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As my co-president Susan Arovis eloquently stated at Rosh Hashanah, we are truly blessed, privileged and honored to have our third opportunity to address this congregation over the High Holidays. I thought I would use this opportunity to talk about why a strong, vibrant and financially secure Kol Ami is so important to this community and beyond. In the margins of our regular green covered prayer books, appears a passage of Mark Twain’s Consideration of the Jew in which Twain says “the Jews constitute but one quarter of one percent of the human race. It suggests a nebulous dim puff of star dust lost in the blaze of the Milky Way. Properly the Jew ought hardly to be heard of, but he is heard of, has always been heard of.”
Why is that? I don’t purport to have a definitive answer but I sincerely believe that in the modern diaspora the answer lies at least in large part in robust, active, pluralistic synagogues like Kol Ami. Perhaps the best way to support that theory is based on the evidence around me — the evidence that I can see standing right here on the Bima.
I will start right behind me with the Torah scrolls sitting in our Ark. The Torah is rather unique in the history of the world’s civilizations. In one place, we have the blueprint for an entire society. Part history — known as the greatest story ever told; part constitution and set of laws to govern society – there is a reason the Ten Commandments adorns the inner walls of the US Supreme Court; and part overall guidebook for life – the first self-help book ever written with a focus on meditation, mindfulness, gratitude and joy. And this thousands of years before Oprah’s Super Soul Sundays.
As Rabbi Shira Milgrom noted last week, what may be most remarkable is that these thousands of years later, it’s still the exact same — hand scribed onto animal parchment with a quill and vegetable ink. All 304,805 letters. The same passages read by our B’nei Mitzvah each Saturday on this Bima were read the exact same week by some Shepard boy becoming a bar mitzvah so many eras ago. I can even picture the montage, pictures of the boy with his goat, with a sling shot and even floating in the Dead Sea wearing mud.
Kol Ami provides for this continuity — from one generation to the next — L’dor V’dor — the continuity that has allowed the Jewish people — otherwise statistically insignificant — to survive and prosper despite slavery in Egypt, persecution in Persia, the destruction of the Temples, the Spanish Inquisition and the Shoah.
The next evidence I see are two flags. To my right the United States flag and to my left the Israeli flag. And when I look out at these flags, I don’t see dual loyalty. I see proud American Jews. As Rabbi Tom Wiener said on erev Rosh Hashanah, we Jews have perhaps never had it better than we have had it here in this Country. But recent times have awakened us from this slumber, in my short tenure as co-president, we’ve stood right here following Charlottesville, Pittsburgh and Poway comforting and uniting our community. We’ve led way too many board meetings focused on security instead of services. But we don’t give in or give up. The antidote to this pernicious hate is to grow stronger as a community – to bolster our strong synagogue life.
Now to my left is the Israeli flag. A symbol of a revived homeland, of a country that reinvented hope — 25 years younger than this synagogue. In those 70 years, it’s beyond words to even imagine what Israel has accomplished. But we live in complicated times, so while Kol Ami stands strongly beside Israel we’re also not afraid to stand up to Israel defending women at the wall and reform Judaism in Israel. Looking at these flags side by side, I sincerely believe that American Jewry could not survive without Israel and Israel could not survive without American Jewry. And American Jewry could not survive without sacred places like Kol Ami.
Next I turn to the stain glass windows from the origins of Kol Ami when the synagogue was formed on Sterling Street. They represent the immediate generations before us — not the biblical figures — but the real life people whose grandchildren and great grandchildren still belong here — and who recognized the importance of creating a vibrant reform synagogue in Westchester County. Without them we would not be here today and without us the next generations won’t have the opportunity to benefit the way do we here. L’dor v’dor – the continuity of the Jewish people.
And now the final and most important piece of evidence. You, all of you, filling row after row, are the quintessential evidence of the importance of Kol Ami and the need for a strong Kol Ami. I look out and see baby namings and Bris’s, B’nei mitzvahs and confirmations, weddings and anniversaries and birthdays, and yes, hospital visits, funerals and shivas too. We celebrate the simchas and comfort the sorrows. I see the study sessions and mahjong games, the Synaplexes and trips to Israel, I see the support groups and the Bethelight social justice initiatives. I see a community that draws from 20 different school districts – yes 20. We are the anchor for reform Judiasm in Westchester that serves as a bulwark against the waves of assimilation and anti-Semitism. So whether you are here two days a year or two or more days a week, you are Kol Ami – we are Kol Ami.
So now on this day of awe it’s time to recite the Four Questions. Consider it a taste of spring. These are four questions that I have been asked since Rosh Hashanah.
First question, when are you going to ask for money? Answer, now. And I don’t do it with it reservation or trepidation. I ask from the bottom of my heart unabashedly and filled with pride. We simply can’t survive without your generosity. I ask you to make Kol Ami a priority in your charitable and philanthropic giving. Give something that is meaningful to you. There are a lot of great causes out there but I challenge you to reflect upon your giving and see if your giving truly reflects the importance of being Jewish to you – of continuing the tradition.
Second question, why do we need a new Torah? We just watched several Torahs paraded through the congregation. Why in the world would we need one more. The answer is actually quite simple. Out of all the Torahs we have accumulated over our 95 year history, we actually only have two working Sefer scrolls. One in the Chapel in the Woods and one here. The others are brittle and frail and can’t be scrolled or are historic such as our torah saved from the Holocaust. Our last Torah fundraiser was 20 years ago. And we need a new, usable Torah from which we can study, chant and celebrate holidays and B’nai Mitzvah and continue traditions.
Third question, how can I give to Kol Ami during this time. There are actually three ways. The first is by donating to the Annual Fund. The Annual Fund is necessary for Kol Ami’s short term needs. We simply can’t make our budget without the generosity of all of you who give to the Annual Fund. Our dues do not cover all our operating expenses. Fundraising closes that gap. But as successful as we’ve been the last few years, there is plenty of room for much higher participation and we urge you to give.
The second way to give is through the Torah project led by Lisa Borowitz. You will all shortly be receiving information in the mail and through other communications that will detail the giving opportunities – from letters to verses to passages to whole books. Anyone who donates will have an opportunity to actually inscribe a letter into our Torah. This project is geared towards our longer term needs both in creating a Torah to use for decades to come but also with the additional fundraising to help ensure our future. Be part of this once in a generation opportunity – a chance to both connect with the past and express hope for a better future.
The third way to give is, well, to do both. Whether to the Annual Fund or to the Torah Project or both, whether it’s $36 or $36,000, please give something that is meaningful to you.
And the fourth question I’ve been asked since Rosh Hashanah is what are you serving for break-fast. But since we’re all hungry, we’ll skip that one and move on to announcements.
G’mar Chatima Tova – May you be sealed in the book of life.