Celebrating Ten Years at CBI
Words of Appreciation – Gala 2016
A number of years ago, I asked one of our children what he thinks a rabbi does. I was immediately told that the rabbi announces pages in shul. Just last week, I asked our boys the same question again, and this time, I was told that a rabbi studies Torah all day, and then he teaches it to people. Thank God, it seems I have gotten upgraded over the years.
Yonatan and I arrived here in our mid-twenties. We got married only a year prior to that. Our formative years as a couple, as a rabbinic family, and later on as parents, all took place within the warm embrace of this community.
When we look back on these earlier years, we are most amazed by the chance you took on us and on the incredible trust you placed in us. Only now, ten years later, we can see those years for what they truly were. You allowed children to lead you, and in making that allowance, you made us believe we could act like adults.
But, we didn’t come to CBI empty handed. Both Yonatan and I are blessed to come from homes that in many ways prepared us for this responsibility. In addition, we were each blessed with incredible teachers, mentors, and as importantly, good childhood friends.
As many of you know, my mother is my rebbe. Everything I know about education I learnt from her. My father works a CBI Kiddush better than any other person I know. His genuine interest in people informs my rabbinate daily. Together, my parents built a home that was always open to strangers and celebrated the uniqueness of each human being.
Our weekly Shabbat table is an extension of my mom’s Shabbes and her incredible spirit of hospitality and gmilut hasadim. My father’s perennial curiosity and openness to new ideas guides the way I look at the world. Their spirit of volunteerism on behalf of the Jewish people is a model for us every day.
We also want to thank our children.
HH, MG, & AS, remember the video we watched this summer of Kevin Durant receiving the MVP? Remember how Kevin Durant mentioned and thanked each of his teammates? Look around this room tonight – this is our team! And in our team you are always, always, always, our most valuable players.
We sense that our children still don’t fully grasp what it means to grow up in a rabbinic home and we pray that we can keep it that way as long as possible (and we also know that all of you share in that commitment).
Our extended family, who is represented by Aunt Paula who is here tonight, has always celebrated and supported our religious journey and our entry into rabbinic life. In fact, when Frayda and I started dating, we would study the Parsha together. So in those earlier years, the Gonshor clan called me “Parshaman” (I assume lovingly).
Frayda and I are also blessed with siblings who we love dearly and who have been role models for us, each in their own way. We are so glad Ben, Yona and Rob are here with us and wish Lior, Maya and Alex could be here too. We each also have a close group of childhood friends, going back all the way to elementary school. These friendships and our siblings have sustained us in hard times and kept us honest and real.
Rabbi Howard and Dr. Norma Joseph, my teacher and rebbetzin from a very young age, sparked my connection to Modern Orthodoxy and Norma in particular, a founder of Women of the Wall and Women’s Tefillah, and an agunah activist, lit my feminist passion. In later years, I was fortunate to learn with Rabbanit Devorah Zlochower, who is a model Talmidah Chachmah. My teachers and classmates and Drisha Scholars Circle helped shape my understanding of Torah in inspiring and challenging ways.
As I mentioned on Friday night, this community has always encouraged my own academic and professional pursuits. In that arena, My Wexner Graduate Fellowship colleagues, my doctoral advisors Anna Richert, Lee Shulman, Kathy Schultz and Hanan Alexnader, and my colleagues at Rosov Consulting have continually pressed me to be sharper, more critical, and more articulate. They believe in me and in my contribution to the world of research and Jewish education.
Pirkey Avot teaches: “Aseh Lecha Rav” – literally, “make for yourself a rabbi” and so I assembled my rabbinate with different parts. Over these years, if I had to teach something, I first thought about ‘how would R. Saul Berman teach this?’ When I felt burdened by difficult decisions, Frayda would often say, ‘You got to channel the optimism of Rav Yair Silverman.’ In moments of fear or hesitation, I would think of R. Avi Weiss and try to garner his courage. When a complex Halakhic question came up, I would break it down the way R. Love taught me, and then I would try to make it even more complex than need be, the way R. Linzer taught me. In moments of crisis, I would think of my rebbe in pastoral counseling, Dr. Seth Aranson.
