This past Spring I was fortunate to have celebrated twenty years in the congregational rabbinate. In some traditional and Orthodox communities ordination is called semikhah. Semikhah shares the same root as the letter samekh, a circular shape with a squared left corner, the 15th letter of the Hebrew alphabet. Each letter of the Hebrew alphabet is assigned a numeric value, and the value of the letter samekh is sixty.
I enjoy statistics and playing around with numbers, and gematria, the spiritual interpretation of numbers, is an approach that combines my love of math and Jewish sacred texts. It was especially meaningful to me, then, when I realized that my two decade rabbinic anniversary coincides with our upcoming Emunah@60 celebration. After sixty years, our community is marking the diamond anniversary of Temple Emunah. In Pirkei Avot (The Ethics of the Sages), the rabbis explain that sixty is “ziknah – old age.” This made sense two thousand years ago, when someone who turned 60-years-old had reached a significant and slightly more rare milestone. Today, however, with people (God willing) living longer, sixty is a time when people will plan for a new phase of life – perhaps becoming empty nesters, welcoming adult children back home, contemplating retirement or a shift in work, embracing grandchildren, or maybe opening themselves up to avocations they did not have time for earlier in their lives.
Emunah turning sixty led me to further contemplate the letter samekh. In addition to semikhah, the root of samekh means “to uphold,” “to lean upon,” and “to help” or “to support.” Each of these meanings holds special significance for us as we begin a new phase in the life of our community.
To uphold. Despite the changes that have occurred in our community over the past sixty years, we have always been a gathering place for people to connect more deeply with each other. Our tradition was keenly aware that human beings are social creatures who are programmed to support each other and thrive in connection, hence the requirement that ten people need to gather to form a minyan for prayer. In our increasingly atomized world where we sit in front of screens for hours at a time, we yearn for time to connect face-to-face. Every time I sit with staff or lay leaders to plan a moment, we consider how we can facilitate and foster connections to our tradition and to each other.
Our staff and lay leaders came up with the idea of branching out of our building for social gatherings this summer with #EmunahEverywhere. Whether at a Farmer’s Market, a bike ride, or Ranc’s, dozens of Emunah-ites have met up in various settings in Lexington and neighboring towns. Over the coming year, we welcome your input and assistance in planning more gatherings, whether hosting or attending a Shabbat dinner in your neighborhood or organizing a book group. If there is an interest you would like to pursue with others, we can help you make it happen! The informal summer meet-ups have been a great way for people to meet our new assistant rabbi, Rabbi Leora Kling Perkins. We hope that you will please mark the Shabbat of September 21 on your calendars, when we will have the opportunity to more formally welcome Rabbi Kling Perkins and her husband, Matt Goldstone, to our community. Brukhim Habaim L’Emunah - welcome to Emunah!
To lean upon. In the Shemoneh Esrei, our core silent prayer, also known as the Amidah, the “standing” prayer, we refer to God as someikh noflim—One who supports those who fall. We want to ensure that the Emunah community is a place where you can turn when you are feeling unsteady and in need of support, in addition to being a place of support following a loss. Too many people stay away when they are not feeling strong, or feel unable to present a certain face to the world. Let us reinforce that we are a welcoming, safe community where you can come as you are, where you are accepted and supported, as we journey together through life's various stages and ups and downs.
To support. Just as we are here to support you, we hope that you will consider the ways in which you can bring your expertise, interests, and energy to our Emunah community. We have grown over the past 60 years from a house to a synagogue with two buildings, we have expanded our staff to sustain our programming, and we have built an endowment to support our budget and secure our future. There will be new challenges as we continue to build a shul for the 21st century: can we create a Judaism that continues to engage all generations? How do we reach out to Jews in our area as so many other activities and forces compete for their time? What new programs and innovations will strengthen our multi-generational community? What changes should we make in our Religious School and Preschool to engage the next generation? How do we raise the funds necessary to sustain Temple Emunah now and into the future? Should we explore changing our dues model?
The samekh is a circle, evoking the seasons and rhythms of the Jewish year and the cycle of the festivals. As we approach the New Year 5780, and the celebration of our 60th anniversary, let’s set aside time to rejoice and deepen the connections among us. A wonderful committee is planning events throughout the year and I thank Terri Swartz Russell for championing these projects. We are planning special Shabbatot celebrating our six decades, special Friday night dinners, a Havdalah “sock hop” with our sister congregation Temple Isaiah (also celebrating their 60th anniversary) and a big birthday bash in May. Please look for updates and announcements about Emunah@60 events and for ways that you can get involved! And todah rabbah to Ashley Maheris for designing our new Emunah@60 logo!
May we all take pride in our first sixty years, and take steps to ensure that our vibrant community will thrive during its next sixty years.
Thank you all for the privilege of building this community together with you!
Shanah Tovah Shishim Metukah - may it be a sweet sixtieth year!
B’Emunah - with faith in our future,
Rabbi David Lerner