Three centres One community
July 9, 2019
Here I am, standing before you.
Called by God and this community
to do the holy work
of bringing our Torah, tradition & wisdom into our lives
so that we may better ourselves,
and the world around us.
I am here for you,
ready to serve you
in the moments of intense spiritual need
as well as in the moments of day-to-day living
as best as I can.
I am human
and I will stumble along the way
but when you called I said, in the words of our prophets –
Here I am! Send me!
Since arriving in Cape Town,
the question that I get asked most often is,
“What are you doing here”???
Sometimes I make light of the question
and talk about the climate and the mountain,
and escaping Trump’s America –
all of which were certainly factors.
But aside from the bounty and beauty that nature here affords us,
moving to South Africa and joining the rabbinic team here at Temple Israel came with four motivating opportunities in particular.
was the chance to move to a country that is as full of opportunities
as it is full of challenges.
In South Africa, there is no shortage of good work to be done.
As someone who is committed to rodef tzedek,
the pursuit of justice and to tikkun olam, the repair of the world,
here I found not just a beautiful mountain,
but a mountain of need to dig into.
This country is still in formation –
and is healing from the traumas of the past –
and it was compelling to me to think about what it could mean
to be a rabbi in such a place – a place where I felt
I could truly make a difference,
not only in the Jewish community, but in the country as a whole.
Second, was the opportunity to break a glass ceiling.
Many of you have heard me say
that as a young woman and rabbinical student in North America,
where there are now several generations of female rabbis
spread throughout the Jewish community,
I never expected to find myself anywhere as the “first” woman rabbi.
In North America, in most non-Orthodox – and indeed now
in several modern-Orthodox synagogues and organizations –
that ceiling has been broken.
So the opportunity to stand on the shoulders
of the women rabbis who came before me,
and to bring the female rabbinate,
with its unique teachings, theology and perspective, full-time,
into a new community, in a new part of the world,
was both daunting and compelling.
I have found it deeply meaningful and profoundly humbling,
knowing that I am partnering with all of you in making history together.
And it is particularly meaningful to me
to be able to model for the girls and young women in this community,
what it can mean to have, and also to be,
a rabbi who is also a woman.
The third reason, connected to those I have already mentioned,
was the opportunity to be an advocate for Progressive Judaism
in a place where Progressive Judaism faces stigma,
if not outright attack.
Having been a Reform Jew all of my life –
I don’t feel that I am able to separate my Jewish identity
and my Progressive Jewish approach.
I’m not just a Jew. I am a Progressive Jew,
and I feel strongly that Progressive Judaism is a critical part
of keeping Judaism alive, relevant and vibrant in the 21st century.
While I also feel strongly that the diversity of the Jewish world
is beautiful and important,
and that all Jews should have a choice
about what kind of Jew they want to be,
Progressive Judaism has afforded me the opportunity to access
all areas of Jewish life, and allows me to extend that opportunity
to others, regardless of who they are, who they love or who they marry.
To be a voice - and a female voice in particular –
for the Progressive Judaism that I love so deeply –
to educate about it and to advocate for it,
felt to me the obvious next step in my lifelong commitment
as a Progressive Jew.
But at its root, the decision to come here
was motivated by a strong hunger to return to the congregational rabbinate,
and find a home in a community that needed not just a rabbi,
but me, in particular.
When I was in rabbinical school,
we were asked to craft a vision of our rabbinate to share with synagogues when applying for rabbinic positions.
Though some of you may have had a chance to read this statement
back when I was first introduced as a candidate for this position,
I would like to share some of it with you now,
as it remains the bedrock to my approach to the rabbinate
and my relationship with those that I serve as a rabbi:
My understanding of the Jewish People’s purpose
and of my own role as a Jew in the world
is deeply rooted in the teaching that we are Am Yisra-El,
a people who grow through adversity.
I believe that we are meant to struggle – for meaning (Emet),
for self-betterment (Shleimut),
and for the betterment of the world in which we live (Tikkun Olam).
The search for meaning is bound up in our awareness of
and our struggles against limitation.
It often seems a tragic irony that humanity
is simultaneously advanced and restricted;
that being able to comprehend our potential,
we are also painfully aware of what we cannot do.
If this is the curse, than I believe the blessing can be found
in the simple fact that we are not alone –
that together we improve our odds,
increase our resources, maximize our potential
and provide for one another.
I believe that God made a choice to give us awareness,
to give us freewill, and perhaps most importantly,
to give us one another.
As a rabbi, I hope to guide others through their own struggles
toward emet, shleimut, and tikkun olam,
relying on the guidance of Torah and tradition,
the sense of obligation that The People of Israel have to one another,
and the motivation that comes from knowing each of us has the power
to act in the world on God’s behalf.
I strive to accomplish this through teaching and dialogue;
through setting an example of living a life based in Jewish values;
through empowering others to act;
through the teachings and rituals of our heritage;
through inspiring others to pass these teachings and rituals on
to those around them;
and through engaging others in meaningful worship.
Hopefully, over these past nine months,
you’ve started to see this rabbinic vision in action
and I look forward to partnering with all of you in deepening and broadening
the work I feel we’ve only just begun.
Nine months is the period of gestation.
We have come together and planted a seed that has begun to take root
and that I hope will grow into a lifetime of Jewish learning and living
with one another.
Thank you for welcoming me this year and for celebrating me today.
It has truly been a pleasure to be your rabbi thus far,
and I am excited to see what the future has in store.
In Pirkei Avot, Rabbi Hillel says:
אוֹהֵב שָׁלוֹם וְרוֹדֵף שָׁלוֹם, אוֹהֵב אֶת הַבְּרִיּוֹת וּמְקָרְבָן לַתּוֹרָה:
Love peace and pursue peace, love all of creation, and draw them close to Torah.
It is my prayer for us
that as rabbi and community we may do this together:
love peace and pursue peace,
love one another and draw closer to Torah.
Thus may we each be bettered,
and thus together might we better our world.
Kein Yehi Ratzon
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