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Installation of  Cantor Flynn

01/14/2019 09:54:28 AM


Rabbi Robinson

Rabbi Yair D. Robinson

Congregation Beth Emeth


Installation for Elizabeth Flynn:

I want to share with you a story that I last shared at my installation. There was a rabbi named Nathan Finkel, who lived towards the end of the 19th century and headed a yeshiva in Slobodka, a small town in Lithuania. On cold, dark winter mornings, it is said, the rabbi used to get up early, cross over the bridge and go into town. He would stop off in all the shtibelech, all the little prayer houses and places of study, one after another. And in each small, dark room, he would light a fire in the oven and stoke the flames before continuing on his rounds.

“Why did he do it?” His closest friends would ask. And he would say: If all the prayer houses and places of study are warm early in the morning, then coachmen, porters and all kinds of working people will come in to get warm - and then they will find themselves in a sacred place. [Norman Lamm, The Good Society: Jewish Ethics in Action, p.31]

I have always loved this story, because I think it gets to the heart of what we do. What do we do? Is it about singing beautifully at worship? Is she just someone who says nice words at the holidays, or on Shabbat, who teaches our children and leads worship? Our job, Liz, the job of Jewish clergy, the job of all clergy, is to create a space of warmth and light. To provide a shelter from cold indifference, a place -- a safe haven from the daily, never ending competition and the meanness of spirit we find in the workaday world.  Our task is to create a sanctuary; a refuge where people are loved and supported, where we share in the work of justice and goodness, a safe place filled with God’s presence, where people can come in from the cold.

"They'll come in to get warm," said Rabbi Nathan, "and then they will find themselves in a sacred place." It is that warmth that brings people in – the warmth of community, of knowing that this is a place where all are valued as betzelem elohim, created in God’s image. It is the light—the light of Torah, of meaningful worship, of God’s justice, the ethics of our people revealed in the world—that keeps people here. Our task—your task, Liz—is to help the people first find warmth, so that they will stay for the light.

And you are already doing this work. I see it in the way you welcome people into your life, and share yourself with grace and warmth. I see it in your intentionality, the way you reflect on conversations with congregants, encounters with people, always concerned about whether or not you served them well. Always asking: did you give enough, did you do enough. I can assure you, cantor, you did, you do, you will—because you are enough. I have been watching you work and I am endlessly impressed by the way you see the whole person.

There are colleagues and teachers who have more to say, and more to say about who you are and what it means for you to do this work, so I will not belabor the point. But let me say this: I—we—are so glad you have come to bring the warmth of your presence—on the bimah, in the classroom, in the hospital room and the shiva house, and yes, in the Pokemon Go raid. And we are glad to have your light as well.


Thu, June 13 2024 7 Sivan 5784