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Remembering the Gift Card   #792

08/25/2023 04:59:00 PM


Rabbi Irwin Huberman

Parashat Ki Teitzei 

"Blot out the remembrance of Amakek from under heaven." -Deuteronomy 25:19

    Remembering the Gift Card

About five years ago, our Hebrew school conducted a program that dazzled the children who attended.

It was a Shabbat on the Beach program held at a local beachside park. After singing Sabbath songs, and reciting blessings over candles, grape juice and challah, we decided to give the children a souvenir.

So, we dusted off an old camera rescued from our annual tag sale. We pointed the lens at each child, and an amazing thing occurred.

A three-by-three pale white square came out of the bottom of the camera. At first, many of the children just shrugged their shoulders.

But over the next five minutes, a color photo gradually emerged in the square. I remember the wide-eyed looks, as each child ran off with their magical prize to share with their parents.

Of course, the camera was a Polaroid, loaded with film acquired from a company specializing in filling the growing desire by many—kids and adults—to “experience something both old and new.”

This morning, my email inbox held several personal requests supposedly sent directly to me. Most began with the words “Dear Rabbi” or “Shalom Irwin,” but it was obvious the words had been pasted on the top of a form letter.

Somehow these days, it feels like we are living in a world of false intimacy, when all we want is to hear real words, communicated directly and honestly to us.

With the High Holidays approaching, this week I was thinking about that Friday afternoon at the beach when the old camera seemed so fresh in the eyes of a new generation.

For a moment, I reflected upon the “old days” as our family prepared for the High Holidays.

My parents and I would sit down and write personal messages to many friends and family members. I remember the smell as our specially ordered family cards were lifted from the printer’s box.

And I recall with great fondness the greetings we received in return.

When I arrived in this congregation about 17 years ago, there were dozens of cards hung from a string that extended from the window to the office door.

Not anymore.

These days, we receive so many email cards and messages with our names cut and pasted at the top. I sometimes ask myself, “Is this message directed at me, or is this feigned intimacy designed to engage me?”

In a world of evites, and, am I alone, or do we all wish that someone would send us a real card with a message sincerely written to us?

About five years ago, a congregant came to me with a problem and a wish. “I have not spoken with my sister in years, and I forget why,” she said. “I’d like to reach out and see if we can reconnect.”

And after a bit of a discussion, we agreed that the woman would send a Rosh Hashanah card to her sister with a simple message.

“I miss you. Wishing you a Shanah Tovah, a Happy New Year.”

Within a week, a return card arrived. “Me too. Can I call?”

In this world of algorithms and demographics, where birthday greetings are automatically generated by Facebook, perhaps we need to return to the Polaroid vision, where we experience with our eyes, our hands and our souls.


In yesterday’s mail, I received a packet of blank Rosh Hashanah cards from a Jewish agency. Inside, three inscriptions were spread over the five cards. The messages were:

“Wishing you and your loved ones a sweeter year ahead.”

“May the year ahead be a year of happiness, good health and peace.”

“May you be written and sealed in the Book of Life.”

At first, I placed them on the corner of my desk, with plans to bring them home and put them with our collection of blank cards, which—it seems—we rarely send.

But then I decided to place them at the center of my desk, thinking, “Is there someone who would appreciate a hand-written personal greeting extended with sincerity?”

In this week’s Torah portion, as Moses continues his final words to the Jewish people, he reminds the Israelites—and by extension to us—to always beware of “Amalek.”

Amalek was the nation that descended upon the Israelites as they departed Egypt. Amalek attacked those who were struggling to keep up—the elderly, the disabled, the traumatized.

This week’s Torah reading inspires us to “blot out” those who over the generations have caused the Jewish people similar harm. For indeed, there has been no lack of Amaleks in our history—from the Exodus to present day.

But perhaps there is a converse message to consider. Who are the “non-Amaleks” of our lives who at one time elevated and supported us? Where are they now?

Who do we need to un-blot and unblock?

Over the years, there are some with whom we have failed to keep in touch, or have allowed some small difference of opinion divide us. But these are the same people with whom we were raised. We’ve sat at the same Seder table. We’ve endured similar struggles.

Perhaps it’s time with Rosh Hashanah approaching, to draw closer to those who have drifted away.

Wishing someone a Shanah Tovah hurts no one. In fact, it may bring about Shalom Ba’it—peace to you, to them and by extension to the world.

Above all, the High Holidays encourage us to look at the world anew. But sometimes "anew" beckons us to return to and reconsider the people and experiences of our past. The Hebrew word is Teshuvah.

Despite all the information and virtual interactions surrounding us, studies reveal that more people than ever feel profoundly lonely.

So let us be the antidote to Amalek. Let us remember all those who have—over time—walked with us on our journey.

Rosh Hashanah begins in three weeks. It’s a time for change—a time to potentially turn old school into new school—to let go of the past and embrace the future with a clear heart.

A greeting card. A phone call. An invitation.

Perhaps these days we need to consider less technology and more heart to heart.

Perhaps less Facetime and more face to face.

Shabbat Shalom from Jerusalem. Kol tuv.

Rabbi Irwin Huberman

Fri, September 29 2023 14 Tishrei 5784