A Message from TBI’s President

On Yom Kippur 5783 (2022), I spoke about finding the way that makes sense for you to engage with TBI–whether as a participant, a volunteer or a donor–so it feels right and never like a burden. I believe that as a community and as individuals, this is how we will thrive. You can read my remarks below. At any time, you can reach out to link here to connect with me or other board members.

Remarks from Yom Kippur 5783

Part 1: Not why, but how (Kol Nidre)

This is the time when you might expect me to talk about why you should give to Temple Beth Israel. But there’s no reason for me to do that. The fact that you are here tells me that you already know why. You have made the choice to be here for Kol Nidre. And whether this is the one time you come to TBI each year, or one of many times, there is a reason you are here. It matters to you. Temple Beth Israel represents and provides a connection you value—perhaps to your Jewish heritage, or to your personal Jewish practice, or to your community. So I don’t need to tell you why it makes sense for you to support TBI.

But it might help to learn about how.

And that requires clarity about what constitutes support of our synagogue community. To me, that is simple—we support TBI every time we take a role in helping it to thrive. Let me repeat that: we support TBI by taking a role—any role—in helping our synagogue community to thrive.

I believe that happens in three basic ways.

The first is by being a participant. That could be in one, several, or many services or events.  Simply being in community with each other is requisite to thriving. So your presence is a gift. If and when participation is what you are ready, able and joyful to give, thank you. You are enriching TBI.

The second is by volunteering. Recently, a new member approached me about bringing her talents to Temple Beth Israel. Having retired, she still wanted to exercise her professional expertise and hoped we could find a way that this could benefit the congregation. So we met for coffee to discuss it. We agreed that she could be incredibly helpful not by sitting on one of our committees, but by being a resource to a few of them. We brainstormed how that might work, and now have plans to bring her together with several of the committee chairs to further the conversation.

Someone else approached me about a year ago with a desire to get involved in planning social activities, so I connected him to our program chair and he joined that committee. Yet another person raises her hand to make homemade soup when it can provide someone with needed physical and spiritual nourishment. I mention these three examples because they are different from each other in scope, in time commitment, and in how they fit into our committee structure. But they share one important common thread—each person defined their volunteer engagement based on their interests and availability. To everyone who lends their talents and time—thank you.

The third way we help the synagogue to thrive is through our monetary support. There are many ways to help strengthen TBI financially. With our sustaining model we have established a recommended membership contribution of $600 for an individual or $1200 for a family and a recommended high holy day pledge of $200 for an individual or $400 for a family. With that as a guideline, we ask that you contribute what you can, which may be less or may be more. Our goal is to be inclusive in our membership and financially sound as a congregation. Please give thought to the commitment that makes sense for you.

Beyond your membership contribution and high holy day pledge, there are many other opportunities to donate. You can consider the existing funds we have established: the Warming Center for the unhoused, Food Access, Building Maintenance, the Library, the Morris Hollender Torah Fund, the Payer Book Fund, Kiddush sponsorship, the Mark Frydenberg Event Participation Fund, and more. Or we can have a conversation about what matters to you, and uncover how that dovetails with the needs of the congregation. I thank each of you for the financial sustenance you provide.

Supporting TBI—taking a role in helping us to thrive—should not be a burden. Whether participating, volunteering, or giving financially, your support can and must be at the intersection of your passion, your readiness and the community’s needs. I will expand on this idea tomorrow, but for now my ask is this:

Think about why you are here, the connection it gives you, and the importance to you of sustaining that bond. Consider how you can participate, volunteer, or donate in a way that really matters to you and that is sustainable for you. Then, let’s talk about making it happen. I look forward to our conversation.

Part 2: Returning the fully realized value of our gifts (Yom Kippur day)

Recently, I attended a shiva minyan that began with about 1/2-hour of Talmud study. We discussed text about the responsibility for returning found items to their owners, as well as items left in our care. We learned that, if we increase the value of something in our care—whether lost or left by others—when the time comes to return it we must hand over not only the original value, but also the added value it has gained.

