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Community Blog Commencement 2024: Honorary Degree Recipient Rabbi Sharon Kleinbaum

By Rabbi Sharon Kleinbaum

Thank you, Rabbi Sharon Anisfeld. Rabbi Yael Werber.

Deep gratitude and love to my family here today wife: Randi, daughters Liba, and Molly Wenig Rubenstein here today, and Rabbi Marc Fitzerman.

So deeply moving to stand here receiving this profound honor on the cusp of my stepping down from my congregation after 32 years of leadership just as all of you are beginning this new chapter of being Jewish leaders.

Here’s some of what i have learned: not sure what it means but I trust you will take what you need and throw out the rest.

1. Joy is an act of spiritual and political resistance.

What did our CBST community learn from aids?

40% of our congregation died from AIDS. I arrived in the midst of that plague. I arrived having just turned 33, and was burying the young men — my peers — of my generation.

And yet, every Shabbat, the congregation refused to let each service turn into a memorial service — we acknowledged the dead of that week, but we also insisted on oneg Shabbes, shabbat joy, prayer, singing, laughing, friendship.

We can learn much from our ancestors, especially those who suffered and lived through terrible times. Don’t focus on geshraying what’s wrong, don’t focus on the grievance. Build something for the future.

2. Repairing our broken world requires both fighting injustice and ugliness and creating beauty.

3. We must help to construct the tevah/ark that will carry our people through the tsunami to be alive to see the dove telling us that dry, safe land exists.

Yohanan Ben Zakai — snuck out of a burning Jerusalem under siege and military destruction, asked of the roman emperor —“give me Yavneh.”

Rabbi Akiva — lost 24,000 students during the omer period — tradition tells us because they had no respect for each other. But a small handful of students survived, and we are their descendants. We have to be that handful that doesn’t only mourn what’s been lost but builds for the future.

4. We must build a foundation for those who in 50 years, or 500 years look back on us and don’t see Jewish leaders who give up or give in — what will we do that inspires them, provides shoulders for them to stand on….

5. These are terrible times, and it is likely to get worse.

6. If you are alive today, as Mordechai told Esther — you are here for a reason. Live out your reason.

7. Gratitude is at the center of a meaningful spiritual life. Develop those muscles so no matter what is happening in the world, or in your life, you are able to pause and offer thanks. Modim anachnu lakh.

8. The best response to antisemitism is to be more Jewish, study more, teach more, observe, create new Jewish life rooted in tradition.

9. Don’t rush to sign letters or statements. Huge time suck and rarely helps. Don’t get confused by wanting to sit at the cool kids table. Yearn to be in the presence of HKBH.

10. Be the reason people believe in the goodness of another person/humanity/god.

11. Protect the humanitarian aid trucks.

12. Heschel: 1944 – “the fascists have shown that they are great in evil. Let us reveal that we can be as great in goodness.”

Since 1992, Rabbi Sharon Kleinbaum has served as Senior Rabbi for Congregation Beit Simchat Torah, New York City’s first LGBTQ synagogue and the largest LGBTQ synagogue in the world. Read more here.

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