I do want to begin by thanking some very special people. I first of all, want to thank Bernie Morwitz and the installation committee, as well as the hospitality committee for making this day so special. I also need to thank the officers, board members and staff of Temple Emeth for their warm welcome and their ongoing advice and support. And most of all I want to thank all of you, the members of Temple Emeth for allowing me to be a part of this wonderful family.
It is necessary to mention how interconnected we all are to the larger Jewish World. The road that brought me here began with two very special teachers, Rabbi Mark Loeb of Baltimore, who passed away suddenly just last week, and Professor Richard Freedman of the University of GA in Athens. They took the time to teach a group of USYers at Camp Blue Star and I was honored to be in that group. That week of learning with them began a line of thinking that led me to Rabbinical School and ultimately to this congregation. I am proud to be an alumnus of Florida Atlantic University as well as the University of Judaism (now American Jewish University) and the Jewish Theological Seminary of New York. My teachers and Rabbis at these institutions gave me the tools that I use every day as a Conservative Rabbi. I want to thank also those congregations where I have served in the past. Beth Torah of North Miami Beach, Beth David in Palm Beach Gardens, The Sunrise Jewish Center, Temple Sinai in Hollywood, Florida and Temple of Aaron in St. Paul, MN. I was their teacher, but they also taught me valuable lessons that helped my Rabbinate mature. I also thank my colleagues at the Rabbinical Assembly for helping me each day as a Rabbi, for connecting me to my colleagues all over the world, and for their assistance in the search that brought me to Delray Beach.
We are beginning a new era in the history of Temple Emeth. As we all know, beginnings are hard. According to the laws of Physics, things at rest tend to remain at rest until acted on by another force. There are those who say that Conservative Judaism has been at rest for far too long. We were once the largest Jewish denomination in this country, now, the demographers tell us we are shrinking and aging. If this is true, then it is not because we no longer have anything important to say to the American Jewish community. There is a great deal that is important in our Movement and though it may seem to require a great force to get us moving, together, we can create a meaningful religious experience that will have a profound effect on each of us, our community, our country and on the Jewish People.
I have to tell you, it has been most impressive to me what Temple Emeth accomplishes every day. Our building is a hub of activity from early in the morning until late in the afternoon. The planning of events, classes, and activities is only exceeded by those who are working hard to make these programs happen. We cook, set up, advertise, sell tickets and arrange seating before the event even begins. Our parking lot is often full with members and guests arriving for programs and seminars, dances and shows. We truly are one of the important centers here in Delray Beach.
But the Sun Sentinel, just a couple of weeks ago, in a front page story, reveals how our community is changing. Jews, who once came to South Florida to live in the vast condominium complexes here, now choose to live in single family homes in large gated communities. Jews who once came to synagogue for social and communal events now center their social activities around a vast array of entertainment centers. At any given moment there are hundreds of restaurants, dozens of movies and a variety of shows all over South Palm Beach County. But why leave home? The internet brings us movies, education and information with the click of a mouse. Cable Television has hundreds of channels addressing every imaginable interest a person may have. All of us remember when Jews were excluded from communal life. Today, there is hardly a place that would turn any paying customer away.
That leaves us, Temple Emeth, and all synagogues, as quaint vestiges of a past life, when shul was the place to meet friends, make business contacts, and learn about the many facets of Jewish life. I know that there are many here at Temple Emeth who are put off by computers and the internet. But I suspect that there are far more technologically savvy seniors in our congregation who use the internet to stay in touch with children and grandchildren, reading their email, seeing their faces on Skype and sharing pictures on Facebook. Like it or not, computers and instant messages are the way the world communicates.
My grandparents lived in a small apartment where we grandchildren could visit and enjoy the best Jewish cooking and hear stories of how they came to this country. Most of my friends here at Temple Emeth prefer to eat out for dinner, work out at the clubhouse gym and go out bargain hunting at the Flea Market and Mall. It is a very active life my grandparents would not recognize. But today’s new seniors are even more active. Forget golf and tennis, they go skiing in Colorado, they fly to New York to visit their grandchildren, book their own travel on their computers and stay in touch with the family with cell phones and Facebook. When they go on a cruise, it is not to sit on the deck and watch the scenery; they are kayaking down rivers, climbing through mountain caves and diving on tropical coral reefs. I have yet to see a Synagogue sponsor a dive trip either to the Florida Keys or to the magnificent coral reefs of Israel and the Red Sea.
And that tells us how far we have to go. We need a strong presence on the Internet, both with a website to show how much fun we have here at Temple Emeth, and on Facebook where we can stay in touch with our members and reach out to the larger community. I know, there is a lot of garbage on the Internet, but we need to have a presence that stands up and above the rest of the noise. As my daughter often says, “If we don’t have a web presence, we don’t really exist.” Last week our IT committee met and we began to chart a new course in the frontier of cyberspace.
Our programming is top notch when it comes to seniors over the age of 70. Our activities are the envy of synagogues across the country. But when it comes to those under 70, the newly retired and the empty nesters, our calendar of activities are all but empty. We hardly address their concerns about retirement investing, finding spiritual meaning in life and providing entrances into serious Jewish learning. At a time when their life is changing rapidly, their children have moved out, they have a successful business and are at the top of their field; we find them asking questions about the meaning of their life and how they can make a difference in the world. Many 50 and 60 year olds today have spiritual questions and they look to their Judaism to help them find the answers. We will need to address these needs.
Behind them are the 40 year olds. They are not looking forward yet to retirement. Believe it or not, they are the parents of pre-school children! They will not be empty nesters when they are in their 50’s. They will be taking their teenagers to football practice and to driving lessons. They will be paying for College and Graduate school in their 60’s and only thinking about retirement as they approach 70! Temple Emeth has many seniors over 70 who have been retired now 20 years. Imagine if you were just starting retirement now! For a synagogue, looking to its future, the next 30 years are going to be unlike anything we have ever seen.
In just 30 years, Judaism will enter the year 5800. What will life be like 30 years from now? If I knew, I would be telling you which stocks to pick to make yourself rich. I only know for sure that the world is still changing, and that Judaism, as an island of tradition and a force for meaning, will still be here. I know that because we at Temple Emeth will enter that future prepared to give it our best.
It has been the long range vision of the leadership here at Temple Emeth that has brought these issues forward to debate and to ponder the future of our congregation. It is also the vision that has brought me to this community. To reinforce the extraordinary programs we continue to offer, and to create new ways to reach the next generation of Jews. I don’t know if the future will be easy or difficult, I only know that together we will face that future so that the Judaism that we know and love will be the faith that future generations will know and love as well. We enjoy this building, our services and our classes because those who came before us built Temple Emeth on a sure foundation of Jewish tradition and modern sensibilities. It will be here for future generations if we take the time to build for them as our ancestors built for us. Synagogues should not be dying, Jews should be clamoring to join. The future should not be about or fear of change, but we should look to the future as a place where our accomplishments will be the foundation upon which the next generation will build a Judaism for the 21st century and beyond.
So let me conclude with one final thank you. I want to make sure that before this program ends, I thank God, who has kept me in this life, educated and sustained me, and brought me to this extraordinary community called Temple Emeth. Shehechiyanu, Amen