At the Annual Meeting back in 2016, Jeff Plotkin, who was president at the time, looked at me with hopeful eyes and asked if I would consider becoming president of the Board. Jeff, like several other stalwart members of Temple Israel, had been president more times than was fair to anyone. I had served several years on the Board, but had managed to skirt most major responsibilities. I realized my time had come to get serious, and so I agreed. That decision pretty much fell under the old saying that “fools rush in where angels fear to tread!”
Last year it was necessary for me to ask if members of this congregation cared enough to keep the doors of the synagogue open. There were times when it seemed likely that I would not be standing here on another Rosh Hashanah.
But during this past year, we engaged in serious self-examination and difficult discussions. We came together and shared openly what we loved about this community and wrestled with what was not working and needed to change. We had to make hard and sometimes painful decisions. But our focus remained on what we agreed was in the best interests of the community and what choices would be most likely to ensure a stronger future for Temple Israel. I am very grateful to everyone who participated in this process, and I stand here today very proud of this congregation and honored to be its president.
Two years ago I had little understanding of what is involved in the successful operation of a synagogue. Now, I am fully aware that caring for and nurturing a synagogue community is an immense and sacred responsibility – not just for the president, the Board, or the Rabbi, but for all of us who care about the future of this community.
There is a well-worn, but very true, saying “It takes a village to raise a child.” It also takes a village to establish and maintain a thriving synagogue.
Some of us have more money to contribute; some of us have more free time. Some of us know a lot about maintaining a building, while others know how to navigate social media to maintain connections among the members. Some of us have benefited from life-long Jewish practice and traditional Jewish education, and speak and read Hebrew like a native Israeli. Some others, like me, still stumble over much of the Hebrew and cannot remember the order of the services or the significance of much of the liturgy.
Together, though, we are like one of Bill Clark’s fabulous soups. All of the ingredients, no matter if their measure is small or large, or even how unusual or oddball they may seem, by some mysterious process combine to create something far greater than the sum of its parts. Each one of us has gifts and talents and the ability to contribute to the health and well-being of our extended Jewish family and its spiritual home.
It is very important for each person to participate as much as they can and contribute financially to the best of their ability. It is critical that everyone feel a sense of ownership and is empowered to help shape the structure and culture of the synagogue so that it can meet the multiple needs and visions of its members.
At Mt. Sinai our ancestors were asked to contribute gold, silver, incense and precious stones to build the sanctuary. Today we are asked to contribute money, time, and work to support the synagogue. Despite the centuries between Mt. Sinai and today, the purpose of these requests is still the same: so that God will dwell among us.
For some of us the God who dwells here is the one envisioned by our ancestors. But even for those of us who may struggle with that ancient image, this can still be a place of safety and community. It can be a place where we remember and honor the traditions of our mothers and fathers. It can be a place where we work together to repair this broken world. Most importantly it can be a place where each person who passes through these doors, whatever their abilities, their history, or their hopes and dreams, will find here a vibrant and welcoming spiritual home.
During this coming year, may we all be blessed with healing and peace and gain increased strength and commitment to care for each other and nurture our Temple Israel family. L’Shana Tovah!