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Rosh Hashanah 2013/5774

Chuck Koplik

L’Shanah Tova!

One year ago I spoke to you about building the future of Temple Isaiah.  In modern Hebrew the word for future is עתיד ahteed but I learned in my class last year translating the book of Esther that in Biblical Hebrew ahteed instead means ”to ready for” or “to prepare for”.  I like combining those modern and ancient ideas.  So that to build the future we want for our congregation requires preparation and a readiness to move forward – in short building our future is a step by step process, and we have taken some important steps forward in the last year.

With the support and blessing of Rabbi Howard Jaffe, our Board overwhelmingly decided to authorize our clergy, under certain circumstances, to officiate at Jewish marriage ceremonies at Temple Isaiah, in cases where one member of the couple is Jewish and the other is not. I am particularly proud of the process the congregation took to arrive at this decision. We held a series of open congregational conversations, and, in addition, held three follow-on parlor meetings with Rabbi Jaffe.  I attended each congregational meeting where I heard congregants share life stories, express, in some cases, heartfelt disagreement, and where we listened to each other with respect and consideration. Our process demonstrated a congregation that is committed to and cares about every member of our community.

Our clergy are our spiritual leaders and teachers; they are with us in times of celebration and when life challenges us the most.  Last year, each of our clergy (and our congregation) had some very special simchas. A year ago at Rosh Hashanah, I offered to Cantor Doob the traditional Jewish wish of b’sha-ah tova!”  - meaning in effect "May your children be born at a good time." And shortly thereafter, we welcomed to Temple Isaiah Lisa and Devin’s twins, Jonah and Max.  And this summer as a bookend to the year, we welcomed the birth to Rabbi Jill Perlman and Jeff of their daughter Maya Esther. It is always such a joy to welcome new children to our congregation. And last June, thanks to the tremendous efforts of Margie Bogdanow, Laura Fisher, Bruce Lynn and others, we celebrated together the B’nei Mitzvah of our first thirteen years with Rabbi Howard Jaffe. It has been a wonderful journey together and we will continue that journey in building together the future of Temple Isaiah.

Together our clergy team brings us worship experiences that inspire and nurture us.  And to move us forward together, last year I established a Worship Team to work with our clergy on the worship experience, focusing initially on Friday night. We want to see Friday night services at Temple become a more spiritual, meaningful, and communal experience. We want to attract each week more congregants of all ages — families, teenagers, seniors, and empty nesters. A number of changes are happening already affecting approach, presentation, and music as well as some special community Shabbat dinners in conjunction with early services. Check us out. When? Any Friday night.

A little over a year ago, our Leadership Development Committee launched a new effort to reach out to congregants and develop the next generation of Temple leaders. We have held four leadership development programs, open to all, and we will kick off the New Year with a fifth program, “A Taste of Leadership” in October. If you are interested, please come.  Our future depends on engaging committed leaders who create meaning in their lives through involvement in Temple Isaiah.

We continue to be so proud of the dynamic and engaging programs offered by our Religious School under the leadership of Marilyn Stern.  Last year, we introduced for our teens, TaMaR, an innovative program for teen mentoring and leadership development.  And, with CJP support, we expanded our innovative Mishpacha: The Family Way program from parental and child learning for families with 4-5 year olds to a new set of programs for 1st graders. Recognizing the needs of young families, last year we established the position of Director of Families with Young Children integrating and refocusing existing roles and functions. Its new director Rabbi Amy Hertz started in July and we are very excited about where we are and where we are heading.

Some years ago, I was asked to provide a list of Temple members to honor who have been involved in Tikkun Olam, making the world a better place. I said I could but it would include just about the entire Temple community. From those who visit the sick or make a meal as part of Hineini, Temple Isaiah’s Caring Community to those who help feed the hungry as part of last year’s Temple Isaiah Feeds campaign which continues this year, to those working to destigmatize mental illness in our community, to those who join with our Tzedek Isaiah: Organizing for Social Justice in the fight for affordable health care for all in Massachusetts, we have an army of caring committed congregants. Outside Temple Isaiah, we are looked upon as a social justice leader working with Jewish synagogues across Greater Boston, and through the Greater Boston Interfaith Organization made up of churches, synagogues and mosques – and we are not just in the audience but at the podium.  

