Friday, May 23, 2008

Our Message to the Shul at the YIOP Dinner

Wow! Thank you all for being here, to share this very special, emotional and meaningful night together with us.
We see this not as an end, but as a siyyum; You see, every time one finishes a major piece of Torah study, he or she makes a siyyum. But a siyyum isn’t an end. It’s rather a marker, a point of reference, between one leg of a journey and the next. This dinner isn’t the end. Rather, it the conclusion of one chapter of our lives and the beginning of another.
Every Siyyum begins with the הדרן – May we return to you. And that’s truly how we feel here tonight. Even though this dinner – and this honor – marks the end of our tenure as Rabbi and Rebbetzin, nonetheless we don’t feel as if we’re leaving. We’re just ending one phase of our relationship with each other that will continue over time.
דעתן עלך ודעתך עלן – Our minds are on you – and your minds are on us – what better way to describe the special relationship that we have with each other? לא נתנשי מינך – we will never forget you, ולא תתנשי מינן – and we know that you will never forget us. Even though we’re leaving Oak Park, we cannot ever forget the special friendships that we have forged during the seven years that we spent here, and we are confident that our efforts and energies will be remembered here as well.
יהי רצון...שתהא תורתך אמנותנו בעולם הזה ותהא עמנו לעולם הבא –
Here we describe not just our wishes when we complete a siyyum, but also what motivated us to enter into a rabbinic career as well. What attracted us to the rabbinate – and what we will most miss, is the idea that everything that we do; every class and program, every phone call, every container of soup, every chavrusa and meeting; every hospital visit and shiva call – even every social program and lunch meeting – is infused with spirituality.
Then we go into a litany of names; the family of רב פפא – חנינא בר פפא, רמי בר פפא, נחמן בר פפא – the ten sons of Rav Pappa. Why do we list these ten children of Rav Pappa during a siyyum?

Rena: Don’t get any ideas.

No, we mention Rav Pappa’s sons because whenever he made a siyyum, he would invite his sons and share his joy and accomplishments with his family; and, when he shared those values with his sons, they also grew to become great Torah scholars as well. But to my mind, Rav Pappa’s sons also remind us of the value of family. First and foremost, our immediate family. Even though they’re young, our children never chose a rabbinic life. They were born into it. And they’ve often had to share their father and mother with others, when it was hard to do so. They didn’t always want another babysitter. And sometimes, even though they didn’t have a choice, they understood, and waited for us to finish yet another conversation after davening, and shared their family events and occasions with all of you.

Rena: Simcha, Bezalel, Leah, and Petachya, we thank you and we love you.

We also give great thanks to our parents who are here with us tonight. It’s never easy having your children live so far away, and we know that next year will be even more difficult. But our parents have never given us anything but support, encouragement and pride. They have set shining examples for us to follow. My father was a man dedicated to knowledge and study of Torah. He was a man of great intellect and intelligence, and while he died when I was young, his passion for learning and teaching is forever imprinted in my mind. My mother taught me what it means to teach others, and to be dedicated to your students.

Rena: My parents have always led lives dedicated to community, to chesed, and to personal growth. I have fond memories of night-time meetings at our home, for one cause or another. My mother has served as AMIT chapter president, PTA president of 2 schools, and coordinator of the shul’s Mishloach Manot. My father’s quiet leadership gives Rabbis and principals the ability to take him into their confidence.

For their support, love, devotion and dedication we thank them, and only hope that we can repay them by following in their footsteps and raising our children with their vision and values.
But family, especially in this shul, is a much broader concept. We have shared so much: joy and sadness, celebration and mourning. My greatest joy comes when I see a father with his child davening together on a Shabbos morning, or a father or mother learning with their child at Mibreishit, dancing together at Simchat Torah,

Rena: or Presenting at Parshapalooza.