I am forever indebted to my yeshiva, Yeshivat Chovevei Torah, the only rabbinical school I could have ever attended.
When we became parents, we regularly thought of the home of Susie and R. Chaim Marder. Yonatan and I spent many shabbatot at the Marder home over the course of two years as rabbinic interns at the Hebrew Institute of White Plains. The Marders’ modeled utter devotion to their children, ability to be real and have fun with them, while maintaining a home that was open and loving to their community. We pray that we can live up to some of the lessons we learnt from them both. The Marder’s leadership of their community – with love, with hesed, and with wisdom – is a model for us and for so many.
Our learning however did not end at Yeshiva or Midrasha. At CBI we were gently mentored by so many of you here today. Your generosity towards us, then and even now, meant that we could take risks and we could risk failure, knowing that you would still embrace, and even support us. From day one, you’ve given me space to be me and not some idealized version of what a “rebbetzin” ought to be.
During these ten years, I’ve been blessed to work with an exceptional group of people every day.
Joelle Yzquierdo – our dedicated administrator – you are an older sister to me. You make sacrifices for this community all the time and I am deeply indebted to you.
Max and Dalia Davis, Elishav and Maayan Rabinovich, Lili and Natan Kuchar, Adam Brelow and Maharat Victoria Sutton – have each enriched my rabbinate in critical and profound ways.
Maharat Victoria – thank you for rejuvenating my rabbinate in these past two years. I am blessed by our partnership and our commitment to grow our community together.
Laura Lipman and our incredible Gan Shalom Teacher Team – you are the gardeners of our community’s future. Thank you for nurturing our greatest little treasures with love, with mitzvoth, and complete dedication.
As many of you know, Yonatan calls each and every CBI member during the month of Tishrey, to check in, to wish you a Shannah Tovah, and also express our appreciation. I know that he will do that again this year, because in truth, we do feel a deep sense of gratitude for each and every one of you.
Tonight however, we will only name the presidents and treasures that worked closely with us over the course of these ten years.
We often call our shul ‘The CBI Family’ so it’s no wonder that our lay leadership follows that model as well. Frayda and I have been treated like family by our community’s lay leadership and in turn each of these individuals has become a part of our own.
My first president, Leslie Valas, protected me tirelessly and also gave me room to grow. After her, Stan Wulf, continuously challenged me and by so doing, also pushed me to continue to grow. Rebecca Landes and I developed a deep collaborative work ethic that recognized that I had become more mature in my role. Lois Marcus became a wise advisor and a relentless doer. Irene Resnikoff gently guided me to expand my vision and understanding of my role as our community continued to grow and undergo subtle changes.
With this group, I must include Delphine Sherman, Paul Albert, and Ben Rose, our trusted treasurers over these years, as well as the ultimate builder/contractor of CBI and Gan Shalom, Michael Feiner. Each of you made a profound impact on my rabbinate and on our community.
At the end of the day, Beth Israel is a reflection of its members. More importantly, it is a reflection of the capacity of each of our members to give of themselves for the sake of the community, and in turn, the community’s capacity to create space and meaning for each individual, wherever they may be.
For us, CBI’s presidents and treasures really represent each of you – the people who attend classes and daily services, who set up Kiddush or clean up afterwards, who constantly host in their homes, provide meals, and volunteer in myriad ways – or lose sleep at night thinking about how to make CBI even better.
They represent the people who stretch themselves with that extra $18 check or that anonymous donor whose gift allows a child to attend Gan Shalom.
CBI is the person who shows up to every funeral, or shleps books to the shiva services, or the person who takes time after Shabbat to email the person who didn’t attend services that day.
