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President's Remarks, 2015/5776

When I tell people that I am the president of my synagogue, often the first question is “Does that mean you have to go to services every week?”  Let’s see who knows the answer.  Those who choose the correct response will win—sorry, Carl Kasell was busy—Ed Hamburg’s voice on your home answering machine.

a)  The synagogue by-laws state the president must attend services every week
b)  The rabbi’s contract states the president must attend services every week
c)  There is an unwritten and unspoken tradition that the president attends services every week

OK, how many people choose A…  how many B…  how many C?  Ed, you’re going to be busy.

And so I did begin attending Shabbat services every week with a feeling of obligation, a feeling that doing so was part of the job I had taken on.  And then a funny thing happened.  I began to look forward to coming, and to feel I was missing out when I had to work or was out of town.  I missed singing along with Cantor Rosenberg and being enveloped in her warmth.  I missed learning from others during Torah studies.  I missed being greeted by Rabbi Minkus’s welcoming smile and hearing his insightful and concise comments on the Torah portion—he always inspires me to work on being more thoughtful, on being better.  And most of all, I missed the warm Shabbat greetings, the feeling of being part of a community, the windows into the lives of the other people.  There is a rhythm of community life on Shabbat, a sharing of both happy and sad events, a sharing of stories.  My favorite story this year was learning how one of our congregants survived the siege of Leningrad.

So I want to talk for a few minutes about Shabbat at Rodfei Zedek.  What may come to your mind when I say Shabbat at Rodfei Zedek is what we call the Masorti Minyan.  Week after week, month after month, year after year, there is always a traditional Masorti Minyan, generally led by Cantor Rosenberg and Rabbi Minkus, and sometimes by congregants, sometimes with a bar or bat mitzvah, sometimes with a celebration of a birthday or anniversary, sometimes with a new mourner.  The Masorti Minyan is a constant in the life of Rodfei Zedek.

But the weekly Masorti Minyan may not be what you are looking for.  And that’s fine—we are not a “one size fits all” congregation!  We aspire to fulfill the words of Abraham Joshua Heschel, who said, “Is uniformity desirable or even possible?  Perhaps it is the will of God that…there should be diversity in our forms of devotion and commitment to God.”  So I want to tell you about other ways you can be part of the Shabbat community at Rodfei Zedek.  It is really quite amazing how much is going on, considering what a small congregation we are.

Try out the Na’aseh v’Nishma Minyan, named after the phrase on our Ark:  we will do, and then we will listen and understand.  At Na’aseh v’Nishma, we do a lot of singing and clapping—a lot.  Led by Cantor Rosenberg, with her husband Chuck and often Ethan Bueno de Mesquita on guitar, Na’aseh is spirited, lively, and just fun.  Along with the singing, there is a shortened Torah reading followed by a Torah discussion led by a congregant—so that we can listen to each other and understand.  People of all ages come to Na’aseh, ranging from babies and toddlers playing on the floor in the back to those in the grandparent generation.  Na’aseh takes place once every month.

Are you a child between the ages of 1 day and 5 years?  Or the parent of one?  Then come to Minyan Katan, sit on the rug, sing some Shabbat songs, hear a Shabbat story, have a snack, and make some friends.  Minyan Katan, led by Sarah Abella and Yael Hoffman, takes place twice every month.

Maybe you are age 6 or older.  Bring your parents to Minyan Gadol every month!  This new youth minyan, led by Rabbi Minkus with the participation of Cantor Rosenberg and song leader Steven Chaitman, will include an abridged service, Torah reading by children, teens, and adults, and a discussion of the weekly Torah portion.  Older children will learn how to be a gabbai to help run the service.  Don’t miss this—one of last year’s bar mitzvah boys named Rabbi Minkus the coolest rabbi ever.

Would you prefer a family-oriented Friday night service followed by a relaxing dinner that you don’t have to prepare yourself?  Well, you will have to prepare just one item.  Come to the monthly Shabbat B’yachad—Shabbat together.  Sometimes accompanied by a learning session led by the Rabbi and Cantor, or by a congregant, this family-oriented service is open to all and followed by a potluck dinner.  The first one took place just last Friday.  Additionally, there will be a learner’s service on other Fridays, focused on children and adults who want to learn to lead the Friday night service and also, of course, open to all.

I could go on and on, but I don’t want to be remembered as the speaker who was not concise.  So I will finish with what are for me, the must-not-miss Shabbat experiences at Rodfei:

Number 1:  This American Shabbat.  (Yes, there is an NPR theme here.)  After studying the parshah together with Rabbi Minkus, during This American Shabbat three congregants deliver brief divrei Torah, each bringing his or her own perspective to the parshah.  Last January, we heard Julie Oppenheimer, Mitchell Brown, and Jeff Ruby talk about the beginning of the book of Exodus.  In June, Stacy Hamburg, Andrew Skol, and Amy Blumenthal discussed a portion from Numbers.  These talks have all been GREAT.  In fact, after Stacy delivered her d’var Torah, I thought to myself,  “Wow, I’m glad I don’t have to speak next—that was, to use Rabbi Minkus’s favorite metaphor for a sermon, a home run.”  But then Andrew and Amy both hit it out of the park, too.  This American Shabbat services will take place in November and February.  Watch for announcements.

Number 2:  The Kab Shab Project.  Close your eyes for a moment and imagine a band up here on the bimah belting out L’Chah Dodi, with people dancing around the sanctuary singing.  This really happened last spring during the inaugural Kab Shab Project service!  With Cantor Rosenberg leading us in song, accompanied by husband Chuck on guitar, son Ari on bass, Andrew Basa on a couple of the many instruments he plays, and others, the Kab Shab Project is pure energy.  There will be two Kab Shab Project services in the upcoming year, followed by potluck dinners.

Number 3:  Shabbat al fresco.  Held in the backyard of a congregant, this mid-summer gathering is always wonderful, and miraculously, the weather is nearly always cooperative.  Our gracious hosts over the years have included the Loevys, the Hamburgs, the Parzen-Johnsons, the Resnicks, and most recently the Bentons.  Just two months ago, over 120 people gathered in Erica and Tim’s lovely backyard for a truly magical evening of song, prayer, good food, and friendship.

I want to conclude with the image of Shabbat in another community, one made up of several subgroups, divided up by age or common interests.  Each subgroup has its own service, tailored to its needs.  Sounds a bit like us, doesn’t it?  Where is this other community, and what can we learn from them about bringing together all of the subgroups?  Here is a hint—in this other community, parents are called counselors, families are called cabins, and subgroups are called units—yes, it is Jewish summer camp, and I am particularly thinking about Olin-Sang-Ruby, where my son spent many summers.  At the end of all the different services, everyone walks to the dining hall, for eating together, for singing together, for talking together, for listening together.  The Shabbat meal bridges the separations and brings the entire community together.  In the same way, our Shabbat meals at Rodfei Zedek bring our community together.  Regardless of whether you come once a week or once a year, regardless of which service you attend or what time you come, regardless of whether you know anyone, you will always be welcome at Shabbat meals at Rodfei Zedek.  You become part of the community by being here.  You as an individual, and all of us as a group, create the Rodfei Zedek community with gifts of participation, of time, energy, ideas, and yes, money.  Help create the Rodfei Zedek community, whether on Shabbat or through another pathway.  Be part of the Rodfei Zedek community.

May we all be inscribed and sealed for a life of good health, contentment, and peace. Shanah Tova.

—Diane Altkorn, M.D.

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Tue, April 16 2024 8 Nisan 5784