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Rosh Hashanah 2011/5772 - Rabbi Stephen I. Kahn

Rabbi Stephen Kahn, Rosh Hashanah Morning  2011/5772

[1] “So they went both of them together… ” (Repeated Twice) [2]

Ramban (Nachmanides) teaches that the purpose of the test (of Abraham and Isaac) is to improve the character of the subject, and train an individual to do positive, good and self-realizing things to fill his or her spiritual potential. [3]

“And both of them went together.” Though their journey is weighed down with silence and gloom (not knowing what would happen next) they made the journey together. Both of them fully and equally share an awareness of the implications of their situation and, in Rashi’s words, do so “with an equal heart.” [4]

The Challenge

When times are filled with “silence and gloom” do we “walk together?”

Are we walking together during these troubling times? Are we walking together to find solutions? Are we walking together to bring our community the healing it so desperately needs in these years after the economic collapse? After we lost trust, faith and hope in our own friends?

The depth of the complexities, the struggles and even the “messiness,” of attempting to achieve a whole community for the Jewish People. As a community we face hard choices of mind, spirit and courage.

If I have learned anything it is that “community” cannot be understood in the abstract. It most certainly cannot be defined by any one person or institution regardless of their intentions. It cannot be dictated to us “from above,” in the “Ivory Towers” of think tanks and initiatives housed in New York, Columbus or Los Angeles. For in truth, the answers to all our questions are right here in this room.

Community is hard work! Achieving a whole community requires understanding where the “land mines” lie and how to maneuver through them. Community requires painful dialogue, sacrifice and fundamental understanding that our institutions have conflicting truths with the will and work and worth of the Jews within that community. Furthermore, community cannot be idealized euphemistically or otherwise under the guise of “community.”

Mostly, we cannot afford to sit back and watch and wait for others to do the work. We cannot wait and allow our generation – my generation- to be defined by what isn’t working, what isn’t effective. It’s time for everyone to roll up their sleeves, wipe off the dust of the seismic shifts and get to work. We are Congregation Beth Israel! We have been and always will be a pillar and our members have always been at the forefront of creating a real community!

Essential Community

Only very rarely has Jewish history known an era of so much creativity or innovation; no previous generation has possessed our resources and potential. [5]  One such example is our “Welcome Home Project.”

• In a single year we have served endless meals to those who have suffered a loss within our congregation

• In a single year we have welcomed thousands of members, guests and new faces into our Shul on Friday evenings.

• In a single year we have celebrated our Confirmands, provided beautification to our sacred spaces and places, shared in the joy of our connecting with wonderful food last night.

• In a single year we have called each new member personally to welcome them. Then we called them again to invite them to sit with us at Shabbat Services or have a meal. Then we are going to call them again to give them a “mentor” congregant.

• In a single year we have shown those who would define “community” in the abstract what community is in “real time,” but more importantly what community feels like…and it feels good, safe, warm and whole!

• In a single year we have meant something more to each other; reached out more to our fellow members in need.

• Just in this last month we provided weeks of meals to grieving families and shared baby baskets welcoming newborns into our community with love.

• Just in this last week we have given rides to a student whose father was dying and was going to miss Hebrew School, to a woman who has been at Chris Ridge and needed a ride to Shul for Yontif.

• Just this past month, Cantor Shpall initiated the B’nei Mitzvah mentor program where an adult member of the congregation is paired with a Bar or Bat Mitzvah student to rehearse with them in the final weeks before their simcha, give them encouragement and praise and then sit beside them on the bima during their Service.

• And each and every day, my dear colleague Rabbi Keller calls numerous members to wish them a happy birthday.

All of this, every single act and deed came from the heart of a volunteer; a fellow congregant; a member of this Holy Community acting in holiness for no other purpose than to serve. The Welcome Home Project is working because there are people who are willing to not just see the change through but to be that change themselves! We have learned, as the commentary points out, that it is much better to walk through the silence and gloom which exists in our world, when we share our hearts with each other.

What we have learned is that all of the new paradigms, the new infrastructures and ideas, the offerings of our congregants and our movement to the greater community are all here. Someone in this room has the next big idea; someone in this room represents a program or service which has not been realized yet; in this room is the next pioneer, the next innovator, the individuals who will enable our community to reach its highest potential. You are the answer!

