Generations and Installations
Tomorrow morning, we will call our new Temple Board to the Torah for a special Aliyah to celebrate the installation of their leadership. Our new Temple President, Avra Rosen, will address the congregation to illuminate Parashat Toledot.
There is no biblical word for History. There is no authentic Hebrew word for History. If you go to Hebrew University and study in the History Department, you will hear only the lone word “Historia.” This is surprising considering that we belong to an ancient people which is so devoted – some may even say obsessed – with remembering our past. The closest biblical word we have for history is Toldot. This week we read: “V’eileh Toldot Yitzchak…” “These are the stories of the generations of Isaac, son of Abraham. Abraham begot Isaac….” How does a Jew teach history? By telling the stories of how one generation makes way and gives way to the next.
In recent weeks, our Past Presidents stood tall as the Honour Guard by the side of the casket of Henrietta Chesnie, of blessed memory. Henrietta was the first woman to serve as President of Holy Blossom Temple, the first woman to serve as President of any synagogue in the country, and the first woman to lead any mixed-gender, Jewish organization in the city. In her eulogy I shared a memory of when she once said to me during some hard days at Holy Blossom, “You know Rabbi, the generations may come and go, but the sun will always shine through that stained-glass window.” I think this was Henrietta’s way of reassuring me that the long history of our congregation is bigger than any one of us. We belong to it, even more than it belongs to us. This is a Leading Lady’s example of Toldot, the Jewish way of telling history through the stories of the generations.
This morning we welcomed into the congregation our newest member, Beau. At the bris, his father spoke of Beau’s three names, and the three great-grandfathers who are remembered through him. Glimpses of Jewish history in Europe and Canada are seen with the eyes of memory. “Eileh Toldot….”
And next Shabbat we will celebrate the Installation of Rabbi Zachary Goodman. Many have already enjoyed meeting him, learning from him, praying with him. I hope you will come to welcome his family, see him at the open ark, and extend your own prayers for his rabbinate, which has just begun and is so full of potential.
Our Scholar-in-Residence for the occasion is Dr. Gary Zola, teacher, mentor, and friend to Rabbi Goodman – in fact, to Rabbi Helfman and to me, too. Dr. Zola is a Rabbi of rabbis, an inspired and inspiring teacher of Jewish history. As the Director of the American Jewish Archives, he brings a disciplined, academic approach to the facts of history, while drawing out meaningful lessons from every age. In Dr. Zola’s classroom, history is both political and personal.
I encourage you to attend the Shabbat Dinner and study next Friday when we will be moved by history which is revealed through Ethical Wills. These documents are written in the spirit of Toldot. They are personal reflections on an individual’s life story and articulations of the values they wish to bequeath to the generations to follow. This Shabbat may move you to sketch out your own ethical will, a valuable exercise for anyone who has accumulated life wisdom.
The stages of the life of an individual or a family are ritualized and sanctified in the midst of the congregation. We cannot slow down the passing of time, but we can come together to briefly push the pause button long enough to name the moment, to count our blessings, and to thank God for the gifts that are ours.
Elieh Toldot…. These are the stories of the generations… links in a beautiful and enduring chain.