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President's Shmini Atzeret Address

Elanit Jakabovics
October 15, 2014
(Prepared text. Not checked against actual delivery.)
 

There are no words. There are no words to describe the shock, devastation, and heartbreak we are all feeling at this moment. When I became president of Kesher 2.5 years ago, we had ambitious goals for our community. We wanted to grow our synagogue, expand our reach, and strengthen our commitment. I never imagined that I would be speaking to you here today about this topic. We are living a nightmare. Even though I have had a little more time to digest this horror than most others, I stand here at a complete loss.

I am not here to give a derasha. I am here today as one of you to share my devastation. Emotions are running high across the spectrum. I’m angry. I’m frustrated. I’m concerned. I’m sad. I’m sad for all of us on a personal level—relationships we have developed, trust we have built, all came crashing down on us Tuesday morning.

I’m heartbroken for our rebbetzin, Sharon--a true eishet chayil, a woman we and our children look up to. I’m heartbroken for her children, Arielle and Martin, JoJo, and Dan and Ilana. And I’m anxious for any potential victims in all of this.

I’ve also struggled how to explain this to my children--my 5-year-old-daughter and my 2-year-old-son.

Kesher Israel is supposed to be a safe space for us—a place to learn, to pray, to socialize with friends, to be single and mingle, and to watch our children grow. I remember once, a few years ago, my daughter was playing in on the bimah downstairs during kiddush--laughing with the other children. I turned to my husband and remarked how she had become a “Kesher Kid”--how this space felt safe and secure for her. And now, like many of you, I wonder if that safety has been shattered.

Over the last few years, we have worked hard to rekindle that special spark—for Kesher to once again become that place where everyone is welcome, where everyone feels the warmth, and where everyone can come in and feel at home.

But due to the events of the last few days, much of that has been shattered. Our trust has been violated. Mikvah is an intensely sacred, private ritual space. It is also supposed to be a sanctuary – a space of inviolable intimacy and privacy, where we go to cleanse ourselves and reckon with ourselves and our aspirations to a right Jewish life.

But these sacred spaces – our shul and our mikvah – have now been tarnished. Our inviolability has been violated. I am a woman: I know it could have been me.

The truth is, we don’t know the extent, we don’t fully know what happened. The Police are still conducting their investigation and we are cooperating. Just before chag, we released information on who to contact if you believe you may have been a victim. As a community we will come together, as we always do--support the victims and heal together. Kesher and the mikvah will be a safe place again

However, here, today, speculation is not worth the time or the energy.

We have three days to be together. Today we will celebrate Shmeini Atzeret--where we return from the cold sukkah to the comfort of our homes. Perhaps that is appropriate somehow. Tomorrow we will celebrate completing another cycle of the reading of the torah. We will celebrate, dance, sing, and embody the verse v samachta b’chagecha v’haieta ach’sameyach. (And I’m serious—tonight and tomorrow, we WILL ALL sing and dance with the Torah like our lives depended on it!) And on Shabbat, we will begin the cycle of torah and read about the creation of the world. Perhaps the timing here too is prophetic.

The midrash teaches that the holiday of Shemini Atzeret was established -- the extra day of celebration was added to the already long festival of Sukkot -- because the Kadosh baruch Hu did not want the Jews to leave His company yet. Ki kasheh alay praydatchem, He says: the prospect of your departure is hard for Me to bear. Shemini Atzeret, in other words, is the day of the persistence of joy, of the stubborn lingering in the precincts of the holy – it is the holiday in which the Jews declare that we will not depart, we are not finished, we have more to bring and more to offer. It is the day for the dauntless.

And we at Kesher must now be dauntless. We are not finished. We have more to bring and more to offer. This will require work, and it will require healing, and it will require all of us. We are wounded, but we are strong. We need each other, but we have each other. As we ponder the damage that has been done to us, let us also remember who we are, and why.

This community is astonishing. We have proven it in good times; now we will prove it in bad times. We will fix what has been broken. We will cleanse what has been soiled. We will honor what has been dishonored. We will recover trust and respect and confidence and joy and pride. What has been tarnished will be made luminous again. The ner tamid still burns, the one here above me and the one in each of our souls.

I’ll close with this. The day after this broke, the day after our collective world came crashing down and our most sacred trust was violated, a most astounding thing happened--yet it was entirely normal. At morning minyen at approximately 7:00, Isaac Wolf was called to the bimah for the privilege and honor of naming his daughter. Life continued and our community added its newest member.

Mazel tov to the Wolfs on the birth of their daughter, mazel tov to our community for continuing to grow, and mazal tov to us all for being here and coming together this weekend.

Chag Sameach!

Sat, November 17 2018 9 Kislev 5779