What's Next - Yom Kippur 2015

Hi, I am Ed Hershfield, your Temple president. I am very sorry I am late. I was just walking through the parking lot when a member flagged me down. He rolled down his window and said, “Do you need a special sign on your windshield in order to park in the parking lot?” I replied that on Yom Kippur, indeed you did. He then said, “Well I don’t have a special sign.” So I said to him, “Let me direct you to some other places where you can park.” He immediately replied, “But I see that there are many other cars here in the parking lot that do not have special signs.” I nodded and said, “You’re right, there are.” He asked, “Are those members' cars?” I told him they were. He immediately became agitated and asked me, “If I am a member and I can’t park here without a sign, why can all of these other members park here without signs?” I looked at him and said, “It’s simple. They didn’t ask.”

Welcome to the year 5776. I am not going to talk today about parking lots. Instead, I want to begin with the noted Jewish sage and mystic, Mel Brooks, who distilled the entire Jewish experience down to seven words “Hope for the Best, Expect the Worst.” Mel recognized that as a people, we have always been more concerned with where we are heading than where we have been. It is well known that after crossing the Red Sea, Moses didn’t even have time to sit down on a rock before he was being asked “what’s next.” Well, Temple Israel has had to cross its own Red Seas, and I could spend a lot of time talking about our strength and resilience; but, anticipating that Mel Brooks is correct and all of you are focused on “What’s next,” let me address that.

So, I want to talk to you this morning about three things. First, magazines. Second, a television show, and third, if you’ll pardon the expression on Yom Kippur, “lunch.”

Why magazines? Well, over the past several months, when I have been at Shaw’s, waiting in the checkout line, I picked up several magazines with fascinating titles. Maybe you saw them too. There was, of course, the famous People Magazine issue in June with the headline “What Do Kim and Kanye’s Jewish Friends Need?” If you missed that one, I’m sure that you must have seen the double issue of Cosmopolitan that came out in July with the featured article “What Does Your Partner Really Want… in shul?” Just last week, I couldn’t put down the Sports Illustrated story “Deflategate: The Untold Role Played by Robert Kraft’s Jewish Values”

All right, in the spirit of the day, I’ll confess. None of those articles about Jews was real. But there was a real magazine, okay technically not a magazine, but a report about Jews, which did come out recently that demanded our attention. I am talking about the Pew Report which indicated that more and more Jews are leaving Judaism behind since they don’t see it as a meaningful part of their lives. As Rabbi Greenwald suggested last year during his Rosh Hashanah sermon, too many Jews, especially millennials, will leave Judaism unless they have a reason to be Jewish.

During the High Holy Days, we recite the Utana Tokef prayer in which we ask the question of who shall live and who shall die. I will leave questions of physical life and death to others. Instead, I want to ask you to consider an Utana Tokef under the Pew Report: who will be involved in the Jewish community and who will leave the Jewish community behind. The answer to that question is important not simply because our mission at Temple Israel is to foster Jewish community, but also because failing to continually involve Jews in our Temple means that our own community cannot survive.

As I mentioned at the outset, Temple Israel is strong and resilient, but if you doubt the need to continually attract Jews to our community, you need only look around us. We may choose to look at the difficulties being faced by Temple Beth Am in Randolph, Temple Beth Emunah in Brockton or other area shuls and say it is the result of demographic changes that won’t happen to us in Sharon. But when you consider that Mishkan Tefila in Newton now cannot sustain itself, the message is clear.

So we have identified a problem (Jews are good at that), and it is fair to ask me “what’s next.” Well for answers, we need look no further than a Jewish themed television series. A series in which the two leading actors were Jews in real life and which transformed the symbol of Jewish priests into a salute for another planet. Of course, I refer to the voyages of the Starship Enterprise, the television series Star Trek.

