So Much Gratitude

As the tikiyah gedolah sounded at the conclusion of Yom Kippur and the Havdalah candles were lifted high, I experienced a deep to-the-bottom-of-my-toes rush of emotion. It wasn’t about hunger. The truth is that I am busy, from early morning to the finish of the day. I don’t even realize how hungry I am until I taste the first sip of wine (the only time of the year when Mogen David wine actually tastes good)…
No, the rush of emotion was all about gratitude: overwhelming, open-hearted, full throttle gratitude. This gratitude is cumulative, beginning some days before Erev Rosh Hashanah as the temple staff and lay leadership prepare. It’s not a siege mentality and it’s not a party planning mentality. We know that we have to prepare the temple to receive a high percentage of our membership, and we want it to always feel like entering into familiar and embracing space, whether for 50 people or 1000.
Our architecture is not about being imposing or formal. In fact, the landscaping (thank you for it all Ed and Bobby Zuker and Lauren Siff) communicates it before one even enters the inner space. Like the flowers and trees and shrubs, it’s not precious or delicate. It is rather robust and convivial. Our temple is about open space. It sends a message of intimacy and appreciation for we who enter. It isn’t about grandeur; it’s about home.
I have sincere gratitude for all those who make that possible. Because looking out at the congregation, individuals merge into one family, one sacred gathering. And it is for this holy convocation that I dedicate so much of my life.
I remember back to my first High Holy Day experience as a student rabbi, serving Beth Chayim Chadashim in Los Angeles, CA in the Fall of 1978. So much responsibility! So many people! And of course, I remember flipping my tallit over my shoulder as one of the tzitzit (tassels) somehow wrapped around my glasses and yanked them off my face and up into the air.
I have enormous gratitude for my first congregation. They nurtured me and encouraged me to be myself. They taught me that the rabbinate is not a job; it’s a calling.
We’ve been together now for 18 years, and I look forward expectantly to our next years together. I know that given where we live, to paraphrase what flight attendants say at the end of the ride, we know you could’ve davened at any number of places, and you chose us. Which is to say how grateful I am for you, my congregation. I am overwhelmed by your presence. Your voices in prayer lift my soul. I thank God for who you are. Your trust is powerful and sacred.
As Yom Kippur ended, I felt infinite gratitude and realize that it begins for me with God. I thank God for my soul and for the sparks of love and devotion that come from the Holy One. I thank God for this life with all of its roller coaster moments along with the moments of calm and gentleness. I’ve lived 20 years longer than my father did, and in those 20 years I have been able to do and see so much. I am thankful for all this time I’ve had, and I pray that I might have another 20, if not more, to further do the work the Holy One has directed me to do.
Tonight, between roughly 830pm and 115am we’ll be able to see a total lunar eclipse. They say that it will be a fantastic sight not to be seen again for another 16 years. There are those who say it portends the end of the world. I plan to look up at it and, with infinite gratitude in my heart, give thanks for my life. Far from the end of it all – this is just the beginning.

One thought on “So Much Gratitude

  1. Beautifully written. 18 years of appreciation to Rabbi Stern. Wonderful services as we observed Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur

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