Recollections of Cantor Sherwood Goffin

With the permission of our Morah D’Asra, Rabbi Robinson:

I have been asked to be the very last speaker in this building at 200 Amsterdam Ave., as we say goodbye to this beautiful sanctuary in which I have davened for more than 42 of the 47 plus years that I have been the Chazzan at LSS, and to assist in transferring its holiness to a new place.

Mourn? I will not mourn! But, remember? Remember I will – very well. What do I remember? As Naomi Shemer put it so beautifully, ♪“Al hadvash v’al haoketz; al hamar v’hamatok.” The honey and the sting; the bitter and the sweet. There were bitter moments, but there were sweet, so very sweet moments – with a lot of gray – nice, not bad – moments in between, because this shul was a microcosm of life, and in our lives we experience the full spectrum of experiences, moods and events (from bitter to, oh, so sweet).

Some of you may think that I am here to lament. I am not here to lament, but I am rather here to celebrate. Yes, if you have spent your lifetime here - in this building, as I have, there is much to lament. But there is also much to celebrate. Let me explain:

I stand before you today, an embodiment, if you will – a symbol of the day to day full gamut of the history of LSS. I am not here to lament the final closure of the Book of What Was, but to celebrate the promise and dedication of the New – What Will Be.

In this room we have sought tranquility. In this sanctuary – this Beit Tefilla – we have all come at one time or another – to find solace; to beseech our G-d; to share the joys, and sometimes, the trials and tragedies of life.

In this room, I have seen creativity; I have seen mundanity.
I have seen bravery, I have seen cowardice.
I have seen joy; I have seen despair.
I have seen confession and I have seen denial.
I have seen exhortation; I have seen acquiescence.
I have seen accusation, and I have seen forgiveness.

My dear LSS congregants and friends: I have heard your tefillos, your prayers, and you have heard mine. I have prayed for you; I have beseeched G-d for you – to answer your cries, and your prayers for redemption and for G-d’s saving power.

Yes, we have prayed together; we have cried together; we have laughed and rejoiced together. And, all these years we have joined together all the tears, all the words of our hearts, and all the dreams of our minds.

How can I describe to you the depth of what this room has meant to me and to my family? In 1968/69, just scant three years after I first arrived here in 1965, during our shul’s very first year, I spent less than two years proudly and excitedly watching every beam installed, every brick laid as our new shul building grew to completion.

As our family grew, in this sanctified room Batya and I were zocheh to celebrate the two brissim of our sons and their two bar mitzvahs; and by heavenly decree, the heartbreak of eulogizing and mourning our eldest daughter Nisa Chaya in this room, from this place, where we experienced your unbelievable support and consolation. We then were zocheh to welcome our new son-in-law and to experience the unbridled joy of the Simcha of our two son’s ufrufs; and the bris of our first grandchild on my knees. All that took place here, in this room. In terms of simchas – most of you sitting here today can say, B”H, that you had a similar simcha experience. I prepared over 400 bar mitzvahs that took place here, and I sang at 100’s of wedding chupahs. And, I officiated at many, too many funerals here, too. Thank G-d, the simchas have far outweighed everything else!

Funny – the memories that jump out at you from the wellsprings of your mind: Danny Mars, the creator of LSS, a non-Shabbat shul attendee who became a regular Shabbat attendee – sitting over there behind the Rabbi in his special Founder’s chair; Phyllis and Stanley Getzler, members since the very beginning and still in shul every week sitting there and there; Mr. Gerson Wald chanting Yatsiv Pisgam on Shavuot with his sonorous bass voice; Mr. and Mrs. Maurice Spanbock beaming with pride on their son Jonathan’s Bar Mitzvah – the very first in this sanctuary. I will always remember Mrs. Martha Cohn, the First Lady of LSS for more than 30 years, gracefully waving from the third row over there in the ladies section with a smile and a proper German bow whenever she was thanked or acknowledged for her assistance in an event or project.

