a letter from Rabbi Berman…..
My Dear Friends,
Fourteen years ago, I came to The Jewish Center as the Rabbinic Intern. I remember my first day, walking into the Center as a young rabbi in a new community, not knowing many people, uncertain as to what to expect. Who could have known then how important this community would become to me? Over these years, we have shared so much with one another. We have celebrated together and cried together, we have studied together and prayed together, we have cared for each other and we have supported one another. Who could have known how central each of you would become to my life, how your prayers and hopes would become part of my tefillah, how your difficulties and life's challenges would give me sleepless nights, how your successes and smachot would be sources of great personal joy and happiness? We have spent countless hours working together to develop and further the mission and goals of our Center. We have witnessed growth and success beyond our possible expectations, not just in the number of programs, events, classes and people in the building, but growth of a more subtle yet more substantive kind. We have deepened our connections that make life most meaningful: our connections with each other, with our families and with Hashem.
I remember after 9/11, how the members of our community almost instinctively and automatically found their way to the Center. Although there was no program on the schedule, no announcement of a meeting, people naturally sought solace and comfort inside our four walls. The sense of the Center as a sanctuary was never more fully felt. Amidst the natural busyness of life in Manhattan, there is a special place where one can feel safe, cared for and connected; where we not just pray together, but also pray for one another. It is what community is all about: walking through life together in the service of Hashem. As the Rabbi of the community, I must tell you that walking through life together with you and sharing in our life's journey has been one the greatest blessings that Hashem has bestowed on me.
And that is why this letter that I write today is so difficult.
As you know from my public and private talks, my personal connection to Israel is visceral and heartfelt. In truth, it would be difficult for any Jew with any level of historical consciousness not to be emotionally connected to Israel. Defying all historical probabilities, our people have returned to our homeland and, as such, we who live today have the duty and the privilege of playing a role in the Jewish story and advancing our people's historic destiny. This past year, living in Israel as a resident instead of visiting as a tourist, has given me new insight into the issues and challenges that Israel confronts. And there are many. But even though Israel is not always an easy place, never a simple place, certainly a complicated place, it is still our place. The rhythm of life, the face of the public square, the culture and undercurrents of society are all rooted in our tradition and heritage. Raising a family in Israel comes with a very different set of challenges than living in the Diaspora, but it also carries with it a very different set of rewards. Before The Jewish Center offered me the opportunity to spend a year of study in Israel, I mentioned to our leadership that it might be difficult for me to leave Israel. I knew that my connection to Israel would only intensify and that the opportunity to raise my children in Israel might be too difficult to let pass. When I think of the land of our fathers and mothers, my focus naturally shifts to my sons and daughter, and my hope that they will learn to see Israel as not just their homeland but also as their home. As these values are also at the core of the mission of our shul, the Center leadership understood and valued these sentiments and asked me to inform them of my intentions by June.
Thus I have come to a difficult crossroads. For while I too dream the thousands year old dream of our people, lihiyot am chafshi b'artzeinu – to live freely in our homeland – for me it comes at a significant cost, foregoing the important work we are doing at The Jewish Center and being apart from the people and community for whom I deeply care. There are of course many other factors and issues that are relevant to this decision, and Anita and I have spent a great amount of time exploring, weighing and analyzing them. After a long and often heart wrenching process of introspection and deliberation, we have decided that our year in Israel has gone too well to not extend it further, that the possibility of living in Israel and raising our children there is too great an opportunity to let pass. As difficult as it is for me to write, when my current understanding with the Center concludes at the end of the summer, I will step down from my position as your Rabbi. Even as I am filled with joy at the prospect of being a part of the Jewish renewal in our homeland, I am pained by the separation that this will inevitably entail. My intention is to try to create a life for me and my family in Israel. I wish I could bring all of you with me.
All throughout the year, I have regularly communicated with the Center's leadership in working on the important matters of our community, and certainly now, during this time of transition, we have remained in close contact. In three weeks, I will be returning to the Center and will have an opportunity to interact with each of you, attend our Annual Dinner and be available during the summer to assist in the transition. Anita and I and our family will then return to Israel to make arrangements for next year.
Coming to this decision was very difficult for Anita and me. The Jewish Center is a very special place. With hundreds of people attending our classes and programs during the week and over a thousand people attending our Shabbat services, our building is a dynamic Center for Jewish Life and Learning that is open and welcoming to all. We have an illustrious past, a vibrant present, and, I believe, a promising future. I have full confidence in the ability of our current leadership to continue our growth and success, and I look forward to seeing The Jewish Center further flourish and prosper in the years ahead. Yet, in truth, with all of this activity, what I will miss most is the personal relationships I enjoy with each one of you: our interactions and conversations, the serious moments and the light ones, community meetings and functions, personal discussions in my office, hospital visits, halachic questions and Shabbat meals. Being a part of your life and sharing my life with you – these are the memories that will forever stay with me.
For the rest of our lives, Anita and I will consider ourselves proud members of the Center family.
With deep affection and best wishes,
Rabbi Ari Berman