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Congregation Beth HaTephila

An Engaging, Inclusive, Reform Congregation in the Blue Ridge Mountains

Between You and Me - August 2021

Driving along Merrimon Avenue, perhaps you’ve seen the colorfully painted signs that say, “Peace,” “Equality,” “Love,” and “Unity.”  I do not recall when they first appeared, but I am grateful to the anonymous founder of the Positive Signs of Love project for strategically installing them in high traffic areas where they regularly move me by their messages. 

The New York Times similarly reported that seven years ago, little hearts drawn in chalk mysteriously began appearing on the streets of downtown Manhattan. Some materialized in clusters on sidewalks, while others cascaded across entire blocks.  For New Yorkers who encountered them, they offered a respite from the harshness of city life.  At least that was the intention of their creator, a street artist named Hash Halper, an Orthodox Jew from Elkins Park, Pennsylvania, who started drawing the hearts as a gesture of affection for a woman he was dating.  The relationship didn’t last, but the hearts made him feel better, so he kept drawing them.  Mr. Halper soon began spreading the healing properties of his hearts.  Over the last year, during the coronavirus pandemic, Mr. Halper heeded this calling with more purpose than ever.  On even the darkest days, he walked out into the lonesome East Village, summoning hundreds of hearts that illuminated the neighborhood.

I think Mr. Halper and the anonymous Asheville Sign maker noticed how many of us ready ourselves as if for battle when we venture into the busy roads and crowded streets of the public domain.  Their invitation to take a breath and remember that peace, love, unity and equality are also options on the menu for how we move through spaces and times, is meant to startle us into peeling off the armor and allowing our hearts to lead. 

On the 9th of August, the Hebrew month of Elul begins as well as a season for reflection about who we want to be as we turn the page on a new year.  The rabbis of the Talmud noticed that Elul is an acronym for a famous line in the Song of Songs, Ani L’dodi, V’dodi, Li, I am my Beloved’s and my Beloved is mine.  For our sages, the beloveds featured in the Song of Songs are the people of Israel and God.  A later Chassidic teaching suggests that the way we arouse God’s love for us, the way we return to being God’s beloved in the month of Elul, is by better loving each other. 

Tragically, the reason the New York Times wrote an article about Hash Halper was only partly to tell the story of his chalk hearts.  It was also his obituary.  Hash struggled with depression and sobriety and threw himself off the Brooklyn Bridge in June.  If a broken man can devote his life to decorating the streets with chalk hearts because, as one friend recounted, he worried his neighborhood was “losing its soul,” just imagine the capacity residing in our hearts to arouse love and help each other recover our souls.

Sun, October 2 2022 7 Tishrei 5783