Rabbi Hal Schevitz

Growing up in the ‘80s and ‘90s in Baltimore, with no football
team to cheer for, one of my personal heroes was Baltimore Orioles’
shortstop and third baseman Cal Ripken, Jr. Ripken debuted in 1981
and took Major League Baseball by storm in 1982. He won the Rookie
of The Year Award in ’82 and the Most Valuable Player award in ’83,
the year the Orioles won the World Series. He also won the MVP in
1991, and was an American League All-Star every season of his career.
Ripken officially retired after the 2001 season, and, in 2007, he was
inducted into the Baseball Hall of Fame.

Ripken changed the way shortstops were viewed in baseball. He is
6 feet 4 inches tall and was a power hitter. Before him, shortstops were
shorter guys who were not relied upon to be the best hitters. Ripken set
a record for shortstops by hitting at least 20 home runs in 10 consecutive
seasons. At the end of his career, he had over 400 home runs, 3000 hits,
and a .276 batting average.

However, Ripken is most famous for his consecutive games streak.
Begun on May 30, 1982, Cal Ripken, Jr. did not miss a baseball game
for over 16 years, playing in 2,632 straight games. The previous record,
held by Yankee great Lou Gehrig, was 2,130, which Ripken broke on
September 6, 1995. That was a great day of celebration in Baltimore. It
was also my father’s birthday, and we watched the game together from
our home. We were not as fortunate as others who managed to get

While there was much anticipation leading up to that day in
September of 1995, there was no announcement regarding when Ripken
would conclude the streak. It came as a total surprise. On the last home
game of the season in 1998, September 20, the Orioles were hosting the
New York Yankees, who would go on to win the World Series later that
year. The scoreboard showed the starting lineup, with the name “Cal
Ripken Jr.” in the slot to bat sixth and play third base. However,
unbeknownst to fans, the scoreboard was incorrect. Thirty minutes
before the Orioles were to take the field, Ripken informed manager Ray
Miller that it was time. Ripken wanted to end the streak in front of the
fans in Baltimore, at Camden Yards.

When the managers presented the starting lineups to the umpires,
the announcers heard the news, and then spread the word to the fans.
Ripken received a standing ovation from the fans and the Yankees.
Because it was a last-minute decision, and because this was before the
omnipresence of social media, many people did not find out about the
end of the streak until later that night, or even the next day. This
included most of the Jewish community in Baltimore. You see,
September 20, 1998, the night Ripken ended his streak 25 years ago,
almost to this day, was the first night of Rosh Hashanah, and most of the
Jews in Baltimore, I and my family among them, were in synagogue.
Considering that Ripken is not Jewish, I don’t think he was pulling
a Sandy Koufax. However, it seems fitting that he picked that night for
one of the biggest decisions of his life. It was all over the news the next
day. Many rabbis, including my own, incorporated this event into their
sermons for the first day of Rosh Hashanah: it is a time of turning, a
time of endings and beginnings, a time of making life-altering choices.
All of these interpretations of the Jewish New Year mapped onto the
biggest news story in Baltimore.

There is one more piece of the story that I would like share, a little
nugget of Baltimore sports trivia: who was the man who replaced Cal
Ripken in the lineup on September 20, 1998? Ryan Minor.
For years, I have wondered what it must have felt like for Ryan
Minor that night, taking the field in front of thousands of people, filling
the absence of a person who was reliably in that role for years, a person
who performed at the top of his game, raising the bar for excellence
while creating lasting relationships with the people in the city in which
he lived and worked. Standing upon this Bimah on the first day of Rosh
Hashanah, I am beginning to get a sense of what Minor may have felt.
This is the first Rosh Hashanah that a Sasso has not been on the
Bimah of Congregation Beth-El Zedeck since 1976, which, by the way,
was before both Cantor Melissa and I were born. The past year has
rightly been a celebration of all that Rabbis Dennis and Sandy have
accomplished at this synagogue. Their achievements were aided by
generations of Beth-El Zedeck congregants who have contributed their
time and resources. The physical infrastructure and spiritual vibrancy of
this community is a result of all of your efforts. We truly stand on the
shoulders of those who have come before us.

However, standing on someone’s shoulders means that we are in a
position to see further in the distance, as well as reach higher for what is
above. We must do both.

When we turn our eyes to the horizon, we see many challenges
ahead of us. After a several-decade lull, the hateful conspiracy theory of
Antisemitism in America has reared its ugly head again. We experience
it in places that we would expect, like the fringes of society, but we also
experience it in new and unexpected places, like from elected officials
from both major political parties, from other minorities who live in close
proximity to Jews in our largest cities, and from those who frame their
dangerous statements as criticism of the Jewish State. Due to the
prevalence of social media, we also hear it with much more frequency,
and its influence, sometimes promulgated by the biggest media stars on
the planet, is carried far and wide to new audiences, which has led to an
increase not just in verbal expression, but also physical attacks on Jews.
I will have much more to say regarding my concerns about Antisemitism
on Yom Kippur.

