One of the most daunting challenges of the rabbinate is finding ways to translate tangibly what it means to live the mitzva system. Make Moments Kadosh; Partner with God in living by such precepts as: caring, kindness, consideration, integrity, responsiveness, compassion, fairness, flexibility, heartfulness, soulfulness, warmth, thoughtfulness, intuition, spontaneity, joyousness, gratitude, thankfulness and the like, and the unique…In secular contexts I identify God as U KNOW HU. The Game is to see and perceive U KNOW HU in who/HU you/U know.
One person I thank God for having had an opportunity to know is our outgoing president, Gail Lampkins. Her name says much: Lamp. In Gail I see light. What astonishes me is that the list above is nothing less than a description of qualities I cherish in Gail, and in many of the members who lead B’nai Israel. My first significant exposure to Gail was in her nurturing leadership of Vallejo Hadassah. She impressed me with her blend of warmth and all business in running the program at hand. With Gail I associate a can-do approach to life, especially with people. Before accepting the nomination for president of B’nai Israel she reviewed carefully and patiently the complications she would face given her limited knowledge base in ritual and synagogue life. She trustingly and graciously accepted my assurances that I would be there for her in ritual support and the members would be there for her to help with the load. Her openness and welcome to anyone and everyone to help out and help each other out was energizing.
Early in her presidency home life unexpectedly changed as she undertook raising her grandchildren. In my over 30 year career I can count on less than one hand the number of leaders who stayed with the job when such an unexpected overwhelm hit. I was most pleasantly surprised that she agreed to stay on, and more than that, amazed how she gave such incredible energy to all the tasks at hand, beginning with her grand children. Even with little ones in tow, Gail was on the job, which meant, checking in with everyone, making sure we were ok, keeping us all informed, cheering us on, exulting in our successes.
A neighbor raised a troubling question about a fence that we needed to better tend and keep in proper condition. The neighbor regretted that others who shared his sentiments were unable to attend the board meeting. A decision was made to canvass the neighbors. It was the sort of thing you would imagine taking weeks or more to work through. Not with Gail. The following Sunday she canvassed the neighbors, invited them for the Thanksgiving Interfaith Service and discovered that, for the most part, they were happy with our efforts as neighbors.
The Jewish system is predicated on the principle: “Lo Bashamayim Hi; v’Lo Mey-eyver Hayam”, “It, the teaching, is not in Heaven, and not across the sea”, referring to the way you “do” it. It isn’t rocket science. It isn’t that hard to do. It starts as Gail did and does: “Naaseh v’Nishma”. “We will do and we will understand”. Many people with Gail’s Jewish background have shied away from the call to Jewish leadership and a presidency. Gail’s trust in all of us allowed her to say yes to something so overly daunting. She threw herself into all facets of the job, showing mastery in her areas of organizational leadership and showing eagerness to participate and learn in matters of Jewish ritual participation. Her sense of self, trust in her abilities, and her understanding and acceptance of her limitations allowed Gail to be an outstanding president.
What is inspiring about members of B’nai Israel that lead this community is how many of you manifest the teaching of the Prophet Micah, as good a summary as you can find of Judaism’s governing premise: “What is Good…and What is it that God invokes upon you: Actively Do Justice, Be Loving and Passionate in Caring; And Move along Respectfully and Gently with your God”
As this piece is written the nominating committee is doing its work of choosing the next year’s leadership. Whoever is the next president need only reflect on the name of the group entrusted in their care. To be “B’nai Israel” is to be someone who embraces wrestling with God, engaging all the challenges of partnership that God bestows upon us so vividly in Micah’s words. There is something very promising about a group that lives in alignment with its name. That is something to grow with in the same way that the group gave Gail the wherewithal to grow and in so doing to enable us all to grow with her. To her and to us all: “Yasher Koach”, “Grow in Strength” with each and every worthy endeavor we undertake.