Rabbi's Column - November 2017

The month of November has only one Jewish holiday in it: Thanksgiving. “Wait,” you say, “Thanksgiving? That’s not a Jewish holiday!” True, it is not technically a part of the Jewish calendar, but it is, though secular, one of the most Jewish of holidays. It is Jewish because it is based upon two of the most Jewish of values: THANKS and GIVING.

Judaism teaches that we are to give thanks every day. There is so much to give thanks for, even in times of trouble. Judaism also teaches that the act of giving - of ourselves, of our good fortune, of your monetary resources - is a spiritual discipline.

This particular Autumn has been about as gorgeous as Autumn gets here in New England. While we have been enjoying beautiful weather, we are keenly aware of other places and other people who have not been as fortunate as we have been.

At this season on Thanksgiving, I want to give you the opportunity to express thanks for our good fortune by giving to others who are in need. There is a long list. We continue to focus our concern upon those affected by hurricanes in Florida, Texas, and the Carribean, and those affected by the dreadful wildfires in California. Those disasters hit close to home when we learn of people we know or communities we connect with that are suffering.

Our Jewish community suffered a dreadful loss as the Reform Movement’s Camp Newman burned to the ground in Santa Rosa, California. I spent many years in leadership at URJ Camp Swig, which was the precursor to Camp Newman. Fortunately, no lives were lost at Camp Newman, but when I think of the summer spirit and all those facilities teeming with the joys of Jewish children, I shudder for their breathtaking loss. We can help rebuild our Reform Jewish Camp Newman by going to campnewman.org to lend our support.

We are also well connected to the synagogue in St. Thomas where my colleague, Michael Feshbach, serves as Rabbi. He writes:
“I am grateful that the damage to the synagogue itself was limited, although it was significant. We lost all our machzors, most of our haggadot, some our our siddurum, cabinets and other furniture in the museum, extensive damage in both of our historic cemeteries. We may have lost our keyboard and we have water pumps and perhaps a generator switch which needs to be replaced. We double-wrapped the scrolls during both storms (some of which were saved from the fire in our building in 1831!) but were taken by surprise by the Kol Nidrei night deluge. We found a damp ark and ruined white materials the morning of Yom Kippur. One scroll was slightly wet; we believe it is not permanently damaged. We have real damage and need support, but we know things could have been much worse. We must take care not to let there be too long-lasting damage to the spirit of the place. And we know we can come back better than we were.”

Those interested in helping can go to the Facebook page “The Hebrew Congregation of St. Thomas” or to their webpage at

We are a small but mighty people. “Kol Yisrael Eruvin zeh b’zeh,” we are all connected to one another. At this season of Thanksgiving, we show our thanks by giving to those in need.

Rabbi Offner