Monday, December 20, 2010

Parashat Shemot - My commentary for Jewish Federations of North America

Parashat Shemote
Rabbi Harry Rosenfeld
Temple Beth Zion, Buffalo, New York
There is no more appropriate way to start the story of our meta story than with the name of this week’s parasha and thus the whole book of Exodus, Shemot - Names. Our story of salvation, first from famine in Canaan, then from slavery in Egypt, to the blessing of the Sinaitic revelation and finally settling in the Promised Land, begins and ends with names.
But they are not just any names. They are the names of the great and not so great. Judah and Joseph, Moses, Aaron and Joshua are intertwined with Gad, Zevulun, Noa and Milka and it is this that makes the Torah and the Tanach resonate with me. The great people and the “regular folk” are intertwined just as they are in our communities today. For me, this makes our sacred text real.
We all know names are important. From the earliest age we respond when we hear our name. We are called to Torah by our names and we are buried with them. Through all of the blessings of our lives and through all the challenging and painful times we carry our names with us.
So it is perplexing to me that in our day and age in our tefillot, our services we seem to only focus on names during the challenging and painful times. For centuries we have read longer and longer lists of the deceased. In more modern times we call out the names of sick and ask for blessing and healing for them. It almost as if the the only reason to come to shul is to deal with pain.
We do celebrate major occasions - namings, upcoming weddings, B’nei Mitzvah and in some shuls birthdays and anniversaries. But why, with a few exceptions don’t we ask people to share the “regular” joys in their lives - a child receiving a good grade, a promotion, hearing from a friend after a long absence, recovery from illness...? Our tradition has blessings for occasions like these and so many others, why do we not emphasize these personal joys? If remembering our beloved deceased with our community brings comfort and if praying for the healing of our ill brings some peace, how much the more so would celebrating our joys and accomplishments add to those positive feelings.
I am as guilty as any other rabbi about this but I am committing myself to changing the services I lead and asking people to share their names and their blessings. It will not be easy or quick. It took time before people were ready to share their hard times publicly, and some still are not. It will take time for people to be willing to share their joys. But think of the change it could bring our lives and our services.
The Jewish Federations of North America Rabbinic Cabinet
Cabinet Chair: Rabbi Steven E. Foster
Vice Chair: Rabbi Stuart Weinblatt
Vice Chair Rabbi Les Bronstein
Vice Chair: Rabbi Fred Klein
Vice Chair: Rabbi Larry Kotok
President: Rabbi Jonathan Schnitzer
Honorary Chair: Rabbi Matthew H. Simon

Director of the Rabbinic Cabinet: Rabbi Gerald Weider

Friday, December 3, 2010

Moving to Congregation Albert


As you may have heard I have been offered and accepted the position of Rabbi at Congregation Albert in Albuquerque, New Mexico. For me it has been a very difficult decision between accepting a wonderful opportunity and the thought of leaving so many of you to whom I feel so close. However, now it is time for me to move on to a new stage in life and so I will end my tenure as your Senior Rabbi this coming June. I have never been one to leave friends behind and hope that we will remain a part of each other’s lives and that we will be able to stay in touch.

My 10 plus years as the rabbi at Temple Beth Zion, as your rabbi, have been and always will be precious to me. We have celebrated together, cried together, held each other up, studied, prayed and played together. When I first came to Buffalo my stated goal was to continue the transformation of Temple Beth Zion into Congregation Beth Zion and ultimately into the Community of Beth Zion. I firmly believe that together we have moved closer to that goal.

TBZ is a community with unlimited potential. A congregation exists because people come together to support and care for each other. In my 10 1/2 years as your rabbi I have seen you do this over and over. Together we have educated our children and helped them develop a solid, positive Jewish identity. Together, during 11 Mitzvah Days we have made our community a better place. Together we have become a congregation that continues learning to sing and pray together. In short, we have worked to fulfill our mission. The work is not yet complete but I have full faith that you will continue this work and come closer to fulfilling the mission.

Over the years, as people have left Western New York and TBZ to live elsewhere, I have always told them that once a member of the TBZ family, always a member. I believed it when I said those words but now that they apply to me, I understand their depth. You, the membership of Temple Beth Zion will always be in my heart and I hope that you will keep some small place in yours for me.

Shalom uv’racha,

Rabbi Harry Rosenfeld