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Community Blog Commencement 2024:
Opening Prayer

By Rabbi Jessica Lowenthal
Jessica Lowenthal

Mazal tov, graduates, on this amazing accomplishment. You come from different places and chose this path for different reasons, but going forward you will all serve as leaders in the jewish community. You have taken on a sacred responsibility not only to teach, but to lead by example.

רבי ירמיה אמר העוסק בצורכי ציבור כעוסק בדברי תורה

Rabbi Yirmiyah said: the one occupied with the needs of the community is like one who is occupied with matters of torah. —Talmud Yerushalmi, Brakhot 5:1

Ha osek — the one who is occupied. This word is used in the ever-familiar blessing upon studying torah and in the more modern blessing over community work. In both cases we are occupying ourselves with a holy act.

But iska is not a particularly holy word- its basic meaning is business. We use this word when talking about trade, particular merchandise, and also the study of torah and her commandments.

Iska straddles a difficult line that now you will all straddle as well- your daily business is also sacred. What does it mean to be occupied with torah, giving sermons, leading classes and making sure payroll is correct. What does it mean to be occupied with the community by holding huge emotions in difficult times and writing the budget for next year?

As you move forward, you will need to find the balance that is right for you. May you embrace each day as a potential revelation of the sacred within the mundane. And may you all be ha’oskim, the ones whose lives are caught up in the holy business of being jewish, of leading our people, and finding moments of divine inspiration.


Rabbi Jessica Lowenthal is a was ordained by Hebrew College in 2019 and is Rabbi and Education Director, Temple Beth Shalom, Melrose, MA.

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