Like so many of you, I spent much of last week searching for language to describe and respond to the new reality in which we find ourselves. As Israeli novelist David Grossman wrote last Thursday in the Financial Times, “I look at people’s faces and see shock. Numbness. Our hearts are weighed down by constant burden. Over and over again we say to each other: it’s a nightmare. A nightmare beyond comparison. No words to describe it. No words to contain it.”
For me personally, some important language came unexpectedly while I was sitting in shul this past Shabbat morning. Our teacher R. Allan Lehmann was serving as gabbai at our minyan, and as he offered a mi she’berach for each person who had been called up for an aliyah la’torah, he concluded with the words, “b’toch she’ar avelei ameinu” – “among all the mourners of our people.” It was an exquisitely simple and profound gesture of pastoral care. I hadn’t understood until that moment how deeply I needed to be named as a mourner, among all the mourners of our people. I wept with recognition and relief.
Many of you have been reaching out, wondering what to think, what to say, what to do.
Sadly, we know we are only at the beginning of a very long, difficult, and uncertain road. A road that will make new demands of all of us as Jewish leaders. Heartbreakingly, it is also a road riddled with the risk of communal rupture and fragmentation – at a time when we so desperately long to come together, to hold one another and to be held, in our shared grief, fear, and love.
I have no road map for this moment, and I am wary of anyone who says they do. But I want to share some thoughts on what I believe this terribly dark hour for our people asks of us.
--Allow yourself to be at a loss for words. The speechlessness that we feel in the face of what we have witnessed is a sign of humanity and of humility. Honor it, protect it, do not rush past it.
---Listen to the moral voice within you that knows there is no context, no intellectual contortion that can possibly justify Hamas’ acts of horror. These are acts that deserve nothing but our unequivocal condemnation. I have asked myself, again and again and again over the course of the last week, why this seems so hard for some good people to do (I’m not even talking about the shocking celebration of these acts in some quarters). There are many answers to this question, some more sinister than others. I recommend that you listen to the very powerful sermons given on this topic this past Shabbat by Rabbi Sharon Brous (We've Lost So Much. Let's Not Lose Our Damn Minds - Rabbi Sharon Brous | Bereishit 5784 / 10.15.2023 - YouTube) and Rabbi Angela Warnick Buchdahl (Israel At War: In the Beginning There Was The Word | Rabbi Angela Buchdahl - YouTube).
To everything Sharon and Angela so eloquently express, I would only add – I suspect that, for some, blaming the actions of Hamas on Israeli occupation is a way of trying to hold onto a world that makes sense, a world in which all hate flows from hurt, a world in which we can somehow keep horror at bay. I understand this impulse, but I believe its impact is insidious -- blaming victims of unbearable cruelty for their own suffering, for the sake of preserving our own ideological and moral comfort and convenience.
--Let yourself be uncertain about what Israel should do next in this impossibly painful and frightening moment. We are already being bombarded with requests to sign petitions, make statements, and participate in protests. Many of us understandably feel a growing sense of urgency as conditions worsen in Gaza and we fear an even more severe humanitarian crisis. I trust that every member of this community longs desperately to do what is possible to prevent further suffering and death of innocent civilians, both Palestinian and Israeli. I hear the same longing from my Israeli friends and family as well. Let us be very, very humble as we share ideas about how best to do so. Beware of facile answers.
--Do not equate concern for Palestinian suffering and the loss of innocent Palestinian lives with betrayal of the Jewish people. Let us not allow the inhumanity of Hamas to strip us of our basic humanity. Here I share the powerful words of my colleague, Rabbi Shawn Ruby, an Orthodox rabbi who lives in Zichron Yaakov. We’ve been friends and part of the Bronfman Youth Fellowship community together for the last 30 years. Last Monday he wrote these words to the Bronfman list serve (shared here with his permission):
"I live in Israel. I have a child in the IDF. I am attending the funeral tomorrow morning of a young man whom I have known since he was a child who was killed on the first day of fighting. I am in unbearable pain.
"That said, I have no problem with people raising concern, mourning, sadness, or horror about the loss of life in Gaza alongside with that on our side. The human tragedy there is overwhelming. Recognizing that does not diminish from the Jewish/Israeli tragedy.
"For all of us reacting one way or the other to each other, let's take a breath, and exercise some compassion and forgiveness for those of us who are reacting to a horrifying situation by being more unwilling to hear the other side than usual. Let's not let the worst days in the last 50 years of Jewish history fragment us."
Let’s not let the worst days in the last 50 years of Jewish history fragment us.
Every day, I hear stories from friends and students and alumni in Israel about the ordinary and extraordinary ways in which people are caring for each other – through daily acts of kindness, concrete expressions of hesed. I am inspired and in awe.
Those of us living on this side of the ocean are not living through what they are living through there, but we are feeling our own grief, fear, loneliness, and pain. Let us learn from their example. As my friend and colleague, Rabbi Mishael Zion, wrote to his community in Jerusalem last week: “Seek to be in the company of others who can support you and share their warmth with you. In addition, seek to give and act in support of others . . . allow yourself to experience every emotion that arises, but try not to dwell on it too much. Instead, focus on actions and activities that are aimed at doing good and are spiritually uplifting.”
Sending compassion and strength to everyone on this list, and special hizuk to those of you living in Israel. Thank you for staying in touch as you are able. Our love and prayers are constantly with you.
Rak besorot tovot,
Rabbi Sharon Cohen Anisfeld
Dear Adath Community,
There are no words to capture these last 36 hours in Israel, and the dread we feel in Minnesota. The massacre by Hamas terrorists has left devastation in its wake; the kind of living nightmare that grows as we learn of more wounded, more dead, more kidnapped, and those whose status is still unknown. Horrifying images and unimaginable stories have emerged, and they have upended celebrations of Shabbat and festival for Jewish communities across the globe.
While so much seems beyond our control, how we choose to gather and give will help us hold one another in the uncertainty. We also know that in the darkness we catch glimpses of light. We felt such glimpses this morning at Adath’s Simchat Torah services. We welcomed our kindergartners and first graders for Consecration and honored our daily minyan volunteers, while we added a special selection of Israeli music to each hakafah (circling of the sanctuary).
We will gather as an Adath community for a community-wide solidarity event on Tuesday, October 10 at Beth El Synagogue: 5225 Barry St W, St. Louis Park, MN 55416. Doors will open at 5:30pm, and the event will start at 6pm. Our TEN@Adath (Teen Education Network) program will not meet for regularly scheduled classes but instead attend this event. Please make every effort to join.
Please also donate to the best of your ability to the Jewish Federation’s Israel Emergency Fund that has a $200,000 matching gift to support those in need or to New Israel Fund’s Emergency Action Plan to protect an Israeli civil society that is vital, safe, and strong.
As we think about ways to support Israel as a community, please consider your own spiritual practice of reciting Psalms, including 120, 121, 122, 126, 130, and 140. They can be found on pages 447 and 450-451 in our Siddur Lev Shalem. A journey through the psalms is a journey through resilience, dread, and hope. If this time feels like a rollercoaster, the psalmist helps us hold on with compassion to experience all of the ups and downs and to know we are not alone in the course of Jewish history.
