Bittersweet. That’s the word many of us have been using around Temple for the last weeks and months. It’s a great word, dating to the fourteenth century. At first it referred only to a type of apple, low in acids and high in tannins. But over time, “bittersweet” came to describe an emotion that mimics the experience of eating such an apple, where the initial smile is quickly followed by a lip-puckering, teeth-licking smack.
The emotion mimics the taste, but it doesn’t replicate it. What makes “bittersweet” the emotion different from “bittersweet” the flavor is that when we feel bittersweet, we tend to feel it all at once. This bittersweet moment isn’t easy on the front end with a bracing finish. It’s just…bittersweet. And in that way, it is an excellent vehicle for understanding the lesson from earlier this evening, about the reconciliation of opposites. In its bittersweetness, this season of saying farewell, this evening of saying “thank you,” is a lesson in shalom, in feeling the fullness of this moment. It’s another chance to experience Shleimut, Unity. For that, I am grateful.
I am grateful for that, and for so much more. I am grateful to so many people, and rather than try to name them all, I’m going to speak about groups of folks who’ve made my tenure all that it’s been.
- To my colleagues on the Temple staff, both present and former: you made TMS a fun place to work. We’ve spent thousands of hours together over these years. I’ve always felt like a part of team, and for that I’m very grateful.
- Within that group, I must single out Rabb Weiss, of blessed memory, and Rabbi Bellush. I learned so much from each of them, and loved being their partner.
- To the lay leaders who’ve toiled on behalf of the congregation, attending meetings, volunteering their time in the office, in the choir, around the building, in the school…you are the reason we on the staff show up each day. Without people, it can get cold around here even on a hot day. Thank you for all that you do, and thank you for being my partners.
- Another group within a group: our Past Presidents. What a joy it was to work with each of you. You each brought unique gifts and talents, you each left a legacy as your terms concluded, and you continue to build on your legacies even in your respective “retirements.” I have benefited from your wisdom and your counsel, and each of you has made me a better rabbi.
- I want to acknowledge my partners beyond the boundaries of our own congregation. Compadres in interfaith work, our community’s rabbis and Jewish professionals, everyone who works to make our community and our city a better place. I will miss you, and I pray that you go from strength to strength.
And closer to home:
- My thanks to family who traveled in from out of town to be with us this evening, and to our friends, the Briskins. It’s a delight to get to experience this moment with family and friends.
- Being a Rabbi’s Kid isn’t always easy. Helaine, Shir, and Esther have each approached it in their own way, and each with grace. I’m so proud to be your Dad.
- Mom…having you across the street for these last few years has been a tremendous blessing. I know there’s a bit of a tug-of-war going on, and your friends want you to stay put, but we’ll be waiting to put your challah on our Shabbat table just as soon as you find the perfect little townhome.
- And to the one who makes my life complete. Alanna grew up hearing stories about the blessings and challenges of life in a rabbinical family, and she wasn’t sure that it was what she wanted. Alanna, I’m so grateful to you for joining me on this journey, celebrating with me in my success, comforting me on challenging days, sometimes by listening and sometimes by giving me the space not to speak. Like being a Rabbi’s Kid, being a Rabbi’s spouse isn’t always easy. You are amazing, and I love you with all my heart.
In a moment we’re going to bring this evening to a close in song and prayer, wishing one another a blessing for the journey. In thinking about the blessings I wish to bestow upon all of you, I find the bitter and the sweet easier to discern on the palate of my heart.
First, the sweet: I wish you tremendous sweetness as you forge a new bond with Rabbi Zeidman and his family. May your Rabbi’s fresh approaches, excitement, and energy lift you up to even greater heights. As I said to Temple’s Trustees last week: “You’ve engaged a bright and talented leader. Enjoy the ride!”
As you enjoy that ride, and we enjoy our new adventures, know that my heart is heavy, too. I love you, I love this congregation and this community, and it’s hard to say goodbye. There are ways in which this isn’t “goodbye,” of course. There are airplanes, there is Facebook, there’s a Bach Kid in Texas for at least the next four years… I expect and hope that we’ll continue to be a part of each other’s lives in all sorts of ways.
But the privilege of being this congregation’s Rabbi belongs to someone else now, and that’s hard to say (even as it was hard to write). I will miss serving you and leading you. I will miss nourishing you, and being nourished by you. I will miss praying with you and studying with you. I will miss being your Rabbi.
Rabbis know to conclude with divrei nechemta, words of consolation. Where is the consolation in all of that missing? In this: that we miss because we love, we miss because this partnership of Rabbi and congregation is worth missing, we miss because this partnership was long-lasting and productive. We did so much good together. The ancient blessing preserved in the Psalms has indeed been fulfilled for us: God’s favor has been upon us. The work of our hands has prospered.
Blessed be the One in whom bitter and sweet are reconciled, the Maker of Peace, who has prospered the work of our hands.