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September 29, 2017

Yom Kippur Appeal 5778

Abigail Pogrebin

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Click here to listen to or download audio only (MP3)

So, how many of you enjoy eating leftovers?

Well, I married a man who is leftover-phobic – Dave prefers we not put any part of dinner in Tupperware.  But I was raised by a mom who is devoted to leftovers—evangelical about all the lunches she can create out of one supper.  I know it’s entirely connected to her being raised in the shtetl of Queens right after the Depression, and I admire her frugality and industry. But Dave—who adores his mother-in-law, I assure you—inevitably expresses some affectionate anxiety whenever we’re heading to my parents’ house for dinner. He’ll ask: “How much of this meal, do you think will be new?”

Which brings me to the lox.  Last January – and the date is important – (remember it’s January)—Mom called to invite my family over for Sunday brunch: “I bought fresh bagels from Fairway,” she said cheerfully, “and I’m defrosting the lox from Yom Kippur break fast.”

For my wonderful Mom, her habits, traditions, and rituals are ingrained and immovable. I learned how to set a Jewish table from her.  How to make crispy potato latkes. The importance of lighting a menorah for eight nights and attending two family seders.  I absorbed the pride of being Jewish from her, and yes, how to repurpose last night’s chicken.  What I didn’t learn, however, was the value and power of being part of a synagogue.

We never found the right shul, so we never put down roots in one spiritual community.  We did go to services on the High Holy Days, but not always to the same place.  Unlike so many of you who were lucky enough to grow up in this Central family, I didn’t inherit this Synagogue; I chose it—twelve years ago—later in life.

And as fortunate as I feel to finally have found a Jewish home, I realize—now watching what happens here every day—how much I missed.

I wasn’t that toddler going home every Friday afternoon schlepping a challah half-as-big as my body.

I wasn’t that grade schooler learning why we sit in a Sukkah or being taught our core mandate—Tikkun Olam—to repair the world.

I wasn’t the seventh grader becoming a bat mitzvah, watching my grandparents pass the Torah to my parents and then to me. I missed my marriage being blessed on this bimah and my daughter being named at this ark.

But when I joined Central, I discovered the sustenance of synagogue friends who know when you’re going through something hard, and who will dance a marathon hora with you at your children’s b’nai mitzvah; I was blessed to discover the impact of a trip to Israel with our clergy and fellow congregants, the communal energy of joining together to feed the homeless at dawn on a Thursday morning or to organize as a synagogue to right a social wrong.

Without Central, I would have missed the reassuring, restoring routine of Friday night services with 700 people praying and singing side by side, weekly sermons that make me think, the chance to connect with fellow members in classes on Jewish history and liturgy, in lectures on the religious tensions of our time, and in the small groups we now offer here, which allow for more intimate conversations in congregants’ living rooms.

It’s no small thing that all of you have chosen to be part of a larger Jewish family and to support its work and its mission. You’ve seen what I have: that Central’s clergy and staff never settle for “good enough,” that they’re always asking, “How can we comfort people more personally, inspire more deeply, educate more imaginatively, help Jews beyond our walls—the literally thousands of live streamers from near and far who tell us they don’t miss a Shabbat service, that Central is their Jewish link?”

Which brings me to everyone’s favorite High Holiday sacrament: the annual Yom Kippur appeal.  I know all of you already put your altruism where your values are, you already know how fragile Jewish engagement and synagogue attachment are in this country, how unusual Central is—and not just how rare, but how ready—to respond to any crisis or celebration in your life, to be there with private clergy counsel when you ask for help.  You all have felt the impact of worship when it’s beautiful and visceral, how a shul can be a port in the storm when the world feels shaky. So many of you have told me that you view your synagogue contribution as part of your personal legacy, what you model for your children, grandchildren and friends, what you want your footprint to say.  You’ve inspired me to do the same, and I’m grateful.

And finally, speaking of gratitude: before we return to our prayers and to our visions of the fresh lox we’ll be eating in 22 hours at our break fasts, I hope you’ll permit me, as this begins my last eight months as President and therefore my last appeal, to share a brief word of thanks.  It has not only been an extraordinary privilege to watch up-close what this synagogue does and what it means to all of you, not only a profound gift to work with the most remarkable clergy, administrative staff, maintenance team and security guards, but humbling to see how consistently you all signal your steadfastness year after year—a moving testament to your belief that a synagogue still matters, that Jewish community is precious, that Central deserves a special place of honor in your lives. I hope you’ll make this year’s appeal one for the record books. I have loved getting to know so many of you, and look forward to being back in these pews with you next year…and counting myself part of that synagogue family I never had growing up, but found just in time.