Installation Remarks: May 19, 2019
I want to begin with gratitude. There are many people that I want to thank that have helped us together reach this momentous occasion in my life and the life of this community. Thank you first to Rabbi Nevins and Chancellor Eisen for your kind and inspiring words, and for your presence here today.
To my colleagues here at KTI. I could not have asked for a better clergy partner, cantor, educator, neighbor and friend than Cantor Sklar, whose institutional memory, dedication, and easygoing manner have been essential in my transition into this role. She is involved in every aspect of KTI and our community is so blessed to have her.
I also have the great privilege to work with Suli Fassler, whose sense of humor, long experience in Jewish communal service, and good sense have also been invaluable as I began my role here. I’m also fortunate to have the support of our office staff Rosemarie Bodur and Ellen Gross. The four of us all began around the same time. Together we are building a new team to best serve the community in an efficient and friendly way. We are also joined by Jamie Wagner who ably keeps our historic cemetery operating smoothly and our custodian Brian Dunne, who keeps our facility clean and set up for our many activities.
One of the gems of KTI is our outstanding Early Childhood Program, led by our caring director Robin Goldberg—whom I’m sorry to say is no relation. Robin, her assistant Resa Waldman, and her all-star team of teachers create an environment where students love to learn, and parents are happy to send their children—no small feat. One of the highlights of my time here has been reading each week to the children. Our tradition teaches that the world is sustained through the breath of schoolchildren, and I have learned this year that this is absolutely the case.
I also want to thank our many community partners and elected officials who have welcomed me to the community, some of whom are with us today to join in celebration. I especially want to thank Pastor Jim O’Hanlon for his helping me get connected in our local interfaith community.
Next: to our many lay leaders whose volunteerism and commitment to this community make us who we are. To Fran Miller and Joyce Askinasi, who chaired this event, thank you, as well as to everyone whose donations enabled us to celebrate in style.
Thanks also to our co-presidents Margot Metzger and Joanie Rosenbaum who have led our community through this period of transition, as well as to all of the members of our executive committee, board and committees for their leadership. And a special thank you to Elaine Haber and Josh Goldowsky, whose efforts brought me to KTI.
On a personal note: thank you to all of my friends and family who came today, in particular my parents, who raised me in a synagogue and who set me on the path that led to this moment. My grandfather is also here today, 92 years young, whose love for his family is boundless. Thank you also to my siblings and Westchester advance team, Ethan and Shoshi Levin Goldberg. Being so close by to you as you became parents has been one of the most precious blessings of this year.
And finally, aharon aharon haviv, to my husband Daniel. When we told people that we were going to get married, move, and I would start a new job as a solo congregational rabbi all within 2 months’ time, well, people thought we were kind of insane. But it actually all felt very natural as we quickly settled in to a new routine. Daniel, I could not do my job without your ongoing encouragement, flexibility and positive attitude. And, to let you all in on a little secret: most of my better ideas are actually Daniel’s. Thank you all for the warm welcome you have given him and us. We do not take it for granted.
Thank you all for being here today. What a pleasure it has been this almost-year getting to know this community. Even in just this short time we’ve been through so much together. We’ve celebrated Shabbat and holidays and b’nai mitzvah and baby namings and aufrufs. We’ve gotten to know each other at meals in my home and in yours. We’ve had more meetings than I could count, and lots of cups of coffee at Starbucks on Thursday mornings. We’ve been through difficult moments together, too, like the response to the synagogue shootings in Pittsburgh and Poway. But through it all, it’s been a wonderful year of growth as I begin my rabbinic career here.
In a recent article, Rabbi Elliott Cosgrove of Park Avenue Synagogue reflected on his reaching 20 years as a rabbi, and the changes he has seen in American Judaism in that time. He described the fast-changing reality all of us confront, as all social institutions, synagogues included, try to keep pace with dramatic technological and social changes. In such an environment, where the old expectations and structures simply no longer apply, Rabbi Cosgrove called for rabbinic leadership that is, he wrote, “able to hustle for every soul, presenting itself as both authentic and non-judgmental.”
That’s quite a tall order. One the one hand, rabbis—I—have to be authentic. I have to express my real self and stand for the not-obvious proposition that our ancient tradition has much to offer us today. But I also have to express that authenticity in a non-judgmental way, in a way that is open to the experience and lives of the people I seek to serve. And I also have to hustle, putting in the persistent, patient hard work to building my community one person at a time. Like I said, a tall order, full of tension and complexity.
Key to that kind of leadership, I think, is vision: articulating where I’d like to go and inviting others along for the ride. Vision emerges where my training, values, and personality meet the strengths, realities, and potential of this community as I’ve come to know it these past months. So I want to try to articulate a vision for us as we go forward together.
A few weeks ago, I had the great pleasure in participating in a bet din, a rabbinic court, that a local colleague convened so that a man could convert to Judaism. During our customary interview of the prospective convert, he said that even though he had been studying Judaism for a year, he still felt that there was a lot he didn’t know and needed to learn. “I feel that way, too” I replied. “And that feeling doesn’t go away.”
I meant it. We are the proud inheritors of a long, rich, and nuanced tradition that continues to unfold even in our own day. Given the vastness of our inheritance, there necessarily will always be more to learn, always be more ways all of us can grow as Jews and as people. As Cantor Sklar sang for us so beautifully a moment ago, “lo alecha hamlacha ligmor—it is not upon you to finish the work; v’lo attah ben chorin l’hibatel mimena—but you are not free to excuse yourself from it.”
So the vision for our community begins with lots of individuals deciding not to excuse themselves from the work. This, of course, takes many forms. It requires people of all kinds and with all kinds of talents to make any community vibrant. It can be as simple as just showing up for the first time at a service or a class or a program or a meeting. It can be performing a mitzvah with greater frequency or depth.
The opportunities are there and can be found with a little persistence and effort. I am eager to be your guide. Yes, I know there are lots of demands on your time and attention. But as I often say, just like anything else worthwhile, there are no shortcuts. You will get as much out of your Jewish life as you put into it.
But the vision does not stop there. With our intimate size and deep roots, we have the potential to be the Cheers synagogue—the place where everybody knows your name, and they’re always glad you came. We are a place where everyone matters, where no one is dispensable. With this focus on relationship, on knowing and loving each other and committing to grow together, we can continue to evolve, as we have for the last 130 years, into a relationship-driven sacred community that meets the needs and aspirations of today’s Jews.
On the Jewish calendar, today is 14th of Iyyar, exactly one month since Passover, and is an obscure Jewish holiday known as Pesah Sheni, or second Passover. The Book of Numbers tells of people who were ritually impure and were therefore unable to offer the Passover sacrifice at the usual time. These people protested their exclusion from this defining ritual to Moses, who took their case to God. God then replies with instructions to allow those people to offer the sacrifice the following month.
We can draw several lessons from this episode. First, that our community cannot be a real community unless everyone feels included, heard, and taken seriously. Second, that it is never too late; there will always be opportunities for growth, change, and trying again.
And third: that Judaism is not something we just passively inherit and either accept or reject. Rather, Judaism grows in dynamic process with us, as we, Yisrael, we who wrestle with the human and the divine, continue to take our inheritance, as Jews, and as the KTI community in particular, and find ways to rework it for the present and the future.
Our individual growth as Jews and the growth in the depth of relationships among our community will propel us forward into the coming months and years. I feel a tremendous sense of privilege to go on this journey with you. Together may we go from strength to strength.