Sunday, June 6, 2010

Our First Ten Years

Our First Ten Years
The following is an excerpt from the sermon I delivered marking my first ten years at the JCB.  The complete text can be found by following the link.

...I discovered in the rabbinate a job where I am asked to care and asked to question.  I believe that every person must be loved and cared for and every idea questioned.  Everything is subject to scrutiny and questioning, especially pronouncements that come without reasons.  My parents are, I think, thankful and relieved that I was able to find gainful employment for my questioning.  If you want to be better then you must question.  I can be relentless in this task, but it is the only way you can better yourself and better community.  Kim will tell you that the worst reason for why we might do something is to say to me, “That is how other synagogues do it.”   I am not trying to be different for the sake of being different but I do believe that everything must be examined.  First of all myself, each and every day, each and every moment.  Second, our world.  Third, our traditions.  Nothing is a given.  Everything must be examined, from each and every angle.  That is the only way we can build a Judaism for tomorrow.  That is the only way we can continue to build a synagogue.

That is what attracted me to this place.  I discovered in the Board and those I met on that first occasion a certain courage in carving out our own path and creating a different kind of synagogue.  All of us continue to share the passion that certain values need to be restored to synagogue life: a sense of caring, a commitment to be loving, priority of learning, engaging prayer services.  I have always found the Hasidic shtiebel to be the better model, a place where the rabbi knows each and every family, a place where people enjoy prayer.  A Brookville shtiebel might be a bit of an oxymoron, but such is my quest.

I admit.  My passions can sometimes get the better of me.   In fact truth be told I returned from my interview and told Susie, “I didn’t get the job.”  “Why?” she asked.  “I actually told them what I really think about a whole bunch of things.”  Apparently the committee decided they liked the passion even if a few of the ideas were out of the ordinary for a Reform rabbi.  I can be liberal on some questions and conservative on others.  I don’t want to be categorized.  I just want to continue thinking and questioning.  I will always continue loving Judaism and loving even more, teaching Judaism.  Most of all I will always continue to love this congregation.  I hope I have lived up to the expectations and trust that that committee and Board saw in me.

In this week’s Torah portion, Shelach Lecha, we learn of Joshua and discover some of his character traits.  I have always admired Joshua, in many ways more than Moses.  Moses is an impossible model to emulate.  First of all who really wants to be alone on a mountain top for 40 days talking to God, especially without any food or water?  That does not sound like much fun.  It does not even sound particularly meaningful.  What kind of Jewish life would that be, especially without the food?  Ask God questions; get answers.  What is there left to do if all of your questions are answered in a few weeks?  That does not seem particularly Jewish to me.  The quest would be over before ever leaving the mountain top.

I love Joshua.  He has faith and he appears to draw strength from within and even strength from questions and doubt.  He remains steadfast in his beliefs while not losing faith with people.  His faith does not blind him to reality, but instead gives him the strength to see beyond the present.  He sees the positive, where others see the negative.  He sees a better tomorrow, where others only see fear.  A Joshua we can be.  A Moses we cannot.

To Joshua, Moses says, “Chazak ve-ematz—be strong and courageous.”  Such is my charge to myself.  Such is my charge to the congregation I will continue to love and care for.   Be strong and courageous.  May this charge carry us through to our next decade.

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