On Thursday, February 4, 2016, the Congregation of Shaaray Tefila unanimously elected Rabbi Joel M. Mosbacher to the position of Senior Rabbi effective July 1.
Baruch atah Adonai Eloheinu melech ha’olam shehecheyanu, v’kiyamanu, v’higiyanu lazman hazeh.
It is a great joy for me to be here with all of you on this momentous occasion. I am so glad that my wife Elyssa, and my sons Ari and Lev are here with me tonight; you have already begun to make them feel as welcome as you have made me. Although you’ve called me to be your next senior rabbi, you have to know that my family grounds me, keeps me honest, and gives me the strength and purpose to do what I do.
I’d like to express my deepest thanks to the entire search committee, led so ably by Lois Nyren. This is a team that worked hard through thick and thin for nearly two years to bring us to this moment. I am grateful to you for your warm embrace and your hard work; I know that all of the members of this congregation are grateful to you for your service, as well. And, too, I know that your family and loved ones are grateful to have you BACK after the endless meetings and commitments that come with being a part of such an intensive process.
And we would simply not be in this place without the leadership of Michael Starr. Michael, your commitment to the well-being of Shaaray Tefila is profound and inspiring. You have guided this great congregation through a time of tremendous change, and though that may not have been what you signed on for, you have been just the leader that the community needed for this time. For all you have done, for all that you will do, we are so deeply grateful.
Thanks, too, to Rabbi Hirsch, who has served this congregation with such distinction. Rabbi Hirsch, you have played many roles in this congregation and more broadly for the Jewish people. I thank you for your collegiality, your friendship, and your support. This congregation owes you a huge debt of gratitude for the grace and strength you have shown during this time of transition. You and Carole mean so much to this community, and you always will. You are a rabbi’s rabbi, and I am honored to call you one of my rabbis.
I have spent time in recent weeks speaking to Rabbi Tattlebaum and Rabbi Stein; it is a tremendous honor for me to learn at the feet of two of the great rabbis of our lifetimes, and it is the greatest professional honor of my lifetime to pick up the mantle of their leadership as I become only the 7th Senior Rabbi in the illustrious history of this sacred house.
I am honored to be joining Cantor Kipnis, Cantor Dubinsky, and Rabbi Wajnberg on an amazing clergy team that will help teach, minister to, and guide the congregation in the next chapter of its history. And I am so thrilled to be joining the amazing staff team that has made this congregation so great and so renowned.
As my first official act as your new rabbi, I’d like to give you a short quiz; I hope you’ve been studying up! I am going to read you a paragraph I read recently about a synagogue, and I’d like to ask you to raise your hand (don’t shout it out!) if you think you know which congregation this was written about.
“From a small and modest beginning and through hardships and over rough seas, the Congregation has reached its splendid standing in the community. Whatever vicissitudes may bring, it and we, its members, are dedicated to the endeavor to uphold the high standards of the past, to meet the essential needs of the community for the care of the poor and the suffering, and in truth to make it, as is written above its altar, ‘A House of Prayer for All Peoples.’”
Do you recognize the congregation? (Temple Shaaray Tefila)
Now, the last question in the quiz. What year was this written? Raise your hand if you think you know! (1945-- the centennial anniversary of the congregation!)
I wonder what the little organized religious society that first met in a small room on Franklin Street downtown 170 years ago would think if they were here today. I bet they’d be astounded. As Gordon Kleeberg wrote in the little volume, Shaaray Tefilah: Its Hundred Years, “they undoubtedly would rejoice in the growth of the congregation [and] the richness and abundance of its sanctuary and its activities.”
Again, this history was written 70 years ago; it might be time to write a second edition in time for the congregation’s 175th anniversary in a few years.
But what is clear is that, even 70 years ago, the mission and character of the congregation were, in many ways, the same as they are today. Back then, as now, the congregation has shown some of its greatest strength when confronted with challenges; then, as now, Shaaray Tefila has been resourceful. “Still more important,” the author of the centennial history writes, “Shaaray Tefila has been and still is a friendly congregation… Its synagogue has never been merely be a place of worship or a lecture forum, but rather a community home from which goodness proceeds.”
From Franklin Street to Wooster Street, from Broadway to 44th Street, from 82nd street on the West Side to 79th street on the East Side, Shaaray Tefila has always been a leading congregation in New York City, and, for much of its history, one of the crown-jewel congregations of the Reform Movement.
I look forward to working with you to write the next chapter of this sacred congregation’s history. I look forward to hearing your sacred stories and helping you act on them; learning with you about the depth and breadth of our sacred tradition; praying with you; being with you in the most sacred moments of your lives; and making the world better with you because our congregation is in it.
Thank you so much for honoring me by inviting you to be your rabbi. In closing, I’d like to offer a prayer.
Holy One of blessing, you call us to the work and privilege of building sacred community here, in the State of Israel, and everywhere.
You have brought us to this place, so rich with history, and so filled with promise for the future.
Thank you for bringing us together.
Thank you for entering into a covenant with us.
Thank you for speaking to us through Torah, and for accepting the offerings of our hearts to you in prayer, study, and sacred action.
We ask that you bless us in this new relationship.
We ask that you help us remember how blessed with abundance we are.
We ask that you give us the strength to face with courage and optimism the opportunities that lie ahead.
You have blessed us as we’ve made our way to this congregation, and we ask that you bless us on our way home. And may you return us to this sacred space again soon, in peace.