President’s Remarks, Rosh Hashanah 2021

A year ago I was forced to pre-record my Torah reading and remarks. It was honestly crushing for me, having had several years to anticipate these responsibilities and privileges.I was angry; I felt cheated. For the past several months, things seemed to be improving, and I looked forward to being able to stand here today and say “we’re back.” But here we are tonight, and that’s only partially true. Circumstances have prevented our reopening from coming to complete fruition. Nevertheless, I see an analogy between this long, challenging journey and the more typical act of coming into the temple. I suggest that we are, at this moment, in the lobby, figuratively speaking, and ask you to join me there for a few minutes.

And, of course, I think of the mishkan, the tabernacle in the desert, with its different layered spaces requiring increasing preparation, privileges, and sacrifices as one approached the inner sanctum, the Holy of Holies.

Regardless, the common denominator of these interim spaces is that they are transitional and preparatory, places where change takes place. 

We pass through a foyer when entering this sanctuary. We pass a beautiful painting and our tree of life, but this is not simply a physical passage. Here at Vassar Temple we have two sets of doors before you reach the sanctuary; those same two doors must be navigated to re-enter the outside world. What do we bring in and take out with us? Is it a casual drop-off for you? a lifesaving protocol? or a crushing, negative obligation? Are these deliberate choices, or dictated by other people or forces? And how do you use that intervening space to prepare for the transition in or out? Do you leave anything in the lobby temporarily to pick back up on your way out? 

Like coming into our physical temple, we can stop, pause, and take stock of where we are in our pandemic passage.  Let’s all ask what we can leave behind and what we should take in with us. 

We have been forced by Covid to prioritize, and I hope that you have found this community to be not only a priority but also an incredible resource. While we have learned that we are not defined by our building, nonetheless as we pass together through the real and figurative lobby, hopefully sooner rather than later, we intend to build on those rediscovered connections and use the lessons to strengthen ourselves.

The holy days also offer us a passage. Please use your time there to consider what you want to bring in, what you want to place on hold, what you want to leave behind, and what you hope to take with you when you emerge.  Personally, I’m at least attempting to leave behind that anger – some days are easier and some are harder – and focus on the happier moments and the love and support of family, friends, and especially the friends who might as well be family – you know who you are.

Wherever you are tonight, whether here physically or virtually, I welcome you to enter fully into this sacred space and time and to our unique annual opportunity to take stock.  L’shanah tovah. 

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