Thursday, October 20, 2011

Jonah, The Book of Irony - Yom Kippur Morning 5772

Jonah, The Book of Irony
Congregation Albert
Yom Kippur Morning 5772

For my nearly my entire life, I like many of you, have listened to or dozed off to the reading of the book of Jonah on Yom Kippur afternoon. As I was reviewing Jonah this year some new things jumped out at me.
Jonah could also be called the Book of Irony or maybe My Story as a Shlemazel. For those of you who don’t know what a Shlemazel is: The Shlemiel spills the soup onto the Shlemazel. You really have to feel for the guy. 

First, God appoints him a prophetic task and we all know just how little fun it can be to be a prophet. 

Second, Jonah’s prophetic task requires him to go to Nineveh, the capital city of Assyria, ancient Israel’s fiercest enemy and tell them they need to change their ways or God will punish them. A contemporary example would be if Benjamin Netanyahu getting a call from God to go to Tehran and tell them God will destroy them unless they support Israel! Jonah would have to be thinking that his projected life span had just been shortened.

Third, he hops a freighter heading the other way, gets thrown overboard, gets swallowed by a fish in the Mediterranean which swims past Gibraltar, around Africa into the Persian Gulf, up the Tigris River and gets spit up on its banks just outside the gates of Nineveh.

Fourth, he is successful. In fact he is the only one of our prophets who got people to change their ways, repent and come to God. Unfortunately, from his point of view, these people were his enemy and in his own eyes at best he failed, at worst he was a traitor.

And fifth, God provides Jonah shade with what most texts call a gourd but a better translation is a “castor oil plant”. When God sends a worm to kill the plant, Jonah is upset that he no longer has a castor oil plant. From what my parents told me about their childhoods, they would have been quite happy if a castor oil plant had died.

Seriously though, it is the ultimate irony that in the prophetic age, our ancestors never answered God’s call to repentance but our fiercest enemy did. Jonah’s reaction? Anger and frustration. Listen to his words:
And this displeased Jonah exceedingly, and he was very angry. And he prayed to the God, and said, I pray you, O God, is this not what I said when I was still in my country? Therefore I hastened to flee to Tarshish; for I knew that you are a gracious God, and merciful, slow to anger, and of great kindness, and that you repent of the evil. Therefore now, O God, take, I pray you, my life from me; for it is better for me to die than to live.

Would our reaction have been any different than Jonah’s? The Assyrians had hurt his people and destroyed his land. They conquered the Northern Kingdom of Israel and sent them off into exile where they lost their identity and disappeared from history. Jonah held onto his justified anger. It was not that he did not accept the Assyrian’s change of heart. He admits the Assyrian’s repentance is real. To use his own words he was: “sorely grieved.”

I believe this is why the rabbis chose Jonah for this afternoon’s Haftarah.  God could forgive the Assyrians. Jonah could not. Jonah’s reaction to the Assyrian’s repentance is where we too often fail at this time of year. We are created in the image of God, commanded to be holy as God is holy. God forgives and therefore we should forgive. As we examine our own lives and see where we fell short this past year, sincerely repenting our behaviors comes relatively easily. Forgiveness, letting go of the pain others caused us, accepting their repentance as sincere, much, much harder.

Forgiveness is letting go of the pain. Moving ourselves through our own feelings so that we can move forward and not just survive but thrive.

This afternoon during the break we will show an incredible a video that has an incredible moments of true forgiveness, not forgetting, but dealing with the pain. A survivor of Auschwitz meets a Jewish gunner on an American flight crew whose mission was to bomb the factories adjacent to Auschwitz not the railways that led to death, the instruments or death or Auschwitz itself. Both the survivor and the gunner finally come to terms with their guilt, their shame and they forgive not just each other, but in their reunion you can see their individual pain leave their souls. The survivor’s anger that the Americans had left him to die a horrific death instead of taking his life quickly and perhaps saving many lives. The gunner for not knowing what was taking place just below him.

So my challenge to you this Yom Kippur is this: do not be Jonah sulking and finding comfort in your righteous pain. For the rest of today, for the rest of this year, focus not just on your own need to repent but rather on forgiving, letting go of the pain others have caused, are causing and will cause you. Instead of being Jonah who mourns the loss of a plant that shielded him from the heat of the sun, use the warmth of the sun to let go of your pain and forgive.


