This past Shabbat, I was honored during the Shabbat morning service as I prepare to retire from the position of rabbi of Beth Israel Congregation. The service included special group aliyot and participation from members our Interfaith organization, the Interfaith Round Table of Washtenaw County. It was a truly an unforgettable morning for me.
Here is the sermon that I delivered.
FROM 1968 to 2018
First, I want to take this opportunity to thank the members of the planning committee for your efforts in planning this morning’s service. I am truly honored and deeply appreciative.
Fifty years ago this morning, I stood as a bar mitzvah on the bima of Congregation Kehillath Israel in Brookline, Massachusetts. KI, at the time, was one of the strongest congregations of the Conservative movement and I will say some more about that during our conversation following the kiddush. However, a Bar Mitzvah at KI was not such a big production. The Bar Mitzvah said the Torah blessings, chanted the Haftarah and read an original prayer. That was all. There were no exceptions.
Compared to Beth Israel where the bar or bat mitzvah is encouraged to lead more of the service and to share his or her personal thoughts in a d’var torah, the process of writing the bar mitzvah prayer at KI was somewhat perfunctory as I recall. We had a meeting with the assistant Rabbi who, in essence, told us what to say and, more importantly, what not to say. And, each prayer was very much the same.
Believe it or not, I found my prayer a few months ago as we were going through some old family documents and I will share it with you this morning.
God, king of the universe:
On this Shabbat as I take my place as a Bar Mitzvah, I am proud to become a part of the long and wonderful Jewish history. I pray that I may live a meaningful life based on the Torah and the Jewish traditions. As I grow older, I pray that I may be able to continue my studies so that I can become an active member of the Jewish community.
I pray that my parents, grandmother, brother and my teachers who have taught me about my heritage and have given love and guidance, will be blessed with long life and peace.
May I be able to help my fellowman while I strive to improve myself. I pray that the day will come when all men will learn to help their neighbors and respect one another so that there may be peace and progress in the world.
I love that line about becoming an “active member of the Jewish community.”
The prayer is certainly nice. But it is not very personal. It probably could have been given by any of the 30 or so b’nai mitzvah that year.
But, it was a start.
14 years later, almost to the day, I was given another opportunity to read a personal prayer as I was chosen by my classmates to write and read a prayer during our Jewish Theological Seminary ordination ceremony.
Reading it today, on this Shabbat, as I look back on 36 years as a congregational Rabbi, and 30 years here at Beth Israel, one sentence is particularly important to me.
Avinu shebashamayim, tzur Yisrael v’goalo
Our Heavenly Father, Rock and Redeemer of Israel.
We stand before You and before Your people prepared to assume the awesome responsibility of leadership. Before we take our first steps, we pause to ask that Your blessings of health and peace be upon our teachers whose dedication will be reflected in each word of Torah which we teach. We also ask Your blessings upon our families whose love and support have brought us to this day.
And, finally, for ourselves, we ask for patience, respect and dedication. May we, who began the road to this day with dreams, ideals and aspirations, remain dedicated to those dreams and goals. May you grant us the wisdom to realize that we can best achieve the goals we set for ourselves by remaining dedicated to our responsibility: teaching our communities by example the values of Torah, Avodah and Gemillut Hasadim, Torah, service to God and acts of lovingkindness.
The line that means the most to me, 36 years later, is “May we who began the road to this day with dreams, ideals and aspirations, remain dedicated to those dreams and goals.”
While I won’t claim that each and every hour of every day of the past 36 years has been a spiritually elevating moment and reflective of Torah, Avodah and Gemillut Hasadim, I can honestly and sincerely say to my 27 year old self that I have never forgotten that that goal is what the rabbinate is about.
And, for that, I am proud. But, more than proud, I am grateful.
I am Grateful to God and I am grateful to you.
You have inspired me to teach Torah. You have continued to make our services and religious ritual the centerpiece of the congregation and you have responded to the call to make this congregation known for acts of loving-kindness and efforts for tikkun olam, repairing the world.
I have not done it alone. I could not have done it alone. I want to thank the staff of the Congregation, present and past for all that you have done for our synagogue and the community and all you have done to inspire me personally.
I want all of you to know that when those days came when I was tired or a bit cynical or just not living up to the challenge I set for myself in that prayer, it was your encouragement, your smiles, your questions and challenges, and even the sadness that you trusted me enough to share, that reminded me of why I chose to be a Rabbi and how fortunate I am to have come to Beth Israel.
I can never put into words all that you mean to me.
I have written another prayer, a special prayer for this morning, a prayer of thanks and with that I will conclude.
Boraynu shebashamayim,our creator, modeh ani lifanecha, I am grateful to You.
I am grateful for the inspiration you have given me. I am grateful for the health that I have been blessed with and the energy and patience to continue to try to fulfill the obligations I took on decades ago.
I am grateful, O God for your Torah and for the ability to teach and inspire others with its wisdom: the most important gift we have, as Jews to share with the world.
To my family: Ellen, Avi, Mickie and all of the animals as well, Modeh ani lifnechem, I am grateful to you in more ways than you will ever know for your patience with me, your inspiration to me, for the glow in your eyes which reminds me every moment of every day that I am so fortunate. You remind me every day that life is a miracle and that we must find ways to make the most of that life every single day.
And to the members of Beth Israel Congregation, Modeh ani lifneychem, I am so, so grateful to you for giving me the opportunity to be the rabbi that I always dreamed of being.
As you take your first steps to the future with a new leader, I pray you will never forget that a synagogue is about Torah, Avodah and Gemillut Hasadim. Learn Torah together, serve God together, change the world for the better and most importantly, take care of each other and treat each other well.
4 thoughts on “SERMON FOR THE SPECIAL SHABBAT OF REFLECTION AND CELEBRATION”
You have always been an inspiration, a leader and a guide, a role model. You have been there for your congregation in times of joy and sorrow. Thank you.
Thank you Fran. I appreciate the kind words!
YOU are the best and down-to-earth rabbi, whom I have ever met. Your teachings in Lunch and Learn were inspiring at each and every lesson, and I always looked forward to those Wednesdays. Your teachings came from your heart’s heart, to guide us with overwhelming patience. Your sermons, always at my level of understanding, as was this one, which you have just delivered. I can attest to that because I was The Fly on the Wall….LOL You have the gift to speak and teach on each congregant’s level, so I have been fortunate to learn and grow in my limited knowledge of the Torah and Mishana because of your wise words. I can’t believe it, but it’s been 8-1/2 years since I moved out of Ann Arbor, and now am attending Kehillath Israel with pride – your Bar Mitzvah ‘playground’:-) Would love to have you come to speak to/wish us. I am grateful for you AND your family’s contributions – the many pets too:-) Your Torah study, Avodah and Gemillut Hasadim is an ongoing avoda, and I am sure that I can speak for many of us, and say that WE are grateful for YOU!!! “Veshamru B’nai Israel et Hashabbat…..” Love you ALWAYS. Lea.
Thank you so much, Lea!!!