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Rabbi Steven Rosenberg

 

From the Desk of Rabbi Steven Rosenberg

Temple Emanuel of McAllen, Texas

Many of those who have visited our new Temple have said that the word spectacular hardly does it justice. Indeed, others have used adjectives like inspirational and breathtaking in describing the new structure. I am sure when we move into our new synagogue in just a few weeks, we will certainly agree that the wait, sacrifice and investment will have been well worth it.

During the past few months, despite not having a permanent home, our Shabbat services continued unabated and both our religious school and Hebrew school went on as scheduled. I can't thank enough everyone who has planned, helped and been part of making our congregation remain strong and vibrant during this time of transition. From the Temple families who held services in their homes to the use of a congregant’s building for Religious school, the generosity of our membership has been incredibly plentiful and boundless. A special thank you also goes to St. John’s Episcopal Church, who, for the last several months has allowed us to use their Parish hall for Shabbat services as well. 

As we near the completion of our new synagogue, we should rejoice in the spirit, determination, and creativity by which our congregation has gone through this transition. The resolve by our community to maintain the continual rhythm of Jewish life speaks volumes about our members and leadership.

 

A wonderful symbol of this spirit is our beautiful, portable ark recently built by several members of our congregation. This extraordinary Aron Kodesh has served as a reminder that the strongest part of Temple Emanuel is the kehillah, the congregation. Although we did not have a permanent building, the ark which housed one of our sifre Torah, helped to teach us that whenever Jews congregate to worship, study or join in fellowship, G-d is present. That message will continue to be taught to the Temple's children as this Ark will go on to be used during youth services and Religious school. 

We are truly moving into a building that is the embodiment of beauty, function and inspiration. From the Temple’s stone walls reminiscent of ancient Jerusalem and the Kotel, the sheer magnificence and grandeur of our new sanctuary and the classrooms, offices and social hall/kitchen, the concept of Temple Emanuel as a true center of Jewish life becomes quite apparent. It truly will be a Beit Tefillah, (house of prayer), Beit Midrash (house of study and Beit Kenesset (house of gathering and fellowship).

Even before the doors to the sanctuary open, the vibrant hues of Ark's multi-colored burning bush can be seen through the door's many windows. When one enters the sanctuary, the awesomeness and spirituality of this special place is revealed. To the left and right, the bright light of day illuminates gorgeous stained glass windows which envelop congregants with a pictorial rendering of the twelve tribes of Israel.

The exquisite burning bush depicted on the ark doors represents G-d's divine presence manifest in the Aish Ha Torah or fire of Torah. For the rabbis taught that Torah was first written as black fire (letters) on white fire (The spaces between the letters). It is in that fire from a bush that was not consumed that G-d revealed His true nature to Moses. Later, on Mt Sinai, it is the same fire which G-d wrote the law with. As the ark doors are opened, the Torahs are revealed, for it is in Torah that we search out G-d's divine sparks. The multicolored flames represent the many different kinds of Jewish culture and customs in the world, which is quite representative of our congregation. 

We have been privileged and blessed to begin a new chapter of our communal Jewish lives in a spectacular and truly beautiful new synagogue. Words seem barely adequate to express the gratitude that we all feel for the amount of time, effort, hard work and tremendous generosity that went into this incredible accomplishment. The members of the building committee, board and donors to this project cannot be praised enough for this wonderful endevour. They all have contributed nothing less than Jewish continuity; the assurance that in South Texas, our children and G-d willing their children, will continue to have a synagogue and a center for Jewish life. This gift to the present and future generations of Jewish families in the Rio Grande Valley, insures that there will a place where Jews can celebrate, worship, learn and  be comforted. 

As we move together into our new Jewish home we do so with respect and love for our past as well as embracing our future. Let us sound the shofar as our sifre Torah our marched into the sanctuary and lovingly placed into the ark for the first time. Let us proclaim with joy and resolve that this community has firmly built for the future.  

Jewish history is replete with much tragedy and loss, but today this is a victory for Judaism, Jewish survival and our community. Let us celebrate that our congregation has wisely invested in its Jewish future and the next generation. There is no greater mitzvah.

May we continue to go from strength to strength. 

Am Yisrael chai

Rabbi Steven Rosenberg

 

Making services understandable, accessible, inspirational and relevant.

From the Desk of Rabbi Steven Rosenberg


 

“What wonderful High Holiday services!”.....”Thank you for such spiritually uplifting and meaningful services”.....We saw the ad in the Jewish Journal and yes, your services were good inclusive and understandable. “We are definitely coming back.”......."The music during Rosh Hashanah, Kol Nidre and Yom Kippur was amazing and so beautiful .

 

These were just a few of the comments we have received in the last few weeks since the High Holidays.

 

So what happened and why so many accolades? The answer lies in the fact we did make our High Holiday services more understandable, accessible, inspirational and relevant.

 

To achieve this, we certainly looked at what was working at other synagogues around the country to see what was working to attract a broad spectrum of Jews, drawn from a diverse background. We also listened to a lot of Jewish families, singles, kids, friends and many others and simply asked “what would you see in services and in a congregation.

 

We also turned to the Pirkey Avot, also known as the “Ethics of the Fathers” for inspiration. This book of wisdom, which is part of the Mishnah, written in the third century, CE, still resonates in our time. In many ways, these words that follow need to be our part of our guiding principals:

 

In the Ethics of our Fathers (1:5) Yose ben Yochanan says, "May your home be open wide." According to Rabbeinu Yonah, our homes should be modeled after Abraham and Sarah's tent, which was open on all four sides. We strive to embody this ideal by ensuring that everyone is welcome, no one is judged and there are no barriers to participation.

 

The above paragraph needs to be our model and our mission. For HTBEL to be successful, going forward, we need to be welcoming to all who are searching for spirituality, learning and community. We need to be tolerant and accepting of various expressions of Jewish tradition and culture, as well as embracing a wide range of diverse backgrounds and circumstances.

 

As I mentioned in my sermon on Rosh Hashanah, our goal and mission is have all who come through our doors to feel:

 

  • embraced
  • welcomed
  • accepted
  • inspired
  • supported
  • challenged
  • educated
  • motivated

I also mentioned these core values which need to be part of our congregational foundation:

We believe that American Jews are searching for connection, purpose and meaning and that Jewish wisdom and community offer all of these and more.

We believe that a spiritual community must measure success not by the number of members or amount of dues collected but by the engagement and growth of all those who choose to join in.
 

I suggested that the following should be the “currency” we ask for:

 

  • When a friend is sick, will you help prepare and deliver meals?
  • When a friend is mourning, will you offer comfort and help them say kaddish?
  • When a friend is celebrating, will you join in?
  • When our community is repairing the world, will you do your part?
  • When our community is learning, will you make the time?
  • When our community is growing and changing, will you keep an open mind?
  • When our community is praying, will you share your voice and your spirit?

From innovative, relevant and welcoming Shabbat services to robust, eclectic and highly particularly education programs, as well as social and cultural opportunities, this will be an exciting year of growth.
 

Come and be a part of this new Center for Contemporary Life. In our community, everyone has a seat at the table, no reservations needed.
 

Let us build together in friendship and community.
 

Rabbi Steven Rosenberg

Director of outreach and engagement

Wed, January 16 2019 10 Shevat 5779