2015 Ner Tamid Award winner Tony Abo received his award from UPJ President Roger Mendelson at the Friday night service at North Shore Temple Emanuel on 5 February. Read his inspiring acceptance speech.
When I found out about this award, I thought it was a mistake. What am I being honoured for? I mean, sure, I come to services every week. So this must be a good attendance award. Right?
Woody Allen once said that 80 percent of success is just showing up. So maybe there’s something to that. So I accept my attendance award because… I do seem to be here all the time.
But it wasn’t always like this. There was a time when I could be seen around here about as often as a prawn cocktail. If someone asked me questions like, do you see yourself participating in the leading of services, teaching kids, sitting on the spiritual directions committee, singing in the choir, coaching lay leaders, providing technical assistance for events, helping with Temple IT projects or even pushing a lawn mower around the Temple grounds, the answer would probably have been, no.
But things started to change when my kids and their parents mutually decided that they should have bar and bat mitzvahs. I didn’t run around looking for stuff to do. I made a very simple commitment. I agreed to come every Saturday morning during the year long period while the kids prepared for their big days. I would attend the morning Torah study, while they received their instruction, and we would sit together at the service. While that might seem like a small commitment, believe me, at the time it seemed huge.
But I came. I came for David. I came for Jonathan. And I came for Breina. But really, somewhere along the way, I started coming for some other reason. I really can’t tell you exactly what that reason is, but I think it has something to do with, this is a place where good things happen. So, there I was.
Over time, things began to happen. Nothing that I planned consciously. Just by being here. My Hebrew improved. My familiarity with the service. I began to understand a little about the content of Tanach, and the teachings of the sages. But other things started happening too. Someone who can’t drive needs a ride to shule? Easy. The Rabbi is going to be away, would someone like to lead the Torah study session? Ooh, a challenge. Not enough shammashim? Yikes! I seem to remember daring Izzy Wainer, “if you do it, I’ll do it.” So, with some training by Dot, that became a thing too.
And I guess after a while, things began to take on lives of their own. And mostly, it was just being there. My Hebrew improved enough to follow the Torah reading, so I put my hand up to learn how to chant it. When I felt I could do that well enough, I put my hand up to teach it to kids. When Rabbi Robuck decided to introduce the role of Gabbai to our services, he looked to someone who was there on a regular basis to learn that role. Just things that happened along the way, and a consequence of just being here.
Singing in the choir might be the biggest surprise. I really never thought I could sing. Okay, some people still don’t think I can sing. But I guess singing along with the service, chanting the Torah trope, and eventually becoming confident enough to project my voice out as I call people for their Aliyot, was doing just that. I was singing. So when Mark suggested that I come along to a choir rehearsal, even if it is just for the learning experience, I thought, why not? Well, that’s how things happen. One thing just leads to another.
So I guess what I’m saying, is that becoming involved in this community is not something that sprang from some mother of all New Year’s resolutions, it started by just being here. This place where good things happen. But you know, the amazing thing is how much, doing what seems like so little, can affect other people. And I guess, at the end of the day, those little smiles and thankyous, that come as a result of this or that, are fulfilling in that they bring the whole thing full circle. I am giving back that thing that was the reason why I was coming in the first place. The place where good things happen.
I would like to thank Roger Mendelson, and all of those who contribute time, energy and resources to the UPJ for considering me for this award. That organization is essential for the cross pollination and economies of scale for our small communities spread so sparsely over such a huge geographic area. They play a large part in keeping us from being cut off from our people.
I would also like to thank those who have helped make this the place where good things happen. Rabbis Lampert and Conyer, and Bennie
Kaplinsky were an important part of that landscape when this journey was first starting. Rabbi Gary and Rabbi Nicole both brought transformative new energy that has enriched the entire experience so much. Judy Campbell who waves her magic wand and brings out the best in people. Each one of them has contributed meaningfully to my experience, and have in different ways inspired me to do whatever it is this award is for.
I’d like to thank all of the kids I’ve worked with and their parents. I never would have thought teaching kids would be a thing for me. Each experience has been special and unique. I hope that I have in some way helped them to have memorable experiences that will have a positive influence on their own journeys.
A very special thank you goes to Mark Ginsburg. I have never known anyone with such unique qualifications who has given so much of themselves. Mark, it is very difficult to imagine anyone who sees what you do on a day to day basis to ever feel that they’ve done enough, or that there is nothing more to be done. You are truly the poster boy for community service and I take great inspiration from you.
To Denise and the kids; well I guess the more time I spend here, the less time I spend at home. But really, you all are part of the equation too. You have all been part of the journey, and I think we have inspired one another as well.
And finally, to the community itself. You’ve put up with me as I’ve learned things. Thank you all for being what makes this place so special. You, are the good things that happen here.