From the Rabbi's Desk
I am in Miami Beach with Polly this week (August 23, 2022) at the Jewish Welfare Board Military Chaplain’s Conference. Sometimes people still assume that a rabbi’s wife’s role is to support the rabbi in his service to their community. This may have been true at one time, but times have changed. Thankfully this is old news to most of you. Women now are the majority of those becoming rabbis in the Reform movement. Most married rabbis I know have a spouse who has their own career. And I don’t refer to Polly as my wife but as my partner because she is an equal partner in everything.
Polly and I are both rabbis, and we both serve communities. I serve Temple Emanu-El, and she serves the veteran’s community through the VA in West Haven, Newington, and New London. We are very supportive of one another, but our dedication to our communities often makes it challenging to be involved in the other’s community. But this week, I have a rare opportunity to join Polly’s community. I am more grateful for the opportunity than I anticipated.
This morning Rear Admiral Geoffrey Todd, USN, addressed the JWB conference. Jewish Chaplains of all denominations, active duty, reserve, and VA attend this conference. Although RADM Todd spoke to us about issues that directly affect active duty service personnel and the readiness of each service to perform its functions, he made clear that the chaplain’s role is to serve human beings. A soldier, sailor, or airman has a particular function, but that function is not equivalent to the person. Each service person has a soul. We must remember that they may be called upon to sacrifice part or all of themselves for our country. They can only do that if they have a strong sense of connection to the Divine and their community and feel part of a tradition of service to high ideals. RADM Todd pointed out the obvious and pervasive problem that our society has come to value the acquisition of material goods above all else. The current generation entering the service branches is the product of this society that has devalued religion and spirituality. Among the many challenges for our armed forces, they must now teach new recruits that they have a soul, that they can connect to the Divine, and the importance of serving a greater good. As RADM Todd spoke, it was apparent to me that our challenges, his as a military spiritual leader and mine as a spiritual leader of a congregation, are the same. My vacation in Miami Beach as Polly’s “+1” just turned into a working vacation. Don’t feel at all sorry for me. On the contrary, I’m truly grateful to be here, especially with Polly and this fine group of people who give up a lot to serve the people who serve our country.
As I am sitting here by the ocean in Miami Beach, the upcoming High Holy Days and the beginning of our religious school year are at the forefront of my mind. So many people are working hard to welcome 5783 with all its challenges. The times we live in have presented extraordinary challenges. We have all witnessed events in our own country that we would have thought unbelievable years ago, events that only happened in other countries. Now more than ever, we need to engage the values of our Jewish tradition, bolster our education programs, redouble our efforts to create community, rededicate ourselves to serving the community around us, and embrace our responsibility to engage and bring our values to bear in the important debates of our time.
I look forward to praying and speaking with you about these issues and our vital role during the High Holy Days.
Here we go! Summer is over and we are grateful for the time we spent with friends and trips that we have taken, no matter where we were going. Our focus changes from relaxing to going back to work, or school, and knowing that the High Holy Days are just around the corner. Our High Holy Day Services have been on Zoom for the last few years due to Covid-19. This year, we are planning to be hybrid and hold in-person and streaming our services on Zoom. I’m also thrilled to have the choir back this year. It’s been a while, but rehearsals are going well. I’m also looking forward to our outdoor Neilah Service at McCooks Beach followed by a Break-the-Fast! Thank you to Greg Morea and our Brotherhood, led by their new Co-Chairs, Nathanial Rowe and Rich McCaffrey. I’m sure it will be a wonderful way to end the High Holy Days. After a lovely summer, the High Holy Days bring our focus back to review the past year. I know, I talk about this every year, but I feel it is very important to ask ourselves, did we hit the goals we set for ourselves this year or did we fall short. Were we the best that we could have been in our interactions with those around us? I know that as much as I try to stay on target with the goals I choose to focus on, as the year progresses, I fall short. I don’t beat myself up for it, but I do ask myself why couldn’t I hit the mark? What can I do better this year? It’s so easy to fall back into old habits. I know that I do the best I can and try to put myself back on track throughout the year and move forward. I love the High Holy Days, because we are always reminded that we should be thinking about how we treat each other and even how we treat ourselves. V’ahavta l’reiacha kamocha …love your neighbor as yourself. Wise words. It’s never too late to treat others the way we would like to be treated. Actually, when I am following that goal each year, I am at peace with myself and I feel that everything else falls into place. So, here is to a New Year with a clean slate. May this New Year bring you peace, happiness, and good health.
A big thank you to all of you that led our Shabbat Services this summer. I enjoyed working with all of you and hope you come back again next year. Thank you to Armi Rowe, Sean Bendick, Nathaniel Rowe, Ava Burdo, and RyanO’Bern, for coming in over the summer to make sure our indoor services were hybrid. We all appreciated you being there.
L’shanah tovah u’mitukah. To a good and sweet year!
This is an odd time of year. I’m writing this article before the High Holy Days and yet you’re reading this after the High Holy Days. So I hope you have/had a happy new year and have/had an easy fast.
We’re just coming off a couple great events. The August Homecoming was a big hit. We easily had over 100 people attend (I started losing track when I got to about that number). And really attend isn’t the right word. Everyone seemed engaged in what was going on. Participating in the events, socializing with old friends and welcoming new friends. It was a pleasure to see things getting back to normal as we are coming out of COVID. Let’s keep the energy moving forward.
Just this past week we had Marc Wortman speak at the Temple. He wrote a biography on Hymen Rickover. I won’t get into the details but to say it was a fascinating story and a real treat to have someone who spent 3 years putting the story together be able to tell us some of what he learned. We welcomed numerous guests from outside the Temple (mostly Electric Boat, and it was neat to read all the hats from all the boats and military service that many – including our own members – had undertaken). We forget sometimes how engrained submarine culture is here locally. And much of that is due to Admiral Rickover. If you’d like to know more – read the book!
Oh, and bagels are up and running again. See you all at the Temple on Sunday mornings!