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Thursday, October 13, 2016

5777/2016 - Temple President High Holiday Spiel

L’Shanah Tova!

It’s hard to believe that it is already 5777 and time to deliver my second – and final – “President’s Message” to the Congregation. This year, I will try to be mindful of the recommendations for these presentations: you need a beginning, you need an ending, and you need as little as possible between the two. So, in thinking about what to say this year I came up with three options: 1) just give the same speech I gave last year (even I cannot remember what I said), 2) give Michelle Obamas’ 2012 Democratic Convention speech (seems like it got a good response again this year at the Republican Convention) or, 3) write something new.

I, of course, have opted for “something new” but, while waiting for inspiration to strike, I figured I’d see what other folks in my situation ended up doing. So, I have been actively procrastinating, reading and plagiarizing from the High Holiday speeches of dozens of temple presidents posted on the internet – and now, I feel rested (having dozed off while reading more than a handful of these). And, after reading some really bad ones, I feel like I have already been punished for sins I have yet to commit!

One recurring theme in these speeches centers on Temple leadership and volunteering. One president pointed out that there is a long Jewish tradition of not volunteering to be a leader, but of agreeing to serve if called. For example, Moses did not volunteer to lead the Hebrew slaves out of Egypt and, when chosen (by God), made all sorts of excuses as to why he should not be the one to do so. We all know how that turned out.

But why do we seek reluctant leaders, those who only step up when asked? Maybe because many of us question whether or not we can take on the responsibility or have the skills needed to be an effective leader; but if someone else believes that we do, maybe we are willing to try? Of course, if God asks you, it is hard to say no (God being all-knowing and all). But if the Nominations Committee asks you, think twice before trying to convince them and yourself that you don’t have the time or skills to lead. If you are asked, somebody believes that you do!

When I was first asked to take on a leadership position at Temple Sinai, I was surprised and said “No, not now.” When I was asked again, I agreed to serve. Later, in my first year as Treasurer, I was asked by a friend and fellow Temple Sinai congregant “Why in the world would you agree to serve as Treasurer?”, which made me think: “They’re right – why did I agree to this?!” But then I thought about what I was learning and contributing and about the wonderfully talented and generous people I was meeting and working with, and I realized how fortunate I was to have agreed to do this. The next year, this very same person, by the way, also answered a similar call in the affirmative and stepped up to a leadership position on our Board. So, volunteer (we will not think any less of you!) or, if asked, please do agree to serve – you will not regret it!

Another theme of these speeches is to take stock of the highlights of the previous year at the synagogue. Gosh, where to start? Well, we had an amazing three-day celebration of Temple Sinai’s 50th Anniversary – we had special music, special worship, an evening of Jewish humor with Rabbi Bob Alper, and an afternoon of music, food and family fun. Most importantly, we had lots of people helping celebrate our Jubilee: current members, old friends who had moved away, and new friends from the community. A splendid time was had by all!

Also this year: with the help of Dahg, Temple Sinai’s house band, we rocked Shabbat; we sang together at our Folk Services on the first Friday of each month; and we got an early start on Shabbat with a monthly early service led by fellow congregants. We explored the absurdities of this year’s election with a home-grown hilarious Purim Spiel, we marched with Pride, we donated our blood, we donated and we delivered food, we learned about (and tasted!) chocolate, we explored Modern Israel, we gathered for a 2nd night Seder, and we ate BBQ (totally kosher!). We prayed and we learned, we laughed and we cried together.

Most exciting for me were the joint folk/youth services we had on the first Fridays in January through May this year. To see our religious school children leading and participating in these services – from the oldest about to start their Bat and Bar Mitzvah preparation to the little pitselehs who could not contain their excitement – and to see their parents and fellow congregants kvell was truly a magical and inspiring experience. Oh, and did I mention the food? Hosted by the parents and members of our committees, each youth/folk service was followed by a themed dinner. These were a big hit and will resume again in 2017, so mark your calendars now!

And there’s more: just look at the calendar on the Temple website and take note of the events that interest you – and if you have an idea for something that is not on the schedule, let’s talk and see if we can add it!

Ok, so at this point in most President speeches, there is a humorous interlude. Most of you who know me recognize that I do not appreciate humor, nor do I feel it appropriate to bring such levity into these oh so serious remarks during the holiest of our religious observances.

So, instead, let me tell you a story from my very first Board meeting as President. Rabbi happened to be away at a CCAR retreat that month and so I asked our Spiritual Committee Chair to present the D’var for the meeting. It did not go well, so I asked Rabbi upon his return what the tradition was for presenting the D’var during his absence. He asked why and I explained that when the Spiritual Committee Chair started giving the D’var, they were interrupted by Board members insisting that when the Rabbi was away, we skip the D’var, but then another faction on the Board insisted that the D’var continue and there was yelling and screaming that only stopped when I broke down in tears, sobbing. “Well, that,” said Rabbi, “is our tradition.”

Common to most speeches is also some kind of message – something to get folks to thinking and discussing something other than the bad jokes they’ve been subjected to.