CBI is also the person who trusts that they can change their life and places that trust in our leadership and in our community. The Baaley Teshuvah and Gerey Tzedek (converts) who remind us that we are still walking the path of Abraham and Sarah.
They represent the hundreds of individuals whose journey started at CBI but who now live in Israel. And also the hundreds of students who come here for just a few years, but who for the rest of their life think of CBI as their spiritual home.
CBI is also the person who recognizes that you can attend CBI all your life, or be frum from birth and you still have something new to learn.
Indeed, CBI is the person who rushes to welcome the new person who shows up at the door, and hands them a siddur, and helps them find the right page, and let’s the person know, “I’ve been there before…”
At the end of the day, CBI is a Family.
As a Family, we trust that our personal bonds with one another transcend any of our many, many differences. And as importantly, as a Family whose guiding principle is our connection to God, Torah and Israel, we trust that the eternity of this principle can endure any changes we or the world might undergo or withstand.
The team that organized this gala asked explicitly that we do not thank them in name. I ask everyone here to look at the back of the program book and see their names. Please, please thank them in person, send them a note, invite them for Shabbos, let them know how deeply appreciated they are. Yonatan and I truly feel indebted to each of them.
And now to the hardest part…
A number of years ago, I started noticing a very strange phenomenon. When leaders of our community wanted to have a strategic meeting, they would request that we meet at our home. They would then sheepishly ask if Frayda was going to be home that evening. In time, I understood that these leaders anticipated that at some point during the meeting, Frayda would pop her head into the room and say something along the lines of, “Are you sure you want to do that…” or “Is this the best way to think about this issue…” And more often than not, “Does this issue require a technical solution or an adaptive approach.” And just like that, in a mere instant, Frayda would transform and expand our way of thinking.
Frayda is my most thoughtful critic and my greatest supporter.
Frayda, my rabbinate would not be possible without you (you, who more than anyone else, encouraged me to pursue the rabbinate and guided me towards rabbinical school).
More than that, Frayda is truly the love of my life.
My father often says of my mom, “I totally didn’t grasp who she was when I married her.” And I very humbly feel the same way about Frayda. My love, my respect, my utter admiration and awe for you grows from day to day, month to month, year to year.
Some of you know that Yonatan and I can be quite playfully competitive – and so this part of the evening makes me nervous – who will do better in expressing their gratitude? Game on!
I tend to be pretty hard on myself, but sometimes I do recognize that I’ve juggled quite a bit in the past ten years and accomplished a lot. People sometimes ask me how I do it. Well, like for most people it’s a big struggle, and I often think I’m failing, but if I have any success in juggling family, work, and community it is because I have a partner in life who is deeply invested in my success and who put my graduate work above his own – someone who packs lunches, stays home so that I can attend an early morning or late night meeting, runs carpool or cheers on at soccer games.
Like many in this room, I am inspired by the way you see the world and the way you express that vision. You bring poetry to my prose and levity to my seriousness.
Our wedding program includes many beautiful poems (his idea – not mine) – the one on the cover – a Yiddish poem by A.J. Heshcel says – “You press fate to mine, my heart becomes a ladder to heaven.” Here’s to climbing ever higher and higher together.
As we turn our attention away from this Gala celebration and towards Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur, only a few weeks away, we recognize that there is always room for growth and repair.
We, Frayda and I, and all of us here, are only a small part of a journey that began decades ago with the incredible vision of our shul’s founding group and rabbinic family.
At this joyous time, we pray that this journey continues mi’dor le’dor – from generation to generation.
If you felt inspired tonight, or uplifted tonight, or open to change just a bit tonight, we ask that you commit more deeply and that you join us more fully as we make our way towards the next chapter in the story of our beloved shul.
May God bring blessings to each of us, to our homes, to Israel, and to our community.
May we grow in Torah and Mitzvot, may we grow even closer to each other, and may we draw ever nearer to the Holy One, to God, the source of all our blessings. Amen.