UU Estrie hosts Rabbi Sherril Gilbert for a Sukkot Harvest Holiday event

By Gib McInnis Special to The Record

Rabbi Sherril Gilbert and Reverend Carole Martignacco together at the Unitarian Universalist Spiritual Community of North Hatley

[on September 30, ] The Unitarian Universalist Spiritual Community of North Hatley and the Jewish Community Centre of the Eastern Townships collaborated on bringing Rabbi Sherril Gilbert to North Hatley to celebrate the third High Holy Day on the Jewish calendar with the North Hatley community. Sukkot is a time of hospitality intertwined with social justice, and part of the ceremony is to “welcome the stranger, the widow and the orphan” in ones dwelling, in this case, a Sukkot or make-shift shelter.

Rabbi Gilbert of B’nai Or Montreal and the Reverend Carole Martignacco, pastor of UU Estrie, held a “Dialogue Sermon,” during the celebration ceremony. The “Reflection” or sermon was an untraditional “dialogue” between Gilbert and Martignacco, basically outlining the importance of the Sukkot (shelter) notion of the Jewish people’s biblical mandate to reach out to strangers, or to reach out to someone of different faith.

The official ceremony began by Lighting of the Chalice, and then moved on next to the Joy and Sorrow segment which involved lighting of candles between the two faiths, and this commitment was an expression of peace for each other and support for the other’s struggles in their daily lives.

Martignacco collaborated with this event because she believes this is not only the mandate for their faith but for all faiths. “It is integral to our faith that we welcome truths from all directions and all traditions, so celebrating Judaism is celebrating our tradition as well. In fact the Unitarian side celebrates the Jewish concept that God is one and can not be divided–therefore not Trinitarian but Unitarian. It is that universal welcome in the sense that we are all under the same Sukkot.”

Gilbert stated in her “dialogue” that bringing the two faiths together and accepting the other for who they are and not for what they believe is a part of her larger mandate as a follower of God. “What I like to do is take the particular and make it universal. That is what we did today. We took the particular (the Sukkot in Judaism) and we tried to make it relevant to other faith’s lives. The stranger…is our responsibility.”

During the Sukkot ceremony Gilbert told her own “stranger” story of living in Newfoundland, where the Gilbert family built their first Sukkot on their property. Their neighbours next door were of Iranian origin (and recent arrivals to Canada), and as soon as the Gilbert family completed their shelter, they immediately had visitors. To her “joy and surprise,” the Iranian couple asked if they could join in on their ceremony under the Sukkot. Gilbert and her husband Terry graciously accepted and this inspired them to continue to pursue their passion of celebrating the Sukkot with other faiths.

When asked after the sermon about how the outcome of the Sukkot is so different from what our society has witnessed in Israel last week, especially between Israel and Iran, Gilbert said, “I believe we need to do what we can. We can’t do much about what is happening there. We can take steps in our own communities to make things better, and I think that is the idea because if you feel you are completely helpless, or when you hear about all that horrible news over there, you sort of retreat and feel that you can’t help change the world, but in fact you can. In Judaism it is said that ‘if you help save one life you save a world,’ and so we try to encourage people to come out and take that one step.”

Taking “one step” towards collaboration is exactly what Reverend Martignacco and her congregation has done by inviting Gilbert to be a member of their spiritual family. Martignacco believes also that in order to change the situation in the world we must change “our own little corner” first. “We can’t go there and change what is happening, all we can do is change our own little corner, and the more we infuse it with love and joy, the more we tip the balance in the whole world community. If this was happening in other places (and I know it is in different ways) then I prefer to think that there is a power (that shows us) we are more than the sum of our parts.”

This writeup appeared in the Sherbrooke Record on October 2, 2012

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