I write as one of your rabbis, and also as the proud brother of a lone solider. My brother Dan made aliyah in 2011 and devoted over two and a half years to IDF service before beginning his path to the rabbinate. My brother is now a husband and a new father, and one of hundreds of thousands of Israelis who have been called up to reserves. I ask you to keep him in your prayers: Daniel Tal ben Yitzhak v’Henya. Your outpouring of support and care means more to my family than words can capture. Like me, so many of you have family and friends in Israel and have spent time traveling and living there. Your loved ones are in my prayers too.
My colleagues Rabbi Kravitz and Hazzan Dulkin join me in expressing all of these sentiments and sending our love. We care about each one of you and our beloved eretz Yisrael.
Rabbi Aaron Weininger
Your Invisible Village
Kol Nidrei - Yom Kippur
Rabbi Aaron Weininger
Who is your invisible village? Who are the people who have died whose voices and silence, whose laughter and tears, accompany you to this moment?
On Rosh Hashanah, we reflected on opening the many doors to Jewish life. On Yom Kippur, I think about those who come knocking on the doors to our hearts, to inspire and comfort, to console and heal with their love.
During this holiday, I not only want to be sealed in the Book of Life. I also want to feel life with those who aren’t here to live it with us.
Who is your invisible village, knocking on the door to your heart?
Some of you know, I became an uncle in April. My niece was born in Jerusalem to my brother Dan and sister-in-law Shani on the morning of Shabbat Chol HaMoed Pesach. Obviously she is the cutest. And the smartest. And the most fun for her uncle to shop for. My niece is the only five month old in Jerusalem to sport Minnesota team gear that her uncle doesn’t even root for. But hey, you gotta have Minnesota Pride. While I hope she won’t need it, she also has her first knit sweater for when she visits the first weekend of November for my installation.
As I walked into the Hadassah Hospital room to meet my niece for the first time, I saw my mom holding this sweet baby girl. Cradled in her arms and resting on her shoulder, this first grandchild for my parents was at total peace.
As I watched my mom, herself now “bubbie,” I felt my own bubbie’s presence. An immigrant from Lithuania, born in 1897, Sarah Wiener was my maternal great grandmother, my mother’s maternal grandmother. Once Sarah became a bubbie to her first grandchild, she was known as bubbie to everyone. Her children, grandchildren, great-grandchildren, and even her neighbors called her bubbie. Everyone on the block waited for my bubbie’s latkes, kugels, and gefilte fish that she made from scratch. The process of fish making started at the market, moved to the bathtub for free swim, and eventually to the kitchen, where the fish met its fate with the most loving but lethal hands. Bubbie’s food didn’t just enter your mouth. It touched your heart with love.
As I saw my own mother rocking her granddaughter in that Jerusalem hospital room, the memories flooded of visiting my bubbie and feeling her warmth. Our bubbie’s smile lit up her face, and any room she was in. And if only the wrinkles on her face could talk! I imagine they would tell stories about my mom as a kid, growing up in her grandparents’ home in the Bayside neighborhood of Queens. But by the point I have memories with bubbie, she was no longer talking much or chopping fish. She was mostly very quiet but smiling at us, especially when we sang holiday songs at her bedside. She spent the last six years of her life at the Hebrew Home for the Aged in Riverdale. It will soon be thirty years that my bubbie died at the age of 97, and I recall flying home early from Israel where we were supposed to spend six weeks of that summer.
We read in Shir HaShirim, Song of Songs, (5:5) the words Hazzan Dulkin and I chanted a few moments ago: Ani Yesheina v’libi eir, kol dodi dofeik pitchi li ...
“I was asleep but my heart awoke is that my dear one, knocking on my door?”
Who is knocking on the door to your heart?
We embrace life when we accept death. Accepting death does not mean justifying it. Accepting death means acknowledging that it touches us and shapes us and even comes to sit next to us on this Kol Nidrei through the end of Yom Kippur.
The intensity of life pulses when we confront its fleeting nature. We touch death to know how much every breath matters. Tonight our hearts may be sleeping but we are yearning to wake. What would it look like to let in the love and care of those who died before us?
As I shared at her funeral earlier this month, my wise friend, our dear member Carolyn Abramson of blessed memory, asked Rabbi Kravitz and me in the weeks before she died, “Rabbi, what makes a Jewish funeral a Jewish funeral?” In that moment, all I could muster is that time stops. “Time stops,” I told Carolyn, “and it’s reoriented to make us be in the moment.” Today time stops and is reoriented. Not because today is a funeral, but because our brush with mortality allows us to live. We measure the day of Yom Kippur differently than any other day, because on this day we encounter death to better encounter life. We don’t measure by meal times and other markers of the day that give us pleasure. We have no where to go and nothing to do, but to unravel “the protective armor” the term my colleague Rabbi Jan Uhrbach uses for the layers that have created separation. Once we remove such layers, we listen for the knocking on our hearts. Carolyn is with me. So many are with me, accompanying me on this bimah, and their qualities too. Who died too young and who lived a long life. The way they laughed, or came lovingly to minyan, and taught at the Gan. Those who lingered at kiddush a bit longer, who asked the question that changed the course of a class, whose smarts and sass took no prisoners, who loved ice cream, whose warmth and sense of humor enveloped, who never missed a beat, who survived the Holocaust, and whose indomitable spirit still moves us.
Who is your invisible village?
We gather to affirm life even as we imitate death: we wear white, fast, and refrain from the pleasures that animate life. We come as close as we can to feeling that this life is fragile, and then we take a step back from the precipice, with the first morsels of food at break fast. Many things can be true at the same time. Yom Kippur makes room for the most profound to be held in the same day: we hold death to appreciate life. But we need help holding it. Those who died, they help us. We imagine the Psalmist who praises “the One heals the broken-hearted, binding up their wounds, who numbers the stars, giving each one a name.” Tonight the faces of our loved ones form a kaleidoscope, dazzling in the lights of the sanctuary and in the starry night sky that takes us home.
My brother and sister-in-law named their daughter Hallel Nitzan for the season in which she was born and for our Grandpa Bud. Hallel recalls the praise of the Passover holiday, and Nitzan in Hebrew means bud and signals the rebirth of spring. From slavery to freedom. From death comes life. From winter, spring. From Grandpa Bud, another great grandchild to carry his name and his legacy.
When we touch death, we bring into life the lessons and stories and laughter and tears that are accumulated wisdom for us to carry. We allow worlds to meet, as they did in the hospital room on that early April morning. And as they do for Yom Kippur. Many of you share with me that you regularly talk with loved ones who have died. You argue with a partner. You cry with a parent. You share the experience of sitting at the bedside of a child, reading a bedtime story that you never want to end.
The Hebrew poet Rachel captures as much when she writes,
“They alone are left me; they alone still faithful,
For now death can do no more to them.
At the bend of the road, at the close of day,
They gather around me silently, and walk by my side.
