The Prayer of Endings

Farewell Speech from Rabbi Marc Katz
Marc’s Last Lap Farewell Event, June 3, 2018

The amazing thing about the Jewish tradition is that there is a prayer for everything. There is a prayer for new beginnings, a prayer for seeing lightning and a different prayer for the rainbow after the storm. There is a prayer for seeing a beautiful person, and prayer for smelling a flower, even a prayer for using the bathroom.

But my favorite prayer has always been the prayer of endings, because it completely defies expectations.

In our modern culture, we pride ourselves on finishing something. We step back and we admire it. We pat ourselves on the back. We stand tall and then we move on. But like many things in our tradition, Judaism is countercultural.

When we finish a unit of study, we immediately proclaim, Hadran Alaich, we will return to you. We personify the element of study and speak to it. If we are, for example, studying the laws of the Sabbath in Tractate Shabbat, we say:

We will return to you, Tractate Shabbat, and you will return to us; our mind is on you, Tractate Shabbat, and your mind is on us; we will not forget you, Tractate Shabbat, and you will not forget us – not in this world and not in the world to come.

Through this prayer we acknowledge that we are never done. There is always more to learn. We can never master anything. If we look at it again with fresh eyes, there will always be something else we can gain. We must return to our experiences again and again.

Today, I finish a unit of study. For ten years I’ve learned from each of you. I’ve sat with you in my office as we planned weddings and you’ve taught me about about love. I’ve stood beside you near open graves and you’ve teach me about strength and perseverance. I’ve served meals beside you to those in need, and you’ve taught me about compassion. I’ve stood outside the Mikveh as some of you have converted and you’ve taught me about belonging. I’ve sat with you in class, and you’ve taught me thoughtful questioning and critical thinking.

Now I can stand here, by no means done with my education, and I can say, Hadran Alach. I will return to each of these experiences.

I will return to the beginning of my time at CBE ten years ago, teaching 4th and 6th grade. I’ll reflect on way Rabbi Shira Koch Epstein brought me in and taught me the importance of innovation in education, the power of engaging families alongside kids, and the need to ask big and hard questions of yourself.

I’ll return to the lessons of my three years as Student Rabbi and the beginning of my time here as Assistant Rabbi. I’ll revisit the trust of Rabbi Andy Bachman who took a risk and handed me not tasks but portfolios giving me the freedom to teach Torah to young parents, introduce Judaism to prospective converts, and engage with millennials around their Jewish journeys. I’m not done understanding his vision of a pluralistic, open, vibrant, neighborhood institution where Jewish culture is alive and innovation is a hallmark.

I’ll return to the musical legacy of Cantor Josh Breitzer who taught me that prayer exists in the loud and quiet, slow and fast, in the piano, the guitar, or the jazz trio. I’ll never be able to recreate it, but I’ll come back to the way he can weave a hundred year old piece with a modern Israeli melody followed by tune that goes back to Sinai in way that suggests these pieces were always meant to fit together. And I’ll return to the other musical presences, like Cantor Shanna Zell, Sam Natov, and Sarah Grabiner, who added their own voices to the mix.

I’ll return to the many board members I have worked with over my time here. Those that grew the synagogue, those that saved the synagogue. There are too many to count. And I’ll return to their leaders, David Kasakove, Chuck Nathan, Jonathan Fried, and Rob Raich, who modeled for me the profound and important connection between lay and professional staff. I will always seek to create pieces of you in future leaders.

I’ll return to what I’ve learned from Rabbi Matt Green. I’ll return to his model of meeting people where they are, his unique understanding and appreciation of Jewish culture, and his dedication to the Jewish people. He embodies a Judaism that can speak to those who have forgotten about their traditions’ richness and when with them, can reveal to them the meaningful core of Jewish living.

I’ll return to the teachings of Rabbi Rachel Timoner. I’ll come back time and again to the way she balances the public and private, speaking and listening, comfort and rebuke. I’ll return the way she taught me to speak out for justice, the importance she places on the building of relationships, and how she infuses her work with the spirit of the Divine.

I’ll return to Betti’s organizational vision and insight, to the openness and approachability of Bobbie’s afterschool program, to the vitality and nurturing nature of Jaci and Seth’s ECC, to the authenticity of Alex’s HaGeemnasia, and to Marissa’s dedication to Jewish youth and learning. There is a teaching in our tradition that “a wise person will learn from everyone.” I hope I can go back to the lessons of the many staff I’ve encountered past and present, whether it’s some of those I work with now: Yvonne, Debbie, Angel, Tamisha, Asya, Judy, Steven, Earnst, Diane, Rachel, Elizabeth, and Sam. Or those in the past like Shelly, Margarett, Monica, Jino, Lauren, Shuli, Lisa, Deborah, Isabel, Zach, Ellen, Dan, Janet or the many other people who I’ve encountered over these years (and I know I’ve forgotten many).

I’ll return to the lessons of my family, especially Ayelet, who time and again teach me the meaning of unconditional love and support.

To all of these people I say, Hadran Alaich. I will return to you, to your lessons,

There is a teaching in the Talmud that speaks about the proper way to say goodbye. Is it turns out the preposition matters. Everyone agrees that we should part by wishing another peace, shalom. But should we say B’shalom (to go in peace) or L’shalom (to go toward peace)? In the end, our Rabbis agree that we should say goodbye with L’shalom, imploring people toward peace.

The goal of saying goodbye should not to be stuck in a place but to hope for movement toward a place, an even better future filled with meaning and purpose.

CBE is an amazing community. Over these ten years you taught a wide eyed, naive and nervous Rabbi how to be and who to be. And you have amazing things ahead. You have amazing leaders, you are amazing leaders and if you return again and again to the lessons containing within each of you every step you take will be one forward.

Lech L’shalom…may you move toward peace, may you walk toward strength.

I’m just across the Hudson and I can’t wait to hear what the future holds for you.