One of my favorite pearls of Jewish wisdom comes from Pirkei Avot (Ethics of our Fathers) 2:16 when Rabbi Tarfon taught, “It is not your duty to finish the work, but neither are you at liberty to neglect it; if you have studied much Torah, you shall be given much reward.” Parenthetically, I internalized this message without realizing it at a young age, by joyously singing these words at camp and youth group song sessions for many years, thanks to Cantor Jeff Klepper and Rabbi Daniel Freelander.
As I write this and reflect on Rabbi Tarfon’s message, I am surrounded by moving boxes, and I’m holding conflicting emotions in my heart. Undoubtedly, I am excited and anxious to be closer to my extended family and return to my childhood congregation. And it’s hard to say goodbye because I love Peninsula Temple Sholom and this community has become my home. The experience of leaving has been made much harder by the current circumstances that don’t allow us to say goodbye in person. I’m grateful to everyone who welcomed me and Noah, and then Alice and Milo, whole-heartedly into their lives. I have cherished the countless opportunities over the last five years to learn, celebrate, mourn, and grow with each of you. I will carry with me the memories of so many of Alice and Milo’s “firsts” that they experienced within the walls of our synagogue.
It’s also hard to say goodbye because there’s so much that still feels unfinished to me. I’m proud of the passion and thinking that collectively went into reimagining our Youth Education program into a Shabbat-based program. This was just the first year of launching that new program, and it certainly was not the year we expected. A few months ago, we pivoted quickly to virtual learning for all of our programs. This included our Shabbat programs for PreK-12th grade, our small Hebrew groups and our monthly Rosh Hodesh groups. Although I believe we adapted successfully, we lost many elements of the new Shabbat-based program that made it special. No more communal acknowledgement of our Chaverim and Kesher students with values ribbons at Kabbalat Shabbat. No more intimate conversations among parents at the Shabbat dinner table while Madeleine led games for the kids in the background. Our Chavayah students could no longer circle around “fuego,” our stuffed campfire friend, as we chanted the havdalah blessings. Our Rosh Hodesh groups, designed to be safe and intimate spaces for our teens to process social and emotional challenges in a Jewish context, could no longer meet in person, thereby taking away some of the safe intimacy. It feels incomplete to say goodbye to the PTS community, and specifically to the families in the Youth Education program, after such a fragmented year.
And yet, the wisdom of Rabbi Tarfon reminds me that there is never a perfect time to let go of one’s work. We live in a world that is continually in process, and thank God for that. Saying goodbye to someone or something you love will always be hard, but it also means you’re opening up space for someone else to come in and offer their gifts. I could not be more thrilled for PTS to welcome Rabbi Liora Alban as the new Director of Education this summer. I know that Rabbi Alban is excited to continue building up our new Shabbat-based program and I’m confident that her fresh perspective will only make the program stronger.
In spaces where I’ve studied (or sung) Rabbi Tarfon’s teaching, that third line usually gets left out: “if you have studied much Torah, you shall be given much reward.” It’s a shame because I think it grounds the first two lines in why we engage in our work in the first place; to build a life of meaning, grounded in relationships. Judaism is a communal religion. We are not meant to study or work in isolation. Our tradition puts personal relationships at the core of learning, with the hevruta model of Torah study. I am forever grateful for all the different ways I have studied Torah over the last five years with you. Whether it was literally studying the weekly Torah portion, studying Talmud at Il Piccolo Café, bringing Torah to a popular movie with Movie Midrash, preparing our annual Purim shpiel, or any of the other countless experiences we had together, the reward of knowing each of you has certainly been great. I look forward to being in touch and staying in each other’s lives as I begin a new journey with my family in Seattle.