It is with great pride that we celebrate the election of Rabbi Ben Spratt as our next Senior Rabbi during the CRS Annual Meeting on May 18. Rabbi Spratt will begin his new role on July 1, 2021 upon the retirement of Rabbi Robert N. Levine who will become our Rabbi Emeritus.
We are pleased to share this video of Rabbi Spratt’s Election response from the Annual Meeting:
Response to Election as Senior Rabbi
May 18, 2021 | 8 Sivan 5781
Benjamin H. Spratt
The House of Belonging
I am humbled by this election.
Twenty years ago this July,
My foot first crossed the front door
Of our beloved congregation,
As Kerith Braunfeld interviewed me
To be a 4th Grade Religious School teacher.
I could never have imagined the significance
Of that first step,
Nor the journey of these years with you all.
In my first months at our congregation,
I watched the twin towers fall,
And saw for the first time the power of this community.
In heartbreak and hope,
My heart felt the texture of purposeful connection.
I had my first conversation with Rabbi Levine,
The person who would become my mentor and rabbi.
From that first conversation, Rebbi you invited me to join you weekly,
A shocking offer for a part-time employee just out of college.
For a boy who spent much of his youth
Feeling alone and apart from the world,
Rabbi Levine’s was an invitation of belonging.
Now, nearly two decades later,
I see that embrace as far more than a generous act of compassion;
it was a theological response of purpose.
As many of you know,
I always wanted to be a biochemist.
Graduated cylinders and oxytocin
still put a smile on my face.
I dreamed of curing diseases
And working for secret government operations.
But something else always called me.
I have always been searching,
Seeking my place of belonging.
I am the child who grew up Jewish
Against the backdrop of Mormonism in Utah.
I am the boy beaten for his Jewishness in Oregon.
I am the yeshiva student,
Garbed in black hat and suit in the settlements of Israel.
There are many ways to tell my story,
But in all of them,
I am the person searching for belonging.
Twenty years ago I walked through our doors
Without a community, without a home.
Within these walls I found my calling,
Found my house of belonging.
And from our congregation,
Have come my greatest blessings.
There are no words worthy of capturing
The gratitude this moment demands.
I am, in so many ways,
The product of your hearts and lives.
To Rabbi Levine, I know I reach this moment
Because of you. Your leadership, your love,
Your faith, and your mentorship.
Rebbi, thank you for letting me sit at your feet,
thank you for the blessing of standing by your side,
And thank you now for the honor of succeeding you
In leading this most precious community.
To Cantor Garfein, we have walked through it all together
From café turki with you and Mike in Jerusalem,
To the birth of Max and Jake,
Celebrating and mourning, striving and growing.
Your incomparable laugh that echoes delight,
Mirrors your leadership that leaves a legacy
Felt in every heart and home.
To the presidents that took a chance on me
so many years ago and guided me along the way:
Jack Levitt, Mark Biderman, Nancy Solomon,
Rodger Meltzer, Karen Berman, Marty Flumenbaum,
Rob Steinman, and now Peter Ehrenberg;
to the Trustees of both the CRS and RSS Boards,
thank you for your dedication to this community
and all you sacrifice for the sake of others.
To the Chairs of the Rodeph Sholom School Board:
Steve Lipman, Michael Silverman,
Suzanne Waltman, and now Eric Mogeloff
and to the Heads of Rodeph Sholom School:
Paul Druzinsky, Dr. Jerry Katz, and now Danny Karpf.
Serving as the Rabbi in Residence of Rodeph Sholom School
has been a pillar and privilege of my rabbinate,
and Danny, I am deeply blessed by our friendship
and your courageous leadership
and look forward to all we will build together.
To the powerful leadership of Barbara Zakin
and our entire CRS and RSS leadership teams,
staff, faculty, educators, maintenance, security;
there are hundreds that all deserve recognition
and my gratitude for all you pour into this community
and your role in this sacred moment.
Many thanks to Gail Becker for your support and care,
and to Kerith Braunfeld for starting this journey
and being a mentor through it all.
To Rabbi Goldberg and Cantor Iacono:
your rising leadership is a gift for this congregation,
and we are so excited for all we will grow together.
To Jessica Adducchio, for your boundless dedication and wisdom,
and Rabbi Weitzman and Rabbi Karol for your partnership and leadership.
It is an honor to serve this community beside the three of you,
and a blessing to call you my friends and teachers.
To Cantor De Lowe:
Amongst my most precious of blessings in our congregation
is surely the forging of our deep friendship.
Through our marriages and our children,
through joy and grief,
we have grown up together in this community.
I, and this entire congregation, owe you profound gratitude
for rising to help lead us into this next chapter of Rodeph Sholom.
You are a beacon of strength, intelligence, and compassion,
and I am honored to take this step beside you.
To my wife Cantor Micah Morgovsky,
and my beloved children Ayalah and Jonah,
and the larger Spratt family:
yours is the strength and love that guides me through it all.
And to our community:
the thousands of relationships, sacred moments,
new beginnings and heartbreaking endings;
I cannot possibly begin to name each person of significance.
Thank you for challenging me, forgiving my failures,
growing my dreams,
and being the living house of belonging
for which I have always sought.
I am grateful we will shape this next chapter together.
More than 70 years ago, Rabbi Louis Newman wrote a reflection on the realities of the rabbinate. By that point, two decades into his senior rabbinate of this congregation, he said, “We are living in the era of the New Jew in a New Age…[and the task of the Rabbi is] that we may avail ourselves of the opportunities and the challenges of the new epoch.” Throughout his writings and sermons, for Rabbi Newman there were two driving purposes of 20th century American Judaism: integration into American society and the establishment of the State of Israel. 70 years later, even amidst the continued scourge of anti-Semitism, year over year Jews are ranked as the most well-liked religious group in America. Today, Jews can lead any industry and run for president without question. Israel, despite present and continual threats to her security and democracy, is a global force of might and industry. While there is plenty of work to be done, the existential purposes that defined prior generations of Jews have been achieved.
And last week’s Pew report on American Jewish life signals some of the changes in this new era. Interfaith marriage has proven to be a boon to Jewish vibrancy and vitality despise those who decry it, while the majority of Orthodox Jews leave the communal fold; American Judaism is becoming more diverse, more cultural, more spiritual, more Jewishly proud, with more complex perspectives about American politics, justice, Israel, and ritual than any prior generation. As conversions to Judaism rise, as new approaches to Jewish learning and life and community bloom, as Jewish communities are comprised of people who are Jewish, Jewishly adjacent, Jewishly-curious, or not Jewish but living with Jewish values and tools, we need a new driving purpose. Our world is changing at an accelerating rate. More than ever, a wisdom tradition of depth and complexity may give us a compass that sets our sights on a shared horizon. In a world of division and fragmentation, when thickness of relationship is rare and pandemic has driven distance, I believe Rodeph Sholom is poised to be a shining beacon for a new chapter. We will build on our legacy of opening wider our doors of belonging. We will support the lives that may languish, and lift Jewish tools to flourish. We will see a rising generation as trusted leaders and no longer as wayward seekers. We will position Rodeph Sholom as a platform; yes, a house in which people find belonging, but also bringing belonging out into every home. We will raise wisdom and justice as offerings for all who seek. We will see relationship as our most precious blessing and our most necessary responsibility. We will draw on our history and tradition to shape a vibrant vision, one that makes hope a purposeful practice, and empowers us all to live out our namesake: Rodeph Sholom. As was the case for the generations before us, may this be the home, the house of belonging, in which we may all flourish. And may we shape this next chapter, together.