Sign In Forgot Password

All in-person gatherings are suspended until further notice.

By popular demand! Kenny's 2011 high holidays speech

02/16/2013 05:30:21 PM


I’m Kenny Bookbinder and this is the Kol Nidre Appeal 5772.  I am honored and privileged to have given this appeal for what I believe is now 5700 of those years.

Now here we are together - 800 strong - 750 if the fire commissioner is listening.  What a great evening.  What a great and diverse group of people.  When our honorary member, Yogi Berra, hears about this crowd, he will say, “Ahh, the Shul of New York, it’s so crowded no one goes there any more!”

Tonight we are doing what our ancestors have done for thousands of years - celebrating our faith, our belief in God, and on this holiest of nights, atoning for our sins.  Only here at the Shul of New York with Rabbi Burt at the helm, it is done differently.  Yes, we do say Al Chet, and we say Aveeno Malkenu.  But instead of beating ourselves up, and over atoning, the Rabbi takes a different approach; at least different from any rabbi I have heard.

I think the Rabbi feels that most of us are not deep sinners; that our transgressions are more really negative thoughts that circulate in our minds, but that this is the time to be aware of them, to work at eliminating them, and even better the Rabbi reminds us that we are good people, and while at the same time that we are atoning and becoming more aware, it is perfectly okay to pat ourselves on the back and acknowledge the good that we do and the good thoughts that we carry.  So this is a transformational time, and whether you call the Rabbi’s approach an Oprah moment or an “Ah-ha Moment”, for this Shul it is a Mah Nishtanah Moment, something that tells you why this Shul is different from all others.

There are so many Mah Nishtanah Moments here!  I also remember one about 20 years ago when the Rabbi somehow worked out a way to have High Holy Day services not at the basement on Barrow Street, but at Temple Israel on the upper east side.  The Rabbi, who is quite punctual, was adjusting his Yarmulka, tightening his tie and about to walk up to the bimah.  Just at that moment a boy, about 7 or 8 year old, pulled on the Rabbi’s jacket.  And the Rabbi was about to say to the boy that we are starting the service and can we talk later.  But he saw such an intense look in the kid’s eyes - somewhere between fear and a lot of fear - and our Rabbi, being at least as much a teacher as he is a preacher, decided to talk to the kid right then.  And the kid pretty much too frightened to speak pointed to the plaques on the wall.  And those of you who have been to Temple Israel know there are many plaques on the wall.   

So the kid points to the plaques and the Rabbi explains that on these plaques are the names of many of the congregants who have passed away over the years.  The kid shook his head and pointed to two other plaques near these.  And the Rabbi said these were a little different.  The dates were mostly in the mid 1940’s.  Some in the early 50’s.  And a few in the late 60’s.  And the heading on these plaques said, “In Memory of Our Members Who Died in the Service”.  At this point the kid was almost shaking.  The Rabbi said what is the matter.  And the kid said, “Rabbi, do you know which service it was that they died, Rosh Hashana or Yom Kippur?”

Now, I can go on and on about our Rabbi.  He is the main reason we are all here tonight.

It is his spiritual audacity, his warmth, his constant reminders about the power of love, his talk of forgiveness and of letting go.

And his knowing, as John Kennedy said in his inaugural address — and no, I’m not going to “ask you to ask not what the Shul of New York can do for you, but what you can do for the Shul of New York”, although it isn’t a bad idea — but JFK’s concluding line was similar to the Rabbi’s philosophy of activism, participation and to not just be observers and critics. but to doers.  So what JFK said was to ask God’s blessing and His help, but to know that here on earth, God’s work must truly be our own.

I recently read a story where a congregant came in very early before a Saturday morning service and saw his rabbi deep in prayer.  This lasted about 40 minutes and finally when the rabbi arose the man asked him what was he praying about.  The rabbi said he was praying that the rich would give more to the poor.  “Well,” he said, “rabbi, let’s hope God hears your prayers.”  “Well, I am sure he has heard at least half of them,” the rabbi said.  “What do you mean?” the man asked.  The rabbi responded, “The poor have agreed to accept the increase.”

We are so lucky to have Rabbi Burt.

