Having just perused my father’s sermons from 1971 through 1974 a couple of things are happening. First of all I am surprised that he so assertively voices his opinions on a variety of topics. Maybe I shouldn’t be. He was a man with clear convictions. I listened to him voice these convictions over the course of many years. Perhaps I took it for granted at the time. And it’s not that clergy today don’t also make their opinions known. Perhaps it is his tone—you might call it a bit preachy. It seems just a bit less evenhanded than the tone of today’s clergy. Perhaps it is a reflection of an age when things seemed more black and white. Now, not only do we deal with so many nuanced shades of gray, but at least for some, we couch our words with more of an ecumenical approach. I don’t see a lot of that in Dad’s words. He is clearly a Jewish/Israel chauvinist. He loves his people and what they stand for. He stands by them and defends them from most criticism. He is willing to acknowledge some failings, but ultimately is a staunch advocate for the land, the religion, the people.
In the early reading I see a few themes emerging, namely Israel, anti-Semitism, and the religious apathy that threatens the survival of Judaism. He cites a lot of history. He loves to report on the writings of great Jewish thinkers past and present.
Now that I have gotten a taste of some of his last words I am considering how to proceed. One option is to continue moving slowly backward through time, looking carefully for precursors to his latest thinking. I am inclined to do that, but another file is beckoning me. There are quite a few files devoted exclusively to High Holy Day sermons. Among these is one titled, “Rosh Hashana – Yom Kippur – NCT (Selected Group)". I remember how Dad would spend most of the summer cozied up to a stack of books and articles. It may have been somewhat of a burden to anticipate the demands of writing the four sermons of the year that the entire congregation would hear. At the same time, I imagine it was his greatest pleasure to immerse himself so deeply in Jewish, ethical, historical, and political thought. He was a scholar. During the summer “hiatus” NCT--the Nassau Community Temple--pretty much ran itself. Dad was the Jewish chaplain at the Ten Mile River Boy Scout Camp in the Catskills. For the most part he had eight weeks of uninterrupted study. Unlike the weekly Thursday night cram session, for his holiday sermons he had the luxury of time to deeply consider the themes he wanted to address, the scholars and texts he wanted to quote, and the words he chose to use to deliver these critical messages. To see a file that he deemed as “select” among all of his holiday sermons intrigues me greatly.