My installation remarks from Friday night, December 11. I had no idea, when I decided to craft these remarks around the seasons, and to teach about impermanence by looking to the trees, that our Religious School had created a huppah in my honor that teaches the very same thing, in the same way. It was presented to the congregation as part of Sunday Morning’s Installation.
Lots of folks have asked me, “Haven’t you been our Rabbi for quite some time? What changes on December 11?” And the answers are, “yes,” and “not much.” Certainly, some of the big transitional moments are already behind us. My election. Our first service together. Our first High Holidays. Other moments of transition are still out in the future. We haven’t yet celebrated Purim together, or Pesach, or Kabbalat Torah, or an Annual Meeting, to name but a few “firsts” that are still in the future. My colleague Barry Block has written about transition not really being finished until a rabbi has been in his or her position for two full years, and I’m inclined to believe him.
And yet, here we are, celebrating my “installation.” Lots of jokes about the similarities between rabbis and large appliances are just waiting to be made, but the truth be told, “install” is a verb that was applied to members of the clergy long before it was applied to washers and dryers. To “install” something is to put it in its stall. And clerics in the Middle Ages had semi-enclosed chairs called stalls in which they sat as a part of the choir. “Installation” was the act of getting into one’s stall for the first time. It is, essentially, the act of taking one’s seat, of settling in.
As I take my seat, figuratively speaking, I find myself looking back on the journey that’s brought me here. In thinking about what I wanted to say this evening, I went back and read the words I shared at a few of those other noteworthy moments. It’s hard for me to believe that it is nearly a year since I made this pledge to you on January 11, just after you elected me as your fourth Senior Rabbi. I said:
together, we will experience the full range of human experience and emotion. As we walk this path together over what I hope will be many years as Rabbi and Congregation, we will celebrate together, and we will grieve together. We will dream together, and we will work together. We will learn, and teach, and act together. We will open the doors of this synagogue wide, and we will welcome, together. We will organize together. And every step of the way, we will reflect on what we are experiencing, on just what blessing is called for in that moment. In the good times (may they be many!) and in the bad (may they be few!), we will bless each other, and bless Life, together…heart and soul, and might.
The months passed. As the days grew longer, I spent more and more time on the phone and in correspondence with folks at Judea, and soon enough, I was here. My first service, on July 3, was Parashat Balak, and a chance to speak about Balaam’s blessing: “How lovely are your tents, O Jacob!” I reflected on the great big windows that surround us, and the pews that are installed so that we face each other in prayer, and I imagined what Balaam’s blessing might have sounded if he’d been looking at Judea Reform. In my mind, he might have said…
May the architecture of this space be mirrored in the spiritual geography of these people. May they always be turned toward one another in service, even as their faces are turned toward one another in prayer. And may the sanctuary, peaceful shelter that it is, never be cut off from the world around it.
A busy summer of getting to know you followed. Lots of relational meetings in my office with leaders, b’nai mitzvah families, conversion students, and folks who just wanted to stop by and share their stories with me. Transitional events at the ball park, in homes, in the dining rooms of some wonderful communities like Carolina Meadows, The Forest at Duke, and The Cedars. My first b’nai mitzvah, weddings, unveilings, and funerals. Marching for justice. Religious School opening day, on which I was probably as nervous as any other new kid would be.
And then, Yom Kippur, at which I challenged us to
live out our mission as a kingdom of priests, a nation of bridge builders, of “pontiffs.” To build bridges to each other, through our Caring Community; to people of color, through our community organizing work; to refugees looking for safe harbor amidst great storms; to folks who are lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, and who have spent far too long outside the camp; and to so many others who seek a way in or simply to know that the door is open and that they are welcome.
And then, it was Sukkot. My first in quite a while that was entirely rained out, but the payoff was my family’s first glorious and colorful autumn in quite some time. I got to know our Jewish community and my interfaith colleagues, and continued to celebrate, collaborate, learn and teach and grieve with my synagogue. Through it all, I loved watching the leaves change color at home and around Judea Reform, reminding me that nothing is truly permanent…even as I felt more and more settled and at home – more installed – with each passing day.
And here’s what I’ve come to learn: while the installation of a new rabbi is, one hopes, a rare occurrence in the life of a congregation (and we rabbis like stability too!), in-stall-ation, a settling into one’s place in the choir, is for every day, indeed for every breath.
And so I’d like to invite you all to join me in an act of installation.
Ashrei Yoshvei Veitecha, goes the famous verse: “happy, blessed, are the ones who sit in Your House, O Everpresent Source of Life and Blessing.” Beyond its technical meaning as applied to rabbis or multi-channel home theater systems, “installation” is that mind-state to which each of us can aspire. To be settled, to be installed, to know that we are home. So settle in. Be aware of the beauty of this space, and of this moment. Feel the yeshivah, the “installation,” as your body takes root in its seat, even as your spirit takes root in the here, the now. And let’s chant together, slowly…
Ashrei – yoshvei – veitecha – od y’hal’lelucha.