Modah ani lifanecha, ruach chai v’kayam

I give thanks before You God, breath of all life.

This is the prayer that a Jewish person says first thing every morning, to express gratitude for the simple gift of being alive.

Jewish tradition teaches that we should be grateful for all our blessings, big and small. And waking up in the morning? That’s a big blessing.

Gratitude is an essential part of daily life. In fact, my tradition teaches that we should say 100 blessings every day. Which sounds daunting. Some years ago, I was the Jewish educator at our JCC summer camp, and when I said that to a group of third graders, one said loudly to his friends, “That’s impossible.”

I thought for a moment, then picked up a pad and pen, handed them to the group’s counselor, and said, “OK, you’re all going on a blessing hunt. Don’t come back until you’ve made a list of all the blessings you found.”

The kids thought I had lost my mind, but off they went, with the counselor serving as their scribe. When they returned and we counted, we discovered that they had found more than 100 blessings. All that day, I sent groups of campers out to find blessings.

They found a turtle in the pond. Muffins in the snack room. Comic books. The swimming pool. Sunshine. Each other.

They realized that they were surrounded by blessings, if they just paid attention.

Just two weeks ago, the Jewish community experienced the trauma of 11 people murdered in their house of worship. For no reason other than that they were Jewish. And that terrible event has led to an outpouring of love and support from across the religious spectrum. Unexpected blessings, that have been so very welcome.

In his book Invisible Lines of Connection, Rabbi Lawrence Kushner wrote, “Nowadays, the sacred usually masquerades as coincidence…. We can suddenly sense the presence of a network of mutual interdependence binding us to others. Or, we can understand for a moment why something happened many years ago.”

A story. Years ago, a church youth group invited me to speak to them about Judaism. I wasn’t a rabbi then, don’t know how they found me, I didn’t remember what church it was, and only have a vague memory of a wonderful evening spent together.

Fast forward to yesterday morning. When I arrived at synagogue for Shabbat services, I found a large gold envelope. In it was a card from the Pine Shores Presbyterian Church youth group, written in gold ink.

It had a quote from Isaiah, “The Lord will be your everlasting light.” Below they wrote, “We stand in solidarity with you and we lift God’s light with you,” and they signed their names.

And so this morning, I went to church to say thank you and pray with them, and I met the amazing Pastor Karen Wismer. I learned from her that the youth group had made two such cards. They sent one to the Tree of Life Synagogue in Pittsburgh. And they sent the other to my synagogue because although I hadn’t remembered, they did. They were the youth group with whom I met more than five years ago.

These are the invisible lines of connection that bind us, one to another.

Tonight, I am grateful to them. I am grateful to my friend Pastor Glen Bell for once again hosting this gathering. On this Veteran’s Day, I am grateful to all who have served our country, and to their families. And I am so grateful to those who reached out to tell the Jewish community that we are loved, that we matter, that we are not alone.

Gratitude is an expression of connection, and it leads to a responsibility to honor that connection. We are responsible, one for another. For reaching out to others, in good times and bad. For helping make our communities and our world a better place for people of all faiths and all backgrounds.

Because in the end, what matters is community.

What matters is each other.

What matters is love and respect, mutual gratitude and mutual responsibility.

What matters is doing God’s work in this world. May we be so blessed.

This is the speech I was privileged to give this evening at the Sarasota Annual Interfaith Service, hosted by Pastor Glen Bell and the First Presbyterian Church of Sarasota.

The card from the Pine Shores Presbyterian Church youth group:

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