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Hedi Gross’ Presidential Speech on Yom Kippur: A Spiritual Journey

Hedi Gross 
Congregation Or Ami Presidential Speech on Yom Kippur 2013/5774
A Spiritual Journey

Hedi Gross and family

I believe in G-d; I think I always did. I have vivid memories of being a little girl and talking to G-d, feeling that he was always with me, around me, a part of my life…

I remember times when I doubted G-d, even questioned his decisions, but I clearly believed he existed.

I was 14 years old, my Grandfather was dying of cancer, and I was angry at G-d. I refused to go to services during the High Holy Days, and I remember my parents pleading with me, urging me! I was taking a stand! I was angry at G-d, but ultimately I believed he existed.

Matt and I struggled to conceive on our own; we needed in-vitro fertilization to have our 3 children but I remember (even then) questioning G-d’s decisions. Why did we have to struggle?

But you deliver that baby…

That little miracle that they put in your arms, and for me there wasn’t a doubt in my mind that a G-d MUST exist!

Installation of Hedi Gross
as President of Congregation Or Ami

Today, yes, I am a synagogue President, and from the outside it appears that my commitment and faith in Judaism is (and always has been) strong; but believe me I have shown up for many High Holy Days where my silent prayers sounded something like this, “Hi, it’s me Hedi…” First the introduction and then the begging would begin. “Please G-d watch over my family. Keep us healthy. PLEASE G-d keep my children safe”

We get older, life gets a little more complicated, our parents begin to get a little older, people get sick, and I began again a time of self-exploration…

I believed in G-d, but did I have a relationship with G-d? Was it a two way street?

There I was standing at the Kotel (the Wailing Wall in Israel) for the 1st time, and if I were completely honest, I could admit that I felt a little humiliated. At that time, my father had recently recovered from cancer. I was so filled with gratitude as I arrived at the wall but when I got there all I could do was cry from embarrassment. Had I ever really said, “Thank you?” Had I truly been “of service” to give back for all the good fortune I feel so blessed with? So, I began to take stock of what my relationship looked like until that moment:

I always saw myself as a Jew, a good Jew. A person that did community service, participated in social action, was “active” in my shul, had always belonged to a synagogue, our children were enrolled in religious school, we attended sporadic Shabbat services on Friday nights… And yet, as I took pause and looked back at my own reflection I saw that yes- I have always had an on-going dialogue with G-d, but a “relationship”? A relationship as I now know doesn’t exist by constantly asking for things, and then making promises in return. “Please G-d, if YOU… then I will…”

I am 45 years old. I am old enough to know the difference that a Holy Day shouldn’t be a time where I arrive at services, and need to reintroduce myself to G-d, and begin my list of how G-d could help ME – let alone, asking (begging), to be inscribe in the “Book of Life” for another year!??

I remember when our daughter Molly was old enough to begin asking questions about religion, and faith- she must have been 4 when she asked me, “Mommy, What is G-d?” The advice I was given through my synagogue (at the time) was to not explain the “WHAT” but the “WHEN”….

WHEN is G-d? So, Matt and I began pointing out the miracles to our children: the sunrise, the moon, the breeze in our hair, the rays of sunlight shining out from behind a cloud, the hug and safety in an embrace from a grandparent, the color of the leaves changing, and in all of those moments and millions more. We simply say, “THAT’S G-D”. We point out the when and not the what, and our children now find G-d in moments of their own. They’ll say, “Look at the beautiful ocean, and the horizon… THAT’S G-d”.

I have always been a person that says the prayer of Shema each and every day. I used to say it while in the shower, alone with my thoughts, and in the utter quiet I would say it inside my own head. But, about a year ago, I made a change. I now wake my children every day to the prayer of Shema. I kiss them good morning, and whisper in their ear, “Shema Yisrael Adonai Eloheinu, Adonai echad. Echad Eloheinu, gadol Adoneiynu kadosh shemo.” I say it out loud because NOW I am having a constant dialogue with G-d.  I am saying thank you, I am acknowledging that my G-d is in this moment; my children waking up healthy each and every day is a reason to say thank you OUT LOUD. And I now share my dialogue, my on-going relationship, (and my gratitude) in front of my children. I want them to know that G-d is a part of me, our family, and YES, G-d in that moment with us.

I enter these Holy Days feeling so differently than I used to and I share this with you in hopes of inspiring you, too, to begin a new, deeper relationship with G-d; one that is two sided. Filled with as much giving as it is in the asking. In the past I would come to services on Rosh Hashana, and Yom Kippur hoping to leave inspired. I wanted the services to elevate me, force me to into self-reflection, or at the very least open a world of deeper connection to G-d. The onus was all on the Rabbi’ sermon, the Cantor’s singing… NOW it’s on ME.

I remember thinking about the role of the “Rabbi”; always giving, counseling, listening, inspiring- leading services (WORKING). He couldn’t possibly wait for a day like Rosh Hashana or Yom Kippur to pray. On the other hand, he must arrive at these days of worship so “full,” so secure in his relationship with G-d. I wanted that feeling. For me, working during a service – being a greeter, or an usher, working at the membership table – it feels good now. I am not missing out on my opportunity to pray, or strengthen my relationship with G-d because NOW I do that each and every day.

Being “of service” is a reminder that I am in a relationship with G-d. And like all other relationships in my life, I have to give without asking (or expecting) things in return.

It is my hope in the coming year to encourage each and every one of you to attend one more thing than you did last year – find something that interests you (or your family) and to be a part of what brings about change for our temple – or maybe even the world. Create your own moments of the WHEN and not the WHAT, so that G-d-willing next year we will all take our seats together for worship on the highest of Holy Days as a stronger community. Hopefully filled with more gratitude, more giving, and deeper connections. I wear a circle necklace to remind my myself (and my children) that the world is round. Relationships are what WE make of them. Life is circular – the more you give, the more you get.

Thank you for allowing me to serve as President. Wishing all of you an easy and meaningful fast. Happy New Year.

View Hedi Gross’ Speech at 02:34:32

Hedi Gross’ speech on Yom Kippur capped off a Jewish-TED-talk/HHD-social-sermon during which three other Congregation Or Ami members shared sermonettes throughout the service on Lessons They Learned Living Through Hardship. These sermonettes were each moving individually and very inspiring as a whole. Read about How a Whole Congregation Wrote its Rabbi’s Yom Kippur Sermon.

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