This is a bond nothing can ever loosen.
What I have lost: what I possess forever.”
Encountering death does not mean understanding it, or giving pithy explanations for it. I don't believe in a God who causes suffering. God spends God’s time protecting the invisible village and making it visible to us. God lifts up the caresses, the laughter, the smiles, and recalls words we wish we said and words we wish we held back. The prayerbooks we hold should not be read as a neatly packaged theology. If they are, our tradition is guilty of theological malpractice. Instead the imperfect words in front of us are a first attempt of our ancestors to uncover God in a chaotic world, ideas penned by people who carried the same range of emotions as we do: psalmists and teachers and prophets and other flawed and fallible human beings who like us were in search of something beyond. In search of their own invisible village. And who found the imperfection of words, now in our hands, to convey that.
We are accompanied by both life and death on the pages of our prayerbooks and in the living texts of our lives. Even moments of birth make room for those who have come before and the stories that shape us as a people. My niece is rooted in the stories of the holiday on which she was born, and in the gefilte fish of our bubbie, and the integrity of our grandfather. So is her uncle. So is each one of us in our own way. Our villages tonight come in different shapes, and they ebb and flow. Our villages grow in hospital rooms in Jerusalem upon the arrival of a sweet niece. Our villages grow in sanctuaries to hold us on this most solemn day.
The prolific writer and author Diane Cole reflects on her own experience of attending minyan to say kaddish, in her seminal work, now thirty years old, After Great Pain, a New Life Emerges. She writes, “Our dead inhabit us like ghosts. The trick… is to befriend them rather than have them haunt us. They will greet us on sad anniversaries as well as in joy. We will imagine a deceased parent’s response to her grandchild’s arrival; or we will call back from memory the words or actions of the one person to whom we would have turned were they still there. And eventually, when we hear the voice again, it will bring not just pain but comfort and resolution.”
That, I believe, becomes our invisible village.
At best, our society has a complicated relationship with death and dying. We don’t like saying somebody has died. We resort to euphemisms. We say somebody has “departed” “passed away” or “lost their life to…” But in Judaism we don’t lose our lives. We live them. And then they end, however they end, and we gather close. We locate our invisible villages to mourn, and we locate love to keep going. Gathering is the essence of the way the Torah describes what happens after death. Each of our patriarchs is “gathered to his people” — Abraham in chapter 25 of Genesis, Isaac in chapter 35, and Jacob in chapter 49. Tonight we notice our invisible village gathering around us. They knock at the door to the heart, and we are ready to gather close and listen.
Yom Kippur rarely makes it into the top five favorite Jewish holidays. We tend to like holidays that give us clear focus and a good party. Yom Kippur is not a sad day, and it is not a happy day. It’s the last option on a multiple choice test that we circle, “all of the above.” Today we turn all the pages of life: we confront mortality to live more fully. To snuggle with our nieces who are the most precious. And to recall our bubbies and grandpas. And for some of us to remember our beloved children, our partners and parents, and dear friends and relatives who are not here with us but who are our village. For when we find that love, we honor another teaching in chapter 8 from the Song of Songs, that love is as strong as death: כִּֽי־עַזָּ֤ה כַמָּ֙וֶת֙ אַהֲבָ֔ה.
I invite you to use this Yom Kippur to locate loss in order to locate life. Take a break from the pages called from this bimah to locate one word or phrase or image of a loved one, to sit quietly to hear what you need to hear, and also let go of what you need to let go.
Ani Yesheina v’libi eir, kol dodi dofeik pitchi li ... “I was asleep but my heart awoke, is that my dear one, knocking on my door?”
May the Book of Life have room for all of us, held in the land of the living by all who came before. Those who taught us, who loved us, and who tonight are knocking on the door to the heart. And let us say: Amen.
A Vision for Adath Jeshurun Congregation
Rosh Hashanah Day 1
Rabbi Aaron Weininger
On March 2, 2012, I turned onto Hillside Lane West for my interview weekend. As we made our way down the driveway, then President Mike Greenstein shared the tradition for members to bake for each other’s simchas. I imagined a mountain of sweets pouring out of a kitchen I was eager to find, baked by people I was eager to meet. We parked, entered the spine stretching the building, and walked through the doors of this sanctuary where I led Dr. Seuss Shabbat for Gan Shelanu.
That weekend I was welcomed through many doors to Jewish life. All of them led to this remarkable congregation, Adath Jeshurun.
Exactly nine years to the day, on March 2, 2021, I shared my vision with the board to become Senior Rabbi. I stand before you on the first Rosh Hashanah in my new role, which began in June. I’m humbled by your trust, and the gracious leadership of my colleague Rabbi Kravitz who has taught me, and all of us, by his example.
On this first day of the holiday, I’m excited to share my vision for our congregation, some of which I shared with the board. But the vision isn’t mine alone. It’s one that has grown over my eleven plus years at Adath: observed in services, debated in classes, read to preschoolers, danced at weddings, reflected at shiva minyanim, and nourished over mountains of homemade lemon bars at now hundreds of Bnai Mitzvah. It’s a vision created in community — not top down — and through the way lay leaders and staff and clergy collaborate, highly unusual for a synagogue of our size. And it’s a vision that’s shaped by those who have died but whose values still live in the very soul of our congregation.
Adath has many doors to Jewish life. It takes all of us to open them. Some of us open one door and decide to stick around, put our feet up, and get comfortable. Others relish in change. They open one door, and it quickly leads to another and yet another! Thankfully, no matter the path, we never leave quite the same.
Thankfully it’s not a new journey to find the path. The Talmud, in Tractate Sotah 14a, presents the following dilemma: Rabbi Ḥama, son of Rabbi Ḥanina, says: What is the meaning of: “You will walk after the Eternal your God… Is it actually possible for a person to follow God? Hasn’t it already been stated: “For the Eternal is a devouring fire, a jealous God” (Deuteronomy 4:24), and one cannot approach fire!
I don’t know about you, but burning fire that devours sounds dangerous. And not much of an inspiration to draw close. It didn’t satisfy Rabbi Hama either.
So he tries again to understand. This time Rabbi Hama draws upon several biblical examples to understand what it means to walk in God’s ways, including a passage in the chapters before our Rosh Hashanah reading today.
Rabbi Hama says, the meaning of walking in God’s ways is that one should follow the attributes of the Holy Blessed One… Just as God clothes the naked, so too, should you clothe the naked. Just as the Holy Blessed One, visits the sick, so too, should you visit the sick. Just as the Holy Blessed One consoles mourners, so too, should you console mourners. Just as the Holy Blessed One buried the dead, so too, should you bury the dead.
There’s no single way for God to be God. If God can be many things and do many things, how can we not strive for that as well? If God can embrace many things and do many things, how might our synagogue strive for that too?
Maybe we open a door all dressed up. Or maybe we show up in yoga pants. Some of us feel joyful. Others feel the weight of the world. Or both. One thing we know is whether laughing or crying, celebrating or mourning, we always try to live up to our name as the Gathering of the Righteous, Adath Jeshurun. Our name is not a pat on the back but a lifelong aspiration.
