She’hechiyanu, v’kiyimanu v’higiyanu lazmana hazeh.
I’d like to spend the next few moments saying thank you to many, but first and foremost to Hashem. Even ma’asu habonim haysah l’rosh pinah. Thank you Hashem, for lifting me up, for giving me the strength, and for bringing me and all of us to this day.
Thank you to our parents for your ongoing and incredible support; for putting us on this path, and for giving us a model to strive for.
To our children, Tehila, Shlomo, Shira, Riki, and Miri – it’s not always easy being the “rabbi’s children.” We are grateful to you for filling this role with poise and patience. Just because we are the last people to leave shul does not mean you’re not the most important people in our lives.
There are many mentors, representing a variety of institutions, who could not be here today for a host of reasons, but I’d be remiss if I did not mention them on this day; Rav Eliezer Breitowitz of Darchei Torah, Rav Blachman of Kerem B’Yavneh, Rav Yossi Elefant of the Mirrer Yeshiva, Rav Tzvi Berkowitz and Rav Ezra Neuberger of Ner Yisroel, and Rav Moshe Hauer, Executive Vice President of the Orthodox Union. Having role models and people to discuss the big issues in life has ensured that I have never become complacent, seeing in them the heights towards which I need to strive.
I want to thank our rabbi emeritus, Rabbi Landau, who also cannot be here today. The bracha I give to any rabbi taking over a shul with a rabbi emeritus is that their rabbi emeritus should be even half as menschlich, as classy, as kind, as Rabbi Landau has been to me.
I want to thank all of you, friends and family from near and far for joining us today for this celebration. It’s truly touching to see you all here.
On behalf of Shomrei Emunah, thank you Rabbi Marwick for keeping your drasha short this week so you could make it over here on time. Thank you for being a true friend and for honoring us with your presence.
Three people need to be mentioned who worked tirelessly to put this Shabbos together – Adina Burstyn, Rob Birenbaum, and Pini Zimmerman.
I want to share with you a story that I shared with you ten years ago. I meant it then, but I really really mean it now. It’s a story of a mayor walking through his town with his wife. The two of them walk by a construction site, and the mayor’s wife stops to speak to one of the workers. After a nice little chat, they walk on. The mayor quizzically turns to his wife; “Who was that?” And she says, “Oh, he was someone I dated before you.”
The mayor smiles, “Ha. Aren’t you happy you married me? If I hadn’t come along, today, you’d be married to a construction worker.”
To which she replied. “Not exactly. If I had married him, he would now be the mayor.”
Rabbi Akiva’s words of sheli v’shelachem shelah fall pathetically short… Thank you Hindy for being my rock, my light, and my partner in everything we are celebrating today.
The Gemara tells us of a man who lived approximately 2300 years ago while the Temple still stood in Yerushalayim. His mother really, really, wanted him to be a Kohein Gadol, the High Priest. The only problem was that he was completely unqualified. He wasn’t knowledgeable in Torah at all. He wasn’t even a baal middos, a man of good character.
But she was determined, so you know what she did? She paid a tremendous bribe and got him the job. (You may have heard of her. She used to play Rebecca Donaldson on Full House…) Her name was Marta ben Baisus. And his name, this ignoramus, the uncouth man who became the high Priest, his name was Yehoshua ben Gamla. Remember that name.
There is another Talmudic passage in Bava Basra that says there was a time when parents weren’t teaching their children Torah and the Torah was almost forgotten entirely. Imagine that! Until one man came along who found teachers, created the first Jewish school system, taught all the Jewish children, and thanks to his creative and bold vision, the Torah was not forgotten. Guess what his name was?
Yehoshua ben Gamla.
Now, there are those who say there were two Yehoshua ben Gamlas. One was a great scholar and teacher, and one was completely ignorant. But the Sefas Emes suggests that there was really only one. And he knew nothing at all. To the point that his mother had to bribe his way into the priesthood. But you know what happened? When he was appointed Kohein Gadol, he was treated like a High Priest. People would ask him questions, people would look up to him, and that changed the way he thought of himself. He started studying, he started practicing, he started growing, and eventually he became this great man who saved all of Jewry. Ilmalei hu, without him, nishtakach Torah miYisrael, the Torah would have been completely forgotten. But, the Sefas Emes points out, without the people who looked up to him there would be no Rav Yehoshua ben Gamla.
Ten years ago, this congregation took a tremendous risk. A young guy, a really young guy, with virtually no experience, was voted in as rabbi. You gave me respect I did not yet earn, you supported me, and you believed in me. Yes, today, we are celebrating what Hindy and I have accomplished over these ten years. But trust me when I tell you, without your constant and unwavering support, without your belief in us, there would be no accomplishments to celebrate. So thank you! Thank you to the leadership … and thank you to every member of our shul, every member of this community, for taking someone who was barely qualified for this job and giving me the wings, the confidence, and support to accomplish all that we have done.
Commemorations are valuable insofar as they propel us forward. It’s not enough to pat ourselves on the back. Let’s take a moment to focus on the future.
Ten years ago, I stood up here and shared a vision for the shul. Truthfully, I didn’t really know you yet. I knew your names, but I didn’t really know who I was speaking to. As Hindy beautifully put it, over these ten years, we have grown a lot together. We have laughed together, we’ve shed a lot of tears together, we’ve struggled and triumphed together. Now, I feel like I do know you and I am humbled. Because I now know that I am standing before an incomparable group of people. Truly. The amount of major life changes that sits in this room; to have a kehillah of people who collectively have made such difficult and life-altering choices is unparalleled and humbling. The inner strength that sits in this room: the amount of people who have climbed their own Mt. Everest, not once but over and over and over again is unparalleled and humbling. The acceptance, the radical acceptance, the kindness and non-judgmentalism that is exhibited in this room day in and day out is unparalleled and humbling. The refreshing vulnerability and honesty that is on display in this room is unparalleled and humbling. I now know who I am talking to, and I am truly humbled to serve you as your rabbi.
So what’s our vision? What will our next ten years look like?
It goes without saying, there will be more Torah, more Tefilah, more chesed, more Mitzvos, more Eretz Yisrael, more personal growth. But it’s not just more. Not for a kehillah like this one.
There will be more Torah, but not just any Torah. Torah that is a Toras Chayim, we will continue to allow the light of Torah to shine everywhere, on every topic. We will continue to boldly question and grapple and grow. We will continue to be unafraid of where those questions may lead us. We will continue to ensure that Torah is accessible to all, of all backgrounds, men and women alike, and continue to search for our personal connection to Torah.
There will be more Tefilah, but not just any Tefilah. Tefilah that is vulnerable and experimental. We will continue to seek out ways to get past the mechanics of prayer and focus on G-d, on connecting ourselves emotionally and genuinely to our Father in Heaven.
There will be more chesed and kindness. We have set the bar on being an exceptionally accepting shul of people of all walks of life and we will continue to raise that bar over and over again.
This shul has a storied past. Over these ten years we have added fuel to our Ner Tamid, ensuring that it shines far beyond these four walls, through social media, through the community, through the world at large, and we will not lose sight of that role we play, individually and collectively.
Ladies and gentlemen, friends, it has been a great ten years, a growth-filled ten years, a memorable ten years. But let me tell you, with G-d’s help, we are just getting started.