What does it mean, this community?
Yom Kippur morning 5773
Temple Beth Jacob of Newburgh
Rabbi Larry Freedman
September 26, 2012
Have you ever tried to explain what Judaism is to someone who isn’t Jewish. I’m talking about someone who really wants to understand Jews. They know we’re a religion but then we tell them we’re not just a religion. We explain that we are a culture except that there are Jews around the world who share neither language nor foods with us and even their holidays, our holidays, are celebrated a bit differently. And that’s when your friend might venture, “so you’re a race, right?” But, uh, now hold the phone there, let’s not go there. We are not a race. We got in a lot of trouble for that one. We are a complicated thing.
We are very unique among the families of the world in that we identify as a people and within that people there are many expressions of connection to that people. And among those many types of connections, there are mixtures with infinite combinations. The life of any one Jew is almost never exactly like the life of any other Jew and yet, Jews we all are, Jews we all enjoy being.
One classic way of understanding the palate Jews draw from is the triptych God, Torah, Israel. I dare say that everything we do as Jews, every moment that means something, every good feeling we get is a reflection of one of those three: God, Torah, Israel.
Look at this moment. Look at this gathering. Some of the power of this moment has to do with God, with the religious experience. We gather before God, invoke prayers, feel spiritual. We come here out of a sense of religious obligation and we take seriously the images our machzor offers us. We feel better having been here.
Then again, look at this gathering. Some of the power of this moment has to do with Torah, with the intellectual experience. The realm of Torah is the realm of thinking about the words and their meaning in our lives, and it is the realm of ethical demands that insist we figure out how to be better. Torah moves us with attention to ritual so we can live out the words of the actual Torah.
Then again, look at this gathering. Some of the power of this moment has to do with Israel, the people of Israel, of coming together with family, of having the big dinner with the same foods, of sitting next to each other here in the same seat you’ve sat in forever. Feeling the presence of friends and family no longer here. Knowing that at this moment around the globe, millions and millions of Jews are doing the same thing is very moving. And let’s not forget the non-Jews who have joined us and also among the people of Israel having joined us each in his or her own way.
I have not adequately explained. I do not think I can because each of you has your own experience. Each one of us experiences Judaism and the joy of being Jewish through the lens of God or Torah or Israel. Only you can identify how you experience your Jewish identity and where your experience comes from. These three experiences of God, Torah and Israel are like overlapping circles, like a Venn diagram. To be in one circle often means you are in two. At times you may be in the center experiencing a moment of all three, a feeling of God, an awareness of Torah and ethnic warmth of the people of Israel. And then you slide back into the corner of just one circle. Our lives as Jews are very fluid.
Take a moment. Look around. Think deeply. Why are you here? At the very worst you are here because someone made you but still, it means you have been welcomed into the Israel circle. And even then, you might be feeling other moments of connection. Take a second. Right now, right here, are you feeling a religious connection? Then you are in the God circle. Are you aware of customs and meaning and thought and ritual and find they move you? Then you are in the Torah circle. Are you moved to be back with people who share your culture? Then you are in the Israel circle. Think of how this experience speaks to you. What is the emotion you feel or hope to feel on this day? What helps you cultivate that emotion? If you weren’t here, what would you miss?
Last night we sang Kol Nidre. The prayer Kol Nidre works on all these levels as well. It’s a prayer of humility that starts off the tone of Yom Kippur, that we go before God to ask that we be forgiven of all the oaths and promises we made that we should have kept but just, after trying, couldn’t. We have let ourselves down, we have let God down and we ask, before we go on, that God forgive us.
And, Kol Nidre is a moment of Torah where we actually had the Torah scrolls out as witnesses. The ethics and morals contained in those books are displayed before us reminding us to try to uphold them. Last year we failed in ways large and small and so we stand in front of that which we let down to apologize. The image of Kol Nidre is that of a court and so we were all part of the beit din, the judges. We wear our tallitot as judges robes and we stand for the solemnity of the proceedings.
But even if you did not know the underlying message of the visuals of Kol Nidre, there is the sound of Kol Nidre, three times that haunting melody plays, a melody that rings through the minds of the people of Israel. If nothing else, we want to hear that melody, that sound, because we hear it together and know that we are together amongst the Jewish people on a solemn day in our calendar and that feels right.
As we move through Yom Kippur, there will be moments of God, Torah and Israel. Sometimes the moment is obvious. Prayers are God centered. The ideas in the liturgy, the customs, the actual study session this afternoon night is Torah centered and the social aspect of being together, sharing an experience together, not to mention break fast tonight is truly people centered, a moment of Israel.
But most of the time, every moment is a mixed moment of some of this, some of that. That is the power of Yom Kippur and all of Jewish living. It hits us on so many levels. That is why it is sometimes hard to describe why we enjoy being Jewish, why we like being in this congregation. Being part of Temple Beth Jacob is some mixture of God, Torah and Israel. It connects us spiritually but then really it is about learning and customs but then really it is about shared experiences and community. But then really it is about all three, in different combinations.
Temple Beth Jacob is a space where your Jewish identity in all its ways can be nurtured. It is the place that allows you to revel in who you are. The truth is, many of you wonder why you belong. You question the need for such a place or at least you question your reason for engaging this place. And if that is not you, we all know people like that. And the truth is, in the excitement and work to create our joint venture, some of you may not be feeling the love. If you haven’t been over to 290 North Street, you may feel distant from your community right now. I understand. But the project has already proven successful in terms of community building and energy and, while it is a little early to close the books on it, it seems financially our goals are being met as well.
