After my visit to RI, Andy Sholes, Susan Smoller, and I drove down to my alma mater, the Jewish Theological Seminary of NY, for a conference on transitions in synagogue leadership. In the car ride down there, and throughout the conference I could already feel that we were beginning to gel as a team. We learned in one session that right after a leader leaves, there is a period of adjustment time called the “neutral zone.” As Jews it brings us back to the years we wandered in the Sinai Wilderness on our way to the Promised Land. During this part of the journey we often find ourselves feeling uncomfortable and confused, but it helps to remember that the Torah was not given after we had already arrived in the Land of Isreal. It was given right here in the neutral zone, in the wilderness.
As I write this article, I am still sitting in my old PA office. Having my feet in two different places at once, I am forced to step back and look at the bigger picture, to reflect on the past and begin to envision the future. I’m especially looking forward to the Beach Shabbat and Shabbat on the Trail (see calendar for details) I draw much of my inspiration from nature and believe strongly that our ancestors were able to cultivate such a genuine sense of the sacred because they lived as farmers and shepherds. Jewish holidays, prayers, and ethical teachings all grew organically out of our relationship with creation. To build a real living connection today, we need to do more than just read other people’s ideas and stories about God. Preserving Judaism as it was can no longer be our target. Judaism must be our bow that we use to aim at targets that inspired world religions in the first place.
As you read this, I am probably working on my first and most important task, getting our family settled in our new home. My second priority of course is getting to know all of you! This summer there will be many opportunities for us to meet in person: parlor meetings hosted in congregant’s homes, one-on-one meetings during office hours, and plenty of schmoozing at Shabbat Kiddush.
Valerie, Sophie, Aeden, and I can’t wait to become part of the Torat Yisrael family. Thank you for welcoming us into your spiritual home. We look forward to seeing everyone again soon!
Blessings and Shalom,
Rabbi Aaron Philmus