Friends, what a lovely evening this has been, and what an incredible moment for all of us. I think it best that I keep my remarks brief, as so many others have spoken so beautifully, and because in just over a week I am charged with standing in front of this congregation at our annual meeting to give, what has been explained to me as, the synagogue version of the state of the union.
Since I learned that I was to be Temple Israel’s 42nd Rabbi, I’ve been reading a lot of history, not only of this congregation, but of the evolving role of the rabbi throughout the centuries. In my studies, I came across a work by David Caro, published 30 years before Temple Israel’s beginning. David Caro, a Jewish educator and leader, drew up the first extensive program for what he called “a modernized rabbinate.” In two years, this work will be 200 years old, but quite a bit of it rung true to me. Caro stated that the rabbi should be “chosen for his moral conduct…his clear knowledge not just of Talmud but of all aspects of the Jewish religion, his attainments in secular studies, his ability to teach with enthusiasm, and his capacity to judge religious matters knowledgably and fairly.” It’s an extensive charge and one I strive to live up to each and every day.
Yet still Caro goes on, saying that above all, “the rabbi should be a mofet, a model for the modern Jew,” and this characteristic he noted was “worth a thousand sermons.” Caro, of course, is right. No words, not the most beautiful, not the most powerful, can be as transformative as a man or woman who leads through righteous action. I believe, however, that if Caro were to write his analysis in today’s world, witnessing the needs of Reform Jews in the modern era, he would say that not only should the rabbi be a mofet, but those historic, long-standing congregations, who count themselves as the founding members of the Reform Movement, should also be a model to Jews and congregations everywhere. Temple Israel, founded in 1849, joined the Union of American Hebrew Congregations in 1874, and has since then proudly flown the flag of progress, reform, and morality. Since arriving at Temple Israel, I have continually taught that we must not only keep up with the movement but be at the forefront of experimentation, and have thus attempted to put into practice the newest and best scholarship, minhag, and programs.
Standing in front of you tonight, I vow to make sure Temple Israel not only follows pace with the movement, but leads it. Small, but mighty, our congregation has the experience, enthusiasm, and beauty some Jewish congregations only dream of. Together, we have the ability to be a microcosm for the American Reform experience; we have the flexibility to experiment and innovate, a way of life we have been living for the past 10 months and for which we are seeing the fruits of our labor.
Recently, we were visited by a board member of the Union for Reform Judaism, who was passing through for personal reasons. At oneg after Shabbat, I spoke to him telling him that I’m certain it is easy for the URJ to look to places like Wise Temple in Cincinnati, Beth Elohim in Wellesley, or Central Synagogue in New York City, those thousand family congregations, to help steer the movement, but that if they were to look closer at the small congregations throughout the country, the Temple Israels, they might just see the power of a grassroots Reform movement that they have been missing.
Temple Israel has been there since the beginning, but I have never been more confident in this place, because of the amazing lay leaders on our board and committees and in the pews. When the newest Torah scholarship comes to light from Hebrew University or Hebrew Union College, we read it, we learn it; when we hear the latest music in the movement, we learn it, we sing it; when we see a challenge in the local community or the world, we stand up and go fix it; and when the Reform Movement asks how we can create flourishing congregations, how we can grow membership and attract young families, how we can make the synagogue the bridge to people’s passions and joys…we answer, we create, we lead the pack.
It’s hard work, it’s constant work, but it’s holy work, and it’s work I can’t wait to keep doing with all of you.
May we all be blessed with success, good health, and joy as we continue this journey together. Thank you for this opportunity, and for making this an amazing home for me and my family.