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Angela W. Buchdahl
All of You (Parashat Nitzavim)

Angela W. Buchdahl  |  September 19, 2014

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Baruch Atah Adonai Eloheinu Melech HaOlam, chacham Harazim.

Blessed are you Eternal our God, Knower of Secrets.

This rare blessing found in the Talmud is used when you see an enormous gathering of Jews.  I think tonight counts. 

“Knower of Secrets.”  It’s not what you’d expect to call God in a blessing for seeing an enormous crowd.  But this blessing affirms God’s ability to know each and every one of us—those dreams we don’t share, those pains we can’t confess, our hidden joys—even in a huge assembly.

It is said that this blessing was uttered at Mount Sinai, when the entirety of the Jewish community was present to receive God’s covenant.  And the fact that we’re now at parashat Nitzavim, which harkens back to Sinai, is so wondrously fitting.

Because we are here tonight to affirm a communal covenant—each of us with our own secrets, our yearnings, our frailties.  We are this vast multitude, but we are merging our hopes together in this Central Jewish community.  

In Nitzavim, a large gathering prepares for a journey to a new place and hears from its rav, Moses, “Atem Nitzavim hayom, kulchem.—You stand here today, all of you… to enter into a covenant of the Lord your God.”

You stand here today, kulchemall of you.  He’s chosen those words for a reason: all of you. Because it takes all of Israel to go forth to the next chapter. It takes all of Israel to enter into a covenantal relationship with God.  Moshe Rabbeinu, Moses our teacher, knew it was meaningless to commit himself to God by himself.  Instead, the b’rit was forged with generations past, present, and yet to be. Each one of us was there at Sinai, and each one of us is essential now. 

Every rabbi learns from that first rav, Moses, that no one stands alone in a moment of covenant.  As I affirm my sacred commitment to this beloved Central Synagogue, and to uphold the ancient b’rit of the Jewish people, I am keenly aware of all the people on whose shoulders I stand. All of you whose support and wisdom I’ll need as we walk forward together. 

“You stand this day, all of you, before the Lord your God,” Moses says, and in case you think you’re not included, Moses spells out the list: “your tribal heads, your elders,  your officials, all the men of Israel, your children, women, even the stranger within your camp, from woodchopper to waterdrawer.”

Allow me to name some of the people standing here today.

Our Rasheichem shivteichem, our tribal heads are here: Peter, Rick, and Elka: the word “mentor” doesn’t begin to capture the role you’ve played in my life.  You’ve each instructed and inspired me in so many different ways. Rick, you are my model of integrity and justice in the rabbinate. Elka, you are a most creative and incredible teacher and preacher of our tradition.

Peter, I am so honored that you passed the baton to me. Your excellence and passion for Jewish continuity has completely transformed Central Synagogue and your ability to deeply connect with congregants has set the standard for my rabbinate and rabbis everywhere.

I wouldn’t be here today without the three of you.  It means so much to me that you stand with me on this Shabbat. 

I am blessed by the presence of many cherished colleagues, from many denominations and faiths, and Jewish professionals who’ve helped me in all walks of life.  It means so much that you are with me, and I know that we will work together to do God’s work in this city and beyond. You stand here today, all of you. 

Our zikneichem, our elders are here. Edgar Bronfman, of blessed memory, and Leslie and Abigail Wexner invested in me before they ever met me—their visionary philanthropy forged my path to the rabbinate.  I can never begin to repay you, but I promise to invest in the Jewish future as you have done before me. Wherever you are tonight, you stand here with me. 

And as for my own elders, Mom and Dad, and I’ll add my sister Gina,  I can’t express how much love and gratitude I feel that you are my family of birth.  You gave me unconditional love and a grounded identity that rooted me and allowed me to face any challenge.  I know you share in my sheer amazement tonight.  

