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.