What does your Rabbi do? Part 8

Rabbi Joe Blair

December 24, 2007



I have been called by RMH and AMC to serve as ‘chaplain’ to unaffiliated Jews on a few occasions, and when possible I have done so. I have tried to convey to the hospital’s staffs that I will try to come when possible, but there is no assurance that I, as a member of the clergy and representing the Jewish community in our area, will always be able or willing to come when called. 

Contacts from Jewish non-members: 

I have continued to be welcoming and invited them to observe and attend. It is my sense, and I remain hopeful, that if they feel comfortable with our community they will join. We have had some success this year in membership growth (more on that from our VP of Membership, I hope). Whenever I had contact with a potential new member I have passed that information on for follow up.

Shenandoah Valley

 Holocaust Education Project: 

Recently, as one of the founders of the group establishing the Shenandoah Valley Holocaust Education Project, I worked to bring another performance/presentation to our community. This was the play presenting Corrie Ten Boom Live, by Evelyn Hinds. This is the first program of the year. Our major focus will be a series of events spread around the area in early March. We are looking at additional and different types of programs. I am very excited to tell you that Norman Weinberg has agreed to come and speak at THOI on March 9th, 2008. He is an exciting, dynamic and fascinating speaker, and he will tell us about the Cemetery Recovery Project he is involved with leading.  In the days around that event, there will likely be a performance of a play (based on the book Number the Stars, by Lois Lowry, dramatized by Kelly Brock), a dramatic reading of monologues from actual survivors (written by Kelly Brock), a visit by a survivor (or more than one), and possibly other programs, all at different venues in Waynesboro, Staunton, and Harrisonburg. There are also other very exciting possibilities that may come to fruition. I have great hope that this will be an ongoing event over many years, bringing in different people, speakers, programs, and events. 

The THOI Staunton Jewish Film Festival (SJFF):

I have been in contact with a few people, seeking sponsors, and have been working with Laurie and the committee to make this a success. We are planning it for April 11-17th, 2008. At this point, it looks excellent. We have arranged for the use of the Visulite theater, and our festival can consist of up to seven films during the weekend (Friday to Sunday), with repeated showings over the course of a week. This is very exciting. Now we have to jump in and make it happen. My vision for this project is that it can become an annual event, and grow to be a major draw for THOI, Staunton, and the Valley. We need to start ‘small’ and grow it organically, but the potential is definitely there. 

Social & Communal Events:

We have had a successful start to the THOI Welcome Committee, holding a lovely New Member Welcome Brunch, which I happily attended, and I am looking forward to more such events.

Next week, we have scheduled a Mitzvah Day and Pot Luck on December 9th at 2 to 5. Bring your favorite food, and join us in maintaining our building through tasks ranging from cleaning and straightening inside to clearing leaves from the roof. 

On the books next after that is a new initiative which I suggested we try; a Game Day Social on the 25th of December, when everything else is pretty much closed. This is intended as a social event, with everyone bringing ‘pot luck’ hors d’oeuvres and whatever games they like to play to the synagogue to get together and have a relaxed afternoon (from 2-6) when not much else is going on. 



One of the highlights this year for the ten congregants (three from Beth El and seven from THOI) who participated (along with me), was the trip to Israel. Even now, in fact this weekend at Shabbat services at Beth El, six of those who participated sat at the Oneg and looked at pictures, reliving the trip, telling stories  and laughing, for almost an hour and a half after the service. More than once in that conversation the question was asked about ‘when can we go back?’ Leading the trip was, for me, a very significant effort, quite exhausting, but given the responses, extremely rewarding, and definitely worthwhile both on a personal level, and for the long-term benefits that have flowed to both congregations from it. I don’t believe that we have the numbers to try to do an annual trip to Israel, but perhaps we should be looking ahead and planning another trip so people can plan and prepare themselves with plenty of time in advance. 

Similarly, perhaps we should also begin to plan some lesser congregational trips in years we don’t have an Israel trip: a long weekend in ‘Jewish New York’ for example. The costs for such a venture would not be prohibitive for most of our congregants, and with a shorter time away more congregants might be encouraged to participate. I would love to see this possibility explored for feasibility in both congregations.