TBS President Mitch Cohen’s Rosh Hashanah 5780/2019 speech.
I want to start by thanking Rabbi & Cantor, our Executive Director, Ruth Irving, the Choir, our maintenance crew, our office staff, senior staff, our ECC teachers, Religious school teachers & everyone that is at TBS, five or more days per week. (That would also include our ECC parents that are here twice a day!)
I also want to thank our Board of Directors & all of the volunteers that spend many hours striving to make TBS a Jewish Center for Life, Learning & Connections.
I cannot convey how much I appreciate the candor & helpful guidance provided by those that have & continue to serve in leadership roles at TBS. Many of you are here today. Thank you for continuing your support to this institution with your time, money, & talent.
Anyone that has served this synagogue, be it Mitzvah Meals, Purim Carnival, leading Torah study, etc. knows how good it feels to be part of this dynamic community. One of the great things about this synagogue is that there is always room for YOU.
Another great thing about this synagogue is that we were blessed to end last year financially secure. This success was a combination of our membership contributions, both financially and through volunteerism, our schools (religious school and early childhood education), our day camp, and the efforts of our staff, board and lay leaders. Special thanks to our budget committee, led by our Treasurer, Harvey Grossberg & Executive Director, Ruth Irving.
As a community, we are blessed beyond measure that our members contribute both financially and with their talent & time. Each contribution is sacred to our community. We ALL enjoy Temple Beth Sholom, here in Santa Ana, streaming at home, at the beach, or wherever we are, regardless of economic ability.
While we are thankful for last year, keeping our institution afloat continues to be a work in progress. We have unexpected swells & waves. We plan as best we can, to make sure we are secure for anything that might arise.
For example, Irvine Hebrew Day School chose to leave, after our budget process was nearly complete, requiring us to make changes for this year. Even with the unexpected impact, we were able to make adjustments to keep us in sound financial waters.
Another example is with regard to our security. Through the generosity of our members, Gala paddle pledges & other donations, we were fortunate to complete our security fence project. Circling out campus with a 6’ fence, adding entry & exit gates, along with additional keypads & cameras, was not a welcome expense. Can you imagine all the positive we could have done with the more than $130,000 we spent? But after the mass shooting at the Tree of Life Synagogue in Pittsburgh on October 27th of 2018, we had no choice but to carefully plan, & take action. Thankfully, this project was able to be completed without touching operating funds.
Because of our strong ending to last year, we were also able to transfer funds into our Capital Maintenance and Reserve funds. This allows us to make prudent investments in critical areas: such as, programming, more security, building improvements, maintenance, & other necessary enhancements. Our financial position allows us to support membership needs and our schools, during good years and more challenging times. And while we are financially stable, I cannot emphasize the unforeseen costs that can arise.
My speech is not the annual appeal, but I’m happy to discuss specific areas that need to be addressed if any of you are willing & able to make a financial contribution.
As some of you know from my congregational speech on June 13th, my two major areas of interest for my tenure as President are engagement & philanthropy. As I’ve learned from talking with many congregants, a simple connection with one new TBS friend, attending an event together, has a ripple effect, creating involvement.
For example, Kathy & I joined TBS in 2001 because we wanted our kids to be in the very best pre-school. TBS had a new Rabbi that also had a young daughter, Dahvi, the same age as our daughter Claire. They became immediate friends. She is also close friends with Megan Griffin the daughter of Matthew Griffin, my motorcycle buddy & our VP of Education. You get the idea. One connection led to many others.
It is imperative that we support & expand every opportunity we have to make connections. For families with young children this may be through ECC or religious school. Maybe it’s through Mitzvah Meals, Sisterhood, Brotherhood, Chai Times and all the other incredible groups and committees we have here at TBS.
And while Kathy & I joined 18 years ago & began making life-long connections, I didn’t truly make a connection of service to this community until 2017. Despite my love of TBS for 16 years & all of our friends, I didn’t realize the joy & larger sense of belonging by providing leadership in this community.
