Remarks on the Adas Emuno Sesquicentennial
October 22nd, 2021
One hundred and fifty years! My, how time flies! Doesn’t it seem like just yesterday that we were celebrating our centennial?
Well, maybe not just yesterday. But it was almost a decade ago, as some of you may remember, back when I started on my first term as president of our congregation, that I pointed out that our 150th anniversary would be upon us before we know it. And some of you learned a new word: Sesquicentennial! Can you say that? Repeat after me: SES! QUI! CENTENNIAL! SESQUICENTENNIAL! See, it’s easy.
So, for the better part of a decade, we’ve been thinking about our sesquicentennial, talking about our sesquicentennial, and planning for our sesquicentennial. And that brings to mind that old Yiddish saying about how we plan, and God laughs.
This certainly isn’t the sesquicentennial that we had planned for before the pandemic. No one expected that we would usher in our anniversary after a year of lockdowns and quarantines, zooming and streaming, masking and vaxxing. But our congregation survived the last great pandemic over a century ago, and we are still going strong to this day. And we have learned a lot! We have learned to be flexible. We have learned to be adaptable. And most of all, we have learned about ourselves, and the true value of family and friends and our spiritual home, our sacred community, our Congregaton Adas Emuno.
So, God may have had a real good laugh this time, but our best laid plans were simply to commemorate our sesquicentennial, and that is what we are doing tonight, right now, and for the coming anniversary year. And I think that the fact that our birthday, October 22nd, has fallen on a Friday this year is more than mere synchronicity. It is altogether auspicious that this occasion coincides with the most sacred time of Shabbat, and that, as we commemorate our anniversary we can join together in worship, which is exactly what has sustained us for these past 150 years, not to mention the past 3,000 years or so. We didn’t plan, we couldn’t plan, to have our congregation’s birthday fall on a Friday this year, but maybe someone else did? We may need to consult the Kabbalah, or Gematria, for the answer. Rabbi, I leave it to you.
I do think it’s important to be clear on what it is that we’re celebrating. What does 150 years of Adas Emuno mean? It’s not about this sanctuary, or the social hall downstairs, or the school building, or our garden. It’s not about Hoboken and it’s not about Leonia. Our membership comes from all over Northern New Jersey, and beyond. We are not circumscribed by our properties, not limited to one town, not defined by geography.
What does 150 years of Adas Emuno mean? It’s not about a place. It’s about a congregation. It’s about a sacred community. It’s about an assembly of the faithful. It’s about people. Adas Emuno is us. All of us gathered here today, and all of us watching the livestream. We are Congregation Adas Emuno.
But it’s not just about us. It’s about the pioneers who founded this synagogue 150 years ago. It’s about everyone who was a part of our community over the past century and a half. And it’s about everyone who will join our faithful assembly in the future. Just as we are not defined by geography, neither are we limited to any one point in time.
And, let’s also think about, and remember the members of this congregation who are no longer with us, many that I have known, many that you have known. We should understand that they are more than names on memorial plaques. And they are more than names that are said each year on their yahrzeit. They will always be a part of our congregation. And they are a part of this moment, they are with us in our celebration, here tonight.
One hundred and fifty years ago Congregation Adas Emuno was founded by a group of immigrants. We should consider the courage they had, to leave their homes and journey across the ocean to a strange new country with a different language and a different culture, to start all over again. They were not defined by geography, and they were supported by our time-honored tradition and a commitment to community. Let’s take a moment to recognize their courage, and how today we stand on their shoulders, and enjoy the benefits that their courage bestowed upon us.
And let us also acknowledge that it takes some courage to be here now, today, to be true to our tradition, and to be a part of a congregation. It takes courage to stand up for ourselves in the face of growing anti-Semitism. It takes courage to carve out time to devote to our temple, especially when there are so many other demands that are made on us. It takes courage simply to set aside the pursuit of pleasure, the endless distractions that are constantly vying for our attention. It takes courage to set aside the pursuit of power, status, wealth, even just for a little while, to resist the seductive call of personal ambition, and make room for something more in our lives. It takes courage to make the choice to be Jewish, make the choice to be a member of the Jewish community, to make the choice to live and worship as Jews. Today we are all Jews by choice.
And if the pandemic has taught us anything, it’s taught us that what really matters are family, friends, and community. What really matters are our relationships. What really matters are the things that give life meaning, that transcend space and time, that link us together to something greater than ourselves.
So tonight, and for the coming year, we celebrate our sesquicentennial. One hundred and fifty years of Congregation Adas Emuno. We celebrate our past and our present. And we celebrate our future. And when it comes to all of our planning, well that Yiddish saying doesn’t indicate that there’s anything wrong with making God laugh. Why wouldn’t it be a good thing? After all, with all that’s going on in the world, God could probably use a good laugh.
So, in that spirit, at this time next year, after we are finished honoring the founding of our shining shul on a hill, after we are finished commemorating the survival of our sacred community, after we are finished sharing in the joy of the sesquicentennial of our little shul-that-could, we should start planning for Congregation Adas Emuno’s bicentennial celebration. It’s only 50 years away! It’ll be here before you know it!
Until then, happy birthday Adas Emuno! And Shabbat shalom!