Yom Kippur Morning Sermon October 12 2016/5777


OCTOBER 12, 2016



On the cover of a recent edition of the “Detroit Jewish News,” there was a grid of faces – three at the top and three at the bottom — a la “The Brady Bunch,” with the photos of six Detroit-area rabbis. In the middle row was the title “The Bracha Bunch!” with the subtitle “In a New Year windfall, six congregations welcome rabbis new to their pulpits.” The article notes that three of the rabbis are serving Conservative congregations, two are serving Reform congregations, and one is serving a Reform/Renewal congregation. In a sidebar, there is a brief article about the new rabbi serving Temple Beth Emeth in Ann Arbor.


That makes seven new rabbis in Michigan this year. But wait – there’s more! The article does not mention the new rabbi at the Conservative synagogue in Kalamazoo nor the new rabbi here in East Lansing, at M.S.U.’s Hillel. That’s nine colleagues who are new to Michigan just in the last few months. That’s a lot of change!


Of the nine rabbis, five of them are replacing rabbis who have retired. Most of these rabbis were ordained in the mid-70’s, meaning they have each served the Jewish people for approximately 40 years.


Here at Shaarey Zedek there has also been a lot of change this past year or two. We have had a number of congregants move to other communities in order to be closer to their children. Cantor Schiffer and I have officiated at funerals for far too many of our members these past two years as well. Families are grieving the deaths of their loved ones. While never forgetting their loved ones, the mourners must find ways to carry on, to continue to live their own lives to the fullest while still missing their loved ones.


Their grief is our congregational grief as well. Our congregation is changing and we, too, must find a way to carry on and adapt to our losses. A decade ago we had quite a few members who volunteered to chant Torah and Haftarah for our Shabbat morning services; today we have a handful. A decade ago we had flourishing committees: a strong, active Tzedakah Committee; parent volunteers who helped with our youth group; and an active Cultural Committee planning programs for our congregation such as our annual Scholar-in-Residence weekend, and more. Today those groups still exist, but it is getting more and more difficult to find volunteers to take the lead. (I should also note that it is also more difficult to find the financing to provide for such programs.)


Prior to the High Holy Days each year we ask for help in taking out of the pews the Shabbat prayer books and chumashim and replacing them with the High Holy Days prayer books; after the High Holy Days we need to return the chumashim and Shabbat prayer books to the pews. It’s a struggle to get volunteers to help with this important yearly task. Also, over the years I have trained approximately 20 people to serve as ushers and greeters for worship services; today only a handful serve on a regular basis. This is our reality now.


Cantor Schiffer and our administrator Patty Warshaw counted over 130 congregants to invite to the Sensational Seniors Tea that took place at the end of September. The Seniors Tea was sponsored by our Caring Community. “Seniors” were defined as people over the age of 70. Some of these seniors still volunteer here at Shaarey Zedek, for which we are most thankful, but we cannot continue to rely on the senior members of the congregation as much as we currently do.


It is time for our younger members to step up, to volunteer at synagogue and religious school events, to be active members of our various committees, Sisterhood, and youth group, to work with the staff to serve the needs of our congregation. As I noted on Rosh HaShanah evening, we are a family here at Shaarey Zedek and we need to support each other in this our congregational home. Our congregation cannot exist without volunteers. We will not be able to continue to offer the types of services, programs, and education that our members deserve.


My friend Rabbi Brigitte Rosenberg of United Hebrew Congregation in St. Louis once wrote that “volunteering…is not just about helping to get a particular job done, rather it is also about community building and creating a sense of belonging. It is about each person giving of him or herself to make our community a warm, inviting, and vibrant place.” [United Hebrew Congregation bulletin, February 2012]


Al tifrosh min ha-tzibbur — do not separate yourself from the community.” This important teaching, attributed to the great Hillel, who lived in the first century B.C.E., reminds us of our obligations as members of a community.   The eleventh-century French commentator Rabbi Shlomo Yitzchaki, better known as Rashi, the most famous of all commentators, commented on Hillel’s statement, explaining that one should not separate oneself from the community when it is experiencing difficulties so that one can be united with it when it experiences joy. One must not hide away during the difficult times and only share the joyous times with the community, but rather, one must be part of the community through thick and thin.


Rabbi Zev Leff wrote in his commentary on Parashat Nitzavim: “One of the benefits of being part of the community is that as part of a united entity one’s individual failings may be overlooked. ….One benefits by strengthening his connection to [the community]. But he cannot reap the benefits from the community without accepting the concomitant responsibilities.” [Parashat Nitzavim, “Do Not Separate From the Community,” aish.com]


All of these commentators – Rabbi Rosenberg, Hillel, Rashi, and Rabbi Leff — remind us that if we fail to see ourselves as part of something bigger, if we fail to see ourselves in relation to other people, then not only will we lose something special, but so will the community. Our community – our congregation – needs you.


G’mar chatimah tovah!

May you be inscribed for a good year!