Community Means Doing Something!

The time for whining, kvetching, antagonizing and scrutinizing in ways that are void of substance must come to an end. The negative energy is palpable and has impacted each one of us in ways that we both recognize and cannot see. I have neither the patience nor the time for individuals who speak so boldly and narrowly about community only to turn around and not share dreams, visions, service, support or resources to the very community they are so apt to criticize. To move toward greatness means opening our mind, ending the silliness and most of all not fearing risk.

As the new President of the Union for Reform Judaism stated this past spring, “To live in fear is not a plan – to only hope is not a strategy!” [6]  To live in a place where we are numb or even worse frozen because we are looking over our shoulders to the past is no option. To not move forward, think big and overcome our fear of failure or what others might think of us instead of opening the gates of our community and lifting the flaps of our tents wide would be un Jewish, or in the words of Abraham Joshua Heschel “the climax of absurdity.” [7]

So let us make this New Year the year for renewed dedication to our congregation and our community. To open our hearts and give of our spirits. To share our expertise and be assertive in our desires. To volunteer and contribute – one hour, one day more than before and make the abstract into a concrete vision for our future.

Hear the Shofar, the time is now! Listen to the sound; we are the descendants of Abraham who has bequeathed to us a great nation! Make an effort, do a Mitzvah, raise the bar, give support, engage in the process, think big, think about your children and grandchildren, do something, have a sweet year!

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[1] Please note that this is not the complete sermon which was delivered. Since I speak extemporaneously, the texts and manuscript were used as guidelines and not necessarily repeated verbatim.

[2] Genesis 22:7-8

[3] Nehama Leibowitz, Studies in Beresheet. (Jewish Agency at Hemed Press, Jerusalem Israel 4th Edition), page 191

[4] Ibid. page 200.

 

[5] Rabbi Richard Jacobs' Remarks to Board of Trustees Upon His Election as President of the URJ June 12, 2011.

[6] Ibid.

[7] Abraham Joshua Heschel, The Insecurity of Freedom: Essays on Human Existence. (Farrar, Straus & Giroux, New York) 1966, page 21.

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“And Both of Them Went Together”[1]

Delivered By: Rabbi Stephen Kahn

Rosh Hashanah Morning 5772 – September 29, 2011

Congregation Beth Israel – Scottsdale, Arizona

 

 

Texts

 

“So they went both of them together…[2]” (Repeated Twice)

 

Ramban (Nachmanides) teaches that the purpose of the test (of Abraham and Isaac) is to improve the character of the subject, and train an individual to do positive, good and self-realizing things to fill his or her spiritual potential.[3]

 

“And both of them went together.” Though their journey is weighed down with silence and gloom (not knowing what would happen next) they made the journey together. Both of them fully and equally share an awareness of the implications of their situation and, in Rashi’s words, do so “with an equal heart.”[4]

 

The Challenge

When times are filled with “silence and gloom” do we “walk together?”

Are we walking together during these troubling times? Are we walking together to find solutions? Are we walking together to bring our community the healing it so desperately needs in these years after the economic collapse? After we lost trust, faith and hope in our own friends?

 

The depth of the complexities, the struggles and even the “messiness,” of attempting to achieve a whole community for the Jewish People. As a community we face hard choices of mind, spirit and courage.

 

If I have learned anything it is that “community” cannot be understood in the abstract. It most certainly cannot be defined by any one person or institution regardless of their intentions. It cannot be dictated to us “from above,” in the “Ivory Towers” of think tanks and initiatives housed in New York, Columbus or Los Angeles. For in truth, the answers to all our questions are right here in this room.

Community is hard work! Achieving a whole community requires understanding where the “land mines” lie and how to maneuver through them. Community requires painful dialogue, sacrifice and fundamental understanding that our institutions have conflicting truths with the will and work and worth of the Jews within that community. Furthermore, community cannot be idealized euphemistically or otherwise under the guise of “community.”

 

Mostly, we cannot afford to sit back and watch and wait for others to do the work. We cannot wait and allow our generation – my generation- to be defined by what isn’t working, what isn’t effective. It’s time for everyone to roll up their sleeves, wipe off the dust of the seismic shifts and get to work. We are Congregation Beth Israel! We have been and always will be a pillar and our members have always been at the forefront of creating a real community!