While the journey is an ancient one, opening the many doors to Jewish life happens in every generation. To articulate a vision, we first have to understand how and where we’re living.
Today, American Jews don’t always feel the social pull to be only with other American Jews, as we once did. Yes, even with the alarming rise of anti-Semitism, Jews have largely integrated into society. My own two grandfathers grew up in a very different world from their grandson. One was a Holocaust survivor who was liberated from six years of labor camps, and made his way to this country after his parents and three sisters were murdered by the Nazis . And the other served in the foreign service of the State Department, until he could no longer be promoted as a Jew.
Synagogues were once safe havens to hunker down, as Jewish hospitals or Jewish law practices similarly provided safe harbor in a hostile world. But synagogues no longer have the same pull on the limited time of a highly educated and integrated community. Among many other markers of acceptance, Jews live in every zip code, fall in love freely, and donate to a wide range of causes.
How might we describe such a world, open to us at every turn — and we, open to it? It’s a discerning world with a consumer culture primed to give feedback at every turn. From a two-minute car wash to a two-week cruise, you can review it all. Ordering food on DoorDash invites me to create the dish, rate the restaurant, and note what I liked and didn’t like. It seems like every time we buy a pillow or eat a piece of cake, we are handed a virtual megaphone to recount every last detail to the rest of the world.
Such a flattening of authority and, in its place, a hyper egalitarian consumer culture means that businesses (and synagogues) rise or fall on buzz. People don’t respond well to affiliation out of guilt or loyalty or a one size fits all. Many American Jews want to shape a highly personalized experience, curated to our needs, as much as we shape our social media presence… and, well, everything else. Judaism is not immune to the culture in which it lives and breathes. We question authority and eschew norms. Consider the reality that any of us can be a cab driver (thanks Lyft) or a hotel manager (thanks Airbnb) without much or any professional training. We’ll try multiple options without commitment (thanks Classpass), stick exclusively to online options, or if we’re not happy, pick up and move to a new sandbox.
We might choose to bury our heads in the sand or encounter our reality. When we open the many doors to Jewish life, we encounter a Judaism that doesn’t simply help us be more Jewish, it helps us be more human, more alive in the world.
Adath will lead the way in that. I want us to think about synagogue membership more expansively. How do we invite those who might not normally consider joining a synagogue to consider joining Adath, because BELONGING TO SOMETHING and TO ONE ANOTHER helps us encounter life’s big questions not alone? How might we spend time thinking about beginning membership at Confirmation, at age 16, when young adults are most engaged with the synagogue? Why wait to see young adults go off to college or a new job and become disconnected for 10-15 years? And if they get married or have kids, only then try to re-engage? How might such a model even encourage a culture of philanthropy at an age-appropriate level, starting in high school, only to deepen? It is a mistake to think legacy should be left to 90 year olds, and life to 20 year olds. We need to be talking to younger adults about legacy and giving, and we need to be making space for older adults to live life.
We regularly meet spiritual seekers who make up a future that embraces all ages. Some grew up at the day school, SMP, and Talmud Torah and some didn’t. Some do weekly Shabbat dinners with their families, with the best of Minnesota roots, and others are new and breaking through Minnesota nice. Some folks were raised outside the Jewish community, some were born as Jews. We’ve found them in the preschool parents who are organizing a Torah study at my home this fall, and those hosting our Backyard Shabbat summer gatherings for families with young kids. We’ve found them in the grieving family who moved to town and needed a minyan for shiva right away, and in the young adult who taught for the first time at a Shavuot program in a St. Louis Park yoga studio. In the 83 year olds who study with Rabbi Kravitz and celebrate their second bnai mitzvah, in the popular Soul Sisters class and women’s trip to Israel with Hazzan Dulkin, and in the 21 couples of Honeymoon Israel, who returned with me to Minneapolis energized to build a community that embraces non-Jewish partners as treasured members.
There’s no single way for God to be God. If God can be many things and do many things, how can we not strive for that as well? If God can embrace many things and do many things, how might our synagogue strive to do the same?
Relationships are everything. When I arrived at Adath over eleven years ago, I invited people to grab a drink with me — anyone in the congregation who was willing to take me up on the offer. I wanted to learn what made folks feel alive, and see how Jewish life and learning could enrich that feeling. Rabbis and cantors and synagogue staff are doing things that synagogue models from fifty years ago didn’t account for, and whose budgets still assume that same model. We do not (nor have we ever really) officiated at Shabbat services and called it a day. Our offices are wherever Jews gather and wherever those who love us, Jewish and not, are asking big questions and encountering moments that call us to be in relationship: birth, naming, coming out, transitioning, coming of age, relationship, illness, healing, loss of every kind, discovery, grief, birth — and often in a non-linear combination. We search for meaning in coffee shops and at lakes, in hospitals and at rallies, in sanctuaries and at preschools, teaching Torah online and even (as I did for the first time) at a pizza farm. And we are sometimes trying to undo the damage that has been done in the name of Judaism. Anyone, like me, who at one point was told “you don’t belong” or “stay behind that closet door” — please know we need you. Jewish life in America is more alive than ever with the proliferation of Jewish literature, music, learning, social justice, and mindfulness practice. Is each of us willing to invest in all that Jewish life can be, to help us be more human in the world? And if not, what’s stopping us?
I, along with others at Adath, get the enormous privilege to ask people to contribute to projects that express our deepest values in this changing world. It’s an honor to create that alignment. That’s what it meant for us to raise a quarter of a million dollars to create our first-ever Director of Young Adult and Family Life in 2017, whose funding has ended this year. That’s the spirit of innovation I want us to continue in the fine tradition of our Adath Foundation of planned giving and the Newman Family that has generously endowed the Senior Rabbi position and celebrates thirty years in 2023. That same spirit of innovation is also built into L’Chaim, our annual campaign that allows us to realize our vision now. We have expanded our L’Chaim goal by 20%. But more important this year, we are prioritizing maximum participation. Each one of you is invited to contribute in a way you define as meaningful. We have the privilege to share the work of opening the many doors to Jewish life.
What will that enable us to do right now? We must expand our Adath professional team. After the fall holidays, we will begin the search process for up to two new clergy members to join us, as Hazzan Dulkin and I remain bimah partners and Rabbi Kravitz retires in the summer of 2024. Our new clergy will expand our capacity for Jewish life and learning at every stage. We are a congregation of over 1100 households — not to mention unaffiliated folks who are exploring with us. People rightly expect a high caliber, and it is time to keep growing in new ways. This summer we were fortunate to promote Andrea Blumberg to the role of Senior Director of Operations and Fundraising, Adath's top administrative position. We created a new title Director of Communications and brought on Elisheva Thompson, who hit the ground running. Since June, our program and administrative staff receive ongoing supervision every other week, that builds in bidirectional feedback. We incorporate regular learning into our staff meetings so that professional development is part of the culture. A respectful culture that values appreciation, curiosity, and good communication is critical for our staff. That chemistry translates to reaching our larger Adath community, and I’m grateful that Rabbi Kravitz and Hazzan Dulkin have been such wise and trusted partners in that. We get to sit, listen, and notice without fixing. To let each person grow from where they are. To support when we can, and make room for others when we can’t.
