Nine years ago, we started a journey together. When I consider that time, a few important thoughts come to mind. Relationships are a motivating force for me. I was privileged to know many in the previous generation — the Levin brothers, Stanley Rubin, Aaron Novick, Sy Brittman, and so many more — and now the next generation of shul leaders.
I also learned that there is no such thing as “a starter shul.” Just as there is no “starter family.” Some rabbis simply fit better in small settings, where the congregation is like family. To me, Congregation Tifereth Israel is family.
Over the years, our congregation has grown in many ways — in membership and relationship, in technology and learning. Our international High Holidays services showed us that our positive atmosphere and growth could reverberate beyond our small historic building. Zoom has allowed us to share our successful Lunch and Learn programs and our Jewish history series without geographical borders.
We have also expanded our partnership with the larger community, through the Greenport Ecumenical Ministries (GEM), the East End Jewish Community Council (EEJCC), and with Project Genesis Interfaith. Our president, Judith Weiner, and her new board, with the help of Andrea Blaga in the office, have been doing a wonderful job to move us ahead by envisioning new initiatives.
Before I became a rabbi, I believed in the power of the individual; now I see the power of the congregation. Can we be a haven for the diverse nations here in Greenport? Can the Torah be our guide as believers? We are a unique microcosm here, so small yet so diverse. Let us be a model for the nations.
The secret is to find the right balance between the particular and the universal. At one of his lectures a few years ago at the 92nd Street Y, the late Rabbi Jonathan Saks z”l mentioned a conversation he’d had with Paul Johnson, a Catholic historian, who wrote the important book: A History of the Jews. Rabbi Saks said to Paul Johnson, “You are Catholic. You must have spent years researching Jews and Judaism. What most impressed you?”
Mr. Johnson replied that throughout history, there have been famous individualistic cultures, such as Athens, Renaissance Italy, contemporary West. And there have been collectivist cultures like Chinese Communism. None were able to embrace both at the same time. But Jews have had that gift, an incredible sense of the importance of the individual but, at the same time, an equally powerful sense of collective responsibility. In the words of Hillel, the Talmudic sage: “If I’m not for myself, who will be for me? But if I’m only for myself, what am I?” (M. Avot 1:14)
Happy Thanksgiving to all,
—Rabbi Gadi Capela