This time of year, I begin thinking about cycles in nature and how they are represented in the Jewish faith, in our holidays and rituals. You know, cycles like the moon orbiting the Earth every month, the Earth circling around the sun each year. We experience and celebrate the passing of time by marking the seasons: winter, spring, mud, winter, mud, spring, mud, summer (ok, these are Vermont cycles!). And the holidays follow: from Rosh Hashanah, to Yom Kippur, to Sukkot, Simchat Torah, Chanukah, Purim, Pesach, Shavuot, Tish’a B’Av and then back to Rosh Hashanah. And every seven days, we rest - Shabbat.

We see cycles everywhere: in the school year, in agriculture, in our climate, in business and the economy, in music. There’s the carbon cycle, the Krebbs cycle, the water cycle, the Carnot cycle, even the seemingly never ending Election cycle. Sometimes we have to wait for a long time to even notice a cycle (most of us will only experience Halley’s Comet once in our lives – next up: 2061, mark your calendars!). And sometimes things cycle so quickly, we think of them as being steady-state. Lather, rinse, repeat.

Cycles are reassuring – it comforting to know that the sun will rise tomorrow to start a new daily cycle. But with each cycle, something changes. Sometimes the change is almost imperceptible; other times, the change is profound. Each year, the moon moves an additional 1.6 inches away from the Earth and the Earth’s rotation slows. But with each passing year, our (once) infant children, grow bigger and smarter by leaps and bounds until they tower over us and can no longer count on us to answer their increasingly complex questions.

So, even with each cycle, there is change. We do not end up back where we started. Each time we go through a cycle, we either progress or we regress a bit. Each year, while my kids get smarter and faster, I seem to slow down, feel more aches and pains, and take just a bit longer to remember where I parked my car (or worse: where I left my keys . . . oh, they are in my hands!).

Cycles, then, are less like circles and more like spirals – our starting position changes with each cycle.

As Jews, we recognized early on that progress with each cycle depended on our working to make things better. We have to work for peace. We have to study if we are to gain knowledge. We need to anticipate the changes that will happen if we leave things unattended, and then work to counteract those changes if we are to see progress.

But this work is not free – it takes time, energy, resources, and attention; and these are in limited supply. There is only so much we can spare. If we work for progress in one area, then we have fewer (or no) resources in another.

I am talking about sustainability – and from my Jewish perspective, I see that this has always been a part of our faith and tradition. In his talk last year at the Summit of Conscience for the Climate, Nigel Savage (who leads the Jewish sustainability organization Hazon), said:
“the Jewish people have been thinking about sustainable energy ever since God spoke to Moses out of a bush that was burning but never consumed. Moses might have been the first environmentalist: He recycled a staff into a snake, he got Egypt to turn off all its lights for three days, and he convinced an entire nation to go on a 40-year nature hike.”

Torah teaches us that God has given us control over the natural world, but also that we have the responsibility to care for it. So, we can’t just consume and take what was created, we must replenish what we have taken. But simply re-creating what we have consumed is not truly sustainable. Each day, the world’s population increases by nearly a quarter of a million people – for sustainable consumption, what we replenish needs to increase, not simply equal what we have consumed.
So how can we repair the world (Tikkun Olam) when faced with this reality? Judaism provides insights and guidance that can direct us towards the right path. When we do mitzvot, we are giving back, replenishing what was given to us and to others. Each of us needs to ask ourselves what we are able to do; and recognizing that we must do something is the first step.

But sustainability is not just a physical concept – this also applies to how we, as people, interact with each other. How we treat our family and friends as well as strangers and sworn enemies. Whether we act with love and compassion or hatred and cruelty. Jewish ideas about social justice, speaking up to protect and advocate for those who are most vulnerable, guide us here.

We cannot do this only as individuals – if we act as a community, we amplify our actions in ways that we can never do alone. If we act locally, we can contribute to and be a part of a global solution.
Our congregation, Temple Sinai, is one such community. And as much as I marveled at the wonderful and varied activities across our 50th Anniversary weekend last June, I also wondered whether our Temple Sinai community would be around to celebrate a 100th Anniversary. How sustainable are we? It takes a lot of work to keep our community healthy, to keep it moving forward. We have a small but dedicated staff, but we rely on our members to serve on and chair committees, to provide leadership on the Board, to volunteer their time.

And we are nearing the end of another cycle, the Rabbinic cycle. As you know, Rabbi Glazier, after more than 35 years as the spiritual leader of our Congregation, will be retiring in 2018. We have initiated a search process that must engage everyone at Temple Sinai and will require active involvement if we are to be successful. If you are interested in serving on one of the four search subcommittees or just want to help out with the search process, please indicate your interest using the online form on the Rabbinic Search tab ( on our website; take one of the paper forms on your way out today as a reminder (you can also fill out the paper form, but be sure to return it to Temple no later than October 15th).

While the search is important, exciting, and bittersweet, it is the start of this process that is most important. It is a process of self-discovery for us, where we as a Congregation explore who we are, where we are as reform Jews, and what we aspire to become. For this, we need to engage everyone in this discussion.

