I learned how to ride a bike when I was seven years old in Belarus, shortly before my family began our immigration journey to the United States. Our path to America was complicated, and we spent phases of our trip living in Poland, Austria and Italy alongside other Russian Jewish refugees that were escaping the Soviet Union in the late 1980s. My parents saved every penny, kopec, and lira, trying their hardest to give my older sister and me as normal a life as possible.
In Italy, my father was intent on finding me a bicycle so that I wouldn’t forget how to ride. One day, three weeks into our stay in the country, he came back to our tiny apartment with a blue “bicycle”… it was just a metal frame and heavily worn wheels. He found it in the garbage nearby. It had no rubber tires, just remnants of pedals and a half-broken seat that barely had any padding. He said that I could use it to “pretend-ride” in the courtyard. And so I did. I remember how the sparks of light flew whenever I rode; even though the bike had no rubber wheels, I made the most of it. One day he brought home two rubber tires that he salvaged. They were far from perfect but we made them fit. It was really a momentous day for me. Finally, a bike with rubber tires! The week before we boarded the flight to come to America, he came home with two complete pedals. I finally had a fully assembled bicycle.
I’ll never forget that moment — it was truly sacred. That entire last week of our journey was sacred time. I don’t remember much about that difficult journey, which was so fraught for my parents. I don’t remember the stress and sadness. What has stayed with me all these years were the sparks of that beautiful bicycle, assembled lovingly by my dad. He put the pieces together, and as he connected each part to the frame, he brought me so much joy.
Throughout my cantorate, I have strived to seek out the sparks in all my encounters and relationships, all connected to the central frame of Judaism. I have learned that in order for the sparks to emerge, one must offer humility, kindness, patience, and most significantly love.
I believe in the teaching of Ben Zoma, who said, “Who is wise? The one who learns from each person.” Wisdom belongs to those who, with humility, are open to learning from every person they meet. I trust that everyone has unique talents, sacred stories and life experiences that I can learn from. I believe that, in turn, I may be able to teach and inspire others.
My most meaningful cantorial experiences have been the ones where I have connected to people. Holding the hand of a beloved congregant at the hospital. Sitting on the floor with the junior choir and preparing for the Chanukah play. Uniting a couple under the chuppah. Offering a safe space for high school teens to be themselves. Marching for a political cause hand-in-hand with others demanding change. Creating new musical traditions with the congregation on Shabbat. Placing plush Torah scrolls into our ark with our youngest members at tot services.
I envision my cantorate at the sacred Anshe Chesed Fairmount Temple community to be one that values the importance of relationships: those connections that create community, lift us up beyond ourselves, help us share experiences, join our voices in song and prayer, and connect us on deep levels. Those connections are sacred. It takes each one of us, coming together face to face, to form our community and help our sparks fly.
I want to express my immense gratitude to you all – you have welcomed me and my wife, Rabbi Elle Muhlbaum and our son, Judah, with open arms and hearts. We are sincerely grateful and appreciative. I look forward with excitement and love to the amazing opportunities to pray, sing and, most importantly to begin to build relationships with you.