Thank you Jonathan and Courtney and the entire dinner committee for all of their hard work in putting this dinner together. Bethany and I really appreciate it. You have been great friends to us and our family, and all of the countless hours you devoted to our honor has not gone unnoticed. It means the world to us.
I'd like to thank Supervisor Carmen Chu for speaking here tonight. She has been a tremendous friend to myself, our Shul and the entire Jewish community. Her work in helping us through the preschool licensing process and in putting up the Eruv were invaluable, and handled so professionally and warmly, she truly is a friend to all of us.
Bob and Esther Berger, thank you for your friendship and guidance. You have been tremendous role models for me in your generosity, kindness and strength. I hope to have a small percentage of the resolve and perseverance you have shown. The Adath Israel Preschool was one of the first projects I embarked on when arriving here, and I along with the Shul leadership spent countless hours on all of the different aspects of putting getting the preschool up and running. It was truly a labor of love, and I am so proud that we were able to partner with you on this essential community project, created an important avenue for new families to become connected to Adath Israel and to further the Jewish education options in San Francisco.
Rabbi Dardik, it is an honor to call you a colleague and a friend. We've known each other for fifteen years, well let me correct that, I knew him for fifteen years. My first semester at YU Rabbi Dardik was my RA, in charge of looking after the underclassmen troublemakers in the Rubin Hall dorm. He pretends to remember this, but I know he doesn't have the slightest recollection of me as a first semester wide eyed newbie in YU.
He was one of the first people I called when I heard about this job to learn more about the Bay Area, and knowing that I had someone like him here on the ground to help guide and support me made the move out here so much easier. All the questions I had for him, all the times I asked him for advice, he always has had time for me. He and his wife, Nomi, have done a tremendous amount of chesed for Bethany and myself, kindness so great and from such a pure heart, that we could never fully repay it. We have been there for each other in times of tremendous joy and sorrow, and I have learned from you every step of the way. Now, if I can only get him to stop wearing ties with short sleeve shirts I'll feel complete.
I'd like to thank my mother-in-law, Rita Bleier, for flying in from upstate New York to be with us tonight. My parents couldn't come due to health reasons and it is very hard for them to not be here tonight. My parents and in-laws have been extremely supportive of Bethany and myself, even doing crazy things like moving to San Francisco. I think the community will miss their visits more than anything. It shows how close we have become with this community when they feel so close to our parents as well.
In the Haftorah we read yesterday, we discussed the miraculous planning of the birth of Shimshon, Samson. It is a rare circumstance for someone to have his future plans laid out for him in such explicit detail. For his parents to be told from the outset that they were raising the next future leader of the Jewish people. That is not a luxury people have, even the greatest leaders in Jewish history. With extremely rare exception, they had to discover themselves and figure out what they should do with their lives.
It would be so much easier if every parent was handed a message from Hashem as to what their child is best suited for in their life. Instead we all embark on a life long journey, full of fits of confidence and self doubt, as we try to discover what we are good at, what we enjoy doing and how we can make the most positive impact in this world. As a senior in college, as I was struggling with this very question, I went to the school's career counselor and took a personality test to see what professions I was best suited for. They came back with “clergy” or “attorney”. I bet you can guess which option my parents were rooting for.
At some point you need to take a leap of faith and pursue the career that your heart tells you that you will be best suited for, and so I began Rabbinic school. By the time I met Bethany I was resolute to give this Rabbi thing a shot, but no matter how much confidence I had that this was what I was meant to do, until you're thrown into the fire you don't really know for sure. Ultimately you need someone to give you a chance to see for yourself what you are truly capable of.
I'd like to thank Adath Israel for giving me that chance. David Kimmel and Vicki Keyak and the board of Adath Israel in 2005 took a chance on a 27 year old Rabbi with limited experience, and I hope that I have earned the trust you showed in me. I came out and interviewed about a week and a half after Tiferet was born, and it was a bit of a whirlwind. It was difficult coming out here without Bethany. I tried to explain the area, the Shul and the neighborhood to her as best I could. I didn't necessarily paint the most accurate picture. On my interview I stayed in Bobby Sosnick's house, may he rest in peace, up at the top of the hill. This gorgeous three story house overlooking the ocean. Which led me the tell her, “don't worry, the houses here are huge!”
