Note from Rabbi Address: We are pleased to have as guest contributor Rabbi Larry Hoffman, a beloved and respected teacher to so many colleagues and one of the major experts on worship and sacred space. Rabbi Hoffman has given us his permission to post this letter and request to be part of a unique and beautiful tribute. Please take a moment to read this and, we hope, respond. Memory is a powerful part of who we are as a people. Study adds to that reservoir of love.
All day, every day, octogenarian Bernard Cottle sits on the same park bench, as if keeping guard over the cemetery opposite. He used to sit there with his wife, a friend explains, and when she died, he more or less took up sentry duty on it. One night, when no one was looking, he even spread her ashes on the earth below, so that (again, when no one is looking), he could still converse with her.
Bernard is a character in The Thursday Murder Club which I was reading as a break from more weighty matters. But there I was, one of the characters, or, more accurately, many of the characters, because the Thursday Murder Club is a set of aging people in and around an assisted-living home. What I share with most of them is that, like Bernard, we have lost our life’s partner, who, however, still inhabits the places where we used to sit, eat, walk, and love together.
Like Bernard, we eventually think about perpetuating the presence of the person we have lost: establishing what Isaiah calls a Yad Vashem, “a memorial and a name.” The term was borrowed to name the Jewish People’s Holocaust Memorial in Jerusalem, but Isaiah used it to describe God’s promise that those who lead the good life will receive “an everlasting name that shall not perish” (Isaiah 56:5).
So Bernard sits dutifully on the bench where his wife once sat as well, and sure enough, people who see him remember her. I imagine he must worry that when he too dies, people will forget them both; had he the means, he would surely endow the bench, emblazoning upon it a plaque with his wife’s name for all to see even after he is gone. We all know people who have perpetuated a yad vashem that way: if not on a park bench, then as part of a synagogue memorial wall that lights up at appropriate occasions.
Those who can, go farther still. They choose some praiseworthy passion of the person who died and fund that passion for the benefit of others. That’s what I am doing now, in this second year of Gayle’s death. And I am writing this because I hope you will help me.
Gayle was a Jew in a small-town Canadian synagogue. She converted there, learned Judaism there, and paid dues there until she died, even after moving to New York to be with me. But hers is just one of many tiny to medium-sized congregations spread widely across the miles, overall under-appreciated for their enormous contribution to Jewish life, despite meagre resources and insufficient clergy who must often work alone, responsible for everything. I wish to honor Gayle’s memory, by honoring those congregations and those rabbis.
Toward that end, I am establishing the Gayle A. Hoover Memorial Fund For Adult Learning, a comprehensive system to provide quality offerings for adults like Gayle, using Zoom technology to link small and medium-sized congregations across the miles as an ongoing community of communities. We will encompass, as well, the handfuls of Jews in even smaller Jewish communities, where no synagogue exists at all. The program is for Canada, but it is a prototype that, once up running, will be replicable anywhere.
Imagine a faculty of all the rabbis and cantors in the system, as well as professors from universities, and experts in everything from Kabbalah to cooking, in a virtual Academy of Jewish Study. Large congregations who can afford quality programming have agreed to stream selective programs to the smaller and mid-size synagogues where people can gather for the offerings, along with a follow-up conversation with their local rabbi or cantor.
The fund will also mount an annual or biennial weekend retreat for members of participating communities to gather in person and meet the friends they have made on zoom, thereby creating a “community of communities.”
Importantly, the program has been enthusiastically welcomed by rabbis and adopted by the Reform Jewish Community of Canada, which guarantees its continuity.
But as you can imagine, the endowment funds I need just to administer it all are significant; and so, I hope you won’t mind as I ask for your help. If you have resources to share, please contribute what you can. If you know others who might help, please pass the word to them. Your support honors Gayle’s memory and is a gift to me. It is also, after all, a great cause, a model for quality Jewish education even for the smallest synagogues that need feel isolated no more. I cannot thank you enough.
In the United States, https://urj.org/GayleHoover
In Canada, https://www.therjcc.ca/donate.
For contributing foundations:
Recipient Name: Gayle A Hoover Fund for Adult Learning
Organization Name: UNION FOR REFORM JUDAISM
Organization Address 633 Third Ave, 7th floor, New York, NY. 10017 ATTN: Development Department
Organization Contact Person: Felicia Schuessler — FSchuessler@urj.org
Organization Tax ID 13-1663143
Dr. Lawrence A. Hoffman was ordained as a rabbi in 1969, received his Ph.D. in 1973, and taught from then until 2019 at HUC-JIR/New York. From 1984 to 1987, he also directed the School of Sacred Music. In 2003, he was named the first Barbara and Stephen Friedman Professor of Liturgy, Worship and Ritual. He taught classes in liturgy, ritual, spirituality, theology and synagogue leadership. For almost forty years, he has combined research, teaching, and a passion for the spiritual renewal of North American Judaism.
Rabbi Hoffman has written or edited more than 40 books, including My People’s Prayer Book (Jewish Lights Publishing), a ten-volume edition of the Siddur with modern commentaries, which was named a National Jewish Book Award winner for 2007. His Rethinking Synagogues: A New Vocabulary for Congregational Life (Jewish Lights Publishing) and his Art of Public Prayer (Skylight Paths) are widely used by churches and synagogues as guides to organizational visioning and liturgical renewal. In 2011, he received a second National Jewish Book Award for co-authoring Sacred Strategies: Transforming Synagogues from Functional to Visionary (Alban Institute).
His articles, both popular and scholarly, have appeared in eight languages and four continents, and include contributions to such encyclopedias as The Macmillan Encyclopedia of Religion, The Oxford Dictionary of Religion, The Encyclopedia of Judaism and The Encyclopedia of Religion in America. He syndicates a regular column which appears, among other places, in The Jewish Week and The Jewish Times; and writes a blog entitled “Life and a Little Liturgy.”
For many years, Rabbi Hoffman served as visiting professor of the University of Notre Dame, and has lectured at such places as the Jewish Theological Seminary of America, the University of Southern California, and the Yale Divinity School.
In 1990, Dr. Hoffman was selected by the United States Navy as a member of a three-person design team, charged with developing a continuing education course on worship for chaplains. He is a past-president of the North American Academy of Liturgy, the professional and academic organization for liturgists, and in January 2004, received that organization’s annual Berakhah Award, for outstanding lifetime contributions to his field.
In 1994, he co-founded “Synagogue 2000,” a trans-denominational project to envision the ideal synagogue “as moral and spiritual center” for the 21st century. As Synagogue 3000, it has launched Next Dor, a national initiative to engage the next generation through a relational approach featuring strong communities with transformed synagogues at their center.
He founded and is Academic Coordinator of the Tisch Fellowship Program.