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Using the Gifts We've Been Given

by Sarrae Crane

In our home we have a rule, if we own it, we use it. The fine china comes out not only for Rosh HaShanah and Thanksgiving, but for every Shabbat and holiday, even when it is only the two of us. The crystal wine goblets – and we have glasses both for red and white wine – come out as well. So do the silver and all of the pieces that are sitting in our breakfront.

It is not the same rule with which I grew up. My mother was a saver for a special occasion. She was determined that the legacy she would leave to her children would be in the best possible condition – complete sets, with no scratches or chips. I used to tell her the china, silver and crystal would mean more to me if I remembered using it with her. But she continued to save the “good stuff ” for company and holidays.

Frankly, every time we use the good stuff I think about how it came to be in our hands. From whose home did it come, the Cranes or the Waxmans? Or when and where did we buy it? I enjoy the memories associated with each object.

I understand my mother’s concern about not using some of her pieces except on rare occasions. First of all, you have to be extra careful. We take out her crystal for Pesach and I cautiously hand wash each and every glass. But by the end of Pesach, I have had enough: I’m ready to put away that crystal for another year. And perhaps more significantly, when you use something, there is always the danger it might get broken or damaged. It does happen, but the option of never using these items is unacceptable. We don’t live in museums; the pieces should be part of our lives, not on permanent display.

And come Chanukkah we will take out a couple of beautiful Chanukkiot: they should be used, not just sit on a shelf gathering dust.

All of us have not only physical gifts but also intangible gifts that we dare not let sit unused. This past summer, my husband and I had a chance to attend services in Hawaii at Congregation Sof Maarav in Honolulu. They have no rabbi, though they do have a couple of semi-retired cantors in their midst. They are essentially a lay led congregation. On the Shabbat we were there, seven different people read Torah and others chanted parts of the service. Members of the congregation take turns offering divrei Torah each week. These are individuals who are doctors, professors, attorneys, businessmen who have discovered that they have Jewish gifts, some of which have been developed only in the past few years. Forced by necessity, they share these gifts with those around them.

Undoubtedly, all of us have talents that we can share with our communities, with our sisterhoods, our men’s clubs, with our congregations. Some of the talents are latent, some need polishing. A former congregant has just completed the cycle of reading every single haftarah that is chanted in the course of a year. It has taken him years to achieve this goal. And having completed that task, he has decided to master reading Torah, beginning with the maftir portions of the haftarot he will read in the future. I have no doubt that he and his congregation will be richer for his sharing these gifts.

Over the years, through its various programs and institutes, Women’s League has educated women and enabled them to share their skills and talents so they can enrich themselves and their communities. Many of the women now participating in services in congregations around the country received their training and their impetus from these programs. We are very proud of all of the members of the society of Kolot BiK’dushah who regularly serve as shelichot tzibbur (leading services) and baalot kriah (reading Torah) in their congregations.

The Women’s League Hiddur Mitzvah Project, introduced last year, offers suggestions on how to celebrate the events of the Jewish calendar in a way that fits into our lives today. It helps us understand that making some changes and modifications can enhance our observance. Women’s League’s theme for this year Uri, Uri! Awake, Greet the New Dawn, encourages us to look forward and examine our structure while renewing our commitment to our mission.

We should not fear that using our gifts will damage or break them. In fact, we should remember that using them increases their value. Museums are place to visit, but not homes in which to live. Our beautiful ritual items and commitment to Judaism and the Jewish people should be part of our lives, not on permanent display.

Chanukkah is a time of shedding light on the world. May it also be a time to share the light of our gifts of knowledge and synagogue skills with our communities.

Sarrae Crane is executive director of Women’s League for Conservative Judaism.

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