Speech I gave as President to Congregation Eitz Chayim, Fall 2013
Thanks to Rabbi Stern, Cantor Debby Gelber, School Director Laurie Shapiro, Administrator Judy Lavine, Interim Adminstrator Dennis Friedler, the High Holy Day crew, represented by our venue coordinator, Armond Cohen, to the Board of Directors and the Committee Chairs, and many individuals whose hard work throughout the year has once again brought us to the space to celebrate the New Year together. Welcome to members and visitors who are celebrating with us.
What I wanted to talk about today, is what it takes to build and sustain our remarkable Congregation. By way of preface, I remind us all that this year, like any other year, we celebrate victories in the public sphere, but we sometimes despair of completing our dreams. Marriage equality moves forward, but trans folk still do not have the protection of law that guarantees free access in public accommodations; Egypt holds free elections, and the military deposes the president; We celebrate 50 years since Martin Luther King’s “I Have a Dream” speech at the 1963 March on Washington, with an African American President and Attorney General, while the Supreme Court overturns key provisions in the Voters Rights Act of 1965.
What we do here at Eitz Chayim is: we create a Jewish home, within which we can educate our children, study as adults, worship, support our members throughout the lifecycle and work on tikkun olam, repair of the world.
Our texts teach us what it takes to building the building. In Exodus, the children of Israel built the Mishkan, the itinerant tabernacle. God gave them an exact blueprint in advance, and they followed that blueprint. They participated with from a willing heart, nediv lev – they willingly brought the fruits of their labors, their jewels and treasure, and they had the advantage of knowing exactly what to do.
Fast forward to Solomon, who built the Temple in Jerusalem. Those of you who study the book of Kings with me this year will go into this story in great detail, but I want to highlight a few things. Solomon did not have a divine blueprint; Solomon was immensely wealthy; amongst the laborers were courve, or forced laborers. Solomon built the temple according to his plan, with his wealth, and not everyone came with a willing heart. Yet this was the temple that endured for over 1000 years, being rebuilt once. Because, look here, Solomon says in 1 Kings:
1 Kings Ch 8,  Now it was in the heart of David my father to build a house for the name of the Eternal, the God of Israel.  But the Eternal said to David my father: Whereas it was in your heart to build a house for my name, you did well that it was in your heart;  nevertheless you will not build the house; but your son that shall come forth out of thy loins, he shall build the house for My name.
Now, David had to be disappointed not to build that temple. One day while I was pondering my remarks for today, I was listening on the radio, and I head a very familiar voice talking about what God might have said to David:
“You had the desire to do it; you had the intention to do it; you tried to do it; you started to do it. And I bless you for having the desire and the intention in your heart. It is well that it was within thine heart.”
The speaker went on to say:
So many of us in life start out building temples: temples of character, temples of justice, temples of peace. And so often we don’t finish them. Because life is like Schubert’s “Unfinished Symphony.” At so many points we start, we try, we set out to build our various temples. And I guess one of the great agonies of life is that we are constantly trying to finish that which is unfinishable…
And each of you this morning in some way is building some kind of temple. The struggle is always there. It gets discouraging sometimes. It gets very disenchanting sometimes. Some of us are trying to build a temple of peace. We speak out against war, we protest, but it seems that your head is going against a concrete wall. It seems to mean nothing. And so often as you set out to build the temple of peace you are left lonesome; you are left discouraged; you are left bewildered.
Well, that is the story of life. And the thing that makes me happy is that I can hear a voice crying through the vista of time, saying: “It may not come today or it may not come tomorrow, but it is well that it is within thine heart. It’s well that you are trying.”
Clipped on 26-August-2013, 11:02:27 PM from “Unfulfilled Dreams”**
That speaker was Dr Martin Luther King, 1968, in a sermon called Unfulfilled Dreams. Now, I say: This is a different kind of heart, David’s heart, what I call the prophetic heart, which he passed to Solomon, lev shomea, a heart of understanding, a seeing mind. David inherited that heart from his great grandmother, Ruth; he was anointed as king by the prophet Samuel, whose great heart came from his mother Hannah.
So what does that tell us? We don’t have a perfect blueprint laid out for us to build our temple, our shul. Neither do we have the wealth of Solomon, although we have very generous members and friends. Still, there is a form of a blueprint on our hearts, on our lev shomea and there is strength in our hands and in our willingness of heart, nediv lev.
A President of Eitz Chayim, I urge you to bring your willing hearts, and your understanding hearts and to remember throughout the year, that in order for Eitz Chayim to continue to be a home for all of us, generous contributions of talent and financial support are needed. Whether you are a member, or a visitor who counts on finding Eitz Chayim when you need us, please help out during out appeals, and don’t hesitate to phone the office if you have a special talent you would like to share.
We CAN build our shul, AND we need to give ourselves a break as we navigate the chasm between our dreams and our realities, as outlined by Dr Martin Luther King. In the well-known words of our own sage, Rabbi Tarfon: “It is not incumbent upon you to complete the work, but neither are you at liberty to desist from it.