Yom Kippur 5759 - 1998
She-hehiyanu ve-qimanu ve-higianu la-zeman ha-ze: “Who has kept us in life and has sustained us and enabled us to reach this season.”
With this benediction we inaugurate the Holy Days and mark special occasions. This simple blessing recognizes the most fundamental Divine gift: the gift of life.
The bendiction is in the plural, communal form: “Who has kept us in life.” When we say “she-hehiyanu — who has kept us in life” we are immediately aware of the fact that “us” is a limited, exclusive, term. For there are those near and dear to us who were not “kept in life.”
How can I say “She-hehiyanu ve-qimanu ve-higianu la-zeman ha-ze, who has kept us in life and sustained us and enabled us to reach this season” when I am so keenly aware that there are those whom God did not keep in life, did not sustain, and did not enable to reach this season?
When I look around this room I see many faces, familiar faces, dear faces I see every day, every week, some every year. I feel the presence of those who have been here in the past but are not today. … I can see their faces, too.
The passage of time is not experienced as a linear passing, not as a straight line, but as columns. The Yamim Noraim Days of Awe are at the top of the column, the rosh; and last Yom Kippur is not separated from today by 354 days, but is right next to today in the previous column. We’ve come back to the start, almost the same spot as last year, but just a little to the side. Because we mark the passage of seasons, we might experience time in this way.
We do not understand the fundamental workings of the universe in which we live. We experience time, but we do not understand it. Scientifically we are aware that some things are not subject to time, but it makes no sense to our human observation. Our memories link past and presence, but memories are only a little more than dreams.
When I look around this room I see many dear faces.
There are faces I’ll remember all my life. Some are gone, some remain, some are dead, some are living.
In the story of each person’s life is something precious. Each person affects their family and others during their lifetime, in uncountable ways.
My family and I have been in New Haven now for a little more than five years, and so this is the sixth time that I have addressed this ever-changing congregation on the morning of Yom Kippur.
These are the names of members of the Congregation and their children who have passed away during those five years:
Mimi Kahn, Abraham Bettigole, Lillian Levine, Martha Schneider, Rabbi Chana Timoner, Rose Pergament.
Edward Mattler, Alan Hodes, Jacob Sokoloff, Edith Sokoloff Goldstein, Michael Rudof, Dorothy Shure, Louis Goodwin, Sara Oppenheim.
Hope Bell, Abraham Goldstein, Marian Goldstein, Malka Levine, Samuel Opotzner, Helene Pepper, Manny Rosner, Maurice “Murray” Schnitzer.
Evelyn Cohen, Sidney Cushen, Benjamin Alter, Barbara Lidsky Belcher, David X. Brown, The Rev. Louis Friedman, Samuel “Sonny” Goodwin, Ida Karass, Herbert Leibovitz, Morris Oppenheim, Maurice Proctor, Leonard Stein, Mildred Stein, David Tyson, Beverly Zlotoff.
I remember each and every one of these wonderful people. Each was a precious soul. Having known these people, I feel that I can truly appreciate this congregation and why it is so great.
In addition to these members, we have lost many relatives and dear ones, most of whom lived out of town, many of whom visited us on these Holy Days, as well as past members who had moved away. We feel diminished by their loss.
Each person gave life to their children, love to their families, a legacy of kindness and contribution to friends. Each person touched many lives.
Mimi Kahn showed us how to fulfill the mitzva of “le-qabel et kol benei adam be-sever panim yafot — to meet and greet each person in an openhearted way.” She was the first friend to many entrants to our community. And she lived as if age were irrelevant.
Eddie Mattler would say, “this is the most delicious (whatever it was) I have ever tasted.” And he’d say it at each meal. And he meant it. I learned from Eddie how to be a little bit better of a husband.
Abe Goldstein would hold the door open for Marion when he brought her to shul. Marion always had a berukha, a blessing in Yiddish, for me, my family, all the Jewish people and for all the world.
David Tyson held his son’s hand, watching the races, during his last moments. Simply being together is so important. And helping people: People would say, “If you’ve got a problem, call Dave.”
Alan Hodes drove a large clunky car filled with old newspapers and other stuff. Why should he buy himself a new car when he can spend his money on his family and friends? As for the old newspapers: When he’d drive by someone hawking papers in the street, he’d buy one, sometimes from three different hawkers in one day — the same newspaper — just to help the guy out. What a heart Alan had.
Hope Bell’s first criterion for choosing a residence was the quality of the education available to her children. She knew what was important in life and lived accordingly. Her very being exemplified the Biblical Proverb, “A word fitly spoken is like apples of gold on silver serving-ware.”
