Rabbi Heidi Cohen Rosh Hashanah 5773 Sermon – Living Legacy

To listen to Rabbi Cohen deliver this sermon, press ‘play’ on the below video. Return to Sermon Archive

Rabbi Heidi CohenIn Judaism we find meaning in numbers.

Seventy is the age of the fullness of life, proclaims Pirkei Avot. Seventy is the number of people who went down with Jacob into Egypt. There were the seventy elders at Sinai who received the Torah from Moses and shared it with the people in their tribes and communities. The city of Jerusalem is known by seventy names and was built upon seventy pillars. And seventy is the number of nations in the world during Biblical times.


While the Temple in Jerusalem was destroyed in the year 70, we look at this year not as a time of our destruction, but rather as the opportunity for building and growth. For it is through the Diaspora and Jewish life outside of Israel that Judaism flourishes in many ways. The most important is how we as a people have ensured that we remain connected no matter where we are in the world.

“Seventy is the number of people who went down with Jacob into Egypt.” Seventy years ago, a group of families chose to establish a Jewish congregation in Orange County. Many came down from Los Angeles to settle here in Orange County. They sought to create a house of worship, learning and community – a beit t’fillah, beit midrash, and beit k’nesset. The founders of Temple Beth Sholom saw an opportunity to build a community that resides at the intersection of sacred space and time.

Seventy years ago, Dr. and Mrs. Frank Schaffell, Mr. and Mrs. Al Silber, and Mr. and Mrs. Harry Stein came together to organize the first Jewish Congregation in Orange County. Jews had been in Orange County since 1857 as winemakers in Anaheim and later as business owners in Santa Ana.


“There were the seventy elders at Sinai who received the Torah from Moses and shared it with the people in their tribes and communities.” In 1943, a group of individuals formally gathered together in the home of the Schaffell’s for Shabbat services. Dr. Schaffell led the services with a Torah borrowed from a Mr. Singer in New York. But this was not a reform, conservative or orthodox service. This was a Jewish service – a great challenge for these first families 70 years ago. These first families hoped to establish a place for all Jews, of all backgrounds, to gather together in Orange County and embrace Judaism as each of them knew how.

“The city of Jerusalem is known by seventy names and was built upon seventy pillars.” These worship services continued for several months until the number of interested families outgrew the Schaffell home and they were moved to the Ebell Club. In 1945, during the second year of Temple Beth Sholom’s existence, the families were able to purchase the Unitarian Church on the corner of Eighth and Bush in Santa Ana, converting the building into a permanent sanctuary for Temple Beth Sholom. Later, the land and building next to the synagogue was purchased and converted into school and social space.

The founders of Temple Beth Sholom, while associating themselves with the Union of American Hebrew Congregations, the Reform Movement, wrote: “May we all become conscious of the importance of true Jewish Communal spirit and strive once more to eradicate all indebtedness and make our two homes a haven of worship, a place truly called “Our Own”.  This can only be accomplished in unity.  Let’s stand united remembering we have but ‘one temple,’ ‘one Israel,’ ‘one People,’ ‘one God’.  Then we shall prosper and grow from strength to strength for the cause of Judaism.”


“And seventy is the number of nations in the world during Biblical times.” These founding families and the hundreds of families who came after knew they were building something quite different than any other congregation, let alone, Reform congregation. These were people who believed and lived by the values that every individual is unique and blessed and has his or her own needs for how to live a Jewish life. Those who built Temple Beth Sholom and those of us here today recognize that we are a unique congregation. As were those founders seventy years ago, we recognize that each person who walks through these doors is created b’tzelem Elohim, in God’s image, and is deserving of respect as a member of this Jewish community. As we are a myriad of nations even within our own congregation, together we are able to expand our expression and commitment to our Jewish community and to our Temple Beth Sholom family. The pillars of what our founders created 70 years ago holds true today as we enter our next 70 years.

As Jerry announced moments ago, we are continuing with this mission of our founders through our campaign, “The Living Legacy.” This campaign, while we are excited about what we are going to build together, represents so much more than the physical building. It is about continuing to build a living legacy for future generations.

