Anual Meeting 2019 Remarks
TBK Senior Rabbi Peter W. Stein
We have had a night of important conversation and reflection, as well as moments of celebration. I am honored to add some thoughts on this historic night.
When we gathered for Rosh HaShana this past fall, it was the start of our 170th anniversary. At that service, I said this: “During the coming year, we will each add a chapter to our autobiography. We wish one another a shana tova umetukah, hoping that it will be a chapter of goodness and sweetness, a chapter of health and success.”
I also wondered aloud: “will this be a chapter where we make a difference? Will this new year, this next chapter in the story of our lives, be one in which we recognize and respond to the healing ability that God has created within each one of us?”
I am proud of all that we have accomplished in this year together. We hosted the foremost American Jewish historian, Dr. Gary Zola, as our Lovenheim Lecturer, for a look at our 170 year history. We hosted the renowned musician and spiritual leader, Cantor Ellen Dreskin, as our Bernstein Scholar, for an exploration of possible new innovations in worship.
We had a year filled with sacred life cycle moments—supporting one another in important ways—and a year filled with admirable devotion to lifelong learning. Just last week, we were inspired by seven extraordinary Adult Bnai Mitzvah students who led us on Shabbat and twelve outstanding Confirmands who led us on Shavuot. Throughout the year, we were led by well prepared and thoughtful bar and bat mitzvah students, and our school has been buzzing with creative and engaging activity.
And, during this year, we renewed and strengthened our commitment to the pursuit of social justice. We are now beginning the 50th anniversary of our Tempro project, which provides tens of thousands of safe and dignified bed nights to those at risk of homelessness. We continued our work with RAIHN, with No One Left Behind, and with other community partners. TBK was part of the founding group of the Religious Action Center-New York (RAC-NY) which is advocating in Albany for justice and equality, and we had a 10 person delegation…our largest ever!...participate in the Consultation on Conscience in Washington, DC. We have an extraordinary group of volunteers and important conversations are continuing about how we can build on our historic commitment to social action.
In a different realm, while one year ago on this night we bid a fond farewell to Rabbi Kelly Levy, tonight I rejoice in the successful transition and the powerful presence of Rabbi Rochelle Tulik. Rabbi Tulik has brought sensitivity, wisdom, and strength to our congregation in countless ways, and our future is bright with her leading presence.
I am grateful for all the leaders of our congregation. Thank you to my staff partners…in addition to Rabbi Tulik, I am indebted to Cantorial Soloist Keri Lopatin Berger, Executive Director Michael Yudelson, Director of Education Jacqui Lipschitz, and Program and Engagement Director Terri Richardson. Nothing we do at temple would be possible without them, and without Lisa Buchholz, Heather Chesterton, Don Crane, Sue Eckhaus, Tammy Giunta, Diana Sheedy, Herb Skerker, Shelly Stam, Jeff Wilson, Dawn Wisset, and our religious school faculty and bnai mitzah tutors.
We are also incredibly blessed at temple with our volunteer leadership…everyone from our president Steven Chaba and the Board of Trustees to those who volunteer with specific projects and activities. Thank you all for your generosity, loyalty, and passion for TBK.
I don’t want my remarks tonight to only focus on the year that is ending. Rather, let me take a few moments to highlight a few themes and ideas for the future. Steven has already spoken of some essential strategies and structures that will be pursued in the coming year to give us the foundation and resources we need to be successful. But, I want to speak about some of the aspirations that I hold for our future.
In our Torah portion for this Shabbat, Naso, we read of one final census being taken. Any of the portions describing the counting of the population enable us to say that everyone counts and every single person has value and importance. The census in Naso is specifically of the tribe of Levi. These are the priests whose job is to protect and maintain the Tabernacle, the portable sanctuary in the desert. Later, the Levites will become responsible for the Temple in Jerusalem.
There is no clear explanation as to why this group is singled out and counted separately, but it is reasonable to conclude that it is to highlight the sacred work being done by those who are committed to the Temple.
