We have all benefited from your wisdom and from your work. To our outgoing officers – Wayne Shore, Manny Meltzer, Gordon Fain & Mark Warner – allow me to publicly applaud your efforts. You have each gone above and beyond the call for service, and you will be missed, though we expect to see you around. Let me also take a moment to thank my family. Marni, Zachary & Benjamin continue to show enduring patience and nearly unconditional support for my role as President and I could not stand here tonight without that.
Last year, I spoke about the concept of community and the fact that building a beautiful building is not enough to create a thriving community. I also spoke about a synagogue called Etz Chaim in Bentonville, Arkansas, and suggested that because of our geographical presence in the midst of a fairly large Jewish community, we enjoy the luxury of Jewish resources that Jews in other parts of the country do not enjoy, and that we should go out of our way to take advantage of these resources and share ideas with others in our community.
I am pleased to say that TBS continues to thrive. Our first full year in this beautifully renovated building has been a great one. What inspires me most is the fact that this was a year punctuated by new ideas and new ways to participate in the synagogue community: We created an Israel Task Force. We held a very successful Comedy Night. Rabbi Scolnic organized 2 large group trips to Israel. Each of these attracted interest from all segments of our TBS community. We are thinking “outside the box.”
We also continue to be blessed with Rabbi Scolnic as our spiritual leader, a reality made so much clearer to me over the past year as I have seen other area synagogues struggle to find a rabbi.
Not knowing exactly what to speak about tonight, I began doing some reading about synagogue communities. In one article I read yesterday, the author related the following story:
A rabbi was trying to persuade a person to join his congregation and was told, “Look Rabbi, I appreciate the importance of religion, but I just don’t believe in organized religion,” to which the rabbi replied, “Then you’ll love our synagogue. It’s totally disorganized.”
He obviously was not referring to Temple Beth Sholom. At least not our Temple Beth Sholom. You see, I did a little bit of research and learned that within the Conservative Movement – the United Synagogue for Conservative Judaism – Temple Beth Sholom is the most popular name for a shul.
This discovery got me thinking: What can we learn from our sister shuls? What is going on at Temples called Beth Sholom around the country? What I learned is that in our new “global” world, there is almost no limit to the amount of information available at our fingertips.
Temple Beth Sholom in Chandler, Arizona has a Friendship Club. It is a group of Senior Citizens that meets twice a month for lunch.
Temple Beth Sholom in Melbourne, Florida has started an On-Line Adult Ed Program. Participants receive periodic emails with Jewish content and then discuss them on line. Over 100 congregants currently participate.
Temple Beth Sholom in Framingham, Massachusetts has an Investment Club that meets once a month. It also has set aside the first Friday night of every month as Mazel Tov Shabbat, a time when congregants are encouraged to come and celebrate birthdays and anniversaries.
Temple Beth Sholom in Las Vegas, Nevada has a Chesed Committee. Its members make visits to congregants who are ill or in the hospital.
Temple Beth Sholom in Livingston, New Jersey has a youth group for 4th & 5th graders called El Al.
Temple Beth Sholom in Columbia, South Carolina has a blog & a weekly electronic newsletter that is emailed to all congregants.
Temple Beth Sholom in Memphis, Tennessee has adopted a local elementary school, providing tutors to the school and organizing an art program for the school.
Temple Beth Sholom in Spokane, Washington has a scholarship program aimed at ensuring Jewish continuity. You see, TBS in Spokane is the only Conservative congregation between Minneapolis and Seattle. It is an isolated Jewish community, but an amazingly vibrant one. A special Scholarship Program for Jewish Youth has been established there, so that every child whose family is a member of TBS and enrolled in Hebrew School or Hebrew High School can received about $22,000 in scholarships, which can be used to pay for Jewish summer camp, USY programs and trips to Israel. Not surprisingly, with this funding available, the participation rate for congregants’ kids is extremely high – most of the community’s kids go to Jewish summer camp beginning in 3rd grade, 90% of eligible kids attend all regional USY events, 20 teens attend USY international convention annually, and all TBS kids are essentially guaranteed a trip to Israel before college.
In reading about TBS Spokane, I was reminded of Congregation Etz Chaim, the temple in Arkansas that I spoke about last year. I can’t help but again think that where it is harder to be Jewish, Jews seem to try harder. Not to say that we take things for granted, but we just don’t seem to have to try as hard to protect and nurture a Jewish identity for our kids. Or maybe we do, but we don’t realize it. Either way, the scholarship program in Spokane is nothing short of extraordinary. I don’t know if something like that is in our future, but I sure wish it was.
My point, though, is that no matter how successful we are here at TBS Hamden, we must always keep on open mind to new and innovative ideas and programming. The examples I have cited range from the simple to the ambitious to the extraordinary, but each has been done and each has been successful.
I can’t predict exactly where the next year will take us, but I know that I would like us to continue to build on the strong foundation that has been laid. We must continue to strive to develop and publicize creative programming for congregants and prospective congregants of all ages. Perhaps an E-Newsletter or Friendship Group for Seniors would work here.
We need to encourage our children to further their Jewish educations, whether through Jewish schools, camping, youth groups or trips to Israel. A scholarship program like TBS in Spokane is something to dream about, but that doesn’t mean we shouldn’t try.
We must continue to think of ways to encourage ritual participation, not to mention attendance at Shabbat services and weekly minyans. Let’s think about starting a Mazel Tov Shabbat – or something like it.
And we must continue to prioritize acts of Tikkun Olam. Creating a “Chesed Committee,” for example, might be a wonderful complement to our existing social action initiatives. In many ways, our commitment to “repairing the world” through social action projects speaks volumes about who we are at Temple Beth Sholom.
In Pirke Avot, Rabbi Tarfon says: “The day is short, the work is much, the workers are lazy, the reward is great, and the Master is pressing. He would also say: It is not incumbent upon you to finish the task, but neither are you free to absolve yourself from it.”
May we all go together from strength to strength.
Let me conclude by wishing everyone a Happy, Healthy and Sweet New Year.
Adapted from Installation Remarks – June 22, 2007