Building A New Mishkan

Like the Children of Israel who are wandering through the wilderness right now in our cycle of reading the Torah, we, too, have been suddenly dropped into very strange and unfamiliar terrain. Nothing looks quite the same, everything seems a bit odd, out of place. Deserted, even. But we are wandering in a wilderness and it’s important to remember that a wilderness is not a desert bereft of life and blessings. In fact, wilderness in Hebrew is “midbar” a place of life-giving speech (from m’daber, speaking), a place to hear the divine echoing in our hearts with words of nourishment, support, and sanctuary, if we but stop and listen for them.

So, let our wanderings turn to wonderings as we ponder how our new reality is calling us. We could perceive our new situation as a barren landscape with only limitations and loss. We could become so focused on what we can’t do and what we don’t have that we might miss the secret blessings that are hidden for us in this time of sheltering ourselves physically from others and the world. Instead, if we begin to see in new ways, we might just discover sweet opportunities to connect with others and build relationships in ways we had never contemplated before.

This week’s Torah portion is Terumah, where God directs everyone to bring the gifts of their hearts to build a mishkan, a sacred dwelling place to encounter the Holy. We, too, Rabbi Rick Jacobs, the president of the URJ, taught on a national zoom call the other day, have a beautiful opportunity to create a new mishkan in the virtual world for ourselves and our community. A place that will offer us scared moments of connection, compassion and care where God’s divine gifts and presence can be deeply felt through the bonds that we share with one another. While the spread of the coronavirus is truly a deadly threat that has turned our world upside down, let us never forget that  love and kindness are also powerfully contagious forces that can serve as tremendous counterbalances to the challenges that we face. Out of these moments of disruption, can come positive changes and opportunities for tremendous creativity.

Our congregation of Haverim has always been a home that has welcomed all of our friends to share in the warmth of our community and to take an active role in being there for one another. Together we can create a new sacred mishkan for our times that will seek out ways to expand our tent as a welcome oasis of shelter in these turbulent days by practicing physical distancing but never sacrificing our social and emotional connections that we cherish. Let us commit to building new bonds and opening new ways of connecting. I invite each of you to consider how you might play a part in helping us grow our tent by offering the gifts of your own hearts just as our ancestors did so long ago.

Here are a few ways that you can be involved:

*Join us for our Shabbat services each Friday and Saturday that will now be available to all by Zoom. Together we will create an amazing experience around our Shabbat tables. I invite you to maybe try making a challah (here’s a great article about challah and a recipe to try and having a special Shabbat meal at home with your loved ones. Light candles with us at your table and bless the wine. Take pictures of your Shabbat celebration and share them with us on our Bet Haverim Facebook page. (If you don’t have Facebook you can email me your pictures and I can post them for you.)  Look for the links to our Zoom Shabbat above or in our Shabbat section of this e-tone.

*Become a member of our newly forming “LaBriyut (To Health) Group”!  It is my hope that this group will coordinate efforts to stay in touch with our seniors  and most vulnerable CBH partners. People in this group can volunteer to make calls to this population and help everyone stay connected to our community, offer to go shopping or run errands, and just be a friendly and cheerful connection making sure all their needs are being met. Write to me using this web page for information or to join.

*Kids, teens and adults can all write cards and notes that we can share with those who are feeling most isolated. Many of our seniors who are living in residential facilities are not able to see even their local families due to health concerns.  Just imagine how much it would mean to these folks to receive a sweet card filled with hope and joy.

*This is also a time to think about how we can support our local businesses and the arts. One suggestion I heard about was to buy gift cards to local restaurants, theaters or movies, for instance, to be used at a later time.  You can share your ideas to help with other partners through the e-tone. Let us hear from you.

*We also want to remember that this is a time to help the most vulnerable in the larger Davis/Woodland region. If you have extra time on your hands consider volunteering for or supporting an organization that is working with immigrants, asylum seekers, the poor and the homeless. One great community resource that is out on the front lines is Yolo Food Bank. Here is a link to get involved and support them.

*Our teens can stay connected to many of the wonderful program opportunities that our Education and Youth team is working on under the leadership of Ardyth Sokoler and Naomi Weizman, our Teen Engagement Coordinator. Watch for all their offerings. Our teens can also stay up to date on what virtual “happenings” are being planned through our NFTY youth programs across the country. Check out this piece from the national president of NFTY for teens:

*Families with kids may want to check out this beautiful article about how to make each day count during this time of quarantine at

*Help us build up a rich resource list of things that you can do in our “Cooped Up Corner.”  Here we can share wonderful ideas and resources that are available on line like virtual tours of museums and aquariums, listening to operas and other concerts that are being organized. Let me know if you would like to help coordinate this resource.

*Why not “reZoom” your connections with virtual coffee breaks with the rabbi and friends. Just let me know if you would like to set up a time.

*Have favorite Jewish stories or jokes. Maybe we could create recordings of you sharing a favorite or two.

As you can see the list could go on and on.  Let your imagination soar and let us know how you would like to be involved and make a difference. Your gifts of the heart are unique and will give our virtual mishkan its loving character. Don’t get left out of the tent. Let us know how you would like to be involved in one of the projects mentioned above or an idea of your own that you would like to start.

Blessings for a journey through the wilderness together that will enrich us and enable us to thrive along the way,

Rabbi Greg