On Tuesday evening, the Jewish Federation of Greater Seattle sponsored the first event of our Speaker Series, featuring Bryan Schwartz, author and photographer of Scattered Among the Nations. Bryan told us about a hidden yet remarkable Jewish world – remote communities far from the established centers of Jewish life in Israel, North America and Western Europe.
Bryan’s stories about isolated outposts of Jewish life - the Lost Tribe that Found Elijah in India, the House of Israel in Ghana, and the Jungle Jews of the Amazon, for example – were fascinating by themselves. What makes them even more compelling is that each and every one is testament to the enduring strength of our Jewish traditions and heritage.
On a personal level, it gives me pause and stirs my sense of wonder to think that, in Seattle and our local communities, when Shabbat candles are lit this evening, somewhere, in worlds foreign to our own, there are Jews who celebrate our common practices and core faith, as we, as a community, will do tonight. For me, this is a powerful reality.
For the Federation, that reality affirms the importance of the high priority we give to creating and strengthening connections between our Puget Sound Jewish community, Israel and world Jewry. Investing in Israel and overseas has been part of our core work for decades. We provide scholarships for teens to journey to Israel, giving them the opportunity to explore their Jewish identity in both intellectual and visceral ways, as only an Israel experience is able to do.
We have been longtime partners of the Jewish Agency for Israel and the Joint Distribution Committee in supporting critical humanitarian services and Jewish identity programs for communities in Israel and overseas. JAFI and the JDC right now are providing financial support and other essential assistance for Israeli families harmed by the devastating wildfires that recently swept across the country.
From Bryan’s stories and the challah covers, talitot, and kippot he brought from a few of the communities he documented in his book, other insights may be drawn – there are many ways to live Jewishly. As we look forward to a busy 2017 working for a vibrant and connected Jewish Puget Sound, our Speaker Series will continue to bring to our community leaders who will share with us different paths to Judaism. I expect these events will be every bit as lively and thought-provoking as Bryan Schwartz’s presentation was.
As Jews the world over light candles tonight and celebrate Shabbat in a way that resonates with them, my hope is that we remain aware of our connectedness. I know many explanations exist as to why we light two or more Shabbat candles tonight. Reflecting upon Bryan’s message, I believe they burn in support of each other. One flame might suffice, but together they light the world. What makes us strong, what unites us as a people, what has enabled us to endure as Jews is this connection we have to each other, to our past and to our future.
I wish all of you a Happy Hanukkah and best wishes for a happy, healthy and prosperous 2017.