08/28/2009 - Installation Sermon


August 28, 2009

8 Elul 5769


A thousand years ago, one of the great rabbis of the era, Rabbi Isaac of Trani said of his generation of rabbis: we are dwarves who sit on the shoulders of giants. As I stand at this pulpit this evening, I feel the truth of his words. The rabbis who have spoken this evening have loomed as giants in my life. Rabbi Isaac Serotta, my new neighbor, whom I have known since I was 15 and who was my confirmation class teacher at Congregation Shalom in Milwaukee. Rabbi Ken Kanter, whose warmth and love of people inspired Ari and me in rabbinical school. Rabbi Sam Gordon, whose creativity and commitment to new models of Jewish education has taught me tremendously. Rabbi Ronald Shapiro, who presided over my Bar Mitzvah and who has been my family’s rabbi for twenty years. I am only one of the many students he has inspired to the rabbinate. To Rabbi Steven Pearce, who helped me make the decision to apply to rabbinical school. As a college sophomore, I met with you, and we began a mentorship. Your understanding of people and ability to bring healing in difficult situations continues to teach me. To Herbert Bronstein, well-known here on the North Shore, who exemplifies the ability to be both a scholar and a congregational rabbi. To David Gelfand, who taught both Ari and me over two extraordinary summers, who inspired us with his devotion to Argentinian and world Jewry, and who presided over the moment when Ari became a rebbetzin and I became its male counterpart, the rebitz. And to Michael Zedek, a teacher, constant guide and confidante through my decision to apply to be the rabbi of this extraordinary congregation. Here as well are two rabbinic classmates and friends--Mark Rothschild and Lorraine Rudenberg. Each has been an integral part of Ari and my life together.

A few people could not be here this evening--Rabbi Dov Taylor, who led this congregation with intellect and devotion for twenty five years, and who helped me into Solel with kindness and insight. And a person whose presence still looms within these walls--a rabbi, a man, a teacher whom I and many others deeply wish could be here this evening--Arnold Jacob Wolf, whos

Now rabbis are teachers--but our first teachers, the ones who shape who we are and what we can become, are our parents. I am blessed with parents who are role models of commitment, love and Jewish values. My dad Steve is a psychiatrist, and his care for people's health and well-being, combined with a deep sense of Jewish ethics--as well as devotion to his family and love of my mom have shaped the kind of life I have chosen. My mom Rusti--I am fortunate to have inherited her personality, her love of people, her passion for teaching and learning--she has a neshama, a soul, filled with love, and it was her decision to join the choir at Congregation Beth Israel that resulted in my going to services every week and ending up as a rabbi. And the greatest blessing in my life--my closest teacher and friend, my partner, the greater of the two Rabbis Moffic--my wife Ari. She embodies chesed, kindness, and somehow balances a full time rabbinical position with being a full-time mom to Hannah and Tamir.

Here this evening as well are the leaders of our synagogue. The founders of our congregation, including our oldest living president and my close friend, Bud Levis; our current president Wendy Rhodes, members of the rabbinic search committee, headed by Michael Ebner and Colleen Kelley, whom I got to know very well last summer, and members of the transition committee, whom I got to know very well this year. With Bruce Mondschain as their chair, they organized this evening. Thanks as well to the choir who have blessed us with their beautiful voices. In order to name the leaders of this congregation, I think I would have to name almost every member, because Solel is a place of real participation and lay leadership. This is a synagogue whose members come to learn, to worship, to engage, and to experience the joy and depth of Jewish life. A history of strong rabbinic leadership--begun by a seminal leader of 20th century Reform Judaism, Jacob Weinstein--has worked hand-in-hand with a strong and empowered lay leadership. The result is not tension, but dynamism, creativity, and mutual kavod, respect.

Usually rabbis base their sermon on a text, on a verse or set of verses from the Torah. My text this evening is Solel--it is this book (hold up directory), the people that make us this congregation. My text is the hopes, the dreams, the needs, the relationships that make up our community. I had the opportunity to study this text during 11 meet and greets, hosted at homes and gathering more than 400 people. The text is a complex one, with different interests and concerns. Yet, core values tie it together. What are those values?

First is a deep sense of social justice. Many of our founding members came from Hyde Park. They carried with them a progressive sensibility and a commitment to not being simply a suburban synagogue cut off from the concerns of the larger community. They marched for civil rights, welcomed Martin Luther King to this pulpit, and challenged conventional ways of thinking. That was forty years ago. Our country is different, and our Jewish community is different. We are, thankfully, not all of one opinion. While the times and the particular concerns have changed, our identity at Solel has not. Our congregants expect to be challenged and to act. They expect their rabbi to, in the immortal words of Rabbi Emil Hirsh, who served Chicago Sinai Congregation, "comfort the afflicted and afflict the comfortable." It was at Sinai, in fact, where I was lucky enough to wonderful friends and teachers who exemplified this imperative and helped me develop as a rabbi over four exciting years.

A second core value is learning. The Solel religious school began before the congregation did. Yet, it is not just children we expect to study. We expect it of the entire ongregation. When we stop learning, we stop living. When we study, we grow and affirm the beauty of tradition. When we study, we may even experience faith. The great rabbi and professor Louis Ginzburg said when I pray, I speak to God. But when study, God speaks to me. This is a place where God speaks to us. When we study, we also did so as part of a community. Community, in fact, is part of everything we do. When we worship, we build community. When we have committee meetings (which, I have learned, we do quite often!), we build community. When we connect ourselves to other institutions in the Jewish community--to Spertus, to the Holocaust Musuem, to JUF, to the URJ, we affirm community.

As Reform Jews, our definition of community is intentionally broad. It includes interfaith families, intercultural families, singles, gays and lesbians; all of those who seek a spiritual home in our synagogue. In this way, we seek to continue our identity as a pathfinder congregation. See, as I have learned, in the late 1950s, leaders of the congregation chose the name Solel for a reason. it is a Hebrew word meaning pathfinder, or trailblazer. The congregation was meant to be a synagogue that tried new things, that charted new paths in Jewish life. In 2009, I think the idea of a pathfinder congregation has an additional meaning. As a congregation, we will continue to be a place that creatively charts new paths in Jewish life. And we will be a place that honors and embraces individuals in their unique paths of Jewish life.

As I look out, I feel incredibly blessed. I feel blessed to serve this historic synagogue and to join the chain of rabbinic leaders who have shaped it. I feel blessed to be a congregational rabbi. Since I began first grade at the day school at our synagogue in Houston--which, fortunately, was led by an extraordinary rabbi and teacher, Sam Karff--and since my mom started dragging me to services there when I was five years old, I have loved synagogues. I love what they stand for. I love what they do each and every day. Our world is filled with institutions based on profit and loss, buyers and sellers. There is nothing wrong with that, and synagogues can learn a great deal from businesses. But in its heart, a synagogue stands for something different. Rather than focus solely on quantity, we measure quality. Rather than base decisions only on numbers, we look to our texts, our values, our dreams. “We live in a world, writes Rabbi Harold Kushner, that works so hard to separate. “Old from young, rich from poor," successful from less successful….The synagogue is the one place…where those distinctions are not permitted to enter…where everybody is welcome.” In our lives, so consumed by the mundane, the synagogue cries out: “There is a God in the world. And life is holy.”

Life is holy. This community is holy. And the tradition we teach and embody hear brims with holiness. In the words of the Psalmist, “Ashreinu, ma tov chelkeinu—Blessed are we! How good is our portion! How pleasant our lot! How beautiful our heritage!”


Copyright © 2009 Rabbi Evan Moffic. All rights reserved.