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High Holiday 2019

09/30/2019 11:55:06 AM


Scott Cohen

L'Shana Tova! Frank made a New Year Resolution to give up social media, but he wanted to make friends quickly. So he figured he’d use Facebook principles in real life. Every day, he walked down the street and told people passing by what he had for dinner, how he felt, what he did the night before, and what he planned to do tomorrow. Then he gave them pictures of his family, his dog, and the vegetables he picked in his garden. He also listened to their conversations and told them he loved them. And guess what? It worked! After one week, he already had three people following him – two police officers and a psychiatrist!

I'm amused and sometimes disheartened how Facebook has become so pervasive in our lives. We hear about fake news, but what about fake relationships? I admit that while I occasionally enjoy getting ‘likes’ on a computer screen, I prefer to get my likes in person.

Fortunately, at Temple Shir Tikva, many of us still practice the lost art of live communication. We keep it real. We encourage people to speak up and share their views with respectful give and take. We can disagree, as long as we are not disagreeable. For instance, while many who live in Metrowest lean politically left, there are some in our congregation who lean politically right. I’ve got to believe that the heartfelt messages we hear from our clergy, the Reform movement, and even fellow congregants may not always align with all of our personal and political beliefs. While no one should stop speaking what they truly believe, there must always be room for open dialogue. Questioning each other respectfully is how we learn from each other. Call me old fashioned – I don’t value inflammatory Tweets or emails. I do value calm and level discourse. It's amazing what we can accomplish when we strive to really listen and understand each other.

It's also amazing how well we can tackle problems when we actively seeking out different perspectives. Trying to do it alone doesn’t always work. I'm reminded of the story of a priest, a minister, and a rabbi who wanted to see who was best at their job. Each one went into the woods in the north country of New Hampshire, found a big bear, and attempted to convert it. Later, they all got together. The priest began: "When I found the bear, I read to him from the catechism and sprinkled him with holy water. Next week is his first Communion." The minister chimed in, "I found the bear by a stream and preached God's holy Word. The bear was so mesmerized that he let me baptize him." They both looked down at the rabbi, who was lying on a gurney in a body cast. "Oy", he said, "Looking back, maybe I shouldn't have started with the circumcision." I have no doubt that if this Rabbi had brought this approach to a Ritual Committee or Board of Trustees meeting, he might have walked away with some other ideas. It pays to collaborate!

During the High Holy Days, it’s traditional for Presidents to welcome their congregants and give an update on the ‘state of their synagogue’. This President is no different. In broad terms, we're healthy and strong. We have 574 households, which is 20% growth (or 96 households) since Rabbi Danny joined two years ago. Our Complementary Membership Program is entering its second year, and we have nearly 80% retention – most who joined have converted to fullfledged members of TST. We welcome all of you to the family!

I also want to extend a Yasher Koach to Rabbi Danny and a Mazel Tov to all of us. Just three days ago, with approval of the Board of Trustees, Rabbi Danny and I signed a new contract. We will continue to benefit from his leadership for at least 6 more years, until June of 2025!!!

Next, I’ll provide an update on 3 goals I set last year, plus one new one this year: Education, Inclusion, Social and Financial Engagement, and Balancing Feeling Safe with Feeling Welcome.

Under Education, it's amazing all the work Alison Weikel and the Education team have done in just one year's time. The Education Redesign Team spoke with students, parents, teachers, staff, Board and community members. It is clear that our children and teens want to spend time with their friends while learning how Judaism is relevant to their lives today. With that in mind, ideas are being piloted and more is planned for the future. Some examples:

• A new focus on community and social-emotional skill-building with special emphasis on professional learning for our teachers • Launching a new values-based curriculum

• A STEM specialist has been hired who engages students with fun, hands-on connections between Jewish values and science and technology activities

• We are rethinking how we teach Hebrew with smaller group instruction and musical and tefillah (worship) components

• New Parent and Family Education programs will be offered that provide a positive, Jewish lens in addressing the challenges and stresses that parents and families face

• And, our TSTeen program is expanded to include multiple entry points for our teens: learning, leadership, and philanthropy

I'm only scratching the surface. I grew up in the era of television commercials from General Motors proclaiming "This is not your father's Oldsmobile." Well, this is not your parents' religious school. As a matter of fact, this is the religious school I wish I could have attended!

Of course, we also continue to offer great educational and spiritual programming for our adults, running the gamut from meditation to thought provoking discussion groups to 5 Mussar classes that are being launched this fall exploring how one can live a meaningful and ethical Jewish life.

Goal #2: Inclusion We started programming last year, and have since received a grant from the Ruderman Synagogue Inclusion Project. Look for more programming this coming year on building awareness on mental health issues that often get swept under the rug, despite the fact that they are embedded in our society. As a reminder, any of our clergy are always available to you for conversations about mental, spiritual, and physical health. Speaking of the latter, we will also be making some adjustments to our physical building to remove barriers that several encounter, including enhanced lighting in this sanctuary. Finally, we have also been accepted to be part of a fellowship through InterfaithFamily, as we continue progress to be fully inclusive of all congregants in interfaith relationships.

Goal #3: Social and Financial Engagement We have always been rich in social programming. We just formulated a new committee called ACE, or Adult Community Engagement. Their charter is to provide programming with many different adult cohorts in mind, yet be inclusive so all are invited to all events – you choose whatever interests you.

Last year I spoke about financial engagement with two sub goals: An Annual Fund goal of $677K, and a goal that 90% of you would contribute something/anything to the Annual Fund by the end of my term, or June of next year.

As a reminder, our membership dues cover 75% of our Operating Costs, so we need to rely on Annual Fund donations to make up the difference. Between your generous contributions through June (the end of our fiscal year), including contributions for the beautiful Hollispalooza mosaics now hanging in our entryway, we surpassed our financial goal and netted $745K. That is truly outstanding. Thank you!

However, we are a far cry from the second sub goal I mentioned. Only 52% of you contributed to that amount. I'd like to try to incent us to get much closer to 90%. My wife Susan and I are going to link our own Annual Fund donation this year to new givers – we will make a donation of Chai ($18) for each of those 278 households that donate any amount by mid-December of this year. Just visit the temple website -- you can give $5, you can give $18, you can give $1800. Whatever you give, if you haven't given before, we will personally contribute an $18 match.

Finally, our newest goal – Balancing Feeling Safe with Feeling Welcome

The times in which we live have dictated an abundance of caution. We now have 24 hour video surveillance through a network of newly installed cameras throughout our perimeter, as well as a Security presence every Friday night and Saturday morning. We keep doors locked during daylight hours, and have a greeter providing a warm welcome and opening the door for your 4 children when they arrive for Religious School. We will continue to have a secure passcode entry for our Early Learning Center. Even more is in store over the coming year.

However, this will all be in the background. We have no desire to create a fortress here. We are a community, one that aspires to be warm and welcoming to each other and to our visitors. We even have a new Board Trustee position focusing on what it means to be a welcoming community, an umbrella over all the programming we provide. We want to retain you, our members, and attract new members. We know that in order to do that, we need to be relevant, engaging, and welcoming at all times.

In closing, it has been an honor to serve you over the last year, and I look forward to doing so again this coming year. We come from different backgrounds yet there is one thing so many of us share – a deep devotion to this community and each other, striving to be the best we can be. Let's enter the High Holidays with that in mind.

Susan, Ben, Jeremy, and I wish you all a sweet New Year!

Tue, September 22 2020 4 Tishrei 5781