On October 5th at 5:55 p.m., Lea Plosker called to ask if I would accept the honor of being celebrated at this year’s gala. Will it surprise you to learn that, a) of course I said yes, and, b) I had written a draft of these remarks by 10:55 p.m.
Honor. Kavod in Hebrew. A word laden with meaning. A weighty topic. In fact, the word kavod comes from the root kaved- heavy. It’s literally a heavy subject.
I came to Arizona in 1987 and loved Temple Chai from afar. I was honored to speak at panel discussions and at the dedication of the sanctuary in 1992. I walked both my daughters down the aisle to their chuppah right next door on this bimah, and celebrated my own wedding in this very room in 2016. Kavod ha-Tzibbur, honoring the community, is a fundamental Talmudic principle. I honor this community and its members. I honor all of you who are here today, who have made Temple Chai the treasure that it is.
Our tradition begs us to honor every single human being as a tzelem Elohim, as the image of God. We are to treat each other with respect, give each other the benefit of the doubt, err on the side of compassion, forgive each other, believe in the possibility of teshuva, of personal growth, and shape ourselves into holy images of God.
We honor the Holy One- in the words of our prayer- “M’lo kol ha-aretz k’vodo- the whole earth is filled with God’s kavod- God’s honor, God’s glory.” (Isaiah 6:3) We honor all of creation and are reminded never to waste the earth’s resources and to respect all creatures. We honor each other by devoting ourselves to tikkun olam, advocating and working for freedom and justice for all.
Honoring teachers, AND, honoring students is basic to the Jewish way of life. We read in Pirke Avot that if we learn anything from another person, we are to honor them for that teaching. And we are urged to always treat our students with the greatest honor. (Pirke Avot 4:15, 6:3) “Who is wise? The person who learns from everyone.” (Pirke Avot 4:1) I have learned from my colleagues, and I honor them for their patience with ME as I grow and learn. I am so touched that Rabbi Sarah Leah Grafstein, a friend for close to forty years, joins us here this evening.
Special thanks to Cantor Ross Wolman, without whom I never could have survived and flourished in this past year. I learn so much from ALL of you and thank you so much for studying with me in so many varied forums. Teaching is one of my biggest joys!
Kibbud av v’em- honoring our parents, is so fundamental that it made it into the 10 commandments. I am proud to honor my parents at this moment. They were not exactly excited when I announced my desire to be a rabbi, yet they came around to be accepting and maybe even pleased. My dad Leo, alav ha-shalom, made a point of noting that it was at the age of 11 that I first announced my intention. He taught me by word and deed to honor friendships. My mom Sandy does me the honor of being here this evening, and don’t think it was easy to squeeze into her schedule. At 87, I still rely on her for wisdom and guidance, and she is still the most impatient person I ever met. Mom- thank you for supporting me all along the way, and making your peace with my career as a rabbi, even though you thought I should be a librarian or a gym teacher.
It is a mitzvah to honor ALL of our elders. The Torah tells us, “Rise before the aged and show honor to the elderly.” (Leviticus 19:32) We are reminded that as we age and perhaps lose some of our capabilities, that we continue to have a vital place in the life of the community. Being honored is a little scary- is this like a lifetime achievement award after which I am expected to retire? Just for the record, I’m not going away just yet! And, it’s comforting to know, as I age, that honoring elders is a priority value in Jewish tradition.
I want to honor my daughters. They will tell you that it is not easy growing up as a rabbi’s kid. Let alone a rabbi who was also a Soldier and could be deployed anywhere in the world at any time. Before any family outing, the refrain was, almost always, “but first we have to stop at the hospital.”
I honor them for surviving the real challenges and I honor them for the amazing women they have become. They are wives, they are the mothers of 4 of my incredible grandchildren, and they are accomplished professionals- Jessie Rubenstein, Director of Jewish Education at Temple Emanuel and Sarah Wypiszynski, a family physician. I could not be more proud of you and I am just thrilled to have you here tonight to share this special moment. I love you both SO much!
And Ron! Talk about someone who is supportive and patient. I first met Ron on the bimah of this sanctuary when he was the in-house drummer at our Kabbalat Shabbat service. We had a pleasant, cordial relationship, and nothing more. When his beloved wife Genevieve passed away, and then my beloved husband David died, it became something much more. An incredible partnership and 5 ½ years of marriage.
