An Update from Rabbi Shawn

Update from Rabbi Shawn Zevit- April 2020


It may be that when we no longer know what to do
we have come to our real work,

and that when we no longer know which way to go
we have come to our real journey.
The mind that is not baffled is not employed.
The impeded stream is the one that sings.
— Wendell Berry, Collected Poems

Dear Hevre,

I am writing to all of you as we have emerged on the other side of the unique Passover journey of 5780. I pray my words find you and your circles of connection in good health and finding the best ways to navigate and find moments of joy and meaning. If your Zoom Seder was anything like those, I was part of- asking Ma Nishtana? “What’s different about this night?” was almost an unnecessary question. Almost everything!

This includes where I thought I would be for Passover and for the last two months of my sabbatical. At the end of February I visited my sister in Vancouver, then my parents in Victoria, where my mother continues her heroic stand against the cancer that has gripped her since last summer, and my father adjusts with honor and grace to the temporary hospital respite care we were able to get as Alzheimer’s progresses within him . I felt both the gratitude for being with them that the time you had blessed me with afforded and was hoping to return to see them again soon.

Boarding a plane to Mexico to meet Simcha and begin a month together in reflection, rest and renewal, the buzz of what was transpiring in the wellness of the world was emerging with starker reality, despite best attempts at denial by some of our leaders. By mid-March, it was apparent to us and our family, that time was running short to return to Philadelphia before the portals of re-entry were limited or closed.

So, here we have been since March 16th, in this topsy-turvy time. I was saddened to be out of the country when dear Gene Bishop left this world and like all that knew her, I feel her absence. The cycle of life has continued its own rhythm in births, bnai mitzvah,  and deaths of parents of many of our members. My heart is with you all, and with those of you who have had and are recovering from Covid-19.

I have had the blessing of seeing some of you on the streets of Mt. Airy, masks on for a daily walk, or on-line at a service or wonderful Mishkan Shalom offering. I did want you all to know where I was given the unexpected circumstances we are rising to meet (or rather staying in place to meet). While there are still three weeks left in my official sabbatical time, please know I am happy to see you if we bump into each other!

Rabbi Yael and president Steve Jones’ have offered stellar and compassionately responsive leadership during this time in tandem with so many of you stepping up even more than could be foreseen and even  imagined- R. Yael, Maria, the Executive Committee and board, Gari, Gabby and our amazing teachers; Mr. Charles, Sabbatical, Pastoral, Spiritual, Acts of Caring, Building teams, the list is much longer than I can address here. Thanks to so many of you for your energized engagement and the structures put in place while I was away.

In discussion with Rabbi Yael, Steve and Ellen Tichenor (on behalf of the Sabbatical Team), we discerned that staying with the systems in place, especially given the constant changing landscape of the times made the most sense, even  when I needed to return early, and that I would complete my sabbatical in Philadelphia.

Mostly, I have tried to meet the circumstances of our world and family with presence and simultaneously with release of control and role. I chose the piece by Wendell Berry at the beginning as it reflects an aspect of the spiritual exploration I have been presented with and have wrestled with, especially these last weeks. More on that at a later time.

In the next few weeks, we are focusing on what my transition back looks like, especially since our circumstances will not likely be radically different than they are right now. Working together with R. Yael and the rest of the staff and leadership in ways that make sense for all is a priority up through my full return May 12th and in the weeks afterwards.

I am so grateful to all of you- to each of you in our sacred Mishkan Shalom community for the time I have been gifted and look forward to the road together ahead- the known and unknown and the Cosmic Constant that contains it all, as in my morning thought:


I awoke today - no longer a stranger

In a strange land - Wherever I am

I am home - in You - once again.


B’vrachah v’shalom, Rabbi Shawn Zevit, April 20, 2020

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