Goodbye OZ

On completing three years as the assistant rabbi of Congregation Ohab Zedek, this past Shabbat we exchanged our final goodbye wishes. Over the next week, I plan to share here various moments of my last farewell wishes.

On what was essentially my first date with Oz, it was Shabbos morning, and I was feeling good.

I had landed a major Manhattan synagogue, and that came with prestige.

In the weeks running up to our move to the Upper West Side, I received phone calls from many people congratulating me that I hadn’t just landed a Manhattan synagogue but I had landed THE Manhattan synagogue for the future of the Jewish people.

It is within these hallowed walls, young Jewish men and women nervously seek out their life partners. It is here, it is within this community the young people of our nation begin to figure out their lives.

And so I felt like a big deal.

I walked into the sanctuary that Shabbos morning, wearing a new suit and tie, feeling like a million dollars.

I was on top of the assistant-rabbi world.

The Assistant Rabbi's Chair
The Assistant Rabbi’s Chair

As I arrived at my new makom kavua, permanent (3 years?) rabbinic seat, I turned and looked out at the community. The moment felt significant, filled with potential.

I sat down in that large and foreboding chair (all the way to the left in the above picture), and ugh… my feet didn’t reach the floor.

It was a moment of clear irony. No matter how important I felt in that moment, there was part of me that will be defined by a childlike enthusiasm. My feet didn’t reach the floor, not too different from my four-year-old son sitting in the chair next to me.

I’ve tried for three years (to slouch in that chair and) to carry that childlike enthusiasm and optimism with me. I’ve wanted it to define my contributions here on the Upper West Side.

Whether it was the difficult evening we gathered in this room to pray for the return of the 3 kidnapped israel boys, or the inspiring weekends filled with music from Zusha, Eitan Katz, or Lenny Solomon, much of this work, I hope, was defined by a youthful, optimistic enthusiasm. Through the campaign to renovate the facilities and beautify the Ohab Zedek Bet Medrash, or the many meaningful moments we’ve shared, the optimistic immaturity of this community is a major, and underrated asset.

In concluding the rebellion of Korach (a cynical campaign targeting Moshe’s leadership), after much strife and tribulation, there is one final act that finally returns peace to the Jewish camp. It isn’t the grand, miraculous act of the ground swallowing Korach, or the heroic act of Aharon, running into the middle of a terrible plague, carrying the healing incense, rather the simple blossoming of flowers on dead wood that restores faith in Moshe and Aharon. The people were reminded of the beauty of life and sanctity was restored.

Why did we need another affirmation of Moshe and Aharon’s leadership?

Surely the destruction of Korach and his Edah was enough?

Part II will be published on Wednesday.

About the Author
Formerly the Assistant Rabbi of Cong. Ohab Zedek in NYC, and The Hampton Synagogue, Rabbi Yechiel Shaffer is the new Rabbi of the Pikesville Jewish Congregation, in Baltimore, MD.
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