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September 19, 2018

Yom Kippur Appeal 5779

Jeremy Fielding

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Yom Kippur Appeal 2018

Shanah Tovah,

It was Yom Kippur morning a few years ago. In a shul far, far away. The Rabbi noticed little Amy staring up at the large plaque that hung in the foyer of the Synagogue. It was covered with names, and small American flags were mounted on either side.

The seven year old had been staring at the plaque for some time, so the Rabbi walked up, stood beside the girl, and said quietly, “Good morning Amy.”

“Good morning Rabbi” replied the child. ‘Rabbi, what is this?’”

“Well Amy, it’s a memorial to all the young men and women who died in the service.”

Amy’s voice dropped, to a whisper, her eyes widened, and she asked, “Oh really, Rosh Hashanah or Yom Kippur?”

As I approached this daunting task of our first Kol Nidre conversation together, I was very cognizant that, given the fast, we Synagogue Presidents aren’t always fair to you about the subjects we cover.

Last year, you may remember, Abby talked to us about Lox. The frozen kind.

This year, I am going to talk about your tomorrow morning’s miss, sorry, coffee.

Why coffee? Well, I was recently re-reading Howard Schultz’s book on how he built Starbucks from the ground up. Schultz describes how his goal was for Starbucks to be the “Third Place” – neither work nor home, but a place where one could feel welcomed, engaged and comfortable.

That is what I believe Central is as a community – our Third Place.

• It is a Third Place to hundreds of our kids – our next generation of Jews – learning about who we are and what makes pluralistic Judaism so special

• It is a Third Place to thousands of congregants who come together on Shabbats, festivals and these High Holidays to be led in worship by our magnificent clergy, or who livestream in to be part of our virtual community

• It’s a Third Place to a record number of congregants, including myself, traveling together to Israel next August to mark our 180th anniversary

• Most of all, it is a Third Place for those of us who need to be comforted, to mourn and remember, who are wrestling with profound challenges or celebrating a new life, a happy rite of passage, or a meaningful lifecycle moment. Whether the honey or the bee sting, all of these are better done together as part of a community

To be sure, for each of us individually, Central Synagogue doesn’t need day in and day out to be a refuge, beacon, inspirer and educator. But when we each need it to be there – it is.

And more to the point, when have we, as Jews, ever been simply about just ourselves? It is not who we are, that much is clear from the Torah, Talmud and what we know in our kischkes.

We are here for each other. For a larger us. And our community plays that critical role for us here, and for those beyond our walls.

We need each other. We need our Synagogue.

And especially right now we need a welcoming, pluralistic Synagogue; and a strong and vibrant Reform Judaism. One which welcomes – and is strengthened by – the newcomer, the curious, the interfaith couple, the 21st century family, and the stranger. Particularly at a time when, and make no mistake, we are under pressure of delegitimization from other streams of Judaism, here and in Israel; and from outside, as Rabbi Buchdahl spoke about last week.

And we, Central Synagogue, we need you.

Your support and generosity is critical. It is what allows our team to lead worship, give pastoral care to those in need, educate our children and adults, open our arms and doors to those interested in exploring Judaism, do good in our city and our world, and countless other ways large and small where we make Reform Judaism count in people’s lives.

Please consider giving to Central as you have in years past – or even more so. No amount is too small; every single gift enables us to do more, better, and deeper. And for those of our community watching today virtually, please know you too can give through our website.

The fact that we, as a community, deliver excellence isn’t set in stone. It is a function of our leadership’s commitment to maintain and extend such a standard. And perhaps it is worth reflecting that it wasn’t always that way for us.

At the start of this historic year, our 180th as a congregation, I want to take you back in history to an important day in Central’s life. April 19, 1872. On that day, our congregation gathered in a brand new sanctuary building, here at Lexington and 55th Street to consecrate it. The grand and the good were invited. Three thousand members and honored guests. The media too, Jewish and secular. And, the reports of that day in the newspapers were well, honest. We might have expected them to comment on the magnificence of the surroundings, the spirit of the congregation, or the wisdom of the clergy. Nope.

What did they focus on?

We are told the media reported on the length of the proceedings, which, as they said, “taxed the patience of the audience.”

I promise that we’ve learned. As we’ve done so, we’ve raised the bar higher and higher. And we won’t stop. But at the end of the day, we emphatically need your help to do so, to be the Third Place for all of our members, and to move forward.

G’mar Chatimah Tovah, may you and yours be inscribed for a good year. 

And thank you.