I remember the first time I was here. Rabbi Art Vernon was the rabbi, and I had an aliyah. I followed the reading of the torah, so Rabbi Vernon asked me to chant the Haftarah. Initially, I demurred, saying that congregants should chant the Haftarah. Rabbi Vernon responded, “I do everything. Your chanting the Haftarah gives me a break.” I chanted the Haftarah, and I sent $50 to Ahavas Sholom. That is my custom if I have an aliyah in another synagogue.
I remember the second time I was here: Dubra’s bat mitzvah. Needless to say, I didn’t chant the Haftarah. Dubra has a voice of an angel.
I started studying at the Academy for the Jewish Religion in 2005. In 2005, I spotted the ad that Ahavas Sholom was calling for rabbinical candidates. I sent a letter to Eric Freedman, the president of Avahas Sholom, asking that I be considered to be a candidate. The letter stated that I have synagogue skills (that’s a far cry) and that I started AJR, but that I only had three courses under my belt. The board granted me an interview. I said in the interview in 2005, “I will learn more from you than you will learn from me.”
And I auditioned in June. I wore wool suit, and the sanctuary was 96 degrees. The Torah portion was Naso, and I talked about the Sota ritual.
Ahavas Sholom made an offer, and there was a confusion with High Holy Days, and I started in August or September. I had a good run. I started in 2005, and I finished in 2023. Eighteen years. Eighteen is the numerical value of the Hebrew word Chai (life). I had lifetime of experiences with Ahavas Sholom.
I have one thing in common with Moses, and only one thing: Moses said to god, לֹא֩ אִ֨ישׁ דְּבָרִ֜ים אָנֹ֗כִי, I am not a man of words. Moses continued, כִּ֧י כְבַד־פֶּ֛ה וּכְבַ֥ד לָשׁ֖וֹן אָנֹֽכִי . Literally, the Hebrew means, “that I am heavy mouth and I am heavy tongue.”
My aphasia brought me to the end of the road. I can’t speak aloud spontaneously, and I read aloud haltingly, one word at a time. I have difficulty with Hebrew, and I sing the liturgy with difficulty. I am able to chant Haftarah, because the Haftarah trope is melodious.
I am proud of my achievements. The High Holy Days in 2006 brought 115 people to Ahavas Sholom, and by 2015 we had slightly more than 200 people in the sanctuary. In the early days of my rabbinate, we celebrated the first day of Sukkot and Pesach and the Yizkor days of Sukkot and Pesach. We grew to celebrate the four days of Sukkot and Pesach. We had Chinese dinner on Sunday during Sukkot. We had an Erev Rosh Hashanah dinner, and a Pesach seder. I was not responsible for the Erev Rosh Hashanah dinner and the Pesach seder. Credit to Jeff Haveson, Eric Freedman for the dinner and the seder.
We met on Erev Purim and Erev Tisha b’Av. Credit Fred Grabiner, who taught me so much, Hooshmand Delshad, Dubra Shenker, Eric Freedman, and Jeff Haveson, and the congregants whom I didn’t name who taught me so much. Fred scheduled the five Megillot.
I give credit for Clara Macedo, Tim Lee, and Jeff to telephone me because I didn’t send Simon Says column in time. I am proud of the Simon Says column week after week since 2009; some of the columns were thought provoking, and some were not thought provoking.
After the pandemic struck, I instituted Havdalah on Zoom and the counting of the Omer on Zoom. I am proud that during the pandemic I taught classes on the Halleluyah psalms and classes on Hallel.
I taught 24 conversion classes to Judaism, and I shepherded the adult b’nei mitzvah class to the culmination of the b’nei mitzvah. Credit Joan Podnos for bringing the idea of the adult b’nei mitzvah to my attention and for bringing people to the class. Flora Sonners was a participant in the b’nei mitzvah, and she chants Musaf to this day. Flora will chant Musaf today.
Many people came to me with problems, and I advised them. I solved many problems, and I didn’t solve many problems. I was trained as prosecutor, not social worker.
I was mostly proud of two things. Once after Minchah Yom Kippur, I was approached by an openly gay congregant, his name was Jerry. Hooshmand read the traditional Yom Kippur reading in Leviticus, including chapter 18, verse 22: “you shall not lie with mankind as with womankind, it is an abomination.” We convened the ritual committee, we decided to read the alternative selection (approved by the Conservative Movement), chapter 19 of Leviticus; the verse 22 of chapter 18 is absent. The next Yom Kippur my sermon was about the change. My sermon was before the Torah reading (because Eric spoke after the Haftarah, and I didn’t want the congregation to hear two speeches in a row), and I was nervous, because the sermon contained a controversial subject. After the Torah reading, I walked down the center aisle to outside. Jerry was seated four seats on the aisle (before the renovation we had six fixed seats on either side of aisle), and he leaned over three people to give me a hug. I thought to myself: I could die tomorrow happy, because I gave Jerry happiness.
The other achievement, I taught Harold Kravis to chant the Torah and chant Musaf. Harold chants Musaf to this day. Harold is not here, because he and Jill are in Israel. Harold gave to me a card, thanking me.
Thanks to councilman-at-large Louise Rountree, I had opportunities to meet clergy in Newark and opportunities to speak at public events, including the memorial for the Pittsburgh synagogue shooting in 2018 and the shooting in the mosque in Christchurch in 2019. I sang the 150th psalm at the summer jazz festival in 2022 in Newark. I was nervous because my aphasia interferes with pronouncing the Hebrew words. I got through it.
I will turn my attention to Temple Beth Ahm Yisrael, because they have triennial cycle, and the Torah reading is more manageable to me.
Gayle supported me for 18 years. She was here for Rosh Hashanah dinners before the pandemic, and she was here for Chinese dinner in the Sukkah and special events. Before we abandoned bi-monthly Friday night services, Gayle accompanied me to the Kabbalat Shabbat services. Gayle met the regulars, especially Ciel Arons, the matriarch of the synagogue. Now I am retired, we can take trips over the weekend and sit next to each other once again at services.
My father said when I started rabbinical school, “The rabbinate is not a profession for a nice Jewish boy.” My father was proud of me, and he came to the High Holy Days services. My siblings came to the High Holy Days services, before the pandemic.
Ari and Dani, Amy and Heath, and Ben and Stephanie had their Auf Rufs in Ahavas Sholom. I loved my joy with my congregants. Heath is a Reform rabbi, and I invited him to lead Musaf, and I told him that this would be the last Musaf that he would lead. (Reform congregations mostly do not do Musaf.)
And now to the future. I wish Rabbi Eliyahu Collins and his family the best. He will be an excellent rabbi.
I am humbled that you honor me today. I said in rabbinical school, I hoped for a career from 65 until 75. Today, I will be 74 and half years old. I was so lucky that Ahavas Sholom picked me.