Congregation Albert
Erev Yom Kippur 5772
Rabbi Harry Rosenfeld

My parents told me to never discuss politics or religion with people I hardly know. See how well I listened to that advice? Unfortunately, they did not teach me that the same applies to giving a sermon about Israel. It is the most dangerous sermon a rabbi can give. On the other hand, I would not have taken that piece of advice if it had been offered. 

There is a Chasidic proverb: One who looks for a friend without faults will have no friends.

In 1971, I left for a high school semester in Israel. Coming from a lower middle class family, I thought I had died and gone to heaven. My host family was an upper class Israeli family living in Ramat Gan, just outside Tel Aviv. Unlike 90% of Israelis at that time, they owned a single family house with a yard, two cars and two telephone lines. By Israeli standards, and mine, they were rich. I went with my Israeli brother to an elite school in Ramat Aviv, an even richer suburb of Tel Aviv than Ramat Gan. Like my classmates, in addition to phys. ed I took גדנה pre-army training. 1971 saw Israel in the midst of the war of attrition. Surrounding my elite high school was an 8 foot wall to protect us from terrorists. Of course what was the first thing they taught us in pre-army training? How to scale that wall. 16 years old, living in the lap of luxury, going to a school where the grades did not count toward my high school GPA, so… whenever the mood struck, that is, whenever I didn’t feel like going to class, over the wall I went to the nice little café across the street from the school.
One day, after spending an hour or so in the café and not being ready to return for my classes, I began to wander the streets of this rich suburb, Ramat Aviv. To this day I can remember the route I took. From school, I walked past the Tel Aviv museum, past what in Israel were mansions and then I literally and figuratively turned a corner that has shaped my relationship and understanding of Israel to this day. There, in the heart of this luxurious upper class Israeli neighborhood, stood tin roofed shacks with half naked children in torn clothing, malnourished animals and outhouses. Hearing Hebrew all around me I had stumbled into the Israel few outsiders ever see. Half way through my six month sojourn, I saw the Israel no one had ever described to me. Thus began my complex relationship with Israel.

My next trip to Israel was for Rabbinic school. I left 2 days after the raid on Entebbe and my plane followed the same route as the hijacked plane. Arriving in Israel I, like rabbinic students before me became friends with an Old City Palestinian merchant, Abed. That year my friends and I spent many an afternoon drinking tea, people watching, discussing the world and the complexities of Israel/Palestinian relations. Ever since, until he sold his store to his nephews, on my every trip to Jerusalem I found myself on a languid Jerusalem afternoon enjoying Abed’s hospitality and sharing our lives. Through the years, I have listened to his stories about his family’s land being taken to build a West Bank settlement, the struggles his children have had in Israeli universities and the restrictions he faces as a citizen of no country. Not an Israeli, not a Jordanian; with no country to call his own. My complex relationship with Israel continued and deepened.

In 2006, I visited hospitals in northern Israel struck by Hezbollah’s missiles. I met with Holocaust survivors in Haifa who in the aftermath of Hezbollah’s missiles were suffering flashbacks of being bombed in Europe. I saw stacks of thousands of Hamas rockets collected from the fields and school yards of Sderot. Who could not be moved?

The only police who tried to beat and arrest me during a protest march? Israeli. The only people who have tried to blow me up? Palestinians. How could my relationship with Israel be 2 dimensional black and white? How could it be any less than an elaborate tapestry woven from a thousand shades of hundreds of colors?

Make no mistake. I am, without question or hesitation, an unabashed supporter of Israel. In back of the sanctuary and in the lobby you will find cards forms to fill out to join me as an investor in Israel by purchasing Israel bonds. For nearly 20 years I have been active on the national level of federation to do what I can to support collecting tzedakah for Israel. At the same time, I fervently believe that when it comes to Israel, absolutist jingoism is not the way. AIPAC and JStreet and of course Israel’s enemies all preach their truths in the easy two dimensions of black and white. True support of Israel requires an acceptance and understanding of her subtleties, the internal and external challenges she faces. Just as with our closest family and friends,  the beauty of the relationship exists in getting past the surface black and white and knowing the ever shifting grays and seeing the dullest as well as the brightest hues.

