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Four of Many Voices

Four of Many Voices

Rabbi Ranon Teller

Delivered from the Bima on Shabbat Hagadol 5777


This morning, I brought four guests with me to join me up on the bima. 

The Wise Child

I am the wise child. I’m confident. I’m successful. Hey, I’m wise. I come to shul just about every Shabbat and when I’m out of town, I find a shul in the town I’m in. When I’m here, I’m usually up on the bimah, reading Torah or leading some part of the service. I have that ability and I have enjoy it, because I know the Shabbat morning service, inside and out – like the back of my hand. I am wise. I’m on the board of several key Jewish organizations. I’m a member of the JCC. I took krav maga last fall, so now I’m wise and I’m dangerous.

I grew up in small, Jewish town in New Jersey … at the Solomon Shechter Day School. One of my teachers is now the director of United Synagogue. Small world. Who knew? I knew, because, once again, I’m wise.

The future of Judaism depends on me. I like a traditional service, like the one I grew up with in my shul back in New Jersey. When I was Vice President of Religion of regional USY, we used have dinner at the rabbi’s house and sing zemirot until midnight. Boy oh boy, I miss those days. I wish we sang more zemirot after Kiddush lunch. Speaking of zemirot, what ever happened to anim zemirot! One day, back in the early 80’s, the rabbi just decided one day that we were going to skip anim zemirot because the service took too long and people were getting hungry. I remember that because I was the chair of the ritual committee at the time. The rabbi and I had a few words, but it didn’t make a difference. Now, no one’s even heard of anim zemirot. We’re constantly lowering the bar and lowering the bar. So, if you care about the future of Judaism, and you should, , then you should find a way to keep Judaism traditional and robust and challenging…and keep the bar high.

Pesach is coming. I did all my shopping two weeks ago, and we have it stored in the garage on our pesach shelves. A few years ago, w built an extension on our garage for all of our pesadik gear. Pesach is a ton of work, but in the end, it’s totally worth it. The truth is: I really need Judaism in my life. I care about Judaism and I’m nervous about the next generation and I’m nervous about the direction I see things are going. I am the wise child.

How do we engage the wise child?


The Wicked Child

I am the wicked child. I am angry. I am successful – and I’m a rebel. From the first time I remember coming into the synagogue, Judaism let me down. I grew up in a suburb outside of Philadelphia. My parents were members of synagogue, but weren’t really engaged.  These days, I never come to shul for obvious reasons. It’s boring. It’s rote. It’s not relevant to anything in my life. The people in shul are OK, but that rabbi… he’s ridiculous! Sure, he’s good looking and smart, but he’s just so smug, and he thinks he’s sooo creative. He’s ridiculous.

The future of Judaism depends on me. I don’t read Hebrew. I’m not currently a member of a synagogue. I quit after they kept asking for more money, and I wasn’t using the synagogue for anything, anyway.

Hey, I would be religious if someone showed me one thing that was worthwhile. I would even keep kosher if someone would ever take the time to explain to me why I should? I’m not sure if I would keep Shabbat, but I love drinking wine and kicking back, so why not? But, not once, all through my childhood, did anyone ever take the time to explain to me why I should be doing any of this stuff.  And not once, did the Cantor ever ask me to lead the Torah service from the bima. So, if you care about Judaism, you’ll find a way to reach out to me, and tell me why I should keep kosher and show me how prayer can inspire me to become a better person.

Pesach is coming. I don’t care. The matza is tasteless and stale. The wine is gooey and sweet. The seders I grew up with were long and boring and they only started at like 9 o’clock at night… and I was hungry the whole time, just waiting for the food. The truth is: I might go to a seder…..but no one ever invites me. I am the wicked child.

How do we engage the wicked child?


The One Who Doesn’t Know How to Ask

I am the child who doesn’t know how to ask. I’m nice. I’m polite. I’ve never eaten herring. Not even once to find out how it taste. I’m not curious and I’m not interested. Sometimes people ask me if I’m really Jewish!

I’m slowly drifting away from Judaism. I usually come to shul on High Holy Days, because it feels like I should. Sometimes I don’t. It costs a lot of money and it’s a very long service. I may not be the best Jew in the world, but I’m proud of my heritage, and it is what it is. I grew up on the West Coast and my parents were members of a shul, so I’m a member of a shul. My parents sent me to Hebrew School, so now I send my kids to Hebrew school. They like it just fine. And the Rabbi is just fine. And really everything is just fine.

The future of Judaism depends on me. I am your average Jew. I have a good job. I’m raising a nice family. We’re not religious. When people ask me about my religion – I say, I’m Jew-ish – sort of a Jew – Jew-ish. I don’t know Hebrew and I don’t know the prayers. Sometimes my kids want to do Shabbat at home, but I don’t know the prayers and it becomes really awkward.  I’m guessing my children won’t be Jewish at all. So, if you care about the future of Judaism, you’ll find a way to get me a little more excited about my heritage, my community, and my religion.

Pesach is coming. My family and I go to my parent’s house back in California. Over the years, we have developed a really nice seder experience. We read a few paragraphs about freedom we and order food in from Chipotle. The truth is: Judaism means a lot to me, and I don’t really know enough to make it work.  I am the child who doesn’t know how to ask.

How do we engage the one who doesn’t know how to ask?


The Simple Child

I am the simple child. I’m not sure what all this fuss is about. I love Judaism! I love being Jewish! I love coming to shul, when I can make it – and it doesn’t conflict with the other stuff. I love the Rabbi. I love the Cantor. I love our shul! I’m from a small town outside of New Orleans. We had two synagogues, and around when I was around 10 or 11, the two synagogues merged together.

You want to know something? I was the first religious school student ever, in the history of the synagogue, to become a teachers’ assistant at my religious school. I went to college, married my high school sweetheart, and moved back home. Now, I’m back in my hometown synagogue. And we are doing great. Sure, some of us, are getting up there in age, guilty as charged, but we still have our old spunk, and we can sing Adon Olam with the best of them. We have the same rabbi now as I had when I was growing up. I think he’s been with the synagogue for his whole career. Anyway, I’m the chairperson of the celebration, marking his anniversary of his service here at our synagogue next year. We have most of our committee in place – but we’re looking for a few more people who are really good with napkin folding. The rabbi will be celebrating his 100th year of rabbinic service for our synagogue, so he must be going on… oh 120 years old. He’s still as active and kind and he always was. Bless his soul.

The future of Judaism depends on me. I like to keep things simple. I don’t why people insist on make such a big fuss about politics and changes and surveys. We’re doing just fine the way things are. When you rock the boat, people fall out of the boat! Why would you rock the boat? If you really care about the future of Judaism, you’ll find a way to calm down and keep things the same. Status quo. 

Pesach is coming. My whole family and my sisters family are coming to my house for seder. We always have such a lovely time. That’s what Judaism is all about: family, friends, good food, remembering our Jewish values and principles and passing it on the next generation. I like to keep it simple. I am the simple child.

How do we engage the simple child?

Ribono shel olam, Source of All, redeemer of the People of Israel from Egypt, help us engage all of our children this year in a robust, diverse, synagogue experience. Help us to understand just one of the many lesson of the hagaddah. There are varied needs and multiple voices in Judaism and in our Brith Shalom community. As we journey together through the years, guide us toward a healthy, robust, multi-layered, inclusive Jewish future together.

And together we say: Amen.