High Holy Day President’s Address – Lynn Matassarin

September 5, 2013

Shanna Tova to you all

I am filled with joy, yet very humbled to be standing before you, as your president.

While I was preparing to speak today, I reflected upon the journey that lead my family, to Temple Beth Sholom; not as president, but rather as congregants.  And, like many of you, our TBS association began through enrollment in the pre-school. Our daughter Ruthie, who is now 16, was 3 years old, and our son JD, now 12, had yet to be born, but started in the infant room when he was about 3 months old.

So, why did Pam and I choose Temple Beth Sholom, and why have we chosen to stay?

We don’t choose our parents and we don’t choose our gender.  We don’t choose our genetic make-up, our sexual orientation, our intelligence quotient, or our inherent strengths.  As a child, I like many others, would have chosen to be a professional athlete or a concert musician in my adulthood, but without the genetic make-up and skills, those choices weren’t possible for me, nor for the majority of us sitting here today.

In a world where many of us feel our lives are out of our own control, we do still have the ability to CHOOSE our religious beliefs, we choose our congregational affiliation, and we choose the level of participation in worship events and congregational life.

Living Jewishly in America is challenging.  For as much as we celebrate our ability to choose to be Jewish, and our constitutional right for freedom of religion, America is still a majority Christian nation.  Growing up Jewish in Kansas was tough.  I was often left out of social events, teased by peers and degraded by teachers.  And while I would like to say that things are better for our Jewish children today, and perhaps they are here in Southern California where non-Jews seem to be more familiar with Jewish beliefs and traditions than where I grew up; as a middle school principal, I know that many of our children still face the same prejudice and torment that we adults faced in our youth.

Yet, against all odds, I maintained my faith and chose to remain a Jew.  Because identifying with Judaism is who I am, it’s where I belong.

You all know how it goes, you meet someone new, find out they are Jewish, and if they live outside of your community, you play Jewish geography to see who you know in common.  If they live inside your community, here’s what the conversation sounds like, “I understand that you’re Jewish, I am to.” And then the question and statement follows, “Where do you belong?  I belong to Temple Beth Sholom.”  Right?  You’ve all been there, done that.

So what does it mean?  I belong to?  We don’t say, “Where do you affiliate?”  We don’t typically say “Where are you a member?”  We say, where do you belong?

The dictionary definition of belong includes:

1.  to have the proper qualifications, especially social qualifications, to be a member of a group.    “They are Jewish and belong to Temple Beth Sholom.”

The definition for the phrase “belong to” is:

2. to be a part of.   “We belongs to Temple Beth Sholom; we are a part of Temple Beth Sholom.”

As a young child, I didn’t know what it felt like to belong, because I never fit in.  I didn’t have the proper qualifications to be a member of a group, any group, because my peers were not Jewish.   But as a teen, I found my place of belonging by going to a Jewish summer camp.  And that one event changed my life.  I found where I belong, I belong to the Jewish people, and now, I choose to belong to Temple Beth Sholom.

Where else in this world in which we live can we bask in the warmth that only comes from knowing that as Jews, inside the walls of our synagogue, we are at home.  As Ruth said, “Your people shall be my people.”  We, all of us, are a congregational family.

We sit here today in this familiar sanctuary; inspired by the sacred words of our Rabbi;  uplifted and warmly cloaked in the beautiful sounds of our Cantor and choir; and we are informed, educated, and nurtured by the professional staff,  their administrative team, the teachers and custodial staff.

The TBS web site identifies us as a Jewish center of life, learning, and connections.  And we advertise that we are a congregation who welcomes all.

These words are the commitment of TBS, supported by the staff and board of directors.  What then, is our role as a congregant, as someone who belongs to Temple Beth Sholom?  What commitments will we make to ourselves, what will our choices be, regarding HOW we belong to Temple Beth Sholom?

During these High Holy Days we recite the sacred prayer, Unetaneh Tokef , which begins with the words, “On Rosh Hashanah it is written, on Yom Kippur it is sealed”, and ends with the words “But Repentance, Prayer and Charity temper judgment’s severe decree.”

What choices are available to us as congregants to help us along the path of tempering judgment’s severe decree?

Certainly T’fillah – prayer and Tzedakah – charity are major tenants’ of our faith.  At TBS there are many opportunities to participate in T’fillah:  Shabbat Services, Torah Study, and holiday celebrations, to name a few and to participate in Tzedakah through volunteering with Mitzvah Meals, Bingo, and of course, to ensure the future of TBS for generations to come, contributing to our Living Legacy Campaign.

One year ago, my friend and our immediate past president, Jerry Rothblum, announced to our congregation the beginning of the Living Legacy Campaign.  A project, as you well know, that has been in the planning stages for over 12 years.  I’m thrilled to share with you today that this project is no longer a dream, it is a reality!  The past year’s work on the campaign has been focused on two major efforts;   fund-raising,   and the Core Committee’s work to define the scope of the project within our capital capacity.  We have been blessed to have received commitments of 51 gifts totaling $3.4 million dollars —23 of which are major gifts of $25,000 and above.  After just one year, the experts say that we are about half-way to our goal.  But we believe that we can exceed that expectation!  We thank all of these donors for their considerable generosity during this early fund-raising phase.  In the coming months, we will be engaging all of our congregants in this effort, and it is our hope that WHEN we reach out to you, you will whole-heartedly participate, to the extent that you are able.  Your generosity will insure the reality of this project.

It is the goal of the Living Legacy committee to begin construction in 2015.  Of course, we DON’T know what the final scope of the reality will be, because we have many more months of fund-raising to complete.  What we DO know is that the work we have begun is framed with the understanding that our deepest needs include a combination of renovation and new construction.  That our campus will include state of the art technology, in safe, secure and beautiful surroundings, that are accessible to all, environmentally sustainable, designed to enhance opportunities for spirituality, socialization and learning, and that are, most importantly, within our fiscal capability to maintain.

The level of the dream being realized will be determined by the level of commitment from all of us.  L’Dor V’Dor, from generation to generation, together, we can create an amazing living legacy. And together, we can temper judgment’s severe decree.

At the end of the movie, The Wizard of Oz, when Dorothy believes that she has missed her chance to go home as the wizard’s balloon floats away, Glenda, the good witch, says to Dorothy, “You’ve always had the power to go back to Kansas.”  The scarecrow, with much indignation says, “Then why didn’t you tell her?”, and Glenda replies, “Because she wouldn’t have believed me.  She had to learn it for herself.”

Belonging to Temple Beth Sholom isn’t about what others can do for us; it’s about what we do for ourselves.  Your temple family can be whatever you envision.  You have the power to make it happen.  Go for your Jewish experiential dream and make it your Jewish reality.  You won’t believe it, until you learn it for yourself.

This, all of this, is why my family chose TBS when we moved to California, why we have celebrated the birth of our son, Pam becoming a Jew by choice, Pam and I becoming adult B’nai Mitzvah, our daughter becoming a Bat Mitzvah, and in 2008, our wedding at TBS:   and all of this is why WE have chosen to stay.

From my family to yours, I bid you warmly, Shanna Tova.

Comments are closed.