The world holds Israel to a higher standard than any other country. In a recent Washington Post op-ed, Robert Bernstein, the former president and Charman of Random House and the current chair of the group “Advancing Human Rights” wrote: 

Human Rights Watch, which I founded 33 years ago, continues to attack many of Israel’s defensive measures during war, yet it says nothing about hate speech and incitement to genocide. To cite just one example, the speaker of the Hamas parliament, Ahmad Bahr, called in April 2007 for the murder of Jews, ‘down to the very last one.’ Imagine what leading human rights groups would say if this same speech and incitement were coming from Israel, aimed at the Palestinians.
“Human rights groups, which could be highlighting the crimes of Arab dictatorships against Israel and each other, have instead chosen to focus primarily on Israel. They continually discount the extraordinary steps Israel takes to protect civilians on both sides — steps approved by military experts, such as using pamphlets, phone calls and even noise bombs to scare people away from a location before a bombing — while whitewashing Hamas’s desire to eliminate a whole country as just bluster and meaningless words. One would think that, of all organizations in the world, human rights groups would particularly believe that words matter. Words inform intent and influence action. Words and actions need to be taken seriously, especially when they are sponsored by governments.”

Mr. Bernstein is absolutely correct. However, we should hold Israel to a higher standard just as we should hold ourselves. Hopefully the difference between the double standard we hold verses that held by others is manifested in the intent behind the differing standards. Just as we expect more out of our parents, our children, our families because we love and care about them we expect more out of Israel because her people are our family.

During these Days of Awe we strive to search the deepest recesses of our selves with brutal honesty. Hopefully, we focus on our successes as well as where we need to improve. Without defensiveness or hubris but rather with gratitude and humility we find the complexity of our lives and learn the truth of who we are and where we need to grow and improve. If we look inward and see only the good we do not know ourselves. If we look inward and see only the bad, we cannot help ourselves. In either case we cannot really love ourselves.

The same is true in our relationship with Israel. To love, support, care for Israel and her people, we need to open our eyes and see it all, the good and the bad, the beauty and the ugliness. Just as we would do for ourselves and our families, we need to stand proud and defend Israel against those who wish to destroy her while we resist those in our community who condemn all who disagree with their one true vision of Israel right or wrong. Only then can we say we are אוהבי ישראל – lovers of Israel.

There is a Chasidic proverb: One who looks for a friend without faults will have no friends.

LISTS - Rosh Hashanah Morning 5772

Congregation Albert
Rosh Hashanah Morning 5772

Just about everyone I know loves lists: Some a Letterman top 10 list, some a shopping list and some lists of records and achievements. I love to keep a to do list so I can cross things out as I finish them. The feelings I get of taking my pen and drawing a line through something I’ve done, or decided not to do…

Each year, these ימים נוראים, these Days of Awe bring us the perfect opportunity to make our lists. The Hebrew word for list - רשימה literally means a recording. During these Days of Awe, we use the metaphor of our names being recorded in the Book of Life for the coming year. As children we picture God looking at that list and being perfect having no need to check it twice. We each keep our own lists of the highs and lows of our lives. Where we exceded, succeeded or failed. 

Our texts and liturgy are replete with lists. Torah contains numerous lists: the 10 Commandments, Leviticus 19 - the holiness code which we will read on Yom Kippur, and let’s not forget the oh so exciting and endless genealogies! This morning we read the most awesome of lists in all our liturgy, the ונתנה טקף - who shall live and who shall die, who by fire and who by water, who by sword and who by beast.

Doing my summer reading in preparation for Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur I came across two lists that intrigued me. I debated back and forth over which list to use as my theme for this morning until I settled on the list referred to me by Rabbi Hillel Cohn and composed by Rabbi Jonathan Sacks, the Chief Rabbi of Great Britain in his newly released מחזור - High Holy Day prayerbook. In the introduction to Rosh Hashanah he asks the questions: “What then does Rosh Hashanah say to us? Of what is it a reminder? How can it transform our lives?” In response he lists 9 ways Rosh Hashanah can transform us. Here they are with my take on them.

1. Life is short. 
My teacher Rabbi Alvin Reines taught that the definition of religion is how we human beings react to being finite. Of all the ways we are finite, the limits of our life span is the most profound. The ונתנה טקף emphasizes the fragility of life. Infants and children die much too soon. Even those who survive the Psalm’s “threescore years and ten or by reason of strength fourscore years” or even more are felt to have died too soon. We lament those whose productive lives are cut short by the failure of their bodies or mind while they still breathe. We may feel their living goes on too long but if we had our druthers, we would love for them to have lived longer as we once knew them.

