Rabbi Kahn’s First Sermon as our New Rabbi, July 5th

Thank you to everyone who has reached out this week. I’m officially five days in and feeling great. Honestly, I’m so excited to be here with you all this evening. I can barely believe this moment has finally arrived.

For months I’ve been anticipating and preparing to join Temple Sinai.  I have been dreaming about my first days, weeks and months with you. I have taken the time to learn, understand, and listen as I familiarize myself with Sinai’s strengths and dreams. I have consulted mentors, colleagues, and even took a course offered by the Central Conference of American Rabbis on what should happen in my first 100 days.

My wonderful husband has given me space to hope, plan, and prepare by focusing on all the logistics of our home life. And I’ve spent every free minute trying to ready myself – reading all the books I can find on transition and leadership, setting up a calendar that allows everyone to access me, and speaking with leaders and staff preparing to hit the ground running this week.

I also looked to Jewish tradition to find inspiration for this exciting time. I was taken aback when rabbinic wisdom reminded me, kol hatchalot kashot, all beginnings are hard(Mecholta, Yitro).

It’s not exactly the inspiration I was looking for.

I had been so focused on taking all the right steps, that I never stopped to think about how this week, this year and this moment might feel difficult. Seeking to learn more, I found one rabbi’s account of his first time leading his new congregation. Written twenty five years later, while celebrating a successful career as he was about to retire, he reflected on a very difficult first year and an almost comically rough first sermon. He wrote:

“Those of you who were around … may even remember my first sermon. It did not help that I used an untested wireless microphone. It also did not help that moments after I began the sermon, one of our members collapsed in the back of the sanctuary. It also did not help that my first sermon was the evening of a financial appeal … But mostly what did not help back then was that we did not know each other.  You were used to one model of what a Rabbi is and does, and my model was very different”[1]

Reading my colleague’s reflection on his initial struggles was both humorous and terrifying. I mentally noted that we would do a sound check, pray for everyone’s health and spend some time the first week getting to know each other. Still, I was now petrified. Knowing this rabbi had a very successful career, I longed to learn when things turned around.  Luckily, he shared about a moment he finally felt good there, when he overheard a congregant saying:  “I don’t know if he is getting better, or if I am just getting used to him.”  He noted that the reality was, both were true. He ‘became better attuned to congregational style and expectations; while at the same time, more people got to know him, recognize the unique gifts he brought and, started to get used to his style.’[2]

I excitedly await the time when you know me, like me and feel comfortable with me. And I realize I stand in front of you tonight, for the most part, a stranger.

A new, unknown, entity with different styles, interests and physical stature than you’re used to.

As your new rabbi, I long to assure you that everything is going to be great. But the truth is, I’m unable to promise that I will always say and do exactly what you hope and expect.

What I can promise is that I will acknowledge and remember, kol hatchalot kashot, all beginnings are hard – and I’ll do my best to move us through this awkward getting to know each other phase as quickly as possible.

I plan to do this by taking the time to get to know you, each of you.

To be comfortable with your sadness over once again feeling distance from the phenomenal Rabbi Hunting,

To consult with lay leaders and Hazan Abramson as I navigate new waters,

And to be open and honest about who I am every step of the way.

I want to serve you,

To meet with you,

To connect,

To comfort,

And to be there for you, however you need me most.

I plan to listen, to learn and to approach everyone with love.

And if you will do the same, I know we will continue to build a caring community.

I will continue to wake every morning, striving to be the best version of myself I can possibly be. And I’ll encourage you to do the same.

Though it hardly seems possible, we’ll make Sinai even more welcoming, engaging and relevant in our members lives. Rabbi Nachman of Breslov taught that this in itself was the true work of life, asking – what need we have for tomorrow, if we are not constantly striving to grow and improve.[3]

So we will, individually and communally, seek continued growth and improvement. But we’ll take our time, and walk hand and hand.

And as we work cooperatively, we will acknowledge every step and celebrate every chance we get.

And we start that now, by thanking God for the opportunity to come together tonight, and to begin this journey towards friendship.

Baruch Atach Adonai, Eloheinu Melech Ha olam;

Shehecheyanu, Vakiamanu, Vhigianu, lazman hazeh.

Blessed is The Eternal, who has given us life, sustained us and brought us to this moment of new beginnings.

Amen.

 

[1]Rabbi Donald B. Rossoff, “Our Transitions: All Beginnings Are Hard (Kol Nidre, 5755),” WordPress (blog), October 20, 2014,https://rabbidonaldrossoff.com/2014/10/20/our-transitions-all-beginnings-are-hard-kol-nidre-5755/

 

[2]Ibid.

[3] “If you are not a better person tomorrow than you are today, what need have you for a tomorrow?” – Rebbe Nachman of Breslov