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
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.
League Hiddur Mitzvah
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.