The end of June of this year will mark 10 years since I first accepted the position as your rabbi. In those 10 years, I have learned a lot about this unique community and this singular congregation. As I look forward to marking this milestone with you at the Temple Israel Gala in May, I wanted to share with you some of what I have discovered about this Island and this congregation and what discoveries still lie ahead.
I came to Staten Island after 3 ½ years in a small California congregation located on the edge of miles of prime agricultural land devoted to strawberries and green leafy vegetables. Even though Monterrey county was only 100 miles south of San Francisco, Jewish life was hard to find on the central coast of California and our Temple was the only synagogue in town. When I first came to Staten Island to interview in 2010, I was immediately impressed with the vibrancy of the Jewish community here. Instead of 1 synagogue, Staten Island has more than 10 congregations, from multiple denominations, with a rich history of participation in the history of the Island. We also boast one of the most beautiful Jewish community centers in the country and an opportunity to learn about Jewish history and tradition at several local colleges.
People who grew up here frequently compare Jewish life on Staten Island unfavorably to that found in Brooklyn and Manhattan. I understand their point, but I feel blessed to be in a diverse community where everyone knows everybody else. Staten Island may not have the depth of offerings that Brooklyn or the upper West Side can offer, but Staten Islanders try harder and our pride in our heritage and tradition is every bit as strong as any other borough. From the moment I arrived, I was welcomed into this community in every segment of Island society, Jewish and non-Jewish alike. As a result of that welcome, Robin and I have made a home here and take pride in our Island and everything it has to offer.
Most wonderful of all has been this congregation that has embraced me and my family. This congregation responds like no other when tragedy strikes a Temple family and like no other congregation when the time comes to celebrate together. Over the past 10 years, we have come together countless times to provide solace in grief and to share joy in happy moments. You have been there with me, to support our members and their families, and your presence has lifted me through funerals and marriages, baby-namings and hospital visits. Your generosity with both your time and your resources puts Temple Israel at the forefront of Jewish community participation. Temple Israel may be a small congregation, but its reach exceeds those of synagogues many times its size.
It has been my honor and joy to serve as your rabbi. As I approach 10 years with this congregation, I take enormous pride in what we have accomplished together, and I look forward to what we might still do together.
Rabbi Michael Howald