Welcoming Shabbat Nachamu

Sadly, the time has come for us to bid our all-star Jewish Vocational Service (JVS) Kohn Summer Intern, Claire Ambruster, a fond adieu.

For eight weeks this summer, Claire was a welcome addition to the CBS team. Without exception, every member of the CBS staff was very impressed with her and pleased with the work she did. As Rabbi Glazer wrote, "Claire was a pleasure to work with – responsive, responsible, and Jewishly knowledgeable and curious. Her ability to juggle multiple tasks and manage her time is noteworthy as are her people skills. This bodes well for future service in the Jewish community and beyond!"

We wish Claire the very best, and hope to see more of her since she'll just be across the Bay at Mills College. Fortunately for us, she is sharing one final blog contribution, this one about Shabbat Nachamu (August 20).

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Facebook_ModehAni_ClaireThis summer, I was very grateful to have had the opportunity to work at Congregation Beth Sholom through the Jewish Vocational Service (JVS) Kohn internship. I worked in different departments here at CBS, which allowed me to gain perspective into different types of work — from accounting to communications. I really enjoyed getting to know my coworkers and the CBS community. Thank you to everyone who helped to make my time here full of growth!

Did you know that this coming Shabbat is a special one?

Shabbat Nachamu begins this Friday evening, the Shabbat following Tisha B’Av. Just yesterday, Tisha B’Av brought a period of intense mourning for many losses, including the destruction of the Temples in Jerusalem. However, on Shabbat Nachamu we make a complete shift, focusing instead on hope, healing, and light. Although we fasted and had no celebrations on Tisha B’Av, we have celebrations and weddings after Shabbat Nachamu.

Shabbat Nachamu also begins the seven weeks leading up to Rosh Hashanah — marking the start of a journey towards teshuvah and repentance. Despite our feelings of brokenness on Tisha B’Av, these seven weeks symbolize completeness, reminiscent of the seven days of the week or the seven days of shiva. For these next seven weeks, we read a weeky haftarah that provides comfort. On Shabbat Nachamu, we begin the haftarah with the line "Nachamu nachamu ami yomer eloheim," which means "You all comfort, comfort My people, says G-d" (Isaiah 40:1). In other words, "Come together and comfort each other and you will heal."

How does our tradition expect us to suddenly turn from complete mourning, loss, and destruction to comfort, healing, and hope — what really has changed? How many of us actually have the ability to just change our focus when we feel despair? And where does pain go?

In Mark Nepo’s The Book of Awakening, he relates a Hindu parable about a student who frequently complained. To teach her student a lesson, the master told her to put a handful of salt in a glass of water and then to drink it. It tasted bitter. Then, the master told her student to drop the salt into the lake and taste it again. Now, the salt was diluted and the water tasted fresh. At this, the master told her apprentice, "The pain of life is pure salt; no more, no less. The amount of pain in life remains the same, exactly the same. But the amount of bitterness we taste depends on the container we put the pain in. So when you are in pain, the only thing you can do is to enlarge your sense of things... Stop being a glass. Become a lake" (Nepo 18). On Shabbat Nachamu, we are called to become a lake. Although pain may always exist, we expand our perspective to include infinite sorrows and joys.

No matter the roadblocks, we can possess extensive gratitude — and those "roadblocks" can become "stepping stones" to learning something new. The Hebrew expression for gratitude is "hikarat hatov," literally, "recognizing the good." Each of us has many things to be thankful for — no matter what. In Pirkei Avot, it states, "Who is rich? Those who rejoice in their own lot" (Pirkei Avot 4:1). In this way, our choices are what determine our outlook — and that is the wisdom of Shabbat Nachamu.

Artwork credit & note: Claire Ambruster, Modeh Ani, Watercolor on paper, 2015; Claire wanted this piece to accompany her article because the title and first words of our morning prayer, "Modeh ani," mean "I give thanks." That sentiment (and the practice of reciting the Modeh Ani with intention) can help us "become a lake."

Meet Claire Ambruster, JVS Summer Intern

CBS is pleased to introduce our Jewish Vocational Service (JVS) Kohn Summer Intern, Claire Ambruster. Claire is supporting multiple departments at CBS during her internship (June 21 - August 12), including communications. Wearing her communications hat, Claire will learn about thoughtful development and management of social media strategy and also gain blogging experience. Today, we're sharing her first blog contribution.

We've been very impressed with Claire so far, and are fortunate to have her on our team, even if only for the summer!

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My Journey to Working in the Jewish World

Facebook_ClaireAmbrusterLast week, I began my summer internship through the Kohn Summer Intern Program – a project of Jewish Vocational Service. My fellow interns and I met for the first time at the Contemporary Jewish Museum. We enjoyed a tour of the museum, schmoozed, and discussed our goals for the summer. As Kohn interns, we each work separately at different Bay Area Jewish nonprofits. On Fridays, we come together for interesting seminars, during which we discuss everything from Jewish life to job skills. I will be working with Congregation Beth Sholom (CBS) this summer, and am very excited for the opportunity to explore the inner workings of this synagogue – from drafting CBS Facebook posts to managing membership databases. I am also enjoying getting to know the Beth Sholom community. Simultaneously, I look forward to getting to know the other Kohn interns and learning about the different types of work they are doing to invest in the Jewish world.

Although I now am committed to Jewish practice, I did not always envision that for myself. I grew up in a secular home in San Francisco. Although we lit Hanukkah candles each year, we also strung colored lights around our Christmas tree. As I grew older, I wanted to learn more about my tradition, and I asked my parents to enroll me in Hebrew school. Once enrolled, I quickly became inspired by Jewish teachings. When the time came to pick a high school, I decided to further my Jewish education and enrolled in a pluralistic Jewish high school. I soon fell in love with Jewish studies – from Talmud to contemporary Jewish thought. As I grew, I developed confidence in my faith. I began to contemplate taking larger concrete steps towards Judaism, and I pondered the idea of having a bat mitzvah ceremony and eventually going through conversion, as I am not yet considered halachically Jewish.

Last summer, I was given the opportunity to have my long-anticipated bat mitzvah ceremony. I was participating in the Brandeis Collegiate Institute (BCI) summer program in Los Angeles, and had spent several weeks engaging in a whirlwind of profound learning with my peers. On the final Shabbat of the program, I stood before a crowded room, eagerly anticipating the ceremony. I read from the Torah, singing notes I had learned only weeks beforehand. Afterward, I reflected on the biblical passage, in which the daughters of Tzelafchad demanded to receive their father’s inheritance, which traditionally went to sons. In the same spirit of the daughters of Tzelafchad, I stood in front of the community to inherit and reaffirm my Jewish identity. After years of questioning my Jewish identity, it was incredibly redemptive and exhilarating to read from the Torah and feel the joy surrounding me.

It is moments like this one – where communities come together in joy and in loss – which remind me how important Judaism is in my life. I look forward to helping build the Jewish world here at Beth Sholom for the remainder of the summer!