By David Engelmann
A couple of years ago congregation B’nai Emunah started the tradition to have the Kol Nidre appeal to the congregants given by community members rather than the President.
When I first decided to give this Kol Nidre address, my focus was, I thought, clear… I would tell how I followed Rabbi Ted here when I was taking his class at the Lehrhaus in Berkeley, 21 years ago… How I learned that magical incantation: “Hi I’m a student of Rabbi Ted’s” – all doors would open, the waters would part… How I was immediately welcomed and taken in by Ruth, and Henry, and Henry’s brother Louis, may he rest in peace… And how I got goose bumps when I heard Cantor Linda daven “Nishmat kol chai” at my first Shabbat service.
For the last several weeks, though, as I pondered these memories and tried to make sense of them, not necessarily to convince you to support B’nai Emunah, but to explain why I support B’nai Emunah, the picture kept getting interrupted. And what kept getting in the way was the image of Max Drimmer, whom of course we laid to rest just last month. I had known Max a good long while, and was fortunate to serve on the board with him, but I didn’t know him that well. For example, I didn’t know, until I heard one of the eulogies at his memorial service, that he liked soccer. Not terribly significant, but I like soccer, and it would have been fun to watch a soccer game with Max.
In any event, you didn’t need to know Max well, to know what you were getting – soft spoken, smart, funny, sly, direct, obviously someone comfortable in their own skin. If you didn’t see the tattoo on his arm, you would never guess Max’s story.
To paraphrase Rabbi Mark, a synagogue is where you may go to try to understand the mind of God, only to end up discovering your true self. Another thing you’ll discover, especially at a place like B’nai Emunah, is the heart of a community. I came to B’nai Emunah to learn how to be Jewish. I knew a little of Rabbi Ted’s own story, but I didn’t know Max’s story, or Fred’s, or Ruth’s, or the Haertels’, or the Kochmans’, or the stories of the many others who somehow, either in Shanghai or in Europe, were able to survive the crisis and went on to build new Jewish communities on the other side of the world, Congregation B’nai Emunah among them.
Legacy, I think, is a very apt thing to ponder during Yom Kippur. It took me a long time to understand this: We here at B’nai Emunah have been left a truly remarkable legacy by men and women who did not just witness evil, but felt its hot breath… And they came through it to live a life without bitterness, a life of service, of meaning, and of grace. And that, as I learned and hope to continue to learn every day, is how to be Jewish.