22 May 2015
Over the past week, I had the privilege of attending two celebrations of long-time rabbis in our community. Last Thursday, Rabbi Jonathan Schnitzer and his wife Beverly were honored by B’nai Israel Congregation for 25+ years of service to the congregation. This past Sunday, Rabbi Bill Rudolph and his wife Gail were similarly honored by Congregation Beth El of Montgomery County on his retirement from 31 years of service; the past 15 as Senior Rabbi.
Both celebrations were warm, genuine and inspirational. Between them, they have served as rabbinic leaders in our community for more than half a century. And therein lies the power of the synagogue and the rabbinate. Virtually every one of the 1,500+ attendees at both events were touched personally by Rabbis Schnitzer and Rudolph. From celebrating baby namings and b’nai mitzvahs; to comforting those suffering from illness and commemorating funerals; from teaching our children and officiating weddings, they – and all rabbis for that matter – have had a profound impact on their communities and in turn, our larger community. They are there for us when we most need them. They help us through challenging and joyous periods in our lives. They encourage us to better navigate Jewish tradition, history and community. And they work hard. Very hard.
Yasher koach to Rabbis Schnitzer and Rudolph for their extraordinary service to our community. Their devotion to their congregations, the community and to Israel has impacted thousands, making personal that which could have been anonymous.
Speaking of anonymity, this week’s parasha is the first in the Book of Numbers. Bamidbar – literally, “into the wilderness” – is dedicated to the first demographic study: “Take a census of the whole Israelite community by the clans of its ancestral houses, listing the names…head by head”.
What a fascinating concept: take a large group of slaves who have escaped into the wilderness, cut off from civilization, and create a new set of concepts and standards of behavior through the laws of the Torah. In the midst of all of this, carefully count everyone and list their names!
Imagine the power of having your individual and family names recorded when previously you were a slave, alone in the world. And it was not sufficient just to count everyone. The dignity of individuality was bestowed upon each of the Israelites through the recording of their names. While they stood in the wilderness, feeling very much alone, they were joined in a census which not only documented collective strength in numbers, but also provided strength to individuals.
Being counted makes us accountable. We are not allowed the luxury of anonymity – when counted we are called upon to take responsibility for our actions and for our relationships to our fellow humans. The wilderness provides a fascinating backdrop for the power of individual humanity; representative of the powerlessness we feel in the untamed desert. It is our names – and being counted – which makes us both memorable and accountable.
Thank you, Rabbis Schnitzer and Rudolph, for making us feel counted.
Ways to Make it Yours
We want to hear from you! Share your innovative Israel engagement program ideas with us and be entered in a raffle to win $500!
Join other interfaith couples in DC for a family-friendly, vegetarian Shabbat experience on Friday, May 29.
Tempt your sweet tooth with Jewish Food Experience’s No-Bake Blueberry Cheesecake just in time for Shavuot celebrations.
Volunteer with young professionals at KEEN to help kids with disabilities have a fun-filled, memorable day of outdoor recreation on Sunday, June 7!