In the many years I have been privileged to serve as the rabbi of Agudas Achim, I have had the pleasure to work with some extraordinary staff members. To a person, they have been committed Jews who were drawn to synagogue life because it was an extension of their personal Jewish values. For various reasons some of them have gone on to other positions, but to my continuing gratitude their places have been taken by others who build on success and create an even stronger team.
My thoughts turn to this topic because we have just celebrated the tenth anniversary of Hazzan Elisheva Dienstfrey’s arrival at Agudas Achim. The tribute paid to her was richly deserved but necessarily inadequate – there’s no way to show full appreciation to everything she has brought to our community. We are genuinely envied for our cantorial leadership. Moreover, Agudas Achim was the first congregation in Northern Virginia to commit to a full-time cantor in many decades – today, thanks in part to the example of our two full-time hazzanim, cantorial leadership is flourishing in many congregations.
But you and I should also appreciate the other staff members. Sue Finger took a chance with our growing pre-school and has brought her experience and personal Jewish devotion to a program now far exceeding our expectations. Mirza Lopez stepped into a breach part-time and has elevated the position of Executive Director to one of innovation and excellence, not to mention her culinary talents. And Scott Littky has built on the successes of our Religious School and enhanced them with his own commitment to continuing education, curriculum development and the needs of our kids. Scott has also made it a point to be an educator to adults in the congregation, going beyond the requirements of his position.
I have said it so often it may sound cliché, but this is the best team with which I have ever worked. There is always more to accomplish, and my colleagues are the best-equipped to do so.
Why mention this now? Synagogue life in general is being reconsidered, often for what it is not. In the process, we sometimes have a tendency to overlook the strengths that inhere in the community we have. In fact, we have no community without those strengths. The sounds of children’s laughter, the joy of a bat mitzvah service, the enlightenment of adult learning, the fellowship of Kiddush – all of these moments require the collaborative and often unseen efforts of a senior staff (and those who support them).
I wanted to take these few column inches to remind myself and all of us that the sense of empowerment people feel inside and outside the formal institutions of Jewish community has been nurtured by educators, executives and clergy whose goal is to create a welcoming community. I am grateful every day for the particular collection of colleagues with whom I work. I hope you are, too.