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Rosh Hashanah 2012/5773

Chuck Koplik

L’Shanah Tova!

In the last few years, I have gone a little bit crazy over family genealogy. I am fascinated by my forebears who came to this country in the early to mid 1800s. And one of the most surprising things I learned about them was how many ended up helping to found synagogues – in cities from Cleveland to Quincy, Illinois, from Dallas to Little Rock, from New Haven to Syracuse. Being part of a synagogue and being actively engaged in creating its future was to them a necessity, a matter of community survival. And their stories inspire me. So this morning, I’d like to talk with you about how together we can build our congregation’s future.

It was only two and a half years ago that Temple Isaiah concluded its celebration of our 50th Anniversary.  Our closing theme then was “Bridge to the Future”. And ever since then, we have been building that bridge. But it is by no means finished.

As we go forward to create our Temple’s future, our clergy inspire our souls and guide us. It seems remarkable that only a little over a year ago we welcomed the newest member of our clergy team, Rabbi Jill Perlman. In one short year, she has led us and inspired us with her wisdom and energy. But that is not the only clergy change upon us, and so we offer Cantor Doob the traditional Jewish wish of b’sha-ah tova!”  - meaning in effect "May your children be born at a good time." And this year, there is one more change. We will celebrate Rabbi Howard Jaffe’s 13th year as rabbi of Temple Isaiah; this is his Bar Mitzvah year with our congregation.  We have been so blessed to have his presence in our lives -- and we plan to have a special celebration of this event later on in the Temple year.

Together our clergy team has brought our congregational worship to new heights; inspiring us and nurturing us.  We are at a wonderful place, and therefore, a good place to begin to imagine and consider how we can take our worship service to new levels.  We will be establishing a team to listen to you and to work with our clergy on this effort.

Without a doubt, our children are our future. Under our Director of Congregational Learning Marilyn Stern and our lay leadership we have begun a process of reimagining our Religious School to better meet the needs of our families. We have introduced a whole series of innovative activities for families with young children. Last year, with CJP support, we launched Mishpacha: The Family Way, a program of parental and child learning for families with 4-5 year olds – and we have expanded this program to 1st graders for this coming year and perhaps, if successful, to 2nd graders next year. For our teens, we are introducing this year TaMar, a new program supported by the URJ for teen mentoring and leadership development – a new effort to try to engage every one of our teens with the synagogue. To guide our next steps on our school’s bridge to the future, we are establishing an Innovations Task Force and hope to have a diverse group of Temple members join us in this effort.

For several years, we have also been working hard to create a broad and diverse set of congregational learning opportunities from new classes with our clergy to special lectures or advanced classes by outstanding scholars. This coming year will be an especially rich set of offerings. So I would ask you to take the opportunity to seriously consider your own participation. But what we offer really depends on you.  What do you want to learn?  What do you want to help us create? I would welcome hearing from you.

Our congregation was named after the prophet Isaiah, in part, because he preached that caring for others was at the heart of Jewish practice. Through Hineini: The Temple Isaiah Caring Community and through our social action work, hundreds of congregants volunteer to help those in need in our own congregation and work for justice in the larger community. And we are not standing still. This coming year we have some new names and new initiatives. You may have seen a banner entitled Isaiah Feeds as you came into the synagogue. Isaiah Feeds is a theme for the coming year for all of our work to help those who are hungry in our midst. And we have chosen Tzedek Isaiah: Organizing for Social Justice as the new name for our continuing work to make the world a better place.  Join us in any or all of these endeavors and help create a better future.

As you know, the Temple has acquired the property located to the immediate left of the parking lot and we worked hard this summer to make the area safer and accessible. Over the next year, we will be exploring opportunities for use of the property. However, should you go exploring, please be careful and watch out for poison ivy. 

I spoke earlier of the theme from our 50th celebration: to build, together, a bridge to the future. But we can not build that bridge and we cannot create that future for our community without resources. A bridge that is half built does not stand.

Over the last several years, it has become abundantly evident that our current financial model based on membership dues cannot sustain the congregation as an inclusive and vibrant institution which serves and engages the entire community, now and for the future.

The stewards of our Temple finances have kept annual budget increases under a few percent per year, but even so, without additional revenue, the time will come when we will be forced to make deep cuts in our operations. Our leadership’s response to this financial challenge has been to lay the groundwork for a major drive to increase philanthropic giving to Temple Isaiah.  We are calling it “Securing Our Future: The Campaign for Temple Isaiah.”  Perhaps you have been reading about the campaign in our regular articles in our Temple Bulletin.

The campaign began quietly one year ago. The goals are challenging, but with your help achievable. We want to increase our endowment by at least $6M, and to raise $1.5M in annual giving over five years. We also have a long-term goal of attracting $2.5M in bequests and gifts through estate planning. 

I am happy to say that, even at this early stage, we are making good progress towards reaching our goals.  With commitments from our Temple leadership and some members who stepped forward to answer our call, we have raised over $2 million dollars.  And we have received a very positive response to our request for planned giving. Additionally, this summer, one Temple family issued a challenge match for up to $1.8 million dollars and we are over a third of the way towards attaining that match, where every dollar contributed yields two.

I want to express a heartfelt thank you to those who have contributed to date. And we are now launching this campaign to reach out to every congregant.

Why give to Temple Isaiah?  After all, there are many charities interested in your generosity.  What we do is teach and inspire our members, and prepare our children to help build a Jewish future for themselves and their children, to help bring Jewish values into their lives and thus into the world. So, I am asking for your support for this essential and sacred endeavor. When we call and ask to meet with you, please say yes. Together and with your help this new year can be a year of both personal and communal growth and commitment.

Rosh Hashanah is also a time of reflection. We want our Temple community to be one of acceptance, welcome, and engagement.  Building a sense of community is, as always, a goal for us because we know that we can never do it well enough. We want to welcome in those who are brand new to our community and engage every one of our members, young and old, Jewish and non-Jewish. Please know that in your busy life, whenever you feel it is the right moment to dive more deeply into Temple life, we want to be there to help you. 

But how do you as a member of Temple Isaiah know what opportunities exist in our congregational life for you? And how do we proactively reach out to you? This summer our leadership development team began to work on two areas we felt critical: engagement/volunteerism and leadership skill development, while at the same time our Temple Trustees have been working at improving our web-based communications. If you want to help us in these endeavors, just ask; but if we don’t hear from you, well we just might call on you. By the way, have you been following Rabbi Perlman’s twitter feeds? Are you a member of one of Temple Isaiah’s Facebook groups? Or perhaps the Bulletin or the weekly email digest work best for you. In whatever ways we find to connect with each other, let us together build a community of warmth, of friendships and of caring for one another.

Having talked about building bridges for the future of Temple Isaiah, I want to close with a quote from Rabbi Nachman of Bratslav, the famous Chasidic master. He said

Kol ha-olam kulo, gesher tzar m’od, v’ha-ikkar lo l’faheid k’lal.

“The whole world is a narrow bridge, and the essential thing is not to fear at all.”

So as we walk together on our bridge towards our future, let us go forward with confidence and with assurance, and perhaps a bit of boldness.

Sue, Sarah and Rudy join me in wishing each of you a sweet and happy new year.

Sun, October 24 2021 18 Cheshvan 5782