Monday, November 24, 2014

What’s Your Motto?

from the pages of Kadima, the newsletter of Congregation Adas Emuno:

From the desk of …                    
 Rabbi Barry Schwartz

What’s Your Motto?

This summer we cleaned out the small vestry room adjoining our sanctuary that houses our prayer books. In the process we discovered a Confirmation certificate. The name on the certificate: Esther Cohn. The date: May 27, 1917. The “minister” (as the rabbi was then called): Moses Eckstein. The president: Samuel Neuberger.

I was happy to find this artifact; we have so few from our long congregational history. The certificate itself was simple and unexceptional. But one line caught my eye. It read, “Motto” and then leaves a blank space to be filled in. In a different hand than the rest of the certificate, are the words, “I will fear no evil, for Thou art with me.” You may recognize the verse from the 23rd Psalm.

Intriguing... I haven’t seen something like this before. It got me to thinking: Did Esther herself choose this verse? Did she write it herself on the certificate? How and why did she make this choice? Did the rabbi give the Confirmation students a choice of sayings, and each student chose their favorite? Or were the students completely free to choose whatever they wanted?

I like this idea of a motto. I’m considering bringing it back to Confirmation class. Part of the challenge, I suppose, will be to design a teaching unit of great quotes to help our students make an educated choice. I’m also left wondering: why haven’t I heard of this being done before... and why didn’t I ever think of it?

My question to you: what is your motto? In Europe, aristocratic families used to have both a motto and coat of arms? Do you have a verse that is especially meaningful to you? Do you have a favorite quote that sums up your philosophy of life? (If you do, send it to me; I’d really like to know.)

When I was newly ordained (thirty years ago if you can believe it), a member of my first congregation wove me a beautiful tallit, that I still wear at every morning service. Roz asked me what I would like to be inscribed on the collar. I chose the famous words of the prophet Micah, “... to do justly, to love mercy, and to walk humbly with thy God.” I guess you could call that my motto. Choosing a motto may not be so easy... but harder still is living up to it.

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