I have just returned from an amazing trip to the Caribbean with the World Union for Progressive Judaism. We visited congregations in San Juan, St. Thomas, Curacao, and Aruba, some of the oldest congregations in the Western hemisphere. We shared our stories, our music, and our prayers with each of these communities.
As you know, St. Thomas was hit with devastating hurricanes last fall, and the floods which followed. They told us that they had lost their Machzorim in the storms and replacing them would mean a great deal to the community.
The Central Conference of American Rabbis offered copies of “Mishkan Hanefesh, ” however shipping non-essentials to St. Thomas is not possible at the moment. So, the World Union reached out to our travelers. and I am filled with pride to tell you that we were able to carry all 100 two-book sets to the island.
These books were heavy! We stuffed them into suitcases that were already bulging. We nestled them between our clothing and too many pairs of shoes, and carried them in our arms off the ship and onto our buses. And the rewards for doing this mitzvah were returned to us a hundred-fold.
We sat in the beautiful sanctuary of 250 year old Hebrew Congregation, with its sand floor and its ark made of local mahogany. We learned about the Jewish community, their Sephardic traditions, and about the Holocaust Torah they protect and treasure. And then members of the congregation joined us as we handed the Machzorim to each member of the congregation. We stood in the center of this beautiful space and sang a Shehechiyanu together. I looked at the faces around me and saw a member from St. Thomas with his arms overflowing with Machzorim and tears running down his face. I saw members of our group grateful for the opportunity to make a difference. I saw a community that can now approach the coming High Holy Days with one less concern as they recover from the forces of nature that battered them.
We had the opportunity to experience firsthand how powerful this global Jewish connection can be. We hope that you too will take advantage of opportunities to visit WUPJ communities around the world, and to follow opportunities of global engagement on Facebook.
About the author: Jane Taves is a co-chair of the North American Advisory Board (NAAB) of the World Union for Progressive Judaism.