In rabbinical school, when there were virtually no women rabbis, we used to be asked the question- “What do you call the husband of the rabbi?” Our standard answer was, “Lucky.” Today we say, “Hubbazin,” and I want to give honor to my husband who has become an amazing partner in this holy work. Truly, I am the one who is lucky! A very special and personal thank you to David’s sister, Laurie, and her husband Michael, who are here with us tonight from Vancouver, Canada.
I became a part of the Temple Chai family formally in 2006, when I was hired for a one-year position as your rabbi. When the year came to a close, I cried. No, I mean I bawled my eyes out. Marilyn Starrett tried to console me, “But you knew it was only for one year.” “Yes,” I replied, “but I fell in love.” I fell in love with Temple Chai, with all of you, and it’s been a love affair ever since.
It is humbling to feel that you want to honor me. As Rabbi Lord Jonathan Sacks expressed it, “The real honour is not the honour we receive but the honour we give.” The best way that you can honor me, then, is to reflect on whom do YOU honor, and why? What are the qualities that you deem most worthy of honor? Kindness? Generosity? Devotion to Learning? Spiritual Growth? Tikkun Olam? Let’s all treat each other, our beautiful world, our community, with the deepest honor – that is the greatest gift we can offer. My humble request- find someone here tonight whom you honor, and share with them what you admire most about them.
Please note, we are continuing services via Live Streaming and Facebook only this week. We will return for in person services on February 25.
Friday, February 18, 2022 | 18 Adar I, 5782
5:45 pm: Virtual Nosh - hosted by Steve Haas
Click Here to join Zoom - please mute devices
6:15 pm: Kabbalat Shabbat
Click here for Live Streaming and Facebook broadcast
For a pdf version of Temple Chai's Kabbalat Shabbat prayer book, Click Here
For a pdf version of this week's Shabbat Brochure, Click Here
Saturday, February 19, 2022 | 18 Adar I, 5782
Haftarah - I Kings 18:1-39
For more information about this week's Torah Portion click Click Here.
There is so much for which we are grateful. This week I have the honor of sharing with the Temple Chai family that our Special Congregational Vote overwhelmingly approved the selection of Rabbi Emily Segal to be our next Senior Rabbi.
Getting to know Rabbi Segal through the search process has been a joy. Rabbi Segal’s warmth, intelligence, vision, energy, excitement, and passion for Temple Chai are unmistakable in every interaction with her. I know she will lead us to great places.
Rabbi Segal will be with us full-time starting on July 1st.
A special thanks goes to my co-chair Helen Holden, whose leadership throughout this process has been extraordinary as well as every member of the Search Committee, each of whom spent dozens of hours working through both developing and implementing the process which produced such a wonderful result. Finally, we want to express our gratitude to Rabbi Simon, Rabbi Koppell, Cantor Wolman, and the entire Temple Chai team for their outstanding leadership during a challenging time. Our debt to them is incalculable.
I hope you share my excitement about this new chapter for Temple Chai. We could not have found a better rabbi to lead us as we move forward. Please see below for a message from Rabbi Segal.
David Weiner, President
We are delighted to share with you that the Temple Chai Senior Rabbi Search Committee and Board of Directors are unanimously and enthusiastically recommending that the congregation approve Rabbi Emily Segal as our new Senior Rabbi.
The congregation will vote on Rabbi Segal’s appointment electronically, from January 23-25, 2022. Stand by for details about how to participate.
Many of you had an opportunity to meet Rabbi Segal during her visit to Temple Chai. The feedback we received was not just overwhelmingly positive but extraordinary. For example, 94% of Temple members found that she had “exceptional” leadership skills, and in no category did she receive less than 92% “exceptional” ratings. Here are a few things your fellow congregants had to say about Rabbi Segal:
We can’t wait for you to get to know Rabbi Segal better, both in advance of the congregational vote and, we hope and expect, in the years to come.
About Rabbi Emily Segal
Rabbi Segal is a visionary and transformational leader, currently serving as Rabbi of Aspen Jewish Congregation in Aspen, Colorado. In five growth-filled years in Aspen, Rabbi Segal spearheaded the creation of a new system for recruitment, welcoming and retention of members, leading to a 65% increase in annual new members. She partnered with the congregation’s lay leadership to reinvent the role of the Board and committees. A gifted teacher, Rabbi Segal’s adult education classes were a highlight of the congregational calendar. And her connection with children and teens is unmistakable; under her leadership, post-B’nai Mitzvah retention increased from 15% to 60%.
