Learning from the Past by Retelling the Stories of our People

Noah Zelin, graduate of Fairmount Temple’s Religious School and recipient of the Rabbi Barnett Brickner Award, delivered D’var Torah at the May 5, 2023, Shabbat Service which included the Religious School graduation ceremony.

Shabbat Shalom!

As we are gathered here to honor this year’s graduating 12th grade class, I’ve thought back on the impact Fairmount Temple has had on us. Attending Fairmount Temple for preschool, Sunday school, bar mitzvah, and now Monday night Religious School, the Fairmount Temple community has been my rock. I’ve transitioned to new schools and moved houses – but I’ve always found comfort seeing the faces of the seniors who are graduating with me today. As we are all beginning a new chapter in our lives, I’ve begun to wonder how communities change and shape from one generation to the next.

This reminded me of the ancient Greek paradox of Theseus’s ship.

In this story Theseus and his crew sail their legendary wooden ship on the seas.

After many journeys some planks start to rot, so they bring the ship into port for repairs. The old pieces are taken out by the finest craftsmen and new ones are put into their place and the ship is ready to sail the seas and go on more heroic adventures. This happens again the next year. The old and broken planks are taken out and they are replaced by new ones. Year after year, Theseus comes back for repairs and it gets to the point where each and every one of the planks of wood is not one that was there when the legendary ship made its claim to fame. The people of Greece start to wonder: is it still really Theseus’s ship?

Even though the ship is rebuilt year after year, I would argue that if it uses the same sturdy wood as its foundation, is carefully crafted by the same community that has cared for it for years, and holds itself by the same morals that have governed it at its core, it is the same exact ship that Theseus has sailed for a lifetime.

There is a similar story in the Torah when Moses was leading the Jewish people through the desert after they escaped Egypt. They were wandering for 40 years trying to find Israel. Yet, some say they were also waiting 40 years to go by so a new generation could cross into the promised land, a generation that did not grow up under the rule of Pharaoh. The Jewish community was defined by the escape of Egypt but it was ultimately the next generation that carried on the task of crossing into the promised land. While the people that finally crossed into Israel were not the ones present for the parting of the sea, it was the same community, driven by the same morals, carrying the same goal of making it to the promised land.

From generation to generation we hold the memories of our ancestors before us, we carry the responsibilities that they put onto us, to keep the Jewish people going for another generation, to keep telling the story of Passover to the generation that follows us so we can .

We also hold the responsibility to look forward as the Jewish people. It may seem like we have been wandering through the desert for what may have felt like 40 years, but through our hard work and dedication we have made it to the next chapter of our lives. This doesn’t mean life will get any easier, but it means that we have a responsibility to keep marching on. With the strength of our community behind us and the scope of the opportunities ahead of us we keep on marching into the promised land.

Our graduating class has had nothing less than a journey of epic proportions. Through high school we have been through a lot, but it is our attributes as a community that has kept our ship afloat. We’ve roughed the waters of a pandemic, endured the fire that took place at the temple, and some of us even made it back safely after being marooned and stranded on the desert island that is, Canada after our bus broke down on the way back from a NFTY-NEL event.

My hope for all of my classmates is to stay connected, remember the lessons and experiences you have learned from the people in this community, and find new communities that help keep you afloat.

So, Fairmount Temple class of 2023, hoist your sails high for the adventure that awaits!

Shabbat Shalom