Sign In Forgot Password

Farewell Remarks

Rabbi Elliot B. Gertel
September 8, 2012

I am touched by all the kind and heartfelt tributes just offered, and by the kind and generous tribute and honor of all of you being here in person this evening.  Thanks again to the committee, to the entire staff of the Congregation, who are all here tonight, to Ed Hamburg for emceeing this event, and to all listed on the programs for the dinner and for the concert at 9:00.  I must especially thank Jonathan Miller, who devotedly and beautifully set some of my music for the concert and Esther Criscuola de Laix, one of my bat mitzvah students, who prepared the organ music for that program.

I thank the dedicated auxiliaries of the Congregation who are all represented here tonight:  Sisterhood, Men’s Club, Braille Institute, Gift Shop, Shabbat Chavurah, Minyan Katan, Family Minyan and Young Families Chavurah. They have all been mainstays of the Congregation and wonderful friends and supporters to me.

I’m honored by colleagues and former synagogue staff members who are here, as by representatives from Akiba Schechter Jewish Day School, Hyde Park JCC, and Moadon Kol Chadash, and from more recent organizations, the Jewish Enrichment Center and Jewish UChicago, all of whom have enhanced my life and the life of this Congregation.

Though time does not allow me to repeat every name now, I intend to acknowledge all by name in a column in a forthcoming e-letter, so that the entire Congregation can read it.  If I have forgotten to mention anyone–and that’s why we have Selichot–please tell me so that I can make my e-letter column as inclusive and comprehensive as possible.

It is a delight to share this event with my brother, Ted, and sister-in-law, Joan, and with my niece and two of my nephews.  I extend my parents’ greetings and gratitude for the flowers sent to them by the Committee, a very thoughtful gesture.

As you may have noticed, though we ended the Sabbath with the evening and Havdalah services that have brought us into Sunday, the Shabbat seems to continue.  We Jews have traditionally had difficulty letting go, especially of Shabbat.  Since Talmudic days our Jewish mystics have taught us that we are blessed with a neshama yeterah, an additional soul, on Shabbat, in addition to a day of peace and joy that connects us with God and with each other.

The Third Meal or Seudah Shlishit, before the end of the Sabbath, represented the height of such connection.  I was therefore touched that the Committee decided to pay tribute to me at such a meal, and a wonderful tribute meal it was, in every way.  After Havdalah our mystics would have another meal, or at least a musical interlude, called a Melaveh Malkah, an escorting away of Shabbat, to hold on to Shabbat peace and joy a little longer.  I’m honored and delighted that Seth Hitsky and Hashim Uqdah will be doing that in a few minutes with music new and old.

Interestingly, every year, the first Selichot or Penitential Prayers for the New Year extend the Sabbath very late into the night so that we face the New Year and its duties of forgiveness, repentance and renewal with joy and uplift.

Rabbi GertelSomeone once asked, “Why does it take a minute to say ‘hello’ and forever to say ‘goodbye’?”  But I think that we Jews have wonderful guidance in our rituals and traditions at saying “goodbye” in a slightly prolonged way.

Shabbat teaches us how to say goodbye—in stages of transition.  So do our Holidays.  The High Holy Days culminate in Shemini Atzeret, the Eighth Day of Assembly, at the end of Sukkot.  Our Sages understood that the word for assembly, atzeret, literally means “stopping,” a day to stop.  They envisioned God saying to the pilgrims to Jerusalem:  “Stop, stay with Me an extra holiday.”

I’m proud to say that our transition at Rodfei Zedek takes it cue from these time-honored traditions of saying goodbye to Shabbat each week and of departing from the Temple on the Festivals of old.  We are doing it in stages, with affection and purpose and a good plan—and with shalom.

Shalom is, after all, central to the Sabbath and Festivals.  It is even regarded in our tradition as one of God’s Names.  Yet our Talmudic Sages had a debate about what the appropriate words of farewell should be.  Some said that, when parting from friends, we should say, Lech l’shalom, Go towards peace.  Others said that the proper words should be Lech b’shalom, Go in peace.”

Both expressions are appropriate as Congregation and Rabbi part over the next ten months.  We part in peace because of what we have accomplished together these past twenty-five years.  Yet we know that what gives us the most peace and joy are the deep attachments and friendships that we have built here.  And on that foundation, we can all go towards peace, looking forward to new relationships and new responsibilities because of the quality of associations and achievements made here at Rodfei Zedek and that you can continue to forge here at Rodfei Zedek.

We know that the word shalom means “hello” and “goodbye” as well as “peace.”  But it really means completeness, fulfillment, soundness, welfare, well-being and contentment.  All of these meanings of shalom are found in the Hebrew Bible.

Thank you for your friendship, your attentiveness, your appreciation through the years, and for the soundness and well-being that you gave to me personally.

Thank you for the honor of involving me in your lives, your families, the sad as well as happy occasions, your worthy activities and visions, the milestone events in your children’s lives, the b’nai mitzvah, weddings, babynamings.  Thanks for the fulfillment and contentment that all of this has brought to my life.

Thank you for your questions about Judaism, your thoughts about Torah and Jewish life, your commitment to the State of Israel and to social justice, and your search for God.  Thank you for thereby sharing my concern for the welfare of the Jewish People and of our sacred brit or covenant with God, and what we might bring to the welfare of our community, of our city, of the United States, of Israel, and of the world.  Thank you for your decision to dedicate in my name the Holy Ark which gives us the mandate in faith and observance of the mitzvot or commandments, as in community involvement:  “Naaseh v’nishma, First we’ll do it and then, or perhaps thereby, we’ll understand the full significance,” the shalom, shlemut, the complete­ness of it.

And thank you for always being so generous and appreciative of Rodfei Zedek and its role in Hyde Park and in Jewish life everywhere.  Good old Rodfei Zedek has defied every sociological and demographic prognostication for all of its almost 140 years.  Rodfei Zedek has flourished most when so-called experts, in three centuries, were questioning the viability of a Conservative synagogue on the South Side of Chicago.

Defying the odds and the odd-makers every decade since the 1870s, our members and friends have responded generously.  After all, shalem, from shalom, means paying a debt in full, keeping a community sound and viable.  That’s why I’m especially honored and heartened that your retirement gift to me will be the retirement of the mortgage on this building that we built.  When I came, there was no debt.  That was the legacy left to me by Rabbi Ralph Simon, of blessed memory, and by that generation of synagogue leaders.  And that is the legacy that we shall leave to those who come into the Congregation now, both as clergy and as members.

So thank you and shalom and farewell as we say goodbye, in good Jewish fashion, over the next several months.  God bless Rodfei Zedek and all of our members, friends, and neighbors, this nation, the Jewish People everywhere, and all humanity with shalom.  Amen.

The Pulpit Shelf

Tue, February 20 2024 11 Adar I 5784