The Board began this process earlier this year when we reconsidered Temple Sinai’s Mission and Vision, statements that try to encapsulate who we are and who we aspire to be. But these are starting points, snapshots of our thinking today, and they are subject to change based on this process. So, whether you are able and interested in being part of the search process or not, we want to hear from everyone. Only then can we discover who we are and where we are headed, so that our vibrant progressive reform Jewish community will not only be sustained, but thrive and prosper with each cycle of new years.

I wish all of you and your families a sweet, healthy New Year, filled with joy and naches.

L’Shana Tova,

Joel Goldberg

Tuesday, September 6, 2016

A Mission and a Vision for Temple Sinai

I know that you scour the Temple Sinai website looking for new content to devour each day, so it will come as no surprise to you that: we have new Mission and Vision statements! (No, really, please keep reading, I promise this blog posting will pick up . . . )

You might be thinking: “I did not even know we HAD Mission or Vision Statements, let alone new ones!”

Well, we did – and we do. You may have noticed them in the Board ad in the Jubilee Commemorative Booklet.

“Ok, but, just what are Mission and Vision Statements anyway?”

Our Mission Statement explains who we are, while our Vision Statement serves as a guide to where we would like to be in the future. Take a look:

Temple Sinai’s Mission: We are a diverse, egalitarian, and inclusive community of Jews and interfaith families.  We joyfully embrace Judaism as a way of life through prayer, music, social action, celebrating Jewish holidays, lifelong learning, and life cycle events. Through these activities we seek to promote spiritual growth, moral values, and the social welfare of our community.
Temple Sinai’s Vision: Temple Sinai strives to be a joyful, energetic, accepting, innovative, caring, and accessible faith community. We choose to practice and teach Jewish traditions in our community, so that Jews and Judaism will continue to flourish both in Vermont and in an ever-changing world. We believe that support for a safe and prosperous State of Israel is an important part of our Jewish identity.

And for future reference, you can always find them online, here:

Why are these important or relevant to us, you might ask? Truth be told, these look fairly pedestrian, with aspirations and affirmations that seem to fit well with what we expect from Temple Sinai. Who could argue with being “joyful” or “accepting” and “inclusive”?
The Temple Sinai Board, that’s who!

What seems to be so obvious (now) engaged the Board in some fascinating discussions about who we are (Mission), what we aspire to (Vision), as well as who we are not and what we could not agree upon. From initial drafts crafted by Ginny Greenblott and Jan Orlansky, we debated, argued (ok, we talked loudly), nibbled and chopped, rearranged and rewrote sentences and finally voted on our final preferences to get these two statements.
Why is this important? The Board acts to serve the Congregation – if we are not clear as to who we are (Mission) and what our values are, then how are we able to ensure that what we do at Temple Sinai focuses on what is most important? We must know what we aspire to be (Vision) if we are to ever be able to stretch and possibly reach as high as we wish. We must know who we are (Mission) and why we exist if we are to be able to act to build and sustain a cohesive community.

Ok, so now what? These are not the Ten Commandments and we are not going to “inscribe them on the doorposts of our houses and upon our gates”, but we do need to be mindful of them when we are thinking about how to develop meaningful programming, how to resolve conflicting needs in the Congregation or, more generally, how we can embody the ideas and values represented in these statements in the things that we do (and in the way that we do them) at Temple Sinai.

If we use these statements as guides to our actions, we will not need to emblazon them everywhere we look at Temple Sinai as we will see them embedded and reflected in our programming, and in how we interact with fellow Congregants and the broader community (but you will find them posted at various times and locations so we can be mindful of them). They should be a reminder of who and what we are and aspire to rather than directives at odds with our values. And these statements are dynamic and will change as we change, molded by our process of measuring our actions against the standards set in these two statements.

What do you think of our new Vision and Mission statements? Please let me know! I look forward to hearing what we got right and suggestions for how we can do better.


Monday, March 21, 2016

March 21, 2016 - President's Blog

I remember when we used to have a print copy of the Shofar sent to each family at Temple Sinai each month. It's been a while since this was done, but I remember turning to the President's column to see what they had to say each month, and wondering how they could find something new to write about each month. During my time as President of Temple Sinai, I have never lacked for topics to write about - I've only lacked the TIME to do the writing!

But I think that this is an important way to communicate to our Temple Sinai community and I have resolved to find the time to write something - regardless of how short (or long!) - each and every month this year. If you read something you like or would like to know more about, please let me know. If you read something that awakens a concern or motivates you to become more involved or to respond to something I've written, please let me know those thoughts as well!

Each month I plan on highlighting some of the things that have been going on at Temple that you may or may not be aware of. The good news is that there is a LOT to report on and it is not too late to put things on your calendar to attend and/or be a part of. This month, let me start with: Shabbat Services.

