I am thrilled to be here tonight and I am so glad you are all here to help me celebrate this milestone. Jewish tradition considers numbers to be quite significant. There are the four questions of Passover, the seventh day of Shabbat, and the Ten Commandments. There's Gematria – the mystical tradition of numbers. We even have a whole section of Torah named Numbers. For me, this year is a big number – 25. The Doctor of Divinity degree which I will receive next week marks 25 years since I became a Rabbi, 20 of which I have been blessed to share with you. Having shared these many years together, it seems fitting that I share this degree with all of you.
Twenty-five represents much bigger numbers. Within that 25 are numbers nearly impossible to quantify: Over 100 people whom I have had the privilege of guiding on a path toward becoming Jewish or blessed under the Chuppah; Hundreds more whom I have been able to name as they arrived newly in the world, or to mentor as they prepared for their coming of age, or to counsel during a moment of crisis, or lay to rest at the end of life.
It's awesome to pause at this peak moment to reflect with you on why I'm here and what it means for me to fulfill the sacred responsibility you have entrusted to me.
Before becoming a Rabbi, I had a lot of jobs. I babysat and served as a Congressional Page in high school, and in college I was a counselor at Camp Coleman, an ice cream scooper at Haagen Dazs and an ice cream pie maker at Steve's Ice Cream in Coconut Grove. I even waitressed at KC Kagneys and at Daphne's Riverhouse where I had to wear high heels, make-up and a hat. And despite all the delicious ice cream jobs and the thrill of working right on the Senate floor, my time as a Rabbi has far surpassed them all, and has, in fact, exceeded my greatest expectations. And now that we have ice cream in the Welcome Center, I get to have it all!
Many of you know that I originally intended to become a lawyer. When I asked my Rabbi, Herbert Baumgard, to write me a reference letter for law school, he tried to convince me to become a Rabbi. This was in 1983, just 11 years after the first female Rabbi, Sally Priesand, was ordained. There were maybe a couple dozen female Rabbis in the world at the time. I had never met a female Rabbi, I had never even seen one or heard about one, which is why it may never have occurred to me to become one. I applied to law school but deferred admissions for a year to go to Israel to volunteer.
It wasn't until I bumped into a fellow Brandeis alum in Jerusalem who was already in rabbinical school, and attended classes with her on a whim, that a light went off in my head. This flash was the moment of my calling when I knew that this is what I should be doing with my life.
Sometimes you have to end up where you are meant to be before you realize you are meant to be there.
I must have been 22-years-old when I called my parents to tell them of my change of heart. One of them – I can't remember who – said, "Well, it's too bad, it's too late. They are expecting you at law school." That was all the encouragement I needed to apply to rabbinical school. So here I am, 25 years since ordination, and I have never looked back, not for a second.
When I started at Temple Beth Sholom 20 years ago, many of you had never met a female Rabbi. I was known by some as the "girl rabbi," the "female rabbi," or even among the Foundation School children as "Rabbi Mommy." It was meaningful and profound as the first female Rabbi in Temple Beth Sholom's history to tap into a well of women's spirituality – to hand women who were in their 80's the Torah for the first time in their lives, to lift women's voices at a Seder for women, and to dance and sing with members of our congregation at the women's side of the Kotel.
But now, years later, it is just as meaningful, and perhaps even more profound, to be known simply as "Rabbi," without any qualifier, and to join my fellow Rabbis and Cantors as part of this magnificent clergy team.
Over the years I've come to realize that the most important moments we share come in many forms. Yes, there are the big sermons and Mitzvah Weekends and High Holy Days, but among the most significant are the times I've spent standing by you at the most poignant hours -- the darkest, most heartbreaking times of your lives and then again months or years later at the most euphoric moments. It's sharing the grace of a newborn baby and the shattering of glass under the Chuppah. It's the phone calls and collaborations, the visioning and dreaming, and the quiet soulful encounters.
This week's Torah portion is Kedoshim, the Holiness Code. It's all about how we are meant to bring holiness into our lives. "T'hiyu kedoshim," the Torah tells us – "You all shall be holy." What is significant is that the instructions are given deliberately in the plural – we create holiness when we work together. Tradition tells us that the role of a Rabbi at a Jewish wedding is to be a "m'saderet kiddushin", which means the "arranger of the wedding." At a deeper level, it means the one who arranges for holiness to take place. This defines my role as a Rabbi, not only under a chuppah but also every day.
We all come to synagogue for different reasons. Maybe it's for a bar mitzvah or Torah study, or because we're lonely; or maybe it's for the sushi at the Oneg. What we are really seeking is holiness, transcendence. We want to connect with something bigger than ourselves, to validate our very existence and discover our purpose in life. How blessed are we to partner together in this sacred mission!
One of the most compelling challenges in today's rapidly changing world is finding new ways to meet our needs and transform Jewish lives. There's a famous time travel story from the Talmud in which Moses sees God affixing decorative crowns to the letters of the Torah and asks God why they are there. God tells him that in the future the crowns will lead to great interpretations. Moses is frustrated by God's answer. After all, he is the one to bring the Torah to the people. How could there be things beyond his comprehension? God instantly transports Moses from Sinai to the yeshiva of Rabbi Akiba, several hundred years into the future. Moses sits in the back of the classroom completely lost and unable to even recognize his Torah. But when Moses hears Rabbi Akiba credit none other than him, Moses, with his teaching, Moses realizes that God intended for Torah to be understood in new and creative ways throughout the ages. God intentionally put those decorative crowns in the letters of Torah to invite each generation to continue the process of revelation through creative interpretation.
I often wonder what Moses would say if he popped up in the halls of Temple Beth Sholom. What would he make of Jewish yoga or Shabbat zemirot on the electric guitar or Holy Grounds Coffee?!
As Jews, we must protect the integrity of our tradition but at the same time, like Rabbi Akiba, find new ways to keep Jewish life fresh and engaging, meaningful and relevant. And what we know is it cannot be done alone. We have much to celebrate as we in this congregation are forging new paths for Jewish renewal when we reach out to the greater community beyond our walls through the Tribe and The Open Tent, or experiment with new worship experiences through Unplugged High Holy Day services. We are imagining new ways of living Jewishly and then making what we imagine together real. Every day brings new possibilities of what we will imagine next.
Each step along our Jewish path has brought me joy. In standing here, I feel an enormous sense of gratitude for my esteemed and beloved colleagues and brilliant lay leaders who bring inspiration to us all with their devotion, and for the entire congregation for your trust and partnership.
My gratitude to my family is beyond measure; to my father whose yahrzeit is tonight, and even though he's not here, he is here, his chest always swollen with pride; to my mother, who is here, for launching me into the world; to my children for their infinite patience and generosity in sharing me with the congregation, and most of all, to my true partner in life, Adam, for his guidance, challenge, wisdom and support.
Thank you all for the privilege of allowing me to be a M'saderet Kedushin, one who is your partner in creating sacred community.