Rosh Hashanah Morning 5779
September 10, 2018
Temple Beth Sholom Presidential Address
Thank you to the choir and Paul Zuill for the beautiful music and voice you are giving to our prayers.
The past year has been a tumultuous year for the Jewish people. We celebrate our 75th anniversary, we are engaging in a temple wide social justice listening campaign, and our community repaired our cherished Czech Torah scroll. We have actively worked toward renewing and replenishing the heart of our temple; our relationship with one another.
However, the tone and tenor of the world around us has become markedly disconcerting. Events like the BDS movement, Charlottesville, and our current political climate, harken back to the days leading up to the last world-wide conflict.
As most of you are undoubtedly aware, there has been a change in our social and political climate. The forces of prejudice, intolerance and antisemitism seem to have been freed from their shackles – free to espouse hatred with impunity – free to inject themselves back into our society and national discourse.
I will briefly share three stories with you to underscore my point. Let’s examine some of the people running for political office this year.
First, in California, a man named Patrick Little ran in this years’ primary for Dianne Feinstein’s Senate seat. Mr. Little is an avowed Neo Nazi. I saw him interviewed on television and he stated he wants to make America free from Jews and he blames all social ills on the Jewish people. Sound familiar? The camera moved back to take a background shot and you could see Mr. Little was standing on an Israeli flag which he then spat upon.
Second, is a congressional candidate in Illinois, a holocaust denier named Arthur Jones, who has secured the nomination of a major political party because he ran unopposed. I saw him interviewed on television as well. Mr. Jones was interviewed by an African American woman.
Mr. Jones claimed that he had scientific proof that black people had lower IQ’s and that is why they are an inferior race. The interviewer informed Mr. Jones that she was a Yale graduate. Mr. Jones had the audacity to tell her that she must have “some white in her”. Without missing a beat, she informed him that she had “some Jewish in her”. Mr. Jones was flabbergasted and didn’t really know how to respond. Mr. Jones actually has a chance of being elected to the US House of Representatives.
Third, the mayor of Tallahassee, Andrew Gillum, an African American man, won the gubernatorial primary for the Democratic Party in Florida. His opponent issued a statement during an interview telling his voters “not to monkey it up”. While this person denied his statement was based on racial animus, nobody else saw it that way.
In fact, less then 24 hours later a series of robocalls began pouring out to Florida voters. The robocalls are too offensive to repeat here but suffice it to say the message was complete with jungle sounds and per se offensive racist remarks.
But the story does not end there. After digging a bit, I learned that the people that sent out the robocalls came from a group in Idaho; not exactly a local Florida concern.
Additionally, this same group supported Mr. Little’s California campaign. To me this indicates that these groups are working in concert with one another and on a national scale.
If this was not on your radar before; it should be now. The people who want to eradicate us are organizing, coming out of the shadows and are on the move.
For us to demand respect, fairness and equality, we must give respect, fairness and equality. What I mean is, sometimes we live in a divided glass house. (Please excuse the mixed metaphor)
Just look at how we discriminate amongst ourselves. Women should be able to pray with men, Jews of all types should be able to read Torah at the Wall, and how each of us prays to, and interacts with, God, is between us and God. My personal belief is that God is not concerned with the mechanics of prayer as much as with the quality of our deeds and actions.
Unfortunately, some in Jewish leadership also say racist things. For example, Rabbi Yitzhak Yousef, the Sephardic Chief Rabbi of Israel, called black people “kushi” a pejorative term which means “monkey”; he said this during a sermon. He also said non-Jews are in Israel only to serve Jews.
These comments are indefensible, antagonistic and are antithetical to, not only the teachings of Torah, but the goal of eradicating intolerance and creating a peaceful world.
The logical question then becomes, what do we do about it? There is plenty we can do.
Your most powerful weapon is knowledge. If you are hearing about these things for the first time today, it is time to educate yourself. Learn what is going on in your community, State and Nation.
Next, get involved. You can’t fix anything if you do and say nothing. Our commitment to truth and the mutual betterment of our society must be our primary focus. It does not matter if you are red or blue, left or right, up or down, short or tall, we are in this together.
Differences of opinion are important. We must be open minded enough to explore all possibilities. However, the distinction I will draw is our methodology. Divisive rhetoric seems to be the rule of the day. This simply will not work. When people become defensive they do not hear, they do not learn and they react from a place of emotion rather than fact and logic.
We must avoid divisiveness. We must strive to TALK with one another, not scream and yell, oppress, bully, avoid, belittle or minimize others simply to get our own way. If we don’t make the journey together, we will never reach our destination.
