You Can Go Home Again

Last fall our caring and erudite President Barry Fulmer, here at Bat Yam Temple of the Islands sent a wonderful reminder to the congregation regarding our service for the Shabbat during Sukkot, which was based on the book of Ecclesiastes.  Ecclesiastes (like Esther for Purim, is the Megillah read in synagogues during Sukkot.)

In his letter Barry included a quotation from Thomas Wolfe’s posthumously published novel: You Can’t Go Home Again.

I had never read this American classic, and since I was soon to “go home again” to the first congregation I served Temple Isaiah in Columbia, Maryland, I decided I should. We left Columbia for Nashville in 1986.

For 13 yearsI served the congregation  as its first full-time rabbi. Since they were beginning to celebrate their 50th year, they invited Vickie and me back for a weekend to begin a yearlong series of celebratory events.

The book was much longer than I realized, but in the beginning of chapter 6, I found the perfect quotation to use as the introduction for my Friday night sermon. When after traveling the world, Wolfe’s protagonist George Webber returned to his boyhood home of Libya Falls, (Asheville in disguise) North Carolina for the funeral of the aunt who raised him he felt as I felt when I returned to speak at Temple Isaiah after 33 years:

“Something far, near strange and so familiar, and it seemed to him as though he had never left … and all that had passed in the years was like a dream.”

When the invitation first came to Vickie and me well over a year ago, I was delighted to accept, but I wondered, “Who will remember us? Who will care and who will come?”

To our delight, the service was packed, and many of those in attendance were students from years ago with whom I had studied for Bar or Bat Mitzvah and Confirmation. Some had traveled from as far Rochester, NY, Boston, New York City and North Carolina to be there. It was a joy to see them, and have some share the lessons from their B’nai Mitzvah portions as they fit into my teaching session on Shabbat morning.

Then on Saturday evening the present and past Presidents of the synagogue hosted Vickie and me for dinner in a private room of a lovely restaurant. After the meal the presidents took turns sharing nice memories they had of us.

With one exception they did not speak about memorable sermons or other “public acts” that stood out in their minds. Rather they spoke of specific things I did for them personally that made a lasting impact on their lives. To be honest, I could barely recall some of the instances they recounted.

But the lesson of the evening is one I shall always remember.

As Maya Angelou once wrote: “People will forget what you say … but they will never forget how you made them feel.”

I am glad we could “go home again” to re-learn that vital lesson.

 

 

 

Saying Goodbye to Our Home After 21 Years

We are no longer Connecticut homeowners. Today we closed on the sale of our beloved West Hartford, Connecticut home.

Last year I accepted an offer to serve as the seasonal (September through April) rabbi of Bat Yam Temple of the Islands in Sanibel, Florida. We moved in immediately after people could return to the Island after Hurricane Irma. We held the Selichot service and discussion that precedes Rosh Hashanah in the home we rented that very evening.

Vickie found the place on a trip last spring, and I moved in sight unseen. The minute I looked around and sat down, I said, “I could live here forever.” Because the Temple community, our neighbors and the friends we made at Beachview Tennis Club have been so welcoming to Vickie and me, we decided to purchase the home we rented and sell our home here. Fast forward to today.

Our Florida home is little more than half the size of our home in Connecticut. So the move involves a major downsize. After all the emotional angst about leaving our home, and all the physical angst of clearing 21 years of accumulated clothes, books, appliances and everything else imaginable from our CT home, we are Florida homeowners.

This morning Vickie and I took a long last look as we walked through the home we have loved. We will miss our quiet cul-de sac-neighborhood. We will miss the charming stream that flows behind the house, and we will miss all our friends at Congregation Beth Israel, and the friends we have made outside the synagogue as well.

All credit goes to Vickie who did 90% of the work involved in getting us to this point.

Currently we are camped out in the lovely home of our son, Ben, his wife, Kristin and their children, 4-year-old Flora and 1-year-old Logan. The kids are treasures, and we love being together.

Since my contract in Sanibel runs from September to April 30, we hope to spend considerable time in the warm weather months here in Connecticut. This coming Sabbath Eve (at 7:30) I will speak at Beth Israel about our experiences during the five weeks we spent in Germany this spring, and I will lead Torah study on Shabbat morning this Shabbat, next Shabbat and August 4.

Even though I am away most of the year, I consider being Rabbi Emeritus of Congregation Beth Israel to be both an honor and a responsibility to help out there whenever I can. I am glad to be able to give our wonderful rabbis, Michael Pincus and Andi Fliegel, a little relief.

When I decided to retire as Senior Rabbi of Congregation Beth Israel in 2011, I had no idea of the world wide adventures that awaited me. The past seven years have been like a dream. Serving Bat Yam Temple of the Islands in Sanibel has been icing on the cake. I feel very blessed, and I only hope my efforts are a blessing to others as well.