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Rabbanit Alissa's Speech at the 2020 Gala

02/27/2020 09:57:53 AM


Rabbanit Alissa Thomas-Newborn

I am grateful to Hashem to stand before you tonight, celebrating the last five and a half years of our Torah, friendship, and holy work together at B’nai David-Judea. I have so much love and gratitude for each of you and am truly humbled by your support, touching words, and simcha in celebrating this moment.


How could I not share some Chasidut? The Baal Shem Tov offers a beautiful and instructive teaching-- it’s one of my favorites: He teaches that when we daven as a community, all of our words of prayer come together to form a ladder ascending to heaven. Each of us comes to offer a rung for the other so we can ascend together. On any given day (and I know I’ve been there), one of us may feel like we just fell off the ladder-- but when we come together, we lift each other in a way we cannot do alone-- what feels impossible becomes possible.


We can extend this mashal of the holy Besht to all mitzvot. With each mitzvah we do, we contribute to building a ladder that is accessible to all-- further connecting us to each other and Hashem. Our gala tonight is a celebration of the ladder we are constantly constructing at BDJ. Taking the chance to value each rung-- every meal train, Mishmar and Midrash shiur, every committee meeting (yes, every committee meeting) and shiva minyan, every YP Minyan and Rechov Yeladim counselor who comforts and inspires our children, every halachic sheilah and every Tikkun Olam lunch. Look no further than our wonderful honorees-- Shana and Mordechai and Joanne and Robby-- to see people who embody this ethic every day.


Our BDJ family is committed to supporting each other in constructing and ascending our spiritual ladder in mitzvah observance and Torah learning. And we are also engaged in innovating ways to make our ladder more inclusive-- bolstered by a diversity of voices and talents. I offer just a few precious moments when I have had the privilege of witnessing our ladder being constructed in real time:


When a bat mitzvah girl said to me, ‘I can’t understand or accept that every person doesn’t have a home-- but I think I see a possible solution in my bat mitzvah parsha’ (stay tuned for her awesome speech in just a few weeks!). That she grappled with this moral dilemma, and came to our shul and Torah to engage it is a rung on our ladder. Or when one of our members welcomed a call from me to volunteer for a few hours a day to help someone struggling with postpartum depression-- another rung was added. Or when our Cocoa Club girls (thanks to Arielle Gereboff for running that program!) initiated a frank and loving conversation about how we can support each other when we are feeling alone-- specifically how we can wake up each morning and thank God for making us who we are-- a rung was added and our ladder was fortified. Or on a personal note-- when Akiva and I cried, and you held us, and when we rejoiced, you celebrated with us. You showed us how to climb, steady ourselves, and keep ascending our ladder with faith and joy. Thank you for that invaluable gift.


This is what we are celebrating tonight-- what makes BDJ such a unique and holy shul.


There are certain rungs, whom I want to personally acknowledge this evening~~

Thank you to my family, friends, colleagues, and rabbis for joining us tonight (as well as those who could not be with us in person!)-- including my wonderful dad who came all the way from Florida, as well as Reb Jeff from Yeshivat Maharat! You inspire and guide me. Thank you to my mom who has taught me how to love, give, and be a rabbanit. You are my best friend and lifelong role model. And thank you to members of her shul-- Temple Emet!-- for joining us as well! Thank you to our phenomenal dinner committee, our amazing staff-- especially Adynna and Adele-- and our fantastic executive board, board, and president-- Duke. You fearlessly and creatively design our ever-ascending ladder. And thank you to Rav Yosef for being our holy leader-- working with you is a dream come true-- but it far surpasses any dream. I am grateful to God that you allowed me to join you in this pulpit. You truly treat me as a partner. All of us in this room know-- you are a humble and courageous tzadik. As we say upon encountering a profound teacher who embodies Torah: ברוך שחלק מחכמתו ליראיו. And saving the best for last: Akiva. Thank you for being my greatest support and the love of my life. You have believed in me, inspired me, and been my partner every step of the way on this crazy journey. Maybe we can coin a new phrase? Next to every great Rabbanit is an even greater husband. I love you.


It has been and will continue to be my profound privilege to be a rung on our BDJ ladder. May we always ascend together in worship and holy service, with our whole hearts. Mazal Tov!

Mon, December 4 2023 21 Kislev 5784