(A welcome statement to Rabbi Matt Ponak, our congregational Education Director and Assistant Rabbi, from Rabbi Harry, our congregation’s new Lead Rabbi.)
I want to articulate some things that I deeply appreciate about Rabbi Matt. He has a powerful way of making others feel welcome and comfortable. My guess is that this is because his ego does not get in the way of his openness to others; he demonstrates the Torah value of anavah, holy humility. Rabbi Matt’s presence brings a sense of joy that he shares with us all. Rabbi Matt is a spiritual seeker who is knowledgeable in different modes of connection and relationship with the transcendent. Rabbi Matt enriches us with his musicality. He is a kind, gentle human whom I sense has a lot to offer and teach our congregation.
Our remarkable, nurturing Hebrew School is moving into a new era. Our children are growing up in a very intense and tumultuous period in human history. We have an obligation to create a school environment that infuses our children with hope, Jewish values, and connection. We need to continue to generate and nurture a spiritual educational space suffused with joy and empowering for our children and youth. Rabbi Matt has the organizational and strategic skills and the inner resources to hold space and to allow new creativity, energy and vision to emerge.
Our current altered, COVID-19 reality is one marked by separation and anxiety. The pandemic is illuminating hidden or purposefully obscured social issues, such as racism or the dangers inherent in food production. We need multiple venues, experiences and encounters to support all of us in making meaning. I am excited to work with Rabbi Matt on this front. Now I will have an in-house creative ḥavruta, a study and work partner, who comes from a different rabbinic tradition, a tradition that allows for greater creative license and looser structures. Between us there will be fertility and balance. Rabbi Matt’s youth allows him to be adaptive and fluid while his lack of ego and humility demonstrate wisdom. I look forward to working with Rabbi Matt to expand and deepen Torah in our congregation.
There is a sense of the basheret with Rabbi Matt. Basheret: when mazal (fortune and karma) bring us into relationships and experiences that reinforce the idea that this was meant to happen, a sense of serendipity and providence. Rabbi Matt gets us. He understands we are an authentic, eclectic community that does its best to strive for holiness. We care deeply about integrating Jewish values into the life of our congregation through acts of ḥesed, loving kindness, and tzedakah, using our resources for righteousness, artistic exploration, democratic and egalitarian leadership, integral friendships, inclusivity and collaboration.
Our task is to welcome, guide and support Rabbi Matt—to welcome him into our lives so he can intimately know us as a rabbi, to guide him as he learns about our congregation and to support him with our talents, skills, knowledge, and friendship. As much as I am looking forward to working, learning and serving with Rabbi Matt, I have to say that I am a little freaked out by the idea of being a “Senior Rabbi.” I suppose my days of being the young upstart rabbi are behind me. As “Lead Rabbi” I look forward to having Rabbi Matt in a core, leadership role in our congregation. I sense that we will all become stronger in this relationship.
For the last decade and a half, we have been growing as a congregation. In the world of social justice and activism, we have a reputation of being mighty. We have soulful religious expression, and a culture of sharing and caring for one another. To me, hiring Rabbi Matt in the middle of a pandemic was an act of courage and faith in our future—an act that will enrich and strengthen our wonderful congregation. May we continue to move from strength to strength.