Induction service speech by Rabbi Kelemen

Induction Service of Rabbi Kelemen

as taken from Bet Debora webpage

Rabbi Katalin Kelemen was inducted as spiritual leader of Budapest’s Sim Shalom community during a ceremony held there in 1999 on March 7. Over 200 persons were in attendance, many of them from overseas. The ceremony was conducted by Rabbi Fred Morgan of Melbourne, Australia. The Hungarian-born Kelemen, who is the country’s first Progressive rabbi, was trained for the rabbinate at Leo Baeck College in London. Budapest has a Jewish population of 70,000, many of whom are rediscovering their Jewish heritage following 50 years of Communist suppression. Here is Rabbi Katalin Kelemen`s address:

In the autumn of 1997, on a clear moonlit October night sitting in the Pesti Vigado theatre, I was brushed by the spirit of the Eternal. We all received a unique gift from the uncrowned “king of Klezmer” Giora Feidmann. The concert ended in such a way that the magic spell remained unbroken: Having taught the crowd the melody of the last song we had heard, he asked us to continue singing it. Almost unnoticed, he left the stage, and left us with the gift of the traditional Jewish melody full of joy, beauty and longing to be passed on further from our lips. With that gesture, and in that special moment, the song and the moment became part of the eternal cycle of “passing on, beginning again and continuing.”

“Who is that man who desires life,
loves the days, that he may see good?…”
Psalms, 34:13

What is that so binds me in those simple, almost trivial words? Perhaps it is that in my own personal life journey, it has only been in recent years that the ties and links of the love of life, the joys of everyday life, have begun to intertwine and link with the ties and links of religious Judaism. Only recently has it begun to feel natural for me that this approach to life speaks to me in the words of a Hebrew Psalm, thousands of years old, and that I consider it my own sacred text.

I belong to the generation born after the Shoah, a generation raised in an assimilationist spirit, and a generation which, even as grown adults, has experienced its sole link to its Judaism – by no other channels than – through the almost mythical stories of those who disappeared in the camps or through the stories of those family members who miraculously survived.

We know that not only in Hungary, but rather in all of Europe`s surviving Jewish communities there were very few who were able to retain their religious faith at all, and then perhaps only truly after experiencing deep internal crises. But exactly from among them emerged, following the war, the renewing and ascendant buds and blossoms of reform Judaism.

One of the very few examples is the charismatic rabbi Jacob Soetendorp who became the “renascent Dutch reform Jewish movement and the founder of a rabbinic dynasty leaven” of the One of his rabbi sons, Awraham Soetendorp, hidden as a small boy during the war with strangers, recounts in the most recent edition of European Judaism in this way:

“It must have been a year or two after I was found again and rejoined my family, having been in hiding for two-and-a-half years, that my father told me that after birkat ha-mazon, when usually it is sung:
“Na’ar hayyiti v’gam zakanti”, “I have been a lad, and I have come of age, but I have never seen a righteous one forsaken whose children had to roam for food”,
that these words would not be said any more, but were to be supplanted by other words, from Isaiah 26 and Psalm 9):
“Bitchu b’adonai b’adei ad, ki b’yad adonai tsur olamim, v’yivtechu v’kha yod’e sh’mekha, ki lo- azavta dorshekha adonai”. “Trust in God forever, because He constitutes your rock forever. And those who really know Your name will put trust in You again, for you have not forsaken forever those who seek You”.
A subtle change which I did not understand, and for years did not understand, but felt in my bones. Never, nowhere in the world has this been done, and it has expressed to us and to the family the paradox, our anger, our anguish, with God’s presence and absence, and at the same time the continuation of our faith.” (The Teaching of Compassion R. Awraham Soetendorf European Judaism, Autumn ’98 pp21-22)