Yes, you know, they are on Friday evenings and, when there are B'nai Mitzvot, Saturday mornings, too. Maybe you did not know that the first Friday of every month is a Folk Service that starts at 5:30 pm, rather than the usual 7:30 pm? Maybe you did not also know that, starting in January of this year, these Folk Services have been a joint effort with students in our religious school (each month, a different grade level)? I can tell you from personal experience these past three months, that seeing our Religious School students leading parts of our Friday night worship has been nothing short of a delight. To see these youngest members of our Congregation reading prayers (in Hebrew and in English), describing the parts of our worship service, and teaching us new things about Jewish faith and traditions, makes me kvell. In addition, after the service, the families of the students, along with the members of two of our Temple Sinai committees, provide dinner for the Congregation. These have been inspiring and meaning-filled evenings and, if you have not yet had the opportunity to attend and participate, please mark your calendars for Friday, April 1st - no foolin', this is not to be missed.

I mentioned that services are regularly at 7:30 pm on the remaining Fridays of each month. For some, whether those with young families or - in my case - those who have a hard time staying awake past 9 pm, this can be too late for regular attendance on the remaining Friday's of the month. Beginning in January, the Spiritual Committee (led by Marc Kamhi) authorized an earlier service to be offered at 6 pm on the last Friday of each month, and led by lay members of the Congregation. In January, Marc Kamhi and Jeff Solomon led the service, while in February, Marc teamed up with Bruce Hicken to lead this early service. I attended both services and, I will confess, that it was nice to be at Temple at a time that better fit with the timing of my conscious state and, it was inspirational to see fellow congregants taking on the responsibility of leading those of us in attendance in worship, prayer and song! The next one will be on March 25th (this Friday!) and I know that Marc welcomes all who wish to attend as well as those who may be interested in helping lead these early services. These will continue on the last Friday of each month through May (Why? During the summer months - June, July and August - Folk and regular services are held every Friday at 6 pm).

What about "regular" Friday night services? I don't mean to downplay our weekly Friday evening worship that - I hope - everyone is aware of. Many attend every Friday (you could say, "religiously") and there is a wonderful community of those who are there each week (or each week that they are able). Periodically, Rabbi invites guest speakers who enrich our worship with their presentations about issues and organization's that both inform as well as prompt discussion, debate, and action. We share in lifecycle events, from baby namings to remembering and celebrating the memories of those family members who are no longer here with us. For many of us, we look forward to learning something new about our faith, our culture, Torah, as Rabbi teaches us in his D'var each week.

You should also know that all of this does not just "happen" each Friday. Our Temple Administrator - Michael Levine - prepares a weekly handout that lists the week's Yahrzeits, birthdays, and anniversaries as well as upcoming events at Temple Sinai. A member of the Temple Sinai Board sits on the Bimah and starts our Friday evening worship with some announcements of events and classes and Temple programming that might be of interest to the Congregation.

And there is food - an Oneg - that is sponsored by members of the Congregation each week. Sometimes these are special oneg/events sponsored by Temple Sinai committees or groups, but usually they are the provided by members who want to take the opportunity to sponsor the gathering of our congregants and guests in the social hall after our Friday evening worship. Are you wondering how YOU can offer an Oneg? It's easy and it is fun and there is a signup available online on the Temple Sinai website (click on “Oneg Schedule” under the “Community” heading). Are you interested but unsure of what or how to do an Oneg? We'd love to pair you with an experienced Oneg offerer for your first time! Just let me know that you are interested and we will pair you with someone more experienced so that you can also share the naches that comes with sponsoring an Oneg!

That’s all for this month – hope to see you at Shabbat services soon!

Tuesday, February 2, 2016

Board Installation Service Remarks

January 29, 2016

Shabbat Shalom!
Rabbi invited me to say a few words about Temple Leadership tonight – a fitting topic at this service where we install our Board.

Temple Sinai is not unlike many other not-for-profit organizations in that we have a paid staff and volunteer governance. And, like many other organizations, we started as a community of people with a shared passion and commitment who carved out time from their lives to create, nurture, and support that community. As the community grew, it became necessary to add paid staff to be able to support the activities and environment that attracted people to be a part of that community. In a faith-based community, such as Temple Sinai, first we hired a Rabbi to serve as our spiritual leader. And, as we continued to grow, and as the community’s expectations grew, we began adding to our paid staff (often recognizing some core volunteer commitments as meriting financial compensation).

As a result, we have an amazing staff – and, for what we as a congregation expect, are able to meet those expectations with a very lean operation. However, sometimes having such an accomplished and passionate paid support staff can create the illusion that we are not in need of lay leadership. After all, we are busy – we have “day jobs” with responsibilities that often extend into the evenings and weekends and holidays – and it is easy to think of OUR role as one that supports what our staff does . . . to begin thinking of Temple Sinai as a pay-for-service organization, rather than as a spiritual community.

This is a slippery slope. If all we are is an organization providing services to its members for an annual fee, then we are no longer a spiritual community dedicated to serving, embracing and engaging our Jewishness . . . supporting the three pillars of Judaism: prayer, study, and good deeds.

I think of the four children in the Passover story and one child serves as a cautionary example, when they ask: “What does this mean to YOU?” If we become a service organization rather than a community, we begin to think of Temple Sinai as “YOU” rather than as “US”.  If we expect to be served, then we isolate ourselves from the congregation and don’t accept the responsibilities that come with being part of a community.

