On Saturday, October 25th, I was formally installed as the Rabbi of Temple Beth-El in Richmond, Virginia, becoming only the 6th person in the Temple’s 83 year history to hold that office. Below are the remarks I shared during the service:
Mr. President; esteemed leaders; revered and beloved rabbis and mentors; dear family and friends; my holy community:
Thank you all for joining me for this very special Shabbat. I am deeply moved by your presence, and profoundly humbled by the great honor and responsibility that you are bestowing on me today. Thank you, especially, to everyone – to all the volunteers, staff, and clergy – who worked so hard to make this weekend possible. I am touched by your dedication to this community, and feel so blessed by your love and friendship. And, of course, thank you to my wonderful family and friends, many of whom travelled great distances in order to be with us this weekend. Finally, thank you, Adira, for being the best friend, advisor, partner, supporter, critic, and Ima in the world.
On a personal level, it is hard to put into words how special this moment is. But more importantly, I believe that today isn’t about a personal milestone. Rather, we’re celebrating the life- and world-changing power of a specific Jewish path. Our founders established this congregation because they believed our city and our world needed a Judaism that called for both personal spiritual striving and world repair, and for an integration of yesterday’s wisdom and today’s insights. As only the 6th Rabbi in 83 years to accept the mantle of rabbinic leadership of this extraordinary kehillah, I am bound up in the vision of those courageous early leaders and with my predecessors, who were entrusted to hold fast to that compelling path of Torah.
Our world is very different from the one our founders encountered: New technology has sparked radical, world-shrinking and democratizing changes. The language of faith has been hijacked by vandals, despots, and terrorists. New avenues for wisdom and transcendence have replaced traditional religious institutions that, for too long, have emphasized form over function.
But in this new world, our parents’ and grandparents’ values – that ancient Jewish wisdom must adapt to address today’s challenges, that human dignity is God’s foremost concern, and that religious life should impart joy, meaning, and purpose – are more relevant than ever. And a robust community that advances those values has never been more necessary.
Let us, then, declare today, at this sacred moment, that our ancestors’ Torah is being handed to us, a new generation at Temple Beth-El, living in and formed by a world unrecognizable to past generations, a world that yet longs for a Judaism of love, compassion, justice, and peace.
“It was not with our ancestors that the Holy One made this covenant, but with us, the living, every one of us who is here today.”
I accept the beautiful and holy responsibility of being your rabbi. I thank you for your confidence, your support, and your love.
But I cannot accomplish the work ahead alone. The fate of this community and its Torah is in all of our hands. To flourish, we – every one of us who is here today – must rise and join together.
Will you join with me in answering that call? Will you partner with me in this sacred work?
In the history of our congregation, and in the history of our people, few have been granted the opportunity to reimagine, rebuild, and revitalize a vibrant center for a Judaism of love and justice in an era of its greatest urgency. But I welcome the challenge. I would not exchange places with any other rabbi in any other place or time. And I hope that you, too, feel that we are living in the right time and place. With the passion, creativity, and tenacity of this community, we can illumine all that is dark in our world, helping us advance an age of wholeness and peace.
I pray that the Holy Blessing One grants us strength, resilience, openness, and wisdom. I look forward to working closely with all of you toward a glorious future for this sacred and special Congregation.
Todah rabbah, and Shabbat Shalom!