A Time to Move On – A Time for Farewells

This is not an easy time in the lifecycle of our community. What words can truly express the feelings we have as we prepare to phase out and close down our beloved B’nai Torah community. I know it seems overwhelming — incomprehensible? How could we have come to this? But I would like to take a few moments and reflect on where we have been and who we are.

Thank you — Theresa, Andy, Michael Rosen — and to all of you, my wonderful Congregation B’nai Torah community, my friends who are here. I know that many people would have wanted to be here tonight and unfortunately, had previous commitments.

Whoosh! I feel like I have blinked and these past two years have flown by! In two years, look at the wonderful bonds we have built — the bonds of community, friendship and love.

This is not an easy time in the lifecycle of our community. What words can truly express the feelings we have as we prepare to phase out and close down our beloved B’nai Torah community.

I know it seems overwhelming — incomprehensible? How could we have come to this?

But I would like to take a few moments and reflect on where we have been and who we are:

We are Congregation B’nai Torah: Congregation of the Children of Torah.

You came together almost 60 years ago to build a spiritual Jewish home for yourselves and your families.

A community based on the values of Torah – learning, g’milut chasadim – deeds of loving kindness, and avodah – worship.

Over the almost 60 years you have been here, you have accomplished some remarkable achievements: working to bring out the embittered Ethiopian Jews from the shackles of oppression to Israel, serving as an underground railway for Cambodian boat people, providing the best nursery school program on the North Shore for young people, enabling liberal Jews to gather together to study, learn, debate and pray.

You grew from a small group of dedicated and committed Jews to create a vibrant and thriving center of Jewish living and learning here on the beautiful Shores of Lake Michigan.

When I first came to visit B’nai Torah, the physical beauty of the property and the view from the Sanctuary windows and windows of the Coleman Education Center took my breath away.

But it wasn’t the views that people talked about. You told me about the connections you felt when Rabbi Singer blessed your child at her baby naming; or when you were married on the Bima. You talked about the way you felt when you heard Cantor Jerry Frazes sing from the bima. Or how you felt when Cantor Dresher sat by your side at a hospital bed. You expressed the feelings of connection at watching 2 or 3 generations of your family celebrate life-cycle events, holy days and Shabbat observances all together in this sanctuary — sharing the bonds of community, family and friendship.

This place evokes so many deep and wonderful memories, feelings and emotions for so many. You don’t notice the stained carpet, the faded artwork, the dated décor. What you feel when you come into this place is a sense of HOME, a sense of connection, a sense of community and a sense of peace.

Like the Temple in Jerusalem of old, B’nai Torah was the central Jewish gathering place in this part of Highland Park.

And just as the Temple of old came upon difficult times — so does our community.

Just as when the Temple in Jerusalem was destroyed by the Romans, it shook the people to the very core of their being, we too, are shaken by what’s happening to our beloved congregation.

But — when the Temple was destroyed, something new and beautiful was born. Rabbi Yochanan ben Zakkai was a great visionary. He realized that if he clung to the ashes of the burning Temple, there would be no future for the Jewish people. So he figured out a new way to move forward toward an envisioned future. He established a center in Yavneh. Prayer replaced sacrifice. Study and learning replaced service in the Temple. Rabbi Yochanan ben Zakkai’s new model was what enabled Judaism to thrive and flourish and we are the descendants of what he began so long ago.

He helped us to understand that Torah is portable. The space and place are not as important as the actions and deeds of our hearts and hands.

And we are B’nai Torah — literally “the children of Torah.”

What does this mean? It means that your Torah will be what you make of it. As the movers were packing me the other day, I came upon an article in a magazine. It described a family where the father and husband had died. The wife and children decided to spend the next year doing “random acts of kindness” for others. It was there hope that by reaching out to other people: both strangers and those whom they knew, they would be able to lift up their own spirits. It was a very meaningful and fulfilling year for them.

The mother then remarried. After some time, her new husband became devastatingly ill with an extremely debilitating stroke. Again, the family endured a year of hardship and difficulty. During this year, the family would go into a restaurant, eat a meal, and find that their bill had been paid for anonymously. They would find dinners delivered to their home — anonymously. All year long, people would do things for them “random acts of kindness” just as they had done for others.

It made me think.

Although this is a very difficult time for so many in our B’nai Torah community. The sadness and heaviness in our hearts will be so much easier to bear if you reach out to each other with “acts of kindness”. Do you know of someone who attended services here regularly and is feeling particularly lost? Call them. Pull together a group and go as a group to one of the other congregations together. It is so much easier to bear this burden if you do it together.

You can invite each other to your homes and have a communal Shabbat dinner celebration with a simplified service. Community is what you choose to make it. It is the people who choose to come together, to celebrate together, to be together for the good times and the bad.