This is why it is so important that we have a strong and committed and active lay leadership in Temple Sinai. So that we are able to shape and direct, build and develop our community. This takes commitment and this takes time – but not so much time as commitment, as we can contribute in ways that fit for us. Serve on a committee (where the real detail work is done) and you can see the immediate impact of your efforts. Chair a committee and oversee and lead the discussion and implementation of the group’s ideas. Serve on the Board and see how it all fits together.

But this is not like volunteering just anywhere – committing your time to Temple governance reinforces your community, your faith and provides opportunities for learning and personal growth. Our Board members all participate in governance at levels that feed into the Board. They represent the Temple in the broader community as well as represent to the Board constituencies within the congregation. Each Board member sits on the Bimah a couple of times each year as a representative of the Board. They host onegs and help make our community more welcoming for visitors and new members. In short: they act as role models for an engaged congregation.

Let me close by acknowledging and thanking our wonderful staff for providing the support that enables each of us to contribute to the Temple Sinai community. And let me thank the members of the Board (please stand!) for taking on a leadership role, by giving of their time and wisdom, and leading by example so that we all have a more meaningful, deeper, more connected Jewish community at Temple Sinai.

Shabbat Shalom!

Wednesday, December 16, 2015

Annual Meeting Comments – December 6, 2015

Well, Temple Sinai has survived a year of my Presidency . . . which really shows how important everyone BUT the President is!

But, seriously, we survive and thrive as a community because of the willingness of so many dedicated and talented people to lead and contribute to Temple Sinai.

So, I want to start by thanking folks – people who really inspire me with their passion, professionalism, and their generosity.

Did you enjoy your breakfast? Linda Retchin and her crew of helpers (Barbara Burroughs, Stefanie Marko, Len Rubin, Marjie Sheppard, and Jeff Solomon) prepared it all for you for this, our 10th Annual Annual Meeting Breakfast. And all for a small contribution – where else can you feed your entire family breakfast for just ten dollars?!). Thank you, Linda and your band of helpers!

Did you notice that we have an AED in the building? Check it out! (Hint: head towards the library.) Thank you Rabbi for purchasing and donating this to Temple – we will have training for the Board in January and while I hope we never have to use it, just having it here is essential for ensuring that we are able to provide immediate assistance to those who may need it. Thank you Rabbi!

We have a remarkably talented staff that are dedicated to leading and helping serve our members and community. Even the Board-sponsored Oneg honoring our staff last Friday evening (December 4th) could not have happened without the help of Michael and Ibrahim. While we rely on Rabbi for his spiritual leadership, Judy for directing our educational activities, Mark and Wendy and Meg for their music, Ibrahim for keeping the building clean and ready for our every activity, and Michael for holding everything together and doing things financial and physical, this small but mighty group ensure that the day-to-day operations of our synagogue run smoothly, working with the lay leadership to help us transform our ideas into reality. Thank you to our amazing staff!
Have you ever wondered what it might be like to lead or serve on one (or more) of our Congregation’s dozen or so committees? The people who lead these committees are responsible for the activities and governance of Temple Sinai. Take a look at the packet of Committee Reports and the list of names of the lay leadership on the first page. Each Committee Chair leads a group of Congregants focused on the responsibilities of their Committee. It takes a lot of people to keep Temple Sinai going, and I am in awe of the work that so many of our members volunteer to do.

If you are interested in being more involved – there is something for everyone – contact me or a Committee Chair. If there is something we are not doing here that you think we should be involved in, contact me or the appropriate Committee Chair. Read the reports, listen to the Committee presentations later on this morning, ask questions and see where you can make a contribution to Temple life. You will get to know some truly remarkable people and have a more fulfilling connection to the Congregation. Thank you to all of our members who lead and serve on our Committees!

What about the Board of Trustees? We have more than a dozen members of our Congregation who serve on the Board. The Board meets every month (except for December) for about two hours . . . and sometimes a little bit longer. We act on proposals and recommendations that come from the Committees; we schmooze, we eat, and we discuss the merits of the proposals and then vote and act on them. One of the joys of being President is working with such a delightful group of people who are thoughtful and come with such a diverse array of perspectives, talents and skills. Everyone on the Board also has roles outside of our monthly meetings, whether Chairing committees or overseeing our finances or education, etc. I cannot thank the members of our Board enough for their hard work and dedication to serving Temple Sinai, and I hope that you recognize how important their contributions are to Temple.
Lastly, I want to thank all of you – you make this community a family and, whether you are hearing this live at the Annual Meeting or reading it online in my Blog after the meeting, your contributions to and participation in Temple events, activities, governance, etc. help define who we are. Thank you for choosing to be a part of this Reform Jewish Community!

Sorry, but I am not quite done yet.

We have a big year coming up – we celebrate our 50th Anniversary next June and there is (yet another) committee making plans to recognize this milestone in Temple Sinai’s history.