Rabbi Chana Timoner showed us that every person can do great things if they try, and that greatness resides in each human soul.
Lou Goodwin sat right in the front row on Yom Kippur, never afraid to be out in front in his leadership position.
Sonny Goodwin showed us that a tough man can do great things when he feels the duty of leadership.
Sid Cushen was blessed with the ability to be happy with what he had. He focused on quality and precision, on aesthetics and ethics above ostentation or fame. Whether he was making a fire engine for his children, or a precision component for the Apollo moon mission, Sid strove for the best, he reached for the stars.
Sara Oppenheim, who sang so beautifully on many a Yom Kippur past, “cheerfully faced the future.” She had a positive attitude, she was accepting of others and of what life presented. Sara had the wisdom to keep things in perspective, and the vision for a future.
Morris Oppenheim carried his bride Sara over the threshold of their home, clutching the suitcases in one hand, during a blizzard, and held his bride close for a lifetime.
Evelyn Cohen was the kind of person who liked to do things right. She had high work standards and high ethical standards, and she demanded the best from those whom she supervised. Although she was not judgmental, knowing that she did what was right inspired others to do likewise.
Edith Goldstein showed us how to innately feel the commonality of humanity, to identify with others, feel sympathy and act to help even complete strangers; she showed us that a regular person can be the model for decency and generosity of heart.
Murray Schnitzer was concerned with community, with bringing people together, and with honoring those who have gone before us. He could open his heart, in his own unique way.
Helene Pepper seemed to retain faith in God and in humanity, despite the hardships she faced. She could live with optimism, she could give with selflessness. She was able to trust others — even more, others relied on and trusted her — and she was able to give without condition.
Lillian Levine, who had run the Sisterhood Giftshop for many years, always maintained her concern and interest in the congregation. She was a matriarch for her family and a model for the community.
Manny Rosner — if you met Manny, you knew Manny: his outgoing, friendly persona made him unforgettable. He always smiled, and he always looked to make each day the best it could be. He always had a friendly word — whether in Yiddish, Italian, Spanish, Polish or English. He knew how to engage others, he was a warm, sweet man.
Bev Zlotoff, and Barbara Lidsky Belcher (whom I knew only indirectly) each showed us how to love life and love the world, that we can not take long life for granted, that love can last forever though our lives are limited. They made us be strong.
Lennie & Millie Stein taught us so much in their lives, and in their deaths reminded us that life is fragile, no matter how generous and righteous a person is.
Michael Rudof showed how a talented, brilliant young person can deeply affect the lives of so many and accomplish so much in a short time, and that life is tenuous.
Maurice Proctor would go all the way when he did something, giving of his time, his wisdom, his wealth, to give his utmost for a worthy cause, large or small.
Dorothy Shure modeled the good person, who lead and learned and loved with all her heart.
Martha Schneider showed us that a person whose been around the block and seen enough to make anyone a cynic can retain her sense of decency and compassion, as well as a sense of humor.
Malka Levine showed us how much a strong, intelligent and loving person can affect countless live for the better, through her teaching, caring and inspiring.
The Rev. Louis Friedman showed us that when a world is destroyed, a new one can be rebuilt. Like the Biblical Joshua, he lead the people during a traumatic transition with utmost faithfulness and dedication. In him we saw the entire history of the Jewish people and glimpsed our future.
Perhaps I do an injustice to say just a sentence about some of these people; there was so much more to each of them. To know them is to understand the history of this community. What they created must continue to live and grow.
Each person special and unique. Each person has a purpose in God’s world. Each represents something new, something that never existed before, original and special. As is written in the Mishna, the second century law compendium: “…Whoever saves a single person, Scripture considers it as though a whole world had been saved” (Sanh. 4:5).
Our sage Rabbi Zusya said as he approached his death, “In the world to come I shall not be asked, ‘Why were you not Moses?’ I shall be asked, ‘Why were you not Zusya?'”
What I learned from each person is only one small part of what they gave to this world.
I look out at the congregation and see so many beautiful faces. Of these families, nearly half were not here five years ago. But I also see faces of people here long before I was, people who built and kept this Congregation alive, and I honor that. And the faces of those who are no longer living, they are with us this day. They are remembered.
How can I say “she-hehiyanu” this year? I look at you. And I look at our children. As a collective, we have been kept in life, and although we feel sadness, loneliness, pain at the loss of the many who have gone before us, we feel — simultaneously — gratitude that we are here, breathing, alive, living the ideals and dreams that we share together. It is a great, mysterious, privilege to be alive.