Community, Identity, and Learning

President Linda Gurevich’s High Holy Day Speech to Congregation
October 12, 2016

My name is Linda Gurevich, President of the Board of Trustees. On behalf of the leadership of Temple Shalom I want to wish you all a Shana Tovah, Happy New Year.

My Jewish education began on a Sunday morning in the fall of 1992. Our family had just joined Temple Shalom, and that week was open house at Sunday School. We were visiting Rachel Robinson’s 3rd grade classroom, when my husband Mike and I looked at each other in delight. Neither of us had ever experienced Jewish learning quite this way.

Mike grew up Conservative and reads Hebrew quite well, but he never learned about the whys behind Jewish life. I grew up in a secular household where we opened Chanukah presents on Christmas Day.

But, here, in this building, all those years ago, the clergy and educators asked us the questions: how shall we make Jewish tradition meaningful and relevant; what kind of Jewish identity do you want to have? I’ve been grappling with the answers ever since. It’s a process that I’ve been able to do because of the people I’ve met and the opportunities I’ve had at Temple Shalom.

We started small, participating in Mitzvah Day, and attending High Holy Days. Over time, we’ve increased our involvement, hosting Sukkah buildings, attending adult education classes, joining a committee, or two, or three….

Every time I’ve chosen to reflect on who I am and where my life is headed, I find myself turning to something I’ve learned HERE in order to gain insight and understanding. This process of introspection leading to action, this accounting of the soul, is known in Jewish tradition as cheshbon hanefesh. Especially during these days of awe, Jews are called to reflect upon their relationship with themselves, others, the world and God. This process of review can also be used to address the needs of our congregation. We can do this by using Temple Shalom’s three core values which were identified in our last strategic plan. These core values are:

Creating a Culture of Community, Developing Creative Jewish Identity and Enabling Learning.

So, how have we succeeded in creating a culture of community? We can look at this very bimah, which several months ago had steep steps and no railing. Our renovated bimah, designed to be fully accessible to people with mobility difficulties, is more reflective of our goals to be an inclusive community. The Hal Bruno Memorial patio and garden outside of the Chapel helps create that culture of community as we celebrate, learn, pray and meditate. And, we are now doing a video live stream of our services, reaching people no matter where they are who wish to join us in worship, creating community beyond the walls of our synagogue and connecting us to the national and international Jewish community.

But to do cheshbon hanefesh right, we must acknowledge where we have fallen short. We know many people felt excluded from our services when they couldn’t hear during Rosh HaShanah. We must invest in proper sound—and the resources to support this technology. Correcting this need is just one way we can improve in the coming year. Another improvement-- we are continuing to strengthen our communication and collaboration among the membership, staff and board pursuing it vigorously through congregational conversations, board e-newsletters, surveys and a multitude of touchpoints to ensure all parties are being heard so we might have a fully communal experience.

What about our second value, developing creative Jewish identity?

Prayer is not the only way that we connect with our Jewish identity. Many of us have been drawn to Reform Judaism because of our commitment to tikkun olam, repairing the world. This past year we renewed our commitment to social justice, following Rabbi Feshbach’s call to respond to the Syrian refugee crisis. With enormous help from you and from outside agencies, we’ve been matched with a refugee family: a mother, father, and their four children, ages ranging from 5 to 12. We’ll help them as they continue to settle into their new home in a Riverdale apartment, go to school, learn English, and find long-term employment.
And what about our Jewish identity in relation to Israel? Israel is a wonderful and complicated place. This past year the Sukkat Shalom initiative has allowed members to engage in open, honest, and safe conversations about their relationship to various aspects of Israel. They are continuing these conversations over the next year, often on Sunday mornings coinciding with Kehillat Shalom Adult Learning.

We also know that Judaism speaks to us in different ways based on our ages and stages. This past year I’ve had personal experience with our Temple’s very first wise aging program—which teaches participants through Torah text and mindful living that with each new year, doors open with opportunities even while others close with loss. Our Jewish identities are deeply impacted by our engagement with Tikkun Olam, Israel, and the life-cycle.
And yet, we’ve fallen short in the area of Jewish Identity as well.

We know that one of our highest priorities is our youth. But there is no dedicated space that is specifically outfitted for them, at least not yet. We have an amazing youth group director and wonderful volunteers who plan programs for our youth and teens. We’ve had donations come into our youth group, to enhance Room 5 - but we need to do better. We know that having a dedicated physical space for teens is crucial so they can see Temple Shalom as their home—part of their Jewish identity.

