Linda Cantor Honored with 2016 Arnold Award

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Linda Cantor, 2016 Arnold Award Recipient

Linda Cantor’s Words:
Thank you for selecting me as the recipient of the 2016 Rabbi Stephen Arnold award. I am both honored and humbled to be following in the steps of the previous recipients of this service award. Receiving the Rabbi Arnold award is particularly meaningful to me because, although our roles were different, we arrived at Vassar Temple at the same time .

Our family has been members of Vassar Temple for the past forty years. From the beginning Vassar temple has been and continues to be a very welcoming place, a place where my young diverse family was accepted and encouraged to participate fully. One’s skin color, religion of birth, income , gender or sexual orientation or political views do not matter. Anyone who wants to be involved in Temple Life is encouraged to take an active role.

We continue to be encouraged to explore and deepen our spiritual life, look at our connections to G-d and the universe and find ways to make prayer meaningful. Some of us find those connections just sitting quietly, others by raising their voices in song together, others by chanting one line of a prayer over and over, and others by going out in nature as Rabbi Nachman and talking directly to G-d. We use masculine, feminine and gender neutral language. We are encouraged to speak from our hearts using the words of the prayer book or the words that come through our souls or no words and simply be present. Each individual’s has been nurtured at Vassar Temple.

I am particularly struck during this season of Tshuvah, of Return at how Vassar Temple has provided a container for us to be part of and contribute to our community in ways that are meaningful, that reflect who we are. May each of us ,in our own way do the work of Elul , the work of return that will enable us to be open hearted, life affirming loving members of our family, our circle of friends, our Temple Community and the wider world.

Ken yhe ratzon
Thank you again for this honor.

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Rabbi Leah Berkowitz’s Opening Remarks:

Every congregation is composed of Litvaks and Hasids. This is the Jewish equivalent of left-brain and right-brain. A Litvak is most interested in learning the facts and adhering to the letter of the law. Hasids are the ones who pay attention to the life of the spirit, and make it their life’s work to infuse joy and meaning into Jewish practice. In the 19th century this was illustrated by the Litvak studying Talmud and the Hasid going outside to hug trees. The Litvak clung to tradition and the Hasid advocated change. The Litvak nurtured a healthy skepticism while the Hasid was wildly optimistic. Each brings their own gifts to the modern synagogue, where we need both continuity and change, both joy and solemnity. In the organized Jewish world, we tend towards the Litvaks side.

In Linda Cantor, our community has the blessing of a Hasid, with just a dash of Litvak in her. Linda brings a deep, spiritual dimension to everything she encounters: teaching the rest of us Litvaks meditation and bringing her energy and joy to our prayer and our learning. But Linda also brings a sense of commitment and determination to everything she does, making sure things get done, and get done right, as only a Litvak can do.

Linda has brought her dual personalities to our Adult Education Program, our Ritual Committee and our Nachamu committee. She has been instrumental in planning our Shabbatonim and the annual Fannie Berlin lecture, finding inspiring speakers and often teaching sessions herself when she was able. Linda was a founding davenner in our New Paths service. Perhaps the greatest contribution that Linda is currently making to our synagogue is the groundbreaking Wise Aging Program. Together with Debbie Golomb, Linda has been helping people to navigate the third chapter of their lives from both a practical and a spiritual standpoint. Linda is able to have conversations with people that others might find uncomfortable to start, about how we live our lives spiritually and what we are doing to grow.

Linda has been particularly supportive and nurturing to me during my first year at Vassar Temple, helping me with various projects, and encouraging me to nurture my inner Hasid as well with classes at Omega and workshops with the Institute of Jewish Spirituality. I’m grateful to her for helping me to take a step back, take a deep breath, and remember why we do what we do.

Hasid comes from the same root as the word hesed which means loving-kindness. This word, too, is embodied in Linda Cantor. She always has a kind smile and a gentle word for everyone, which is a rare thing in this day and age. I am delighted that she is being honored tonight, and I wish her yishar kochech, continued strength, as she goes forward. It is appropriate that we honor Linda with this blessing on the night of Selichot. As the Book of Life opens, we pray that you will be written and sealed for an incredible year of spiritual growth and development, enjoying your children and grandchildren, and sharing your beautiful gifts with all of us Litvaks.

And now I’d like to share a few words from Rabbi Arnold himself.

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Rabbi Stephen Arnold’s Letter to Linda and the Vassar Temple Congregation
To Honor Our Friend and Teacher, Linda Cantor

Shabbat shalom, dear friends. Cecile and I wish you all a Shana Tova uM’tuka — a Good and a Sweet New Year.

And while we’re talking about goodness and sweetness, how about our well deserved honoree, Linda Cantor? Could we want to know anyone more gooder, more sweeter? Look at her. Such a warm smile — a shayneh punim (kinehora). Such an inquiring mind. Such a freshly scrubbed soul.

In days of yore, even while devoting great energy to the care and feeding of Daniel, Laura, Andrew and Richard, and to the students in her classroom, Linda was exploring the life of the spirit. In the early 90’s, I discovered Elat Chayyim Retreat Center and began finding new paths to my own spirituality. Linda was already involved there; and she’s still discovering new paths to explore.

Some folks find a life of inner contemplation so satisfying that they become quite self-involved. They detach themselves from the rest of us, preferring a private love affair with God. Not so with Linda. The deeper she searches within, the more broadly she looks around her for causes or individuals who need her commitment and energy. Our Vassar Temple community is greatly blessed to be so high on Linda’s priority list.

So, as we say up here in Red Sox Nation, I think it’s “wicked cool” that you’ve honored me by presenting the Arnold Award to my friend and teacher, Linda Cantor. I hope you folks will join her in spreading around more goodness and sweetness in our New Year.

Stephen Arnold, Rabbi Emeritus

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