Rabbi Dennis C. Sasso
(Excerpted from my retirement Shabbat address on May 12, 2023)
The ancient rabbis taught that at the end time, when the world will have been perfected and there will be no more hunger, no more illness, no more wars, there will be no need for more prayers. Except for one prayer, the prayer of thanksgiving. Tonight I offer one more prayer: A prayer of Thanksgiving: Modeh ani… – Thank you for tonight; thank you for the past five decades…. Thank you!
When Sandy and I were ordained some fifty years ago, the first rabbinical couple in world Jewish history, we could not have predicted life’s journey. In 1977, after three years in New York, Indianapolis beckoned! We visited; we met you; we fell in love. The Board of Directors took a chance and brought a young rabbinic couple to Beth-El Zedeck. I give thanks to those of you who put your trust in us, labored with us, encouraged, and challenged us.
Accompanying three, four and even five generations of Beth-El Zedeck families through life cycle events, from births, to Consecration, B’nai and B’not Mitzvah, Confirmations and marriages, having welcomed hundreds who have chosen Judaism as their faith, has been the rhythm of my rabbinate. Standing with loved ones at gravesides and sitting with them at minyans of remembrance has proven to me the power of a love that never dies. A congregation is about the young and the old, the wealthy and the poor, the healthy and the infirm, those who have fears to unburden and joys to share. I give thanks for all who are part of our sacred community.
Our outstanding personnel, devoted colleagues, professional, office, and building staff. You are the hardware, the software, and the soul-ware of our congregation. I give thanks for dear colleagues and friends.
On a recent Sunday morning, I was moved to tears by the tributes, songs, and stories of the children of our synagogue. The ancient rabbis taught that the world is sustained by the breath of children. It is for their sake, that the Torah was given to Israel. Cherish the children, cherish the Torah, celebrate it with them and Beth-El Zedeck will remain strong and joyous. I give thanks for the children.
I rejoice to complete my tenure having officiated at the Bar Mitzvah of our youngest grandson, and soon, at the Confirmation of a promising class of future synagogue leaders that includes another grandson. Sandy and I look forward to our summer family trip to Israel, the first for all our grandchildren. We give thanks for the bonds of family and history.
As Americans and Jews, we are living through challenging times. Even as we recover from the pandemic, we feel the impact of climate change, of political discord, of war and displacement, of antisemitism, religious and racial prejudice, of social and economic adjustments. This is a time of transition and change for our nation and the world, for Judaism and the synagogue. It is time to come back; to congregate; to be counted among the minyan of the concerned. Beth El Zedeck is not just this beautiful building, it is you, the people who assemble here for prayer, song, celebration, remembrance, inspiration, and aspiration. This is not a time for timidity or retreat; it is a time for daring and innovation. It is time to invest in our synagogue, to elicit generosity, to imagine new possibilities. I give thanks for the courage to imagine.
What do we know of our religion if we only know our own faith tradition? Until we encounter one another in genuine dialogue, our own faith is incomplete. And then we need to bring our collaborative efforts to the public arena, not to wed state and religion, but to shape an ethos of respect and cooperation on behalf of the common good. Beth-El Zedeck rejoices in its reach to the community and in the diversity of its constituency as an inclusive and welcoming congregation. I give thanks for the blessings of diversity.
During my last Rosh Hashanah sermon I told a story of a wise and generous Jew who built a beautiful synagogue. When at long last the building was completed, the townspeople entered the synagogue and marveled at its magnificence. But they noticed there was a flaw. “There are no lamps! Where are the lamps? What will give us light?” the people asked. The benefactor pointed to the brackets placed along the walls, and handing each person a lamp, said: “Whenever you come to the synagogue, bring your lamp, place it, and light it. When you are not here, a part of the synagogue remains dimmed! The community relies on you for your light.”
And so, my dear congregants, my wish for the year ahead, for the years and generations to come, is that you bring your lamp. Let your light shine at Beth-El Zedeck!
I offer yet one more prayer of thanksgiving in which I ask you to join me: “Barukh atah…” I give thanks to the God of life for enabling me to reach this moment with this congregation, with the beloved gathered here today, with those who live in sacred memory, and with the generations yet to come who will bring their light to shine at Beth-El Zedeck.