Today is 06/14/2021 -

Congregation Beth Israel

A spiritual oasis for the Jewish community

6 Dundee Park
Andover, MA 01810

(978) 474-0540

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The Rabbi’s Column

I now know at least one good reason, why some people make a conscious choice to remain in the same house, even when they can afford a larger, more comfortable one, and why others remain in larger homes, even when their children have moved away and no longer live in the family home, for I have just spent the better part of the past several weeks packing and moving boxes to the new house I am moving to as a result of my landlord’s selling the house in which I had lived since coming to Andover.

While I officially moved into my new house a week ago, I have been, and will continue to be, for the indefinite future, unpacking boxes and finding places for my possessions, ranging from such mundane items as dish towels and sheets to such meaningful and sentimental items as personal and family letters, photos, and memorabilia.

With my move pretty much having taken over my life, and with my being on vacation, I had initially informed Amy that I would not be writing my lach lecha column for the June/July edition of the synagogue newsletter. Upon further thought and reflection, however, I have decided to instead share and to thus hopefully transform my experience moving into a valuable learning opportunity.

In the past, moving was not nearly as tedious, labor intensive, and, yes, emotional for me as it was this time, for when I have previously moved, I simply had the movers pack all of my possessions, with the limited exception of some clothing in which I could no longer fit and some furniture I could no longer use, which items I would donate to an appropriate non-profit organization. This time, however, I decided that I wanted to make the best of this involuntary move by using it as a means to declutter and simplify my life, both materially and on a personal level.

With Marie Kondo’s best selling book, “The Life-Changing Magic of Tidying Up: The Japanese Art of Decluttering” serving as my guide—actually, I only had time to read several comprehensive reviews of her book; a reflection of how frenetic my life has been the past several years–I began the moving process, this time, by taking a look at my clothing, asking myself questions, such as “Do you really need to keep that wool scarf, made by a college girlfriend, a scarf that you have never worn because you are allergic to wool, or that t-shirt from the Rolling Stones concert I attended some 50 years ago, or would it be better to give it away to someone, who might actually use it?” I asked the same question about myriad other articles of clothing that may have had varying levels of sentimental value to me, but that I had not worn for years, if not decades.”

The questions that I asked myself about clothes led, in turn, to questions about the hundreds of books that I have accumulated: “Are you ever going to get around to reading the scores, if not hundreds, of books you own that you have not yet had and may never have a chance to read, or would it be better to offer the religiously based books to Hebrew College and the books, which are secular in nature, to the libraries at Merrimack College or here in Andover, so that at least someone will read and benefit from them?”

This whole genre of questioning, on my part, eventually led me to ask myself perhaps the most painful and difficult of all of the questions I was asking myself, especially because I am a person, who likes to think of himself as not being particularly materialistic: “Why did you buy so much of the “stuff” you own in the first place? Wouldn’t it have been better to have saved the money for something that you really needed, or equally, if not better, donated the money to Jewish organizations, such as the synagogue, or to one or more non-profit organizations that serve the poor and those otherwise in need.

I have, for the first time, in decades, moreover, taken the time to open boxes and look through some of the personal memorabilia, letters, and artifacts that I have kept. In the past, the movers would likely have been the ones to pack them in a box, and I would all-too-often get so immersed in my new life that I would not even open the box after the move. While looking through a box with my Dad’s name on it, I came upon a letter that my Dad wrote me, in 2008, after he had attended my senior sermon weekend—each graduating senior at JTS is assigned a weekend to lead Friday evening and Saturday morning Shabbat services to which the student invites her/his/their family and friends.

While a wonderful person and father, my Dad was a member of the “silent generation” of men in this country, and I rarely remember his ever expressing much emotion. Yet, in the handwritten letter I found, he emphasized how meaningful the weekend was for him, how proud he was to have another rabbi in the family—my great grandfather, was a heder rabbi in Riga, Latvia, and how he had no doubt that my mother, z.l., was bragging about her son to her family and friends and kvelling in heaven. I had either been too busy to read or appreciate the letter, when I initially received it, or I had simply, as is often the case now, merely forgotten about it.

I must now return to unpacking boxes and trying to find suitable places for the books and other items contained therein. While I can only hope that my personal experience and my sharing has been of some value to you, I do feel good knowing that one good thing that has come out of my experience, this time, is that I was able to donate almost two van loads of clothing and household items to Lazarus House Ministries, clothing and items that, in the past, I would merely have had the movers pack and move to my new house to remain unworn and unused.

While going through each box is taking far more time than I would have liked, I feel good that I am no longer just “kicking the can down the road,” leaving it up to my children to have to, one day, do what I should have done, and second, that I am now doing a better job of being God’s partner in distributing among God’s creations some of the material gifts and blessings that God has bestowed upon me that I no longer want or need. I have also been thinking about how my experience moving might be of benefit to CBI.

Assuming that I am not the only one, whose life could use a little decluttering, what if we had a synagogue-wide yard sale to which we could invite the entire community, with the proceeds from the sale being apportioned among the owner of the item, CBI, and one or two designated charities. Depending on the rules and recommendations of CDC, the State of MA, and our own “Return to synagogue” committee, we might even be able to make the yard sale a fun-filled “return to synagogue” event, combining it with music and a picnic.

Wishing your loved ones and you a safe, joyous, and meaningful summer vacation!

Shalom Aleichem! Peace Be With You!

Rabbi Howard Mandell