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Talk to Cohen



“Talk to Cohen”


Many of us know the old line that every Jewish holiday can be summed up in three sentences:


They tried to kill us.

We won.

Let’s eat.


It’s a joke and a simplification, but there’s something to it. Many of our holidays really are celebrations of some kind of escape from persecution. And nearly all of them have eating at the centre of the observance (except Yom Kippur, which has NOT eating at the centre of its observance).


Why is food so important in Judaism? I believe it’s not about the food, but rather about the relationships. Mealtimes are times when we are together with family and friends, when we catch up, ask each other questions, learn about each other’s lives, and build connections. This is true of our Shabbat dinners, our Passover seders, and our Onegs. In fact, as a rabbi, I strongly believe that the Oneg or Kiddush is as important as the service, because while the service is our time to connect with God, the Oneg/Kiddush is our time to connect with each other.


The Jewish writer and humorist Harry Golden (who, coincidentally, was a founding member of my previous congregation in North Carolina), is said to have once asked his staunch atheist father why he belonged to a synagogue and attended services every Shabbat. Golden’s father answered: “You see Cohen over there? Cohen comes to shul to talk to God. I come to shul to talk to Cohen.”


That’s the truth of Judaism. Some of us come to shul to talk to God (in the many varied forms that we conceive God as Reform Jews), and some of us come to shul to talk to each other. And there’s nothing wrong with that, because it is how relationships are formed. Strong congregations are built on strong relationships.


This is particularly important for us at this juncture in our congregational life. Having just brought together two congregations, we are engaged in the project of forging a single community. It began a year ago, when we gathered for the High Holy Days, and it continued over the course of 5779, even as we were still separated into Sunday School and Saturday program. But 5780 will be different, because with the merger of our two schools, our congregation is truly one!


So we have a job to do: in the words of Harry Golden, we need to “talk to Cohen” (where “Cohen” is any other person in the room, regardless of priestly status). We will need to reach out to one another, get to know the unfamiliar faces in the room, and welcome one another into our combined community. I encourage all of us this year to think of ourselves as community builders and ambassadors whenever we are together.


The first opportunity to be together will be at Rock Shabbat on Friday, September 6 at 6:30 pm.This rockin’ and rollin’ Shabbat service (with our band Shtyx andour choir) is a chance to kick off the year with music, food, and friends – both old and new. I look forward to seeing you there.




Rabbi Micah Streiffer

Sun, February 5 2023 14 Sh'vat 5783