A Gift for Governor Brown
By: Denny Norris
Yom Kippur afternoon was winding to a close. There was a buzz of expectancy in the air since the High Holidays Contemporary Issues Forum wouldn’t be the usual panel discussion or featured congregant. Instead, Rabbi Laura Geller had reached out to California’s Governor Jerry Brown and asked him to speak about the state of our state. He had agreed to spend an hour at Temple Emanuel of Beverly Hills talking and answering our questions.
It was perhaps an unconventional choice, a staunch Catholic and 4 year Jesuit student who once aspired to be a priest. Even he questioned if he was the right person to talk on repentance on this solemn day since in politics he said, “There is no particular reward for acknowledging sin of any kind, because it will be replayed endlessly.”
But he came to speak to us on why “California Matters” and promote the issues he felt would help “Tikkun California” – making California a better place. His speech was informative, sweeping through state history to modern innovations and inventions. He was humorous, able to poke fun at his retread status this second time around as governor.
Of course, he included a strong pitch for Prop 30, a ballot issue he would like to see pass in November and spoke out against other ballot measures. And, the questions he answered came from those submitted in advance by email and vetted by his staff.
Still, it was looking like a well spent hour on my part with things to mull over in the weeks leading up to the election, when something extraordinary happened.
Governor Brown had finished speaking and we had settled back into our seats from the standing ovation. Rabbi Jonathan Aaron approached the podium to thank the Governor and to give him a present from the congregation in appreciation of his appearance. The rabbi handed him a book and explained that it was WRJ’s The Torah: A Women’s Commentary.
As the Governor took the book and opened it, my husband and I looked at each other in astonishment and delight. As a long term member of WRJ’s Board of Directors, I had helped to raise funds and personally donated to the fund that got this book written and published. I had been at the WRJ Assembly in San Diego, CA in December 2007 when the Commentary was launched and I treasured my personally inscribed copy signed by Dr. Tamara Cohn Eskenazi.
To see this book, so dear and important to me, given at such a moment by my rabbis to Jerry Brown had me in tears. I got even more excited when the Governor then read a passage from the commentary, tied the text he read to his speech and said he looked forward to reading the Commentary in depth.
I wish I could remember and share what was he so aptly quoted, but my emotions proved stronger than my memory. But I do remember how proud I felt to be part of a congregation that gave honor to the work of WRJ and to The Torah: A Women’s Commentary. I know as I use my copy in study during the coming year, the memory of Yom Kippur afternoon will rise up from the pages along with the words.