President's Yom Kippur Speech - 2016

Hi, I am Ed Hershfield. I’ve been privileged to serve as your President for the last 16 months.

 

As noted Jewish sage Mel Brookssaid, “I want to speak to you from the heart“Thump Thump” “Thump Thump” “Thump Thump’.

 

Being President has been a wonderful experience. Just last week, I participated in a national interfaith meeting of leaders of large religious institutions. On the convention’s second day, I was speaking with the leaders of two Mega-Churches. One gentleman was the head of a congregation in Alabama. His church had 5,000 congregants, and he confided to us that he faced many issues in trying to satisfy everyone. The second person led an 8,000 member church in Kansas. She also stressed the difficulty of addressing the diverse needs of her congregation.

 

They asked me, how many members my Temple had.  I responded that we had over 600 families and about 1,000 members. They both chuckled and said, “With only 1,000 members your job must be so much easier than ours!” I shook my head and said that my job was much tougher. They both asked, “How can that be?” I pointed out that “YOU have a congregation with 5,000 MEMBERS…and YOU have a congregation with 8,000 MEMBERS…but I have a congregation with 1,000 PRESIDENTS!”

 

Welcome to 5777! Before you get excited, I did not attend a national conference of leaders of interfaith congregations! The only traveling I have done on your behalf has been to Braintree to meet with the heads of local synagogues. I will come back to those meetings in a few minutes.

 

As noted Jewish sage Mel Brookssaid, “I want to speak to you from the heart“Thump Thump” “Thump Thump” “Thump Thump’.

 

Seriously, today, I would like to speak about three things: an old TV show, a current TV show and breakfast, and about choices we need to make.

 

But before we talk about choices we need to make, we need to review choices we recently made and assess how we did. My message last Yom Kippur was the need for us to build a more welcoming community; to do a better job of making current congregants feel valued and welcome, and to be more inviting to non-members who are looking for their Jewish home.  Istill believe that this goal is the right choice for our shul; not only because of demographic changes in Sharon and surrounding towns, but also because building Jewish community has been the mission of Temple Israel since it was created as the JEWISH COMMUNITY CENTRE OF SHARON.

 

One way to analyze “how we did” would be to adopt the annual custom of George Costanza and his parents from the TV sitcom “Seinfeld”.  The Costanzas did not celebrate Christmas. Instead, every December 23rd they observed a more recently created holiday called “Festivus”. “Festivus” is “a holiday for the rest of us.” Festivus” has many components, but its main event is the “Annual Airing of Grievances” where each person tells other family members how they let him or her down during the past year.

 

You may be thinking “an annual event that makes everyone feel guilty and is incredibly depressing…how Jewish!!!” I will leave the Jewishness of Festivus to our clergy. I will be available, after Yom Kippur, for anyone’s specific “Airing of Grievances”, but right now I want to assess the past year on a more “macro” level.

 

First, our efforts to attract young families who are looking for a strong, egalitarian Jewish community, especially on Shabbat, have resulted in several new members joining us. There are more baby strollers in the hallways; more kids in services on Shabbat; and more parents engaging in Temple run programs with their children. We have made many important initial choices, most significantly hiring Rabbi Silverman as our Associate Rabbi and Director of Community Engagement. We are well positioned to build on this year’s successes.

 

Second, in being more welcoming to interfaith families, we have not made as much progress to date as I had hoped we would. We could choose to stop this initiative. Instead, we are choosing to increase our efforts through our Keruv committee. Keruv means “to bring near” and the committee’s focus is to recognize that many Jews live in some type of interfaith family, where a spouse, in-law or grandchild may not be Jewish. We want to help and support these individuals and families, wherever they may be on their Jewish journey. Elliot Feldman has agreed to lead the Keruv Committee, we have new members and Vice President Ron Czik will be expanding his involvement.

 

Third, our work to provide more Jewish connections for our members is bearing fruit.  Last year, Simchat Torah evening saw hundreds of congregants, especially children, filling the Sanctuary. Our Social action programs are a huge attraction. Our Israel Independence Day program was an enormous success. Our new High Holyday family services produced   prayer spaces bursting at the seams. Rabbi Fish has now been with us for 15 months. (It seems a lot longer than 15 months!)  In that short time he has learned a lot about our congregation and is ready to help us grow, provide inviting daily and Shabbat prayer experiences and learning opportunities, strengthen the connections existing members have to the community and help new members find their pathway into our Jewish home.

 

So in reviewing the last year, I would say that the choices we made showed much promise. We are making progress. But I also would say that we need to make some additional choices to become a more welcoming, spiritual community.