My journey to this speech began when I was asked by a TBS friend to participate in a couple of membership committee meetings. That was fun, so I said “yes” when asked to join the board as the Director of Communications. 2 months later, I was asked to be Executive Vice President, providing me with an almost 2-year training class to be President. Just so you know, the positions of Executive Vice President & Director of Financial Development are both open. There is always room for YOU.
Thankfully, every other board position is proudly filled by hard-working, dedicated volunteers. Volunteers that have young kids, just like you, volunteers that have no kids, volunteers that have many grandchildren or recently became grandparents, volunteers that are broke because they have 2 kids going to college out of state. Our board is as diverse as the congregation I speak with today.
Let me share some thoughts about the privilege that we have, you have, by serving Temple Beth Sholom, through a concept you may not be aware of.
At the Union for Reform Judaism’s Scheidt Seminar for incoming Presidents in February of this year, I learned the meaning of the term “Sacred Partnership”. The origin of this concept is found in Pirkei Avot Chapter 3: Verse 2, part of ethical teachings found in the Mishnah.
“When two people sit together & there are words of Torah between them, the Shechinah (Divine Presence) dwells among them.”
A sacred partnership is a commitment to building & nurturing relationships that elevate the work of leadership to a level of holiness.
Sacred Partnerships recognize each of us as individuals and our desire to inspire sacred action in our communities.
And finally, Sacred partnerships are built and nurtured through the Jewish values of mutual respect, trust, honesty, listening & communicating, transparency, confidentiality, flexibility, reflection, empathy, & vulnerability.
If any of these words resonate with you, please, speak with me, another board member, or any member of our clergy or staff. There is always room for YOU.
Let me end on a lighter note, hoping to entice you into serving our community because it’s also a lot of fun.
As the new President, I wanted to mix things up, do things a little differently.
The board was sworn in on June 12th & we had our URJ-facilitated retreat in Hawaii on July 7th.
We didn’t go to Hawaii, but our Secretary, Bonnie Wenneberg, provided us with Hawaiin decorations which saved us a lot of money, as did the pot-luck breakfast.
Led by a URJ facilitator, we learned about each other, discussed our roles, learned about the concept of sacred partnership & created action items.
Our first official board meeting was August 21st & I thought it would be fun to start a tradition of ending each meeting with a joke. As Jews, it’s assumed that our board meetings would always have a variety of opinions & lively debates. No sense in ending with upset feelings. The joke would also serve as a reminder that we’re volunteers, here to serve the institution of TBS, & we might as well enjoy the work.
Don’t say the punchline if you’ve heard this one.
- A Yeshiva (everyone knows what that is right? It’s a school of talmudic study).
- A Yeshiva decides they want to start a crew team. But no matter how much they practice, they lose every single race.
- Eventually, they decide to send one boy down to the nearby prep school as a spy, to watch their winning crew team & find out what their secret is.
- After a day of reconnaissance, the boy comes back. “Listen! He tells his teammates, I know how they do it!”
- They have eight guys rowing & only ONE guy screaming!”
I love this joke. It is, without a doubt, a Jewish joke. It exemplifies many of us in this room. Plenty of people with opinions, less people willing to voice their concerns, & even fewer willing to take action or as our Yeshiva students have discovered, put an oar in the water & row as a team.
During these & every High Holy Days, we are supposed to do a Cheshbon HaNefesh, an accounting of the soul. Let the new year of 5780 be one of a deepening engagement with your Jewish Community. Allow one connection to lead to more. Call, text, &/or e-mail that friend or friends you were happy to see last night or this morning & invite them over for Shabbat dinner, meet them at services, or start a new club with new TBS friends.
We are very blessed to be Jews. We stand proudly with Israel, a light unto the nations. We are 5.7M people in a United States of 329M, 1.75% of the population. We disagree on many things, but now is the time for us to put our oars in the water, & row together, as a team for the betterment of our Jewish community. There is always room for YOU.