As Co-President of the Women’s Rabbinic Network, Rabbi Segal is a national leader of the Reform Movement, playing a central role in addressing some of the most complex issues facing our community. She co-created a landmark Family and Medical Leave Policy & Resource that is being used throughout, and beyond, the Reform Movement.
Rabbi Segal was selected for the Balfour Bricker Social Justice Fellowship from the Religious Action Center, and the Clergy Leadership Fellowship from CLAL and Hazon. She is currently completing an Executive Scholar program at Northwestern University’s Kellogg School of Business.
Before Aspen, Rabbi Segal served as Associate Rabbi at Temple Jeremiah in suburban Chicago where she provided leadership to a 900-member congregation.
About Our Process
The recommendation from the Senior Rabbi Search Committee and the Board of Directors is the culmination of an eight-month long process.
A Search Committee that reflected the diversity of our membership -- with participation from Jews by Choice, ECC parents, seniors, LGBTQIs, Jews of Color, along with those that have participated in Mussar and our educational programs -- came together in April for intensive training in how to recognize and avoid implicit basis in the search process. In May and June, the Committee, with the help of a large Advisory Committee, defined the criteria it would use in evaluating rabbinic candidates.* In June and July we prepared the application material to submit to the Central Conference of American Rabbis (CCAR), which manages the search process.
*These were the following: Warm and welcoming presence; Inspirational for community; Can provide innovative spiritual programming; Grow and understand Judaism for 21st century; Imagine a sustainable future; Fundraising Experience; Attract and retain families with children and teenagers.
The process picked up steam in September, when resumes began coming in. We were quite pleased to receive applications from 15 rabbis. We made a first cut, and during September and October the Search Committee conducted first interviews with six candidates. In early November we had second interviews with four of the candidates and selected the two finalists.
The finalists each visited Temple Chai in December. The Search Committee worked hard to design visits that allowed as many congregants as possible to see the candidates in as many different settings as possible. After the visits, the Search Committee sought feedback from congregants, and worked to evaluate the two finalists. The Committee brought the Board of Directors, as noted above, a unanimous and enthusiastic recommendation that we offer Rabbi Segal the position as Senior Rabbi of Temple Chai.
The Board has now added its own recommendation, and the decision moves to a vote of the full membership. (Under our bylaws, hiring a new Senior Rabbi requires approval by a vote of the membership.)
We want to acknowledge and thank the hard-working members of the Senior Rabbi Search Committee:
We will hold the Congregational meeting on January 23, and the vote from January 23 to January 25. Given the reemergence of the COVID virus, we will conduct the meeting and election electronically. We will share information about the logistics of voting soon; probably next week.
In the meantime, we hope you will begin to learn more about Rabbi Segal. Here is a link to her website (which includes a number of her recent sermons).
We could not be more excited about the possibilities that this new chapter holds for Temple Chai. Thank you for your continuing support.
David Weiner, President, Co-Chair, Senior Rabbi Search Committee
Helen Holden, Co-Chair, Senior Rabbi Search Committee
Yom Kippur - The Loneliest Day of the Jewish Year
We get a clear hint about the radical uniqueness of Yom Kippur when we look at the traditional translation of Yom Kippur as the Day of Atonement. To some, this breaks down as the Day-of-at-one-ment, the time we are commanded to be alone. Even though we can be surrounded by others, Yom Kippur requires us to spend a significant amount of time alone so we can do the necessary “soul accounting” that is required in order for us to atone for our wrongs. (We certainly have enough alone time on Yom Kippur - if you are not working, eating or shopping, there should be sufficient time for you to review the past year and identify all the areas where you fell short.)
The haftarah of Yom Kippur is from Isaiah where we are told “Don’t hide from your own flesh.” To me, the real meaning of this is don’t hide from who you really are, because sooner or later God or life will find you. It is a difficult and a lonely task to admit our failings and mistakes.
Do you know anyone who actually wants to admit their mistakes? I don’t. Yet, as hard as this is, as embarrassing as this can be, this is what we are commanded to do because acknowledgement of our mistakes is the beginning of the process that can lead to atonement and eventually teshuvah. If we cannot get past this first step, we are doomed to repeat our past mistakes in the year to come.
Only when we are alone can we summon the courage to reflect on the previous year -this is not a fun or joyous process, but it is an important one.
May you be sealed for a year of health and safety.
Rabbi Jim Simon