Upon receiving the Ameinu Dreamers and Builders Award 2009

Categories: Personal Stories of Zionism, Israel and Progressive Identity
By Rabbi Esther Lederman

Habonim 75th Anniversary Benefit
Rabbi Esther Lederman
November 14, 2009

I want to begin with a story.
I realize it’s a bit of a cliché – the rabbi wants to tell a story.
But the truth is I learned how to tell stories in Habonim.
Running around every Friday night as a Rosh Machaneh,
trying to figure out what story I would tell to the entire camp….

There were two young children in town – a brother and sister –
who were often getting into trouble.
One day, the rabbi asked to speak to the boy.
So the boy went into the rabbi’s office and sat down, and waited.
The rabbi looked at the boy and asked:
“Where’s God?”
The boy looked at her with a blank stare, and shrugged his shoulders.
The rabbi asked again:
“Where’s God?”
The boy continued in his silence.
She asked one last time:
“Tell me, where is God?”
The boy got up and ran out of the rabbi’s office.
He ran all the way home, through the front door,
and went into his sister’s bedroom.
She quickly looked up from her reading as he ran into the room
and slammed the door shut.
“What is it?” she asked.
He looked at her and said:
“God is missing – and they think we have something to do with it.”

It’s a good story and I tell it here, tonight,
because people often assume that God is missing from Habonim.
People often assume because we don’t have daily services at our machanot,
that God is missing from our camps.
People often assume I became a rabbi in spite of my experience in
a secular, Labor Zionist youth movement,
but I became a rabbi because of those experiences.
God is not missing from Habonim.
God is there –
in the eternal friendships that are forged
in the values that are breathed daily
in the Friday night rikudim
in the daily avodah,
in the toranut each kid experiences in the chadar ochel,
in the beautiful Havdalot each motzei Shabbat,
in the singing, oh the singing.
For anyone who has experienced the soul of Habonim –
you would agree —
those were sacred experiences; those were holy moments.

I am truly humbled by this award.
I’m a little pisher next to Leibel and David.
David has edited newspapers and been published in the NY Times;
he has been active in Israeli and American Jewish politics;
he started a kibbutz!
Leibel’s written books, started a magazine, and organizations.
Leibel taught me everything I needed to know
about what kind of rabbi I shouldn’t be.
And I – I tell stories.
So to be included in your company is a real honor.

I joked with friends before coming here
that I feel like the Habonim equivalent to
Obama winning the Nobel Peace Prize.
What have I done yet?
Am I getting this award so I will do something with it?
Maybe eight years from now I will have something to show for it.
But the truth is – it’s not about me.
This award is about what Habonim did for me
and what it has done for thousands and thousands
of other Jews across North America,
and in the world.

Habonim gave me a place to call home.
When I didn’t fit in at day school because I asked too many annoying questions
about the tradition, Habonim welcomed my voice.
When I felt out of place in synagogue because I was a girl,
and girls in shul, even when I was growing up,
still had restrictions placed on them, Habonim welcomed my presence.
When I felt like a have-not at the richer, it’s more important what labels you wear camp that I first went to,
Habonim didn’t care what I wore –
as long as I wasn’t naked.
And even sometimes that was okay.

Habonim is where I have always felt the most loved,
the most inspired, the most energized, the most connected.
Habonim taught me about values,
about commitment and responsibility to the Jewish people
and to the State of Israel.
It taught me how to love and be a friend.
It taught me how to build a community.
It taught me how to fight for social justice in our world.

I end with some thank yous.
I thank my parents for without them I wouldn’t be in this world.
They were the ones with the wisdom and the foresight to send me
to Camp Gesher back in 1985.
And even after they discovered that we were poorly supervised,
they still kept sending me.

I thank my friends – particularly those I met in Habonim
and who are still my closest friends today –
you know how much I love you.

I thank my teachers, particularly Roly,
for honoring Habonim and me tonight by being here with your presence.

I thank all my madrichim who are here tonight
and those who first hired me to be your Rosh Machaneh.
thank you for believing I could do this.

And lastly, I thank Habonim.
For teaching a child, this child,
what it is to be good, what it is to do good,
what it is to be just, and righteous,
what it is to build a world where God is no longer missing.

Thank you.

About Rabbi Esther Lederman

Rabbi Esther Lederman is the Director of Communities of Practice at the Union for Reform Judaism.  Prior to working at the URJ, Esther served as the Associate Rabbi at Temple Micah in Washington, DC. Before moving to Washington, DC, she served as the Marshall T. Meyer Fellow at Congregation B’nai Jeshurun of Manhattan. She was ordained in May 2008 from Hebrew Union College-Jewish Institute of Religion in New York City. Prior to becoming a rabbi, Esther worked for several years in the non-profit world. She held positions with the Israel Policy Forum and directed a project on Middle East peace education for the Union for Reform Judaism. In addition to serving for two years as the rabbi of the Jewish community of Indiana, Pennsylvania, she has held pulpits at the University of Virginia in Charlottesville and for the United States Navy in Pearl Harbor, Hawaii. She received her B.A. in Political Science and Middle Eastern Studies from McGill University in 1996. Esther was the Mazkira of Habonim Dror North America from 1996-1998 and had the distinct honor of serving as Rosh Machanah at three Habonim camps – Moshava, Galil and Na’aleh. Esther is very involved in social justice organizations, serving on the advisory council of AVODAH in Washington, DC and the national board of T'ruah, the Rabbinic Call for Human Rights.  Originally from Ottawa, Canada, she now makes her home in Virginia with her husband and two children. 
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