It’s like standing before a giant buffet, a banquet of the most appealing and appetizing delicacies, wondering where to start. One could say that I decided to go for dessert. Intuitively something in me felt moved to “begin with the end in mind”. I opened the two thin files—the one marked “SERMONS – BRUNSWICK ’74 – ‘75” that I mentioned previously, and a companion, “SERMONS – BRUNSWICK – H.H. [High Holy Days]”
One motivation was simply to see what themes I would find there that might be foreshadowed in earlier work. As it turns out there was more to that concept than I might originally have thought. After all, there Dad was, in new pulpit with a new congregation and with a file of thousands on previously written sermons. Why not recycle a few old gems? —Which in fact he did as it turns out. I don’t want that to sound disparaging and certainly not unethical. In fact the clues that these folders leave behind demonstrate Dad’s talent and integrity. I was impressed that when he faced the challenge of speaking to his new congregation for the first time he sought inspiration from similar first in his life. In the same manila folder as his first sermon for Temple Beth Tefilloh (TBT) of Brunswick, Georgia in 1974, there beneath it was the first sermon he delivered to the Nassau Community Temple (NCT) in 1951, as well as the first sermon he delivered in the new sanctuary constructed by NCT in 1960. Those might have been too difficult to find since they were singular events in time. Perhaps more impressive, in a time before Google, was that his very last sermon, delivered on November 8, 1974 coincided with the one hundredth anniversary of the birth of the Zionist leader Chaim Weizmann, and Dad was able to dip into his archives and pull out a sermon about Weizmann that he had delivered December 12, 1962!
Each of the three sermons that I am considering to include from the brief Brunswick era owes its roots to earlier words that Dad had written. This is evident because in each case he has both the original as well as the edited TBT version in the file. Moreover, he has carefully noted the date and the location in which he gave these sermons. In the case of a “recycled” sermon there are two dates and locations noted. In some cases he took pieces of several older works and combined them in a new way to create a hybrid that he must have felt better matched the new audience and occasion. It is apparent that he did not choose to just pull out the old sermon and blindly redeliver it. It is clear, from the editing that he thoughtfully and contentiously adapted it to the new circumstance, or in some case simply improved the prose from a stylistic perspective.
As I delve further into the files I may find further evidence of “recycling.” Then again, I have heard somewhere that rabbis tend to only have five sermons that they repackage time after time. I suspect I will see a few themes emerge in that respect.
I must add that when I opened the first file folder, and read the first sermon that lay on top of the pile, when I discovered that it was the first sermon Dad delivered in Brunswick, I was struck by its clear, simple, eloquent and hopeful message as he embarked on this new venture. It occurred to me that I had begun with the end in mind, but for him it was a new beginning. I liked seeing him tie the threads of his earlier sermons into the tapestry of his new congregation. In a way it reminds me of the custom on Simchat Torah of reading the final words of the torah and immediately beginning to read it from he beginning anew. Quite literally, some of Dad’s High Holiday sermons were indeed delivered as his last at NCT and his first at TBT. One can only wonder, as his understanding of his new community grew, whether he would have continued this practice or found himself moving forward with new thoughts tailored to his new surroundings.