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“Notes from our Annual Gathering 2024/5784” Rabbi Zecher’s Shabbat Awakenings

June 14, 2024 | 8 Sivan 5784

Welcome to Shabbat Awakenings, a weekly reflection as we move toward Shabbat. You can listen to it as a podcast here.

Last week, on Thursday night, over 200 of our members gathered to celebrate our accomplishments and leadership at our Annual Gathering. All those present onsite and online represented the vast array and diversity of our community, demographically, geographically and by affinity. We rejoiced together in the power and potential of our community recalling what we have been able to do together.

And we recognized how we know all too well the value of having our congregation in times of joy but also in challenging times provides a pathway in which we can move together. We recalled how in October, just as we celebrated the new year and danced joyously with the Torah, our hearts and souls were crushed by the news that Israel was under attack by vicious Hamas terrorists. The landscape of Jewish life had been altered indefinitely. Then and now, as we pray for the safety and safe return of those taken captive in Israel and mourned the murderous rampage, we also recognize the ramifications of the devastating attack upon innocent Palestinians in Gaza and elsewhere and the threat to their safety having been put in harm’s way. And we could not have envisioned what else would ensue.

Yet, we know that as a result of the transformed landscape we could pivot to how we would navigate through the months and years ahead. We organized ourselves around four areas in which to act and to program which were summarized in a previous Shabbat Awakening and an Insight article I have offered in the past.

None of what we have been able to do could have happened without the support and involvement of our members and community as well as our clergy and staff. This year we took the teachings of Torah to include everyone to be honored. These are my words I offered informed and guided by the book of Numbers.

How we find our community is the theme of this evening.

Every year we look to the Torah of the week for the Annual Gathering and amazingly so, each year it speaks to us out of its context and placed into our own in this moment.

We begin the march into the wilderness, b’midbar, the open space in which the Israelites will travel toward the land of great promise. Their first act is to recognize and take note of all those who are with them. But the text does not say,

“Everyone count off” as if they are on the bus to camp

Or “get in a straight line so we can count you”

The language is very specific and purposeful directed to Moses by God.

שְׂא֗וּ אֶת־רֹאשׁ֙  Literally, it means, lift the head, though it is usually translated as, take a census. The first way is not only more poetic but it speaks to what one commentator reflects as a sense of pride as they contemplate their past and the possibility of their future. It is also as if God metaphorically takes each of the faces as an embrace, lifting it to show how much each person matters to the Divine. Rashi explained it as a way of God showing God’s love when the Torah counts those present. And maybe, as Nachmonides recognized, it is a sign of the Israelites ability to thrive after the years of slavery that it would take each person’s fortitude of rising up to ensure the Israelite future.

We understand these images. One of the purposes of tonight is to lift each of us and all of us as a source of pride in what we have done and what we can do while we embrace each person’s efforts and contributions to our community. It has been a hard year and together we have shown we can thrive in the face of adversity and diversity.

כל־עֲדַ֣ת בְּנֵֽי־יִשְׂרָאֵ֔ל-translated as all of the people, and when the text refers to the community in this way, it speaks of including everyone, the entire community even though in their context they needed to know who could arm themselves to protect their community as they made their way.  Notice the Hebrew words,

Adat b’nai Yisrael    עֲדַ֣ת בְּנֵֽי־יִשְׂרָאֵ֔ל

That should sound familiar since the Hebrew name of Temple Israel is Adat Yisrael.  Now we know this is not a foreshadow of Temple Israel’s existence but it does remind us that each of us matters as we go forward into the future and though they might not have imagined such a magnificent community as ours, they and we are guarantors back then and today.

The chapter goes on to delineate each family, each group by name and then in verse 46 they finally arrive at the full total.  Our tradition equates that total with the amount of letters in the Torah and we know that the Torah scribe must calligraph each letter and not miss any of them because if the scribe does, it will render the Torah unfit.  For us, as well, each person counts and each person matters just like every single letter of the Torah and this is what we celebrate this evening at our Annual Gathering.


  • We gather for Qabbalat Shabbat at 6:00 p.m. INSIDE. This week will will celebrate the naming of Jack Puterman and the wedding blessing of Ranier Pearl-Styles and Amelia Hillyer. Join us onsite or register to join on Zoomor log on via Facebook Live, or our website.
  • Riverway Pride Shabbat gathers onsite for dinner at 6:45 p.m. and onsite and online for a musical service at 8:00 p.m. Dessert and schmooze follows the service.
  • Torah Study gathers onsite or Register to join on zoom at 9:00 a.m. beginning with a short Shabbat service and Torah reading followed by an engaging study and conversation. All levels and abilities are welcomed!
  • TGIS gathers outside at 10:00 a.m. No registration necessary.
  • Gather online to say goodbye to Shabbat with a lay-led Havdalah on Zoom at 8:00 p.m

I continue to value the many comments you exchange with me through these Shabbat Awakenings. Share with me what you think here. Your email goes directly to me!

Rabbi Elaine Zecher