Rosh HaShanah Message from our President, 9/26/2022

Gut yontif and shana tova!

It’s wonderful to have so many of you here this morning, celebrating the New Year together in person for the second year in a row. To all of you joining from home via Zoom, I am so glad that we have this means of davening together even if we are not together physically. For those of you celebrating the High Holidays with Temple Emanu-El for the first time, whether here or online, b’ruchim ha’baim—welcome. I so appreciate seeing new faces, and I know you will find our community to be an open, inclusive, and welcoming one.

There are many folks I’d like to thank for planning and facilitating the wonderful Rosh Hashanah services this morning and tomorrow, and the High Holidays more generally.

I first want to thank Rabbi Setel for her ever-inspiring leadership of this congregation and contribution to all facets of our spiritual and communal life. Thank you, Charlene Sommers, for your soulful and energizing davening as well as the vital administrative work you do for our congregation.

Thank you, Xander Karsten, for your thoughtful management of the Spiritual Practices team. Channeling many individual ideas into a collective vision of where, when, and how to gather and daven is no small feat. Spiritual Practices tackles everything from liturgy to logistics, and I commend all its members for their contributions.

I am so appreciative of everything Leslie Schwartz does to keep the Temple Emanu-El trains running on time: website management, newsletter… the list goes on. Thank you, Leslie.

Thank you, Bob Dietch, for your lovely keyboard accompaniment, as always, and Rabbi Sandra Katz, David Schwartz, and Phyllis Clayton for your delightful contributions to our congregation’s sonic landscape.

Thank you, Jule Rayburn, for managing logistics, including security arrangements with the JCC and the Jewish Federation.

Thank you to those who volunteered to do Torah readings, aliyot, Haftarah readings, and English readings, and to Denise Lippa for organizing the English readings, and to Leslie Schwartz for organizing the Torah readings.

Thank you, Bernice Rayburn and Renate Livingston, for the beautiful flower arrangements. And thank you, Renate, as well, for coordinating the High Holidays greetings fundraiser.

Thank you to Bernice, Renate, and Gail Vail for your work on the Yizkor book and name tags.

Thank you to the volunteers running the Zoom operations throughout the High Holidays.

Thank you to the Tikkun Olam team, chaired by Carl Wetzstein, for running the High Holidays food and clothing drive.

Thank you to Brenda Mudd and the Hospitality team for arranging the apples and honey and other High Holidays treats.

Looking ahead: thank you in advance to ​​Davida Bloom and the troupe of performers who will be staging the Book of Jonah presentation on Yom Kippur.

Thank you to those who made special donations to our High Holidays music and floral funds—your names will be in the newsletter.

And thank you to all of you who have come, from near and far, to celebrate and daven with us this morning and throughout the High Holidays.

If there’s anyone I overlooked—please know that your efforts are sincerely appreciated.

–  –  –  –

This Rosh Hashanah marks five years since Molly and I first attended services at Temple Emanu-El. In September 2017, after a few years of living in Rochester, we stumbled onto this congregation through a very fortuitous web search. From the moment we arrived on the first day of Rosh Hashanah, we experienced this congregation’s trademark warmth and eagerness to welcome newcomers. In another setting, maybe, we would have been wallflowers, but Emanu-El was full of people who could help us find our place in the garden, so to speak.

That fall, near the end of the first Yom Kippur service we attended at Emanu-El, something amazing happened—something I had never experienced before. The time came for the priestly blessing, a ritual I knew well—or which I thought I knew well. With the Rabbi stepping into the role of choreographer, the two sides of the sanctuary turned to face each other. We on the left side of the aisle looked up from the pages of our machzors to lock eyes with those on the right and vice versa—this was a powerful moment of visibility and connection, feeling and being seen. And just as we did earlier today, the right side blessed the left, and then, after accepting the blessing, the left side blessed the right.

My experience of this ritual had been very different up until then. As I knew it, this was a ritual in which the kohanim (the priestly descendants among the congregation) would solemnly ascend to the bimah and incant the blessing outward, uni-directionally—with the congregation below as passive receivers. And for sure, that ancient format of the ritual may still have its beauty and its place in the Jewish tradition.

But what we did in the sanctuary that day hit made an instant impression on me. It had a radical, fiercely egalitarian power that I found, for lack of a better word, mind-blowing.

To me, that moment has become a microcosm of what this community has to offer: We blessed each other. We bless each other. We are a blessing to each other.

I am continually inspired by the ways the members of this congregation empower each other, listen to each other, and challenge each other to contribute to our own community and the local and global communities of which we are a part.

A small congregation like ours thrives because we are curious, vocal, and open to new ideas. When I look around today, I see folks eager to help this community grow, engage in thorny cultural and theological questions, and explore the intersection between Jewish heritage and values and the many other ways in which we engage with the world.

As we look to the year ahead, I encourage the members of this community—and myself, most of all—to continually find new ways to bless each other. In practice, I think this could be boiled down to just two words: be involved.

I ask you to find some time in the ten days between now and Yom Kippur to consider how you can harness your talents, your interests, and your energy, to enhance the communal life of this congregation in some way. I know taking this step can be difficult. We lead busy lives and have many meaningful obligations to family, colleagues, and the various worlds of which we are a part. And I know so many here already, generously, give so much of their time and their selves to the Temple—and for that, we are all so appreciative.

One small way to be involved is to read the newsletter and pick an event or program you’ve never attended, and attend it! You will make new connections, enjoy conversations about a topic you may have never known about—like shmita!—and discover some new facet of Judaism or your Jewish identity.

If you have felt moved by our services and want to help shape Emanu-El’s approach to prayer, ritual, and tradition, our Spiritual Practices team would welcome your involvement.

If fiscal solvency is your jam, please contribute to the vital work of our Finance team.

If you’d like to work to heal our world and our community through advocacy and direct action, you can link up with our Tikkun Olam team.

Unlike many organizations, Temple board meetings are open to the whole congregation. Join us on the third Tuesday of each month as we discuss and debate the many complexities of synagogue life.

This fall alone, you can help clean up our congregation’s cemetery plots or put out flags at the gravestones of Emanu-El’s veterans. You can learn Hebrew, study each week’s Torah portion, and dive into the wisdom of Pirkei Avot. And that’s just a small sampling.

Details about all these existing opportunities are on our website and in the newsletter. But in the process of reflecting, you may have new ideas, too, for how our congregation can better engage with Torah, with nature, or with our local community. If so, let’s talk about it! Please communicate with me or the board about what you want to bring to the table, and we can help find a way for you to channel that idea or that vision.

There is so much to look forward to in 5783, and I am excited for all of you to be a part of it. On behalf of the Board of Trustees, I wish all of you a very happy New Year—one of health, growth, and peace.

L’shana tova tikatevu v’techatemu,

Eitan Freedenberg

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