At our October 21st Saturday services, Mishkanite Rebecca Silverman delivered a drash on Parashat Noach on the occasion of her 25th BMitzvah anniversary.
Shabbat shalom, everyone! It’s great seeing you all on this first hosted Shabbat morning since the High Holidays.
Today, I am celebrating the 25th anniversary of my Bat Mitzvah.
Before I get to the actual Torah portion, I know some of you may be asking yourselves, “Why do a 25th Bat Mitzvah-versary?” as I’ve been calling it. Nearly a decade ago, my father read his Bar Mitzvah Torah portion in celebration of his 50th Bar Mitzvah anniversary, and the idea stuck in my head. The more I thought about it, the more I wanted to mark this occasion. I am in a much different place now than I was when I was 13: I’m older and wiser, living in a different city, hanging out with different friends, working, paying a mortgage–things I couldn’t even imagine when I was 13.
I want to celebrate how much I have grown in the past 25 years with the community–my friends and my congregation who have supported me–during much of that time, and rededicate myself to reading and chanting Torah.
So… my Bat Mitzvah portion is actually in 2 weeks, but I’ll be on vacation in Puerto Rico then. I still wanted to mark this occasion, and this week’s Torah portion of Noach seemed like an equally excellent portion to study. In addition, it fits thematically with my motivation for celebrating today.
This is a story most of you know, regardless if you are Jewish or not, secular or more observant. Noah and the ark. Noah has, for over 6 months, been floating in an ark with “beasts of every kind” after a catastrophic flood. In the parasha before this one, he has sent out a dove, which has returned with an olive branch.
When this portion opens, G-d speaks to Noah, telling him to come out of the ark and bring all the creatures with him. Once on solid ground, Noah prepares a sacrifice, G-d makes promises about never to destroy the earth again and proclamations about eating animals and not spilling human blood, and seals this covenant with Noah with a rainbow.
I’ll let our rabbis talk more about these intricacies, but what speaks to me in this story is the idea of being lost in a flood, then arriving in a new place and putting down roots.
I came to Chicago on a whim; I didn’t want to return to the Boston area, where I grew up, and I had family in the suburbs here. I visited Chicago many times as a child and it felt natural to me to move here after attending college elsewhere in the Midwest.
It was hard at first. I knew no one, my roommate and I weren’t getting along, and I had a tenuous job during the recession that paid me little. I suffered from depression and anxiety, wondering if Chicago was the right place for me but also not knowing where else to go.
I was deep in the flood, for quite a few years.
Eventually, through many of you here, I found solid ground. I grew in my profession. I met people at guitar class, running clubs, work, the gym. Some of these friendships waxed and waned, but all of them contributed to what came to form my community here in a new place, the place I decided to land my metaphorical ark.
Mishkan was also a huge part of that. I didn’t realize how much I missed having a Jewish community that felt like home to me until I began attending Mishkan services back when they were in a future board member’s back yard–and then at Anshe Emet, and at various churches and finally large venues like the Vic or the Copernicus Center. Indeed, many of the people I’ve invited here today specifically are people I either met through Mishkan, or whose relationships with me deepened through singing together on Friday nights at 2U.
Even if you grew up here, or came here with a built-in support system, I’d like you to take a minute to think about the “flood” in your lives. When did you feel unmoored, adrift, directionless? Was it recently, during our years of isolation during the pandemic? A long time ago when you were younger? Or maybe some of you feel this way even now.
Remember this: Noah was never alone in the ark.
Not only did he have his family with him, but he had “birds, animals, and everything that creeps on the earth.” OK, not all of us have a menagerie of animals living with us or multiple generations of family members, but maybe we have some family–whether chosen or related by blood. And look around you–we have this community.
You have chosen to be here today. You woke up and decided that today, you wanted to be in community celebrating Shabbat with everyone else here. If you feel adrift, look around and realize that you took that first step–you actively chose to show up, whether you are trying this for the first time or have been here since those backyard Shabbatot. Each of you has stepped out of your ark and is contributing to the firm ground that is being here for one another. I hope that Shabbat can be that for you–a way to ground you from whatever floods, large or small, are happening to you that week; a community of people to build you up.
I was talking to Rabbi Steven about this parasha earlier this month, and he said to me, “When we stop services to ask you to turn around and talk to someone you don’t know, we actually mean it.” Those 60 seconds are all it takes to form a connection with someone, put a face to a name, or even do some networking. Even if you are not a member of Mishkan, you can do this in your own life too! Start easy–talk to the people whom you know are always up for talking: the folks who work the checkout line at Trader Joe’s.
I’m honored to celebrate my 25th Bat Mitzvah anniversary together with you, in this community we have built, in our ark. Shabbat shalom.