First of all, I want to say thank you.
My first debt of gratitude is always to my parents, Dan and Monique Goldwasser, who are here this evening. Thank you, Mom and Dad, for everything.
Next, I am grateful to this entire congregation for bringing me to Temple Sinai, for your faith in me, and for giving me the incredible privilege of being your co-spiritual leader. I am indebted to you forever.
Thank you to Remmie Brown, our Cantor Emeritus, for bringing, not only your gift of music on this occasion, but also your history of leadership and genuine love of the members of Temple Sinai over your 34 years of service to this sacred community. Thank you to Dotty Swajian, Irene Fordon-Abbott, Sandy Maldavir, Ellen Rappoport, Sherry Feldman and many others, who have worked so hard to organize tonight’s event. Thank you Sue Oclassen for leading the Cantorial Search Committee that brought Cantor Wendy to us. Thank you Steve Hirsch for leading the Rabbinic Search Committee and, then, hardly missing a beat, for leading the Transition Committee that is now helping Wendy and me become the most effective leaders we can be for Temple Sinai. Thank you to Ellie Wasser and Ellen Jordan, for being my partners as President and First Vice-President, for your honesty, integrity, hard work, and, most of all, for your love of this congregation.
In absentia, I also want to thank my friend Rabbi Peter Stein for so graciously handing me the reins of Temple Sinai. As many of you know, Rabbi Stein and I have known each other since we were students together at Hebrew Union College in New York City. I am deeply grateful for his inspired leadership of this community over the past 11 years. It is always wonderful for a rabbi to step into a new pulpit, but it is even more so when coming into a congregation that is healthy, joyful, inspired and filled with a thirst for Jewish learning. Temple Sinai is all of those things, and great thanks are due to Rabbi Stein for making it and keeping it that way. That, I think, is the best gift that one rabbi can give to a colleague. Thank you, Peter.
Of course, I also want to thank my friend and colleague, Rabbi Alan Flam, who generously accepted the invitation to officiate at today’s installation. (On his birthday, no less. Happy Birthday, Alan.) I am indebted to you for the thoughtfulness, caring and commitment that you have brought to this occasion. Rabbi Flam and I have known each other since we met at a rabbinic retreat in 2002 and I have long admired his deep spirituality and commitment to social action. In the three months since I came to Rhode Island, he has become a trusted friend, advisor and coffee drinking buddy at Olga’s Cup and Saucer. Thank you, for your kind words, your penetrating insights, your good humor and your friendship.
And, now, for the rebuttal.
Inevitably, the question is raised: Why do we need an installation service? You have attended High Holy Days services with me and Cantor Wendy. We have enjoyed many Friday night and Saturday morning services together over the past three months. This past week, we danced with the Torah scrolls on Simchat Torah. Your children have learned with us in Religious School. If an “installation” is the time when the delivery truck pulls up to the house to deliver the new appliances, surely Cantor Wendy and I already have been wired in and connected. Aren’t we already happily installed as this congregation’s side-by-side washing machine and dryer?
Well, yes and no. We have gotten to know you, and you have gotten to know us, but we still have a long way to go before anyone regards us as fixtures here. This installation service can be regarded as both the “end of the beginning,” and the beginning of the next phase of the process in which we form a lasting covenant as congregation and clergy.
It is altogether fitting that we have waited until now to have this installation service. If we had done this when Cantor Wendy and I first arrived, it would have been a ritual in which we would have greeted people we did not know and the congregation would have greeted us as likable, smiling strangers. Last July, an installation could have been very lovely, very sweet, … but it would not have been very real. By waiting until we all have had a chance to get to know each other, we are making this installation one that has real meaning. Tonight, we can make the formal declaration that this rabbi, this cantor, and this community belong together in mutual understanding, respect and joy. As the bridegroom and bride said on their wedding night: I’m glad we waited.
Looking back at the last three months, I see the beginning of a promising future to complement this congregation’s brilliant past. Temple Sinai was founded 56 years ago by a group of ten Jewish families that wanted to create a home for the newly developing Jewish community in the suburbs of the West Bay. They founded the congregation to give their children a place to learn our tradition and to celebrate lifecycle events. They founded it to provide a place for Jewish Rhode Islanders to come together for meaningful worship and social gathering. They founded it so that, together, they could make Jewish values come to life with acts of tzedakah and tikkun olam.
I see the persistence of that original vision today in the joy on our children’s faces in our Temple’s religious and Hebrew schools. At t’filah, on Tuesday afternoons, the kids practically fall over each other to volunteer to help lead different parts of the service. Believe me when I tell you that such enthusiasm for Hebrew School does not exist in every congregation. What we have here is special, and we owe great thanks to our marvelous teachers and to our Education Director, Toby Koritsky, for making it so.
