Perhaps you cannot easily see what I am holding in my hand [displaying item]. And I could hardly make out what it was as it lay at the bottom of a Whole Foods care package delivered to me upon my arrival for my interviews here in Tucson. Not until I returned to Chicago and unpacked my overnight did I realize that it wasn’t what I presumed it was; I presumed it was a stick of deodorant, a presumption which gave me pause about what Emanu-El’s search committee thought about my personal hygiene. Rather, it was a stick of sunscreen, a real welcome considering your clime. Very, very thoughtful.
My challenge is to give up this [displaying ice scraper/snow brush] for this [displaying sunscreen stick]. Even in the Miami Beach of my tropical youth I could detect seasonal changes. I am sure I will detect seasonal changes in the Tucson of my interim rabbinate. For many of you, seasonal changes were far from subtle. For those of you who have wandered westward from the snow belt to put down roots in the sun belt, giving up an ice scraper for sunscreen was no big deal. As a matter of fact, you might have traded in one for the other eagerly, without a scintilla of regret. Regardless, for settlers or natives some changes are joyous and easy; yet, some are neither. I suspect that for more than a handful, the changes you have experienced at TE and OC as well as the changes you anticipate at TE and OC may be taxing and tricky, if not both. I hope they will be invigorating and restorative. I know they can be.
Surely, though, the days ahead will be nothing short of Days of Awe — days in which we inscribe our names boldly, anxiously, or reluctantly in the book of Tucson Jewish life. To use the favored pronoun of our liturgy, they will constitute a “we” challenge and demand a “we” effort. At the same time, their awesomeness will be underscored by very personal memories of and very personal histories with this community. As in your own lives, you have suffered through this community’s lows and celebrated its highs, tasted the bitter and the sweet. You have beheld its growth and have witnessed its shrinkage. You have clutched life aborning and released life in other seasons to rest among the saguaros.
Exodus Rabbah 19.4 teaches that the gates of repentance are always open, and anyone who wishes to enter may enter. Heartening is this assurance, and who wouldn’t want to enter those gates? Experience teaches that the gates of change are always open, too. But how many of us can’t wait to enter them? Perforce, many who do enter do so kicking and cursing. Yet, the gates of change can be as inviting as the gates of repentance when the welcome mat betokens opportunities for renewal as opposed to admissions of wrongdoing.
For some the process will require a snow blower; for some, a parasol. For some both, because the weather is not quite predictable in our era of disturbing climate change.
James Haggerty, the only White House press secretary to serve two full terms, both under Eisenhower, once said: “One day I sat thinking, almost in despair; a hand fell on my shoulder and a voice said reassuringly: cheer up, things could get worse. So I cheered up and, sure enough, things got worse.”
The most widely quoted author, Anonymous, said: “What screws us up most in life is the picture in our head of how it’s supposed to be.”
My job is not to tell you how things could get worse or, for that matter, how things could get better. You probably know more keenly than I. Nor is my job to tell you how things are supposed to be. For that, we have parents, preachers, and back seat drivers. My job is to understand with you how things have been and imagine how things might otherwise be, and to walk a while through the gates with you.