Holding the inevitable joy and hurt of life belongs to all of us, not just the clergy. During the worst of Covid, we developed a virtual shiva minyan model, from the ground up, training lay leaders, from the technology of the slides to the service leadership itself. We also talked with some of those lay leaders about intention setting even with the distance of Zoom screens— as volunteer prayer leaders and slide runners have done beautifully with our daily minyan. If you have some extra time this New Year, we need more help as we want to bring more daily minyan services back in person and need service leaders.
This summer we created a floor gabbai system for congregants to distribute ritual honors and help more honorees become educated about the mitzvah of tallit, as we now ask adult Jews of all genders to have a tallit for a ritual honor. While the rabbis used to hand out all aliyot, this gabbai system allows clergy to be leading services more actively. We also have more work to do - to build a group of Shabbat greeters who can extend the warmth of the synagogue to all who enter, to get to each person and the stories that bring us here.
We enter the many doors to Jewish life for all kinds of reasons. Sometimes we don’t enter at all. But let’s talk about it. If you think services are boring, let’s have a conversation about prayer — not shorten the service and be satisfied with fewer minutes of the same boring service. And let’s not get stuck in false choices. SPA musical service or choir service or outdoor service. This door to Jewish life… or that one. I want us to open the many doors to Jewish life in the most thoughtful ways possible so that one door doesn’t have to be bad for the other door to be good. When we were dreaming up SPA at a Sukkah party 10 years ago, we wanted prayer to be a reflection of life: life doesn’t have to be this OR that, but many things can be true at the same time. So we made a service that’s hard to peg. SPA includes people who are regulars and those exploring Judaism for the first time. We bring in Ashkenazi melodies, and those inspired by Mizrachi traditions. We use a more traditional liturgy and we have musical instruments. The rabbi sings and the cantor teaches, and sometimes the cantor sings and the rabbi teaches. We talk about boredom and frustration and excitement in services, because those things exist for the other 20+ hours of the day we’re not in services, when we’re facing loved ones and ourselves. Life is not endless entertainment. In our “yes and, many doors approach” - we get to make room to be playful, to mix things up, flip the script, and add surprise. But don’t worry, Yom Kippur is still happening next week.
In that spirit of holding innovation as part of tradition, there are many doors to Jewish life that call us to action, especially on issues of racial justice and equity through the Adath Antiracism Committee, the awareness of people with disabilities through Inclusion, and our burial society in the Chevra Kavod Hamet. We need more volunteers to care for those at the end of life as we do during life, and we will celebrate the outgoing Chevra leaders and welcome new ones this fall.
We also need to think about action as responsible citizens of this state and country: as reproductive health, immigration, and trans rights face vicious attacks— while we evaluate longstanding commitments in our Hesed Committee and in Keruv through interfaith households and LGBTQ folks. Our action extends to our beloved eretz Yisrael. Among other projects, we will find new ways to affirm Adath’s historic support for the flourishing of Masorti/Conservative Judaism in Israel. When we see our Israeli family and friends fighting on the streets for democracy, we respond as family and friends: staying engaged, visiting, and lending our support. And we share the beauty and challenge of living a vibrant Jewish life outside of Israel. We have a lot to learn from each other.
Adath teens, historically in record numbers before Covid, have traveled to Israel each summer, and Hazzan Dulkin and I joined 50 Adath congregants as part of the Minneapolis Jewish Federation mission last April, expertly organized by Adath’s very own Kara Rosenwald. These teens and adults bring a willingness to ask good questions that ensure a robust, inclusive Zionism. No matter the topic, we thrive at Adath on questions of curiosity rather than answers of certainty. One of the biggest threats to Jewish survival is the lack of Jewish literacy. It is not anything others are doing to us — but what we are not doing to educate ourselves. We need to be lifelong learners who transmit our learning to action. Even though I didn’t get much sleep, I’m grateful I got to spend last Shabbat in an immersive environment with 40 SMPers and their incredible staff at the SMP Shabbaton in Eden Prairie. One of the messages I tried to convey is that we need each other, whether we were shooting hoops on the court or taking an aliyah for the first time or speaking kindly to the camp wait staff. As we gather today on Rosh Hashanah, we remind ourselves that Judaism is not a sport for some to watch and others to play. “Oh, if only somebody else would carry the ball or take the shot” isn’t a verse found anywhere in Torah.
Having skin in the game extends to everything. When we went to raise money to build Adath’s young adult community in Makom, we said it was necessary to create a space that had many doors to Jewish life with unaffiliated young adults. We thought young adults could shape their experience and then take on leadership roles in our larger Jewish community. The idea was simple, we said. “Let’s make Jewish community genuine, come-as-you-are, and irresistible. Let the people who walk through the doors to shape the doors.” But it took an investment in a new model of staff and how and where time was spent. Just this year alone, pop up summer Shabbat services and dinners were hosted in Linden Hills and Burnsville and last winter, in cozy living rooms in Northeast and Roseville. I’m proud that Adath has the longest running synagogue young adult community in the Twin Cities. That same energy was the impetus for Rabbi Kravitz and Anna Simon working with lay leaders to develop the camp-like vibe of Atid, powered by adults 50s plus. The models for Makom and Atid can help us reflect on what it means to embrace the many doors to Jewish life, from Westwood nature center walks to wine and cheese tastings on our beautiful back patio. This kind of approach reminds me of what my colleague Rabbi Carie Carter describes as experiencing the “many roads to the palace” of Jewish living.
As we embark on hiring new clergy, relationships with emerging rabbis, cantors, and educators are especially critical. During Covid, Rabbi Kravitz and I were invited to team teach the online JTS seminar class of graduating rabbis and cantors, two years in a row, about healthy relationships in rabbinic teams (when those are rare). With the support of a multi year gift by an Adath family, as well as a contribution this year by Women of Adath, our synagogue has been welcoming outstanding rabbinic interns for the High Holy Days. For this third year of funding, we selected two rabbinical students from the larger group of applicants: Alan Imar based in Jerusalem and Sarah Klein based in Los Angeles, to teach, serve our families with young kids and our teen community as well as receive mentoring from us. We make our Jewish community stronger when we invest our energies in its current and future leadership.
The Hassidic master, the Baal Shem Tov, noticed for human beings what Rabbi Hama noticed for God. There are many ways to enter Jewish life. The Baal Shem Tov noticed for each of the ancestors in the Amidah we repeat the word “elohei… Avraham, elohei… Yitzhak” and onward. He asked why the repetition again and again of the word elohei, meaning “God of” before each of our ancestors? You might think, just put one elohei for all of them, and call it a day! He taught each ancestor carved a special relationship with God. We might imagine that each of our ancestors stepped through a different door to Jewish life, and that each door had to be acknowledged every time we recite the Amidah, the central prayer of each Jewish worship service. On this Rosh Hashanah we get to affirm the same for each of us.
