Rosh Hashanah 2015

High Holiday Remarks From President Ellen Bensusan

I would like to take a few minutes of your time today to share two stories.  They may seem somewhat unconnected, but given a few more moments, I hope you will see where I am going with this.  The first story involves a time honored tradition many kids go through…summer camp.  When I was young, I went to Camp Pembroke near Cape Cod.  It was a kosher, Jewish camp, all girls, with the best food anywhere!!  I went for the entire summer….8 weeks of fun.  Every Friday night, after Shabbat services, we had a great Friday night dinner complete with matzo ball soup.  Before eating however, there was the welcoming of the Sabbath Queen.  Each week, a different bunk was responsible for electing the Sabbath Queen and court and choreographing a dance to L’cha Dodi that would culminate with the Sabbath Queen presenting the director of the camp with the Shabbat candles.  This was a huge honor and responsibility.  I am proud to say that I was once the Sabbath Queen and to this day, when I hear the L’Cha Dodi sung, I can almost remember the steps to that dance.  It’s like piece of my muscle memory that continues to connect me to part of my Jewish upbringing.  Maybe you have a similar memory tucked away somewhere too?

Now, second story.  When I was 15/16, I was fortunate enough to meet someone extremely influential in the way I have approached my Judaism.  It was Cantor Jack Smith, who was the Cantor at my temple in Cranston.  I knew him from Bat Mitzvah class, but back then, girls were bat mitzvahed in groups of 3, so we didn’t have a lot of one on one time with the Cantor.  When I entered Hebrew high school, that all changed.  From the very beginning, Cantor Jack encouraged, no prodded us, to always ask questions.  He wanted us to explore what Judaism was to us as individuals, not necessarily from what was taught to us at Sunday School.  He challenged our thinking, gave us mature reading material and pushed us to become healthy skeptics of canned religion.  What a gift to give a 16 year old girl!!

Okay, connection.  Many of us sitting in the temple today have muscle memory of childhood experiences in Judaism similar to mine with L’cha Dodi.  Maybe that is what brings you here each month…to hear a favorite prayer or song that recollects younger times.  But, many people in our congregation don’t have those memories because they weren’t born and/or raised Jewish.  They come here because they have married someone who is Jewish or they are curious about what Judaism is about.  This is where Cantor Jack’s gift returns!  We need, as a congregation, to ask questions about our religion.  We need to poke and prod at liturgy to find the meaning for everyone who attends United Brothers Synagogue, regardless of background.  We do this in order to strengthen our connection to the temple and to each other.  We also help create a meaningful connection through understanding for those who don’t have the Jewish traditional memories.  I am truly hopeful, that with a congregation wide practice of questioning, we will learn from each other and consequently learn about who we are as a religious and spiritual home.  Every year, we, as Jews, take time to reflect on what we have done, try to make some course corrections if needed and look forward to another happy and healthy New Year.  I hope that this year, we will work together to make United Brothers Synagogue full of meaningful memories for everyone who walks through our doors.  Thank you and L’Shana Tova.


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