Adonai Adonai, I ask that You speak through me in my words to my beloved community that has become my family. Help me tell a story about HaMakom that we can all believe in, one that reveals our intention: to be a community of lovingkindness guided by Jewish principles. Let me be Your 'clay kodesh', and bring Your love down upon all assembled here.
Erev Tov! Good evening. Darkness is coming. We welcome it as a prelude to light and we embrace its lesson to us: don't be afraid. That is faith. This is the last day of caution as we descend into the vessel that will hold the burden of our grief, Tisha B'Av. Together we create a place to enter sorrow, acknowledging sadness that we may vainly push away but shadows us. My hope is that I can bring a shlemut, a wholeness of picture by answering questions that you have asked me about my decision and plans, and to tell you my story of HaMakom.
I'm grateful to Atma and to all of you who have come this afternoon. It is your curiosity and commitment to be here that will add velocity to the ruah we need to continue our ascent as a community. When we ask to be saved from our worst selves, we are never worthy individually. What we can accomplish together is what saves us.
We learned that early at HaMakom, and that's how a bunch of individualists gathered to make a community. It was right after 9/11. Gay and I returned home from NY and decided immediately that we would build a sukkah and invite a few friends. Over fifty came, and a few of us looked around, and thought that we'd like to do this again, come together for solace and hope through prayer and song.
Leslie Davis and Bill Lazar, Geraldine Fiskus and Jay Zeiger, were among the first builders not only of the sukkah but also of what came to be known as HaMakom. (We have Rabbi Lynne Gottlieb to thank for our name.) By Hanukkah that year, we had a party where we cut off reservations at 90.
What was our appeal? The same as it was as of last Shabbat. We welcome all who enter with the blessing of our gladness to see them; we are a group of talented, generous people who love diversity and even eccentricity; we enjoy thinking and studying together, and we join in strong desire to be closer to the Beloved One.
In the fall of 2001, a very few of us began to meet at Peter Hess' office each Shabbat morning to study Torah and daven together. Lyn Fox became president of the new community and his wife, Ellen, helped to organize us. Near the end of January, while I awaited the birth of Solomon, my first grandchild, I received a call from Leslie that she had been diagnosed with stage four ovarian cancer.
Leslie and Billy faced it straight on, and those of us who were part of the community then became connected through mutual concern and love for Leslie and Bill. We were given opportunity to act with lovingkindness.
Leslie and Bill were with us for most Shabboses and the community grew enough to decide to hold High Holiday services.
That year, five years ago, was our first at St. Bede's, and I had the pleasure of leading the services with Debbie Friedman. We sang, wept, laughed, and danced together that year. The following year we felt so good about ourselves we decided that we could create our own heart-opening services, and Yafa was my partner. And now Cindy adds to the mesorah, tradition of HaMakom.
Leslie was our president in the last two years of her life and she laid the foundation for all that we are today, including our friendship with St. Bede's. The sign out front and our weekly presence we owe to Leslie. When she could no longer do the work, Ellie Edelstein stepped up and then Lisa Freeman. Each good heart is a thread in our ohalah, tent, and we are grateful.
In these years we have grown from community to family. We rejoiced when Ariel Freilich, Josh and Suzanne's daughter became our first Bat Mitzvah. If we ever wonder what we mean to each other by our presence, Ariel came one Friday night by herself and announced that she'd just gotten her driver's license. HaMakom was where she chose to take her first solo drive. May we witness her chuppah.
We have been God's face to those in need, including Harley Chase and his family after his accident. For four years, we watched Leslie's warrior pose with cancer with radical amazement and finally with sorrow. Her memory is our blessing. We are who we are because of her. When we were in a place of crisis as a community, the collective voice was a resounding yes, let us go forward to keep the gift Leslie's powerful leadership and kindness alive. And so we have, growing by number, learning, and love each year.
I have delighted in our spiritual experiment and can't imagine a more fortunate rabbi than I, who has led such a discerning and enlightened community. I am one of those when she falls in love, she does it with a wild and crazy whole heart. One can only do that as long as she can. The reason I am moving to the place of elder or alte cocker, whatever you prefer, is largely because of my temperament. It has little to do with the challenges of community. Sooner or later, I would come to the same decision, that it is time in my life to take a less active role in some places to redirect remaining energies to other parts of my life.
