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Rosh Hashanah 2021/5782

Rachel Hayes

Shana tova,

“You have stayed long enough in this place, God said. Time to go forward. Turn your face to the future. Believe that you can cross this sea and survive.” A piece of text we heard last evening.

I was always a light packer for business travel. I had it down to a science. Toiletries pre-packed. One pair of shoes. Simple slacks, a few tops, the other basics and done. But it’s packing for a personal trip that always seems tough. Is there a pool at the hotel? Are we going any place dressy? Sneakers—oh those sneakers that take so much space.

Our congregation is going on an extended trip—a journey, a transition, a change. Doesn’t matter what words we use to dress it up. The fact is, our beloved Rabbi Jaffe is leaving us for life in the Berkshires. We can’t stay in the place we’ve been. Time to go forward. Time to turn our faces to the future.

I’ve been thinking about what to pack for this trip and what to leave behind.

  • I’m going to pack my feelings about Temple Isaiah. Those feelings are the same ones you shared when you were asked what you want in our new rabbi. I’m packing the amazing culture we have that welcomes us and makes us feel that this is truly our second home. This is Isaiah and I’m taking it with me.
  • I’ve left a lot of room in my bag (a carry-on mind you), for the connections I have with you. I’m stunned by how many people John and I know and treasure. So many of you looked after us after our fire, you with whom we socialize and connect outside the temple. You have those deep connections, too—and they will endure for years to come.
  • When I retired from Oxfam, people asked me what I was going to do. I said I didn’t know how, but that I would certainly do something to give back and I would want to learn. So I’ve packed all the ways that Isaiah offers me to give back—cooking, writing postcards to register voters, demonstrating for racial justice, OK, doing some minor leadership stuff. And learning—the Hebrew classes, the lunch time classes, the Sisterhood classes, First Friday, the Brotherhood breakfasts, and on and on. I’m not going on my journey without all this opportunity.
  • I’m packing my beginner’s mind. When I was 15, my parents sent me off to Europe by myself. They were a little nuts—they’d never been to Europe. Back then you used traveler’s checks and wrote home on those fold-up blue air mail letters. No cell phones, ATMs, internet. With no preconceived notions of what awaited me, I made this trip as a beginner. I’ve packed, from that experience, my curiosity about what’s ahead, my open minded and open heartedness. I met my first real boyfriend on that trip. Who knows what will happen to me on this journey?
  • My grandmother came to America by herself when she was 16, but not for vacation! She was moving to Pittsburgh to be the housekeeper for her first cousin and his wife. Because of Rose Gottesman Pollack, I’m packing what she did—hope—hope that there will be something ahead that is just as meaningful, or more so, than what I am leaving behind.
  • It’s remarkable how kids influence what you take on a trip—how they change the trip itself. Spencer, now 23, was my conversation group of one when I asked him, as we have asked you, “what are the temple’s greatest strengths”. “Temple Isaiah’s strength,” he said, “is that it’s really a reform congregation. We question, we don’t just take what we are given. That’s what reform means—changing things.” I’ve now packed from Spencer’s closet a belief in the importance of continuous change, of evolution of our temple so it remains a meaningful place for generations to come.

There’s so much more I’d like to pack. But I’ll need room for things I acquire on the trip. I really don’t want to use a bigger bag that I’ll have to check.

So, I’ve left some things behind. It’s very hard to do that.

  • I’m leaving my expectation that our warm and welcoming new rabbi will have Rabbi Jaffe’s super power of remembering my name, John’s name, Spencer’s name, my cat’s name, my maiden name, my hometown, my college and every other thing about me and everyone else in this community. Our new rabbi will care for us and tend to us and love our congregation and won’t be Rabbi Jaffe.
  • I didn’t pack my rigidity. I have very strong opinions about things like our worship. There are settings of our prayers I like. Then there are the other ones. My sister’s brand new reform rabbi has the congregation stand for V’ahavta. You mean I’m going to have to adapt? OK, putting my rigidity back in the drawer.
  • And I’m leaving behind my skepticism. My third grade teacher, Miss Colabella whom I adored, got married and moved away in the middle of the year. Then came Mrs. Weeks. No way I was going to like her. But guess what—once I gave her a chance, I fell in love with her, too. It was a good lesson for a child. I’m going to uncross my arms and give our new rabbi a chance to become MY rabbi.
  • I am absolutely not packing my expectation that everything is going to be just perfect. John and I are hiring a contractor. We’ll know the right one when we find out if they deal with problems well. Because there will be problems. Our next rabbi will not be perfect. God, in this season of repentance, forgive me for saying that Rabbi Jaffe is not perfect—we’ve simply come to appreciate, accept and in some cases love his imperfections. Our new rabbi will be human. We are human. That can mean only one thing—adapting to each other.
  • I’m not going to pack my coat that represents my yearning for the past. That coat is heavy and the hood hangs into my eyes, obscuring my vision of what’s possible—the exciting, the fresh, the inspiring. The coat, my affection for the past will be a treasured rayment in my closet.
  • I don’t recall that I wanted to take this trip at all. I’m being told I’ve stayed long enough in this place and have to go. Really? I’m nervous. I haven’t been on a plane in two years. My TSA pre-check has expired. I didn’t budget for this. Now it’s almost time to leave. OK, then. I will leave behind my irritation. I’ll grab my passport, organize the cat sitter, hold the mail, lock the door and go—even though I really wanted to stay right here instead.

That’s it, I’m packed. Oh, no I forgot something. I’ll put it in my backpack.

I need to pack trust. How could I have forgotten that? When my parents dropped me, London-bound at 15 at JFK, the plan was that I would be met at the downtown London British Airways terminal by the brother of my uncle’s girlfriend. Got that? Of course not. Suffice it to say I had to make my way from the airport to downtown and meet a man I would recognize because he’d be—wait for it—wearing a sweater with leather patches on the elbows. Seriously? This was London and in 1969 that was your basic men’s uniform. All I had going for me was trust. Trust that I could figure this out, that I would somehow bump into my uncle’s girlfriend’s brother, and trust that the next couple of months would all work out. It helped me so much that I didn’t know enough to be scared or uncertain or untrusting. As Bob Seger sang, “wish I didn’t know now what I didn’t know then.” I learned on that journey, all those decades ago to trust strangers and myself. Trust that I could adapt and find my way and deal with adversity (of which there was some). Trust that I’d come home safe and sound. And I did and I will. I’ll be at home at Isaiah, safe and sound, though it will not be exactly the same after this journey—and neither will I.

“You have stayed long enough in this place, God said. Time to go forward. Turn your face to the future. Believe that you can cross this sea and survive. Inside you is a Moses; within you Miriam dances, unafraid. Lift up your voice and sing a new song.”

Shana tova.

Sun, October 24 2021 18 Cheshvan 5782