You CAN Return Home Again!
They say that God works in mysterious ways, and who would have thought, that after nearly a quarter of a century away, I would be returning to my beloved Reform Temple of Putnam Valley? How it seems like yesterday that I officiated what I believed would be my last service there, a Havdallah ceremony in June of 1997 in the RTPV sanctuary, followed by a sumptuous and heartfelt farewell reception. It was a magnificent evening, albeit bittersweet – one that has always remained in my heart. As I have expressed many times, for six years I experienced a “love fest” with the people of RTPV and was blessed to make lifelong friends. However, as much as I cherished being there, after six years it was time to follow the traditional rabbinic trajectory and move on to a larger congregation.
I then became spiritual leader to a 350 family congregation in Philadelphia, followed by moving to a temple in the suburbs with over 1,200 families. Nevertheless, after more than a decade, I missed the intimacy of smaller congregational life, so I subsequently served a congregation in Greenwich for many years, and most recently served in suburban New Jersey. Immediately prior to my first run at RTPV, while a student in New York at the Hebrew Union College – Jewish Institute of Religion, I was the rabbinic intern at the Village Temple in the heart of Greenwich Village. Prior to that, I functioned as a chaplain to cancer and AIDS patients at Memorial Sloan-Kettering Cancer Center. My experiences have been colorful and varied, including much inter-faith and LGBTQ+ work. I have certainly learned a great deal, but my heart has always remained in the little town of Putnam Valley. Who would have thought that a text message sent to me in the early fall, asking if I might consider applying for the position at RTPV, would have led me home?
Just as I have changed, so has RTPV. As theater is often my frame of reference, the set or the stage, namely our lovely building, remains the same, but the cast of characters is quite different. Perhaps that is what makes it so exciting – just as old friends still remain, there is an entirely new temple family for me to get to know and work with. Indeed, 2021 brings with it new learning, including challenges, quite different than what existed in the 1990s. Quite frankly, I don’t know of any other rabbi who has been blessed with such an opportunity!
I have always compared the entry of a new rabbi into a congregation as analogous to the first stages of an old fashioned marriage. The interview process is the courting period, and the first year or two is a time in which a rabbi and his/her/their laity get to know and understand one another. How forward I am looking to this process. I must confess, to some extent, I have already had the pleasure of embarking upon this second chapter with RTPV, as the lay leaders have been gracious enough to have invited me to so many meetings and allowed me to work on a host of projects.
In 1940, famed author Thomas Wolfe’s best selling novel, You Can’t Go Home Again, was published posthumously. The title suggests that once one has undergone significant experiences and subsequent changes, one can’t resume his/her/their life in the place of origin. Indeed, I have experienced change and hopefully growth over the last twenty-four years since I stepped off the bimah of RTPV, but so has the congregation, with a new cast of characters.
We all bring our unique experiences and learning that has occurred during this quarter of a century. I pray that in harmony we will bring together our own unique threads to create a beautiful and dynamic tapestry for our congregation and community.
I can’t wait to return home and be your rabbi!
b’ahavah – with love,
Rabbi Andrew R. Sklarz, DD, MSW, RJE