I would like to share some personal happy news. This past week, I was awarded an honorary doctorate by the Hebrew Union College for 25 years of leadership to the international Jewish community. Before coming to New York, I led congregations in London, England; Jerusalem, Israel; and Kyiv, Ukraine.
It has been a joy to be your Rabbi since coming here to Westchester nearly two years ago. When I think about providing Jewish leadership to our congregation, I am reminded of a class in Rabbinical School called “Rabbinic Models of Leadership.” One my spiritual heroes is Rabbi Israel Salant who lived in 19th century Poland.
I want to share some wisdom from this great rabbi.
1. “Most people worry about their own bellies and other people’s souls, when we all ought to be worried about our own souls and other people’s bellies.”
To me this articulates the centrality of Tikun Olam, the mitzvah of social responsibility.
2. “Spirituality is like a bird: If you hold it too closely, it chokes, and if you hold it too loosely, it escapes.”
This reminds us about that balance is essential for a healthy spiritual life.
3. “There is no greater disease than the loss of hope.”
Faith that life can be better is the Jewish secret for coping with uncertainty.
4. “To be a successful businessman, you must have remarkable talents; and if you have such talents, why waste them on business?”
I believe that Rabbi Salant is urging us to use our blessings to lift up others.
5. “A rabbi who is afraid of his congregation is not a rabbi.”
A Rabbi must take ethical stands, and teach “why?” from a Jewish perspective.
6. Toward the end of his life Rabbi Salant wrote: “When I was a young man, I wanted to change the world. I found it difficult to change the world, so I tried to change my nation. When I found I couldn’t change the nation, I began to focus on my town. I couldn’t change the town, so, as an older man, I tried to change my family. Now, as an old man, I realize that the only thing I can change is myself. And suddenly I realize that if, long ago, I had changed myself, I could have made an impact on my family. My family could have made an impact on our town. The town’s impact could have changed the nation, and I could indeed have changed the world.”
This is a statement of my core belief that humans can change, and we can change the world
At this time of reflection of 25 years in the Rabbinate I am grateful to be your Rabbi. I pray that I may succeed in inspiring you and our community to embrace the most worthy values of our tradition.
Rabbi David Wilfond