The following is the last sermon I gave as Rabbi of Congregation Kol HaNeshama in Sarasota, Florida. I retired at the end of 2022.
A running refrain in our liturgy is l’dor vador, from generation to generation. It is a reminder that each generation has a role to play in the story of our people.
But the word “generation” can be defined in different ways. My young congregation, now in its 16th year, was led by an earlier generation, many of whom are no longer with us.
In the early years we had several part-time spiritual leaders. I have been sole spiritual leader for nearly 10 years, and now that I’m retiring a new rabbi will take us into the future. Kol HaNeshama will change, will grow, and will welcome a new generation of lay leaders and members.
Much of the Torah has to do with transitions from one leader to another. This week’s Torah portion completes the saga of Joseph and his brothers, ending with Joseph weeping and revealing his true self to his brothers, after hiding behind the mask of his job as Pharaoh’s right-hand man.
Unlike Joseph, I always have been able to share my true self with my congregation. Probably the only thing I never said out loud is that I think Donald Trump is a raving idiot.
I’ve stayed away from American and Israeli politics, although I will admit that I am extremely distressed by the new government in Israel, and I’ve been vocal about my support of President Zelenskyy and the Ukrainian people.
Mainly, I’ve talked about the issues I most care about – gun control, gay rights, antisemitism, and our obligation to serve the community. And I care about finding meaning in a world that can seem chaotic and unrooted, so I have striven to guide you in finding your footing in making the world a better place, if only for one person.
Many rabbis go by the theory that our job is to comfort the afflicted and afflict the comfortable, a wonderful way of looking at the position, but I believe that too many of us spend time afflicting and chastising our congregants instead of comforting them.
Especially over the past three years of illness, isolation, and death, what we really needed was comfort and support. We’ve all dealt with so much, on so many levels.
Every year when we read the list of members who have died it is longer. You’re going to have a new rabbi who doesn’t remember any of them, who doesn’t know our history, our ups and downs, and the many fine leaders who have stepped up and done the hard work of serving a congregation. Help the rabbi learn who we are, and why we are such a warm and welcoming community.
My last message is some unsolicited advice to bring you into the future:
Remember the past but don’t dwell on it.
Help your new clergy. Let them guide you, and in return, guide them with love and kindness.
Let your new leader try new things. Don’t let the sentence “we tried that before and it didn’t work” cross your lips.
Your new rabbi will be doing her best. Let her make mistakes and don’t hold them against her. Celebrate her successes.
Offer to help. Give her tours of Sarasota, invite her into your homes, be the warm and loving community that I have known you to be.
Keep making the world a better place. Remember that our task here on earth is to leave it better than we found it.
As Amos Oz taught, if you don’t have a bucket to help put out a conflagration, bring a cup. If you don’t have a cup, bring a teaspoon. Oz said that everyone has a teaspoon. Everyone can be a force for good.
And when you venture out into the world and cross the street, hold hands and watch out for one another.
Beautiful and heart lifting! Wishing you luck and joy in your new journey💛
Julia Atlas said:
I am sorry I missed your finale service at K H but now I will be selfish and wantn to have one on one personal time with you, whenever you want to get together. Can’t wait!
Sheryl Tepper Weitman said:
It seems like a lifetime ago, that we were “younger” Jewish professionals. I was transferred out of the area over 15 years ago by Israel Bonds but I never stopped following you and your new career. You have always been one of the brightest spots in the Jewish world.
I wish you all the best in your retirement in which I’m sure you will pursue new adventures. Take time to smell the roses, read some good books, travel, and just relax.
SRQ Jew said:
Thank you so much!! I promise to try to relax, but don’t promise to be successful. It’s not in my DNA. Yet.
Hannah Puckhaber said:
As always, you have thought of others and not yourself. I know you are leaving Kol Neshama in good standing and will follow your advice. I look forward to attending some of your lectures at SRQ-Fed. Much love to you always!
David Kassnoff said:
Jennifer: I’ve enjoyed reading your messages and posts. I thought about relocating to Sarasota a few times, but didn’t go in that direction. Congratulations on retirement. I hope you’ll continue to be reachable (or share-able) in the months to come. – Dave
SRQ Jew said:
I won’t stop writing! It’s in my blood. I’ll keep writing if you’ll keep reading.
Tom Brayshaw said:
As life long Methodist who has used many of your messages in leading an adult class, I will miss you.
SRQ Jew said:
That is so sweet! Thank you for telling me.
Thank you. You have been and I am sure will continue to be a wonderful guiding force in the Sarasota community.
Elliana Goldberg said:
I’m sorry I was unable to attend your last leading of a Friday night service. So I’m grateful to read your sermon. I love you and hope you will remain a part of my life.
SRQ Jew said:
Absolutely! I don’t want to lose you!!