A Relationship of Thanks

Rabbi O at the Interfaith Prayer Service 2017

A Relationship of Thanks

I felt deeply honored and humbled the first time I was referred to as “the Benilde-St. Margaret’s rabbi.” It was initially in jest, but there was an undertone of truth in those words. The students, administration and faculty knew me, not because of my name or my role at Beth El, but because of the relationship we have and the welcome and invitation I’ve received to participate in the BSM community. Eventually being “the BSM rabbi” stuck. When I run into BSM students at places like the airport, the ice rink, or the movie theater, I love that they run up to me with a warm welcome and a smile.

Not many rabbis I know can share the same about a Catholic school next to their synagogue. This makes our relationship unique, and really Beth El and BSM’s relationship unique. I relish and cherish that. 

Beth El families spend important moments of High Holy Day worship at BSM, and BSM 9th graders spend time learning in the Beth El Sukkah. Our younger students implicitly partner with BSM’s older students to grow food in our Friendship Giving Garden donating the bounty to STEP. We collaborate and learn together in so many ways, and I love my opportunities to guest teach in many of the classrooms throughout the BSM academic year.

Because of our relationship, I’m reminded daily that olam chesed yibaneh – the world is built on kindness (Psalm 89:3) – on brotherhood, on sisterhood, on being good neighbors. For me, one way that we continue to build that world is through BSM’s annual interfaith Thanksgiving service. On one hand, Thanksgiving is a secular American holiday, but on the other, because of the themes, messages and values it elicits, we find fertile ground in the teachings of each of our religious traditions.

For many years now, I’ve had the privilege of sharing the “pulpit” with BSM students, faculty and clergy. We reach into the depths of our souls to boneh et olam chesed – build that world of kindness. I know it is always our goal to inspire those who attend and participate in the service and to provide them with intention as they enjoy their family Thanksgiving traditions. However, I have to confess, each year at the conclusion of the service, I walk out of BSM personally renewed and refreshed. I myself am inspired, and I take this with me to my own Thanksgiving table.

When my family gathers for Thanksgiving dinner each year, we go around the table and share for what we are grateful. We always begin communally with a traditional Jewish blessing: Barukh Atah Adonai Elohenu Melekh HaOlam, Shehechiyanu, V’Kiyamanu, V’Higiyanu Lazman Hazeh – Praised are You Adonai Our God, Ruler of the Universe, who granted us life, sustained us and enabled us to reach this moment. I regularly think of not only this time but also this place when I recite that blessing and the feeling of welcome associated with it. BSM is part of that feeling for me, and really for all of us at Beth El. And for that, I am eternally grateful, as is the entire Beth El community.