You know, the Rambam says that if you sin in public then you need to ask forgiveness in public, so I want to take this opportunity to come clean and make a little confession. Bethany and I decided to make a short video and email it out to the community so they could at least see and hear her. This is 2005, so we didn't have a digital video camera, we still had mini cassette tapes. But we had just gotten a new digital camera, and it had a video recorder option that could take digital videos up to two minutes in length. We practiced and filmed a one minute video, uploaded it on our computer, but there was one problem. The video had no sound. The camera didn't have a microphone. We had created a silent movie.
We wondered, what should we do? We didn't know anyone with a digital video camera? We decided to e-mail the video as is, and see what happened. So I come for Shabbos, and about twenty people come up to me and say, “I saw the video you made with your wife, it was a really nice idea. Unfortunately, there must be something wrong with my computer because I couldn't hear the audio.” To which I responded, “That's so strange, I wonder what happened.”
It is not easy for a Shul to bring in a young Rabbi, especially when he replaces such an experienced Rabbi. It must have been bizarre for the Shul to see a young whipper snapper up there on the Bimah. I'm sure it was strange for Rabbi Traub as well. After I had accepted the job he and I spoke on the phone, and he asked me how old I was. I said I was 27. He asked if I thought that might be a little young to be the Rabbi of a Shul. So I asked him how old he was when he began at Adath Israel. He paused for a minute, did the mental math, and said, “27”. I think he was a little surprised by the answer himself.
Rabbi Traub has been a big help to me in my time here. He has been a great sounding board as difficult issues have arisen, and he has a depth of knowledge and understanding that has been invaluable. He somehow can recollect any moment of his 40 years as Rabbi of Adath Israel at the drop of a hat, it is incredible to see, and a wonderful resource. However, there is one thing for which I can never forgive Rabbi Traub. His goatee set the facial hair bar way too high, and I just could never live up it. I was left with two bad options, go without facial hair and look fifteen years old by comparison, or attempt to grow an inferior beard. It has not been easy.
I think Bethany and I have been lucky in being here during such a special time. I felt that I had the unique privilege of seeing the Shul as it was and have now gotten a glimpse of the Adath Israel of the future. The Adath Israel I came to had such a unique and authentic cast of characters. Full of people who came from the old country and built a life through hard work, perseverance and ingenuity. It reminded me of my grandparents, Eastern European immigrants who came to America barely speaking English and made a life for their children and grandchildren. I felt they warmly accepted me, and I have felt loved and welcomed. I could relate to them and they could relate to me, even though we were two generations apart with a large cultural gap. The Shul has changed, as it had to, but I hope it always retains some of that old country charm.
No matter how you slice it, being a Rabbi to congregants 50 years your senior has it's challenges. This has especially been true when there was a loss in the community. It can be daunting to eulogize someone 50 or 60 years your elder. What life experience do I have? What perspective can I give? I worked hard to truly understand the person and the family before me, and I hope that I have properly honored your loved ones. Just know that I always took this responsibility with the utmost seriousness and respect and it will always be an everlasting connection between us. In that way I will always be a part of your families, and it means the world to me.
More than anything, I want to thank all of you. A Rabbi's relationship with his congregants is really dependent on their willingness to let them into their world. To be honest, there have been times when in the back of my mind I have wondered “do I belong here right now?”. Whether it was with a family at a hospital as a loved one was dying, at the funeral home making arrangements for a funeral or being with a family at a Bris or baby naming, there is an intimacy to the relationship that is so special. While I always know that I am where I should be and I try to be helpful in that particular situation, there is a part of me that is amazed that I could be so wanted and needed by people in their most vulnerable moments. I have been touched by the trust you have shown me by letting me into your private worlds, and I hope that I hope that I have earned that trust.
I have really learned more from you than you have learned from me. I have seen first hand how a family cares for each other in tragedy and in joy. I have always believed strongly in the inherent goodness of people, even when they didn't see it in themselves. I believe strongly to my core that people want to do the right thing, and want to help others. They sometimes need the confidence and the opportunity to make it actually happen. I have gotten to see hidden acts of tremendous kindness, love and selflessness. It strengthens me and provides me the reassurance of the goodness of humanity, and the strong values of the Jewish people.