I miss the members of our shul who are no longer with us, from the oldest to the youngest. We had the privilege of knowing people so many years beyond yours; to appreciate their warmth and wisdom and charm; to know people outside our immediate age group, and be better people for it.
I appreciate the support of those members who constantly give their time and energy to ensure the day-to-day operation of the shul, particularly the shul presidents during my tenure: Eddie Katz, Rabbi Judah Isaacs, Dr. Steve Lorch and David Barth
Rena: and Ezrat Nashim Presidents Lynne Schreiber and Margery Klausner --
– and the many people who give of themselves day-in and day-out, to run the office, check the lights, pay the bills, run the minyanim, coordinate an incredible dinner, raise funds, run programs, lead our youth, and the scores of other tasks – big and small - that make this shul run.
But there are so many smaller families within this family: any daily minyan man understands the camaraderie, the friendship that grows when you daven together each and every day, and enjoy a really good cup of coffee (with or without the booze), and a story or a joke.
There’s the family of the Beit Midrash, which gathers each Monday night to learn, either with a chavrusa, in a shiur for men and women together

Rena: Or for women only.

And the family that developed at the Tuesday parshah shiur, and the Wednesday morning Parshah shiur – both very different groups of women, yet somehow we have been able to forge a sense of closeness and familiarity that always allows me not only to teach, but to learn from m as well. My Thursday lunch and learn at Cohen, Lerner and Rabinowitz – always a great lunch, with great conversation and great learning, and the special bond of our Thursday night shiur. In addition, we formed other groups as well:

Rena: Yoga on Wednesdays, or a Taharat Hamishpachah study group, and the monthly book group. Ezrat Nashim’s Board, and the many important committees – especially the Chesed committee

And the Living Room Limud group, and the Saturday night learning group, and the men of the Man’s Seder. Each of these smaller groups created cohesive bonds, with its own dynamic and energy. But together, these groups form a much larger family; a shul of warmth and caring that really is special and unique, and does not exist in many other places.
הערב נא ה' אלקינו את דברי תורתך בפינו: We pray that Hashem makes the words of His Torah sweet in our mouths. As you all know, Torah learning has been a mission of mine here at YIOP, and I give thanks for the many subjects and topics I have had the privilege of studying together with you. Together we’ve learned Parshat Hashavua, four sedarim of Mishnah,

Rena: the teaching of Nechama Leibowitz, Taharat Hamishpachah, Tehillim, Women and Tefillah, Women in Tanach – are you sensing that there’s a theme here? You’re wrong. Don’t forget the 13 principles of the Rambam.

Almost three books of Navi, parts of gemara Kiddushin, Sanhedrin, and the first half of Brachos, אם הבנים שמחה, אורות, and many writings of Rav Soloveitchik. We have learned about the chagim, about fatherhood, about Judging Others; about the Halachos of Shabbos and Kashrus. The list goes on and on. And we thank you for sharing so much Torah with us, as we learned and laughed and grew as Jews and parents and people.
The siyyum concludes first with thanks, and then with a prayer. First, we give thanks: מודים אנחנו לפניך ה' – we give thanks to God, that He has given us the great privilege to serve this close-knit, incredible community
שאנו משכימין – that we get up and go to shul early.

Rena: early?

OK – five minutes late.
שאנו עמלנו -- That we immersed ourselves in our community; you welcomed us with open arms, and gave us the sense of עמלות – of depth and intimacy, but with a sense of passion, dedication and hard work. We exerted energy on behalf of this community: to defend the values of Israel; of Torah, of Orthodoxy; To promote the sanctity of the things we hold dear; to uphold the values of kashrus and the honor of the Torah;

Rena: and the right to have a kosher Dunkin Donuts.

אנו רצים– I like to run; if you’ve been to the JCC you know that;

Rena: I don’t run.

Let us conclude with the prayer at the end of each Siyyum: יהי רצון לפניך ה' –
May it be Your will Hashem our God, that just as You have helped us serve the Young Israel of Oak Park, so may You help us serve כלל ישראל, to begin new projects and promote the values of Judaism in the future; to learn and to teach, to safeguard and to perform, and to fulfill all the words of Your Torah’s teachings with love.
May the merit of all our parents, mentors, teachers and friends stand with us and our children, that the Torah shall not depart from our mouths nor the mouths of our children, and our children’s children forever. May there be fulfilled for us the verse, “When you walk, the Torah will guide you. And when you lie down, it will watch over you. And when you wake up, it will converse with you.”
ה' עז לעמו יתן ה' יברך את עמו בשלום – Hashem will give strength to His people; Hashem will bless you, us – the people of Israel – בשלום – with peace.
Thank you so much.