Community Blog Rabbi Or Rose and The Chatham Synagogue Celebrate 20th Anniversary

By Hebrew College
Rabbi Or Rose and Lydia Kukoff

On July 13, The Chatham Synagogue/Netivot Torah (TCS) marked its 20th anniversary with a celebration which included  remarks by Rabbi Or Rose—Director of Hebrew College’s Miller Center for Interreligious Learning & Leadership and Visiting TCS Rabbi for 18 years—and other synagogue leaders. This included a retrospective by Lydia Kukoff, event coordinator, a synagogue founder, and Hebrew College board member. Reflecting on the spirit and ethos of TCS, Kukoff remarked, “We model ourselves on the rabbinic image of the tent of Abraham and Sarah—open on all four sides for anyone interested in forging a meaningful connection with Judaism and a community of seekers and doers.”

Founded in 1999 (and first named The Synagogue at Malden Bridge), this vibrant “country shul” includes full and part-time residents from diverse Jewish backgrounds and perspectives (approximately 140 individual and family members). TCS is an inclusive, unaffiliated congregation with regular and ongoing opportunities for prayer, study, cultural engagement, and environmental and social justice initiatives. TCS, carries on a tradition of simplicity and modesty in keeping with rural synagogues in the area of the past. The synagogue is housed in an historic building in the hamlet of Chatham Center, but also makes use of the wider community, scheduling events at local venues.

Rabbi Rose’s remarks from the anniversary celebration follow.

Rabbi Or RoseMazel tov on this wonderful milestone!

It is hard for me to believe that our synagogue community is marking its twentieth year. I still have vivid memories of Shabbat evening services in the small social hall at the Malden Bridge Church and potluck dinners and study sessions in the homes of the synagogue founders. These early TCS experiences, were, in fact, crucial in my decision to pursue s’michah (ordination) and “officially” become a rabbi.

Fast forwarding a few years, I also recall with great fondness the thoughtful process we underwent in choosing a Hebrew name for our community. In thinking about our name—Netivot Torah (Paths of Torah)—and the unfolding of our life as a kahal (community) over the years, I am deeply moved by the passionate commitment of our members to creative “immersion” (as the morning blessing describes it) in the study of Torah and Jewish life and practice. This includes “religious” and “cultural” expressions of commitment, including prayer, study, the arts, and social and environmental justice.

One of my favorite moments in the TCS Shabbat morning service takes place between the conclusion of Pesukei D’Zimrah (Songs and Psalms of Praise) andSchacharit (Morning Service), when we turn to the “numberless” page in our siddurim and chant the kavannah (intention) by the great late medieval mystic, R. Isaac Luria: “I hereby take upon myself the sacred obligation to love my neighbor as myself” (based on Leviticus 19:18). For me, it is a crucial reminder that whatever our prayer goals may be individually, they are ultimately inseparable from our relationships with our fellow worshippers (as the full text of this mystical intention suggests). The fact that we say these words immediately before the Barkhu—the official call to communal prayer—makes this kavannaheven more poignant.

Of course, part of what makes it special at TCS is that our beloved architect, past president, and prayer leader, Joel Merker, has written a soulful melody for this intention that has become a part of our nusah (prayer custom). Tradition and innovation—the hallmarks of our synagogue—meet in this moment as we lift our heads from our siddurim, acknowledge the people with whom we are journeying, and aspire to be more compassionate in our dealings with one another. Only then, are we prepared to bow before God and enter into the heart of the morning liturgy as a community.

As we celebrate our twentieth anniversary, I bless us all with the strength and vulnerability to continue to build a creative and loving community, in which we seek to embody the words of Luria’s kavannah in all of our activities, whether praying, studying the weekly portion, discussing a new documentary film, or debating a synagogue policy change.

Again, congratulations to the entire TCS community. It is an honor to serve as your visiting rabbi. May we go together from strength to strength!

celebration in a tent

Pictured from top: Lydia Kukoff, Rabbi Or Rose, and TCS President Ken Krantz; Rabbi Or Rose speaking to the crowd; celebrating under the tent. Photos courtesy of Linda Ziskind.


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