If These Walls Could Talk: 90 Years in the Sanctuary

September 28, 2018

Delivered by Rabbi Maderer Rosh Hashanah morning

Some of you may have known one of Rodeph Shalom’s oldest, long-time members, Floss Feder, of blessed memory.   In my last visit with Floss, who this spring died at the age of 103 ½  ,  I shared with her our plans to celebrate the 90-year anniversary of our sanctuary.  Her face lit up as I asked her: if our sanctuary walls could talk, what would they say?  And she shared with me this funny story she remembered from her Confirmation class of 1930.  She told the story of when Rabbi Louis Wolsey brought them into the sanctuary to point out one of its distinguishing features: the first four words of Psalm 16, verse 8, painted on the tops of the four pendentives, that say “Shviti Adonai lenegdi tamid,” translating: “I set God before me always.”  When Rabbi Wolsey brought Floss’s Confirmation Class into the sanctuary to ask them, “What do the four Hebrew words mean?”  One classmate responded that the four words of the Psalm surely mean: “Thank you, call again!”

If these walls could talk.  If I were to ask you the question, what might you reveal?  For some of you, your relationship with this glorious space is just beginning.  For many of you, these walls could tell the stories of your lives – pages, chapters, volumes — recounts of memories, the joys, the sorrows, the profound connections experienced within them. These walls are something of a Book of Life—that very Book of Life from our High Holy Day prayers.

This morning and throughout these Days of Awe, we recite “V’katvenu b’sefer chayim/Inscribe us in the Book of Life.”  Generations of Jewish commentators have confronted the problematic concept of a Book of Life.  Who, still living with more chapters left to write, found themselves with too few pages?  The injustice of a Book of Life, that we know ends too soon, for too many, turns some of us away from the concept altogether.   Read the rest of this entry »