Living near my children and grandchildren is a delight, to be sure. Having time and energy to write more is important, too. Having a little more time to be with Gay is another piece. Ultimately, however, I sense that it is time to turn within for a while, to be sure that what I may teach is right. Now, let me be clear. You have not lost your rabbi. I am still here and want to stay here in a new role. You may wonder whether I have faith in HaMakom. I have abundant faith and so does Gay. That we have given you our Torah, its garments, and the ark should offer some assurance. Although I may be in California for a few months each year, the rest of the time Gay and I will be in Santa Fe, and I take the advice of a Paiute elder friend of mine. I'll have a pot of soup and a tea kettle on the stove for those who want to see me. This is how I understand the role of rabbi emeritus. Just think of me as Grandmother Rabbi.
Some of you have shared that you're questioning rejoining. I'm telling you and asking you to tell others that of all the years at HaMakom that it is important to express support and commitment, this is the year. By all means, renew and think about becoming part of shaping the future of HaMakom by listening, talking, and rolling up your holy sleeves. Don't worry about our getting too big right now; I've said for years that I look forward to that problem.
One of the blessings of our association with St. Bede's has been that we have confronted our own identity in a way that comes only from being with those who are not the same as we. Adin Steinsaltz has said, "the white washing of differences is a mistake. Any attempt to take dissimilar things and make them similar is a big mistake. The notion of peace is the ability to unite differences, to live with those with whom I do not agree. There are many people whose theologies I don't agree with-but we can sit together, we can talk together, and we may create peace...and that's what I want to reach. It is not in making everybody equal and the same, but to keep us different and still like each other."
When Father Murphy first proposed a partnership with St. Bede's in building a new church, it was for the opportunity that Steinsaltz describes that I was enthusiastic. It would be a practical solution that would offer a way for two faiths to heal the past by working together in social action projects and having frank discussion of our differences. We have done some of this already with HaMakom being peacekeepers for St. Bede's when they were picketed by religious homophobes, and Father Murphy and I held a public conversation about hot topics such as Israel.
The proposal led all of us into important questions about who we are. The disparity of size between us highlighted the possibility of subtle absorption into a much wealthier and powerful community that is so embracing of us. Suddenly some of us saw the risk of entering into a relationship without guarantee of separate space. I have been ordained to teach and preach to Jews, to help us all this generation become Jews. It is in our practice, study, and action that we know who we are.
St. Bede's has no problem embracing our entire tradition, because it is the foundation of theirs. We are not in the same position so all things between us are not equal. I see our friendship as a blessing that requires consciousness on our part to set boundaries of identity. We get together on Saturday, even though Sunday makes more sense in a Christian world, and that's just one small difference between us. As rabbi, my work was not to make us merely different, but to make us inheritors of a beloved tradition.
Is there a way for St. Bede's and HaMakom to not be like shackling a weaker animal with a larger one? I believe so, because we've been in good friendship these three years. HaMakom just enjoyed a very successful picnic, thanks to the efforts of Sharon Nanez. It's a wonderful idea for an annual event, and we don't need to have more social events in a year, because we know that every minute that we can take from our busy secular lives to be Jews together is our priority. What we can do with St. Bede's to do good in the world together will help us fulfill our mitzvah to relieve suffering.
We are a community that celebrates learning, and we have witnessed fifteen B'nai Mitzvah in our five years together. Marge Lazar has set a standard of excellence in the continuing education series. I suggest that the community look to who may teach them and what they want to know. We have essentially eschewed a denominational identity in HaMakom in favor of a meaningful, relaxed davening practice. Who will continue to grow and teach the community in prayer and study?
Rhea Bertelli and Lynn Rosen have proposed a wonderful learning direction for the community, to have monthly home Shabbat dinners. Only a small community can do this with abundant participation. Their ideas are thoughtful and helpful. I recommend it as a way to weave the congregation to do God's will as one.
In this time of transition, I have abundant faith that the lovingkindness that has flowed through HaMakom will continue. I have copies of the letter I wrote the board last month that describe how I understand our relationships to one another. Together we have built a beautiful makom where I am confident God dwells. As we emerge from the darkest time of the year into the dawn that cannot be denied, I pray that we, as a community, keep before us memory of all we have been. We have surprised ourselves with radically amazing moments, from a Selichot weekend at Ghost Ranch, a champagne brunch book signing, to astonishingly delicious rugelach. Many more wonderful experiences wait for us to recount. If we listen carefully and do the highest that calls out within us, we will have saved ourselves and a remnant of Judaism.