Rabbi David Whiman and I both came to North Shore Synagogue on the same day, July 1st, five years ago. Today is my last Shabbat Service at the Temple. I will be moving up to Ridgefield Connecticut where I will have my own congregation, Temple Shearith Israel.
Today is not only my farewell Shabbat, but it is also Friday the 13th. When Friday falls on this date, it is supposed to be bad luck. But today as we say farewell to one another, I cannot help but reflect on my good fortune. It is has been a wonderful five years that we have spent together, and I feel blessed to have been here with you. Tonight I would like to share some stories about my time at NSS, stories that I will carry in my memory and cherish.
When I first arrived at North Shore Synagogue five years ago, “fresh out of the factory,” I had a lot of energy and enthusiasm. But I had no real idea of what it meant to be one of the Rabbis of a large congregation. I was 28 years old, and right away I got comments about my age. “Rabbi you are so young.” “Do they make rabbis this young?” People started calling me “baby rabbi” and teasing me about my youth. I briefly contemplated growing a beard to make myself look older, but my wife vetoed that idea.
My favorite story about being a young rabbi happened when I traveled to New York City to officiate at a wedding. I arrived at the location wearing a suit, and I had my black robe in a bag draped over my arm. The grandmother of the bride saw me and said: “You’re the Rabbi?!?” Then I put on my robe, and she said: “Oh, You’re the Rabbi!!!” Apparently, a well-pressed black robe goes a long way.
As I worked my way into the congregation and began teaching and leading services, I got to know the children in the religious school, youth group and nursery school. Apparently, I made quite an impression on one young girl particular. A three year old from our Nursery School went home one day and said: “Mommy, I saw God today.” The mom was a bit taken aback and asked: “What did God look like?” “He was about 5,8, thin, with curly brown hair,” replied the girl. “No, that was the Rabbi,” the mom wisely corrected her daughter.
In my years here, I tried to share with you the same kind of caring that you gave to us. It has been my blessing and privilege to officiate at baby namings, b’nai mitzvah and weddings. And I have done my best to support you and be there for you in times of need, when you lost a loved one and needed comfort and caring.
One of the truly rewarding parts of my job is being with a family through the cycle of their lives. Not long after I arrived at North Shore Synagogue, I converted a woman to Judaism. Then I married her and her husband. I named their first baby girl two years ago. And just last Sunday, not a week before my last day here at the Temple, I named their second child, another beautiful baby girl.
As I was driving to their house, I thought about what it was like to marry them four years ago, and about all of the changes that have happened in their lives and in mine. I was with them in the beginning and at the end of my time at North Shore Synagogue. As I prepared to bless the baby, I offered my own silent prayer of thanks for all of the joys of these last five years.
In the book of Numbers, the Torah lists all of the stops that the Israelites made in the 40 years in the desert. Most of the lines read something like this: “They set out from Succoth and encamped at Etham.” “They set out from Marah and came to Elim.” The list is very formulaic, providing no detail on what happened at each stop. Perhaps it was too hard to capture all of the events, the joys and difficulties of such a long and fulfilling journey.
As I look back on my five years at North Shore Synagogue, there is no way I could possibly recount to you tonight all of the services, classes, events, great moments and treasured times that we have experienced together. The list is simply too long. But the chronicles of our journey together will live on inside of my heart. You have welcomed me into your synagogue and into your lives. It has been a blessing to be one of your rabbis. Thank you for five wonderful years.
At the end of a service, I like to bless the congregation with the Priestly Blessing. I open my hands in the traditional formation of the sons of Aaron, so that my hands look like the Hebrew letter Shin. Now please rise, as I offer this blessing to you as we say farewell:
Ye’vare’che’cha Adonai Ve’yish’merecha,
May God bless you and keep you.
Ya’er Adonai Panav Aylecha, Vi’chuneka
May God’s light shine upon you and be good to you.
Yisa Adaoni Panav Aylecha, Ve’yasem Lecha Shalom.
May God be with you and give you Peace.
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