I see the original vision of this congregation still going strong when I hear the singing at every Shabbat service. This is a community that really “gets” the idea that worship is not just a dry ceremony to be completed before attacking the brownies at the Oneg. No, this is a congregation that worships with joy and spirit. When we hear the voices of the congregation together in song, we become more than the sum of our parts. We are spiritually strengthened by being together and we find deeper levels of connection to God, community and ourselves when we come to pray with one another here.
I see the original vision of this congregation still going strong when I see the volunteers, young and old, who come each month to make hundreds of sandwiches to deliver to Harrington Hall homeless men's shelter. I see it in the enthusiasm and sense of purpose with which people brought thousands of pounds of food and toiletry items to our High Holy Days services to donate to West Bay Community Action.
The greatest promise, though, that I see in Temple Sinai is not to be found in any education program, worship service, or social action project. The greatest promise and the greatest asset of this congregation is its people. You are warmly welcoming, not only to a new cantor and new rabbi, but to every person who walks into this building. I have seen it in the way that you greet newcomers and the way that you make everyone feel that they belong here. You are tremendously generous and giving. I have seen it in the way that our congregation’s leaders and volunteers devote themselves to this community as a labor of love, and also in the way you, our members, support this congregation financially. You are joyful in your Judaism. I have seen it in the way you rise to every challenge I offer to study, worship, sing and dance our tradition together with delight. If we hold on to those qualities, there is nothing that we cannot do together.
I said earlier that tonight’s installation service can be seen as “the end of the beginning” of the relationship between the congregation and its new clergy team, and that it is the beginning of the next phase of the transition. I would like to take some time tonight to talk about where I see Temple Sinai going in that next phase – the challenges that stand before us as we continue to remain true to our original vision.
In the next year, I would like to see our commitment to informal youth education deepen. We already have begun that work by reviving our two youth groups, CRAFTY and CRAFTY Junior, thanks largely to the work of Rick Cohen, the chair of our Youth Committee, and Adam Cohen, our Youth Advisor. We also are fortunate to be among the regional congregations that supports a very successful BBYO group. Temple Sinai has a culture that is highly supportive of Jewish camping and teen trips to Israel. We need to make sure that we continue all of these programs to high levels of success. Our future, and, in truth, the future of North American Judaism, depends on our ability to keep our young people engaged with Judaism and the Jewish community beyond becoming b’nei mitzvah.
In the coming years, I would like to expand our social action programs here at Temple Sinai and seek greater involvement from Temple members. Cranston is not the same city it was when Temple Sinai started 56 years ago. We were founded as a “suburban” congregation, but we are increasingly part of an urban landscape that has needs and difficulties that are common to most American cities. Not far from our Temple’s front doors, there are families that feel insecure about their ability to put food on the table. There are families here that are stressed out about giving their children a good start in life. If we take the time to get to know our neighbors and work to make life better for us all, we will be rewarded not only by knowing that we have done some good for others – we also will be rewarded by feeling more integrated and connected to the community and the world around us.
This year at Temple Sinai, I would like to see us explore new ways to further energize our worship services, particularly through music. Our Temple is gifted with marvelous musicians. Cantor Wendy leads us in song with her beautiful voice and exuberant style. Raymond Buttero, our keyboard accompanist, gives us so much of his heart and so much of his top-caliber, conservatory-trained talent. Dr. Joel Gluck and all of the members of Shireinu, our amazing all-volunteer chorus, make our services sparkle with heartfelt, joyful music. And the enthusiasm for music in this congregation extends all the way to the last row of the pews. We are a congregation that loves music and loves to sing. Working together, we can try out more contemporary melodies and new instruments that will appeal both to our long-time members and to younger families. The world of Jewish worship music is always growing and changing. We can decide which new settings best complement the music we already cherish. We have made, and we will continue to make, beautiful music together.
Finally, I also would like to deepen our congregation’s connection and commitment to the State of Israel. By the time that this year’s b’nei mitzvah students graduate from college, Israel likely will be home to a majority of all the Jews in the world. Think about that. Here in the 21st century, a strong connection to the State of Israel is indispensable for maintaining a strong Jewish identity – if for no other reason than that Israel is where most of the world’s Jews soon will be. A congregational trip to Israel in 2015 or 2016, one that focusses on families, would be a blast. It also would be a chance for us to set the tone for a congregation that is ready to face the challenges of the 21st century.
On Rosh Hashanah, I said that we are all in a relationship now – Cantor Wendy, me, and you, the members of the congregation. When rabbis, cantors and congregations enter into new relationships, they usually do so with a bit of trepidation, but also with a lot of hope. In all humility, I want to tell you how grateful I am for the opportunity you have given me to serve this community. I have great hopes for our future together and I regard the responsibility of being your spiritual leader as a sacred trust. I promise you my every effort to make myself worthy of your trust.
Thank you for being here tonight. Thank you for being part of Temple Sinai’s journey into its future, filled with the values and vision that make this a sacred community.