And our shotreichem, our officials are here.   Our senior director, Livia Thompson—you have raised the professionalism of our entire operation and really for the entire movement.  Thank you for your strategic leadership and for your over twenty years of tireless dedication to Central.

And to the thirteen officials of the rabbinic search committee, thank you. Thank you for your directness, your sensitivity, careful process, and all those tough questions that made me work to discover my truest answers. Thank you for your faith in me.

Thank you to our devoted board of trustees, led by the steady David Edelson.  You guided us wisely through this transition with love and courage and even humor.

And to Marni Gutkin and Janet Felleman, who are co-chairs of this remarkable installation evening, who have been tremendous leaders and friends since I came here eight years ago, thank you for standing with me here today, all of you.

Our tapchem, our children are here. Gabriel, Eli, and Rose, being your mother makes me a better rabbi, and Dad and I are profoundly grateful for the miracle of you three every single day.

And all the children of this community are here.  You dare to imagine and ask all of us clergy the hardest questions that keep us honest. You will shape and enliven Judaism for the next generation. You children stand here today, all of you. 

The n’sheichem—the women—are here. Miriam is dancing with us tonight. 

I am honored that Rabbi Sally Priesand is here in the congregation. I stand on your shoulders, Rabbi. You had the audacity to believe forty-two years ago that the rabbinate is a great job for a nice Jewish girl.  You paved the way for the rest of us.

I’d like to think that now, little girls growing up in Korea who dream of becoming a rabbi will know it’s possible.

And to all the women here who grew up being told that girls didn’t need a bat mitzvah, that you didn’t count in a minyan, and rabbis could only be men, you stand here today, all of you. 

And kol ish Yisrael, all the men… all the people of Israel are here, too. My son actually asked me recently if it were true that boys could be cantors. Mo Glazman, our gifted new senior cantor—you are stellar proof that they can.  You too, Dick Botton.

I want to thank my partner in song for the last two years, Julia Cadrain, and my fellow rabbis, Mo Salth,  Ari Lorge, and Andy Straus, whose commitment to Judaism and to this congregation makes me proud to stand on the bimah alongside them. 

And chotev eitzecha v’shoev memecha, the woodchoppers and waterdrawers are here.  To the countless number of congregants who quietly do the heavy lifting that represents us so proudly as a family of healers and helpers; those of you who feed the homeless every week, greet our guests, hold up those in mourning; those of you on our staff team who handle budgets and payrolls, who stand guard at our Sanctuary, educate our children,  who pray with your instruments—without all of you, we would not be Central to the lives of so many. 

And where would any rabbi be without a good rebbetzin?  I am fortunate to have exactly the right man for that job.  Jacob, you’ve redefined the role and set the standard.  Your support and love give me the courage to lead this congregation. You stand right here with me, today and every day.  

And the Torah teaches gercha—even the stranger is here. If you ever secretly felt you didn’t really belong in this tradition, you worried that you don’t stand here with us because you are not Jewish, know that our Torah says that you too stand here on this day.  All of you. 

Atem Nitzavim hayom kulchem, you stand here today, all of you, to affirm the covenantal promise of the Jewish people.  You stand here, a vast multitude, who represent the diversity and the strength of Central Synagogue. 

Only God is the knower of your secrets, but I hope you will know that Central is a place where you can find comfort in your pain, amplify your joys, and find meaning in life through the texts and rituals of our rich tradition.

I hope it is no secret that I am deeply humbled and grateful for the privilege of serving Central Synagogue.  That I am filled with wonder at this incredible congregation.  That my heart beats faster for this awesome responsibility and my soul whispers endless gratitude for this opportunity.   

Baruch Atah Adonai Eloheinu Melech HaOlam Shehechiyanu, Vkiyamanu, v’higianu lazman hazeh.

Blessed are You Adonai our God, who has given life to this vast multitude, and sustained us, all of us, secret by secret, dream by dream, and brought us to this moment, to the service of the Jewish people and the world through this remarkable congregation.

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