When we open the many doors to Jewish life, we encounter a Judaism that doesn’t simply help us be more Jewish, it helps us be more human, more alive in the world. May the many doors to Jewish life lead us to a life in which we walk in the ways of the Holy Blessed One and find one another along the path. And let us say: Amen.
What can we do as U.S. Jews to make our voices heard to preserve Israel’s democracy?
Our parasha today, Nitzavim, begins in a powerful way. Moses addresses the Israelites and assures them of a long-term promise. He tells them that the covenant between the Divine and the people includes EVERYONE.
“You stand this day, all of you, before your God Adonai—your tribal heads, your elders, and your officials. Every householder in Israel.” That is the list of the leadership and property holders. But Moses goes on. Who else is included? “Your children, your wives, even the stranger within your camp, from woodchopper to water drawer.” This list includes those whose voices are mostly overlooked in society, the people without property, or power, or a vote. And Strangers—the promise is not limited only to Jews. Moses emphasizes that ALL are included in relationship with the Divine.
Might we call this a promise of “radical inclusion,” imbedded in Deuteronomy, in the last words of Moses?
And as if this countercultural message is not enough, Moses has more to startle us. This relationship with the Divine is not only with those present to hear Moses’ words, but those who are not present as well! The rabbis have interpreted this to mean that all generations, past, present, and future, Jews by birth and Jews by choice, are included in the Divine promise. Everyone!
What a contrast this message is to what we are experiencing today. The Us vs. Them mentality that infuses what we read and hear. Both in the United States, and sadly, in Israel, where my focus takes us today.
Israelis have been making their voices heard for months, every Saturday night, protesting in the streets. Liberals, centrists, members of the military, and conservatives are dismayed. They believe that their interests have been ignored by the current Netanyahu coalition, which has been taken over by ultra-Orthodox and other extremist minority parties. A coalition uninterested in compromise.
Ten percent of Israel’s population has taken to the streets, waving the flag of Israel, and carrying banners calling for the end of the current coalition’s efforts to defang Israel’s Supreme Court. Think about those numbers. If ten percent of our population took to the streets, over 30 million people would flood our city centers.
Why does undermining the authority of Israel’s S.Ct. matter so much to Israelis? Unlike in the U.S. where we have two legislative branches, Israel as a unicameral legislature—the Knesset legislates alone. There is no check or balance from the executive branch, either, because the Knesset selects the PM. The Israeli S.Ct. alone is independent of the Knesset. The S.Ct has exercised its independence by protecting the civil rights of groups that are not part of the majority in Israel.
The current coalition in Israel opposes the independence of the S.Ct. and has proposed multiple laws that would make the court beholden to the will of the governing Knesset. The first law limiting the decision-making power of the S.Ct. in Israel passed in the Knesset on July 24.
The current coalition see Israel as Us vs. Them. It does not want to be restrained by the S.Ct’s protections of women, LGBTQ people, non-Orthodox religious streams, like our own, the rights of people with disabilities, and Palestinian Arabs. The coalition has threatened to change the Law of Return, severely limiting immigration to Israel by converts to Judaism and their children unless their conversions are done by approved Orthodox rabbis.
We can understand what is going on in Israel. We too live in a polarized world. There is little political will to work toward compromise because people are so rooted in their own opinions and politics. But compromise is what is needed most right now, according to Rakefet Ginsburg, the CEO of Masorti (the Conservative) movement in Israel.
As Rakefet pointed out in an Opinion published in the newspaper Israel Hayom on July 26, the Conservative Masorti movement has nearly always taken the middle ground, seeking inclusion and diversity, offering spiritual solace to observant and disaffected Jews alike. In Israel, Masorti has always been outspoken about supporting pluralism, allowing all streams equal access to government funding, to grants of land to build synagogues, to pray at the Kotel, to grow and flourish. As Rakefet notes in her editorial, compromise is not always popular, but it is necessary to a functioning democracy and a healthy Israel.
In April, I had an opportunity to see compromise at work at the WZ Congress in Jerusalem. I participated as a delegate to the Mercaz party, which is the political arm of the Masorti movement. Mercaz worked hard to develop resolutions that would have sufficiently broad support to pass. Our resolutions supported Aliyah and the current Law of Return and the recognition in Israel of the conversions performed by Conservative and Reform rabbis. Mercaz aligned with Reform, Meretz, and Yesh Atid to adopt resolutions on the status of women and LGBTQ people in the Jewish state. Mercaz also reached out to Sephardi religious parties and Likud members to find ways to win their votes for our resolutions by agreeing to support their resolutions. In our committees, we saw this preparatory work pay off, as these resolutions passed with votes to spare.
What happened in the final days of the WZ Congress were a mirror of what is happening in Israel’s Knesset today. A small contingent of Haredi/Ultra Orthodox parties hijacked the Congress, using a little used procedural maneuver, to halt the final vote on the resolutions. As a result, over 1000 delegates were unable to cast their votes in person at the Congress. Instead, the World Zionist Organization had to spend valuable resources to build a secure website and all the delegates voted online about a month later. As expected, the Resolutions of Mercaz and its allies passed, the Haredi resolutions were roundly defeated.
Just as the WZO rejected extremist views, the vast majority of Israelis oppose the anti-democratic priorities of the current Knesset coalition. If the Israeli govt were to fall, and a new vote taken today, many believe the governing coalition would change. In the meantime, Israelis must live with the new laws passed by a coalition they do not support. That is why they continue to protest in the streets en masse.
Is there any reason for optimism, as we see our beloved Israel divided by these challenges? Those of you who have supported Masorti know that discrimination against our movement in Israel has been a constant. The minority Haredi factions in the government consistently make it difficult for egalitarian Jews to enjoy the same rights as the Orthodox, such as space at the Kotel plaza, places to build our synagogues, and funding to support our rabbis. Until now, centrist and leftist factions have seen this discrimination as our problem, not theirs. I believe that attitude is changing. Israelis now see that the illiberal factions that opposed our inclusive Judaism, also oppose democratic values. Now that a majority of Israelis see this intolerance for themselves, there may very well be a sea change in the next election that benefits Masorti.
I’m sure you are asking, what can we do here in the diaspora, in Minnesota to show our support for the majority of Israelis. In a recent Mercaz briefing, we heard from Asaf Zamir, the Israeli Consul General for NY, who recently resigned in protest over coalition policies that he could no longer support. At the briefing, Consul Zamir urged Americans to contact their local Israeli consulates and express our support for the protesters. He cautioned however, that U.S. public protests against the current Knesset coalition could provide cover for anti-Semitism and anti-Zionism, which is already on the rise in the U.S.
As Masorti supporters, there are several ways to have our voices heard. One is to continue our support of the Masorti movement in Israel through donations to the Masorti Foundation. As Adath and its members have done for decades, we support our movement in Israel.
