Dvar Torah - Parsha Re'eh
by Ma'ayan Weinberg
Delivered on August 27th, 2022 at the Egalitarian Traditional Minyan at Sinai Temple
In honor of Elliot Weinberg
Growing up in CU I was often the only Jew in the room. There were so many facets of how I did things that made me unique among my peers. I kept Kosher, I missed school on different holidays than my friends, I didn’t go out on Friday nights. I have made the personal choice to continue these traditions I was brought up in, because they keep me tied to my past and my Jewish community even when I live in a secular and mostly Christian society.
Today’s parshah, Re’eh lays out a series of guidelines for the Jewish people as they are about to enter the land of Israel. We are told “If anyone is poor among your fellow Israelites… do not be hardhearted or tightfisted toward them. Rather, be open handed and freely lend them whatever they need.” We are told of the schmeta “Every seventh year, you shall practice a release, all debts must be canceled.” We are told what we can and cannot eat, and how to care for society’s impoverished.
Additionally we read guidance for grieving, which is deeply personal to me this year in the loss of my mother.
Some Rabbis note that it’s a seemingly random collection of rules that are imparted here on the Jewish people. But here is a community that is about to enter a new land where they will be surrounded by non-Jews. They will be faced with either cultural assimilation, or the opportunity to form a new society that is rooted in the values of their own people.
This week, the start of Elul, and my parents’ wedding anniversary, is also sandwiched in time between two significant birthdays. In just a few weeks we will celebrate my daughter’s birth. That day was also the first day of Yom Kippur. 7 years ago, at the end of the last shmita year, I walked my 38 week pregnant belly the ¾ of a mile to services, spent the morning swaying and singing, and then walked home. While it was probably the mile and a half of walking in a 100+ degree heat wave that coaxed her to join us a few weeks early, I like to believe that it was the sound and feeling of a community gathered to pray that made her say, yes, this is a world I am ready to be welcomed into. The powerful energy of a chosen community, a society that designs how we will eat, pray, grieve, and support our most needy, allows us to thrive even when separated, ties us to a community even when we are not surrounded by it. We are just a few thousand Jews in Champaign, surrounded by nearly 200,000 non Jews. We do not all go to services, we do not all keep Kosher, we do not all anything. But there is something deeply ingrained in our identity that keeps us rooted in Judaism even when surrounded by a non Jewish society.
When I was asked to interview for the position of executive director at Champaign Urbana Jewish Federation, I said that after 15 years away I felt like an outsider. But when I say that I am Elliot and Rosalind’s daughter, those two names are instantly recognized by so many in the CU Jewish community. It was my parents who taught me how to maintain my Jewish identity even when it was not the easy choice. How to keep a Kosher home, even when buying Kosher meat sometimes meant driving to Chicago to fill our freezer. It is my parents that I think of everytime I attend Yom Kippur services - where I’d hear my father chant Jonah, and watch my mother recite Kohen Gadol’s Seder Avodah. That same service, that years later, welcomed their first grandchild into the world.
I remember nights when my parents would get a phone call, and then leave to sit shomrim for a Jewish community member who had died. I remember nights when my father answered a call to bring groceries and dinner to a family in need. And it was not until just a few months ago that it clicked, that they were serving on committees with the Champaign Urbana Jewish Federation - the chevra kadisha, and the human services committee.
Today’s parsha positions the Jewish people, on the brink of entering the land of Israel, to make a choice. To set up a new society around laws and rituals that define us as a Jewish people. Dream about what we can build together. Be different and be proud of our differences. The pride I feel for my own identity as a Jew, is because of how my father and mother led their lives - through the Kosher home they kept, through care and service they showed for our Jewish community, and the open hand they offered to our community members who were most in need.
So looking forward I see my daughter’s birthday on the horizon. My son’s birth was eventful in its own way, but that is for a different time. The other birthday I speak of today, was my father’s birthday. On August 17th, my father, Elliot Weinberg, turned 90.
I’d like to pause here, and tell you all about the incredible journey that my father has lived. He has so many great stories. But those of you who know him know that his modesty would not allow me to do that. Humility is core to the values he’s imparted on us, his daughters.
So dad, I will say this instead - Thank you. Thank you for everything you have done for us, your daughters, and your grandchildren - to instill these core values: your commitment to always learning; that a person is responsible beyond oneself for one’s community; and your boundless generosity that you have shown through the open home and table you set for any celebration. Thank you for teaching us not just through words, but through how you’ve lived your life, what it means to be a member of a Jewish community.
Dad, in honor of this milestone and your 90th birthday, and the years of service you have given to the Jewish community, the egalitarian traditional minyan has decided to dedicate a leaf on the Tree of Life in your honor at the entrance to the temple. Happy belated birthday and “ad meah v'esrim shana”.