A hungry visitor once came to speak to Baba Sali. As they were speaking, Baba Sali told his housekeeper to serve the fish in the refrigerator to the visitor. The housekeeper went to the kitchen and searched the refrigerator but could not find any fish, and returned to Baba Sali saying, “there’s no fish in the refrigerator.”
Baba Sali replied: “Check again.”
The housekeeper checked again, but could not find any fish, and returned empty handed.
Baba Sali said, “Please, there’s fish. Check again.”
The housekeeper checked once again, and this time found it wrapped in aluminum foil.
Baba Sali turned to the guest and said jokingly, “I can see it from here, but my housekeeper, he can’t see it from there.”
This Shabbat marks the 34th yahrzeit (anniversary of a death) of Baba Sali, the wise Sephardic rabbi and mystic who was born in Morocco and buried in Netivot, Israel – near Gaza. People have been gathering at his grave this week to remember this incredible sage, who was known as a healer and maker of miracles.
Can’t we all relate to Baba Sali’s housekeeper? Haven’t we all failed to find something in our own refrigerators only to be told by a family member, it’s there, just look harder!? It wasn’t a miracle that led to Baba Sali’s housekeeper finding the fish in the refrigerator. While there are dramatic stories that highlight the healing powers of and the miracles performed by the great Baba Sali, I’m drawn to this story about the fish in the refrigerator because it reminds us of a simple fact of life: oftentimes, when we are searching for something, we need the guidance of someone who has a different vantage point.
While I value the incredible lessons contained within our Jewish texts and the teachings I continue to learn from my fellow rabbis and other Jewish scholars, I’ve come to appreciate that I’ve so much to learn from those whose training lies outside of the Jewish world. As the American Jewish community radically evolves and this evolution disrupts Jewish identity and longstanding concepts like synagogue membership, I’ve found myself drawn to experts in business, finance and entrepreneurship – folks who have a very different take on the world than I do.
It’s been my experience at Clal in New York City and the insight of Clayton Christensen, a professor at the Harvard Business School, that encouraged me to broaden my horizons. Christensen’s concept of disruptive innovation inspired me to look for ways to shake things up in the institutionalized Jewish world and explore new ways to do Jewish. It’s what led me and Cheryl to create ISH which is now creating meaningful Jewish experiences for individuals and families who were unaffiliated and had no intention of using an established path to connect to the Jewish community. Since my introduction to Christensen, I’ve been committed to finding teachers – some of you – whose professional experiences, while very much outside of the rabbinic arena, are helping me become a better rabbi.
I truly believe that in order to move forward with strength, synagogues and other Jewish institutions need to get the help of people who are standing a bit farther away from the refrigerator as we search desperately for the fish – the fish being how can we thrive as a Jewish community and give individuals and families meaningful Jewish experiences. This is why Ramat Shalom is restructuring our professional team and bringing on board a Director of Engagement and Development who will bring a new, fresh approach to how we as a community not only grow, but flourish. It’s also why our professional and lay leadership teams, with the guidance of business and finance experts, are exploring ways to encourage synagogue affiliation, while offering innovative alternatives to the dues-centered business model that has been an integral part of American synagogue life for decades. I hope to share more information about all of this very soon.
I continue to be overwhelmed by the outpouring of support we have received for our High Holiday Appeal. We’ve broken all records, almost doubling what we hoped to have raised. This means that we’ve been able to help many more individuals and families connect in meaningful ways to our Ramat Shalom family. In doing so, you might argue that we haven’t done anything radical or innovative. We’ve simply cared enough to ensure that our doors are open to everyone. This being said, too often today, the doors of synagogues are slammed shut to those who can’t afford to enter. So our actions have shaken up the country club mentality that has become the norm in the synagogue world. We’ve taken part in disruptive innovation. In doing so, we’ve done our part to show folks who were, like Baba Sali’s housekeeper, searching for the fish in the refrigerator exactly where it is. And, while this isn’t miraculous, it’s been healing for many. Thank you.
I am very proud of our community. We have much to look forward to!