There is a second way. That is through the World Zionist Organization, which represents the interests of diaspora Jews. There are elections for delegates to the WZO every four years, which is how I became a Mercaz delegate to the WZO Congress in Jerusalem this year. The WZO election is not only about using our collective voice in Israel; it is also about how worldwide donations to the Jewish National Fund, the Jewish Agency, and other Zionist institutions are spent in Israel. In the last election, the Haredi parties turned out their voters in very large numbers, and they currently have positions of authority at the WZO. They were also able to hijack the final vote at the Congress in April.
If we believe in compromise and bringing a diverse coalition together to support Israel, we must do better in the next WZO election. That election will take place in two years. We must get out the vote of like-minded Zionists to vote with Mercaz/Masorti, to assure that leadership and assets go to support a democratic and pluralistic Israel, an Israel that respects and includes many different voices.
It is time to start thinking now about how you will help this effort. It will not be enough for you to cast your own vote, or convince your spouse to join you. Can you join Adath’s Israel committee and offer volunteer support to our GOTV effort? Who can you think of on your contact list to invite to vote for Mercaz? Who can you contact and convince them to invite ten other people they know to vote for Mercaz? It is not too early for Adath to start building its list of voters and another list of volunteers who will help call those voters and assure they vote when the election takes place. Please let me know if you are interested in volunteering to build our election team. You can also give your name to Rabbi Weininger, Rabbi Kravitz, Hazzan, or our dedicated Israel committee co-chairs, Kim Gedan and Scott Gordon. I want to express particular thanks to Kim who has single-handedly made Adath one of the biggest Mercaz voting blocs in MN!
Who knows what will happen in Israel in the two years before the next WZO election. We hope and we pray every Shabbat for a positive resolution to the current crisis. But there is more we can do to assure the ongoing success of the Masorti movement in Israel and a democratic Israel that values pluralism and inclusivity and diversity, not only today, or two years from now, but for decades to come.
And as we pray for the peace and good of Israel, let’s also take the lesson of radical inclusion of Nitzavim seriously as we head into the High Holidays.
Yom Kippur Day Sept 25, 2023
10 Tishrei, 5784
Rabbi Harold J. Kravitz
Confronting Death and Affirming Life
Only once in my career have, I scrapped my sermon just before the High Holidays. That occurred the week of 9/11 in 2001 when I knew I needed to give a very different sermon than the one I had written. Today I am doing it again as I had planned to speak about Israel, and the troubling things happening there.
Two weeks ago, we were treated to an outstanding sermon on Israel given by our member Heidi Schneider, who served for the last 5 years as the national President of our Movement’s Foundation for Masorti Judaism in Israel. We are grateful to Heidi and her husband Joel for their tremendous support of that work. We will send out that sermon. It urges us to advocate for our values and to affirm Israel as both a Jewish and a democratic state, in the spirit of Israel’s Declaration of Independence. We need to do so lest non-Orthodox Jewish Movements be further delegitimatized, and the ruling coalition continue to run roughshod over the rights of minorities, undermining democracy by disempowering Israel’s Supreme Court.
I have decided not to deliver a sermon on that theme, as important as it is, and to instead focus on something very personal to me and to our congregation, the many losses we have sustained the last 6 or 7 weeks of people who have been very dear to us and who have blessed our congregation in so many ways. One might think that doing funerals would get easier with years of experience, but in some ways, they have gotten harder, as I am called to bury people I have known for decades, who have been so important to our Adath Jeshurun and to me.
Last night at Kol Nidre, Rabbi Weininger gave a beautiful sermon based on the verse from Song of Songs (5:5) asking us to reflect on, “Who is your invisible village, knocking on the door to your heart?” Who has passed, yet we carry them with us into Yom Kippur and beyond? As we prepare for the Yizkor service, I want to respond to his compelling question by reflecting on this string of losses we have experienced here at Adath.
I begin with the sudden and unexpected death of Dr Jack Levitt in mid-August. We had just gathered on a Shabbat morning in June to mark Jack’s 90th birthday and his recent retirement, after an outstanding career as a physician practicing for 53 years at the Blaisdale Clinic of Park Nicollet. Many people here knew him as the husband of Rachel Levitt, may she be well, who has long been a beloved teacher of Hebrew and Jewish studies in Saint Paul and at Adath. I discovered recently that years ago Rachel was the principal of our religious school at Adath and for years she was beloved for teaching Hebrew to our Intro to Judaism Class. While Jack often followed Rachel’s lead in engaging in the synagogue, he also stood out here for the incredible sukkah he built each year for the last 52 years. It was cleverly fashioned in the unique circular shape of an Asian yurt that was both distinctive and kosher. Being welcomed to the Levitt sukkah and seeing the enthusiasm he still had for that effort was has long been a highlight of the holiday season.
A few days later in mid-August, shortly after Jack Levitt’s death, I learned that our long-time beloved member, Don Masler, was near the end of his life. You may remember Don from the many years he served like a Hazzan Sheni, as Cantor Kula often relied on him to lead us in prayer on Shabbat and holidays. He was a phenomenal Torah reader and knew every kind of nusach, the varied chants for prayer. Don had a sweet voice and a superb command of Hebrew and Jewish sources. While he was still working as a physician at the Minneapolis Veterans hospital, he would come regularly to minyan and on Shabbat. He often led Shabbat afternoon at Minha followed by seudah sheleeshet, the third meal, where he led zmirot Shabbat songs. He was a lifelong learner and teacher of both teenagers in our Shabbat Morning Program, and of adults, making time to study with people individually and in groups. He introduced so many people to Jewish learning with his kind and gentle manner. It is unfortunate that Don, who was a gay man, did not feel he could come out at Adath until late in his life. I appreciate that for decades he had a wonderful life partner in Jim Kelly and that when Jim died, we could offer support and comfort at Adath to Don. as he had offered to so many here. At his funeral, Rabbi Sharon Stiefel and I agreed that it was fitting to speak of Don as a lamed vavnik, one of the 36 hidden, righteous people who are said to sustain the world. Don truly was one of the most saintly people I have ever known.
Last night, Rabbi Weininger in his sermon remembered another beloved congregant who died at the beginning of September, Carolyn Abramson. Carolyn’s membership at Adath goes back to when she was 10 years old and her family moved into Linden Hills. In a memoir, Carolyn described her teen years actively involved in our USY youth group chapter, that was launched when she was in 11th grade, as the Twin Cities provided the model for the Conservative Movement’s national youth program. She learned how to lead services, plan and organize study sessions, and participated in activities with kids from across the Twin Cities Conservative synagogues, and elsewhere in the region.
It was in USY that she formed close bonds with her dear friend Norman Pink, who we also lost this past year. Norman, whose family provided multi-generational leadership to our congregation, served twice with great menschleikeit as President of Adath, both times of critical transitions for our congregation.
Carolyn, too, felt a lifelong allegiance to our congregation. She married her beloved Burton who grew up at Adath and he sang in our choir for years. They raised their four children here. Carolyn experienced some very difficult loses, but she was a person who brought light into every space she entered, and she was an incredibly wise mentor to so many people in our congregation, including to my wife Cindy and to me. You may recall hearing Carolyn thanked at the end of our Neilah service that concludes Yom Kippur as she and Bruce Nemer, of blessed memory, would sponsor our congregational breakfast with Bobby Nemer and Ella Mogilevsky, may they remain well.