Another challenge we face impacts our own community. There are
fewer Jews who are interested in institutional Jewish life, and we
become most aware of that in synagogue membership and attendance.
Across all movements of Liberal Judaism, synagogue life is eroding as
Jews vote with their feet. Self-identified “Jews of no religion” are
growing at an alarming rate. This challenge can be exacerbated during a
transition from one rabbinic leader to another, when members aren’t sure
if they want to stick around for whatever comes next.

As someone who is invested in many aspects of Jewish life, I know
how transformative and meaningful Jewish institutions can be. Jewish
summer camps are immersive experiences that create life-long
friendships and solid Jewish identities. Jewish day schools provide an
in-depth Jewish education where Judaism infuses every subject and
where children live and breathe Jewish custom and practice. Hillel is
where college students find their Jewish community, a Jewish home
away from home. Moishe House, and similar places, serve young
professionals who want to connect with their Jewish peers. Federation
and JCC serve the entire Jewish community through its wide-ranging
social services, communal programs, and support for all Jewish
institutions, and provide a united voice on Israel and Antisemitism.
A synagogue is none of these places, and to be honest, those
organizations are much better than a synagogue at their specific work.
We should not try to be them. However, the synagogue generally, and
Beth-El Zedeck specifically, exists for an entirely different, vital and
essential purpose. Our synagogue is the home base of Judaism, and no
other institution in Jewish life has the comprehensive cradle-to-grave
commitment to its members.

We are here for you when you are a baby, officiating at your brit
milah or baby naming. We are here for you at every age of your
childhood, nurturing and educating you in the ways of Jewish life. We
are here for you when you come of age at your Bar or Bat Mitzvah and
Confirmation, and we celebrate with you when you graduate high school
and continue your studies. We are here for you to bring in the joys that
come with finding a life partner and starting a family. We are here to
help educate your children and assist you in bringing Judaism into your
own home. We are here for you in times of grief and mourning. We are
here for you as empty nesters, providing meaning, purpose, and
connection when your children have grown up. And we are here for you
and your family when you make the journey to your eternal rest.
We impart Jewish meaning into these moments of your life, and
we do so much more. We are your center for celebrating Shabbat and
holidays, the signposts of the Jewish year. We are the hub of Torah
learning, from ancient to modern, with its vast repository of Jewish
tradition. Through our commitment to pursuing justice, we serve the
needs of the Jewish and greater Indianapolis community. And
sometimes, we are just a place to hang out and do cool stuff with other
Jews. No other Jewish institution can compete with what we do. As we
begin a new era, let us all be reminded that you need Beth-El Zedeck,
and Beth-El Zedeck needs you.

This is where we, standing on those shoulders, must reach even
higher. This moment is an opportunity. I do not have a personal
program that I want to impose on the community. Instead, I want us to
think creatively, to explore the possibilities of a vibrant Judaism full of
initiative and imagination that increases our education, deepens our
spirituality, and brings us closer as a community. I want us all to
envision what Beth-El Zedeck looks like, not just this year, but 5 years,
10 years, and 20 years from now. What do we want Beth-El Zedeck to
be, and what do we want to leave for future generations?
I want us to create a Beth-El Zedeck that we truly love. In Jewish
tradition, love is not an emotion, but an action. The Torah requires of us
to love our fellow like ourselves, to love the stranger because we were
strangers, and to love God will all our heart, soul, and might. These are
not statements about how we feel inside. Rather, the Torah is telling us
that love is demonstrated through action, by the deeds that exhibit that
inner emotion.

We live in a time that some sociologists and psychologists call a
“tyranny of choice.” There are so many choices in every area of life that
we are becoming paralyzed from choosing, and we do not want to
commit to any one thing lest we miss what else might be out there. By
not choosing, we lose our sense of commitment and responsibility, a
sense of connection to a community, a people, and a tradition that
confers upon us responsibilities and counts on us to contribute. The
funny thing about humans and responsibility is that we thrive off of it. It
brings us belonging and meaning. Like a loving, committed
relationship, it requires that we give of ourselves, while simultaneously
elevating us to a life of purpose.

