May 17, 2013 Letter from Rabbi Frishman to Barnert Temple Congregants
Last night was a joyous celebration of our wondrous Barnert heritage and community. Over 300 people gathered in the pure spirit of generous appreciation and love. I am deeply grateful for your outpourings, your trust and support.
To receive The Martin Freedman Humanitarian Award was to commit to the promise behind our partnership -- you as the givers of the Award, and me as the recipient - the promise of work that matters, that takes note of each person, that elevates us all in the spirit of sacred task.
Rabbi Rick Jacobs, Ruth Messinger and Anat Hoffman1 inspired us to think about what we do through the lens of the stranger: that our work is not for them, but perhaps, because of them. The opportunity to give is a privilege, and deepens our own lives.
How important, then, that we learn the values and methodology for gemilut chasadim, so that we might act accordingly. This is what we Barnertites aspire to learn and do.
Ruth and Anat gave me a rock fragment inscribed with the word Amen, illustrating a poem by Yehuda Amichai.2 The poem is about faith, reconnection, and hope. I read it over this morning, reflecting on the phrase, Now the fragments are gathered up in lovingkindness... I realized: this is our partnership, to gather together broken pieces, broken hearts, broken lives. The gathering in compassion, the healing with skill.
There is an art to giving. Torah deepens and defines the tone of our values, influencing the color of our choices and actions. This is what we must learn, and then teach our children.
Art-work, too, requires Shabbat - rest every week, to nourish the imagination and soul. To keep from being hopelessly distracted by all that's going on in life.
It's time to take that deep breath.
Shabbat shalom with gratitude and love,
Rabbi Elyse Frishman
1 Rabbi Rick Jacobs is President of the Union for Reform Judaism. Ruth Messinger is President of the American Jewish World Service. Anat Hoffman is Director of the Israel Religious Action Center and Chairperson of Women of the Wall.
2 "Amen Stone," Yehuda Amichai, Open, Closed, Open. trans. by Chana Bloch and Chana Kronfeld, published by Harcourt, Inc.
On my desk there is a stone with the word "Amen" on it,
a triangular fragment of stone
from a Jewish graveyard destroyed
many generations ago.
The other fragments, hundreds upon hundreds,
were scattered helter-skelter,
and a great yearning,
a longing without end, fills them all:
first name in search of family name,
date of death seeks dead man's birthplace,
son's name wishes to locate name of father,
date of birth seeks reunion with soul that wishes to rest in peace.
And until they have found one another,
they will not find a perfect rest
Only this stone lies calmly on my desk and says "Amen."
But now the fragments are gathered up in lovingkindness
by a sad good man.
He cleanses them of every blemish,
photographs them one by one,
arranges them on the floor in the great hall,
makes each gravestone whole again,
one again: fragment to fragment,
like the resurrection of the dead, a mosaic,
a jigsaw puzzle. Child's play.
The Barnert Temple Milestone Gala honoring Congregation B’nai Jeshurun’s past, present and future was held on Thursday, May 16 at the Venetian in Garfield, NJ, and was a celebration of the ages.
Rich in history – from its inception in Paterson as the first Jewish congregation in New Jersey in 1847, to its fortuitous move to Franklin Lakes in 1987, to the transformative leadership of Rabbi Elyse Frishman since 1995 – Congregation B’nai Jeshurun continues to thrive as a community of pioneers in the Reform movement.
Named after its greatest benefactor, two-time mayor of Paterson, Nathan Barnert, who deeded land to build a grand synagogue in 1892, The Barnert Temple spans three centuries as an American institution committed to offering Reform Jewish experiences that are relevant, accessible and meaningful for people of all ages and backgrounds.
Rabbi Elyse Frishman, celebrating her 18-year “Chai” anniversary as Barnert’s spiritual leader, is recognized internationally for her role in transforming Reform Jewish Worship. Editor of the new Reform prayer book, Mishkan T’filah, she has also contributed to many other liturgical works as both writer and editor. A tireless advocate for social justice, she has traveled to Darfur, Cambodia, and India, and recently made international headlines for being detained at the Western Wall while supporting a woman’s right to pray there.
At the gala, long-time temple leaders who were instrumental in moving the congregation to Bergen County reminisced about the past and shared stories with those who are forging its future. An illustrious panel of speakers honored Rabbi Frishman with personal insights about the global impact of her contributions: Ruth W. Messinger, president of American Jewish World Service (AJWS); Anat Hoffman, executive director of the Israel Religious Action Center (IRAC); and Rabbi Rick Jacobs, president of the Union for Reform Judaism.
Festivities included a cocktail reception and live auction, dinner, an award presentation and a short film by videographer and eldest son of Rabbi Frishman, Adam Freelander. Proceeds will enrich Barnert Temple’s vibrant programs, outreach, and strategic planning initiatives.