by Rabbi Yaakov Y. Kermaier
Fifth Avenue Synagogue is a community with a cause. What are the core values of our Modern Orthodox congregation?
First and foremost, our institution carefully guards its religious integrity. Halacha, the complex system of Jewish law and custom, is our “religious constitution”. Allegiance to halacha is the hallmark of authentic, historic Judaism and Fifth Avenue Synagogue is proudly loyal to both the letter and spirit of halacha. In all of our services, programs and social events, halachic propriety is priority number one. Our willingness to innovate within halacha’s boundaries to meet contemporary Jewry’s spiritual needs should never blur our ultimate submission to halachic standards.
Authentic prayer, we affirm, is an act of seeking closeness to G-d, and the Synagogue must be an arena conducive to this spiritual encounter. Through all of our prayer services, especially those on Shabbat and holidays, we strive to engage and inspire our worshipers.
Because facilitating religious exploration is our raison d’etre, we are a learning community. “V’talmud Torah K’neged Kulam” – “and Torah study is equal to all other commandments combined” (Talmud, Shabbat 127a) is a banner we hold high. Enhanced Jewish literacy, we believe, inevitably leads to greater Jewish commitment and to a deeper, more mature appreciation of Judaism. In the context of classes, one-on-one study, or short Divrei Torah, engaging sacred texts is not only an intellectual exercise, but, no less than prayer, a dialogue with the Divine.
Moreover, whether the topic is halacha or history, Talmud or Tanakh, contemporary issues or Hebrew language, philosophy or prayer, serious Jewish study not only fortifies individuals with knowledge, but ultimately invigorates the entire Fifth Avenue Synagogue community.
The scope of our Jewish interests, though, extends far beyond East 62nd Street. Achdut, the essential unity of the Jewish people, even as it is dispersed across the globe, is a central value of the Synagogue. A Jewish calamity or triumph in Paris, Perth or Petach Tikvah is ours to mourn or celebrate. Any Jew in need is our responsibility, and the welfare of the Jewish people as a whole is our concern.
Not surprisingly, then, Fifth Avenue Synagogue is a Zionist community. We embrace the State of Israel as the realization of many of our nation’s loftiest dreams. Jewish sovereignty in the Holy Land has enabled Israel to become a guardian of the Jewish people, even today absorbing Jews in distress from near and far. Israel also shines as a beacon of Jewish learning and culture for world Jewry. We pray each Shabbat that the Jewish State, our state, will thrive and achieve peace and security. We celebrate annually her independence and the reunification of her eternal capital, the city of Jerusalem. “We have never abandoned our hope, the hope of two thousand years, to be a free people in our land, the land of Zion and Jerusalem.” (From the Israeli national anthem).
Beyond our congregational and Jewish national interests, the Synagogue advocates humanitarian involvement in the broader community. Influencing society with kindness and compassion is an essential part of the Jewish mission. It is both our privilege and sacred duty to gladden the hearts of the elderly, the mentally disabled, orphans, and anyone who needs a dose of companionship and love.
Finally, our Synagogue must inspire the children, even the youngest ones, with the above values. Religious living, respecting differences, learning Torah, Jewish unity, and love of Israel and humanity are values best communicated to our children at home and at school, but also learned and reinforced within a synagogue community. We welcome our youngest members into the synagogue and place their needs at the top of our programming agenda. We are confident that children who are enveloped by a positive, warm, and exciting Jewish community will grow up to value continued Jewish development for themselves and for their children.
Fifth Avenue Synagogue’s deepest hope is that its values find adequate expression in its programs and that the Synagogue thereby helps its members lead lives suffused with Jewish meaning.