On this Rosh Hashanah morning, we gather as generations past have done each year. We are present to hear the sound of the shofar and mark the beginning of a new year. It touches each of us in a different way as is obvious by our being drawn together on this day in such great numbers. We follow this primal need to walk through these doors and experience these High Holy Days together. For this being drawn together and for coming into this sacred space, I say, thank you. No matter the reason why each of us is here, thank you! Thank you for continuing to be a part of a living legacy, thank you for being a part of the journey of the Jewish people. [PAUSE or create a better transition, let the thank you be absorbed]


Generations ago, one young man knew it was his time to travel alone from his home in Jerusalem to Tiberias. His whole life he traveled with his family along the roads in Israel and never fully understood just how they were able to find their way to the northern city. When it was his time to go alone, he asked, how would he know he is on the right road. His father assured him that the road was well marked and all he needed to do was follow the signs.

Sure enough, there were plenty of signs leading him out of Jerusalem and into the hills and valleys of the north. But then he came to an intersection with three roads and no sign. Which road was the one that would lead him to Tiberias? He looked around and there on the ground before him lay a sign with three cities listed – Tiberias, Jerusalem, Jaffa. What was he do? If he chose the wrong road he would surely lose many days of travel and possibly find himself without water or food. But then it came to him; as he left his family in Jerusalem they said to him, ‘always remember from where you came.’ The young man smiled, picked up the sign and knew which road to take. How? He knew the direction from which he came, that being Jerusalem. Pointing this sign with the name Jerusalem, behind him, he knew where he was going and which road to take.

And so it is with us today. We ask, how will we know which road to take or which direction to go? It begins by knowing from where we came, from where we started.

Like the founding families of Temple Beth Sholom, who included our Honorary Chairs, Allan and Sandy Fainbarg and Bernie and Brad Horwitz, who lovingly remember Maxine, Wayne, and Diane, we know from where we came.  Each of these families shares a commitment to maintaining the legacy of the Jewish community and specifically our community. And like the Fainbarg’s and Horwitz’s, we each understand the importance of building not only for today but also for future generations.


As the young man entered the north and the coast of the Galilee next to Tiberias, he came across an elderly man planting a carob tree.  Curious, the young man asked, ‘sir, why do you bother to work so hard as you dig a deep hole to plant this carob tree? It will never produce fruit in your life time for we know that it takes at least a generation before a carob tree will bear its fruit.’ The elderly man looked at the young man standing before him and said, ‘it is not for me that I plant this tree, rather it is for you and future generations to enjoy its fruit. For another elderly man planted a tree for me and my generation. Now, it is my chance to plant for you and the future.’

This living legacy campaign is for us today, but it is also for the future of our families and the Orange County Jewish community. We send our children to religious school so that they may learn the history and traditions of the Jewish people in order to carry it on to the next generation. We continue to learn and expand our own Jewish connections to community and tradition so that we may be enriched and enjoy the sweetness of being a part of a vibrant community. And we celebrate those who establish the foundation of our Living Legacy Campaign, making it possible for each of us to be a part of building for today and tomorrow.


Lo alecha ham’lacha ligmor, Lo alecha ligmor. V’lo ata ben chorim l’hibatil mimena. It is not your duty to complete the work or to finish it. But neither are you free to not engage in it.

Seventy is a significant number in Jewish tradition and history. For in this number are the number of those who created the foundation of the Jewish people and upon the pillars for which they laid before us are we to build. Today, on this Rosh Hashanah day we begin a new chapter. Not only a new chapter in our own personal lives, but a new chapter in our congregational family’s life.  Seventy years ago, the founders of Temple Beth Sholom began a new year like we do today, dreaming about the future, planning for how to make it a reality, and laying the foundation for the work of the next generation. Let us now embrace Pirkei Avot’s teaching that seventy is the age of fullness of life. Temple Beth Sholom has reached seventy, and now we ask, what shall we build for us today and most importantly what will we leave for the next generation just as TBS’s founders built for us today? We join with Bernie and Brad Horwitz and Alan and Sandy Fainbarg as we enter the beginning of new life and experiences. May we be strong of will and heart as were our founders, and may the works of our hands be holy in God’s sight and in ours as well.  And may we all feel and experience that we are a congregational home for all Jews, today, tomorrow and for generations to come.





Comments are closed.