My philosophy is that if you allow people the freedom to be themselves without being judged they can become open to new ideas and experiences. Some might look at me and our Shul as being too laid back, too accepting. It is my firm belief that is what a Shul needs to be. It has to be a place where a Jew can feel at home, welcomed, respected and loved for who they are. Where they can have the freedom to explore their Judaism at their pace and in the way that works for them. I am extremely proud of the spiritual growth of the congregants of our Shul. I feel like people spiritually grow in our Shul, even when they don't realize that it is even happening.
While we are involved in serious work, that doesn't mean that we have to take ourselves too seriously. I have always tried to imbue a sense of fun in the way we operate. I think it is important that Shul be a place people enjoy coming to, want to come to, and I think we have been effective at doing that. The High Holidays need to be inspiring, not depressing. A sermon needs to create understanding, not make people feel unworthy. By not taking myself too seriously I have tried to show that we are all embarking on a spiritual journey which can be enlightening and enjoyable. Plus, how many Rabbis can say they make the best Chulent west of the Mississippi.
Coming out here I would hear that the San Francisco Jewish community was anti-Orthodox, but I never found that to be the case. I have worked closely with almost every major Jewish organization in San Francisco and have only found open doors and willing friends. By actively participating in the greater Jewish community we can change all sorts of misconceptions, and that is an important role that Adath Israel can play.
On the national stage San Francisco can be the butt of jokes at times. It is a city with a culture all it's own, and I think it is often misunderstood. When the circumcision ban was such big news last year, I traveled to New York and Israel, and I felt that so many people were giddy that crazy San Francisco had just confirmed their beliefs that this city was too far gone to be taken seriously. I told people over and over again that they were making a big mistake. Besides the fact that the anti-circumcision campaign was a national organization based in San Diego, they were ignoring San Francisco at their own peril. San Francisco is often 15 years ahead of it's time, and if the rest of the country wants to prepare for the future, it should keep an eye on San Francisco. The issues that are national stories and debates today were local issues in San Francisco 15 years ago.
I have proudly represented San Francisco across the country, and really across the world. I believe strongly in this community and this city, and I am proud to say that our national prestige has grown considerably. Bethany, myself and our children will always be proud San Franciscans. I truly feel that I am taking San Francisco with me to Manhattan. What I have learned and been exposed to here will fundamentally impact the type of Rabbi I will be the rest of my career for the better. This community has much to be proud of and plays a bigger role in the national Jewish community than it realizes. This city and this Shul is now on the national Jewish map in a major way, and I think that will only grow. I know it will only grow in stature and significance in the coming years and decades.
This has been a hard month for Bethany and I. This Shul and community mean so much to us that it is hard to say goodbye. So many of you have reached out to us with such kind words about what we have meant to you, your families and the community, and we feel the same way. It is a great feeling to know that our work has been appreciated by you, and it really makes it even harder to say good bye. On Friday Tommy Tabak's 8 year old granddaughter Abbey gave me a hug and said that she'll miss us. Another person said they were going to call the Shul in New York and tell them that I have a criminal record and therefore should repeal my contract. I think that was nice. More than anything, over and over you have all said to us how sad it was for us to go, but how happy you were for us and understood why we has to take advantage of this opportunity. The sincerity and love in your eyes told the entire story, especially when words can't accurately articulate the depth of emotion.
I feel like I came here as a Rabbi-in-training and leaving a full fledged Rabbi. This will always be the Shul that gave me a chance to see what I was made of and the freedom to find my talents and interests. It will always be the Shul that my children were raised in their formative years, where two of our children were born, and where my son repeatedly soiled the carpet during his Bris. This will always be the Shul we called home as Bethany and I went from a young couple to a not-so-young couple. More than anything, for us, this will always be home.
Thanks to all of you for your being here tonight and for your love and support. I will always be proud to have been called “Rabbi of Congregation Adath Israel”, and hope to be a part of this community for the rest of our lives. May Hashem grant Adath Israel continued success, and may it only go from strength to strength.