For us, today, as we consider the future of our synagogue and the American Jewish community, we need to seek a new definition of what it means to make a commitment and engage with our synagogue and beyond.
We’ve already done a piece of this by pursuing new models for dues and financial support. It is essential that your generous support comes from the heart and creates dignified access for all, regardless of their means.
An extension of this, beyond finance, is to emphasize in the coming year that our congregation will only thrive when each and every person is able to make personal connections…to build relationships that are nourish and sustain us. We are committed to excellence in our programming, but our activities only matter if participants are embraced and connected.
And so, in the coming year, we will be looking at ways to make our Shabbat and holiday worship more inclusive of children and families. We will be increasing the chances to get to know those who come to Shabbat…not just sitting in the pews together, but building powerful connections through dinners, onegs, and other activities. And, these will not only take place here at 2131 Elmwood Avenue. We will extend our worship and social opportunities into homes and neighborhoods throughout the community.
One specific way that we will be renewing our commitment to meaningful worship is with a new series of offerings on Yom Kippur. Look for more information to come on learning, meditation, music, youth and family activities, and other ways to make this day relevant and personal. And, we plan to end the Holy Day with a communal break fast.
Our religious school, which is already infused with Jacqui’s incomparable love and warmth, is exploring a range of options to go from strength to even greater strength. This includes a renewed commitment to youth group and teen learning, social opportunities for all ages, and offerings that will draw on the very best pedagogy and religious thinking.
The theme across all of these innovations is that we will renew our commitment to the first point of our overarching goal…to be a vibrant center of modern Reform Jewish life that fosters connections with one another. TBK is a place where you matter. TBK is a place where we can bring our most authentic selves and be celebrated and embraced, and where we can find new companions to continue on life’s journey together. TBK, which means “Holy Covenant”, is a place where we will honor the core of our ancient tradition, which tells us that the world was created beginning with one single soul, to remind us that we honor the Divine Presence by respecting the uniqueness of each and every person.
Our commitments extend far beyond the Rochester community, and I want to take a moment to mention Israel. We continue to have active engagement with Israel in many different ways. Our partnership with Modi’in continues to grow, including the school and broader congregation. This summer, we will welcome four young Israeli emissaries to Rochester, to spend a full year here with us.
We have a record number of teens travelling to Israel this summer, both through Camp Seneca Lake and through NFTY.
Registration is opening this summer for our TBK Family Trip to Israel…a multi-generational experience to include kids, families, and adults travelling on their own. We will be travelling in late June and early July next year.
And, on the broadest level, this coming year will see us engaging in an essential Zionist activity. Many of you may recall from previous cycles that we have the opportunity…each and every one of us…to vote in the World Zionist Congress elections. The WZC is the “Parliament of the Jewish People” and determines the leadership of Israel’s various national institutions. When we vote, we ensure that progressive values are represented in these important groups. The voting will take place from January 21 to March 11 of 2020, with the Congress itself taking place in October 2020. This is a unique opportunity for us to strengthen Reform Judaism and religious pluralism in Israel through our support and involvement.
At our Confirmation service last week, each of the students shared a personal reflection. A common theme in their eloquent and powerful speeches was the love they have for summer camp and other lived experiences. The theme was not simply that camp was fun and camp is beautiful. Rather, it is that there is a power in the 24/7 lived experience.
So too for us here at temple. TBK is not defined by what happens in our sanctuary, our social hall, and our classrooms…although we are committed to excellence and hope to create enjoyable and meaningful experiences. Rather, in the coming year, I hope to create a congregation that transcends boundaries and enters in our lives in important ways.
Temple B’rith Kodesh matters. Together, we will create spiritual, educational, and social opportunities. Together, we will work to heal the world. Together, we will take steps that enable anyone who crosses our threshold to feel embraced and included. Together, we will make the coming year one that brings us all strength and hope in the future.