Thursday, August 2, 2012
I write this on my first day as your new rabbi Both our new home and my study in the synagogue are filled with cartons waiting to be unpacked. Still, I am reminded that the four weeks between my election as your rabbi and my family’s move to Gaithersburg compares quite favorably with the haste in which our ancestors left Egypt. While four weeks is not much time to find a house, find a mover, pack, and so on, at least we would have had time to allow our bread to rise -- if we were bakers, which we are not!
But the story of the Exodus is not just about leaving in haste. We learn many things from the Torah, but one of the lessons that we often fail to learn is that a transition is not an event, it is a process. Our ancestors did not go overnight from Egypt to the Promised Land. It took forty years to get there, forty years of struggle and strife, of hope and despair and nostalgia for an Egypt which was so much nicer in retrospect than it ever was in reality. The lesson of the Forty Years in the Desert is deeply countercultural, because we live in a society that expects results and expects them now. But as many a musician can testify, it takes years of work to become an overnight success.
Author and psychologist William Bridges is one of the leading experts on transition. Bridges describes a successful transition as consisting of three periods -- the ending, or letting go of the past; the neutral zone, where the end of the old era is in sight but the new era has not yet started; and a new beginning. It’s counterintuitive, because we usually think of something as having a beginning, a middle and an end. But Bridges shows us that transitions have an end, a middle, and a beginning. It seems to me that in the last few months the story of Kehilat Shalom and the story of the Arian family have so far both followed the pattern which Bridges describes.
When I came to Gaithersburg to interview with Kehilat Shalom, and subsequently when my wife Keleigh and I came to look for our new home, I have discussed with many of you my belief that Jewish life, Jewish identity, and the nature of religious belonging in American society are in a period of rapid change, and synagogues will have to adapt or become irrelevant. But I also believe that the most important thing a synagogue can offer is a sense of real community. I love the fact that Kehilat Shalom sees itself as a place “where friends become family” and we have certainly felt that to be the case.
My goal as your rabbi is to preserve the best of the past as we move together into the future. The key word in that goal is “together.” My hope in the next several months is to meet as many congregants as possible and get to know you as individuals. There will be a number of events to which the whole congregation is invited but there will also be many small group invitations to tea or coffee or a nosh. Please take these opportunities to get to know me, to share your hopes and dreams for our shul. I hope it will take less than forty years, and I know that together we can reach the Promised Land.