Letter to Temple Shalom
Dear Friends and Temple Shalom Members:
I distinctly remember the drive from Buffalo, as we moved to this area. Talia was three weeks old. We had to stop every few hours. The trip took two full days. It was quite a drive.
Time flies, and soon our baby girl will be driving herself. She will presumably get her learner's permit sometime in the next month. She will get comfortable behind the wheel and on the road. And then… Then she will suddenly have to unlearn everything she has just learned.
At some point in late June, Talia will have to learn how to drive on the left side of the road. We are not, technically, leaving the country. But it is also not clear if, or how, any of us will be able to vote in the next presidential election.
After sixteen years as your rabbi, on July 1, 2017, I will become the new rabbi of the Hebrew Congregation of St. Thomas, in Charlotte Amalie, the capital of the United States Virgin Islands. Some of you may have visited this historic synagogue; it has sand floors, a storied history, and Sephardic roots. It was also the first Jewish congregation in North America to hold a Confirmation service. It is the oldest synagogue in continuous use under the American flag -- and the second oldest in all of the Western Hemisphere.
The on-island affiliated Jewish community is small (around a hundred families), but it receives a constant flow of visitors off of the cruise ships and planes. It is consistently listed as the second or third most important tourist destination on the island. And when people visit, they are intrigued by its story, and want to stay connected. The congregation therefore includes over 2,500 Chai members -- a category of overseas supporters and those who want to receive bulletins, have Yahrzeits and anniversaries remembered, or even engage in on-line learning or be part of a far-flung community.
The congregation also hosts a significant number of life-cycle events -- "destination" Bar or Bat Mitzvah ceremonies, weddings, renewals of vows or child naming for those who choose to observe their own celebrations in this stunningly beautiful tropical setting, and in this historically significant synagogue. This is such a popular occurrence that plans are made well in advance, and the synagogue has to place a cap on the annual number of such events.
This will be a profoundly different experience, in my role as a rabbi and
for our entire family.There are so many things that will be new to us that
we don't even know all of what we don't know about life in the tropics,
on an island, or in a territory rather than a state. It will be a very new
chapter in our lives, an adventure filled with opportunities and challenges,
a cultural adjustment and different pace of life,
growth and beauty and sunscreen.
As we look forward, we also look back on these sixteen years. It has been one of the great honors of my life to serve as your rabbi, to lead and to listen through celebration and tumult. We have been together through terror and war, re-engagement with Israel, a changing world of warmth and inclusion, an exploration of ritual, a depth of learning, an explosion of diversity. You have watched, and you have helped, as all three of my children became Bar or Bat Mitzvah on the bimah of Temple Shalom. I have been with you through your losses, and you have been with me through some of mine. I have benefited from a foundation laid by Rabbi Bruce Kahn and his predecessors, and, I believe, I have built on that. I have been blessed with colleagues who have been partners and who brought their own energy and devotion to our sacred work. There have been moments of grace, and goodness, and kindness and love. And I have learned and been touched so deeply, by so many of you -- as your rabbi and, in very many cases, as your friend.
This is not an easy transition. And this was not, actually, an easy letter to write. I will miss this place, this community, and so many of you, very much.
But the world is so much "smaller" than once it was, and we have so many ways of reaching out to one another. Of course it is my prayer that the work we have done endures, that the best impulses and good energy and innate potential of this holy congregation blossoms into a thousand flowers. But I also hope that even in your own bright future, you will remember me.
And I hope that many of us will, in ways we cannot even imagine now, remain a part of each other’s lives. Please stay in touch! And we will try to be good hosts when you come to visit!
There is so much more to say - and also there is, really, nothing left to say. May you go and grow, from strength to strength... and may the Holy One of Blessing send success and fulfillment in all of your endeavors, for all the days of your lives.
With warmth and with love,
Michael L. Feshbach