Dearest Temple Har Zion Community,
It is my great pleasure to say “shalom” to you all! As my time at Congregation Shir Hadash here in Milwaukee is winding down, I am turning my mind and my heart towards New Jersey. I can hardly wait until July!
When I was in my early 20s, Rabbi Tamar Crystal left Temple Shalom, my shul at the time. I was devastated! Not only had she worked with me so closely on my journey into Judaism, she pushed me towards rabbinical school and Jewish education as a life path. She also officiated my first wedding. I could not imagine Temple Shalom without Rabbi Crystal. I didn’t even know if I would go anymore! But, I did. I got to know Rabbi Benjamin, and he took the shul in a different direction. Most importantly, the community remained more or less the same. He certainly wasn’t Rabbi Tami, but I appreciated Rabbi B for who he was and how he held our community together.
I start there to say that I realize how you might be feeling right now as Rabbi Simon retires from the THZ community. Over the last 30 years, he’s married many of you, “bar/bat mitzvah’ed” your kids, buried your parents, and so much more. I have only met Rabbi Simon once and he earned my deep respect. He welcomed me to THZ genuinely and warmly when I came to visit and he offered me friendly advice which totally changed how I viewed my preparation for the Yamim Nora’im, the High Holy Days, last year. So, I can imagine how you might be feeling. As the new rabbi of THZ, I know that part of my job is to have an open heart and a listening ear as you feel the loss of your rabbi.
Rabbi Simon’s leaving and my arrival are changes one can point to on the calendar, but the transition is what will happen for us over time. This is a lesson that we encounter in Torah. Yetziat Mitzrayim, going out from Egypt, was not just the physical leaving of Egypt. It is the entire journey to the Promised Land. And that happens in the midbar, in the wilderness.
Together, we will traverse the midbar, getting to know each other along the way. For the Israelites, that journey took a long time! We probably will not have 40 years (I hope to be retired by then!), but this transition will take some time. I will be working to learn the minhagim, the customs, of our community and establishing some of my own. Now, as you’ll recall, there were rumblings and grumblings in the midbar! When (because it’s inevitable!) I do something to upset you, please dan l’kaf zechut, give me the benefit of the doubt. Know that I did not intend to offend you and please come talk to me about it, because I care.
And you may not at first feel comfortable coming to me. It occurs to me that many of you do not know much about me at all. I met with the rabbi search committee and the board, who perused my CV and resume. I had some wonderful conversations with a few of you over oneg and lunch, and I’m already Facebook friends with a number of you. But, we should know each other on a deeper level.
Rabbi Gordon Freeman writes that, “Revelation is an act of opening up, of revealing an inner essence…Without revelation, there is no relationship, without relationship one stands alone.” As we approach Shavuot, our celebration of Divine Revelation, allow me to reveal some things about myself to you:
- I am a chassid. I am a deep lover of people, places, experiences, Torah and above all G!d, the divine life force that flows through and around us. I show this in the world by wearing the color purple. I translate am segulah as “The Purple People.” Purple has a very high vibration and reminds me of mitzvot and that I need to always be my highest self. Imagine my delight to discover that the dye that makes techelet (the blue fringe of tzitzit) is purple before it is exposed to the sun! For me, purple is my techelet.
- I both chose and was given the name Tiferet. My rabbi, Reb Moshe Waldoks of Temple Beth Zion in Brookline, MA, gave me the name, but I didn’t like it. It took many years of Kabbalah and Chasidut study, coupled with the emotional fallout of a divorce, to come to realize that Tiferet is not just my name, it is who I am.
- Kibbud Av v’Em, honoring my parents, is my favorite mitzvah! I remember weeping at my father’s funeral because I could not longer fully do the mitzvah. In time, I’ve come to discover that even though my father is no longer living, I can still find ways to give him kavod (honor). I love my mother deeply and am trying to get her to move from Boston to be closer to me and her family (she’s from New Jersey). So, when you meet her, make sure to ask her when she’s moving.
- I have been a mother for the past five months! It has been such a sacred journey! I feel that I have new insights into Divine Love and Creation that I’m sure you’ll hear about during the Yamim Nora’im.
- I love questions and am a seeker of answers. I love questions that send me into halachic sources for answers. Jewish education, of both children and adults, is my passion and I am thrilled to get to know the young ones in our community as well as you adults as learners. Please share your interests with me so we can learn together!
Obviously, each of these points has many layers beneath it, so I look forward to discussing them with you. I am thrilled to get to know who you are, both as individuals and as a community. I want to know what keeps you up at night and what gets you up in the morning. I want to know what brought you to THZ and why you continue to choose it as your community.
Finally, I invite you into the wilderness, to be in transition with me. This is just the beginning for us! Even though I am not physically present with you, know that I am already working hard for you. I’m getting to know other rabbis in the community, working with Ruth Cohen on Hebrew School for next year, planning with Ma’ayana Tishman and Laura Markowitz around calendar and practical matters. And, of course, gleaning as much wisdom from Rabbi Simon as I can.
Pirke Avot teaches, “Aseh lecha rav ve’kaneh lecha chaver.” Make for yourself a teacher and acquire yourself a friend. In time, I promise that if you allow me to become your rav, you will certainly have a friend for life! I will be reaching out to you individually in the month of June by phone. I look forward to beginning (and for some, continuing) a conversation with you in advance of meeting in person again in July.
Rabbi Tiferet Berenbaum