Words of Welcome--a theology of inclusion--aka my installation speech

Rabbi Philip Weintraub
Congregation B’nai Israel
Installation Speech

Standing here, on this bimah that has become my home, I am humbled. I accept the mantle and responsibilities of leadership of this prestigious and noble congregation. With almost one hundred years of history in St Petersburg, CBI has been a leader in welcoming and supporting Jews of all backgrounds. I am honored to succeed my dear colleague, Rabbi Luski, and build on his work over the last four decades.

Standing here today, I am grateful to all those that have welcomed me. In a very brief and NOT comprehensive thanks, I am appreciative of Reva, Eric, Morry, Dean and the entire search committee for recognizing my talents, to our amazing team: Cantor Schultz, Maureen, Pam, Hana, Alisha, Janice, Chelsea, Gus, Pei. As we celebrate, today, I must also acknowledge the loss of the Weiss Family, specifically Leslie, who spoke so highly of the blessings of CBI in my early conversations. Their memory is a blessing.

My first Shabbat as rabbi of CBI, I shared the leadership differences of Moses and Joshua. Following forty years of travel in the wilderness, Joshua was tasked with re-establishing the Jewish people in the Promised Land. It was not an easy mission, new challenges arose, but through a partnership between the Holy One and the Jewish people, they found their home. Joshua’s mission required skills and talents that complemented, yet were different than Moses--just like my skills and talents are not identical to my esteemed predecessor.

As we prepare for the future, we will have so many incredible opportunities, some of which we cannot yet even dream of, yet we must prepare for them, nonetheless. We must commemorate and remember our past, yet we must be firmly in the present, while looking towards the future. For me, that means using our sacred texts as the anchor for all that we do. There is no subject that does not have a connection to Torah, Mishnah, Talmud, Midrash. Whether we are talking about business, politics, Israel, sexuality, family life, hope, dreams--we have a source. Of course, since we are Israelim--the people that struggle with Gd--these texts do not always have the views we expect. Yet, our continued desire to question, to argue, to build makloket leshem shamayim, arguments for the sake of heaven, ensures that we remain firmly rooted in our tradition, while opening our hearts and minds to all that comes.

Pirkei Avot, the wisdom of our mothers and fathers teaches in the fifth chapter, the 22nd mishnah:

בֶּן בַּג בַּג אוֹמֵר, הֲפֹךְ בָּהּ וַהֲפֹךְ בָּהּ, דְּכֹלָּא בָהּ. וּבָהּ תֶּחֱזֵי, וְסִיב וּבְלֵה בָהּ, וּמִנַּהּ לֹא תָזוּעַ, שֶׁאֵין לְךָ מִדָּה טוֹבָה הֵימֶנָּה: 
Ben Bag Bag says: Search in it and search in it, since everything is in it. And in it should you look, and grow old and be worn in it; and from it do not move, since there is no characteristic greater than it

That beautiful teaching is followed immediately by:

בֶּן הֵא הֵא אוֹמֵר, לְפוּם צַעֲרָא אַגְרָא 
Ben Hey Hey says: According to the pain is the reward

I would like to change pain to effort. We will follow in the footsteps of Abraham, and make sure that our tent opens on all sides--that EVERYONE is welcome here. Whether they are Jewish by birth or by choice, whether they are currently in our brit, our covenant, or simply looking to learn more; you are welcome here. Whether you are gay, straight, trans, questioning; you are welcome here. Whether you grew up here or came from somewhere else; you are welcome here. Whether you can physically get into the building or are watching from Israel or home; you are welcome here. Hachnasat Orchim, welcoming is a central value for me.

It is not just welcoming that is central, it is all that comes afterwards. I don’t want people just to enter these doors, I want them to make these spaces their home. This is OUR spiritual home. Our music, our liturgy, our traditions exist to connect us to that which is greater than us--to Gd, Hashem, Adonai, Shechina, however we speak of Her. We are traditional AND we are progressive. We are egalitarian in everything that we do. Our educational programs and social programs are central to our mission. We build community--together. 

As we think about the future of CBI, I want to ensure that we continue to create incredible educational opportunities, with phenomenal scholars. I want to ensure that our members can participate--even if they are out of season. I want to use technology to share Torah with our community and beyond--and inspire our members to see the joy and blessing of truly resting on Shabbat and Festivals. I want to ensure that we do our darndest to work with EVERY demographic. Will we make some mistakes? Will we occasionally fail? YES. But we will learn and grow in this process.

In the last months, I have met so many of you. I have been blessed to have more cups of coffee than any one probably needs. I have even had a little scotch, schnaps, and ciders getting to know people. In the process, I have seen the joy and the pain, the opportunities and the struggles within our community. I see you. We see you. We are here together.

Our Torah readings these last few weeks have been about planning for and actually building the mishkan, Gd’s dwelling place amongst the people. As we look to the future of CBI, we will continue to plan, continue to act, and continue to sing!

In my vision of a Judaism with more joy and less oy, my family and I are so happy to celebrate this day with you, this weekend with you, this past, present and future with you.

Let us say Shecheyanu together, (Baruch atah, Adonai Eloheinu, Melech haolam, shehecheyanu, v'kiy'manu, v'higiyanu laz'man hazeh.) Now we will be blessed to bring on stage one of my favorite musical groups--Nefesh Mountain. They have come from up north to share with us beautiful music, to inspire us to come together and sing, to bring the flavor of Americana and Judaism together, to show the connections of our history and our future. 



  1. You are exactly where you need to be for such a time as this. Classic Rabbi Phil statement, "....more joy and less oy" LOL, I may have to steal that one some time. We miss you up here in the Northeast. It was a pleasure 'doing life' with you & your family. Just today, I rec'd an invite from the Maccabeats - they are doing a concert in Lagrangeville at the Congregation Shir Chadash of the Hudson Valley. I never would have met & enjoyed them if not for you and Congregation Agudas Israel. Your family remains in our prayers always.


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