Essential Community

Only very rarely has Jewish history known an era of so much creativity or innovation; no previous generation has possessed our resources and potential.[5] One such example is our “Welcome Home Project.”

· In a single year we have served endless meals to those who have suffered a loss within our congregation

· In a single year we have welcomed thousands of members, guests and new faces into our Shul on Friday evenings.

· In a single year we have celebrated our Confirmands, provided beautification to our sacred spaces and places, shared in the joy of our connecting with wonderful food last night.

· In a single year we have called each new member personally to welcome them. Then we called them again to invite them to sit with us at Shabbat Services or have a meal. Then we are going to call them again to give them a “mentor” congregant.

· In a single year we have shown those who would define “community” in the abstract what community is in “real time,” but more importantly what community feels like…and it feels good, safe, warm and whole!

· In a single year we have meant something more to each other; reached out more to our fellow members in need.

· Just in this last month we provided weeks of meals to grieving families and shared baby baskets welcoming newborns into our community with love.

· Just in this last week we have given rides to a student whose father was dying and was going to miss Hebrew School, to a woman who has been at Chris Ridge and needed a ride to Shul for Yontif.

· Just this past month, Cantor Shpall initiated the B’nei Mitzvah mentor program where an adult member of the congregation is paired with a Bar or Bat Mitzvah student to rehearse with them in the final weeks before their simcha, give them encouragement and praise and then sit beside them on the bima during their Service.

· And each and every day, my dear colleague Rabbi Keller calls numerous members to wish them a happy birthday.

 

All of this, every single act and deed came from the heart of a volunteer; a fellow congregant; a member of this Holy Community acting in holiness for no other purpose than to serve. The Welcome Home Project is working because there are people who are willing to not just see the change through but to be that change themselves! We have learned, as the commentary points out, that it is much better to walk through the silence and gloom which exists in our world, when we share our hearts with each other.

What we have learned is that all of the new paradigms, the new infrastructures and ideas, the offerings of our congregants and our movement to the greater community are all here. Someone in this room has the next big idea; someone in this room represents a program or service which has not been realized yet; in this room is the next pioneer, the next innovator, the individuals who will enable our community to reach its highest potential. You are the answer!

 

Community Means Doing Something!

The time for whining, kvetching, antagonizing and scrutinizing in ways that are void of substance must come to an end. The negative energy is palpable and has impacted each one of us in ways that we both recognize and cannot see. I have neither the patience nor the time for individuals who speak so boldly and narrowly about community only to turn around and not share dreams, visions, service, support or resources to the very community they are so apt to criticize. To move toward greatness means opening our mind, ending the silliness and most of all not fearing risk.

 

As the new President of the Union for Reform Judaism stated this past spring, “To live in fear is not a plan – to only hope is not a strategy!” [6] To live in a place where we are numb or even worse frozen because we are looking over our shoulders to the past is no option. To not move forward, think big and overcome our fear of failure or what others might think of us instead of opening the gates of our community and lifting the flaps of our tents wide would be un Jewish, or in the words of Abraham Joshua Heschel “the climax of absurdity.”[7]

 

So let us make this New Year the year for renewed dedication to our congregation and our community. To open our hearts and give of our spirits. To share our expertise and be assertive in our desires. To volunteer and contribute – one hour, one day more than before and make the abstract into a concrete vision for our future.

 

Hear the Shofar, the time is now! Listen to the sound; we are the descendants of Abraham who has bequeathed to us a great nation! Make an effort, do a Mitzvah, raise the bar, give support, engage in the process, think big, think about your children and grandchildren, do something, have a sweet year!



[1] Please note that this is not the complete sermon which was delivered. Since I speak extemporaneously, the texts and manuscript were used as guidelines and not necessarily repeated verbatim.

[2] Genesis 22:7-8

[3] Nehama Leibowitz, Studies in Beresheet. (Jewish Agency at Hemed Press, Jerusalem Israel 4th Edition), page 191

[4] Ibid. page 200.

[5] Rabbi Richard Jacobs' Remarks to Board of Trustees Upon His Election as President of the URJ

June 12, 2011.

[6] Ibid.

[7] Abraham Joshua Heschel, The Insecurity of Freedom: Essays on Human Existence. (Farrar, Straus & Giroux, New York) 1966, page 21.