You must vote. Even if you think your vote will not affect the outcome, the number of votes does get counted and becomes part of the political calculation. What if nobody got involved and Mr. Little had won the primary here in California?
Finally, we must solidify our own relationships in our family’s, with our friends and within our temple. We cannot harbor anger or hostility because of perceived slights, a misspoken word, or wrongs of yesteryear.
Until we let the past become history, the present cannot become our future.
Our future is bright if we act and do not sit idly by.
Here at home, the state of our temple is good and emerging into excellent. Our membership numbers have not only stabilized but have grown.
We are getting our finances under control. At the congregational meeting last year, we presented a budget with a projected $33,000 deficit. During the course of the year that deficit projection climbed to over $90,000. By the time the fiscal year closed we finished in the black and we were able to put money in our capital reserve account and into an account for our URJ dues.
This is an amazing result. Please keep in mind that we just concluded the first year of a major temple reorganization. Institutional reorganizations typically take between 2 and 4 years. We are operating under new bylaws, we restructured our board of directors, we restructured our staff, eliminating one full time position and redefining job descriptions, and we now have an amazing new Executive Director Ruth Irving.
I want to highlight the fact that we bridged our deficit gap without having an annual gala during the fiscal year. We were able to accomplish this through the hard work of our dedicated staff, volunteers and our board of directors.
To our volunteers, none of this is possible without you. Whether you spent an hour stuffing envelopes’, acted as a greeter, helped at an event, are a committee member, or chair a committee, you played a vital role in our success. Your dedication to our congregation makes it the fun and exciting place it is. Thank you.
To the Sisterhood and Brotherhood, your love and dedication to our temple shines through year after year. You consistently provide stimulating and fun programs and events, and educational activities. I especially enjoyed the Brotherhood Speaker Series and the Maxine Horwitz Dueling Piano event the Sisterhood put on in July; just to name a few. You are always there for us and I want you to know it is appreciated. Thank you.
To our staff, you have been able to do more with less, dedicating yourselves to our congregation, and playing an invaluable role in moving our temple forward to a better place. Thank you for your commitment and earnest hard work.
To our board of directors, thank you for all of the hard work this past year. With a smaller board, and enlarged job descriptions, much was asked of them and they responded in a positive and generous way with their time, knowledge, teamwork and love of temple.
Thank you to our present board of directors: Brenda Beck, Lew Siegler, Melanie Pollock, Gary Holloway, Andrea Wasserman, Bonnie Wenneberg, Harvey Grossberg, Matthew Griffin, Michele Shugarman, and Mitchell Cohen.
It is a pleasure being your teammate.
My new operations and business partner, our Executive Director Ruth Irving, is an amazing lady who in short order became conversant with our budget, analyzed our daily routines and made significant operational changes saving us thousands of dollars each year with improved efficiency.
In the short time she has been here, she has come to understand our temple, our needs, know our congregants and together we are putting our house in order. She has done this with thoughtful consideration and kavod and has become an invaluable member of our family. Thank you, Ruth.
It is difficult to come up with expressions of gratitude for our clergy. Year after year so many kind and insightful words have been spoken that I don’t think I can add anything meaningful. However, I will offer this. I come to services every week because of you. The environment you create, where I feel comfortable to pray, spend time with others, learn new things, and be myself is the highest compliment I can give.
The only asset we cannot replace is time, it is finite, and I choose to spend it here. Thank you Rabbi Cohen and Cantor Reinwald for being you and allowing me to be me.
Thank you to my wife Angela. Not only has she freely given her own time and resources to support the temple, but she has done so while having to put up with me. What an amazing woman. Thank you for supporting me while I serve TBS. There were many things we could have done with our time but nothing could be more meaningful than service to our fellow brothers and sisters here at TBS. I love you and thank you.
And finally, I want to thank our congregation. Your kindness, generosity and support make this temple what it is. We have definitely advanced the Jewish concept of being a “Community of Giving”.
Because of your generosity, and our focus on finances, we were able to absorb the need to replace 5 furnaces in the school, as well as make roof and wall repairs in the school. Not to mention unexpected repairs to our main building. This is why I told you last year we need to start, in earnest, the new school project. We plan to do just that with the start of the new year.
I want to assure you we continue to raise funds because of need. The modest amount we were able to place into our reserve account would not last very long in an emergency. But the fact we are now able to save for a rainy day is a testament to our commitment and actions to spend your funds wisely. We look forward to your continued support, generosity and the growth of our “Community of Giving”.
In closing, I give this to you:
You are free to accept or reject the love I offer you, it is offered without obligation, condition or reservation; it is yours.