Our future also depends on the financial health of the congregation. Two years ago we launched a major fund raising effort called “Securing Our Future: The Campaign for Temple Isaiah.”  Our goals were: (1) increase our endowment by seeking $6 million in congregant pledges, which can be paid over a five year period, (2) raise $1.5M in annual giving over this same period, and (3) meet a long-term goal of attracting $2.5M in bequests and gifts through estate planning. Why give to Temple Isaiah?  Temple Isaiah’s mission is to bring Jewish values into our lives and thus into the world. We teach and inspire our members, and prepare our children to help build a Jewish future for themselves and their children. While we are making steady progress towards reaching our goals, we have a very important near-term challenge --- a year into the campaign, one Temple family issued a challenge to match $1.8 million dollars in new pledges, and we are now only $300,000 from reaching the match. For those who have contributed to date, I want to express a heartfelt thank you. And for those who have not yet had an opportunity to give, please help us close that gap where every dollar you give now is worth two.  

From a variety of perspectives, congregational engagement will be a theme for this coming year. Let me identify a few opportunities and initiatives around congregational engagement.

Our adult Jewish learning programs have been expanding and strengthening every year and this coming year is really going to be a banner year. You have or will shortly receive a flyer providing a very long list of remarkable opportunities for Jewish learning. But I want to highlight one special visitor, Rabbi Dr. Lawrence Hoffman who is internationally recognized as a speaker and teacher about worship, Jewish meaning, and the role of the synagogue in our lives. He will be our scholar in residence in November and his visit will be a center piece this year for thinking about our spiritual journeys and `our own, personal congregational involvement and engagement. We will prepare for that visit starting at Yom Kippur by grappling with and thinking about several questions about connection and meaning in our lives, and what it means to be Jewish. Please join us in this communal dialogue.

Whenever I am asked how I got involved in one or another aspect of Temple life, I answer that someone called and invited me in. And that’s a pretty common answer.  Almost thirty years ago, Alan Millner called me and asked me to join the Brotherhood Board and that got me started. In truth, congregational engagement has really two important components: an interest of one’s own to get involved and an invitation or at least a very open door to entry.  Our Trustees will be taking a hard look at how we at Temple Isaiah can do a better job at “keeping the doors open” and “inviting others to join in”.  And our Brotherhood and Sisterhood, who do so much for our community, will themselves be focusing on how to engage congregants in our communal life. Later this year and still in the planning phases, our Tzedek Isaiah team, will be leading our congregation in conversations and house meetings; with the objective to hear, to learn, and then to act together on shared interests. So, this will be a very busy and exciting New Year for us at Temple Isaiah with many opportunities to connect.

The rewards of Temple involvement are many and differ for each of us. Last year, I had the privilege of giving a ride on a number of Shabbat morning to a congregant in Cambridge who could no longer get to services on his own. Traffic to Cambridge on Saturday morning is light and I enjoyed our conversations back and forth. A small thing you may say, but as I think about all the things I’ve done this last year at Temple Isaiah, it somehow stands out. Peter has passed away now but my memories of our conversations remain. A year from now, what will you look back on as you greet another New Year? I hope that you will think of some aspect of our shared life together at Temple Isaiah that stands out; perhaps some new friendships, or a special learning experience, or a chance you had to help others, to celebrate a simcha, to remember one who has passed away, to see your child learn to read Hebrew , or to enjoy a dinner together after a Tot Shabbat. I look forward to our coming year together as members of this sacred community.

Sue and I wish each of you a sweet and happy and life-filled new year.

L’shana tova tikatevu.

Fri, July 19 2024 13 Tammuz 5784