But our history is the result of planning and vision and applying core values as a foundation to what we do. We are facing a turning point in our Congregation and we must plan for the future if we, as an institution, are to be around to celebrate our 100th Anniversary in 50 years.
I see two major initiatives that need to be addressed in 2016; two initiatives that are critical to our continued success.

First: we need to find out who we are. We need to determine what is important to us, what defines us as a Congregation. What are our core values? What is the vision our Congregation and how is that reflected in our mission? And how does this inform and guide what we do and how we do it?

We have been so fortunate to have a spiritual leader – Rabbi Glazier – who has been with us for more than 3 decades, who has seen us transform from a small band of Reform Jews without a permanent home to the institution we are today. But with his impending retirement in just two years, we must begin planning now for the inevitable transition to a new Rabbi.

This transition is an opportune time for self-reflection and assessment – both so that we are clear as to who we are, but also so that we can better find a new Rabbi who shares our values and vision for the future.

This is a very exciting proposition which will involve outreach to everyone in the congregation as well as Reform Jews in our community and is the very first step in our Rabbinic transition planning process.

Second: we need to address the fiscal and physical (infrastructure) challenges that we struggle with every year. As we discuss the budget (I promise we will get to it soon!), you will see that even with a balanced annual operating budget, we need to address the accumulated debt that has resulted from the past few years of annual budget deficits. Mind you, we are in a strong financial position – we own our building outright and we have an endowment of more than $200,000. But last year we ran a $16,000 deficit and, if we are fortunate, we will have a deficit no greater than that this year. This deficit is real and means that we need to borrow money to cover the losses each year, if we cannot find another source of funds.

We also have a beautiful building and grounds, and while we budget each year for routine maintenance expenses, we have not addressed major periodic maintenance expenses, resulting in deferred maintenance that we do not have the funds to address (e.g., paving the parking lot). Again, this may mean we need to borrow money to address the most critical of these issues, if we cannot find another source of funds.

To address these two significant initiatives, we will charge two working groups to focus on these issues. While we will draw membership from the Board and relevant Committees, it is essential that we also engage members of the Congregation who are interested in these issues and are willing to serve on an active, but limited time-frame commitment, working group. These will be groups where your input and expertise can have a profound impact on the future of Temple Sinai and I encourage everyone to think about whether these might be areas in which you would like to be involved in the coming year!

And, finally, thank YOU for your attention – I look forward to working with you on these exciting initiatives this coming year.

Wednesday, September 16, 2015

5776/2015 - Temple President High Holiday Message

L’Shanah Tovah!

Of course, before I get started, I have an announcement – Temple Sinai is turning 50 next June and we have a committee working hard on programming an amazing celebratory weekend. To help you get in the mood for the celebration – and to help relieve those tummy rumblings after we finish up this morning’s service – stop by their table on your way out for some cider, bagels and cream cheese and a bit of Temple Sinai trivia.

Now, on to business!

There are three persistent themes underlying all Temple President remarks during the High Holidays: 1) Ask for money, 2) Insist that you will keep your remarks brief, and 3) Use them as an opportunity to practice material for your upcoming Comedy Central stand-up special. I hope to do at least one, but no more than two of these during my remarks over the next 2-3 hours . . .

Actually, I have just a few things that I would like to touch on this morning.

First, and most important, I want to acknowledge and thank people. If you remember only one thing when my droning ends, it should be this: Temple Sinai is a community that relies on the generosity of many many people. But I am not speaking about money here. I am referring to the generosity of their time, their spiritual commitment and tireless support of this institution. We rely on our community to volunteer their time to ensure that our very modest – but outstanding – paid staff can do amazing things.

While I may be here as the face of the organization, Temple Sinai is what it is because of folks who serve on the Board, serve on committees, chair committees, volunteer to build things or play music or teach students (whether young or older), lead or assist with services, serve the community . . . the list is endless. Whether you know it or not, whether you come here just once a year or every week, it is because of your friends, fellow congregants, and committed community members that Temple Sinai is here for you.

And here is my “ask”: if you see something interesting that you can and would like to contribute to or be a part of – we’d love to have YOU be involved in making these wonderful things happen. And just as important: if you DON’T see something that we, as a Congregation, as a community, SHOULD be doing – we’d love to have you work with us to make it happen. We know that time is our most precious resource, so I want to acknowledge and thank all of you who have been so generous and to thank – in advance - those of you willing and interested in being involved.

But why do we get involved? Why are we a part of this community? And why do we, as Jews, always seems to answer a question with another question (Why not) Let me try to address this by taking one step back and asking a more fundamental question: what does it mean – to each of us - to be Jewish?

Well, part of being Temple President entails thinking and reading about being Jewish. Much of this results in realizing how little I really know and have left to learn. One thing that I have learned is that we all experience “Jewishness” in different ways. Many of us decided to become Jewish, while some were just born that way. Some of us may not be Jewish, but have Jewish children, a Jewish spouse or partner or friend or relative. Each of us has our own sense of what it means to be Jewish based on our unique circumstances and experiences – and there are as many stories as there are people here today.

