive a second set of commandments. “Our Tradition tells us that God alone fashioned the first set of tablets. Moses passively received them. The second set of tablets was a divine-human effort. The second set was written with a greater knowledge of human weakness, by the hand of Moses, an imperfect human being, rather than by the perfect God. The Talmud tells us (Ber.8b) that the fragments of the first set of tablets were carried in the Ark along with the replacement set. That which was once holy retains it holiness even when it is broken.” [i] So it is with our addicted young people. Even though they are broken and sometimes unfixable, they are still holy and deserving of our love and concern. They have the spark of God still within them, deep inside, waiting to be released when the drugs which deaden them are gone. Our young men and women are like the broken tablets, fragments needing to be made whole once more.
Over the last few years, we have seen the demise of Jewish Addiction Services, our Jewish half way houses, and Eternity, a support group for parents whose addicted children have died. Last week, I wrote a letter to Marc Terrill, the President of the Associated, imploring him to use all the resources of our Jewish community, to help those in need. Perhaps, just perhaps, if we had an agency in our Jewish community which could rehabilitate drug addicts while treating their mental health issues, preparing them for a job, and giving them the life skills needed, a few less Jewish parents in Baltimore would be saying Kaddish for their children. Like the second set of tablets, it takes a Divine-human partnership to help our children in desperate need. Our young adults are broken tablets. We must cherish them and hold them near to us. With the proper help, some of our children can once again find the Divine spark within and lead a life of holiness.
[i] Etz Chayim, page 540.