Good evening, everyone, and l’shana tova.
They say that there are three secrets to a successful Rosh Hashana speech: a good beginning, a good ending, and have the two as close together as possible.
I’ll do my best.
I’d like to begin by welcoming the 34 new families who’ve joined Shomrei Torah in the past year. Please raise your hand and let us acknowledge you by wishing you l’shana tova.
Let me also offer a special welcome to those of you visiting us for the first time…and to the families of members who have journeyed from afar to be with us tonight.
I’d like to welcome one new family in particular…that of Rabbi Stephanie Kramer, her husband Adam, and their son, Micha. Rabbi Kramer serves as both Education Director and Assistant Rabbi, and she is off to a terrific start in both of those roles. Shana tova, Rabbi.
With Rabbi Stephanie’s arrival came one other change: our beloved Rabbi George got promoted…to Senior Rabbi. It only took a decade and half. Congratulations.
Rabbi, the congregation joins me in wishing you and Laura, Sophie and Levi, L’shana Tova.
And of course…Leira, as you begin your last year with us as soloist and choir leader…we wish you and Carl and your family… l’shana tova.
If our rabbis and soloist can be considered the heart of Shomrei Torah…I’d like to take a moment to introduce you to its soul.
I know we’ve been standing and sitting a lot already, but bear with me as I ask a special group of folks to stand…and remain standing for just a couple of minutes.
First…if you’ve ever served as a president of this congregation… please rise… and remain standing.
If you’ve ever served on the board of directors of Shomrei Torah…or chaired a committee…or served on a committee… please rise.
If you’ve ever worked for the synagogue as a staff member or teacher or musician…If you ever attended our religious school…or a lifelong learning class…If you’ve ever volunteered for an event, or attended an event…please rise.
Ladies and gentlemen…this is the soul of Shomrei Torah.
[Please be seated.]
The Nobel Prize winner, Elie Wiesel, said: “To be part of a community, to shape it, and to strengthen it is the most urgent, the most vital obligation facing the Jewish individual.”
What does that mean, to be part of a community? I think it means to take responsibility for it. There is no gray area here: you’re either in it or you’re not. And to be in it means you own it. You may think you belong to Shomrei Torah…but in truth, Shomrei Torah belongs to you.
Next Wiesel says…”to shape it and to strengthen it.” What gives a community its shape…and what makes it strong? In a word…you do. Our community looks…well, like us. It derives its strength from the bonds that exist between us.
This, Wiesel says, “is the most urgent, the most vital obligation facing the Jewish individual.”
What do you suppose would happen if Elie Wiesel…with all his moral authority…walked into Shomrei Torah. What would he say?
Have you ever been high-fived by a Nobel Prize winner? Can you imagine Mr. Wiesel walking up to you and giving you a knuckle bump? I can. And why not? I can’t think of another group of people who take more responsibility for a community than this one.
Remember all those people who stood up a few minutes ago? That’s the shape of our community. That’s the strength of our community. You are the individuals—some Jewish, many not—who are meeting the urgent need, fulfilling the vital obligation.
You don’t have to be a Torah scholar to figure out one of the most oft-repeated words in our sacred texts. Take a look in that prayer book on your lap and on just about every page you will see the word “blessed.”
I’ve been thinking about what it means to be blessed.
In the past year, our Shomrei Torah community has knitted these little woolen caps for cancer patients whose chemotherapy has caused them to lose their hair. They’re called chemo caps, and we’ve made and distributed dozens of them. What a simple kindness. What a blessing.
In the past year, our Shomrei Torah community cooked hundreds of meals at Geffen House, a shelter for women and children who need refuge from violent situations at home.
In the past year, we’ve collected and distributed thousands of pounds of food to the clients of Elisha’s Pantry, and assembled carloads of food baskets for those in our congregation who are in mourning or homebound due to illness. What a blessing.
We’ve marched to end genocide in Darfur…and for GLBT rights. We’ve spoken out against racial profiling…and pursued a respectful dialogue with our Muslim neighbors. We’ve cleaned up a creek and we’re supporting local farmers. All blessings.
So who are all these blessed individuals who do all this? You know who. They were just standing in front of you a few minutes ago. You are the blessing that is Shomrei Torah.
While all of these blessings are freely given and shared…the truth is that they don’t come cheap. Our community may run on loving kindness…but not on loving kindness alone.
And here is where we are especially blessed. You have been so generous with your time and talent…with your effort and your energy…and with your hard-earned dollars. You have taken responsibility for our community and for each other…and together we have built something truly extraordinary. At a time when other congregations around the country are cutting programs, laying off staff, even disappearing altogether…Shomrei Torah is vibrant and growing.
To support all this, we ask every member to fulfill their commitment to pledge 2% of their annual income to Shomrei Torah. We call it the Fair Share Pledge. So we sent out postcards and published ads and articles in the Voice. We spoke about it at meetings and reminded you in your membership renewal packet you received a few months ago.
And you know what happened? At a time when all of us feel the weight of a weak economy and so many of us are genuinely hurting…you took responsibility for your community. More than one in three of you increased your pledges this year…and most of the rest maintained your pledge amounts from the previous year. What a blessing.
But of course…it wasn’t quite enough to support all that Shomrei Torah does throughout the year. Despite all our efforts to trim our budget…still we came up short. This fiscal year we have a significant and unsustainable operating deficit that simply cannot be ignored.
Tonight each of you was provided with a little envelope just the right size to hold a check. I’m asking you to take that envelope home with you and put it on the kitchen counter, right next to the spot where you put your car keys. Then take a few minutes and think about what it means, as Elie Wiesel said, “To be part of a community, to shape it, and to strengthen it.” Spend a few moments considering how this is “the most urgent, the most vital obligation facing the Jewish individual.”
Think about the blessings we all share…what those blessings are worth to you.
Give some thought to what Rabbi George meant when he taught us about “heneini” – about what it truly means to say, “I am here.”
Then…and only then…pick up a pen and fill out the envelope and bring it back with you tomorrow morning. We will have a basket in the lobby where you can drop it on the way in.
If you’re religiously opposed to filling it out on Rosh Hashana, then keep the envelope right there on the kitchen counter and fill it out when the time is right. And if adding to your pledge now presents a true hardship for you, save it till your situation improves.
If all of us found a way to contribute just two percent… we would not only erase our deficit but we would go a long way toward eliminating our mortgage debt and funding all of the other activities—all of the blessings that are within our power to perform but remain out of reach for lack of funds.
In Hebrew, the verb “to give” is natan, spelled nun-taf-nun. The word is a palindrome, meaning that it’s the same whether you read it forward or backward. It is said that this is no accident—the word itself represents the idea that giving flows in both directions: in giving, you get back.
During these High Holy Days we each have the opportunity to give—and in giving to open the door to receiving much in return.
May your new year be filled with much giving and receiving.