A Center of Jewish Life Where We Come Together

Remarks delivered by CBI President David Good on Rosh Hashanah 2017/5778.

Shana Tova!

It is my privilege and honor to speak to you as President of this congregation… proud of our Jewish community and devoted and committed to the exceptional purpose of synagogues in today’s world and our future. I truly believe in the first simple words of our congregation’s mission statement…Congregation B’nai Israel is a center of Jewish life where we come together.

Why do I believe this? Let me start by first telling you a bit about myself and my relationship to the CBI community.

I come from a land that is far, far away…on the other side of Route 22…a town called Westfield.

I come from an interfaith family…my mother was Jewish…my father was from Pennsylvania Dutch Country.

I attended a Reform synagogue growing up.

I did not have a formal Bar Mitzvah. I have never read from Torah. My Hebrew is mediocre.

I still get mashiach and mashgiach confused.

Yes…you too can one day be a synagogue president!

My spiritual connection with Judaism, a synagogue and a community that I and my family could call home took root here, at CBI. Like many of you, it began with our clergy and educators.

  • Nursery school drop-offs…with our preschool director Rochelle Baron and the teachers all gathered outside to welcome children – and parents – with smiles and laughter. Some of our closest friends date to those early days and certainly is the reason we became members of CBI. Many of you know that Rochelle is fond of saying, “It is all good!” And, to this day, whenever I see her and she says this, I believe it to be true.
  • Sunday mornings in the synagogue…with the energy and bustle and noise of religious school…encouraged and nurtured today by Rabbi Sharon. Family events in school expanded our circle of friends and our larger CBI community.
  • The teaching of Rabbi Bayar. Most prominently on Shabbat mornings with his “conversations” on the week’s Torah portion but also during his many classes and lectures and even casual conversations in the hallway. The connection between our tradition and life today…the deeper meaning behind our sacred texts…the relationships we have with each other and as a community. I have learned much from my Rabbi…and am proud to call him my teacher.
  • The singing of Cantor Wallach. Not only her beautiful voice which adds to the richness of our liturgy…but the soulfulness that her presence brings to our communal prayer. She brings to our services a kavanah – a concentration or intention – that is joyous and infectious. It doesn’t get any better than that!

This community is where I came to appreciate and value the importance of synagogue life.

If you read my column in the September Bulletin, you know that I have taken an interest in Yiddish words. Not speaking or reading…but the meaning behind particular Yiddish words or phrases that seem to capture the essence of certain moments, experiences or relationships. I just might be the only person who knows more words in Yiddish related to community than curse words.

One such word is adres. Yes, it does sound similar to the term we use to identify a home or business location. But, in Yiddish, it takes a more nuanced, weighty meaning. It is not just a street number; it is a place in the world…a destination. An anchor, if you will. I believe that Congregation B’nai Israel is such an adres in our busy world.

Another Yiddish phrase helps explain why this is important: A besere un shenere velt – Toward a better and more beautiful world. I love this phrase because it transcends religious beliefs. While a synagogue is essential in transmitting and explaining the religious underpinnings of Judaism, our Jewish identity and sense of belonging is also nurtured and balanced by our values, ideals, language, cultural traditions, social action and celebrations. A synagogue needs to be equally adept at meeting these needs of our congregants.

CBI’s strength, I believe, is that we meet you where you are…in our sanctuary, in our schools, in our social hall…learning with your rabbi, singing with your cantor…during Shabbat dinners, Adult Forum lunches, and post-minyan breakfasts…Men’s Club basketball, Sisterhood mah jongg…pizza in the hut, licorice at youth groups events, cotton candy at the Purim Carnival…dancing on Simchat Torah, lighting candles on Hanukah, learning on Shavuout…building in McRoberts, Kentucky, biking through the Negev desert, marching in NYC in support of Israel…sitting shiva with friends, providing meals for those who are sick…chanting Torah, blowing the shofar…praying together, eating together, singing together, learning together, running together…being together.

This is the rhythm of Jewish life at CBI. I love being in the sanctuary on Shabbat…but I love to be in the social hall on Mitzvah Day, too. Each helps create a better and more beautiful world.

For me, it is about yerushe – yes, another Yiddish word – that means legacy or heritage. How do we transmit our yerushe? How do we define and create our legacy? It starts with our community home…our synagogue.

It is our responsibility to maintain and strengthen our synagogue and community for ourselves, our children and children’s children. We are more than just a club or organization or team. It is why we are committed to a Jewish preschool that celebrates Sukkot, Tu B’shevat, Yom Hazikaron and, every Friday morning, Shabbat on this very Bima.

It is why we fund a religious school to bring our heritage to life for our children from kindergarten through high school, connecting them to each other, Israel, traditions and Torah. It is why we support youth programming — three youth groups, Chaverim, Kadima and USY — so Jewish kids can hang out with Jewish kids…in their synagogue…yes, eating mounds of Oreos, but also creating their own community, outside the formal structure of school.

And, so much more: Our Shabbat Journeyers’ Minyan discussion group, Sisterhood Rosh Chodesh, Men’s Club book club, morning and evening minyan, musical Shabbats with the CBI band, chanting circle, our Caring Community Committee.

Our shared stories, our shared experiences, our shared interests…these form our common narrative…it is our community…where we come together.

As with anything important and meaningful, there is a value and cost. To support these efforts, I ask you to support our synagogue now through our High Holiday Appeal and in the future through our Legacy Circle.

Our High Holiday Appeal closes the gap in our operating budget not covered by dues. This year we are fortunate to have a Matching Fund, matching new and increased donations dollar for dollar. Your generosity will benefit our community that much more this year.

Our Legacy Circle, entering its fourth year, is a convenient way for you to make a planned giving gift to CBI that will benefit our synagogue and future generations. A legacy is a gift, of any size, designated to CBI’s endowment through a bequest, IRA or insurance policy, creating no impact on resources you may need during your lifetime. We currently have 31 families – 42 individuals – who have made pledges to benefit CBI and we are deeply grateful.

Another way to support CBI as a community as well as financially, is with our Gala in 2018, on February 3rd. I am thrilled that our Gala will once again be held right here at CBI. It will be a joyous celebration and I am pleased to announce our honorees: Heidi and Brett Cohen, Aleza Rosenberg, and our Rising Stars: Michele Neier and Jonathan Schor.

I want to conclude with the following, because I truly believe it with all my heart.

You are here today, if you are like me, because you love this synagogue, you cherish this community, you are inspired by Judaism. You are invested in this congregation as your Jewish home…for yourselves, for your children and for future generations.

Rosh Hashanah is more than a date on the Jewish calendar. At its essence, the start of a new year is an opportunity to renew ourselves and our communities. Act upon your passion and appreciation for our Jewish home…and together we will harvest the blessings of our community and remain a center of Jewish life.

In this manner, CBI will continue to be an adres, a destination that anchors you and your family to an active and vibrant Jewish community.

In this manner, CBI will continue to be worthy of being a yerushe, a legacy and heritage that strengthens us today as much as it benefits us in the years ahead.

In this manner, CBI will continue to lead towards a better and more beautiful world, a goal worthy of our shared commitment.

On behalf of my family, I wish you a sweet, joyous and fruitful New Year.

Shana Tova! Or, as they say in Yiddush, a Zis Yor!