This summer, July 1, marked my seventh anniversary of working at Shomrei. As most of you know, Shomrei has become not just a place of work, but a spiritual home for me and for my family. The connection I have to this congregation is deeper than I could have ever imagined. While I sometimes struggle with the importance of titles and prefer to think that I’m just me, sharing this sacred space with you, I am excited about my new title for this year and was encouraged by Rabbi Julie to offer an explanation of why this title was chosen and what Shaliach Tzibbur (“messenger of the community”) means, literally, figuratively, and personally.
The other night, I plunked myself down on the floor of the sanctuary while rehearsing for the High Holidays with Rabbi Julie and our guest prayer leader, Talia. As I sat on the carpet singing, cross-legged and sock-footed, I realized that I felt as comfortable and at home in our sanctuary as people might feel in their own living rooms. The lights were dim that evening, and just like in a movie scene, flashing in my mind’s eye I saw seven years of laughing children rehearsing for Purim shpiels. I heard the voices of excited and nervous b’nai-mitzvah students practicing on the bimah. I heard the preschoolers’ songs, teenagers reading Torah, and adults’ voices blending together in prayer and conversation. I felt seven years of communal energy filling the entire space from floor to wall to ceiling.
My deepest hope is that you know what an honor it is for me to help find ways for this community to be wrapped in the same sense of comfort and connection which I felt in that moment.
While I may have an outgoing personality, the amount of humility that goes into this work is immense. Since it is Elul and the High Holidays are quickly approaching, I want to tell you how deeply sorry I am for any moment in time that you did not feel as connected to Judaism as you could have and any way that this community could have served you better. Many times I have felt an intense resonance with the “Hin’ni” prayer, in which the prayer leader acknowledges her unworthiness to stand in prayer on behalf of the congregation. While I feel deeply humbled by this work, I am aware of the importance of listening and the value of finding new ways to connect with one another and with our Judaism. No matter how limited we sometimes feel as individuals, we keep going as a community. I believe that we can do this hand in hand, and I have endless gratitude for the many moments of connection throughout these seven years together.
Now, at the beginning of my eighth year, I keep singing a line to myself from Matisyahu’s Hanukkah song: “Eight is the number of infinity, one more than what you know how to be.” Turn an 8 on its side, and it reveals a continuous bond.
Eight is a magical number. It reaches beyond what we can understand and imagine. We can think of many examples of the incredible symbolism of sevens. Seven are the branches on the Temple menorah bringing light into the darkness. Seven are the beautiful colors of the rainbow that fill our world with diversity and promise. Seven are the days of the week that allow us to delve into this messy, earthly life and make the world a better place, though reserving day seven itself, Shabbat, to cease our work in order to be inspired by silence, joy, awe, gratitude, and rest. In the seventh year, we even let the land rest.
But what happens at eight?
The eighth day or the eighth year, when we start a cycle again, isn’t only a new beginning. It’s a new beginning with the acquired knowledge of what we’ve felt, learned, and experienced over the previous days or years.
This is why I am happy, with the guidance and encouragement of Rabbi Julie, to be utilizing this new title of Shaliach Tzibbur (שליח ציבור) at Shomrei as I begin my eighth year here. Although some may and some may not be familiar with this Hebrew term, we think that it best captures my role here at Shomrei, complementing Rabbi Julie’s energizing rabbinic leadership and continuing to work closely with our incredible education director and staff. Shaliach Tzibbur, which in a literal sense translates to “messenger of the community,” is a common term used for Jewish prayer leaders. Inviting the community into prayer is a passion that I have the great joy of tapping into with all of the age groups at Shomrei, but of course the deeper meaning of this title can translate to more than prayer, and I am honored to continue working in partnership with all of you to uphold and to continuously work on building a sanctuary (both in and out of the literal sanctuary) where all feel welcome, safe, included, and connected, through Torah, prayer, song, education, social and religious programming, through Jewish joy and learning, vision for the future, and through deep listening.
And yes, for those of you keeping track, I’m still in rabbinical school, though not always taking classes every trimester. I continue to treasure the learning experiences with my classmates and teachers at the Academy for Jewish Religion NY, and what I cherish most about AJR is that my learning experiences there, whether through classes, prayer spaces, learning programs, retreats, friendships, and networking, deeply inform my work on both a practical and philosophical level. But while I take pride in this continued learning, rabbinical school is a long-term and part-time journey for me, not one that I expect to complete within the next couple of years. While we have changed my title at Shomrei several times over the years to reflect the fact that I am a rabbinical student, the title of Shaliach Tzibbur captures my love and passion for what I’m already doing, rather than what I will be someday down the road. (You’re all invited to my ordination …. Sometime in the future.)
Thank you, each and every one of you, for making these seven years at Shomrei so magical. I am beyond blessed to work with incredible staff, rabbi, lay leadership, and community of children, teens, and adults. I am as honored as ever to be in this holy place, as your Shaliach Tzibbur.