Holiday Reflections from our Rabbi

Rabbi Debora Kohn joined the San Francisco Campus for Jewish Living in May 2022. During our most recent board meeting on Dec. 7, she read the following message to trustees. We were so moved we wanted to share her remarks with our broader community. Happy Chanukah and Happy New Year.

This past year has been a very challenging one. The pandemic is not over, changes in leadership, financial difficulties, and through all these, you, Trustees, board members have steered the ship, made sure it did not sink, worked hard, volunteering your time, skills and knowledge not only to right the boat but to make sure that it continues its journey of serving our elders. 

The Talmud tells us the story of Rabbi Yehoshua Ben Levi who argued with other rabbis about how to relate to a group of people quarantined outside the town because they suffered from a very contagious and incurable disease. All the other rabbis suggested reasons for not going near the sufferers, such as protecting their own health and that of their communities. Only Rabbi Yehoshua Ben Levi decided to approach the sufferers. He sat with them, studied Torah with them and hugged each one of them. He provided compassion, human contact through his presence and hugging. His actions affected Rabbi Yehoshua Ben Levi deeply.  He requests and is granted a vision of the world to come.  

When confronted with huge challenges and difficulties, you choose to be present, no matter the difficulties, you made sure that SFCJL continued to serve our elders. 

Rabbi Yehoshua first visits Hell. There everybody is seated around a table full of great food, but they cannot bend their elbows… so they all sit looking at the food and starving. Then Rabbi Yehoshua visits Heaven. There, everybody is seated around a table full of great food, but they cannot bend their elbows… so they feed each other and enjoy a wonderful meal and lots of love and caring. 

Through acts of loving-kindness and generosity we can make our own heaven. Working together we can make it happen. SFCJL is not heaven, but we do feed and nurture each other, in both body and spirit. 

The word community assumes an awareness that we share in the most basic ways: tears, loss, love, illness, joy, fear, birth, death, life. We are not meant to live alone. We are not supposed to ignore or deny what we have in common as human beings. That is the power of community. It is the acknowledgment of the universals of life, the sameness, the common ground. It is the knowledge that I will never be alone when I am sick; that I can share the joy of my children and grandchildren. I live amid strangers, acquaintances and friends. What makes us a community is the sense of shared responsibility: when one is in need, the other simply responds; when one celebrates a family simcha we all celebrate. 

This past year, when there was a need and a questions about the future, you were there, you responded, you said HINENI, I am here. You showed caring and compassion, you are what our grandparents would call a mensch. 

Mi dor le dor, from generation to generation, continuing the 152 year legacy of being present for our people.