On the other hand, the finitude of our lives brings profound goodness. Rabbi Joshua Loth Liebman wrote in 1946 as paraphrased in Gates of Prayer: “Mortality is the tax that we pay for the privilege of love, thought, creative work… Just because we are human, we are prisoners of the years. Yet that very prison is the room of discipline in which we, driven by the urgency of time, create.”

2. Life itself, each day, every breath we take, is the gift of God. Life is not something we may take for granted.
Because of the fragility of life we need to be appreciative of having it. Even when life presents us with the greatest of challenges, serious illness, the death of a loved one, the loss of self sufficiency, remembering the blessing of life itself helps us not only have hope, not only survive the pain or indignity, it leads us, even at our lowest moments, to dare to thrive.

3. We are free. Judaism is the religion of the free human being freely responding to the God of freedom.
Whether by nurture, nature or the intervention of other people, there are times when everyone feels restrained. Sometimes the shackles are literally forged from iron and at other times they are placed on our wrists and feet by our experiences and the impact those experiences have had upon our sense of self.

Yet God has given us the ultimate freedom - that of free will. While circumstance may impede the number of choices and chances before us, we freely choose how to respond to them. Joshua and Caleb stood against the other 10 spies sent into Canaan and insisted that our ancestors could prevail against all odds. The Jews of Spain, faced with the choice of conversion, death or exile left their homes and spread the beauty and depth of Sephardic culture through the rest of the Jewish world. In early America, colonists stood up to a king with the most powerful army in the world. In the ghettos and camps, at Sobibor and every other death camp in Europe, many maintained their humanity and some physically rebelled against the oppression. From the streets of Birmingham and Biloxi to Stonewall in New York City, the oppressed and victims of racism, hate and discrimination stood up and said “no more.”

They and so many others were infinitely more free than most of us in America who simply bemoan the state of our country and our world.

4. Life is meaningful. We are not mere accidents of matter, generated by a universe that came into being for no reason and will, for no reason, cease to be.
Each person’s life, no matter how long or how short, how blessed or how hard, has meaning and purpose. The challenge for us is to accept we may never know what that meaning and purpose may be. There are few Moses’ or Mandelas. For the rest of us the purpose and meaning of our life may lie in a simple glance at another person who needs acknowledgment or a caring word or touch that alleviates a measure of someone else’s pain.

5. Life is not easy. Judaism does not see the world through rose-tinted lenses. And
6.Life may be hard, but it can still be sweet.
Everyone’s life contains challenges: some existential, some practical, some just require hard work. The longer I live, the more I understand that every life contains challenges and every achievement requires hard work. Nothing is solely gained by luck. How many are born into privilege and still know pain and hardship? How many born into the most squalid of places or abusive of families worked their way up and out?

We cannot control what life throws at us, we can only choose how we face whatever life offers.

7. Our life is the single greatest work of art we will ever make.
The art of our lives is never finished. It is not to be sheltered away in a museum. With each action we add to the canvass of life the symphonic score that makes up the universe. Each action impacts and changes the world. The beauty or ugliness of our actions determines the kind of art we create.

One of the greatest artists of life I know has both physical challenges and Down’s Syndrome. One day he and his father were driving and he started screaming: “Stop the car! Stop the car!” His father quickly pulled over and before his father could stop him, the young man jumped out of the car, pulled of his coat and gloves and ran over to a homeless man and handed them to him. His father now carries extra coats and gloves in the car for his son to give away. Could there be more beautiful art?

8. We are what we are because of those who came before us.
Cantor Doug Cotler wrote these words:

I’m standing on the shoulders of the ones who came before me
Today my life is full of choice
Because a young man raised his voice
Because a young girl took a chance
I am freedom’s choice inheritance
Years ago they crossed the sea
They made a life that’s come to me
So in the garden I’ll plant a seed
A tree of life for you to read
The fruit will ripen in the sun
The words will sound when I am gone
These are the things I pass along
The fruit, the Book and the song
I’m standing on the shoulders of the ones who came before me

As Cantor Cotler rightly points out, not only were our lives shaped by the choices made by those who came before us, we need to remember that those who come after us stand on our shoulders, inheriting the world we leave them.