This past week has been especially tough. You may have heard me announce the passing, on the second night of Rosh Hashanah, of Max Elkin. Max had not been around the congregation since the death of his wife Dinah in 2007. He found it too hard to be here without his beloved wife and partner. But when I arrived, and for decades, Max and Dinah were at the very center of the life of our Adath Jeshurun Congregation. They were regulars on Shabbat and at our daily minyan. One could hear Max’s distinctive voice singing out in Adath’s Choir. For years, Max and Dinah chaired our Chevra Kavod HaMet, Adath’s Burial Society and attended to every detail when the Chevra was called upon for a funeral. He also served for a time as the supervisor of the Adath Chesed Shel Emet and the Minneapolis Jewish Cemeteries.
For years before I arrived, the Elkins ran our Shabbat afternoon and evening services and the meal served between those services known in Yiddish as shalushshudes the third meal. I can still hear Max’s voice guiding people through the Saturday evening ritual from services through the meal, Jewish learning and song. In a practice established by Cantor Kula, Bnai Mitzvah would start the week of their celebration by reading Torah publicly for the first time at our Shabbat afternoon service. Max was always so affirming and encouraging of each of the kids to help build their confidence. A touching memory of those evenings was when Dinah would assist in closing the ark as Max returned the Sefer Torah and Dinah would give him a little kiss on the cheek, a tender moment reflecting their life and love in 57 years of marriage.
And then this past week ended with the death of Dora Zaidenweber.
Dora, and her beloved husband Jules z’l, joined Adath after they arrived in Minneapolis having survived the hell of the Shoah. They were active members of our shul and Shabbat regulars. Dora supported the work of our Chevra Kavod HaMet, sewing the tachrichim, the special shrouds that we use for dressing the met, the deceased for burial. The Zaidenwebers were well known for the many audiences around the state they addressed to raise awareness of the Shoah and to warn of the danger of unleashed hatred.
Dora started home hospice last year, but that did not stop her from insisting on attending a legislative hearing in March, at the State Capitol in Saint Paul, to urge legislators to adopt a bill mandating Holocaust and genocide education in MN High Schools. The bill was championed by Rep. Frank Hornstein and the JCRC. You can read the print and TV news coverage of her testimony that moved even reluctant legislators to get that bill passed. At the JCRC Benefit this year, Gov. Walz publicly acknowledged Dora for the crucial role she played.
I recount the lives of these folks, who have been so dear to our congregation and important in my life, in response to Rabbi Weininger’s question, “Who is your invisible village, knocking on the door to your heart?” These, and so many others, are the people I carry with me and whose presence I feel in our sanctuary, whether I knew them as members when we were on Dupont Ave, or after we moved here. They are all very much in the room. Two weeks ago, we read Parashat Nitzavim in which Moshe reminds the people of Israel that the covenant, the brit, they are party to is, “both with those who are standing here with us this day before our God Adonai and with those who are not with us here this day.
כִּי֩ אֶת־אֲשֶׁ֨ר יֶשְׁנ֜וֹ פֹּ֗ה עִמָּ֙נוּ֙ עֹמֵ֣ד הַיּ֔וֹם לִפְנֵ֖י יְהֹוָ֣ה אֱלֹהֵ֑ינוּ וְאֵ֨ת אֲשֶׁ֥ר אֵינֶ֛נּוּ פֹּ֖ה עִמָּ֥נוּ הַיּֽוֹם׃
I very much feel at that crossroad captured by this verse, placing us between those are with us this day and those who are gone, and alluding as well to those who are yet to be here. Our synagogue brings us together in affirming that brit covenant. It is exceedingly difficult to let go of those who have been so dear to us, and who have for so many years defined this place. But I offer this last High Holiday sermon at Adath with trust and confidence for the future, knowing that others have and will step up to enable us to live out that covenantal responsibility and carry our congregation forward. It will not the same, but a new generation will make the Adath their own, and thereby live out their commitment to the covenant.
Years ago, I remember looking at the older folks who made up our daily minyan and wondering what would become of our minyan when those older folks were gone. I did not factor in that there would be new older folks who had the time and willingness to commit to sustaining the vitality of our daily minyan. It is not a small mater to replace people as leaders of our services when veteran leaders with significant skills have aged out, or died, but I know that Hazzan Dulkin is eager to help people develop those skills and to form a new crop of leaders. Making use of zoom technology since the pandemic, which was at one time unthinkable, means that we never need to be without a minyan for prayer. Still, it is a richer, more personal experience when we gather for daily minyan in person and I look forward to our eventually rebuilding our presence in person, complemented by zoom.
There is no area of the life of our congregation where over time we will not need to identify new leaders to carry the work forward. I want to make a point of lifting up the example of our Chevra Kavod HaMet. Many of those I mentioned today were leaders of that incredible effort, going back to when it was launched by Rabbi Godman with congregants in 1976. Adath received national attention. ABC nationally made a documentary about that eoffrt that is still used to instruct people in the mitzvah of Chevra Kaddisha. We are still looked to as leaders nationally in this work. When I became senior rabbi in 1996, it was clear that our Chevra was needing attention. I committed to renewing it and we recruited some 90 volunteers who accepted the responsibility for keeping it going. The Chevra again needs to be revitalized. I greatly appreciate that Rabbi Weininger is committed to that effort. It is one of the most powerful spiritual experiences imaginable, and I encourage our people to step forward to take on roles in sustaining it.
I want to end by picking up on one other thread of Rabbi Weininger’s message last night when he asked that we “use this Yom Kippur to locate loss in order to locate life.” In the eulogy I delivered for Max Elkin last week, I noted how in many ways he and Dinah were involved in aspects of the shul that supported people in dealing with death, in making possible a minyan for kaddish, and other sacred purposes, in leading our Chevra Kavod HaMet for decades, in directly caring for the dead and treating the body with the utmost respect, and in the caring for our Jewish communal cemeteries. In all these ways, Max and Dinah were guides to our congregation in dealing with the end of life, and that theme ran through many of the stories of the people I recalled today. They all understood that death was not something to be avoided or denied. There was no better way to face the inevitability of death and to counter that reality than to engage it directly and having done so to embrace living fully.
This explains why Judaism wisely has us confront the inevitability of death in so many ways- ending each daily service with the Mourner’s Kaddish, incorporating the Yizkor prayers into many of our holidays as we will in a few moments, doing Kever Avot- visits to the cemetery at the time of these holidays, returning each year on the yahrzeit do say Kaddish and to dedicate ourselves to the values of those whom we remember. The regular confrontation with death by Judaism is not borne out of it being a morbid religion, but rather it comes from the wisdom that has us confront death in order to embrace life.
As we begin our Yizkor service, let us honor those who have been important to us and shaped us into the people and community that we have become. As we forthrightly confront the reality of death, let us end this Yom Kippur holiday determined to live our lives with meaning and purpose, and with stronger ties to the covenant, which is our people’s heritage.
Adath clergy, staff, and congregants share