My story is not special. I was born this way – my parents were Jewish and so am I. I grew up feeling like I was Jewish. My parents bought homes in towns where there were significant populations of Jews and we always belonged to a nearby synagogue, where my two brothers and I attended religious school and were Bar Mitzvah’d and confirmed. In fact, the Jewish population of the town I grew up in near Rochester, New York, was so large that our public schools closed for the High Holidays. I never thought that I was a minority and I never felt like a minority, nor did I experience any anti-Semitism.

In fact, I had a very strong, positive Jewish identity. I recall trying to figure out whether John Lennon or Ringo – with their “roman” noses – were the Jewish members of the Beatles (I just assumed that some of them were Jewish). When I heard Peter, Paul and Mary sing “Go Tell It On the Mountain”, I assumed it was a Passover song and then concluded that they must be Jewish. As it turned out, Peter (Yarrow) was Jewish but, of course, I was wrong about the Beatles – although, Brian Epstein, their manager, was Jewish. Still, when I discovered that someone famous or special was Jewish – like: Isaac Asimov, Mel Brooks, Bob Dylan, The Marx Brothers, Albert Einstein, Leonard Nimoy or, more recently, Ruth Bader Ginsburg and Scarlett Johansson – I felt proud knowing that we shared a common heritage.

But I was not a particularly observant, religious Jew. I identified with the central tenets of our faith, but rebelled against some of the rigid structures of organized religion. So, my tefillen and tallit stayed in their velvet zippered bag following my Bar Mitzvah and I never took to wearing a yarmulke except when facing extreme pressure to do so (like when my grandfather – a cantor – offered me his yarmulke if I agreed to wear it at a life cycle event). Note, I have nothing against wearing a yarmulke – they just never seem to stay on my head . . . I am waiting for Velcro implants . . .

But when I first traveled to Israel, still in High School, I felt different than I did here in the United States. In Israel, I was no longer a minority and it felt that way. There was a freedom to just be Jewish and not to be concerned about whether or not anyone would understand what I was up to, like having to explain absences from work on Rosh Hashanah or Yom Kippur. I was in a country that had institutionalized these practices, even those (like kosher rules) that, being a vegetarian, I did not need to pay attention to. It was fascinating to see an entire country that implemented Jewish practices that, here in a predominantly Christian country, we would have to work to achieve. In Israel, there was no need to assimilate into a non-Jewish society; everything shut down for Shabbat – kind of like Christmas here, except that even Chinese restaurants and movie theatres were closed. Instead of working to “fit” into the societal structures, I found that the structures built into Israel already “fit.”

It is hard to describe this feeling, unless you have experienced it. I his book “Covering,” Kenji Yoshino, a Yale Law Professor and writer, relates the story of “a nonobservant Jew, describing how it felt to go to Israel for the first time. He . . . had been asked by his peers why he ‘hadn’t been yet.’ He . . . had resisted into adulthood. Yet when the El Al plane touched down in Tel Aviv, and the passengers broke into . . .  ‘Hatikvah,’ he wanted to kiss the earth.”

We all struggle with our identities. Whether religious, ethnic, political, sexual, gender, or physical, we try to reconcile how our genetics and life experiences conspire to create the unique individuals that we are. And, rather than face these alone, we are relieved to find that there are others that share some of these qualities. Whether we choose to ascribe any meaning to these associations and whether they prompt us to feel an affinity with those with those who share these common bonds, is part of how we define who we are.

Take, for example, Einstein and Richard Feynman (both Nobel Laureates and probably the two foremost Physicists of the 20th Century). While both were born to non-religious Jewish parents and were themselves not religious, Einstein identified as a Jew while Feynman refused to be identified as such. But regardless of how we decide to identify ourselves, the perception of our identity – how we are viewed by others – can play a significant role in our lives. So, for example, Feynman ended up attending MIT after being refused admission to Columbia University as a result of their quota on the number of Jewish students they would admit.

How we, as Jews, fit into a non-Jewish society is often a function of how well we can “pass” or disguise our “Jewishness” so that we are not perceived as being Jewish. With a name like Goldberg, and some decidedly Jewish physical features, it is hard for me to pass. Many Jews end up changing their names so that they can pass more readily – my uncle changed his name to Gold  . . .  not a very effective way to pass – writer/director/comedian David Steinberg used to joke that the only way to shorten his name to obscure his being Jewish was to go from Steinberg to Stein to Stt!

But whether you can pass or not, the question of how much to reveal about your Jewishness remains a matter of debate. How “Jewish” should you look? Should you change your physical appearance either surgically (the classic “nose job”) or by eschewing Jewish-looking clothing and symbols (like a yarmulke) that reveal your Jewish identity? Do we “cover” our Jewish identity when we are out in non-Jewish society? Yoshino cites Alan Dershowitz’s admonition that we should change our attitude from “fearing embarrassment” to fully flaunting our Jewishness.

