Torot Kehillateinu honoring Joel Fleishman
Held on March 6, 2016
Torat Kehillateinu/Teachings from “Our Community”
honoring Eric & Carol Meyers
Held on February 22, 2015
The Beth El Synagogue Life Committee honored Duke University Professors Carol and Eric Meyers at the next Torat Kehillateinu: Teachings from “Our Community” (formerly Torah of the Elders) event, was held on February 22nd, in the Freedman Center. We listened to these illustrious members of the Beth El community share stories about their experiences. Both are renowned archaeologists and biblical scholars whose careers have spanned more than 40 years. Their discoveries in Israel have advanced our knowledge of Middle Eastern history, earning worldwide acclaim. Professor Carol Meyers has also published widely on women in biblical times. Both are active in local volunteer initiatives, and are members of the Triangle Jewish Chorale. Professor Eric Meyers has been President of the Jewish Heritage Foundation of North Carolina since 2011. In addition to his other endeavors, he has enriched our congregation for many years as our chief cantor during the High Holiday services.
Torot Kehillatenu/Teachings from “Our Community” (formally called Torat Z’kenim/Torah of the Elders)
A Purpose and A Program
In his work, The Force of Character, James Hillman makes a claim on behalf of old age. There is a reason why we live so far beyond our capacity to reproduce, past the height of our physical powers – in short, past “usefulness. Old age is the time for the presentation of character. We do not develop character in the sense of creating something new. Rather, we lay bare that character that is etched (the Greek word for “character” means “etched) into us from the very beginning.
It is how we think about our lives that is important: “… we need imaginative ideas that can grace aging and speak to it with the intelligence that it deserves. (p.xiii). We need to make a metaphor of biology. The making of metaphor- better, the summoning of metaphor is a function of soul for Hillman. Meaning making and soul making are the overlapping activities that characterize our most reflective postures, our most insightful moments.
Soul functions at its highest and best, Hillman teaches elsewhere, against a backdrop of mortality. Is it possible that the old or, the old souls, or, those with shortened life expectancies have a greater capacity for soul making? Is it possible that the old among us-by virtue of their steady presence among us – are the lightning rods that draws down soul meaning among us? How can we fail to realize that Torat Z’kenim, the Torah of our elders is a treasure not to be overlooked?
The two rabbinic texts that follow point us towards the special importance of Torat Z’kenim/Torah of the Elders:
If there are no little ones then there are no grown-ups. If there are no grown-ups there are no students. If there are no students there are no sages. If there are no sages there are no elders. If there are no elders there is no Torah …(Im einn z’keinim, ein Torah)
(Esther Rabbah Petihta #11)
When the Blessed Holy One revealed himself on Mt. Sinai to give the Torah to Israel He appeared to them as none other than an elder. What is the reasoning behind this? It is written, -in the elderly resides wisdom and discernment in the long-lived (Job 12:12).
(Pesikta Rabbati 21:4)
If there are no sages there are no elders. If there are no elders/z’keinim there is no Torah. In the developmental stages of living and learning, elders take their place after the sages. Certainly, the sages are the custodians of Torah! What is the critical difference between the Torah of the sages and the Torah of the elders? Perhaps we could say that the Torah of the elders is the lived, enacted, embodied Torah that requires transmission through the seasoned and experienced among us. The Torah of the Elders/Torat Z’keinim, is a Torah of long-lived presence; a Torah of witness, of continuity, of lasting: In the elderly resides wisdom; and discernment in the long-lived”That is to say, her very presence embodies the wisdom of traditions. His life teaches of endurance, of constancy in good times and in bad. They, in the years that stretch beyond rearing and careering,” reveal a most important a Torah: Career is not a life’s work. Life is a life’s work.
We need elders and their Torah, heroes of aging because actuarial tables, insurance company and health club indices inform but do not inspire us; they speak of restrictions and say nothing of expansiveness. They warn but do not warm us concerning the life that might be ours if we are fortunate enough to live long enough.
James Hillman, in The Force of Character, points out that “elder/old means “nourished”. It is to this state of being that we aspire, against which we measure ourselves throughout life: “How old is the baby?” How much “oldne how much world nourishment is in this one? We need elders, nourished ones” whose lives nourish the community. Without them there is no hope for a future generation of elders. Regardless of how many sages we have, without the elders there is a lack of Torah.
Torat Z’kenim is a project to shape community around the elders in our midst. We hope to draw together those eager to learn the particular skills, insights, stories and wisdom of our elders.
We plan to consult with elders of our community in order to find the particular Torah that she, or he, has to offer to the community. We then construct a program best suited to the teaching of that Torah. Often an event may involve a special circle of “youngers” who share the same interest, skill, etc. In this way, we hope to bridge generations, honor a Torah that can best be taught by living it. We hope to give our elders their rightful place as leaders and teachers among us.
EXAMPLES & FOOTAGE OF PAST PROGRAMS:
On December 2, 2012 we honored long-time members
Hudi and Sam Gross
Video footage from this event
can be found online courtesy of
Sheldon Becker and Jewish Sparks:
Long-time members of Beth El, Hudi and Sam have been a major presence for many years, helping both Beth El and the local Jewish community to grow and prosper. Hudi is best known for her contributions to Hebrew education through our Religious School, and Sam has been especially prominent in Zionist activities. We look forward to learning from the wisdom that Hudi and Sam Gross have accumulated through their rich experiences traveling a Jewish world, from a religious community in New York to Israel and then to Durham.
Anyone wishing to make a donation in honor of the Grosses & this program are asked to direct these to the Eric Pas Jewish Camp Scholarship Fund and/or the Earl & Gladys Siegel Endowment Fund.
We honored long-time member,
Monice Arnold (Z”L),
on Sunday, November 6, 2011
Monice Arnold was a resident of Durham for over 60 years. She discussed her affiliation with Beth El and shared interesting stories about her decades in the community.
You can view highlights online at:
(split into two 15 minute segments)
Part 1: http://youtu.be/bKiNvfyAIQc
Part 2: http://youtu.be/3eGU_bPn9rg
The fourth installment of our Torah of the Elders/Torat Z’kenim program honored longtime Beth El member
Dr. Albrecht Strauss on October 31, 2010
The program included a pre-filmed video presentation available on the Jewish Sparks website: http://www.jewishsparks.net/Albrecht%20Strauss/Strauss-Index.htm
Dr. Strauss, Emeritus Professor of English Literature at
UNC-CH, shared interesting stories from his life,
beginning with pre-WWII Berlin; through his teenage years in
England; his coming to America; college, military, and
profesional life; and other observations from his five
decades in Chapel Hill.
We honored longtime Beth El member
Sidney David Markman (Z”L) on May 31, 2007.
An archeologist and architectural historian, Dr. Markman showed slides of Spain’s vanquished Jewish community, and shared stories of his life in the Old World and the New — his forays into Central America and his lifelong commitment to Judaism.