A love founded on faith and gratitude

D’ var Torah
Rabbi David Benjamin Fainsilber
August 3, 2018 / 23 Av 5778

In addition to sanctifying Shabbat with music and prayer,
we gather today for two simple reasons:
To bear witness and celebrate in community
the 60 years of love and commitment
shared by two of our most dedicated members.
And secondly, also, to celebrate the many gifts they have given to JCOGS.

Steve and Carole, I am so humbled to be present here,
to bear witness in community to the love that you share with each other,
a love founded on faith and gratitude.

We have gathered together for many occasions:
learning in Torah study countless times,
sitting at board and committee meetings,
making plans on the phone for JCOGS events,
talking together over refreshments —
(always provided at JCOGS at every opportunity),
praying together in the beautiful sanctuary you helped build and sustain,
discussing life’s ups and downs in my office,
seeing you interact with Alison and our children, and on…
so many memories…

Each of you separately and the combination that is you both
is no less than incredible.

At JCOGS, I bear witness and celebrate how
you are each youthful and inquisitive.
You are genuinely curious about life.
You will often openly ask what someone meant by a comment they made,
carefully seeking greater understanding.

You are ready to use your respective skills to impart your wisdom.

Steve, you have endless attention to detail,
helping us sort through board by-laws,
a job fit for only those with great fortitude.
At board meetings, you ask questions
that move us to deeper thought and respect.
You have served for more years than most.
You are a dutiful husband at every corner,
acting as Carole’s chauffeur, her manager, her cheerleader, her schlepper,
and always her devoted Beloved.

Carole, you are relentless in the best possible way.
When you have an idea, you are driven to make things happen.
Your youth becomes you.
No matter your age or what state your health is in,
you are constantly in the flow of creation,
bringing arts and education programs to JCOGS as if out of thin air,
stacked on top of each other, one incredible program after the other.
You have on more than one occasion told me
that you feel as though you are 19 years old.
In all that you do, your youthfulness comes across clearly.

Both of you are hilarious, witty and quick.
You are both kind and caring and considerate,
empathic to the core,
looking after the needs of others, when the needs are there.
You are devoted to your family, dotting on them at every turn.
You both are generous of mind, heart and spirit.
You have given in innumerable ways to make JCOGS what it is,
including the founding of this beautiful, humble building.

In this week’s Torah portion, Ekev,
the story speaks of the test of the manna.
The Israelites were given this food they did not ever know before,
that went bad after one day if excessively collected,
that was not given in abundance,
and that tested their faith.

The author, Haketav va’ha’Kabbalah says that:
“G-d will bring humanity into such situations
which will be able to prove the extent of our faith and trust in G-d.”
The manna was a test to see if the Israelites
believed in G-d and the Universe’s giving nature.

Carole and Steve,
you know that there have been ups and downs in your lives;
you know that there have been bumps along the road.
Yet, so clearly to all of us,
when you have been faced with tests,
you have shown your faith in others,
exemplifying to all of us the Jewish value of hakarat hatov,
seeing the good inherent in all people.
You are idealistic and humanitarian.
You have shown your faith in G-d and community
by investing so much
in your families and in your communities of JCOGS and Stowe.

Regarding the manna, the Torah juxtaposes its giving
to the giving of the Promised Land:
“a good land, a land of brooks of waters, of fountains…a land of wheat, barley…
wherein you shall eat bread without scarceness,
a land whose stones are iron
and out of whose hills you may mine copper….” (Deut. 8:7-11)
The land here is described as luscious, as flowing with milk and honey.
But then the Torah says something curious:
“Beware lest you forget the Lord your G-d.”
As Nechama Leibowitz writes:
“The Torah sings the praises of the land to emphasise…
the moral dangers and pitfalls that such gifts might bring with them.”
In other words, here is the paradox of human living:
the less we have, often, the more blessed we feel.
The more blessed we are with possessions,
the more we forget that we are blessed!

Yet, somehow, Steve and Carole,
so blessed with life, so blessed with family and community
and all of your worldly needs met,
you continue to see the world as beautiful and luscious and full of wonder.
You appreciate life, every single moment of life, and its richness.

Part of your ability to do so is your continuous humility.
When I shared with you that your community wanted to honour you
with a night of music and prayer and food,
your categorically and in no uncertain terms refused to be honoured.
You did not like the word “honour”.
You are too humble to want to be honoured.
After some arm twisting,
you were begrudgingly willing
to have your community celebrate with you.
Celebrate, not honour.
And that is what we are surely doing tonight: celebrating you both,
all you are, each of you and together,
and all you have given us.

And so I end with a brief anecdote.
Of all of the small encounters we have had over these past years,
one particularly has stuck out to me,
and I think of it often.
It was one of our Torah study gatherings,
as always, over refreshments,
and we were sitting around studying in our social hall.
I asked a question of the group,
“What are you most grateful for?”
We went around the circle and each person shared.
Then we came to you both,
sitting next to each other, as you always do.
First we came to Carole,
and you said: “I am most grateful for my loving husband.”
Then we came to Steve, and without hesitation, he returned the favour,
“I am most grateful for Carole, my beautiful wife.”
60 years into marriage, and the endless gratitude is simply remarkable.
Most couples get more crotchety
as they spend more and more years together.
Like the Israelites, they grumble and moan
as the long years of wilderness build on each other.
Yet, the two of you are love birds, through and through.
You love each other.
You are grateful for each other.
And your love and gratitude only build with each passing year.
It is your ability to see the good, your generosity of spirit,
and your humility that you share with all of us.

I would like to now invite Carole and Steve up,
as their children and grandchildren hold up a chuppah over their heads,
and we bless them.

Always together,
you are inseparable in love and commitment to one another,
and so too inseparable from JCOGS,
sustainers and life-givers of JCOGS.

We bless you with many more years,
biz a hundert und tzvantik, to a 120!
May you continue to grow and be sustained
by each other and your community.
As you have loved us, so we love you.
Mazel tov!!!