On March 1, 2008, Congregation Or Ami honored Diane Townsend, our B’nai Mitzvah teacher. I had the honor of sharing these words:
Back in the late 19th century, Rabbi Nathan Finkel headed a yeshiva in Slobodka, a small town in Lithuania. On cold, dark winter mornings, Reb Nathan used to get up early and go into town. He would stop off in all the shtibelech, all the little prayer houses and places of study, one after another. And in each small, dark room, he would light a fire in the oven and stoke the flames before continuing on his rounds.
“Why did he do it” his closest friends would ask? And he would respond: “If all the prayer houses and places of study are warm early in the morning, then coachmen, porters and all kinds of people will come in to get warm – and then they will find themselves in a sacred place.”
When you walk into Diane’s tutoring room, you first see that warm smile welcoming you in. You are already put at ease. She offers you a mini-Hershey bar or another piece of candy, and these awesome moments of study are already feeling a bit sweeter. She asks you about your day, your family, your life, and before you know it… you are chanting the v’ahavta.
Diane Townsend, our B’nai Mitzvah teacher, you have taught hundreds upon hundreds of students – children and adults – throughout the entire Greater Los Angeles Jewish community – the mitzvah of chanting Torah. Simultaneously, you have accomplished so much more.
While teaching them how to chant, you teach them study skills and how to master the seemingly impossible. You help our teens, who are struggling to find their place in the world, to believe in themselves. You allow us, parents, relatives, and teachers, to witness miracles, as our children blossom on the bimah. And just when it seems that a grandparent couldn’t smile any more broadly, we see a smile spread across your face, as you Diane beam with pride at “your” kids and their incredible progress.
Diane Townsend, Torah teacher extraordinaire, that is why we honor you tonight. For illuminating for us the significance of Judaism and it’s meaning in our lives. May the generations of Jews you have inspired, sustain our Congregation – and our whole Jewish people – for a bright future to come. All of us thank you and wish you Mazel tov!