9. We are heirs to another kind of greatness too, that of the Torah itself and its high demands, its strenuous ideals, its panoply of mitzvot, its intellectual and existential challenges.

We live in a time when the rejection of obligation defines the generations. We see this in politics, in tzedakah, in affiliation rates with organizations of all kinds. Yet, rejection of obligation is antithetical to Judaism and Jewish ethics. Judaism demands and our covenant with God requires that we strive to meet head on the challenges that life and the world present to us. Why observe Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur if we do not feel the obligation to be a part of this community, if we do not feel the demand God puts upon us to move closer to the ideal of perfecting ourselves and the world?

Thus concludes Rabbi Sacks’ list. What is on your list that allows Rosh Hashanah to transform your life for the better?

In the Hebrew dictionary, רשימה - list falls between the Hebrew words רשות – permitted and רשע - evil. It is my prayer for all of us this year that we refer back to the רשימות lists we made for these Holy Days so that we may keep on track and balance between that which is - רשות, permitted and that which is - רשע evil so that this Rosh Hashanah has the power to transform our lives.

A Treasured People - Treasuring People Erev Rosh Hashanah 5772

עם סגולה
Congregation Albert
Erev Rosh Hashanah 5772
Rabbi Harry Rosenfeld

In the book of Genesis chapter 4 Cain  rises up and kills his brother Abel.  God punishes Cain in verse 11 “and now cursed be you from the ground which has opened her mouth to take your brother’s blood from your hand; when you till the ground it shall not continue to give unto you her strength. A vagabond and a wanderer shall you be on the earth.” Cain’s response: “my punishment is greater than can be borne.

I always wondered why Cain felt this punishment was too great. It is not as if God punished him with death or incarcerated him forever, which would be the way we today handle murders. Was Cain so upset that God had punished him by making it harder for him to farm? Or, was Cain upset that he would be “community-less” a wanderer forever?

For me the answer to this question lies in Genesis chapter 2 verse 18. “It is not good that a person should be alone.” While most commentators understand that God is saying human beings need a partner to help them with the mundane tasks of the world, S’forno the great Italian Kabbalist and commentator of the 16th century, has a different understanding of the text. He says: “the end implicit in being created in God’s likeness and image would not be achieved if you would have to devote yourself on your own to supplying your daily needs.” In other words, to be a complete human being, wholly formed in the image of God, we need community. When we are without community we are alone, spiritually imperfect.

Judaism has always recognized this need to be in community in order to reach our full spiritual potential. That is why I prefer the description of Judaism as a faith-family. As much as we are a religious entity, we are also a community with deep familial ties. It is why when Jews are in trouble Israel is threatened, regardless of our differences, we unite as a single community. In my generation alone we witnessed the rescue of Soviet and Ethiopian Jewry, as well as the welcoming of thousands upon thousands of Jewish refugees and immigrants into both the United States and Israel. Once these refugees landed on our shores and arrived in our communities we did not stop but rather both here in the States and in Israel we worked hard to integrate them into the very fabric of our communities.

These familial ties are why Jews rarely, almost never, live a monastic lifestyle. Instead we form congregations like this one.  The Hebrew word for congregation is קהילה literally meaning community.  In fact, in the late 19th and early 20th centuries, many congregations added the words קהילה קדושה –  holy or sacred congregation before their actual name in recognition that gathering together as a community has the potential to add an extra measure of holiness we cannot find on our own.

True, some of an individual’s most powerful spiritual moments come when he or she is alone. In fact one of my great pleasures is to sit on my back porch, look at the stars and feel my small place in the universe. Many of my most sincere prayers have been uttered either when I have been alone or during silent meditation in a congregational service. But that Silent prayer occurs while being a part of, not apart from, my congregation and therefore dwarfs even the power of looking at the stars. Both Torah and the prophets bear out the importance and power of being alone. Moses at the burning bush and  Elijah hearing the still small voice while alone in the desert exist to teach us: we can find God on our own. But both Moses and Elijah understood the need to be in the company of others to complete their spiritual journeys and effect the transformation of our people. Both Moses and Elijah needed others to exist fully in the image of God and in turn were able to bring their communities the opportunity to exist fully in the image of God.