As we move forward, I invite us to think of ourselves as
stakeholders, and with a personal interest in Beth-El Zedeck, it is our
responsibility to invest and to be invested. In Hebrew, if you are a
member of something, you are called a חבר, but, as with most words in
Hebrew, there are numerous connections that get to the essence of what
this word really means. חבר also means “friend,” and has the same root
as “fellowship” – חבורה,” notebook” – מחברת, and the mathematical
process “addition” – חיבור. The common thread of these words is that
they speak of parts closely and actively bound together. We are not just
members of the synagogue; we are bound up and deeply connected to
each other. It is my hope that, as part of an intentional Jewish
community, we actively transform each other by living out our values,
educating the future, supporting those in times of need, and celebrating
in times of joy. I also request that each and every one of you, to use the
parlance of our times, become Beth-El Zedeck influencers, both within
the congregation, and out in the Indianapolis Jewish and greater
communities, to grow our inreach and outreach. Experience how
amazing this place is, then tell your friends how amazing this place is.
This is a new moment for our congregation, and people naturally
fear change. However, Jewish tradition rarely mentions change. It is
more helpful to speak about renewal, in Hebrew, חידוש. From the
earliest times to the present, Jewish tradition has established that all
innovations are grounded in the past. In our daily morning prayer, we
God ,goodness s’God in that – וּבְ טוּבוֹ מְ ח דֵּ שׁ בְּ כָל יוֹם תָּ מִ יד מ ע שֵׂ ה בְ רֵ אשִׁ ית say
renews the work of creation every single day. The Hebrew word for
month is חודש, because of the moon’s continuous renewal. During this
High Holy Day season, we will frequently chant the final verse of the
book of Lamentations, which is also recited at the end of every Torah
Avraham Rabbi” .old of as ,days our renew “,ח דֵּ שׁ יָמֵ ינוּ כְּ קֶדֶ ם :service
Yitzḥak Kook, the first Chief Rabbi of British Mandate Palestine,
famously wrote, יתקדש והחדש יתחדש הישן,” The old will be renewed, and
the new will be sanctified.” New ideas help us reinterpret older ones,
and old ideas provide meaningful contexts for new ones.
A moment in the Torah can shed some light on this moment in the
life of Congregation Beth-El Zedeck. Moses led the Israelites for forty
years, bringing them out of Egypt with God’s great and wondrous
miracles, guiding them through the wilderness to God’s holy mountain
for the grand experience of Torah, and transforming a rowdy, raucous
bunch of slaves into a cohesive people. Most importantly, he
empowered those who came after him to continue what he began.
At the end of the Torah, Moses said to the Israelites, צוּ ְמ ִא ְו קוְּז ִח,” be
strong and courageous…for it is indeed Adonai your God who marches
with you. God will not fail you or forsake you.” (Deut. 31:6) Twice
more in the same chapter (31:7, 23), Moses spoke these same words to
Joshua, in their singular form, ץ ָמֱאֶו ק ז ח,” be strong and courageous,” and
promised that God would be with him. While Moses’ journey was over,
Joshua and the Israelites would continue on to the Promised Land. As
the Torah concludes, the Israelites were a work in progress. So too with
the era that has just ended for Congregation Beth-El Zedeck. As we
continue forward, we must locate God’s presence within us, in our
interactions with each other, and in the tapestry of tradition that connects
us to our people’s ancient and ongoing story.

Even as we use the past as a foundation upon which to build, there
is an impulse to make comparisons between what has come before and
what will be. However, a story from the Ḥasidic tradition cautions
against this. As the Ḥasidic rebbe Rabbi Meshullam Zusha of Hanipol
lay on his deathbed, he was surrounded by his disciples. Reb Zusha was
crying, and as much as his students tried, they could not comfort him.
They asked him, “Master, why do you cry? You were just as wise as
Moses and as kind as Abraham.” Reb Zusha answered, “When I pass
from this world and appear before the Heavenly Court, they won’t ask
me, ‘Zusha, why weren’t you as wise as Moses? Why weren’t you as
kind as Abraham?’ Rather, they will ask me, ‘Zusha, why weren’t you
Zusha?’” There will be challenges and successes, obstacles to overcome
and joys to celebrate. In this new moment that approaches, I ask that we
fill our own shoes, that we chart our own path, and that, while we find
meaning in what came before, we creatively live up to our own

In Pirkei Avot (2:16), the Ethics of the Ancestors, we are taught,
“It is not up to you to finish the work, but neither are you free to desist
from it.” There is much work ahead in our time of renewal. Let us enter
the New Year with hope and confidence, and may we all heed the
message that Moses delivered to Joshua and the entire People of Israel in
their moment of transition: ץ ָמֱאֶו ק ז ח,” be strong and courageous.”
Shanah Tovah and Shabbat Shalom.