The question is who becomes a member of the community and who leaves the community behind. On Star Trek, the answer is always readily apparent. Let’s think about the beginning of many episodes. The ship arrives at a potentially hostile planet. Six crew members are ready to beam down. They include Captain Kirk, Mr. Spock, Dr. McCoy, Ensign Chekov and two guys in red shirts standing in the back. Let me ask all of you, who is staying with this community and who is leaving? My bet is that the two guys in the red shirts are leaving, and pretty quickly. Now why do those two people leave: They graduated from Star Fleet Academy, have nice uniforms, and are courageous and smart. They leave because they really are not part of the community. No one even knows their names. T

here is another lesson from Star Trek that is important for the success of our shul, our Temple community, dare I say, “Our Enterprise.” And that lesson is pretty simple: Even in the 23rd century, people want to be part of something that is vibrant, growing and exciting. Now, I can’t offer you the chance to serve on a starship, but I can offer you and prospective members the opportunity to be part of a community that seeks out new ideas, and builds on existing traditions. A community that boldly goes where no shul has gone before!

So, again you may ask: what’s next? How do we become a more vibrant, growing and exciting community? As Rabbi Fish said during Rosh Hashanah, it all starts with welcoming. Welcoming prospective members and welcoming existing members who feel that they are “crew members in red shirts.” And allow me to let you in on a secret I have learned in three months as President: most of us, even long-time very involved members, feel unwelcome at one time or another.

To be specific about this “welcoming thing,” let me give you just three examples of “what’s next”: not what we simply can do, but what we will do.

First, Jews, especially young Jews, who believe in egalitarianism, should not have to trade off their beliefs and attend an Orthodox shul in order to find community. Conservative Jews looking for a community should not turn away from our Temple because we don’t have room for strollers, crying babies or active kids. We will to make our Temple a place of community for those Jews.

Second, intermarried families, who want to connect with Judaism, should not be told that they would “feel more comfortable in a Reform synagogue” than they would here at Temple Israel. Our community will be a place where intermarried families feel as comfortable as anyone else and can grow and thrive Jewishly.

Third, we cannot be a “one size fits all shul.” We will provide the key to unlock Jewish connections for as many of our members and prospective members as we can. And those keys to Jewish connection vary; from traditional prayer, to social action, to advanced text study, to singing and dancing, to beginning Jewish education classes.

Now, doing this will not be easy. If fact, it will be very hard. Some people have said to me “We can’t be everything to everybody.” I agree, but we can be much more to many.

Rabbi Fish, the professional staff and lay leadership have many ideas of how we can become more welcoming; engage more of the “Pew Report Jews” and strengthen our community. But before we can embark on this work, we need to remember one thing and for that lesson, I turn not to another TV show, but to Nebuchadnezzar, a king of the Babylonian empire. At one point during Nebuchadnezzar’s reign (and I swear to you I found this on Wikipedia, and if it’s on Wikipedia it must be true) the king was faced with trying to rebuild part of his empire. So he called together the sages in the kingdom and commanded them to provide advice on how he could succeed. Well the advisors went away for several days and when they came back they had produced 87 volumes of 600 pages, all filled with great detail of what he should do. The king was outraged. Nebuchadnezzar threatened to kill all of them unless they simplified the advice. Finally, the advisors got their advice down to one sentence. They told the king that the key to success was in knowing that “there is no such thing as a free lunch.”

Today my friends, I bring this sage advice to you. There is, indeed, no such thing as a free lunch, or a free Kiddush or a free Oneg, or a free Rabbi (either full-time or guest) or a free Hazzan or a free guest cantorial soloist or a free family service. There is no free way to do any of the important work we need to do to become a welcoming community that engages more Jews.

Now, our commitment system is a revolutionary change in how we fund our community; and I appreciate the commitment each of you has already made. But you need to know that the total of our commitments and our other sources of income, including our endowment income, leaves us well short of the funds we need to do what we need to do. We need additional support from each of you -- and I do mean each of you. So I ask you to take out your pledge card and make an additional gift. If each family can give our Temple an additional ten cents a day, or $36 per year, that would be a good start. If some families can give an extra dollar a day, or $360 a year, that would be even better. If you can give even more, that would be fantastic. But everyone needs to give what they can.

The challenge of the Pew Report is clear. What we need to do as a shul is clear. Now each of us needs to take the pledge card and show one another “What’s next.”

On behalf of myself, my wife Kathy, our children Alyssa and Matthew, and on behalf of the officers and the entire Board of Directors, l'shana tova umetukah, a happy, healthy and sweet New Year. Oh, and may you live long and prosper.

Ed Hershfield
President, Board of Trustees