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Rosh Hashanah 2016/5777

Scott Galin

In my professional life, I have been in sales for a long time and one of my core tenets is that every business should be crystal clear on their value proposition. The same idea can be viewed from the customer side: why do I choose to do business with this product or service over others. When I became President of our congregation, I asked myself this same question, why do I choose Judaism? If I was as learned as our clergy or as many of you, I would quote a great historical rabbi or Jewish leader. Instead, I will repurpose a line from a Tom Cruise movie. Judaism, you complete me.

We here at Isaiah have chosen to not just practice Judaism but to practice Reform Judaism, a movement that balances 5,777 years of Jewish history with the unique challenges and opportunities that are specific to our time. This balance is not easy, and I would argue, is in some ways the hardest Jewish path to follow. I am proud to be a Jew and equally proud to be a Reform Jew. I don’t always agree with all our platforms, and I sometimes wish we made changes more quickly. However, when I look at our pluralistic view, our focus on inclusion for all, our focus on repairing the world with the added complication  of staying true to our core values while charting new ground, the only words that come to my mind are, Reform Judaism you complete me.

When I think of where I want to worship as a Reform Jew, I could not be happier that as a family we chose Isaiah and how fortunate I am that you have allowed me the experience of being President of this congregation. The people and families who belong to Isaiah, the culture we have, the priorities we have chosen, our clergy, our educators, our professional staff, and our lay leaders, all contribute to our specific experience practicing Reform Judaism. I believe in the values Isaiah has chosen to emphasize - worship, learning, and loving acts, and that if we perpetuate these values, not only will we be better people but we will make this a better world. Temple Isaiah, you complete me.

We are 10 miles from where Thoreau had his cabin in the woods. Although I admire Thoreau’s fortitude for living alone, I recognize that I am a better person because of this community. Your friendships make the good times even better and have comforted me in my lows. I enjoy learning with you and from you. In revealing yourself to me you have helped me tear down my own walls. You, my fellow Isaiah congregants, complete me.

For me, completion is a process versus an end state. Something I aspire to reach but probably never will. Investing in someone or something else leads to us ourselves becoming more complete. I have experienced this both as a parent and a professional, yet to date I have short changed myself by not making the same level of investment in Judaism. Today’s shofar blowing is a reminder that if I really want to get something out of my Jewish journey, if we really want to get something out of our Jewish journey, we have to be prepared to make the investment.

In this New Year, I would like to invite you to join me on this Jewish journey and in making this investment. My destination may be completeness while yours may be something else, but the journey will be infinitely more pleasurable if we take the trip together. Together we can ride the Temple Isaiah train. At the front of the train is our clergy. Incredibly knowledgeable about our past travels, they know how to guide us and help us get to our respective destinations while ensuring we appreciate the different stops along the way. For those trying to paint a picture in their mind, this is not a fancy train nor is it the bottom of the barrel as neither of those would be Isaiah. Not first class on the Accela, not the Green Line but something in-between.

Although this is a shared journey, we might sit in different cars. One car might focus on spirituality while another car might focus on creating an amazing experience in helping a child grow into Judaism and become a b'nai mitzvah. Other cars include Sisterhood, Brotherhood, adult education, prayer, Tikkun Olam, or something more social. The Temple Isaiah train does not lack for ways to participate, be fulfilled, and enjoy oneself. Each car is an opportunity to make new friends and make our journey richer. You are encouraged to car hop but please be careful walking between the cars while the train is moving.

This is a long train, and it has plenty of room for all. Enough seats for 2,000+ people. Those who choose to be very active today and those who don’t. Those who are passionate about social justice, Israel, learning, and those whose passions lie elsewhere. Those who were born or chose to be a Jew and those who enjoy parts of Judaism or are part of a family that includes individuals who are Jewish but who don’t plan on converting. The train is for all who want to make an investment in their respective Jewish journey.

This would not be a High Holiday speech by a Temple President if it did not include the part about financial support. Although we pay to ride the train, our annual commitments don’t cover all our costs. If you would like to contribute towards the cost of operating the Temple Isaiah train, please do. We can even offer our own version of the Charlie card. All kidding aside, I very much appreciate those who have made an extra financial contribution to our institution and invite all to contribute in order to sustain our journey.

Although the cars we choose to ride may be different, I am hoping there are two we can all share. The first shared car is focused on solving indifference. Whether it is the current refugee crisis, the loss of life due to violence, or the many who struggle to make ends meet, I am more indifferent than I would like to be. Then I should be. I could rationalize as to why but it really doesn’t matter.

We have a history of being outsiders. We were slaves. We were thrown out of our homes and expelled from our countries. We were sent to camps. We were turned away from every western country including the United States. Last year in the US, hate crimes motivated by religious bias affected Jews three times more than people of any other religion. Given this history and this baggage, I, we need to lead the world by opening our hearts. We can speak first hand. I know I sometimes act indifferent. I forget our history. I am too comfortable. I need to have greater empathy for others and have a greater appreciation for what they are going through.

The second car I hope we can all share is focused on shaping Isaiah’s future. We were recently blessed to have Dr. Rabbi Larry Hoffman join us for a Scholar’s Weekend. Rabbi Hoffman spoke about the moral self and challenged us to consider who we each want to be as individuals. Important questions for these Days of Awe and introspection. We are asking this same question of ourselves as a congregation. Who do we want to be? What does Isaiah stand for and  what makes Isaiah, Isaiah? Over the next few months, there will be group conversations, lectures, and a new type of congregational meeting. We want to hear from you. Please participate as every voice counts.

In this New Year I am on a Jewish journey and hope that even if our ultimate destinations don’t perfectly align, that we can ride together. By sharing our journey, we increase our joy and our mutual growth. A journey that is multifaceted and that speaks to us individually. A journey that completes us as Jews, Reform Jews, Temple Isaiah, and as a sacred community.


Fri, July 19 2024 13 Tammuz 5784