Erev Tov and Shanah Tovah!
Exactly a year ago, I was standing right here, on this bimah, nervous and excited, worried and ecstatic with joy, and yes, shvitzing as usual. I remember asking myself, “What is this New Year, 5777, going to look like? What are the goals that I would like to accomplish personally, as well as professionally with my new congregation, in both my spiritual and material homes? I also wished that my Ima and Abba were here with me to witness and be a part of this new spiritual journey we have all embarked on, together. And tonight, I am glad to report that my Ima and Abbah, Rivka and Itzik are indeed with us to share the beginning of this Jewish New Year 5778.
According to our ancient tradition, starting this evening, on Erev Rosh Ha’Shana, the end of the Hebrew month of Elul and the start of Tishrei, we begin a self-examination process called aseret yemei teshuva, the ten days of inwardly turning and returning as we spiritually transition from the passing year, to create a clean slate, in preparation for this Jewish New Year.
Tichleh shanah u’klaloteha, tachel shanah u’vir’choteha says the Talmud in Mishna Brachot, “There ends a year and its blights and a new one begins with its blessings.”
In Aramaic, “Elul” is the name of the last Hebrew month. It means “to search.” “Tishrei” is the name of the first Hebrew month, and it means “to begin.” How befitting, while we search within our hearts and souls contemplating the past year, we also prepare ourselves to begin the coming year, it’s like and annual reboot! Hatchalot Chadashot (new beginnings).
For me, it’s been an amazing year of growth through introspection, and self-evaluation. Like everyone else, I have slipped here and there, but I have tried to the best of my ability to follow up with a Tikkun, an amending, of any errors. It’s been a year of hopes, disappointments, triumphs, and everything else that‘s part of the life of your crazy, hot-blooded-Israeli-momma of a rabbi.
Wow. It’s been a year already.
We’ve said a fond farewell to our beloved Ellen Goldin, who passed the Educator’s torch with a warm welcome to Marian Gorewitz Kleinman. We thanked our outgoing president Janice Paul for outstanding service for the past three years, and welcomed Joan Gottlieb who we wish a wonderfully rewarding next two years. And through it all, our one and only amazing Cantor Emeritus Charles Romalis is still here with us, as he has been here for the past nearly 52 years. How incredible is that?!
In looking back over the past year, my major Cheshbon Ha’nefesh (taking inventory while soul-searching), has been about whether I have served you properly, my beloved congregants: Have I done right by you, Temple Beth Tikvah’s community of awesome individuals? Have I disappointed or hurt anyone unknowingly? Have I been patient enough and been available to really listen enough? Have I made decisions that brought us closer toward healing and wholesome growth?
As I have considered these questions, as your new rabbi, I have looked back on the personal and professional goals that I set for myself, and for us as a congregation in transition.
Gratefully, I have achieved some of my personal goals. Dave and I are so very happy in our new home in Pines Lake, with our new friends, and our healthy dogs. “Tfu tfu tfu,” as my Ima always says. I’ve also gone back to exercising and to eating a much healthier diet. And life in general is really, really – tfu tfu tfu – good! As for my congregational and professional life, I chose three sets of goals to work on, which I want to review with you now.
My first set of goals had to do with the Ritual Committee:
We made many changes thanks to a highly functional, vibrant, fun, and committed group of individuals chaired by Bruce Skolnick with the help of his wife Kerry. Meeting at least than once a month, the Ritual Committee discusses ways to enrich the spiritual lives of all our congregants, of all ages.
As a result, tomorrow morning, for the first time in Temple Beth Tikvah’s history, our children are going to have a full High Holy Day experience, joined by their families and friends — a whole-family experience of Rosh Ha’Shanah and Yom Kippur services. Moreover, our Committee also worked hard on replacing Temple Beth Tikvah’s former prayer books. Although the new siddur, Mishkan Tefila, has taken some getting used to, the idea of joining the rest of the Reform Movement’s usage of this magnificently creative book, seems now to have settled nicely into the hearts and spiritual lives of most of our members.
My second set of goals had to do with technology:
Coming from Silicon Valley, I was quite astonished to realize that our office was still using a pen and paper calendaring system, as well as a website sorely in need of modernization. I am happy to report that our Temple’s staff now mostly stays in synch via web-based calendaring, and you can find all the Temple’s news and information on a dynamic re-designed website. The website came about from the efforts of many people. Thanks go out to the hubbitzen Dave Simerly, Lee Weisberger, Ken Lang, Joan Gottlieb, Harvey The Torah Hendler, Jay Stack, and everyone else who has done such good work on this.
My third set of goals and perhaps THE most challenging was to create a new Bar and Bat Mitzvah Program, including weaning our students from their dependence on using transliterated Hebrew text. Thanks to Ellen Goldin and Cantor Romalis, together, we created a highly comprehensive Bar/Bat Mitzvah Handbook, which details the specific process of this important life cycle event, a highlight of our thirteen year olds’ Jewish experience. We are so excited that our Bar/Bat Mitzvah Program, together with our new Siddur Mishkan Tefila, will be initiated in November with the Bat Mitzvah of Riley Hiller, our first seventh grader to become a Bat Mitzvah this year.