Presidents and officers, Gabbaim of every style and composure, and every day characters of every shape and form. And of course, the many Rabbanim, Associate Rabbanim and Assistant Rabbanim from our first rabbis, Rabbi Shlomo Riskin and Rabbi Herschel Cohen, A”H, who were and will always remain beloved colleagues and friends from whom I learned so much. That excellence of leadership has continued to this very day – and we can boast of a stellar team that includes Rabbi Ephraim Buchwald, Rabbi Moshe Sokolow, Mrs. Elana Stein Hain, and our good fortune in having as our Morah D’Asra and my dear colleague, Rabbi Shaul Robinson, may G-d continue to give him strength and fortitude.

Yosef Gamzu wrote these words to Dov Selzer’s beautiful melody: ♪“Yesh anashim im lev shel shel even; Yesh avanim im lev adam.” “There are men with hearts of stone; there are stones with the heart of a man.” My friends, if we restrict ourselves to just looking at the mortar and the stone, we will not be enabled to see the heart of this shul. That heart is the sum total of all the hearts and souls of our members, our congregants. That collective heart will transplant itself into the stone and fabric of our new shul.

My good friend, Rabbi Saul Chill of Far Rockaway, tells of a thought that was told to him many years ago. He asks: “Do you know why it is important to daven in a shul, and not in a basement or an apartment? It is because - soaked into the very walls of the shul are the prayers and tears of all the generations who davened there before you. When you daven, all those prayers and tears join with yours in one great prayer that reaches right up into the very halls of Heaven itself.” In this piece of wood from the walls of this shul, all those prayers and cries of joy or desperation are soaked and absorbed into the very fiber and atomic structure of this piece of wood, as it is in every piece of wood and stone in this shul. I will take it with us and attach it to my chair (or somewhere perhaps less obvious) so that the previous era of LSS will forever be bound together with the newest era of LSS.

If you think that I am being too melodramatic – yes, that may be true. But believe me my friends, there is nothing so melodramatic as leaving the old behind and embracing the new.

We are told in the Mishne, Maseches Ovos, 3rd chapter:“Da Meiayin boso, ul’an ato holeich,” Know where you come from, and to where you are going. We will never be successful if we forget what once made us great, and fail to take that ingredient and utilize it to carry us forward in a new form; in a new formula; into a new enterprise.

My dear shul building at 200 Amsterdam Avenue. If I may speak to you directly, with the permission of all those assembled here today: As we leave you, I assure you that your holiness will accompany us to our new home. We will take along the sounds and songs of those who have prayed here and studied here. We will not forget you – even as we abandon you and remove the holiness from every board, every stone. And, in the end, you arejust stone and mortar – built to house the One G-d who is our Rock and ourRefuge. In Parshas Terumah, G-d commanded us: “V’asu li mikdash, v’shachanti b’sochom.”  And they shall make a sanctuary for Me, and I will dwell amongst them.” We have done this once before, and we will be doing this once again today. G-d promises that He will dwell amongst us in this original sanctuary, and G-d will now dwell amongst us in our new Mikdash, in our new sanctuary.

Even though this ground will no longer be hallowed ground, whenever we pass this corner we will smile and remember. And then our eyes will look down the avenue and we will swell with pride at what we have created. Walls that once surrounded us; roof and skylight that once protected us, I promise –we promise that you shall not be forgotten. But you will be eternalized in the future of this shul known as LSS.

♪Tseischem l’shalom, mikdasheinu hashalom, mikdash shel k’hal hakodesh Merkaz Torah/Lincoln Square. Lo nishkach ot’cha l’olam, vnizkeh chulanu l’vinyan shaleim.

Farewell sweet house of prayer and study. We shall never forget you. Nay – we can never forget you, for if we do, that which we have created anew will be meaningless. The new must stand on the shoulders of the old, so that the generations will blend and give us peace and success, with the help of G-d.

Goodbye.

Lo nishkach otcha.

We shall never forget you.

Tseischem l’shalom. Tseischem l’shalom.

Wed, January 17 2018 1 Shevat 5778