Last month, my family hopped into the mini-van and drove up to Little Rhody for one last visit before the big move. This time, thankfully, we could leave our snow gear at home. Soon after we arrived, Judy Silverman gave us a tour of the Mitzvah Garden. My 7 year-old daughter, Sophie, could not stop eating the beautiful romaine lettuce. Last night she told us that she actually likes salad! Sophie and my four year-old son Aeden, got a chance to visit their new classrooms and meet future classmates at JCDS Providence. Guess who Sophie’s 2nd Grade teacher will be this Fall? Former TY Cohen School Director, Sari Guttin, Valerie and I are also longtime friends with the new Director of JCDS and his wife. I am blessed that my wife is a professionally trained chef. Valerie looks forward to exploring the local food scene, teaching cooking classes, and working as a private chef for families who are too busy to cook. She is also very happy that we are moving closer to her family in Worcester ...
Valerie and I first met as undergrads at UMass Amherst and have both lived in New England for many years. For us, returning to New England is returning home. During my recent visit, Rabbi Levin invited me to join the Rhode Island Board of Rabbis meeting. It was exciting to meet my new colleagues. I witnessed Rabbi Levin’s leadership first-hand as she ran the meeting and facilitated an afternoon of learning with one of my favorite teachers, Rabbi Arthur Green. Later that evening, I looked through TY’s old newsletters and was very impressed with Rabbi Levin's ability to carry Torat Yisrael smoothly through so many transitions like the big move to East Greenwich, building a new building, and establishing TY as an important new religious institution in East Greenwich.
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
Rabbi Aaron Philmus
Rabbi Aaron brings a traditional style and approach of prayer to the conservative synagogue. He has a background in ecology and Jewish education and teaches Torah through agriculture and wilderness skills, and plays guitar as a way to bring music to the synagogue. He’s a naturalist who believes that everything stems from nature, and he understands the plight of others who are less fortunate, and how to use the land to enrich ourselves.