Rabbi Marla Hornsten: Heeding the wisdom, ‘Find for yourself teacher, acquire for yourself a friend’

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By RABBI MARLA R. HORNSTEN
Temple Israel

I was asked to write an opening piece for this newly expanded edition of Friendship & Faith just as Jews were heading into the High Holy Day season. For Jews, this is perhaps the most important time of year and for rabbis, in particular, the most stressful. But when I sat down to read these stories, all anxiety I had about the approaching holidays disappeared, and I couldn’t put the book down.

I suddenly realized that tears were streaming down my face.

I was so moved as I read about these personal experiences of having immigrated to the United States, of moving from place to place, of encountering unfamiliar people, practices and rituals. And, I was struck by what these stories have in common: how each of them found a friend, someone who could simply hold a hand, share a story, or help out from time to time.

I was taken by the story of Ayesha Kahn and her relationship with Libby her 80-year-old neighbor, that began with a courageous knock on the door.

I was struck by how quickly bonds are created when people share a traumatic event even if they are from opposite sides of the world, as in the story by Najah Bazzy.

I was reminded how our own personal experiences have the potential to change other peoples’ lives as Parwin Anwar who, having fled Afghanistan, used that journey to bridge the cultural divide for new immigrants in the United States.

All of the stories in this book remind us of the power of friendship, and that through the relationships that we create, we are far more alike that we might ever have imagined.

Jewish Talmud instructs: “Find for yourself teacher, acquire for yourself a friend.” (Pirke Avot 1:6) It’s an interesting directive. Why are teachers and friends so important that the Talmud would command these types of relationships? Are they meant to be the same person or different people who take on different responsibilities? In my mind, I think we can find both a teacher and a friend in the same person.

In my life, I have been blessed by dear friends from varied backgrounds and traditions. Over the years, they have provided support, encouragement, and inspiration, and every step of the way, they have also taught me something important even as we share diverse life experiences, ideals and beliefs. I truly believe that these relationships have made me the person that I am today because through their friendship, they challenged me, cheered me on and even pushed me beyond my comfort zone.

Too often, however, we take our friends for granted, not recognizing how important they are in our lives, and frankly, how important we are in theirs. Maybe that’s why we need to be commanded to build these relationships. Maybe it’s a reminder to us that as human beings, relationships are integral to who we are, having people in our lives who knew us “back when…”—and at the same time, meeting people as we are now. One thing we learn from this book (though there are many things) is that the more we are willing to share of ourselves and the more we are willing to risk opening ourselves to new people and new possibilities, the greater the reward.

In this day and age, social media has changed our ideas about friendship. I find that we focus on how many friends we have on Facebook, and how many people have “liked” a post. But the truth is, most of these “friends” are just people we know. Creating meaningful friendships takes work. As we become more mature, we find that friendship doesn’t “just happen” like it did when we were kids on the playground. Genuine friendships take time, commitment, courage, and follow through.

My mother always told me, “It’s better to have a few good friends than a lot of acquaintances.”

I hope the stories told in this book remind us of the value of friendship. I hope they encourage us to reach out to the person sitting alone, knock on a neighbor’s door, welcome the newcomer into our communities and our lives. As I think about my friends, I can’t help but hum the song that I learned back in Girl Scouts: “Make new friends but keep the old, one is silver and the other’s gold.”

I pray that all of our friendships be precious ones; may they continue to teach us, challenge us, support us, and celebrate with us throughout our lives.

Care to learn more?

Rabbi Hornsten

In 2000, Rabbi Marla Hornsten became the first woman rabbi at Temple Israel in West Bloomfield, Michigan, one of the nation’s largest Reform congregations.

Her online biography includes: “As the first woman rabbi at Temple Israel, she is proud to have created a variety of women’s programming including a monthly Rosh Chodesh women’s spirituality group, mikveh tours and immersion experiences. She has written many healing services for both men and women using the mikveh. … She also is committed to working to prevent domestic abuse in families and to guiding couples in establishing healthy relationships.

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