Friday, March 24, 2017

New Year, Sweet Memories

In late summer of 2013, I noticed a familiar woman at my local market, but couldn’t remember who she was. Just then, a grocer approached her, pushing cartons on a dolly.

“Mrs. Goldstein, here’s your honey.”

Ah, yes, I had met her years ago when we first moved to town. I said hello, wished her Shanah Tovah…and then asked, “Why the honey?”

She explained that her congregation had a tradition at Rosh Hashanah of delivering honey to every member family who had suffered a death during the previous year. I love to give friends and family this gift at the holidays; I thought this effort was a very touching thing to do.

A few months into that New Year, I became a member of my synagogue’s Religious Life Committee. One of our charges was to report back those ideas and customs we might witness at other synagogues that our membership might appreciate. I remembered the “Honey Project.” The committee loved the idea and so, this past September, each family who lost a loved one in the past year (and still lives in the area) received this special gift. The attached note read, “From our Family to Yours, Shanah Tovah. May the memory of your loved one always be sweet.” Each of the 70+ packages was hand-delivered by a volunteer and, if someone was home, a visit was a dividend.

The response was powerful. We heard from numerous recipients and couriers, and it is clear that the initiative touched the hearts of both. Those whose family members died a year ago, and those whose loss was recent, were equally moved by the outreach. To be remembered in this way made a difference. I had the honor of delivering the honey to the wife of our late Rabbi Emeritus, and noted to the committee that I hoped every loved one might be remembered in the same “honey-hue” her eyes reflected when I arrived.

On the morning of Yom Kippur, my husband and I arrived at our seats in the early service to find a woman I didn’t know sitting in our seats. Hers were for the later service but she wanted to be there that morning. She began to move over but I said, no worries, we have three seats. A short conversation and I discovered she was on the “honey” list.

Paraphrasing from my favorite movie, Casablanca: “…Of all the rows, in all the services, she chose to sit in mine….” What was most moving was, for the past ten years, we had shared this side row with a dear friend and her family. This year, she had died unexpectedly, and their part of the row was empty…but I believe the guest sat there with her blessing. Some things are besheirt (meant to be)…and some are coincidence, i.e., G-d wishing to remain anonymous. My friend’s family had also received our gift.

There are many more such stories. It was my pleasure to bring the Honey Project to my community, and I feel gratified that they embraced it. One never knows how a program will be perceived or accepted, but this was truly lev-b’lev – from heart to heart.

I want to thank the Committee’s chairman and the members, for their encouragement and support. To our clergy and office staff, and lay leadership, I am grateful for their help in creating this initiative. A special thank you to our Brotherhood members who, without being asked, stepped up to make each delivery. A labor of love for all.

We all know that, each year, there will members who suffer the loss of a loved one. I am proud that this project will continue in the future to lift the spirits of our fellow congregants, and perhaps engage some of those who received the honey in 5775 in preparing the packages for next year’s recipients. It is a way to help share in the very mitzvah that moves us.

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