A Grateful Rabbi
Dear Valley Temple,
Thank you. This is the busiest season of our year, and I feel an obligation to let you know how meaningful this past month has been. This is my fourth High Holy Days with our community. And this one was very different.
The year I was the intern, I barely knew anyone. I was trying to learn a new set of community customs, with the fear and trepidation of what the next year might contain. I had no idea that, only five months later, I would sign a contract to make this my home. If only I knew…
The second and third years, I was firmly entrenched, but in a congregation that couldn’t be together in the sanctuary, at a time where we were doing the best we could despite unbelievable obstacles. If anything, that made matters worse. I knew how badly our group needed to be together, how much good we could do for one another, and yet we had to prioritize your physical health over your spiritual care.
Which means that, on Rosh Hashanah 5783, I looked out on a community I knew in my heart. I’ve been there when we celebrated a simchah, and been there when we grieved a loss. I remember when we learned something new about Judaism and something new about ourselves. This year, for me personally, the High Holy Days was a chance to not only lead the rituals of our people, but also to celebrate the depth of connection that we have forged in order to arrive here. It made it so much more meaningful to be able to give a sermon where I wasn’t speaking to all of you, but rather to each of you. It made it more poignant to give those hugs that were so sorely needed after Yizkor. And it made it more intense, more impactful to be praying alongside those individuals who have entrusted my team as a conduit of the sacred.
The pessimists in the Jewish world (of whom I can be one, depending on the day) condescend this week because of the “twice-a-year Jews.” The building is full in a way that it won’t be again for another 12 months. That is the undeniable reality. It is natural, in some congregations, to feel the sucking sound of a vacuum when those services are over, leaving the emptiness of a void where once there was vibrancy. But that isn’t what it felt like at Valley this past month. No, these weeks have felt like a homecoming, a reminder of how we can best support one another in ways that are accessible, meaningful, and worthwhile. Every person who comes to our synagogue has unique needs, and I so cherish the knowledge that, when I look out from our bimah, I am invested in each of you finding what will nourish you from this process.
Every congregation in the world wants to be warm, welcoming, and loving. It is very hard to know how to make those ideals into a reality. And I am grateful every time I step foot into our space that this community knows innately how to take care of one another. That is something you have learned from Rabbi Kopnick (and from Rabbi Greenberg before him). It is something you have learned from one another, and from the places in your lives where you haven’t felt cherished enough. You are being the change our world so desperately needs, and my life is better for being a part of it.
Yom Kippur is a somber holiday. Which means I couldn’t help but feel a little guilty that my biggest feeling at the end of services was pride. Pride not in myself for the work that had gone into making the holidays happen, but rather pride that I get to serve such an incredible congregation. I want you to know how special this community is. Because it is a gift, and one I do not take lightly.
So tonight, we continue the celebration, not with the lofty rituals of robes and choirs, but with the comfort of nature, a campfire, and s’mores. We get to eat and laugh and dance and learn. We get to enjoy the full spectrum of emotions that our Jewish heritage offers us. And most beautifully, we get to do it together as a Valley Temple Family.
Thank you for welcoming me into this sacred congregation. Thank you for giving me a place to do what I feel called in my heart to offer. Here’s to many more celebrations, holidays, observances, and moments to support one another.