Twenty years ago, Rabbi Rosalind Gold delivered a sermon before her congregants at the Northern Virginia Hebrew Congregation about the burning bush in Exodus.
"What was so amazing wasn't that the bush was burning, but that Moses noticed it," said Gold, who was then the relatively new Rabbi at the Reston synagogue. "There are a lot of things in our life that we walk right past, but we aren't sensitive to unless we realize it."
Gold had all but forgotten her burning bush sermon she gave two decades ago until one of her congregants recently quoted it to her verbatim. During the past several weeks, Gold has had countless moments when her congregants have told her the impact her words and guidance have had on their lives over the past quarter century.
"When people quote your sermons to you, it's very humbling. Very humbling," she said.
After 23 years, Gold stepped down from her position at the end of May to spend more time with her family. A new rabbi, Robert Nosanchuk, who has been working in Baltimore, will begin work at the Reston temple in July.
Gold, who was the second woman rabbi to be given her own congregation in the nation, is known for her efforts to bridge the differences and cultivate understanding between religions. Under her direction, NVHC has held regular discussion forums with the next-door St. Thomas a Becket Catholic church and has worked extensively with the All Dulles Area Muslim Society in Sterling.
"She's really quite a remarkable woman," said Seldon Kruger, a member of NVHC's congregation and chair of the temple's social action committee.
Gold has also instilled in NVHC's congregation her own sense of social justice and commitment to helping the less fortunate, Kruger said.
Under her leadership, NVHC has implemented "Mitzvah Days" on which congregants do good work in the community, such as painting the Embry Rucker Community Shelter.
"She has an intense interest in the community," he said.
EARLY ON IN Gold's career in Reston, she visited an elderly congregant who was suffering through "her 20 millionth" surgery for cancer.
The congregant was fighting for her life and was suffering marital problems at the same time. Gold, realizing the congregant simply needed a friend, spoke with her woman-to-woman about her sickness and her marriage.
Later, Gold was told that her words lifted the woman's spirits amidst the twin traumas of cancer and marital discord.
"I didn't think I was giving rabbinical advice, but that's what she needed; not just a rabbi, but a friend," Gold said.
That was when Gold realized the importance of speaking with people on a personal level and her responsibility to guide her congregants through the difficulties and losses in their lives.
Gold's personal connection to her congregants is apparent from the steady flow of people poking their heads into her office or calling her on the phone to wish her good luck, said Elaine Phillips, the temple secretary.
"She's always been open to everyone," she said. "I'm going to miss her, but I know she's going to enjoy her family and her own time."
Being reminded over the past few weeks of the impact she has had on her congregants has been a powerful and strange experience, Gold said.
"It's like dying and hearing your own eulogy," she said. "It's kind of a reminder that we should tell people we love someone all the time."