Peter J. Rubinstein | June 1, 2012
It was during a special meeting of this synagogue’s general membership held a hundred and thirty years ago when almost to the day, that the following actions according to the minutes of this congregation were taken: three new members were added to a committee to decide how best to provide the continuation of the chevra kadisha, the traditional burial society which congregations almost always would have, which were responsible not only for the care and the preparation of the deceased, the body prior to burial, not only for watching out over that body prior to burial, but a chevra kadisha was also to make certain that every member of the community was afforded a proper and dignified funeral and interment even and especially when they couldn’t afford it.
It cost the congregation that week $250.35 to be exact to arrange a proper burial for Mr. Tanzer, which included an emergency allowance of $89.00 for his widow who obviously needed financial help at this very difficult moment.
It was at the same meeting that it was decided that a hundred dollars from the treasury would be given to the support of indigent Russian Jews. There were also reports from the Bikur Cholim Society, the committee that visited sick in the hospital and at home. And it was reported at that same meeting that eleven members of the Bikur Cholim Committee were absent from the meeting and therefore according to the then-standing rules of the congregation, were fined because they were absent 50¢ as it was done for every member of the board or special committee that ever missed the meeting.
I find the minutiae of the minutes of our congregation fascinating because in some way, they provide an indication that a hundred and thirty years ago, this congregation maintained the core values of taking care of its own members at times of illness and death and distress, but also in those years it felt responsible for those Russian Jews who were beginning to come to this city and to this country fleeing pogroms and persecution in their homeland.
It was to these shores in 1882 that those people came and though we can pretty well theorize that they would never have entered the halls of this Sanctuary, this congregation which was such a bulwark of Bavarian and German Jews, nevertheless, this congregation felt a compelling trust to take care of those brothers and sisters from Russia and other Eastern European countries.
Our congregational story provides insight into the roots from which we have evolved. And I would think that we as a congregation have never really strayed far afield from the road upon which our forebears set the cornerstone of this sanctuary in 1870.
For a hundred and forty two years, we have occupied not only this very street corner, but we have been a pillar or Reform Judaism and embodiment of the understanding that all Jews are responsible for all other Jews, no matter what their nation of origin and that we have been an expression that this synagogue needs not only to take care of our own, but we need to be responsible for the wellbeing of all people who are part of the constellation of humanity part of the fabric of the city, and part of the strength of this nation.
So tonight, as we honored all our volunteers, and as we are installing our board of trustees and our officers, we would do so I would hope with the poignant reflection on our past and with noble aspirations for our future with gratitude for the volunteers who make up the strength of this place. Who continue even thirty years or more in the tradition of gemilut chasadim, engaging in righteous acts. Who in some way have demonstrated through their lives and by their energies that taking care of others is never just one time&mdashit is part of what we do throughout our lives if we’re going to live our lives as best we can as Jews.
You who are here this evening are the strength of this congregation. You are remarkable in your commitment. You are forceful in your volunteering. And you are inspiring in what you’re able to do, both here and in the city and this nation.
And leading us in this exceptional venture are the members of our board and our officers who by their governance provide us with their skills, encourage us with their wisdom, support us with their time and resources and commitment, and generally make certain that we do what our people has set out to do from our very beginning, that moment when we stood at Sinai, to make certain that we do what we can do to make this creation and this humanity of which we are part, even better.
And so it is my honor to call at this moment of installation these members of our board of trustees. We would ask them if they are here to please come to this pulpit and stand ready to receive a blessing.
Continuing members of our board of trustees: Ellen Cogut, Jeremy Fielding, Janet Felleman, John Golieb, Michael Gould, Jay Mandelbaum, Juliana May, Shelly Mitchell, Claudia Morse, Valerie Peltier, Fred Poses, Phillip Satow, Mindy Schneider, Emily Steinman, Kent Swig, Marc Weingarten, and Jeffrey Wilks.
And nominated to serve in a continuing role as honorary trustees: Lester Breidenbach and Dr. J. Lester Gabrilove.
Past presidents of this congregation to serve as honorary presidents: Kenneth Heitner, Howard Sharfstein, Martin Klein, Michael Weinberger, and Alfred Youngwood.
