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Is Our Temple The Same Place It Once Was?


“Welcome Back.” 

Those words scroll in lights across the sign in the parking lot of my son’s school.  

“Now Open” signs on schools, storefronts, websites and in advertising.

Yes, I welcome you back to our High Holy Day services, yet, as a community are we BACK all the way?

Is the YOU that is back the same YOU you once were?

Is our synagogue the same place it once was? 

As we return to worship, two and a half weary years into a pandemic, many of us return here exhausted, with depleted energy levels, broken spirits, and a forgotten sense of purpose. 

I ask you, Are we back? 

Rosh Hashanah begins the Ten Days of Repentance. T’shuvah…the act of returning. Returning to Rosh Hashanah, to celebrate the creation of our world, we gather today to pray for the possibility of our own spiritual cleansing, rebirth and replenishing as we reflect on our uniquely Jewish values: 



KAVOD – Respect. 

ACHRAYUT - Responsibility 

TZEDEK - Fairness 

CHESED - Caring 

KEHILLAH - Community 

SHOMREI ADAMAH - Keepers of the Earth 

And so tonight we start the work of repairing relationships by recentering ourselves and rediscovering our tradition, as a link in the chain of this Jewish community. We will try to renew our mission statement to commit Acts of Loving Kindness, Gemiluth Chassodim in this New Year.


It’s all about returning, returning from where we are now to where we want to be.


Secular scholars speak of the story of Noah and the flood as if it were a myth, or fable. Not surprisingly, several ancient documents report striking parallels to the story of the flood.

In Parashat Noah, however, there is a moral imperative. The world is flooded not because God arbitrarily decides to destroy the world, but because it had become corrupt and vicious. Noah is not arbitrarily saved. He is deserving. He is a “righteous man, perfect in his generation. With God, Noah walked” (Genesis 6:9).  But the flood changed Noah. After a year on the ark, Noah is finally commanded by God to leave. A normal person would have been jumping out his skin to get out of the ark. But Noah was hesitant to leave. Why?  Noah was reluctant to walk out of the ark because he understood that the world as he knew it was forever changed. It was a daunting task to rebuild the world, and he just couldn’t imagine where to start.

Once on dry land, after giving thanks to God, the Torah tells us that Noah’s reaction to the flood was to start by farming. Surely, to plant a garden is to believe in tomorrow and Noah started by planting a vineyard. 


There are the famous sayings, “With wine all is possible”; and In vino veritas. Noah saw his vineyard as an opportunity to reorient the human compass toward godliness, in harmony with the animal kingdoms who shared his ship.


The pandemic also pulls our attention into the biblical canon, where the defining human experiences of Exodus and exile are consumed with sustaining or returning to a sacred space of worship. Most of our sacred text was produced or documented from the disruption of exile, dispersion, and returning to a worshipping community. This perspective seems even more appropriate for a sermon welcoming our congregation back home into our sanctuary for the sake of restoring and sustaining the means of grace.


I am so thankful for your attendance in this season, in person, to rededicate and commit yourselves to rebuild our community after one of the darkest periods in our lives. And we are thankful that we are not only gathered here tonight, but that we do so with meaningful text and live music.  


We can no longer look back to who we were before the pandemic, but must instead look forward to farming our vineyard, like Noah.  We can build a strong future filled with music, celebrations, enrichment, and spiritual prayer.


I echo the words of King Solomon 3,000 years ago, at the dedication ceremony of the very first Temple, finished in Jerusalem. He said, “O God, may Your eyes be open day and night toward this House, toward the place of which You have said, ‘My name shall abide there’; may You heed the prayers which Your servant will offer toward this place. And when You hear the supplications which Your servant and Your people Israel offer toward this place, give heed in Your heavenly abode.” (I Kings 8) 


Solomon’s prayer makes perfect sense. He said in essence, when we offer our prayers from this place, please, God, hear us. Let our prayers be heard. Let this place fill the spirit in our souls. If we need replenishing let us find it here. If we require rejoicing, let us find it here. If we need comfort, let us find it here.

The members of this Temple are the stewards of Congregation Gemiluth Chassodim and ultimately the future presence of Judaism in central Louisiana. 

It is your responsibility to keep the vision and vitality of our founders of 163 years ago. The small devoted Jewish community who worked tirelessly to build this congregation…. the precious time and money expended in 1859, to make sure that the Jews had a voice, planting their own vineyard in Alexandria.


Imagine, just 4 years after the founding of our Congregation, less time than I have been your Rabbi… Union General Nathaniel P. Banks, and 40,000 soldiers, invaded the Red River Valley. Troops left Opelousas and marched up Bayou Boeuf to Alexandria, which was surrendered on May 9th, 1863. 

One year later, nine-tenths of Alexandria was destroyed between the hours of 8 and 9 in the morning on May 13, 1864. [1]

Only five years later, the Jewish women of Alexandria assembled and founded the Ladies' Hebrew Benevolent Society, later becoming the Temple Sisterhood. They rolled up their sleeves to raise money to buy real estate on which a temple could be built. 


In 1869, the Temple Sisterhood held a fundraising ball to raise money to build a Synagogue at the corner of Third and Fisk Streets. Construction of the Temple concluded in 1871 and two years later Congregation Gemiluth Chassodim became a founding Congregation of the Union of American Hebrew Congregations.[2] I’m humbled by the fortitude of these women, and their power and resolve, and the legacy they have left to our congregation. A quality that I know has been hard at work for decades serving us.

The Jewish story has always been about such transitional moments. The great shifts in the Jewish historical timeline reflect how “community” would be created and reinvented over time. We must re-envision the synagogue as an epicenter of meaningful relationships. We must transform the bricks-and-mortar building into a kehillah – a spiritual, caring congregation steeped in Jewish practice, ethics, learning and joy. The challenge today is to expand the expression of the religious beyond the ritual.  


We also need an infusion of life and enthusiasm to make certain our community considers this Temple both spiritually replenishing, as well as a social and cultural center. And more than just offering exciting programs and events, our synagogue must serve as the heart and soul of our congregants. We as individuals are responsible for each other. Judaism is far more than a religion. A key component of our faith is belonging to a people rooted in history, bound together by religious acts.


Now is the time to join as one to make our Temple community a priority.  A priority so that together we can celebrate the milestones in our lives. So that we can mark the holidays of our people. So that we can hold each other up when we mourn our losses.  So together, we know that our children and grandchildren, and their children and grandchildren will learn Torah and celebrate their Judaism here at THIS temple and can honor those who came before us.  And that we will still be here to mark our years and fill our hearts with the lessons and values Jews have taught for millennia to their children. It is this place that has ensured the teachings contained in our Torah that have survived for generations.


We must ensure that this synagogue will stand for every member that has stood before it. Our blessings begin here. Our responsibilities to each other start here. We must, hand in hand, work together. If you forget our past, you don’t have a future, and what happens tomorrow, started yesterday.


So tonight, as I welcome you back on this great night of Rosh Hashanah, to begin our Ten Days of Repentance I ask you:  

Is the YOU that is back the same YOU, you once were?

Is our synagogue the same place it once was?


May this new year empower us and strengthen us for many, many years to come. 


L'shana tova.














[2] From our Temple History,


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