Every end is a new beginning. I know that I have not been here for all that long. But I do feel the pain and anguish of what it means to close down this place.

It is hard for me to say “good-bye” to all of you.

And I would be remiss if I did not say a few special “thank you’s”:

Over the past two years, we have strived to accomplished a great deal together, despite our challenges: we renewed our caring committees, education and membership committees. We were able to slowly introduce a new siddur — a new prayerbook and engage the greater congregation in the process. We were able to hire a wonderful new Cantorial Soloist, Heather Aranyi, whose warm presence and beautiful voice grace our worship in the most special manner.

We held many intergenerational events that brought people together for food, celebration and community. We’ve tried to reach out to all of our congregants in a multiplicity of ways.

Through it all, there have been a number of key people who have worked tirelessly to try and save B’nai Torah and keep it afloat.

Our wonderful community of volunteers, our board members, our executive committees, our officers and our staff members have all aimed to carry out our share of our responsibility for our Jewish life here at B’nai Torah with great love, devotion, wisdom, grace and dignity. Not to say that we didn’t hit some bumps along the way — or that the path has always been clear and easy — but our working together toward a common goal as always been at the forefront. None of us could have done what we need to do here, without everyone joining together, carrying their share of the burden, adding their unique contribution to our Congregation B’nai Torah’s life.

At this point, I need to specifically mention a few people — there are many who I would like to thank — but time constraints… First, Andy Lask who served as president during for my two years (his 3-year term)– as well as the exec. cte members and boards of trustees who have served over this past years. Andy could not be here tonight. Andy — and Amy — I truly value the special relationship you and I and Sharen have developed. Marc Berman — these past few months, Marc has been the backbone of the congregation. He has been the guide and counsel for both Andy and myself and has offered support to B’nai Torah in ways too numerous to elaborate. Michael Rosen — our stalwart treasurer and past President. Michael, Andy and Marc have been part of the core team working daily behind the scenes. I will just name a few of the other tireless board members and executive committee and committee members who have spent hours and hours expending time and energy on behalf of the Temple: Theresa Jaffe, Marc Tepper, James Schneider, Melissa Goldman, Mihaela Miller, Laurie Wolf, Helen Singer, Laurie Wolf, Hillel Singer, Terri Soussan, Danny Wilk, Brian Browdy, Amy Lask, Helene Gelberg. There are too many Executive Committee members and board members to mention by name. Suffice to say that each of you has added your own imprimatur on this congregation, strengthening this community, helping it to become more vibrant and involved in Jewish life. Each of you faced different challenges, but your wisdom and guidance has made my two years at B’nai Torah special and meaningful I value your friendship as well!

Our staff: When we were looking for a new Cantorial Soloist when Cantor Lynda Dresher was retiring, the entire search committee was unanimous in our enthusiasm for Heather Aranyi from the moment we first met her and heard her speak and sing. Her enthusiasm is contagious! Her warmth radiates through all that she does! Her love of music, her vivacious personality and her outgoing nature greatly enhances the musical life of our congregation. Her voice is spectacular!

Gregory — you are a music director EXTRAORDINAIRE! You can play anything!! You are remarkable! You enhance our services beyond anything I can possibly express. When Cantor Dresher was on sick leave and on Sabbatical, you stepped up to the plate and worked with a rotating group of guest cantors and with me. You can be flexible and adjust to work with the most gifted musician or with someone who is — well, not so gifted, like myself!! I want to bring you to New York!!

In the office, Dori, Donna and Marla keep things running smoothly administratively. They are the team that are the “nuts and bolts” of our congregational life are taken care of so that the rest of us can do our work. I could not have done my rabbinic work without them. I will miss the three of you and cannot thank you enough for all that you have done.

But the three of them can’t do it all alone: we are blessed by the great crew headed by our superintendent of over 20 years, Eugene Zagor. Eugene is also tireless. He is here morning, afternoon and night. The young men we have from Trinity — have taught me so much. They have given their time and energy with open hearts and with willing hands. Again, B’nai Torah is blessed by a dedicated and committee staff who try to help us to achieve our goals.

To all of you, I say a big thank you from the bottom of my heart.

It is my hope that as you prepare for the end of June, you will find a way to celebrate and remember all of the wonderful moments you celebrated in this special place. You will find a communal way to express your sorrow, say “l’hitra’ot” to what was and figure out how to take the best of what B’nai Torah offered and go forward to a new tomorrow.

May God be with you, wherever this new journey may take you.
May God bless you with health and strength,
May God bless your efforts with success,
May God shine on you and through you
So that your endeavors illuminate all those you touch.
May God watch over you and shield you from all harm,
May God bless the choices you make,
May God bless the new paths you take,
May you be a blessing to this world,
And may blessings surround you now and always.
Based on a blessing by Naomi Levy