60th Anniversary Shabbat

We have come a long way as a congregation over the course of our 60 years. From modest beginnings in someone’s home, to the groundbreaking on this building in 1960, to the expansion of our building in 1973 to the renovations of the sanctuary and the downstairs, we have certainly taken great pride in our house of worship. Most congregations of 60 years have gone through great changes yet we have remained relatively stable, with 3 rabbis and 2 cantors over that time. Our Religious School has received the designation Framework of Excellence from the United Synagogue of Conservative Judaism, and our Nursery School is entering an exciting new venture as a STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering and Math) school. It is very fitting that we celebrate this momentous anniversary.

In our tradition, 60 is the halfway point between birth and death. It’s a time for evaluation of where we’ve come and where we want to be headed during our next 60 years. What do we want the Jericho Jewish Center to look like for our children and grandchildren? How will we shape our synagogue to continue to be a center of spiritual relevance, a place where people come to celebrate birthdays and anniversaries, bar/bat mitzvot and weddings, transitions into retirement and adult b’nai mitzvot?

It’s no accident that we chose to celebrate our anniversary tomorrow, on Yom Yerushalayim. The ability to return to our holy sites is something those two generations back could not have fathomed. As the psalmist said, this return to our historic homeland and our holiest city felt as if we were dreaming.[1] I think of the paratroopers, many of whom were secular, weeping beside the Kotel, feeling something spiritual inside them welling up as they returned to the place where their ancestors lived 2000 years prior. How wonderful that we will be able to celebrate our own accomplishments and achievements as a congregation on this same date.

It is so special to have those who grew up at the Jericho Jewish Center and who have become successes in their own rite, Billy Stein and Melissa Hartman, returning to their roots to sing alongside Cantors Barry Black and Israel Goldstein. There’s something truly special about this merger of our past with our present, combining joyous memories from times long ago with our vibrancy as a congregation today.

In this week’s Torah reading, we conclude the Holiness Code, the model for how we are supposed to conduct ourselves as Jews. As the opening line of the portion states, through following G-d’s laws and observing His commandments, we will have everything that we need, not requiring anything else. We need halacha, the corpus of Jewish law, in order to guide our decisions. Halacha is also connected to halicha, the path in which we walk in life. Those who came before us set us on a good path, one which valued tradition and precedent yet also gave us the opportunity to try new things and continue to blaze our trail forward.

My vision for JJC is that we will continue to value both tradition and change, being a community of communities; that our services will both speak to our regulars but that we will also have offerings for those who are joining our ranks, such as alternative Friday night and Shabbat morning family services. In an age with numerous extracurriculars and diversions, it is challenging to get people to join a congregation, all the more so to participate in its events. I take great pride in hearing when congregants rearrange their schedules to come to our Friday Night Live services or when they commit to attending 7 evening sessions in our Sulam for Emerging Leaders program and follow through on it. This tells me that people feel that JJC is a second home to them, that they are proud to be members here and want to engage with us on a regular basis. This can only be done through tapping into who people are and what they value and providing those services at JJC. It takes a lot of hard work, and we are starting to see the payoff. My favorite activities that we do are those which are led by the initiative, foresight and hard work of our members, such as Sherwin and Hanit bringing the Israeli musician Idan Raichel to JJC, Steve Wishner teaching us how to brew beer with Hops and Halacha or Jill Guttman teaching us how to make mandel bread. Through getting at the core of what motivates people, we succeed in capitalizing on it and making them active members of JJC who care about our congregation and strive to make it successful. Too often we think solely of numbers, not recognizing that the quality and ingenuity of our membership supersedes the quantity.

I would imagine that if our founding members were here looking at the Jericho Jewish Center, they would recognize aspects of our congregation but not others. However, they would take immense pride in seeing from where we’ve come and that we are doing our best to provide a strong house of worship for generations yet to come. I’d like to think that they would understand that though certain things look different than they’re accustomed to, we need to continue to adapt to modern realities-in Mordechai Waxman’s words, we need to engage in both tradition and change.

Similarly, we have no idea what the Jericho Jewish Center will look like 60 years from now. I’m sure some aspects of it would surprise us but we’d understand that those who follow us are doing their best to meet the Jewish needs of their generation, creating a strong, compelling house of worship in an age where all are Jews by choice.

Thank you for being members of the Jericho Jewish Center, whether for 1 year, for 60 or somewhere in between, for believing in our congregation and for continuing to support it over the years. I’m sure you have seen a great deal of changes but one thing that has not changed is your devotion and dedication to your congregational family. Tomorrow we will present each member with a certificate honoring you for your commitment to our House of Worship. For today I will simply say, Thank You for your support and for all that you do to strengthen our congregation.

[1] Based off Psalm 137

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