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Q & A with… Sydney A. Perry on "Jerusalem: Twice Destroyed and Twice Rebuilt"

Sydney A. Perry

WOODBRIDGE – Sydney A. Perry is chief executive officer of the Jewish Federation of Greater New Haven and the Jewish Community Center of New Haven.  Three years ago, she managed the merger between the Jewish Federation and the Jewish Community Center, which houses the Federation offices. Previous to the merger she was the executive director of the Federation for six years.
Previously, Perry served for 17 years as director of the Department of Jewish Education (DJE), the educational arm of the Jewish Federation of Greater New Haven.  During her tenure, she worked to improve the synagogue supplementary schools, served as consultant to the community on educational endeavors.  Under her guidance the DJE (now known as the Center for Jewish Life and Learning) has offered extensive adult educational opportunities and developed the new adult institute, Midrasha, initiated “A Taste of Honey” which attracts more than 700 adults, and its offshoots, “A Taste of Milk & Honey” and “A Taste of Apples & Honey,” provided Israel programming for teens, spearheaded TIES, the Israel Experience Savings Program, a special needs education program, Talmud Torah Meyuchad, and developed the successful community Hebrew High School, Makom.  
A graduate of Smith College, Perry pursued graduate work at the Hartford Theological Seminary in Islamics. She taught rabbinics and Bible at Ezra Academy for many years and has designed a unit on “Beyn Adam L’Chavero” (interpersonal relations) for seventh grade students. As leader of the largest New England contingent to “March of the Living,” she has taught the preparatory course and participated in six marches.
Perry has been nominated for national awards for educational initiatives and serves on committees of the Jewish Educational Society of North America and Bureau Directors Fellowship. The winner of the Eisner Educators’ Award for community service, the Gan School’s Pillar of the Community Award, Ezra Academy’s Distinguished Leader Award, Brandeis University Award, BBYO’s Eitz Chaim Award for her commitment to teens and recognition from the public school systems of New Haven and Hamden for her work in Holocaust Education and Prejudice Reduction. Last year she was honored by the New Haven Jewish Historical Society and this year she is being honored by the Academy for Jewish Religion in Riverdale, N.Y. She has served on the board of her synagogue and was the President of the Mikvah Society.  
Perry is the mother of six children, grandmother of fourteen, with five living in Raanana, Israel. Sydney lives in New Haven with her husband, Professor Theodore A. Perry.  
In keeping with the period of the Three Weeks leading up to the fast day of Tisha B’Av, Perry will speak on the topic of “Jerusalem: Twice Destroyed and Twice Rebuilt” on Tuesday, July 26.  Her talk is part of the Center for Jewish Life and Learning Summer Institute.
Perry recently discussed the subject of her upcoming talk with the Ledger.

The title of your talk is “Jerusalem: Twice Destroyed, Twice Rebuilt.” Clearly the Temple has not been rebuilt – and so, can you explain in what sense we would define modern day Jerusalem as being ‘rebuilt?’
A:  The First Temple, built by King Solomon, was destroyed by Nebuchadnezzar in 586 BCE. The Second Temple was destroyed by the Romans in 70CE. Both led to seismic shocks to the Jewish people in terms of their ability to pray and offer sacrifice and the exiles that accompanied the destruction could well have meant tremendous loss of faith and even assimilation. Twice built, twice destroyed but we are a resilient people and found ways to substitute for the Temple cult that have allowed us to survive and thrive in the Diaspora. Synagogues, rabbis, study and the performance of deeds of loving kindness have substituted for sacrifice and allowed us to transport our Temple into our homes, our shuls, and our lives.

What are some of the behaviors that led to the destruction of the Temples?
A:  We are a people of memory. We are a people of history. We mourn over thousands of years and across thousands of miles. Wherever we are, when we pray we turn towards Jerusalem. Under the wedding canopy, at the Passover seder, in our prayers, we remember Jerusalem. On Tisha b’Av, we fast, sit on the floor in the semi-dark and say special readings, refrain from pleasure and mourn events that transpired millennia ago.
Our texts explain that the Temples were destroyed because of the Jewish people’s behavior. The Gemara says that the First Temple was destroyed because of the cardinal sins of idolatry, sexual immorality, and bloodshed. It was a time of reckless disregard of Jewish values and laws.  The destruction of the Second Temple, say our rabbis, took place during a time of strict observance of Jewish law; however fractious, divisive sectarianism led to sinat chinam, baseless hatred, among the Jews.
The Jews could not unite and ward off the siege by the Romans and the eventual despoiling of the Temple and burning of God’s House.

How have these events so early in Jewish history affected later generations of Jews?
A: The Talmud sensitizes us to the reality that disunity can led to calamitous results. Especially in the area of interpersonal relations, it is frequently a small gesture that makes all the difference. The corrective to baseless hatred and the resulting widespread breach of achdut, unity among Jews, is ahavat chinam, an abundance of love. Societal disunity will always be our undoing. One of the ongoing lessons is to learn from the mistakes of the past – the best guarantee for the glorious future of a rebuilt Jerusalem. We redeem the ruins of the past through the way we live today.

It’s safe to say that most Jews today are unaware of the period known as the “Three Weeks” and its meaning.  How can we learn more about this significant period in Jewish history?
A: In her recent book, Erica Brown retells a story of a former chancellor of the Jewish Theological Seminary who remarked that Jews who observe the period of collective mourning for the Temples’ destruction were as rare as a polar bear on the equator. With global warming and the melting of the polar ice cap perhaps that time will not be so far away!  I believe that Jews are not only students of history but also its stewards. By studying the texts of the Three Weeks, the book of Lamentations, sections from the prophets and portions from the Talmud, and reading about our three thousand year attachment to our religious center, our holy city, the land of Israel, the pilgrimage holidays and our relationship to God, we come to appreciate our spiritual heritage and our capacity for survival and renewal.

Sydney Perry will speak at the Center for Jewish Life and Learning Summer Institute on Tuesday, July 26 at 10:30 a.m. at the Jewish Community Center of Greater New Haven, 360 Amity Road, Woodbridge.  Tickets are $18. For more information contact Rich Walter, 203-387-2522, ext. 300 or : rwalter@jewishnewhaven.org

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