July/August 2020: Installation Address

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Rabbi, Josh, Hinda, fellow Board members and congregants,

I want to thank Hinda for this beautiful Installation. I know she worked very hard on it. We go back a long way as Sisterhood Co-Presidents. I know how hard she works!

So, one would ask, “Why am I doing this?’ Judaism has always been an important part of my life. I was the weird kid who always liked Hebrew School. After Steve and I moved to Connecticut, we looked for a shul. Steve was not interested in an Orthodox synagogue from which I came. Therefore, we joined Temple Beth Sholom, a conservative synagogue. On the first Rosh Hashanah after we joined, Rabbi Berkun was walking around with the Torah and to my amazement, I saw women kissing the Torah. I let it pass since I was always told I wasn’t allowed. The next time it came around, I did kiss the Torah. And that started my journey. Although, I was one of four daughters from an Orthodox family, my father never made us feel like we were subjugated to second class citizenship. When he passed away, I came to shul on Shabbos to say Kaddish. It was very helpful with dealing with a great loss. I then started to become more active in the shul workings. With Rabbi Scolnic being totally egalitarian, I realized I did not have to be made to feel like a second-class citizen. I could be who I am! An involved Kohane. He encouraged me through “ritual courage” and saw I had a need to learn and absorb all there was to learn, which was a lot! And I am forever very grateful to him for that.

When I was twelve, I had a Friday night Bat Mitzvah where I led the service and delivered a speech written by my Rabbi. In 1994, I had a REAL B’nai Mitzvah at TBS. I read from the Torah and did half of a Haftorah. I then carried the Torah around the sanctuary for people to kiss. Walking through the aisle with congregants on both sides of me singing, I felt like I was lifted up and the congregants’ voices were holding me up. You’re going to say that’s nuts, but it was very true and something I will obviously never forget. It was a profound moment!!

As Hinda pointed out, in serving the shul in different offices, I have been able to work with other areas of the Temple. Not only with services, but social, educational projects,  fundraising and fun raising, as well. I also became Gabbai, which is a position I will always treasure. Bringing congregants to the bimah for an Aliyah or Ark opening, some for the first time, has deep meaning to me. So, I have had a wonderful journey in this shul, that brought me to this point. But my journey doesn’t end here. I feel it’s an honor to become President of Temple Beth Sholom. We are such an active and caring community. A community with warmth and spirit and a community with strength and purpose. In these crazy, unprecedented times, I still believe we will have a productive year. Because of Rabbi Scolnic and the leadership of the Executive Board and Board members, we will continue to
have a positive future. With our virtual synagogue, our spiritual needs have gone uninterrupted with our Rabbi continuing with zoomed services, which has enabled congregants to not only say Kaddish, but to see and interact with each other. Our children are continuing to be taught in our Hebrew School and Adult Education and other entities of the shul continuing via zoom. We have maintained our shul community without losing its principles of a religious congregation. Our security continues with ongoing updates and improvements. We will continue to learn how to adjust and adapt to the prevailing circumstances. We will reach out to our membership to guide us in what their wants and needs may be. With patience and understanding we will persevere during this most challenging time and make choices which preserve the well-being of our community while honoring our profound need and desire to participate in Jewish life and meet our spiritual and communal needs.

I want to genuinely thank my husband Steve, my daughters Jenn and Rachel and my son-in-law Sean for supporting me and patiently waiting for me with all the time I have devoted to the shul. And especially to my two wonderful grandchildren, Zachary and Cassidy for whom this is truly all for.

And now, I want to thank Josh, for mentoring me along the way. I think you had one of the most difficult presidencies that I have seen. So, I not only have a BIG thank you for you, I have this for you as well. Open it up after Shabbos.

Thank you,
May we all have a safe and prosperous year.
Joan Levine