Listening to the multicultural messages of farewell to Congregation Or Hadash’s founding Rabbis Analia Bortz and Mario Karpuj at a virtual sendoff Sunday, it’s clear the Argentinian rabbis became part of the synagogue’s extended family over the past 18 years.
Close to 200 people in attendance at the online Zoom “L’Chaim & L’Hitraot” tribute expressed in English, Hebrew and Spanish their appreciation, loss, memories and plans to visit the rabbis in Israel after they make aliyah shortly. During the 1 ½-hour program filled with music, shtick, video, photos and memes, the upbeat rabbinic couple watched a screen from an Or Hadash chapel. Bortz wore an ivory lacy sleeveless dress and her signature heels, and Karpuj sported a tux.
Their two daughters Adina Karpuj and Tamar Oren alternately recounted tongue-in-cheek their parents’ transition from rabbis of a congregation starting a synagogue in Sandy Springs to “extended family.”
Oren began the narrative, “Once upon a time in a faraway land called Buckhead, two young rabbis with strong accents … were approached by a small, committed group of dreamers and asked to take a leap of faith to start a community of their own.
“They thought about it long and hard over many, many moons, calculating the pros and cons, doing risk analyses. Just kidding, they dove right in. With b’nai mitzvahs on the books and weddings to follow, the rabbis sprung into action. They moved to a new land called Sandy Springs and soon enough they had turned a house not only into a home, but into a shtibl, a community center, an office and a candy shop for all b’nai mitzvah students who definitely didn’t need Hershey’s Kisses and Mike and Ikes as incentives to learn their portions.”
Over the years, congregants were known to “drink lattes and learn with Rabbi Analia and they got the lowdown on what’s hot and what’s not from Rabbi Mario. …The community traveled far and wide. In Argentina, the rabbis taught them how to tango and in Clayton, Ga., the community taught the rabbis what s’mores were. Rabbi Mario rode his bike from Jerusalem to Eilat twice and all of you had to hear his sermons about it for the following three years.”
Through the 18-year adventure, the rabbis “found that a spiritual home was what you made it and that the meaning of family was two-fold: it’s who you are related to, but it’s also who you chose,” Oren said. That extended family has been Or Hadash, Adina Karpuj concluded.
Event co-chair Renee Videlefsky introduced the rabbis and tried to capture their “essence.” While Bortz typically is known for wearing heels from her extensive shoe collection, “you better put on your running shoes to keep up with her” as she starts her day very early at the gym. “Teaching, tutoring, writing books and making tallit, one wonders if she ever sleeps.” Karpuj, too, “is always on the go, but his happy place is with a guitar on his knee and a scotch in his hand, and of course, discussing Israel and soccer, and let’s not get started on his hugs and kisses because, as both of them say, ‘We can’t help it, we are Latino,’” Videlefsky said.
“From their humorous pulpit sparring to their obvious deep love and respect for each other, there aren’t enough words and pictures to adequately embody the love and warmth they exude, nor their ability to make everyone feel included and cared about and valued.”
From Or Hadash Sunday, the rabbinic duo held hands, blew kisses, wiped away tears, laughed and toasted along with those recalling memories on the Zoom screen. At one point they opened a gift containing a “dancing aleph” sculpture, the synagogue’s logo, and then offered their final prayers and expressions of gratitude to the congregation as Karpuj softly strummed his guitar.
In typical Jewish style, he attempted to answer with more questions what the congregants have been asking since the couple announced their intention last year to make aliyah: “How can you do this to us?”
“Did you have to be so supportive and kind? … Do you have any idea how difficult it is to leave this?”
Bortz thanked her husband and children for their support. “We grew together to build this place together.”
And in keeping with their usual musical collaboration, the couple ended the program with a personalized takeoff on the Bruce Springsteen song, “Follow that Dream.” Tevyeh band members, who entertained on piano and violin throughout the event, followed by performing “Bashana Haba’ah” (Next Year) and “Hatikvah,” with photos of Israel in the background, the closing shot of sunset behind an Israeli flag.
The online event of honor for the founding rabbis was originally set for May 3 but was delayed because of COVID-19 to July 12, thinking “surely we would be in the synagogue by then,” said Sherry Frank, a former president and honorary chair.
“About six weeks ago the decision was made that we could not safely be in the synagogue for this celebration,” Frank said of the in-person event that was to include dinner, drinks and dancing. Of the online program, she said, “It’s still a giant tribute to them, … the first big community event on Zoom.”
For the past two Shabbats, the rabbis have conducted services with their successor, Rabbi Lauren Henderson, Frank said. Or Hadash signed a three-year contract in April with the young rabbi from South Carolina.