Delivered at the Confirmation of Temple Sinai’s 10th Grade Class on May 21, 2016.
So now it’s my turn to say to all of you, “congratulations and mazal tov on your Confirmation.” When you give a speech like this, you have to decide whether to go for laughs or tears. I think this time its gonna be tears.
I want to sincerely thank each of you for coming on this Jewish journey with me. During these 10 months, I have gotten to know the new you, not the thirteen year old you once were at your B’nei Mitzvah, but the adolescent you, the individual you are today.
And who you are today has made my day every Sunday morning. I may be too old now to be hip, but thank you for helping me to stay young at heart.
I want you to know that it has been a privilege to take you on this journey. You are my 22nd Confirmation class here at Temple Sinai, the 27th in my overall rabbinic life.
I must tell you that you are one of the most impressive and enjoyable Confirmation classes I have ever had the honor and the fun to teach. I will always remember you and cherish this time we’ve had together.
I feel hugely proud of you and I fully intend to brag about you, because I’m the rabbi, and that’s what a rabbi does for his/her Confirmands.
I want to brag about your Confirmation statements this morning. Take it from me, they wowed everybody! Not only because they reflect how smart and thoughtful you are. They reflect how Jewishly knowledgable you are.
I want to brag about how you made yourselves show up on Sunday morning, even though you were dead tired from a late Saturday night, and no matter how much you wanted to sleep in. You pushed yourselves. I saw it and I appreciate it.
I want to brag about how you maintained a Confirmation class atmosphere of open-mindedness and acceptance, even when you strongly disagreed with each other.
I want to brag that you know what Judaism really teaches about life after death. You know what is enduring about the Ten Commandments. You know the differences between what Reform Jews believe and what Reform Judaism actually teaches. You know how to identify the bias against Israel in the media. You know what your own personal deal-breakers are in terms of who you could marry and who you could not. You know that Jews around the world – especially the Jews of Europe – are increasingly unsafe, because of the resurgence of anti-Semitic hatred. You know the varieties of possible Jewish identities in the modern world and where you fit in. And you do fit in, you do belong.
Your Confirmation experience is coming to an end. I hope you will carry with you, not just into your junior and senior years of high school but into your adult lives, what I’ve endeavored to impress upon you over the years:
Judaism is not just a bunch of rituals and bible stories. Judaism is a treasury of profound ideas and ideals. Judaism is wise, thoughtful, reasonable, logical, compassionate. Torah study is sweet. Torah study is inspiring. Judaism is not ancient but modern. Judaism has so much wisdom to offer you about the decisions you make and how to live a moral life in the 21st century.
You know how strongly I feel about observing Yom ha Shoah, Holocaust Remembrance Day, to light the 6 memorial candles, to remember the names of the 6 million Jews who perished. You know how strongly I feel about speaking up for Israel, visiting Israel often, and learning how to speak Hebrew.
Now even with all this bragging, I’m not sure you fully appreciate what you’ve accomplished, the distinction you’ve truly earned….earned! So let me tell you. There are 13-15 million Jews in the entire world. That’s it. We are fewer than one tenth of one per cent of the world’s 6 billion people.
History proves there are two ways the world’s Jewish population shrinks, two ways Jews disappear. One is by anti-Semitism. Demographers tell us that there were 5-7 million Jews in antiquity. Jews actually made up 10% of the population in the Mediterranean region, living in Israel and also in Babylonia, Rome, Turkey, Greece, and Egypt.
The demographers go on to say that were it not for the Holocaust, the Inquisition, and the pogroms there would be 100-200 million Jews in the world today. Imagine that! 100-200 million Jews would have changed everything about Jewish life today.
The other way Jewish community shrinks, the way Jews disappear, is by assimilation. By every metric, the American Jewish community is rapidly assimilating. For me, assimilation is when Jews stop caring about Jewish concerns. Increasingly, Jewish Americans don’t care about belonging to organized Jewish community and supporting the synagogue, don’t care about visiting Israel and remembering the Holocaust.
That all of you made the time and put in the work to become Confirmands – despite your crazy busy schedules and the ridiculous demands on your time – tells me that in your heart of hearts, you don’t want to see Judaism die out by assimilation. You want Judaism to live on in you and through you. That you said “yes” to Confirmation when others said “no” tells me you understand: Because we are such a small people, every one of our people has to care. And you do care.
You, Confirmands, are the hope and the promise for a proud and flourishing Jewish future. You, Confirmands, recognize the authenticity that flows from being Jewishly knowledgable, Jewishly educated on a serious adult level. You, Confirmands, will be the temple presidents and trustees of next generation Reform synagogues. Maybe even a rabbi or a cantor of a next gen Reform synagogue. I’m just saying….just putting it out there. You, Confirmands, have earned our appreciation, our respect, and our gratitude.
Kol ha kavod, bravo to you, the Temple Sinai Confirmation class of 5776/2016!