Connected through a shared history and tradition, we Jews bound ourselves as a family at Sinai answering God’s call to join with God in ברית - in Covenant. ָAt that moment we accepted as a matter of faith and obligation that we exist with God in partnership. God began the creation of the world, set it in motion and gave us the free will to take up and keep up our end of the partnership, לתקין עולם במלכות שדי - to finish the work of creation and bring our world closer to perfection.
What does it mean to be a Jew in a covenantal partnership with God? To use biblical language, when God finished the work of creation on the 6th day it was only very good, not perfect. God left some “unfinished business” for us to complete. All faith traditions have their own relationship with God but partnering with God to ensure that captives know freedom, those who lack have access to the resources to meet their needs and, as the Union Prayerbook put it so eloquently, we “lift up those who sleep in the dust.”

No one of us alone can complete the sacred work. It is only by gathering together as a קהילה קדושה, a sacred community, that we have even the slightest hope of being able to fulfill our obligation to each other and to God. As we look around us and see members of our own congregation in need, growing poverty in our community and continuing oppression and environmental threats to our world we understand just how daunting the challenge of completing the unfinished business God left for us. 

Tonight marks the beginning of our 115th year as a  congregation. One way to express the number 115 in Hebrew is by using the letters ה ע מ. Together these letter spell the Hebrew word העם-the people. This will be a year in which we celebrate our existence as a congregation and as a community. Congregation Albert has a long and proud history of being a community. From our earliest days 115 years ago our founders understood that in forming a sacred community they brought themselves closer to fulfilling the potentiality of the divine image in each other as individuals. Coming together in prayer, in times of personal need, and in reaching out to make this community, our country, and the world a better place they left us an inheritance that challenges us to animate the divine in ourselves by doing the sacred work of God’s unfinished business.

In more recent times we have seen the development of some Chavurot and our caring community committee which reaches out to  members of our Congregational family in their times of need. As I have met members of our current Chavurot I see how they have become in every sense of the word family. Even those who were strangers before they joined a Chavurah now have a sense  they are members of an extended family. Since the initial development of our Chavurot many of us are new to the congregation. That is why you received a brochure with your high holy day mailing describing our effort to expand this incredible opportunity to make our congregation more of a community and our community more of a family.

In a similar vein, our caring community committee does amazing work. They visit the homebound and sick, help provide rides for the high holy days, are a support to those in morning, and touch your lives in more ways than I have time to list tonight. But they and we need more help. As hard as they work, and I am in awe of how hard they work, and as many people as they serve in our community their work only scratches the surface. If you are willing to help with their sacred task or know of members of our community who could use our help please please let us know. The members of this committee deserve our deepest thanks and need our continued commitment and help.

But as I indicated before, God’s unfinished business does not stop at the doors of the sanctuary, this building or on the doorsteps of our homes. Our obligation in continual partnership with God demands that we reach beyond ourselves into the larger community around us. IHN, Project Share, the TASTY food drive and our other projects help us partially fulfill this mission. But the needs are endless. What do you do to help complete our world? What do you want to do but cannot do alone? Do you need help fixing the broken parts that keep you up at night?

I am honored and blessed that you called me to be the rabbi of this קהילה קדושה that understands so well the inherent blessing of being a community. And so I make this commitment to you: If you come to me with an idea, a desire, a need which is appropriate for us as a Jewish congregation, and you are willing to give of your time to make it a reality, we will give you every level of support we can. Our future is limited only by our vision. Our future is limited only by our commitment to see our dreams come true. We have seen this work over and over again. Congregation Albert has a solid tradition in facilitating the fulfillment of dreams. Most recently a few people decided our congregation needed to be more environmentally friendly and thus the Green Team began to gather and has begun a process that will culminate in reducing our carbon footprint. From our recycling bins to the changing of light bulbs our transformation has begun. Whatever you see as needing fixing in this world I guarantee other members of our congregation see as well. Let us help you find them. Working together with others from our faith-family not only multiplies your impact on our world but, as S’forno points out, helps animate the divine in you. Our human and divine power resides not in ourselves alone but rather in harnessing the קדושת הקהילה – the sacred soul of our congregational community.

Our task is to help you make your Jewish dreams come true, and thus create a Kehillah Kedoshah, a holy Congregation spreading its welcoming and sheltering wings around all who choose to enter, so that all who look upon us will be able to see you spiritual growth and go beyond God's words: “It is very good!”