A Perfect World Union for Progressive Judaism Shabbat

Rabbi Gary M. Bretton-Granatoor, Vice President, Philanthropy, WUPJ

As Americans, this past Thursday evening, many gathered around holiday tables to celebrate Thanksgiving. Towards the end of the evening, my daughter, Samantha, leaned over to me and said, “I’d like to invite you to come to Shabbat services with me Shabbat morning.” It is not often that a rabbi gets invited to Shabbat services by his or her progeny, so my interest was piqued. My daughter is a full-time teacher at NYC’s Central Synagogue. She added that this Shabbat would be very special. Two summers ago, my daughter spent part of the summer in Belarus, assisting with the Minsk Netzer summer camping program. This was part of Central Synagogue’s on-going partnership with the Minsk Progressive Jewish community. Like many synagogues that are “twinned” with congregations in the FSU, Central Synagogue provided financial support to the Minsk community. After a trip to Belarus, and meeting with the leaders of the Progressive Jewish community there, Rabbi Peter Rubinstein, the Senior Rabbi of Central Synagogue felt that they could do more than just send financial support. Central had embarked upon a program of hiring dynamic, young, full-time teachers to educate their young people. Central committed to send some of these young teachers to assist in the Netzer summer camp program and to consult with the educators and rabbis leading the Belarusian Progressive community. My daughter Samantha was sent to Minsk in the summer of 2010. This past summer, Central Synagogue sent their youth group leader, Zach Rolf, with several of their teen leaders. There, they worked with Rabbi Grisha Abramovich, and community leader Michael Kemerov and community educator (and Michael’s spouse) Irina Kemerov. One of the young people with whom my daughter bonded was Michael and Irina’s daughter Elizabeth – at the time, she was 11 years old. Influenced by the warm relationships Elizabeth established with the representatives of Central Synagogue, it became her desire to become bat mitzvah in New York City. This morning I was blessed to be part of the extended family that surrounded Elizabeth as she was called to the Torah as Bat Mitzvah. Through digital streaming, the services were shared by

hundreds of people, watching over the internet, in Belarus, in Israel, and in California. But the community in the sanctuary was special as well. The service was beautifully led by Rabbi Peter Rubinstein and Rabbi Michael Freidman and many talented musicians and singers. In the congregation were Rabbi Ken and Sue Weiss from Salem, Massachusetts who had an aliyah – and have had a long standing relationship with the Kemerov family and the Minsk community. Seated behind me were Rabbi Michael and Olga Farbman and their two sons. Rabbi Farbman is a proud product of the World Union’s efforts in the FSU as he was a participant in our Machon Program and then went on for his rabbinical studies and ordination at the Leo Baeck College in London – he now serves a Reform congregation in New Haven, Connecticut. Samantha and Zach, the teachers, were there as were the four young people who spend part of their summer at the Netzer Camp in Minsk. Members of the congregation were present and even a member of the custodial staff, Misha, who often translated in calls and emails with the Minsk community. But, this morning’s true star was Elizabeth Kemerov – who conducted the Torah Service in Hebrew, English and Russian which such dignity and grace. She taught us that the moral ambiguities of the Torah are filled with lessons for us. Rabbi Rubinstein offered, in his d’var Torah, the very poignant cry of Rebekah, who was brought low from the pain of carrying the twins, cried out “Em kayn, lama zeh anochi” (If this is so, why do I exist?) And yet, he taught, that Rebekah was that link in the chain that brought Jacob to the fore, from whom we all descend. And like the pain that generations in the past suffered to maintain their Jewish heritage, the end result is a joyful congregation blessed to welcome the next generation of leaders who will bear Torah into the future. Elizabeth Kemerov reminded us of the precious legacy that has been passed down and the tremendous efforts required to maintain that legacy. But the smile on her face, and the smiles on the faces of everyone present reflected how worthwhile that effort has been – and how much hope we have in the future generations. Elizabeth thanked Rabbi Rubinstein and the many teachers she had, but when she mentioned Samantha BrettonGranatoor and Zach Rolf by name, my heart swelled with pride, for my next generation helped to nurture Michael and Irina’s daughter, who will help nurture the next generation of Jews in Belarus. There were many things for which I was grateful this past Thanksgiving eve – but none more profound than when my daughter invited me to Shabbat

services, and I was again reminded of the blessed work that we do. For this, I give thanks.