I can’t resist reminding you of amazing opportunities to come together. October 7, at 11:30: we will enjoy our sukkah and hear the latest on the Kol Yisrael project, what has been done, what needs to get done. We’ll dispel rumors and answer questions. October 19 and 20, Aaron Kintu Moses is coming to tell us about the Jews of Uganda, the Abayudaya and talk about a school he is building. Then the weekend of November 16 the Motyl chamber orchestra is coming to play music that sprang from the Holocaust. Amazing opportunities to learn, to be part of Israel past, present and future, to feel connected. In November 2013, I’ll be leading a Federation trip to Israel which surely is a connection to God, Torah and Israel all rolled into one. And Tot Shabbat is back monthly, open to anyone. Anyone: members or not. Tell your friends and neighbors.
All our holiday celebrations are fun and uplifting, Shabbat is a refreshing meaningful moment whether you join us every Friday night or just sometimes. Torah study every Shabbat morning engages the mind and soul. And there is more and more and more. So many reasons to support this institution.
Our Jewish identity wanders among the spiritual, the intellectual and the ethnic. But it should not wander alone. We have no ascetic tradition. We feel more engaged when we are with others. We feel more proud of our Judaism when we are in community. We feel more uplifted when we rise among our fellows. We can’t do that alone and we don’t want to. But don’t just listen to me.
In place of the customary Yom Kippur appeal, it’s my please to invite Gay Miller, temple president and Rachelle Harmer, treasurer to express their experience of community and what belonging means to them.
I am honored to stand before you this morning as president of Temple Beth Jacob. Clearly I am committed or ought to be.
Many who have stood here before me giving the high holiday appeal have talked about growing up Jewish and what it was like as a member of Temple Beth Jacob for many years. I cannot do either, because I did not grow up here, have been a long time member, nor was I raised as a Jew.
I am a Jew-by-choice. I have been a member of Temple Beth Jacob for about 8 years after moving back to Newburgh. Before becoming a member here, I was a member of Monroe Temple for over 20 years and before that a member of congregation Beth Israel in San Diego, California.
As with many people who choose Judaism, I was introduced when I was married. When I became pregnant we knew that our son was going to be raised Jewish and that was when we joined congregation Beth Israel, a reform congregation. I went to many programs for interfaith families and that is where my real introduction and journey to Judaism began.
This was not an instantaneous or simple journey. With the exposure come increasing levels of commitment and a desire to be fully embraced by the Jewish experience. Ultimately, after many years, I took the final step and converted.
If it were not for these well established and welcoming reform congregations, I might not have embarked on this journey.
If there were not Temple Beth Jacob with its many committed members representing a variety of perspectives this opportunity would not be available to others.
I believe that there is a reason that all of us belong to this synagogue.
Whether we are here for the holidays or Friday nights, whether we are born Jewish, are a Jew by choice or a non-Jew, whether we agree with organized religion, we are all making a statement.
We believe that being a Jew matters.
With that in mind, I am asking you to commit to making Temple Beth Jacob a viable reform congregation long into the future.
High Holy Day Appeal Speech Rachelle Harmer September 26, 2012
Two years ago, and some of you may remember that I was told I was doing the High Holy Day appeal and after much thought, I considered it to be an honor…this year I was told I would be giving part of the appeal and after much thought, I think it is an honor…but if they tell me I am doing appeal again next year, I am
So, once again I want to welcome all our congregants, families and friends.
Like the Harmers, many of you probably joined initially to give your children a Jewish Education. You may have been looking for something for yourselves, such as Torah study, Jewish culture and values…or maybe you joined to forge a stronger connection with the Jewish community or to find new friendships. Temple Beth Jacob is here for you today and hopefully for many more years to come.
We at TBJ literally survive from day to day on what monies come in throughout the year. Membership dues cover about half our budget. We rely on other avenues like fundraising, which includes our gift card-scrip program, donations and this annual appeal to balance our budget. We have no financial angel to shower us with unlimited funds.
Your generous support is needed more than ever during these challenging economic times. Unfortunately, some of our congregants have lost their jobs and are having difficulty making their mortgage payments and paying other household bills.
Perhaps you can give a little more this year to cover for those who have no choice. But always remember, and I’ve said this before….never give until it hurts….but give until you feel good! Last year we raised a little over $25,000. at our annual appeal. Our goal this year is to increase that amount by at least $290.00 which symbolizes our new address..
Please help us keep Temple Beth Jacob alive and vibrant. As a family we must work together. Each and every one of us must assume the responsibility and obligation as well as take the pleasure and pride to ensure that Temple Beth Jacob is here for our children and our children’s children. Give today, so that we can look forward to tomorrow so we will be here for the generations to come.
With your help, we look forward to Temple Beth Jacob’s future with hope and faith that the year 5773 will be one blessed with peace, prosperity and good deeds. May we all be inscribed in the book of life and may the coming year be filled with good health, laughter and joy and with a renewed commitment to our Jewish Community.
Please take out your pledge cards, turn down what you can and hand them to one of our Officers who will now come around.