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Rabbi Shapiro's Installation Sermon

 

Rabbi Mark Dov Shapiro, April 30, 1989

 

This is the kind of day which God creates only once in a while.

I am so pleased to stand here and rejoice in it with you.

Psalm 118:24


My parents are here; my in-laws, the ones I love most at 112 Green Hill Road, and many friends.

"This is a day" which for me is built on two other days, two memories from the past.

The first happened in 1970 the day after the summer session at the Reform movement’s camp in Oconomowoc, Wisconsin. Elliot Strom and I were counselors together that summer and late that August afternoon we set out in a car for home in Toronto – a 500 mile, 10 hour journey.

Although nothing extraordinary actually happened that afternoon and evening from Wisconsin through to Ontario, I remember the journey fondly because after all the rush of the summer, it was just Elliot and me in the car for all those hours…talking… laughing…eating…and as the sun set, just passing time in the quiet, inky darkness of the road.

Experiences like that and so many more have created the friendship Elliot and I now share so that a day like today has such deep resonance for us. It builds on the history and the memories we have created all through the 24 years we have known each other.

I wanted to tell you about that summer car experience because this past summer I had another car experience. It happened late at night as I was returning to New York form one of my many visits to Springfield. I was alone this time driving on a dark stretch of Connecticut highway.

I remember thinking about that sweet trip home to familiar Toronto and then suddenly being struck by the enormity of what Marsha and I were about to do. We were moving. We were leaving behind the known quantity of New York to come live with people we barely knew in a place we had hardly seen. We were leaving a place with memories and history for a place with none of that.

For a serious second I wondered what I was doing and why I was doing it.

This afternoon I know the answer. In fact, what makes this so significant a day for me (and Marsha) is the fact that since that summer night, we have begun to develop the history we did not originally have. We are no longer strangers.

You and I are becoming like Elliot and me. We are creating a history. We are building a relationship.

In just six months we have come into each other’s lives and begun to weave a beautiful tapestry of learning, praying, laughter and even some tears.

What gives depth and power to the relationship of any two partners has happened to us.

Put it this way, six months after beginning our formal connection we have some stories to tell.

I can talk with you about Purim and the wonderful way in which we filled this sanctuary with hundreds of colorful balloons, kazoos, costumes, and the delicious results of the first-ever International Hamantaschen Baking Contest.

I can tell you about our Congregational Seder when we retold the story of our freedom with dignity, beauty, and, of course, much laughter.

Some of us have spent time together Shabbat mornings exploring the Torah. 35 of us spent most of one Saturday considering the incredible and intimate question of purpose in our lives.

The outside world has also shaped a chapter in our story. At almost the same time we rallied together to deal with the WHO IS A JEW crisis, we also raised well over $1,000 to help Armenia’s earthquake victims.

A few of us even have memories of weddings together. A growing number of us have shared the joy of Bar or Bat Mitzvah. Still others have let me come into their lives at a time of sorrow.

Several hundred of us have spent at least one evening together at one of the many home meetings I conducted between November and March.

I myself have begun to develop a rapport with your children whom I see every week. They make me smile and I hope to do the same for them as I share my enthusiasm for Judaism with them.

The experience intensifies as I also consider the individual people I have worked with and come to respect in these past few months:

Rabbi Snyder, a pillar of integrity, a man of wit and penetrating, searching questions, a rabbi’s rabbi.

Cantor Mekler, a melody as sweet, kind, and intelligent as any Rabbi could ever hope for.

Sue Marcoe, a dedicated, supportive Jew who cares about our children with every ounce of her being.

Lynn and Rita in the office, who make the days go smoothly and make it look easy to boot.

The Executive Committee, Board of Trustees, and all those committee members who sit through the meetings that undergird our institution.

Joan Rosenbaum, Jane Engelman, and Candee Stillerman who have made the planning for today so much fun just because they themselves each have such commitment and love for Sinai Temple.

And, last but not least, Bea Hano – Arriving in a new community and a new congregation, Sinai Temple couldn’t have given me a better present than a President with Bea’s organizational skills, common sense, sense of humor, and willingness to experiment and innovate.

I could go on for longer because as I look out at your individual faces, I realize how many stories and how many relationships we have begun to form. Today I know (at least in part), what I said I wanted to know that first Friday evening we spent together.

I said then that above all else I wanted to know what made you tick as Jews and human beings, and this afternoon I feel as if that dream has truly begun to become a reality – even as I hope you have come to know a bit about me and what makes me tick as a Jew, a human being, and a Rabbi.

You know, back in September before I formally began at Sinai several people suggested planning this Installation for November or December.

Aside from the technical difficulties of doing that, I realize now why an Installation then couldn’t mean as much as it can today.

It could have looked as nice. The formalities could have been handled. But the feeling wouldn’t have been there because our connection wouldn’t have had real substance.

That took time to develop.

That took these past six months and will undoubtedly require a great deal more time as we continue around the Jewish year through my first Confirmation here, the first High Holidays, more Adult Education, new curricula for our Religious School, family programs, and before we know it, back to Chanukah, Purim, and Pesach for a second, a third, and, God willing, many more encounters.

According to Jewish custom, we are now in the period of time between Pesach and Shavuot when our ancestors made the journey from Egypt to Mount Sinai in order to receive the Torah.

In particular, since Pesach just ended a few days ago, we are technically at the very beginning of our ancestor’s journey to Mount Sinai.

I feel that way about us today. We are also at the beginning of a journey. You’ve watched me for a few months; I have watched you; we have taken some first steps together.

Now comes the real work and the real fun. Sinai Temple needs to get to its Sinai, which is to say, Sinai Temple needs to step into a future in which we make this congregation a place where Judaism shines and thrives, a place where our lives are enriched by learning and living more and more Jewishly.

We want this congregation to build on everything that has made it great in the past and promises to make it a continuing source of Torah and Jewish commitment for the future.

As we prepare for the challenge and the journey, I’m reminded of the blessing God gave one of our ancestors when he began a journey that changed his life. In the Book of Genesis, when Abraham set out for the Promised Land, God told him—

YOU SHALL BE A BLESSING.

May we be a blessing for each other as Rabbi and congregation.

May our journey be rich and rewarding.

May we always find moments like this to give thanks for the Judaism that embraces us all.

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