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06/10/2022 10:57:48 AM


Dear Or Shalom,

There are no words adequate to summarize the 15 years we have journeyed together. There are not enough hours to meet with each of you one on one to have the kind of closure I would wish for. Like so much else in life, my
departure will leave loose ends and unfinished edges. But to the extent that words may help us all to find comfort and strength in this parting, I offer these.

What a blessing it has been to be the rabbi of Or Shalom Jewish Community! 

Being a solo pulpit rabbi is in some ways an impossible calling. The demand is as infinite as the needs of the world. And the tasks are so varied, no human being could ever be good at it all. One moment, a singer, another moment, a counselor, or a community organizer, a teacher, a ritual artist, a writer, a manager, a peace maker, a schlepper. In all these years I have no doubt been better at some of these roles than others. And I hope that you will forgive me for the ways I have fallen short. 

One thing I can say with pride is that I really have loved the people and the experiences I have nurtured at Or Shalom. And if there is anything that sums up all of my work here, it comes down to that. My real work here has been to love. That’s it. All it is. 

To love. 

To see the good in you, to lift it up. To encourage all of us together to be the best versions of ourselves we can be, to rise up out of that love and make an effort together to do what we cannot do alone. What an amazing thing to have a job like that! Then again, maybe that’s really the only true work that anyone ever has. To love. The assignment of all human beings.

As a rabbi, I get to do that work “out in the open” and to be invited to shine that love into the center of life’s most vulnerable and poignant moments.  It is a sacred privilege both weighty and exalted to be entrusted with that role.
I cannot thank you all enough for the gift of this opportunity and the trust and love you have shown me.

We have manifested so many good things together. We have witnessed one another. Comforted and healed one another. Created sacred experiences and worked together for the good. We have laughed a lot. Learned a lot. Cried. Grown. Deepened. 

And I believe in you, Or Shalom. I have met so many amazing people in my time here.  Lifelong activists, lovers of Torah, leaders willing to experiment and create new forms of gathering and prayer, musicians and teachers,
mystics and atheists. I’ve been blessed to see the kindness and dedication of all kinds of folks – from those who make the chesed meals and organize the schlepping of High Holy Day gear, to those who spend time on committees guiding the congregation and keeping things running.  

I’ve been proud, time and again, to celebrate our diversity, and to know that Or Shalom’s culture of acceptance has nourished a community where people can come as they are and find connection and belonging.
And I believe that especially in this way, Or Shalom has a unique purpose in the Jewish landscape of San Francisco. 

Or Shalom’s journey is far from done. 

And now, if I may, I’d like to refer to a little bit of juicy Torah to help us frame this moment.

When the Children of Israel were wandering in the wilderness, they were blessed to have three great leaders guiding them in addition to their tribal chiefs: Moses, Aaron, and Miriam. Midrash (rabbinic legend) teaches that it was by the merit of these leaders that three sustaining miracles accompanied the Israelites as they journeyed. By the merit of Moses: manna, the magical food which fell from the heavens each day. By the merit of Miriam: water, a supernatural wellspring which would always rise up to quench their thirst.
By the merit of Aaron: the clouds of glory, which offered protection and would lift and lower to show them where to go next, when to move and when to stop.

At the moment when Miriam dies in the desert, there is suddenly no water.  It’s a real crisis. The people panic and come angrily to Moses, re-casting their escape from slavery:

“Why did you make us leave Egypt to bring us to this evil place?!? It would have been better never to have left!” In their fear and thirst, they lose all
perspective and cannot see the good.

And then things get worse. Moses and Aaron react in anger, striking the rock and yelling at the community. God decrees that neither shall cross into the promised land. By the end of the chapter, Aaron dies too, and the Israelites are bereft of two great leaders and in theory, the miracles that came with them. They also must now face the prospect that Moses will not be with them to establish themselves in the promised land.

But then the journey continues.

By the next chapter, the Torah reports that the people have learned to
summon water with song and dig wells for themselves. The clouds may not be so “glorious” as before, but commentaries note that they still seem to be present. My own teachers have proposed that perhaps the clouds of glory were no more than the smoke rising from the sacrificial fires which the priests oversaw day and night. Aaron may have been the first High Priest, but he was certainly not the last, and those ancient “bima teams” kept those fires going long after he was gone. As it is written in Leviticus 6:6, “Fire shall
always be kept burning on the altar – don’t let it go out!”

I am no Aaron or Miriam, but I imagine that even so, some of the anxiety of that moment of loss in the wilderness may resonate with our own wandering Or Shalom tribe in this time of transition. And I hope that we can all
remember the second part of the story -- not just the loss, but the learning and growth that happened afterwards. 

As our pathways part, I send you with love and blessing for the next chapter. It will not be the same, but it will be full of new kinds of blessings. This time of transition offers the community a difficult but important opportunity -- to learn to dig those wells and keep that fire going, even as leadership changes.

You are in good hands with Matt and the Board in partnership with Or Shalom’s new Executive Director, Amy. Rabbi Me’irah will be taking on
pastoral coverage until Or Shalom has an interim rabbi in place. Our
ensemble and other leaders from inside and outside of the community will carry forward services and programs. Our leaders are making plans to arrange for dynamite rabbinic leadership for the High Holy Days. And don’t forget, you are most of all in your own hands. You always have been. This community is yours. And this moment invites you to take hold of it and be held by it, shaping the way forward with love.

With all my Blessing,
Rabbi Katie

Wed, July 6 2022 7 Tammuz 5782