On Friday evening, I was offered the honor of lighting the Shabbat candles. I picked up the box of matches, pulled out a match, and began to cry. I passed the match to Benny's wife Rachel to light the candles instead, and the assembled crowd said the blessing together. I recited the prayer with them through my tears.
I fear, dear readers, that I have been quite dishonest with you in my cheerful blog posts. The truth is that this has been a terribly difficult trip. Before I arrived, I had already arranged to fly directly to Washington, DC, to be with my mother, who had been in the hospital for over a week. In the short week I have been in Indonesia, her condition has deteriorated from grave to critical to hopeless. I am leaving four days earlier than planned with a very heavy heart.
We have had a remarkable group with us for Shabbat. Fifteen or so live in Jakarta. But we have also had about seven come from Magalong in central Java, bearing their famous sweets. Benny's four older children (the eldest is 21) made the grueling eleven-hour trip by bus and ferry from eastern Sumatra and arrived yesterday for a wonderful reunion. Ariela, a regal and radiant woman from Timika in Papua has crossed the whole of Indonesia with her daughter and niece to join us. The United Indonesia Jewish Community gathers twice each year-- during the extended festivals of Sukkot and Pesach.
The close acoustics of the hotel combined with strong voices have meant lively singing through the services. This week's Torah portion included the Shema, and everyone sang along this Jewish declaration of faith. I spoke about this week's haftarah reading from Isaiah chapter 40, a message of deep comfort to the Jewish people. The rabbis taught that when the Jewish people experienced their most painful time--the exile from Israel--God's Shekhinah (presence) went into exile with them. From this we learn that God is present with us in our suffering. I made it through my Torah commentary with dry eyes, although I certainly had many sad moments over the course of the day.
In a few short hours I'll have to say goodbye to these lovely people. It has been a blessing to meet them, and I will eagerly await my next opportunity to be in touch. The only frustration has been the slow internet speed, which has made it very difficult to post the photos I've been wanting to share. I hope to have one last post with photos available next week. It has been lovely journeying with you.
Rabbi Shoshana Kaminsky
I've been the rabbi of Beit Shalom Progressive Synagogue in Adelaide since 2006. As part of the Council of Progressive Rabbis of Australia, New Zealand and Asia, I'm preparing for my second trip to Indonesia to meet with Jewish communities there.