So many of us are here because we have had unpleasant experiences at religious institutions - Jewish and non Jewish.  I have heard people say that their rabbi was controversial  What do you mean?  Well, some people dislike him; and others hated him.  Someone else said that their rabbi was so bad that if Paul Revere had known him, he wouldn’t have warned him about the British.  On a more positive note, Peter over there said to Rabbi Burt after our Purim party, “Rabbi, thank you for making Judaism fun and enjoyable for me.”

We have people here from all faiths, from no faiths, from all orientations.  Orientations.  The more the merrier.  Our doors and our hearts are open to all.  Rabbi Burt has created for us a moral imagination, a zest for life and the narrative of the Shul’s soul.  He shows us the way, his passion, his knowledge and his energy take us all to a higher level.  He has taught us to trade hatred and anger for love and compassion.  He has taught us to preserve the past and our heritage, while helping to define the present.

Rabbi, thank you for all you do.  For teaching us that success is not the key to happiness, but happiness is the key to success.

Now over here we have what is known as the Shul Band.  Adam soon to be a father again, has done a great job — and that’s an understatement.  His musical selections (many of the songs he’s written!) are beautiful.  His singing, his work with our kids and the Shul School is so much appreciated, and his putting together a group made up of so much super talent, is phenomenal.  Seth, Lilly, Rebecca, Sabrina, Ernesto, Alberto, Luis, Matt, Dave, Howard, Adam Seidman.                                        

Thank you all so much.  On a personal note perhaps the best compliment I can pay is to say that I have a great collection of music on my iPod.  I always keep it on shuffle, knowing that whatever song comes up will be terrific.  I have all of your CD’s on there.  When one of your songs comes up, I switch to the full album.  Now I don’t do that for Mozart, the Beatles, The Stones - well, every now and then for the Doors- thank you all.

We would like to pay the band more money.  Tonight you can help.

This is some place, the Orensanz Center.  Al, the Prince of the Lower East Side, and Angel, we thank you so much for letting your home be our home over these holidays.

Those of you who are on our mailing list and those of you who attend our services on the first and third Friday nights at Friends Meeting House know that we are far from perfect.  We rarely remember to ask for money.  What kind of Shul is this???  Other Shuls, other religious institutions, do it all the time.  For better or worse we are kind of negligent in this important area.  So in a sense we roll the dice and count on your generosity this one night of the year.  Please understand how important your contribution is tonight and how meaningful it is to our existence.

So how much to give?  That is the great question.  As the Rabbi would say - all are welcome!!!  Yogi once said that hitting was 90% mental and only 50% physical.  So if we follow that formula and you give 140% of what you gave last year, that would work.  But what if you weren’t here last year?

Let me help you.  The Talmud says that charity is equal to all the commandments.

I know a few years ago, I mentioned that as a kid I remember hearing my father say to no one in particular that the only thing that two Jews agree on is what a third should give for their Kol Nidre contribution.

Some people give because they think it will help them to be inscribed in the book of life for another year.  We are in no position financially or spiritually to pass judgement on that.  But there are so many reasons to give to the Shul of New York tonight.  

You can give tonight because you can enjoy our services and our sense of community 24 Fridays a year, or our Havdalah Services, our Torah Shmoozes or because the kids that you see once a month from the Shul School are so cute, so well taught and add to the overall Shul experience.

Or you can give because this is such a beautiful evening.  The congregation, the Rabbi, the Shul Band and the building.  You can give because each of these, or any one of these, has touched you tonight, or touched you during Rosh Hashana, or will touch at tomorrow’s services - whether that is the Torah service, Stump the Rabbi, Yitzker or Neilah.

Or you can give because you know how much we need it.  This is your Rabbi, this is your Shul Band this is your Shul!!!

You can give because this would be one of the few charitable contributions that you could ever make where you know exactly where 100% of it goes.  You can see it before your very eyes; you can feel it in your heart, and you can get immediate gratification.

So now is the time.  It has to be you!!!  Don’t rely on the person next to you.

Please contribute joyfully and generously.  And allow us to continue to do all that we do for this community — to provide, enhance and further establish the spiritual platform from which we all benefit.

Thank you!

- Kenny Bookbinder

Click here to donate to The Shul.

Sun, July 12 2020 20 Tammuz 5780