 

The idea of making choices isn’t simply a central theme of the High Holydays. I have been struck by the increased emphasis of making choices in our popular culture, especially on reality television shows which emphasize choices being made by show participants, or by viewers. The Bachelor, the Voice, America’s Got Talent all are based on weekly choices. But my favorite “choice” show is HGTV’s “Love it or List It”. For those unfamiliar with the show, the premise is whether a family will choose to stay in their current home (following some renovations), or will opt to move to a new house that seems to fulfill all their space needs but takes them out of theircommunity.

 

Whenever I watch “Love it or List It” I sense the difficulty the family has in making its choice. Making choices is stressful. But having the opportunity to make choices is a luxury. As I mentioned, during the past year I have had breakfast many times with leaders of local synagogues…Conservative synagogues, Reform, Reconstructionist and unaffiliated synagogues. Too many of those congregations had no choice and are now closed or closing.

 

Fortunately, Temple Israel has choices to make about our future, in part because of a choice we made several years ago when we decided to establish an endowment fund. Our endowment was designed to do two things. First, it ensured that something Jewish would always happen in this building. None of you need worry that ten years from now, if you take a ride down Pond Street, you will say to your passengers “That’s where Temple Israel USED TO BE!”

 

The second goal of the endowment was to produce annual interest to supplement our commitments and enable us to do more than we could fund through our commitment system. Here too, the endowment is working as intended, producing additional revenue each year.

 

But we have a problem, and we need to choose whether or not we are going to address it. Our choice won’t determine whether or not we exist well into the future- we will; but our choice will determine what kind of community we will be.

 

Now many of you may be thinking “Here it comes…this is where he becomes Jerry Maguire and says “SHOW ME THE MONEY!!!” Well, you’re right! But before we go there, let me ask you; whether you are listening to your first Yom Kippur President speech or your fortieth, do you ever wonder why I or the officers spend so much time at Temple Israel? It’s not the salary…there is no stock option plan based on how much we fund raise or how many members we have…and, like most of the officers, I don’t have any kids in Hertz, religious school or USY.

 

I and the officers choose to be here because we have learned that this place matters. This place matters to young families looking to expose their toddlers to Judaism through Hertz, it matters to seniors meeting friends at Hazak events, it matters to families whose kids participate in services or recite the Ha Motzi at home, it matters to couples celebrating an auf ruf or baby naming in the same place where they were bar or bat mitzvahed,  it matters to someone who is sick and receives fuzzy socks and a coffee mug from our Hessed committee, and it matters to every person who wants to say kaddish.

 

Since this place matters, we need to choose how we will address a problem facing us. So what is the problem?

 

Several years ago, our community made another important choice. Under the leadership of Rob Carver, we decided to become one of the first Jewish congregations in the country to adopt a voluntary dues system. Our action was groundbreaking. Rob has been quoted in articles across the globe and our commitment structure has been a model for other congregations.

 

Our problem isn’t that we have a commitment system. If we had retained a traditional dues model, we would be worse off financially and would be helping fewer Jews on their Jewish journey. Our problem is that we simply are not raising enough revenue through commitments to do everything we need to do to. Even as membership has increased, our total commitments have fallen. As a result, our endowment interest now goes to fill in the gap created by falling commitments instead of providing additional programs.

 

 

 

We have a choice…are we going to raise additional commitments or are we going to pass. Do we “Love our community” or are we willing to “List it”?

 

Weekly, I receive requests from you telling me we need to do more. I hear from our committees that they have a great idea for a program but no dollars to run it. I hear from our clergy aboutinnovative events they want to do outside of the shul to connect with people over coffee or over a beer. Just last week, we ran a program that attracted 3520 and 30 year olds to a discussion about what Judaism means to them. People are already floating ideas about how we can replicate that during the year in places where those millenials live.

 

Unfortunately, when I hear about all of these great ideas, my response is “Sounds great, but we don’t have the money.”

 

So today, each of us needs to make a choice. You cannot leave the decision until tomorrow, next week or next Yom Kippur…and you definitely cannot leave the decision to other members of the community. If you agree that this place matters…you need to choose to “Love it” and invest in its future.

 

How much do we need…let’s start with $100,000. That would help us make up for reduced commitments and fund some of the additional programs we currently cannot deliver. To personalize it, I need each of you, right now, to  pick up your pledge card and contribute at least an additional 10% of what you already committed.

 

If you cannot do an additional 10%, you need to do what you can. If you can do more than 10%, please help us!

 

Please take your pledge cards, turn down a contribution amount, turn down the tab about making a gift in your will, and pass the cards to the ushers.

 

On behalf of myself, my wife Kathy, our children Alyssa and Matthew, and on behalf of the officers and the entire Board of Trustees, l'shana tova umetukah, a happy, healthy and sweet New Year. And may all your choices this year be good choices!

Ed Hershfield