Boker tov! Happy Cinco de Mayo! Bienvenidos! Brukhim habaim! Welcome.
At our Bar Mitzvah yesterday, I began by suggesting to Nathan Caropreso, our Bar Mitzvah, that “all of us are smarter than one of us”-an ode not only to the value of collective brainpower but the blessing of collaboration and teamwork. We are here today to take account of our progress as a kehillah kedosha, as a sacred community, and to set a course of cooperation and communal sustainability.
Our Torah reads: Kedoshim t’h’yu: You shall be holy—you in plural. Whether it’s honoring our parents or not standing idly by while others suffer or loving our neighbors as ourselves—our sacred work as a Jews requires a village. Our efforts require well-practiced relationships—a kehillah kedosha.
In this spirit, I wish to give great thanks to Dan Smolensky. Your presidency has been outstanding—dedicated, thoughtful, and entrepreneurial. And you’ve been an amazing partner. I am grateful to you and our Board of Trustees for turning your shared gaze inward and really learning to be more collectively analytical about our community, its successes and its areas of possibility and growth. And, you have been a good and honest friend, helping me evolve as a leader and as a person. I am grateful to your family, Amy, Nathan, and Leo, for sharing so much of you over these last two years.
Leah Jones, I am grateful to you for stepping up to be our next president. You are smart, creative, and entrepreneurial, as well. I look forward to working with you and making an impact together. I am especially inspired by your passion for our legacy institution, as evidenced by your leadership of the beautiful weekend of celebration honoring our dear Cantor Shelly Friedman. As we approach year 140 as a congregation, I know with your vision we’ll explore how we as a time-honored, light-bearing community can shed new, nimble, and fresh light.
This year, we participated in a benchmarking study with numerous congregations in the Reform Community. I am proud to say many of you participated in the survey—a staggering number—like half the congregation. And one thing is absolutely clear from the numbers. We love Emanuel and remain very loyal to it. What is also clear is that we can improve fundamental categories like programming, governance, and fundraising. We’ve already made progress in all three:
● We’ve installed Shalom Hartman’s iEngage Curriculum to improve our commitment to Israel education and hope to involve at least 20% or more of our adult learners. My thanks to Jay Rothenberg, Ben Abrams, and Cassandra Ruzkowski for your support. ● Thanks to past President Marlene Dodinval we are taking a close look at how we lead and how we train our leaders. ● Thanks to Judy Gadiel and our fundraising team we raised a generous amount for our Legacy Weekend.
● And thanks to our 5959 and Blue House teams, we are- over countless hours- studying ways we can diversify our revenue streams and better sustain our community and our mission. For those of you who participated in our Escape from Egypt Escape Room, you got a feel for what we have in mind for creative diversification. There are big and small ideas. Many thanks to Leah Jones, David Rakofsky, and all the youth volunteers, who joyously welcomed and helped participants break out of Egypt.
Our mission reads: At Emanuel Congregation, we open our doors to all who seek richer, more meaningful lives. Together, our diverse community engages in prayer, lifelong learning and tikkun olam (repairing the world), empowering adults and children alike to apply Jewish values to our everyday lives and to be a collective force for good.
In addition to our advances in education, leadership, and fiduciary development, other shared efforts have made a big difference toward fulfilling our mission as collective force for good: ● In social justice thanks to Laurel Crown and our Tikkun Olam team ● In inclusion of people with different abilities thanks to Lloyd Bacharach and our Inclusion Team ● In engagement of 20s, 30s, and 40s thanks to Phoebe Skowronski and her Edge Team ● In intergenerational learning thanks to our Director of Jewish Learning & Engagement Tani Prell Epstein and her iExpress team. ● And, I mustn’t forget those who have helped us immerse through travel and engagement away from EC: Participants in our community retreat at OSRUI, Israel travelers (three trips in a year-and-a-half numbering close to 60 people)—We are considering future congregational trips such as a social justice oriented trip to the southern United States, and maybe something more exotic like Morocco, or a five day weekend in Berlin or Amsterdam.
In the next three years, and I’m thankful to continue serving as your rabbi, we will continue to fortify our mission, inside these walls and outside of them. After 140 years, I think it’s fair to say we are built to last. But in order to sustain our community, we will have to be more innovative, creative, and outward-facing.
Before I close, I want you to know how grateful I am for our professional team- Shelly Friedman, Tani Prell Epstein, Jessica Katz, Nicole Tuthill, Lorraine Fogarty, Jose Pagan, Chris Rabago, and Jessica Ceciliano. Each of you cares so much and contributes so well to our sacred community. Our collective effort matters. Kol hakavod!
And most importantly for me personally, I thank by family. Betsy, Cara, and Jared, you create near-constant space for me to serve Emanuel Congregation. As I tend to the desires and care for the needs of our community, and as I also help us dream for our future and build up to our vast potential, the demands challenge at oft-constant rate--like two-full time jobs. You give me space to serve but also remind me if I am not the man at home that I strive to be on the bimah, then I have more work to do. Thanks for being the essence and embodiment of my sacred community--my kehillah kedosha. And thanks for the sacrifices you make. You bring me countless blessings. I love you!