by Rabbi Steven Schwarzman
(Edmonton) – As I write these words, we are past Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur, [and currently celebrating Sukkot.] I want to thank Bettina for her beautiful and precise davening as our High Holiday Cantor (and for filling in with Torah readings and leading additional services for those who weren’t able to be there), Howie Sniderman for his dedicated work in lining up all of our other daveners and Torah readers, all of our Torah readers and daveners (too many to mention, but including again this year a number of younger readers), Seth Glick for sounding the shofar so gracefully, and Helena and Manas for all the work they did to support these busiest days of the year for our synagogue. It was great to see everyone, and for those who weren’t able to join us in person, it’s gratifying that we were able to get the livestream up and running again.
Sukkot, and the semi-detached holidays of Shemini Atzeret and Simhat Torah, joyous as they are, usually get less attention (and attendance in shul) than the somber holidays that precede them. (You can read a column that I wrote on this at https://www.jpost.com/jerusalem-report/what-is-shmini-atzeret-about-anyway-680451)
One of the joys of Sukkot is leaving our usual homes for our temporary dwellings in the Sukkah. This joy comes through a return to nature, leaving the security of four walls for the Sukkah with its breezes and greenery. In the Sukkah, we reclaim a joy of close connection with each other and with the Holy One.
It has been close to five years since Bettina and I came to Edmonton. When we came, two of our four children still lived in North America. Now they’re all in Israel (with one in the US for another year as our daughter-in-law does a post-doctoral fellowship, after which they, too, will return to Israel). Our family locus has become Israel, something we are very proud of.
And so, next spring, I will conclude my service as Beth Shalom’s rabbi, and Bettina and I will return to live in Israel. We believe that Israel is the most exciting place to be as Jews today, for all the reasons that I spoke about on Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur: it is where we can best fulfill the obligations that we joyously take on as Jews, it is where we can best contribute as Jews, it is where the innovations that will shape Judaism in the future are happening. And it is our home. Like a Sukkah, perhaps – beautiful, and the natural place for us.
In the coming months, I know that we will all continue to work and grow and learn and pray together. It has been a true pleasure to serve as your rabbi, and I will do all that I can to support the synagogue while it begins a search for a new rabbi and beyond.