This week, I had the humbling responsibility of delivering remarks to the congregation on Yom Kippur. While some of what it says is specific to Temple Beth El, I hope the topic of community building is universally meaningful.
May we all be blessed this coming year.
Just before Selichot, I was having coffee with a friend. He told me about a piece of Torah that I had not heard before. He said he couldn’t tell me the number of times that the Torah called something tov — good — and he couldn’t tell me the number of times the Torah called something ra — bad.
But he could tell me the number of times that the Torah called something lo tov — not good. It was just two.
The first time is in Genesis 2:18 when God, in reference to Adam, says, “It is not good for the Human to be alone; I will make a fitting counterpart for him.”
The second time is in Exodus 18:17. Moses is telling Jethro — his father-in-law — about his role as magistrate of the people. Jethro asks Moses, “Why do you act alone?” Moses gives some explanations, but Jethro just replies, “The thing you are doing is not good.”
Now, I am not here to talk about the Garden of Eden, and I am not here to talk about the relationship between Moses and his father-in-law.
But I do want to talk about community because community — kehillah — is at the heart of what it means to be Jewish.
Our tradition reminds us constantly that Jews, that humans, must exist within community. We pray in community. We mourn in community. We celebrate in community. We live in community.
So here at Temple Beth El, we exist as a sacred community — a kehillah kedosah. We are a historic community, as the first synagogue in Michigan. But we are also a modern community having constantly adapted to the changing moment and meeting the needs of our congregants.
Our pews today are filled with those that go back generations here at Temple Beth El. But it is also filled with new members — like my friends Caryn and Max Emmer who just gave an aliyah — that are new to this community.
Our pews are filled by those who were born Jews, those who chose Judaism, and those who have chosen to be part of our community regardless of their personal religious identification.
Our pews are filled by those who were raised within the Reform movement and those who have chosen to become part of this movement.
But when we talk about community, it is about a lot more than just these pews and this building. Yes, the community of Temple Beth El is formed at Sunday morning breakfast with the brotherhood and kiddish after Friday night services. And it is formed at ECC drop off and MASA pickup.
But it is also formed when two congregants schedule a playdate with their children, or two couples plan a double date night out on the town. For me, my Temple Beth El community has been expanded at Kenning Park, watching Birmingham Little League and on the bleachers of Seaholm High School, watching my son play football. It has been strengthened by coffee dates at the French bakery and breakfast at the Gallery with other congregants. Because whenever and wherever we are together, we are strengthening the vibrant community that is Temple Beth El.
There are many people who work tirelessly to strengthen the community of Temple Beth El. We have three outstanding clergy members who provide us with their wisdom in times of learning and their strength when we are in need.
Our amazing staff brings energy and enthusiasm to their roles here at Temple. We have a group of Officers and Trustees that I am proud to serve alongside.
But — we cannot do this work of community building alone. As the Torah tells us, to do this work alone is lo tov — not good. We need you — all of you — as our partners in building community.
So I am told that congregational presidents are supposed to make “an ask” in their high holiday remarks. So here are my asks…
The first ask — in a few weeks just after Simchat Torah — you will get an e-mail about a survey that Temple Beth El is conducting through the Union of Reform Judaism to get the opinions of our congregants. Please fill out the survey. The time you spend will be invaluable to our community as we move forward with our strategic vision and planning process.
The second ask is that you should have received an e-mail last week asking you to indicate your interest in serving on one of our many Temple Beth El committees. Please consider filling out this interest form as we would love to bring more voices to the leadership table.
The third ask is to join me in participating in this year’s annual appeal. Whether you can give $18, $180, $1800, or more, the annual appeal is a meaningful way to come together as a community and help support the financial needs of sustaining Temple Beth El.
The last ask is a bit different. Ask yourself how you can personally help strengthen this amazing community that is Temple Beth El. Maybe it is inviting the new ECC family for a playdate. Maybe it is inviting a new friend to share a bottle of wine as you watch Friday night services over the livestream. Maybe it is just introducing yourself to someone and saying, “Aren’t you at Temple Beth El?” Become an active part of the creation of this community because every connection, every relationship makes us stronger.
But on this holiest day of the year — I would not be so brazen as to make asks of you without also making some promises on behalf of the Trustees.
First, we promise to continue establishing structures — such as our recent board listening sessions and our upcoming congregational survey — to allow the Board to be in conversation with the entire congregation.
Second, I promise to be personally available through my new e-mail — email@example.com — to receive your thoughts and feedback.
Third, I promise to do all I can to personally strengthen this community. So please feel free to come up to me and introduce yourself whether it is in the lobby today, at Friday night services, or Sunday morning breakfast, or if you spot me cheering on the sidelines of any football or basketball game, orchestra or band concert or grabbing coffee around town.
Let me close by saying todah rabah — thank you — to everyone who has works so hard to make this the amazing community that we get to experience. Our clergy. Our staff. Our current and past leadership. Those generations before us who built this amazing congregation. But most importantly today — I want to thank each of you for being here and helping us continue to strengthen the present and the future of Temple Beth El.