Honor/Kavod- Temple Chai Gala, 2022
Honor/Kavod- Temple Chai Gala, 2022
Rabbi Bonnie Koppell
Thoughts on the Humbling Gift of Being Honored
On October 5th at 5:55 p.m., Lea Plosker called to ask if I would accept the honor of being celebrated at this year’s gala. Will it surprise you to learn that, a) of course I said yes, and, b) I had written a draft of these remarks by 10:55 p.m.
Honor. Kavod in Hebrew. A word laden with meaning. A weighty topic. In fact, the word kavod comes from the root kaved- heavy. It’s literally a heavy subject.
I came to Arizona in 1987 and loved Temple Chai from afar. I was honored to speak at panel discussions and at the dedication of the sanctuary in 1992. I walked both my daughters down the aisle to their chuppah right next door on this bimah, and celebrated my own wedding in this very room in 2016. Kavod ha-Tzibbur, honoring the community, is a fundamental Talmudic principle. I honor this community and its members. I honor all of you who are here today, who have made Temple Chai the treasure that it is.
Our tradition begs us to honor every single human being as a tzelem Elohim, as the image of God. We are to treat each other with respect, give each other the benefit of the doubt, err on the side of compassion, forgive each other, believe in the possibility of teshuva, of personal growth, and shape ourselves into holy images of God.
We honor the Holy One- in the words of our prayer- “M’lo kol ha-aretz k’vodo- the whole earth is filled with God’s kavod- God’s honor, God’s glory.” (Isaiah 6:3) We honor all of creation and are reminded never to waste the earth’s resources and to respect all creatures. We honor each other by devoting ourselves to tikkun olam, advocating and working for freedom and justice for all.
Honoring teachers, AND, honoring students is basic to the Jewish way of life. We read in Pirke Avot that if we learn anything from another person, we are to honor them for that teaching. And we are urged to always treat our students with the greatest honor. (Pirke Avot 4:15, 6:3) “Who is wise? The person who learns from everyone.” (Pirke Avot 4:1) I have learned from my colleagues, and I honor them for their patience with ME as I grow and learn. I am so touched that Rabbi Sarah Leah Grafstein, a friend for close to forty years, joins us here this evening.
Special thanks to Cantor Ross Wolman, without whom I never could have survived and flourished in this past year. I learn so much from ALL of you and thank you so much for studying with me in so many varied forums. Teaching is one of my biggest joys!
Kibbud av v’em- honoring our parents, is so fundamental that it made it into the 10 commandments. I am proud to honor my parents at this moment. They were not exactly excited when I announced my desire to be a rabbi, yet they came around to be accepting and maybe even pleased. My dad Leo, alav ha-shalom, made a point of noting that it was at the age of 11 that I first announced my intention. He taught me by word and deed to honor friendships. My mom Sandy does me the honor of being here this evening, and don’t think it was easy to squeeze into her schedule. At 87, I still rely on her for wisdom and guidance, and she is still the most impatient person I ever met. Mom- thank you for supporting me all along the way, and making your peace with my career as a rabbi, even though you thought I should be a librarian or a gym teacher.
It is a mitzvah to honor ALL of our elders. The Torah tells us, “Rise before the aged and show honor to the elderly.” (Leviticus 19:32) We are reminded that as we age and perhaps lose some of our capabilities, that we continue to have a vital place in the life of the community. Being honored is a little scary- is this like a lifetime achievement award after which I am expected to retire? Just for the record, I’m not going away just yet! And, it’s comforting to know, as I age, that honoring elders is a priority value in Jewish tradition.
I want to honor my daughters. They will tell you that it is not easy growing up as a rabbi’s kid. Let alone a rabbi who was also a Soldier and could be deployed anywhere in the world at any time. Before any family outing, the refrain was, almost always, “but first we have to stop at the hospital.”
I honor them for surviving the real challenges and I honor them for the amazing women they have become. They are wives, they are the mothers of 4 of my incredible grandchildren, and they are accomplished professionals- Jessie Rubenstein, Director of Jewish Education at Temple Emanuel and Sarah Wypiszynski, a family physician. I could not be more proud of you and I am just thrilled to have you here tonight to share this special moment. I love you both SO much!
And Ron! Talk about someone who is supportive and patient. I first met Ron on the bimah of this sanctuary when he was the in-house drummer at our Kabbalat Shabbat service. We had a pleasant, cordial relationship, and nothing more. When his beloved wife Genevieve passed away, and then my beloved husband David died, it became something much more. An incredible partnership and 5 ½ years of marriage.
In rabbinical school, when there were virtually no women rabbis, we used to be asked the question- “What do you call the husband of the rabbi?” Our standard answer was, “Lucky.” Today we say, “Hubbazin,” and I want to give honor to my husband who has become an amazing partner in this holy work. Truly, I am the one who is lucky! A very special and personal thank you to David’s sister, Laurie, and her husband Michael, who are here with us tonight from Vancouver, Canada.
I became a part of the Temple Chai family formally in 2006, when I was hired for a one-year position as your rabbi. When the year came to a close, I cried. No, I mean I bawled my eyes out. Marilyn Starrett tried to console me, “But you knew it was only for one year.” “Yes,” I replied, “but I fell in love.” I fell in love with Temple Chai, with all of you, and it’s been a love affair ever since.
It is humbling to feel that you want to honor me. As Rabbi Lord Jonathan Sacks expressed it, “The real honour is not the honour we receive but the honour we give.” The best way that you can honor me, then, is to reflect on whom do YOU honor, and why? What are the
qualities that you deem most worthy of honor? Kindness? Generosity? Devotion to Learning? Spiritual Growth? Tikkun Olam? Let’s all treat each other, our beautiful world, our community, with the deepest honor – that is the greatest gift we can offer. My humble request- find someone here tonight whom you honor, and share with them what you admire most about them.