INSTALLATION REMARKS, October 23, 2015
I am so happy and honored to be here, to be officially welcomed as your new rabbi, the first woman rabbi and the first assistant rabbi at Temple Sinai!
Thank you to Rabbi Vogel and Rabbi Sharon Cohen Anisfeld and our cantorial soloist, Cherina Eisenberg for your parts in this very sweet ritual. Installations are exciting moments, yet I want to acknowledge that I already feel very welcome and at home here. For the past three months, I have immersed myself in the life of this congregation. I have gotten to know many of you in one-on-one meetings, where we shared life journeys and our deep motivations and concerns. I have gotten to know people through our meet and greetsover the summer, through leading services and schmoozing afterwords, and through teaching teens, adults and kids. It's been a wonderful start. Temple Sinai exceeds my expectations when it comes to kindness, self reflection, intellectual inquiry, community involvement, and general menchlichkit. Thank you, not for what you do but for who you are, and thank you for asking me to be your Rabbi.
I was overjoyed to be offered this position, and the last three months have only increased my gratitude. I want to share with you part of an essay I wrote on my career goals in 2008. If you understand the word organizer to be a name for engagement, we're pretty close to my job description:
The skills of an organizer are essential to the rabbinate, where listening to personal stories, connecting people, and developing leaders are keys to a thriving community. In ten years, I picture myself as a rabbi who combines her training as a community organizer and spiritual leader to empower congregants to take ownership over their spiritual cultivation, and to build strong relationships with each other and other religious and cultural groups. These ties will foster a sense of hope and connection, and will draw people to Judaism because of their constructive vision of a vibrant, sustainable world.
Thank you for helping me live into that vision, 3 years ahead of schedule!
I want to share two beautiful midrashim on the beginning of Lech Lecha, this week's Torah portion. I think both are pertinent and illuminating for our relationship together.
In the first midrash, Avram is likened to a person who is wondering through the countryside from place to place, and keeps encountering castles on fire. They seems to be empty. The wanderer asks, "Is there not an owner to this castle?" As soon as he asks, the owner of the castle peaks her head out and says, "Yes! I am the owner!" Avram, our mythic forefather, walked through the world and sensed that there was something cosmic and important holding the whole thing together, in the midst of all the destruction. Those burning castles couldn't be the whole story. As soon as he cried out, God, as it were, peaked out through window to reach out to Avram.
As a congregation, I pray that we together call out our anguish at the destruction and imbalance in our world, and that the fruit of that calling out be that we better sense the owner of the castle, so to speak, in the midst of all the bad news and suffering - that we can better sense love, holiness, kindness, vision, or for shorthand you might say God .
In the second midrash, Avram is likened to a bottle of potent and beautiful perfume that is stuck on a shelf with a stopper in it. No one smells the fragrance. But when one takes the bottle off of the shelf, uncorks it, and moves it all around the room, the fragrance spreads. So God asked Avram to wander, to spread his bright spirit around the land.
This midrash is essentially a "This little light of mine I'm gonna let it shine" story – except it's "This little smell of mine I'm gonna let it waft!" Smells, like incense, are associated in our ancient texts with spirit. So I want to say that one of my deepest intentions in this job is to support you each in your journey to take the beautiful bottle of fragrance that is your neshama, your soul, off of the shelf, to uncork that bottle, and let your spirit be full and present an vibrant and healthy in this world. Our fullest selves are deeply needed to show up with love and courage. In human history this is a all hands on deck moment, and our spiritual practices and communities support us as we navigate the complexities of living in this world. Thank you for welcoming me into your journey, I am so glad you are a part of mine. May we go from strength to strength.