Rabbi’s Corner

Rabbi’s Corner: Blossoming through the cracks

Did you hear about the rose that grew from a crack in the concrete?

Proving nature’s law is wrong

It learned to walk without having feet.

Funny it seems, but by keeping its dreams, it learned to breathe fresh air.

Long live the rose that grew from concrete when no one else ever cared.

— Tupac

(Thank you to Oren Riback for introducing me to this poem.)

Rabbi Ruven Barkan

The spirit of our Tucson Jewish community reminds me of a flower growing in the sidewalk. There are so many factors in our society that pull us away from living Jewishly, yet we feel an imperative to seek greater meaning and keep our Judaism alive.

My friend Hans Spear, of blessed memory, came to America on the last boat from Germany before the war. He joined the American army as a resident alien and went back to Germany serving in the 30th Infantry Division’s Counter Intelligence Corps. He infiltrated enemy territory, liberated countries and concentration camps, and participated in the denazification program by interrogating SS officers after the war. He built up a beautiful family when he came home, established a successful interior design business, and with his lovely wife and childhood friend, Bea, lived as a committed Jew and active part of the Chicago and later Tucson Jewish communities.

Hans went back to visit Germany and attended the large synagogue in Frankfurt on Shabbat morning that had come back to life after the war. During services, he was offered an aliyah to the Torah. He accepted with mixed emotions the honor to stand before the community and God. Here he was participating in Jewish life once again in his decimated homeland. As he approached the bima, he saw the verse engraved above the ark: “I shall not die, but live, and tell the works of God.” This verse from Psalm 118 represented his own perseverance in the face of death and love of, and identification with, Germany despite the Shoah’s utter destruction.

This June 18 will be the first ordination of the newly established Conservative rabbinical school in Berlin, the Zacharias Frankel Rabbinical School.  My friend Nizan Kokin Stein, who I met during my rabbinical school year in Israel in 1997-98, will be the first candidate to be ordained as rabbi. It will be my distinct honor to present her before the Bet Din, the Jewish court, who will bestow upon her the authority to become a rabbi. The historical significance of this event would have filled my friends Hans and Bea with enormous pride and wonder.

This Shavuot, beginning on the evening of May 30, as we celebrate receiving Torah as our Israelite ancestors did at Mt. Sinai, may we be inspired by these amazing stories of our people, then and now, to take upon ourselves one more Jewish commitment, mitzvah, to live our Judaism together especially when we are wandering through a barren desert or yearning through the cracks of concrete for the comfort of sunshine. 

“I shall not die, but live, and tell the works of God.” Psalm 118:17

Rabbi Ruven Barkan is the education and youth director at Congregation Anshei Israel.