Kol Nidrei Evening


SEPTEMBER 22, 2015

Take a moment to look around you…  What do you see tonight?  Or perhaps I should say “who” do you see tonight?  I see a sanctuary full of members, guests, and visitors.  I see a room full of people who have come tonight for a variety of reasons, seeking a variety of experiences.  I also see a sanctuary of “new” and “old” faces: 

  • I see people who have just joined our congregation in recent months and for whom this is their first High Holy Days with us.  We welcome them with open arms. 
  • I see people who have been members of Shaarey Zedek for 30, 40, 50 or more years.  We are honored that they have found their home here for so long. 
  • I see people who are becoming Jewish or who have recently become Jewish.  We are thrilled that they are now part of our family. 
  • I see people who have not yet formally joined our congregation.  We look forward to welcoming them as part of our Shaarey Zedek family.
  • I see family members of our congregants who are in town to observe these holy days with their loved ones.  We welcome you to East Lansing and to Shaarey Zedek.
  • I also see some of my East Lansing Area Clergy Association colleagues.  Some of my colleagues have been with us during various services throughout these High Holy Days.  I am honored that they have chosen to worship with us during these Ten Days of Repentance.

It is wonderful that all of you have chosen to be with us tonight.  We are fortunate to have you as part of our Shaarey Zedek family on this holiest of nights.

As you looked around this evening, you may have noticed something else:  We are missing many people tonight.  I’m not referring to those members who have chosen to be in other congregations in order to worship with their family members, nor am I referring to those whose health does not permit them to be with us tonight.  (We keep them in our prayers.)  Rather I am thinking about those people who have left our congregation.  This year, in particular, we have experienced great loss:  Many of our members have moved out of town this year to live closer to their children – I think there’s a mini-Shaarey Zedek in Chicago this year! –, some have retired and moved away, and others, sadly, have passed away.  We miss them all.

This year I have officiated at or attended far too many funerals.  It is always my honor and privilege to be with families when they experience a loss, but this year it seems as if there have been many more than in the past.  Long-time members, former members, and the death of my own uncle last month – too, too many.  If I have counted correctly, we have had thirteen members or former members die since the last High Holy Days, including our beloved rabbi emeritus, Rabbi Morton Hoffman.  Each one of these people  is sorely missed by their families and by our congregation.

As you can imagine, in light of all of these deaths, I have written and delivered many eulogies this year.  I have also heard several eulogies delivered by family members and colleagues.  Last month, Betty Krohngold delivered a brief but beautiful eulogy for her husband Jacob. With her permission, I want to tell you what she said.  (These are my words, not hers.)  Betty told us at Jacob’s funeral that she had no plans to ever marry again after losing her beloved Bob several years prior to meeting Jacob.  But Betty was put in touch with Jacob, a recent widower.  After meeting him, she had several of her friends in Detroit (where Jacob was living at the time), check him out.  Each of her friends reported back that Jacob was a kind man.  Kindness was all that Betty wanted and so after a period of dating, Betty and Jacob were married.  They were blessed with 27 years of married life.

When Betty told me this story privately, and again when she told the story at Jacob’s funeral, I was reminded of a book that was written this year.  I haven’t read the book, but I have heard and read a great deal about it, as you probably also have.  It is called The Road to Character by David Brooks.  In the book Brooks discusses the two sets of virtues that each of us have:  “resume virtues” and “eulogy virtues.” 

“Resume virtues” are those skills that you bring to the job market and “eulogy virtues” are those by which you want people to remember you.  You were kind, generous, had integrity; you were charitable, thoughtful, warm, loving; you made people feel good about themselves, and so on…  What Brooks calls “eulogy virtues,” I would simply call virtues or qualities.  These are traits which you hopefully develop and live by throughout your life.

Rabbi Jacob Philip Rudin z”l, a past president of the Central Conference of American Rabbis, author, editor, and congregational rabbi, wrote a beautiful passage that is quoted in our prayer book, Mishkan T’filah for the House of Mourning:  “When we are dead, and people weep for us and grieve, let it be because we touched their lives with beauty and simplicity.  Let it not be said that life was good to us, but rather that we were good to life.” [p. 30b]

On this Kol Nidrei evening, as we begin our fasts, as we review our deeds from last year, let us also resolve this year to focus on those virtues by which we want to be remembered:  to be good to life, to be good to others, to be good to our world.

Another prayer, also found in Mishkan T’filah for the House of Mourning, abridged and adapted by Rabbi Chaim Stern z”l from Rabbi John Rayner z”l, says it all:

Let us treasure the time we have,

and resolve to use it well,

counting each moment precious – a chance to apprehend some truth,

to experience some beauty, to conquer some evil,

to relieve some suffering, to love and be loved,

to achieve something of lasting worth.

Help us, God, to fulfill the promise that is in each of us,

 and so to conduct ourselves that generations hence

 it will be true to say of us:

            The world is better, because for a brief space, they lived in it. [p. 23b]