David B. Edelson | September 15, 2013
As you can imagine, I received plenty of advice as I prepared these remarks. Funnily enough, very little of it related to what I would actually say. Instead, my consiglieres kept hammering home FDR’s advice to his son about speechmaking: “Be sincere. Be brief. Be seated.” So that’s what I’ll try to do.
Tonight, as we sit together and honestly assess what gives our lives meaning, we should reflect upon why this synagogue and community mean so much to each of us. Let me start by putting my cards on the table – I love this place. I love the elegance of the services, the beauty of the music, the intelligence and kindness of the clergy. I’m completely smitten. But let’s be honest – you are not going to support Central because I love it. Frankly, is it any shock that the Temple President loves his synagogue?
Each of us connects with Central in a different way. I believe that, for many, Central’s unwavering commitment to every one of us explains our love for this community. Perhaps you experienced this commitment when the clergy helped you through a tough time; or at the magic moment when your daughter understood the true significance of her bat mitzvah; or when we sing the Misheberach for those struggling and then link arms and show thanks by singing the Shehecheyanu.
As I began drafting these remarks, it dawned on me that I had never stopped to consider why the Synagogue President appeals for funds at such a solemn time.The whole set-up seemed puzzling.
We listen to the haunting melody of Kol Nidre and look deep inside ourselves. We close our eyes to remember our late parents and grandparents. We recommit ourselves to making the world a better place. And then, after all of that, I stand up and risk puncturing the sacred spell of Kol Nidre by asking for your support. Why tonight? Or, to borrow from a perennial bestseller:
Mah nishtanah, ha-laylah ha-zeh, mi-kol ha-leylot?
On all other nights, we consider it unseemly to solicit gifts from the bimah. Why, on this, the holiest night of the year, do we ask the congregation to write a check?
Well, at first blush, the rationale seems pretty obvious. Doing so makes sense. You are all here. Kol Nidre draws a big crowd. But it strikes me that the rationale goes deeper. We ask for your support on a night when our pews are filled because, in every way, this is our synagogue and we are this synagogue. We pack the rows on Friday nights, we send our kids to learn here, we get married here, name our babies here, mourn here, volunteer on mitzvah day, or call on our clergy when we need to talk.
Each of you knows how rare it is to be part of a synagogue this alive, this charged with activity and connection. You give life and breath to this place and tonight is my chance to remind as many of you as possible: We sustain Central’s excellence because we need it, we demand it, and we contribute to it.
As Jews, we don’t pray alone. We don’t atone in our dens. Instead, we come together, squeezed side-by-side into pews. We stand and sit in unison. We celebrate and cry. We listen and debate. And, of course, we kibitz.
The synagogue anchors every Jewish community and is a forceful symbol that Judaism endures. It has always been a sacred obligation and privilege for Jewish communities to support their synagogues. In our case, that synagogue is Central.
If our synagogue and community are sacred, if praying together is sacred, then supporting Central financially is sacred.
Rabbi Rubinstein’s announcement in March that he will be stepping aside after 23 years as our Senior Rabbi brought into sharp focus how vital Central is. How many of us were taken aback by the emotions that surfaced upon hearing the news? Who suddenly realized that Central has become an integral part of you?
Your devotion to Central has been on full display recently. My email has been getting quite a workout, as have my ears. Permit me to state the obvious – this congregation is not bashful.
And one more thing – you care deeply about our shul. What do I hear and see? I hear from you how Central has touched and supported you when it really matters, from baby-namings to deaths of loved ones. I hear you marvel that for the first time in your lives, Shabbat and Holiday services genuinely move you spiritually. I see 10th graders galvanized by the chance to study with our clergy during confirmation. I am moved by your stories of converting to Judaism, and how welcome and at home our clergy and congregation make you feel. And I have been blown away by how meaningful our live streaming is to members and non-members around the world.
This year in particular, we feel especially grateful for Rabbi Rubinstein and his unique blend of wisdom, humor, vision and humanity. He has lifted us up in celebration and steadied us when we’ve been shaken. He has challenged and taught us. He has shown extraordinary vision and leadership. He and his wife Kerry have been a blessing.
John F. Kennedy once cautioned that, “Change is the law of life. And those who look only to the past or present are certain to miss the future.” Under Rabbi Rubinstein, standing still has never been an option. All of you deserve credit for supporting – even promoting – change. Our continual striving to be more excellent and more relevant – this openness to new ideas – will forever be Rabbi Rubinstein’s legacy.
Our community is going through an historic transition. No matter what anyone says, this is definitely a big deal. Some are concerned, which is perfectly understandable. Personally, I am optimistic about what’s ahead – I am confident that we will embrace this transition just as we’ve been embracing change under Rabbi Rubinstein for the past 22-plus years. We should all feel incredibly grateful to our Rabbi that we are so well prepared for this moment and for the future.
Let me end with my thanks. I love serving as President of Central because I am energized by your passion for this place. Your willingness to dig deep for our synagogue is truly inspiring. I am especially touched by how many of you step up and donate to the Yom Kippur Appeal – you don’t leave that responsibility to others. Your generosity leaves no doubt that, as a congregation, we care about one another, we care about Judaism, and we endorse our sacred obligation to sustain our community. No words can thank you enough for all that you have done.
As we enter 5774, I ask you to reaffirm your support. Together we must build on Rabbi Rubinstein’s legacy and find new ways to make Central meaningful to every single one of us. Please give generously again this year. Central Synagogue is definitely worth it. You won’t regret it.
May the coming year be filled with sweetness, laughter and joy for all of you and those you love. Thank you so much and Shana tova.
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