As we prepare for the arrival of the Jewish new year, I find myself remembering, thinking, and reflecting on an extraordinary year that my family and I have experienced since our arrival in Cleveland last summer. The warmth and generosity that so many in our Temple family have expressed toward us throughout this year have changed our lives. The number of people who welcomed Yael and me soon after we arrived and offered us assistance was frankly staggering. While there remain many people for us to meet and become acquainted with, we often remark on the extraordinary support we have benefited from and the new friendships that our congregations has allowed us to launch and grow. I remain eager to meet members of our congregational family, and seize this opportunity to reiterate my invitation to all who are interested in meeting and speaking with me to reach out to our clergy office. We will schedule a meeting as soon as practicable. In addition to the blessings our Temple has bestowed upon us, formal moment of welcome and celebration have left us with memories for a lifetime. The first service of welcome last July, the High Holy days, and the entire Installation Shabbat are highlights of a year that we, and I especially, will always cherish. Throughout these past months, our family has gradually been settling in our new home and environment, creating new habits and routines, and whenever possible venturing out to explore this rich and fascinating city and all it has to offer. Our children are starting their second school year here, now in more familiar and comfortable settings. For all three, the Temple rituals of Friday night service, holiday celebrations, as well as learning and cultural events have turned the “new” Temple into a place of ease, safety, and deep connection. In late July, in a moment of fatigue and frustration while traveling overseas, one of the children cried and for the first time asked “when are we going home to Cleveland?” Yael and I immediately looked at each other and knew: we will soon head back HOME.
Beyond the personal welcome, embrace, growing friendships and ongoing support, The Temple has also offered us the opportunity to engage in important conversations, especially about our place and mission as Reform Jews and members of our Temple in the greater community today, the shifting and porous boundaries and strictures of Jewish identity and congregational engagement, and our relationship with Israel. Congregational conversations on these and related issues involved hundreds of our members during the Installation weekend, and these demonstrated the interest in and call for continued learning and exchange. The events of the last year have rendered these discussions all the more relevant and urgent. Last October, we witnessed a terrorist attack that cut short eleven lives in the Tree of Life synagogue in Pittsburgh, and forever scarred so many others both there and throughout this country; In the winter, especially in the weeks following Representative Omar’s tweet about the “Benjamin’s,” we experienced another difficult chapter in the national debate surrounding Jewish support for Israel, anti-Israeli sentiment, and anti-Semitism in the public sphere; in April, on the last day of Passover, the Synagogue in Poway, California, was attacked. At the same time, mass shootings and various expressions of racial, religious, and ethnic hatred have proliferated throughout this land, and again claimed lives in El Paso and Dayton recently. Throughout the past year, foundational values such as acceptance of the other, solidarity, and embrace of diversity, gender equality, and freedom of religion – values that are at the core of our American and Reform ethos, seem to have been challenged and undermined. Against the backdrop of rising ethno-religious hatred in general and anti-Semitism in particular, increasing polarization and division, and a decline in the commitment to certain core American values, our ability to articulate our mission and enhance our impact in the greater community become all the more important. As we prepare ourselves for the new year, we also plan to offer a series of opportunities to continue the conversations we started to engage in may, and to introduce new programmatic initiatives.
Yael and the children join me in thanking you for offering us the extraordinary opportunity to become part of this congregational family, and send each and every one of you our best wishes for a healthy, fulfilling, and productive end to 5779, and a good, sweet start to 5780. we look forward to seeing you during the High Holy days and celebrating the holiest moments of our calendar with you. may the next year bring us the blessings of greater love and understanding,
dignity, and respect.
With all good wishes,
Rabbi Jonathan Cohen