While looking back at what we accomplished together this past year, I want us to also note that sometimes not achieving the goals we set out to achieve is okay. As we each look back on this past year, we have to remember to be compassionate towards ourselves when we perceive that we have not met all the goals we set out for ourselves — because sometimes that leads us to grow in unexpected new directions.
To illustrate this let me tell you a short well-known Chassidic story:
Shloymeh Vasserman lived in the old Polish town of Mojzits. Shloymeh and his wife Feigie owned a small but flourishing business of water-drawing and delivering, from the brook of fresh water just outside their town. Four days a week, the couple would deliver water to all the other Mojzits families.
For his business Shloymeh used two large pots, each hung on the ends of a pole, which he carried across his neck. Every morning Shloymeh would pray Shacharit, thank God for the blessings in his life, then embark on his way down to the brook, to fill up the pots. One of the pots had a crack in it, while the other pot was perfect and always delivered a full portion of water. At the end of the long walk from the brook to the house, the cracked pot arrived only half full.
This went on daily, with Shloymeh delivering only one and a half pots full of water to his clients. Of course, the perfect pot was proud of its accomplishments, perfect for which it was made. But the poor cracked pot was ashamed of its own imperfection, and miserable that it was able to accomplish only half of what it had been made to do.
After two years of what it perceived to be a bitter failure, the cracked pot spoke to Shloymeh one day by the stream. “I am ashamed of myself, because this crack in my side causes water to leak out all the way back to your house.” Shloymeh said to the pot, “Did you notice that there were flowers only on your side of the path, but not on the other pot’s side? That’s because I have always known about your flaw, and I planted flower seeds on your side of the path, and every day while we walk back, you’ve watered them. For two years, I have been able to pick these beautiful flowers to bring to my wife Faigaleh, who would welcome me with arms wide open and a big smile on her face. Without you being just the way you are, there would not be any flowers to brighten my wife’s day, and bring beauty to our home.”
This story teaches us about the concepts of “perfection” on the one hand and “failure” on the other, and all the possibilities that lie in between those two polarities. While we must set goals so we can continue to live a meaningful life, we must also remember that sometimes success is measured by unforeseen consequences.
Many of us have examples of setting goals that resulted in a different outcome than expected. Our Sages said: “We have no understanding of the energy that God planted within our souls. Therefore, God has to test us to bring forth those treasures that are buried deep within ourselves and make us unique.” In other words, God sees the greatness and gifts within us. Our job in this lifetime is to uncover those gifts and use them, in order to manifest that greatness.
Our congregation has gone through a shift and needs to focus itself on revival. We have to continue to let go of the stale in order to bring about renewal. Thus, we need to explore how we relate to these topics now— What do we still want to hold onto? What do we need to let go of? How do we re-focus on what is still relevant and how do we let go of what no longer serves us or our community?
For me, one of the greatest challenges has been the idea of “disappointing.” I can’t stand that I may have hurt people by not calling them, or wishing them well on time. It hurts me to know that someone may have felt left out, uncared for, unnoticed or ignored.
One of my goals for this year is to try to reach out to everyone.
Some wonderful people at Temple Beth Tikvah have been my God-sent angels. The word angel means not only a higher being, but also a messenger. My angels, my messengers, have been whispering in my ear of those in need of extra TLC, a hug, a phone call, or a visit from their rabbi. So beloved congregants of mine, be my angels and help me achieve this year’s goal. Tell me about yourself, or someone you’ve heard about, and what it is I can do to help.
So while I have all of you here with me this evening, and before you fall asleep, because it’s getting to be bedtime – I will ask you to consider why have you chosen to be with us here, at TBT to celebrate a new year of goal-setting and opportunities, a new year of spiritual engagements? Could it be that because, although we are not perfect, we do have the highest of intentions, willingness and guts to grow, and that we strive to be better than we have ever been?
Like the broken pot in the story, you may be frustrated sometimes, because our actions do not appear to produce a desirable outcome, immediately. But please remember that every action may result in unexpected new growth that we can all enjoy together.
Because you chose to be here with us this evening, I will say this to each and all of you: Temple Beth Tikvah has been around for the past sixty years and we will continue to grow together. Some of us will never be fully satisfied, or fully understand why our leadership chose to do this, or that, or the other thing. However, through your participation and your continued support, financially and spiritually, you will help us to set our goals and achieve them. Your support will be the water that will make fresh flowers, our next generation of Jews, grow and thrive.
I will end here with a prayer for this new year: “God, we thank You for today. Thank You for the inspiration You give us to dream, and to set goals for ourselves. We pray for all of us: women, men, and children to have goals and dreams that we desire to see happen. We realize we are not guaranteed a “certain tomorrow,” but setting goals gives us the motivation to live out each day purposefully and with direction.
Help us to accomplish our needs in order to move on, and accomplish even more in this lifetime. We have so much to offer to our family, friends, community as well as people in general. Help us to spiritually grow however we need to find our purpose.
Open Your Gates for us, Adonai, we ask that you open them wide. Help us set our goals, personally and communally, and then equip us with Your wisdom to fulfill them. Fill our hearts and minds with your awesome purpose, and inspire our lives with your many blessings.
Shanah Tovah to everyone: here is to a year filled with the blessing of doing what is right and what is good. Ken yehi ratzon, may this be our, and God’s will, as we work towards achieving our goals, together.
Our Choir now will join together in singing Pitchu Li, Open the Gates for Us, on p. 267 in the Machzor.