This is what keeps me coming back to and being a part of the Temple Sinai community. Regardless of how accepting the broader community in Vermont may be, we are a minority population – our children are likely one of maybe a couple of Jewish kids in their classes, and we probably had to explain to our bosses and coworkers why we are not at work today. Temple Sinai is a place where we can be Jewish without having to cover, where we fit without having to adjust who we are. We are a congregation comprised of people with diverse identities – and regardless of how we identify and express our religious, sexual, gender, ethnic and political orientations, we are committed to being an open and welcoming community where one need not feel the need to pass as something we are not, or to cover who we really are. This is that place where you know you will be welcomed and accepted for who you are, without having to distort yourself to fit into a something you are not.

In addition to each one of us needing to consider our own Jewish identity, in this New Year (5776), Temple Sinai as an institution will be undergoing a similar process. One of the outcomes of this year’s Board Retreat – held on a very cold and snowy weekend last February – was a commitment to exploring and re-establishing who we are as a congregation: to clarify our Vision, re-establish our Mission, and ensure that all we do is guided by our Values. For this we will need your input and participation, so that we can capture and encapsulate in these public statements Temple Sinai’s identity as we move towards our 50th Anniversary next June and begin the first year of our next half century. I look forward to working with you and the Board as we plot our course towards the Temple Sinai of 5826!

I wish you all good health, happiness and prosperity and a good, sweet, New Year – L’Shanah Tovah!

Tuesday, January 20, 2015

Installation Service Comments – January 16, 2015

Rabbi invited me to say a few words about my “vision” as the new President of the Board and I am happy to do so as we install our new Board at this service.

Let me first provide you with some context for my comments – I’ve been a member of Temple Sinai since I moved to Vermont in the early 1980s, my children went through the Temple’s religious school program and had their B’nai Mitzvahs here (Rabbi, I think I have gotten the pluralization correct there!), and I have been a regular participant in the Folk Services at Temple for more than the past ten years or so. I had opportunities to participate in Temple governance over the years, but did not feel I had the time to commit . . . . busy job, busy family . . . . you know the drill. But a few years back, I agreed to serve as Treasurer and then, under Tim Cope’s Presidency, First VP, and now, as President of the Board.

Why is this background important?
First: I’ve learned more about Temple, met more of the Congregation, and gotten to know more wonderful and talented people in my FOUR years on the Board than I did in the previous 25 years.

Second: I was no less busy with my job and family when I agreed to serve as Treasurer than I was in the previous decades . . . in fact, I was probably busier. But I made a commitment – I made a choice - I decided to participate, to make this one of the many priorities in my life.

At this Board’s first meeting earlier this week, we engaged in an orientation exercise in which we shared our interests, skills, and fears (as they relate to Temple and serving on the Board). Let me tell you some things about this Board:
·        We have folks who have been with Temple Sinai for longer than I have, have served on the Board, led the Board and, still, are back to continue serving the Congregation.

·        We also have folks who have only recently joined our Congregation, who have served in leadership roles at their previous synagogues, and who have found activities at Temple Sinai that, I will confess, in which I have not participated over my decades here as a member.

·        Some are drawn to Temple Sinai for feeding their spiritual needs, to pray, study Torah, to sing and eat and engage with a community with whom they can share their Reform Jewish traditions.

·        Some are drawn to Temple Sinai because of the people and the opportunity to be part of a social scene with other Jewish families.

·        For some, Temple Sinai is a place where they can continue (or start) their Jewish education – where they can be part of a learning community that engages their minds in multi-faceted ways.

·        While many indicated that they agreed to serve on the Board out of a sense of duty and obligation, as many (or more) confessed that they joined the Board because of the social aspects of working with fellow members in service to the Temple.

Why am I telling you this? How does this in any way relate to my “vision”?
Well, my “vision” is for a Temple Sinai that has a Congregation that is drawn together as a community. A Temple Sinai that provides a place for people to gather and to share their lives. A Temple Sinai that feels like home, for you and your family.

I can tell you that I left our first Board Meeting wearing a big smile and with the conviction that this inspiring group is ready to do great things. They sensed that we are at a turning point as a Congregation (although, aren’t we always at a turning point?) and, if we choose to, we can accomplish great things.

Which is why we are having our first Board Retreat, at the start of next month. If we can continue to focus our attention on what engages us, excites us, energizes us – and if we can bring that focus forward to the entire Congregation – we will have moved towards my “vision”.

This will take more than just the people who serve on the Board – we will need your participation in deciding what we focus our energies on, we will need your participation in Temple governance and activities, we will need your willingness to try new things, to celebrate those that work and to let those that do not, drop away.

So, I hope you will not wait as long as I did to decide to participate in Temple governance. We have many committees, and I suspect that at least one of them matches well with your skills and interests – choose one to be involved in, meet and work with fellow Congregants who share your interests and passions, participate in making Temple Sinai an even more special part of your life.

 And finally: I have a vision where finance committee report does not elicit thoughts of fear and dread. This is one of our challenges, but I am confident that we have the ability to make good progress in moving towards the realization of that vision. (And I would be remiss in not putting in a pitch for our Scrip and Hannaford Card programs that raise funds for Temple Sinai whenever you shop. Participation is easy and I encourage everyone to signup!)\

So, please welcome and support our new Board – I hope I can keep up with them, and I look forward to serving you all as President for the next two years.

Shabbat Shalom.