Peter J. Rubinstein | September 19, 2014
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How magical is this evening and perhaps how perfect is this Shabbat. Because I believe that destiny always plays a more or less significant role in the circumstances of our lives, I do not take it as pure coincidence that on this evening of installation, two poignant parashiyot (Torah portions) are read: Nitzavim and Valech.
They are both about transition. The words of Nitzavim conclude Moses’ final oration and then, without hesitation, Moses steps aside and places upon Joshua’s shoulders the lovely and often challenging mantle of leadership.
And as he does it, Moses uses the same words to first buttress the people against the trials that Moses is certain they will need to confront. Then, turning to Joshua and with far greater personal clarity of the challenges that await Joshua as leader, Moses tenderly and I would think even lovingly encourages Joshua, “chazak v’ematz—You Joshua need to be strong and resolute”: be strong when tangling with adversity and be absolutely resolute in trusting your own good character and God-given soul.
According to my rudimentary calculations, which I know our archivists will examine with much greater expertise, Angela Warnick Buchdahl is the fifteenth Senior Rabbi of this congregation, beginning with Rabbi Max Lilienthal in one of our parent congregations, Congregation Shaar Hashamayim in 1845 and with Dr. Adolph Huebsch in our other parent Congregation Ahawath Chesed in 1866.
Now, in particularly obvious ways, I don’t need to recount that our Rabbi is unlike any of her rabbinic forebears. But in the most elemental expression of her rabbinic life, Angela is perfectly in the line of those rabbis whose photos grace the stairway which ascends to this sanctuary. She arrives to the position of Senior Rabbi with a robust and exquisite love of Judaism, with an encompassing passion for Jewish life, along with a complete and inexhaustible dedication to this synagogue, which, throughout its history, has always been its own unique expression of the Jewish community.
The last time I was on the pulpit with Angela was my last service as Senior Rabbi. It was at the end of June as the clock ticked toward the midnight hour on July 1 when Angela contractually would become Senior Rabbi.
That evening I blessed her. I think for both of us, it was a passing of something more than the mantle of leadership. I think my bestowing and her receiving that blessing was an avowal of what we meant to each other and how we were going to walk together, leaning on each other when we needed, laughing with each other when it was appropriate (or not), and sharing challenges and seeing them through to resolution when it was helpful. For eight years, Angela and I stood by each other’s sides, and quite honestly, it was wonderful. You knew it and Angela and I knew it.
It is not that I now stand on one side of the river of Jewish time and she on the other. It is that, as in the past, our care for each other and the Jewish people transcends any single moment. Together, along with all of you, we as a congregation will walk into the sunrise of a new era that will be filled with the wondrous gifts of you, the amazing members and leaders of this congregation, supported by the brilliance and excellence of the clergy and other professionals of this synagogue, and now sensitively shepherded, brilliantly led, and creatively envisioned by our Senior Rabbi, Angela Buchdahl.
As this portion of the service during which I speak is Kabbalat Shabbat, the receiving of Shabbat, then tonight we need to designate tonight as Kabbalat Ha-rav, the formal welcoming of what she has already become: the fifteenth Rabbi of Central Synagogue. Angela Buchdahl, now the perfect leader for this wondrous congregation at this most promising and challenging time in Jewish history. She is up to it and we know it. And she will make us better.
Let us cherish our Rabbi—that we recognize her skills as both Rabbi and Cantor and know we’re blessed by it all. Let us meet the standards that she sets for herself and for us, and support her in her vision for what she and we and the entire Synagogue world can become. Above all, let us make this a moment of sacred promise to her: that we will care for her, stand by her and be with her, as we know she will be with us when we falter, gather ourselves and stand straight again and move on with strength, resolve, yearning for greatness, and with love.
This evening is magical! This Shabbat is perfectly lovely! This beginning is wondrous. It is a gift, as our Rabbi is a gift to us all.
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