I cannot believe that we are at my concluding sermon at the Jericho Jewish Center. I began at JJC 5 years ago with Parshat Korach. Now we are back in Numbers at Parshat Behaalotecha.
A little known theory about the Book of Numbers is that some assert it is 3 books. The first is what we have read up until now; the second is formed by two verses from our liturgy, one of which is well-known, and the third is what comes after those verses. The verses, which are set apart by upside-down nuns, read “When the ark was carried, Moses said, ‘Arise Adonai and scatter your enemies, make those who hate you flee from before you!’” and “When the ark was returned, he said ‘Return Adonai to the myriads of Israel.’” These words of war became memorialized at the core of our central service, the Torah Service. The traditional commentary is that these lines comprise a break between the punishment that came before, when the tablets were broken, and the punishment that comes after, when the people complain about how good it was in Egypt. For two verses we are away from the reality of our stiff-necked ancestors attacking Moses, hearing instead the “rallying cry” that united them in fighting their enemies to conquer our ancestral homeland.
What does this have to do with us? Both the ark and the proclamation as it was carried forth served to unite our people. Similarly, the sounding of the shofar was a call for unification before battle. It is my hope that the Jericho Jewish Center will remain united at this moment of transition. Transitions are often difficult, bringing a sense of uncertainty and of fear. We often say in life “better the one you know than the one you don’t.” Yet transitions are beautiful opportunities for organizations to reevaluate themselves: who they are and what they stand for. The liminal moment, or transformative point, is the time to set apart what came before from what is yet to be.
I will never forget the 4 Presidents I worked with at the Jericho Jewish Center. Mark Wilkow, who attended my wedding in Scottsdale and who really showed me the ropes when I came into the JJC very green and inexperienced, having never been the direct conduit with a Board or the one responsible for shaping the vision of a congregation. Mark organized 14 get-together events my first summer in Jericho. He also helped me get 120 people to my first Shabbat on the Beach and helped me created Hiking and Halacha and Friday Night Live. Martha Perlson and Diane Charet completely devoted themselves to JJC. Martha even worked here for a time as the Bookkeeper! I am indebted to them for their establishment of the Jericho STEM Preschool, which Ariela had the privilege of attending this year. Both have stayed involved at JJC, with Diane recently creating the Mitzvah 613 kippot for our new Torah initiative and Martha working on the finances of JJC. Richard Cepler I will refer to later in this speech. There are so many here who have helped us – but I would also be remiss if I did not publicly acknowledge my deep gratitude to Barbara Rosenblum – who has extended herself above and beyond for me and my family – as she has always done for the Jericho Jewish Center. I have learned so much in these 5 years and thank everyone, beginning with these Presidents, who helped me achieve so much, from 120 people at the inaugural Shabbat on the Beach to the establishment of a monthly Friday Night Live Service to the Mitzvah 613 Torah Initiative. Each of you has made me a stronger rabbi, and for that I thank you.
One of the things I am most proud of doing at JJC was our involvement in the Sulam for Emerging Leaders initiative with Anita Haut. Following a United Synagogue curriculum, we had eight 2-hour sessions of training Religious School and Schechter parents, pairing Jewish texts with leadership questions. Many of the emerging leaders who participated have occupied important positions on committees and on the Board of Trustees. I am grateful to Linda Sussman for introducing me to Sulam for Emerging Leaders. I have learned, not only from Ron Wolfson but also from personal experience, that the relationships formed are what is integral to congregational success. I am also grateful to those who bought into my vision of the Mitzvah 613 Torah Initiative for the creation of a new Torah which JJC can benefit from for years to come.
This transition will be difficult for many, including me, yet let us view it as an opportunity. Rabbi Matthew Abelson is coming into JJC with fresh eyes and enthusiasm. As a congregation, I know you will strengthen him just as you strengthened me. You are all such mentschlach and kind people and that will transfer over to your new partnership with Rabbi Abelson to ensure that the JJC continues to evolve into the best synagogue it can be.
I want to extend a very public and heartfelt thank you to our current president, Richard Cepler, who took on this role at my personal request. Richard – we’ve been through a lot together, and I know that your term as president has been far more challenging than anticipated originally. I would like the congregation to know how fortunate we all have been to have had Richard at the helm. Throughout the last year, Richard has remained a leader of high moral character and principles – a true mentsch. Richard – I want you to know how much I respect and admire your conduct throughout this transitional process, and how much I will always value your guidance and friendship.
As I leave the Jericho Jewish Center to embark on a new and uncharted chapter in our lives, I have such mixed emotions. Each of us in life learns to balance our many roles. We have our professional lives, our lives as family members – as spouses, as children, as parents – our lives within our communities and our own internal lives. It’s often difficult to find the formula to balance all of these components, and for many of us, this is a continual quest throughout life. As I look out at all of you here today, I want you to know that the hardest part for me in leaving is that I will miss all of you so very much. I see people here whose parents or spouses I buried, whose children I Bar or Bat Mitzvahed. I have officiated at some of your family weddings, as well as so many joyous births. Karina gave birth to both of our daughters here. They say “it takes a village to raise a child”, and the Jericho Jewish Center has been the village that has helped raise Ariela and watched her grow, as well as welcoming our Leora into the world. This congregation has been such a special and important part of our lives. We are so grateful and thank you for all of the love and care you have given our family during the last 5 years. Life moves on, but people are irreplaceable. I will always remember the goodness and values that are at the heart of this very special community.
From today’s Torah portion, when the ark was carried forth Israel proclaimed, “Arise G-d!”. As we both embark on new beginnings, it is my hope and prayer that the Jericho Jewish Center rise up in strength and with renewed spirit.