Re-nominated as trustees for a three-year term: Seth Berger, Marni Gutkin, Jonathan Youngwood, and Wendy Siegel who is both on our minds and in our hearts with prayers for her recovery.
And trustees, new trustees for a three-year term: Jeffrey Goldstein, Beth Rustin, and Moses Silverman.
And the officers of this congregation: Secretary Peter Jakes, Treasurer Seth Berger, and as Vice Presidents, Stephanie Stiefel, Abby Pogrebin, Carol Ostrow, and Sandy Lindenbaum, also in our thoughts, and our new president, David Edelson.
Not only a great-looking group, but notice heavy on the left. [laughter] That was not a political statement.
I think those of us who are standing here before you, your clergy and this congregation that sits before you, are duly and properly inspired by who you are and what you do. As you know, because you heard it, the Torah portion for this week includes the priestly benediction, beautifully read by Ken. It is an elegant and inscrutable blessing because every aspect of that blessing of what is to be bestowed on us can be debated and expanded and infused with both complementary and at times conflicting meaning. But it is the second triad of that blessing that has fascinated me this week, the part that says “May the Lord deal kindly and graciously with you.” We might ask ourselves, “What exactly is that gift of graciousness, that gift that we are told God will extend to us?” Well according to one commentary, graciousness means that you live in a society in which you, your devotion to Torah, and your devotion to God are honored.
And in a very precise way, I would hope that that explanation applies not only to this society of ours, this congregation, but to each of you as well.
I would hope that you would be admired for your devotion to God and to Torah and the principles by which we as a people live. But I would also want you to know that we honor you for just those same reasons. That we know you care about that we know that you hold us in your heart as well as in your mind, we know that we are part of your spirit as you are part of the ongoing beat of the Jewish spirit.
And we honor you because you have stepped forward, you have done so with intelligence, with compassion, with goodness, with devotion, and above all, with a love for us, a love for this synagogue, a love for Jewish life, a love for our people, a love for our future.
And because of all that, with boundless affection, with the quick beating of our hearts, and with gratitude, we ask this very blessing that we heard this evening upon you.
[Cantor Buchdahl sings]
Rabbi Friedman: May God bless you. Watch over you. Keep you safe.
Rabbi Salth: May God’s light shine upon you and may you experience God’s graciousness.
Rabbi Rubinstein: May you feel God’s presence in your life, and feeling that, may you together with the rest of us bring to this existence a bit more peace, a bit more decency, a great deal of integrity, and I would hope love as well.
[Cantor Buchdahl sings]
And with inordinate pride, we now declare you duly installed leaders of this congregation.
Kenny, you have served this congregation with your innate contemplative and balanced insights, first as a member of the board, and then as president. You have been our friend, personally supporting each of us on this pulpit and most certainly entirely focused on the wellbeing of this congregation both present and future. And you have always been present in this congregation and this sanctuary, not by reason of some sort of presidential responsibility, but because you love it here. You love the soul of our people, you love our story and our tradition and most of our songs. [laughter] You love worship and prayer and reflection. You love the rational and the other-than-rational. You love prayer and God.
I want to take note this evening that you were brought here by your parents. Your mom being here with you this evening. She—they—groomed you to care about Jewish life. And you and Anne have done the same in the grooming of your children. When the board considered what would be an appropriate gift to honor you, it was obvious that it needed to be linked to ritual and to this sanctuary. It was obviously that it needed to enhance the beauty of our worship. It was obvious that in some way it needed to reflect the fine and dignified demeanor, your strength, your elegant support of this congregation. It was obvious that it needed to reflect the larger design of this congregation and its sanctuary and to reflect the larger mission of this synagogue.
And so, our board had commissioned and designed by Laurie Go Schaeffer these two exquisite tables to support the Shabbat candlesticks, the Kiddush cup, the challah tray. The inscribed dedicatory plaque reads: “Presented in honor of Kenneth Heitner’s devoted service to Central Synagogue, President 2009–2012.” It is thus that we wanted to honor you because we knew that no matter when, no matter where you might be, you are going to be with us. And for that, we are grateful and for that, we are happy.
And we would hope that these elegant, beautiful tables that bear our ritual items reflect the way you have borne us on your shoulders.
We thank you, Kenny.
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