In my family it was not like that. For my parents, following my grandfather’s death from starvation at Buchenwald, religion went over to the “other side,” among those things never to be experienced again. It took me decades of my life before I was able to feel that, in the context of a traditional prayer I could express my deepest feelings. Barely seven years ago, after twenty four years I was able, for the first time, to say Kaddish for my father and mourn his premature death. I was able to do so in a synagogue in a small English city, and it is my greatest joy and privilege that five of those having shared with me that event are celebrating here with us today. Rabbi Fred Morgan, who has symbolically passed to me the Holy Scripture, the Torah, on that morning called me up to read from the Torah for the first time with the Hebrew name I had chosen: Sarah, so that with that reading I could become Bat Mitzvah, Daughter of the Law. This happened between the walls of a reform synagogue, and the name of the city was Weybridge, the “Way,” and the “Bridge.” My path or “Way” to my Judaim, and to becoming a rabbi led through Reform Judaism.

What does Reform Judaism mean to me?

* It means the simultaneous experience of the spirit of tradition and renewal, and the linking together of the personal and the universal. It means the freedom with which rabbi Jacob Soetendorp, of his own accord, changed the text of the liturgy in order to acknowledge and pay tribute to the tragic turn of fate and history, while at the same time remaining true to the faith and in so doing giving new strength and reaffirmation to that faith within the traditional religious context.
* It means the „Seventy Faces of the Torah,” about which I heard for the first time at the Leo Baeck College, Europe’s only Reform Jewish Seminary. The „Seventy Faces of the Torah,” that is to say the unlimited possibilities for interpretation of the Scripture, in particular as reform Judaism asserts that every member of every new Jewish generation has the opportunity to encounter the Revelation.
* It means an attitude of openness to paradox in the Jewish sprit which takes into account the complexities and ambiguities of life, and serves as a true reflection thereof.
* It means belonging to a small community seeking spiritual values and meaning, in which women and men, consistent with the practices (or at least the expectations) of modern society, participate on an equal basis.

We established this community, the first Progressive Jewish community in Hungary since World War II, in 1992. We chose our name, Sim Shalom, from the lines of the Amidah prayer. Sim Shalom means: Grant us peace.

The path which led us from those first meetings of a handful of friends to today was not always peaceful. It has been filled with every day obstacles, demanding sacrifices, tiring, unimpressive and inglorious efforts, but it has also been filled with those special moments, the memories of which warm our hearts and give us the strength and motivation to go forward, and which will give us the strength and motivation to carry forward in difficult moments in the future as well.

I give my most heartfelt, honest and deepest thanks to those founding members who nursed and cared for Sim Shalom at its birth, and who subsequently, not untiringly but overcoming their fatigue again and again and rising phoenix-like with new energy and renewed vigour continue to find the way forward.

I also thank those members who have joined us subsequently for their support and for the growing commitment with which they take part in the joys and the difficulties of involved in building the community.

It is of great joy and honour to me that so many representatives and rabbis of the World Union of Progressive Judaism are celebrating with us today. Without their moral, spiritual and financial support we would not be here today. Neither a dynamic, vital congregation, nor I, the newly inducted rabbi of that congregation would be here were it not for that support.

What is my vision for the future of Sim Shalom
and for my work and task therein?

To continue on the path on which we have begun, but in our own synagogue, enriched and strengthened with many new members, with a Cheder for children and many more inspiring learning possibilities for adults as well.

The continuation of such moments like that, when in our Torah study circle we consider ourselves Jacob – Israel; like Jacob the “crooked”, like he who struggles with G’d, and like Israel “straightened” by G’d as well.

The continuation of moments such as that in which one of our members tenderly placed the tallit he had inherited from his grandfather on the shoulders of a grieving member of the community so that we could say Kaddish together.

The continuation of moments such as our first celebration of Simchat Torah, when one of the guiding spirits of our community, an older member, renewed as “b’reshit kala”, “the bride of the beginning” begins the new annual cycle of the reading of the Torah while at her feet our youngest members scrambled and crawled on the floor delighted with their flying paper “Torah birds” and “Torah airplanes” taken directly from the story of Creation.

My wish is that Sim Shalom should grow rich with such moments and joys, and many more like them, so that we ourselves should become the persons of the psalm „Mi ha ish”… so that “we desire life, we love the days, that we may see good.”