Serving God with Joy

Written by Rabbi Elliott Karstadt — 20 May 2022

Thank you, everyone, for being here. We are grateful to be here with you, and it is wonderful to be in a Beit Tefillah full of people, given that our Alyth careers started in very different circumstances. 

Cantor Tamara: In early April of 2020, I led my first Erev Shabbat service here at Alyth to a nearly empty, echoing room, getting acquainted with my new community by trying to memorize the names beneath the boxes on Zoom.

Rabbi Elliott: When I joined the team at the beginning of August, just four days after being part of Leo Baeck College’s first Covid-safe ordination ceremony, the world outside was beginning to open up. But my first experience of leading a Shabbat service was looking into a camera.

We entered an Alyth that we had not expected when we had applied for the job, but all the essential values remained and the strength of the community continued to shine through. Despite being physically separated by the pandemic, the Alyth we arrived in was one that paid heed to words of Hillel that we find in Pirkei Avot: ‘Do not separate yourself from the community.’ 

Those words do not simply reflect the fact that we continued to be a mutually loving and supportive community. They also reflected an aspect of the ethos that we encountered at Alyth: a place in which, as clergy, we do not separate ourselves in the work we do, in which we act only ever in collaboration and relationship – with one another and with our members. 

That saying of Hillel from Pirkei Avot continues: ‘Do not have faith in yourself until the day of your death’ – have confidence in yourself, but do not ever think that you have arrived, that you do not still have things to learn. We may have a great idea, and it may end in success. But if it does, we must not settle and think that there is not still more learning and growing to do. And however great an idea might be, it may very well end in failure – a failure that we can learn from and that can help us grow. We are grateful that at Alyth we have found a trusting, evolving community in which we can safely make mistakes, learn from them, and grow into the very best versions of ourselves.

In the last two years, we have learned that Alyth is a place in which it is impossible to stop growing – impossible to stop evaluating, learning from, and growing through even our greatest successes.

It is this ethos of constant growth, development and deepening of relationship that first attracted us to Alyth, and is one of the reasons this is a place we now call home, along with our families, and we hope for this to continue for many years. And it is the Alyth family that made this home a place of joy every time we logged onto our Zoom check-ins, and every time we enter this building. 

The lay leadership, guided by Noeleen and Russell, and now by Justin, often our most enthusiastic champions, who have encouraged and supported us. Our rabbinic colleagues, Josh, Hannah and Colin, who have welcomed us into their team, trusted us in our roles, guided us in our decisions, allowed us to take risks, and inspired us to be better.

Every member of the staff team that lovingly shouts down the corridor to each other, who invest in and care about each other just as much as they do for this community, and who made us immediately feel that we’d been part of the team forever.

And finally, it is every member of this community who could have, in the summer of 2020, said there was already too much change in the world outside the synagogue that they could not be expected to tolerate further development within it, but who nonetheless have taken the time to get to know us, put their trust in us in their most joyous and most challenging moments, and have allowed us to grow as Alyth clergy.

In gratitude for the last two years, we look forward with optimism and excitement to grow with you and to see what the future of this community holds. An open future in which we endeavour to bring into reality the words that are inscribed above our ark: Ivdu et Adonai b’simchah – serve the Eternal with joy.