Every time I had a substitute teacher in high school, I braced for impact as soon as the poor unassuming sub took attendance.
“Dustin? Dustin Klass?”
At this point, most teachers did a brief double take. The best just moved on, but some, having spent many years being tested by mischievous name-switching students, would ask again, just to make sure.
“Yes, well, most people call me Dusty. But yes, that’s me.”
In college, my Hebrew professor outright refused to use my English name. It was a fine name in English, but she felt it didn’t work particularly well in Hebrew, so she called me by my Hebrew name, Dvorah.
Now, as many of our religious school teachers know, there are two ways to respond when one’s name is called while taking attendance.
The first, “Po” (pronounced like Edgar Allen POE) means “Here!” in a geographically present sense. I am physically here, sitting in my seat.
We know what “Po” feels like. It’s when your body is in one place but your mind may be somewhere else.
The second response, “Hineyni” (pronounced hee-ney-nee) is a bit more specific; in its basic sense, it means “here I am.” But throughout Torah, it is how people respond when God takes attendance.
At the top of Mt. Moriah, as Abraham prepares to sacrifice his son: “Avraham Avraham!”
Or later, as Moses stands staring at the burning-not-burning bush: “Moshe!”
In moments of sacred tension between God and some of God’s very first partners in the Jewish project, God takes attendance – and Abraham and Moses each respond: Hineyni – I am here, I am present. Not just physically present, but mentally and emotionally present. Open and ready. Let’s do this.
Over the past year, a group of Temple Beth El congregants, led by Maggie Fogel, has explored the ways in which our community cares for each other. As part of a re-invigoration of what has been known over the years variously as Caring Committee and Caring Community, the group renamed itself Hineynu: We are Here.
Our mission statement reads:
Hineynu promotes a strong and sacred community through thoughtful and meaningful acts of kindness that connect, nurture, and sustain our Temple family.
In doing so, we seek to embody the Hebrew concept of hineynu (“We are here”). We are here not only to console one another in times of hardship, but also to support each other in times of need and to celebrate together in times of joy.
We chose the word Hineynu because we believe we are all partners in the Jewish project, and in the human project. Our group believes that our Temple Beth El community is interested not just in being physically present in the same place at the same time – we believe that this community wants to show up for each other, to support each other, and to celebrate with each other.
We seek to be a community that says “Hineynu,” not simply “Po,” and to become such, we need your help.
On Sunday March 10th at 7:00 pm, we will gather at Temple Beth El for what we’re calling a Hineynu Volunteer Fair, an opportunity to learn about various ways congregants can volunteer to connect to fellow congregants in times of celebration and sorrow – as one person put it, we want to be there for “both the oys and the joys!”
Hineyni – Here I am. I am here.