Yom Kippur Morning Sermon 2018–100th Anniversary

YOM KIPPUR MORNING SERMON–100th Anniversary

September 19, 2018

RABBI AMY B. BIGMAN

…From [his] base in Montreal Ezekiel Solomon found his way to Michilimackinac (1761), to become the first Jewish settler in Michigan.

By the mid-1840’s, there were Jews in Detroit, Kalamazoo, Marshall, Adrian, Ypsilanti, and Ann Arbor.  But only Ann Arbor could boast of a “community,” where the traditional minyan, the gathering of at least ten Jewish adult males for Sabbath services, was held. The minyan had crystallized at the home of the Weils — five brothers — who had come to German-speaking Ann Arbor from Bohemia, in keeping with the pattern that sent German Jews into locales where German populations and the German culture already existed.  In 1847, Charles, Henry, and Emanuel Lederer…, found their way to Ann Arbor to enjoy the… minyan at the Weil home. The Lederers were to become Lansing’s first Jews.

Thus begins the article “Lansing’s Jewish Community:  The Beginnings” by Daniel Jacobson.  Dr. Jacobson was the Director of the Social Science Teaching Institute, Professor of Geography and Education, and adjunct Professor of Anthropology at Michigan State University.  His article about the beginnings of our community was published in the January 1976 edition of “Michigan Jewish History,” the semi-annual publication of the Jewish Historical Society of Michigan.

According to the sources cited by Dr. Jacobson:

[I]n 1859, when Lansing was incorporated as a city, the population was just over 3,000; four years later, fewer than 4,000. Yet there were already “…within the city, eleven churches, five hotels, two flouring mills … three tanneries, two breweries, three sawmills, two sash and blind shops, two printing offices, several brickyards and a large number of mechanic shops.” …By 1870, Lansing’s population had jumped to 5,244, yet the Jews could only be numbered among the Lederers and Eksteins. …Individual Jews and individual families did begin to move into the growing capital in the ’70’s and ’80’s. Jacob, Edward and Andrew Born were residents in 1873 as was Joseph Lehman. The Glickmans may have arrived before the decade’s end and by 1883 the Beck families and David and Arthur Behrendt were also living in the city.

By the late 1800’s, Russian Jews, ancestors of many of us sitting here today, fled Russia and moved to the United States.  They generally moved to large cities, but some moved to Lansing.

On November 10, 1918, eighteen men signed the Articles of Association of Congregation Shaarey Zedek.  Several of these men’s descendants not only still belong to our congregation, but are seated here this morning.  From those eighteen signers, we are now approximately 240 families, including over 80 students in our religious school (pre-kindergarten through twelfth grade), down from our high of 350 families in the 1990’s, but fairly steady in the last dozen or so years.

 

According to Article II of the Articles of Association, the purpose for which the congregation was formed is “the diffusing of religious knowledge; the holding of Divine Services, Sunday Schools and Hebrew Schools; and the acquiring of real estate whereon to erect a suitable building or buildings for such purposes.”

One hundred years ago, our founders felt the need to come together as a community, to learn and worship together.  Similarly, our purpose today, as currently listed in Article 2 of our constitution, notes:

The purpose of Congregation Shaarey Zedek is to enable all of its members to develop a relationship with God, Torah, and the Jewish people through communal worship, study, and assembly.  Shaarey Zedek functions in an inclusive and egalitarian atmosphere.

To ensure the continuity of the Jewish people, Shaarey Zedek promotes the fundamental and enduring principles of Judaism and applies those principles to the values and conduct of the individual, the family, and the society.

As I learned about greater Lansing’s Jewish history, I decided to review my history here in East Lansing, too.  My first Shabbat on this bimah was July 6, 2007.  The Torah portion that week was parashat Pinchas.  In that portion, Joshua is chosen as Moses’ successor to lead the people into the next phase of their journey.  In that first sermon I shared a bit about my personal journey and then shared the following:

We read in this week’s parashah God’s command to Moses and Eleazar, Aaron’s son, to “‘take a census of the whole Israelite community from the age of twenty years up, by their ancestral houses, all Israelites able to bear arms.'” [Num. 26:2, Etz Hayim translation, p. 920]  The text continues by telling us who “the descendants of the Israelites who came out of the land of Egypt” were, listing each clan and the number of able-bodied men who could form an army.

