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Daily miracles and surviving in the desert

This is one of a series of articles I wrote for the monthly Bulletin of Peninsula Temple Sholom in Burlingame, Calif.

We were in trouble, and for a short time I thought my family’s lives were in danger. It was August 2004, and Carole, Michael, and I were on vacation in Palm Springs. With the temperature north of 110 degrees, we decided to skip the hotel’s swimming pool and take our 10-year-old son on a drive through nearby Joshua Tree National Park.

All went well until our car stalled and wouldn’t restart. What had been an Ultimate Driving Machine was now 3,500 pounds of inert steel. There wasn’t much shade, and of course we hadn’t brought nearly enough water with us.

Within a couple of hours, we were rescued by a AAA tow truck, and by the next day, our car was repaired. We were safe… but those hours in a rapidly heating metal box exchanged my trust in precision German engineering for appreciation of the awesome power of the Mohave Desert sun.

A car that runs. An air conditioner that blows cold air. A cell phone battery that is charged. Those are daily miracles that we take for granted… and we only notice them when we have a car that doesn’t work, an air conditioner that blows hot air, or a cell phone that has no charge or signal.

No cell signal? That’s a first-world problem. But our friends, family, and colleagues on the East Coast learned an even more important lesson about daily miracles after Hurricane Sandy. Power? Shelter? Heating? Phone? Broadband? A roof over your head? Some families couldn’t take those essentials for granted for days or weeks. Some families in New York and New Jersey still aren’t back in their homes.

Jewish values remind us of daily miracles, and implore us not to take them for granted. Many of us have been slightly grossed out during the Umafli La’asot prayer, the one that says, “With divine wisdom You have made our bodies, combining veins, arteries, and vital organs into a finely balanced network…”

When we get sick – when our vital organs don’t work right – we appreciate the daily miracles of our own existence.

We know that we have to maintain our cars, service our air conditioner, charge our phone batteries (and pay the wireless bill), eat healthfully, and visit our doctors.

Our synagogue is another daily miracle oft taken for granted. Too many of us, in today’s modern time, see Peninsula Temple Sholom as a place for adult ed. lectures, for b’nai mitzvah lessons, for hanging out with friends, for coming by on a Friday night for the yahrzeit of a loved one. When we need the shul, we come. When we don’t, those lovely buildings on Sebastian Drive don’t even enter our thoughts.

That’s too bad. Our synagogue is more than a place for drop-in programs and worship services. PTS is the moral center of our Judaism, the place for expressing our values, the heart of our community. Sure, we come by for a wedding, the Second Night Seder, to catch John Rothmann, or to educate our children – but the synagogue, and our hard-working clergy, staff, teachers, and volunteers have a bigger mission than to be a place for nice “Jewishy” programs.

Let me suggest that PTS is the AAA tow truck for our Jewish souls. When you need PTS, we are there for you. When you don’t need PTS, we are there for your friends and neighbors and our whole community. Believe me, there is no shortage of needs. And when you need PTS again, PTS is still there for you. Always.

That is why we need your support every year to sustain Peninsula Temple Sholom. In a typical year, the Temple has a budget of about $3.2 million. Where does that money come from? About $1.2 million comes from member dues, $1.3 million from Preschool tuition, and $200,000 from Religious School fees. That leaves about half a million dollars from sundry fees, building rentals… and mostly donations from you, our members.

Let’s talk about donations. Each fall, there is the High Holy Day Appeal. Thank you to all who contributed. Each spring, the fundraiser may take different forms. Last year, you may recall, we held the wonderful Erev Comedia with Rabbi Bob Alper. (This event not only supported the Temple, but I never laughed so hard in my life.)

This year, we are doing something new: an “unevent,” which is a straight-up request for donations dressed up like a party invitation. However, there’s no party, no raffle tickets, no silent auction, no live auction. This is a simple, no-gimmicks request for your financial support. Watch your mail for the “invitation,” laugh at the jokes – and please response to our appeal.

A beautiful prayer in Mishkan T’filah reads, “May the door of this synagogue be wide enough to receive all who hunger for love, all who are lonely for friendship. May it welcome all who have cares to unburden, thanks to express, hopes to nurture… May this synagogue be, for all who enter, the doorway to a richer and more meaningful life.”

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