Driving through Los Angeles, you can see murals and music on almost every street corner. In every café, folks are talking about their scripts or what parts they want to play in shows or movies. This town is filled with people whose greatest ambition is to make art. I know many of them ― the writers and dreamers who work hard to entertain the whole world. Art and artists are what make L.A. so dynamic and why life here keeps evolving. We are a city of storytellers and story-makers. We are a city of artists.
Everybody involved in the business of creating a flourishing Jewish community is in the story-making business. Some of us teach students or feed the hungry. Some care for the elderly or house the houseless. Some protect our places of gathering or care for the mental wellbeing of teens. All of us ― professionals, lay leaders, donors, recipients ― are part of a community of care. We try to craft the opportunities to tell the stories of success, learning, engagement, and social change. All of us are storytellers and story-makers; all of us are artists.
I’m reminded of “Laura’s” story. A single mother of a 7-year-old girl and a domestic violence (DV) survivor, Laura’s finances were impacted by COVID and chronic unemployment as she waited for months for her benefits to come through. In the meantime, she had no money for food or other expenses. Her DV counselor suggested she seek help from the Federation. Laura was connected to the Ezra Network, an initiative of The Jewish Federation of Greater Los Angeles in partnership with Jewish Family Service LA, Bet Tzedek Legal Services, and JVS SoCal. An Ezra Network social worker immediately coordinated with Laura so she would receive food for her and her daughter, financial assistance to cover essential bills, and legal assistance regarding a delay in benefits. The Federation’s Max Factor Family Foundation Financial Assistance Network helped Laura with her phone bill so that she could continue to search for work, make her car payment, and keep her insurance. We even provided a gas card so that she could take interviews and drive her daughter to school. The warmth and caring the Ezra Network social worker provided helped Laura create a plan of stability and safety for herself and her daughter. Today, Laura is employed and on a healthy track.
Laura benefitted from an entire community committed to changing her story by helping her write a new one.
Tomorrow night, we begin the celebration of Shavuot, a holiday dedicated to the giving of the Torah on Mount Sinai. On this day, we read the Book of Ruth, which is a story of a woman like Laura. The Book opens by telling us that Ruth, her sister-in-law, Orpah, and their mother-in-law, Naomi, all lose their partners to terrible circumstances. Ruth insists on returning to Naomi’s farmstead in Bethlehem. Soon after, she finds herself gleaning for food with the poor. There, she meets the farm’s owner, Boaz, and through a series of acts of loving-kindness, she marries him. In the epilogue, we are told that she is, indeed, the great-grandmother of King David. Like Laura, Ruth survives because the community of care rose to the occasion to help her. The Midrash teaches us that this is the central message of the Book of Ruth, “To teach the reward for living a life filled with loving-kindness.” (Ruth Rabbah 2:14)
On the holiday that celebrates the giving of the Torah, we understand that the story of the Torah is not one simply to be read again and again from the scrolled parchment. The most powerful stories of the Torah are the ones we weave into our lives. When we love each other more, protect each other, and share our pain and joy, we find deep and profound revelation in our community of caring.
Rabbi Noah Farkas