Our third value—enabling learning—is close to my heart.

I see my own Jewish education coming full circle with Kehillat Shalom, an adult learning program that was successfully implemented by the Good-to-Great Taskforce, Rabbi Ackerman and the school staff. This program, was created out of a process of cheshbon hanefesh, of looking at what worked well and what needed to be changed. The program offers opportunities for adults to explore Judaism through a specific theme and a series of classes for different levels of learners on that theme. This year’s theme is Torah. If you have not been here on a Sunday when we have a Kehillat Shalom session, you need to make that the one new Jewish thing you will experience at temple Shalom this year! Sunday school is not JUST for kids anymore!

Out of that same process we came to expand opportunities for our 3rd to 5th grade students through chugim or electives. This in depth exploration of Judaism through dance, martial arts, cooking, running club, weaving, yoga, drumming and more offers a creative way toward enabling learning.

Our learning opportunities, however, still need work. Our Adult Hebrew classes, which, as you heard last night from Rabbi Feshbach, are incredibly meaningful and have served so many of our congregants, are expensive. We need to enable learning by subsidizing these programs so that everyone can participate regardless of their individual financial capability.

Temple Shalom offers so many opportunities to make a real difference in our lives. But, we need your help to support these endeavors. Are you where Mike and I were in the fall of 1992? Are you 1, 2, or 3 committees further along that path? Wherever you are, consider one more way you will be able to contribute to one of these core values with your time and then please consider how you will contribute to these values with tzedakah, righteous giving.

We hope to be able this year and in years to come to subsidize the adult Hebrew program, build a youth lounge, support our infrastructure including sound and improve our life at Temple Shalom in ways we haven’t yet even dreamed of!

I am proud to announce that this year, every one of your Trustees has given generously to the High Holy Day Appeal. We are committed to Fair Share dues and affordable religious school tuition while still creating, maintaining and expanding the value of our community. This appeal is the primary way we help fill the funding gaps in our operating budget.

So I have an audacious ask! Will each of you join our board in giving generously in whatever amount you are able to give this year. For some of us, giving generously means $18. For others, it means several thousand dollars. But it is the act of giving that is the true hallmark of generosity representing your commitment to support and renew this community. So, I am asking each of you to make Temple Shalom in 5777 a giving priority and give whatever you are able to the High Holy Day Appeal.

I have some thank yous: Rabbi Feshbach and Julie, Rabbi Ackerman, Cantor Levine and Andy, and Executive Director Susan Zemsky-thank you for your many contributions! Your inspired leadership, dedication, and devotion guides us spiritually and your wisdom, warmth, humor and ruach (spirit) have been a blessing for which we are forever grateful.

And of course we wish to thank Toby and Rabbi Emeritus Bruce Kahn who for 36 years (double chai) have contributed so graciously, effectively and generously, including financially to our Temple Family. You should know also that since becoming emeritus, Rabbi Kahn has performed for us, free of charge, literally thousands of hours of a wide range of rabbinic tasks. Todah rabah!

I must also mention lifetime achievement and circle honorees, committee chairs and members, ushers, madrichim, and the extraordinarily devoted members of the board of trustees including past presidents-- we give thanks for all you are doing!

Will our founding members and the families of all of our founding members please stand? Bernie Blankenheimer, Jean Beeman, and Lucky Malamut--you have created something special, your vision of community, a place where we can live and learn our Jewish identity. L’dor va’dor, from generation to generation, you gave us Shalom. For extraordinary efforts past and present we are grateful.

I have one more audacious ask and then I will conclude. Will everyone please stand? Take a moment and look around. Really look.
This is your Temple family. Each and every one of us is here because being part of a Jewish community is important to us. Each of us finds different connections to this place we call Shalom. Sunday school, Friday potlucks, Choir, special events, Adult Education, belonging to a chavurah, services, volunteering on committees, attending life cycle events --these are some of the ways we make connections. And, just being here together, this morning in worship and prayer, is another.

Through chesbon hanefesh, an accounting of our synagogue soul, an audit so to speak, we can determine what work we must fulfill in this upcoming year to bring about a wholeness to bless us and many generations to come. What a wonderful purpose!

May we be written and sealed for a very good year and for lots of good years to follow!

THANK YOU for the honor of serving as your President. Shanah Tovah