Interestingly, most translations say “who came out of the land of Egypt,” using the past tense of the verb.  But Rabbi Neal Joseph Loevinger…points out in his commentary on this parashah…[that] the Hebrew is actually in the present tense:  “Those who are coming out of Egypt.”  Rabbi Loevinger sees the use of the present tense as an important lesson.  He notes that

at any point in the life of the Jewish people, individual Jews are in different stages of ‘leaving Egypt.’  Egypt is often understood not only as a physical place, but as a psychological stage as well:  In ‘Egypt’…we feel overwhelmed, far from our sacred centre, far from God, unable to accomplish our proper spiritual tasks.

In any given community, there are people who are on different stages of the journey…  Some people are ready to enter the land (understood as ‘settled’ self-confidence about their Jewishness), some people are just leaving Egypt — every Jewish community contains individuals all along the spectrum, and, of course, the challenge is to figure out how to all travel together.

Sometimes even as individuals, we go back and forth in our spiritual energy; sometimes it feels like we’ve just escaped Pharaoh, and sometimes it feels like we’re ready to join with others and build a strong Jewish community.  The taking of a census reminds us of the importance of periodically assessing where we are on the journey, so that we can be ready for the next step.  Whether as individuals or as a community, we can only go forward if we know who and where we are. [Kolel, Pinchas 5760, paragraph designations and emphases mine]

 

We are all on journeys, personal as well as communal.  In that first sermon, I expressed my hopes for our congregation for the years to come:  that each member will find their niche, their place in the congregation; that each person will feel at home in this sanctuary and in this building; and that each person who enters our building feels welcomed, safe, and secure.

 

Shaarey Zedek’s congregational journey is at a unique point in time; we have a great deal of history, a great deal of the journey behind us, and at the same time we move forward on a new part of our journey.

 

It is up to each of us to contribute to that journey, to participate in the process. This year as we celebrate our 100th anniversary, we will have many celebrations for members of all ages:  At the end of October there will be a kickoff event; there will be 100th anniversary programming in the school and for PJ Library participants; and three rabbis and a cantor who grew up at Shaarey Zedek will return for special services and programs.

 

In addition to celebrating the 100 years that have passed, we will be looking forward to the 100 years to come, and so you will be hearing about fundraising for things that we need today, such as a new Torah scroll, to raising funds for our future through planned giving.  In order to be the congregation we need and want to be, we have to be fiscally secure.  All we ask is that you do the best that you can financially and otherwise in helping your congregation be the best it can be.

 

In good times and in bad, our people have turned to the biblical Book of Psalms for comfort and inspiration.  And so, as we begin our celebrations of our 100th anniversary this year, we conclude with, appropriately, the 100th Psalm, the Psalm of Thanksgiving:

 

  1. Mizmor L’Todah: Hari’u l’Adonai kol ha-aretz

A psalm of Thanksgiving:  Raise a shout for the Lord, all the earth

  1. Ivdu et Adonai b’simkha, bo’u lifanav birnanah

Worship the Lord in gladness, come into God’s presence with shouts of joy

  1. D’u ki Adonai hu Elohim, hu asanu v’lo anakhnu, amo v’tzon mar’ito

Acknowledge that the Lord is God; God made us and we are God’s:  God’s people, the flock God tends.

  1. Bo’u sh’arav b’todah, khatzeirotav bit’hilah, hodu lo, bar’khu sh’mo

Enter God’s gates with praise, God’s court with acclamation.  Praise God!  Bless God’s name!

  1. Ki tov Adonai l’olam khasdo, v’ad dor va-dor emunato

For God is good; God’s steadfast love is eternal; God’s faithfulness is for all generations.

As we say together:  Amen.