  • Temple Beth Israel is left in your care.
  • And in my care.
  • And in our care.

Every day, the community that is TBI is in the care of its individuals to nurture and nourish it. And when we do that, we increase its value exponentially. So what must we do with that increased value? We must return it back to the community. And when we do that, we further increase its value to ourselves. Because the richer our congregation, the richer our lives will be. That is the magic of taking responsibility for each other and our shared experience.

Last night, I spoke about the ways in which we can enrich TBI, and I boiled it down to three: by participating, by volunteering, and by providing financial support. Today, I want to think about each of these in the context of returning to the community the fully realized value of its gifts that we have had the opportunity to hold in our care, and vice versa.

First—being a participant

Everyone here has been a participant, even if today is your first interaction with Temple Beth Israel. Your very presence here is participation. Your decision to be in community on Yom Kippur has helped to shape the experience for all, whether you are in TBI’s physical space or onscreen (and we can see our virtual participants from the sanctuary). The presence of every one of us makes us all feel fuller, broader and more whole as a house of prayer. The energy you experienced in a particular prayer emanated from you, added to the energy in the room—to the intensity of the prayer experience for others. The opportunity for participation was offered to you to nurture, you took that on, and you returned it with amplified value.

This is not limited to the heightened experience of Yom Kippur. As I listened to the stories of our congregants who participated in the Whale Watch cruise on September 18, I noticed that they didn’t talk only about the majesty of the breaching whales—but also about how this or that person in the group added insight, humor or fun. They focused on the value each person brought to the experience. And then, in the retelling since, they’ve further transmitted the joy and learning of that event to others. Each of the 20 people who attended embraced the chance to grow the impact of their participation to serve the TBI community.

Second—being a volunteer

Let’s be honest. Many of us cringe when we think about the ask—we brace ourselves when we see who is calling and feel sure it’s a request for volunteer time. We get ourselves ready for how we can say no without seeming unappreciative and feeling guilty. Or we say yes, but feel burdened or overextended, and wish we hadn’t.

But that’s not how volunteering should be. The word “voluntary” comes from the Latin voluntarius for “willing” or “of one’s free will” and its root voluntas, or “will,” is from the ancient velle which means “to wish.”

Imagine if we began with asking people what they want to do, what they like to do, what they wish to do—and how much time or energy they choose to put in? And then we found ways to help them do what they desire in the community, at the level that works for them? I don’t mean a checklist of volunteer opportunities on the membership form—I mean a discussion that really leaves the door wide open for ideas—that truly embraces the “free will” of the Latin voluntarius.

In this scenario, each one of us, as individuals, has the opportunity to leave in the care of the TBI community our special contribution, and we as a community have the obligation to nurture that contribution, and return its added value to the volunteer and to us all.

Please close your eyes for a moment and imagine this:

  • What is something, however small, that you have a wish to do?
  • How might TBI provide a setting in which to do it?
  • What would it feel like to be able to do it? To see the impact it has on others, to realize that your gift of time, energy or talent—however small—had an exponential effect?

I can attest that it can feel almost magical. Certainly, spiritually uplifting, and isn’t that how volunteering at our synagogue should feel?

Third—being a donor.

You may think this is the more difficult form of support for me to describe as a means to nurture our community experience. But I believe the connection is quite clear and compelling. The Talmud texts we studied, on the topic of returning items in our care with their increased value, all focused on their monetary worth. And that makes perfect sense. Think about it in personal terms. Could you put any time into participating, or any energy into volunteering—no matter how much it reflected your wishes—if you were struggling to eat each day—that is, if you were one of the more than 10% of people in the U.S. who experience food insecurity? Of course not. Psychologist Abraham Maslow’s famous Hierarchy of Needs tells us that humans, in order to survive, first need food, shelter, and warmth.

Similarly, for our synagogue to be a place that provides an environment for participation and personal commitment, it first needs to operate. We must be able to afford to turn on the heat, to repair systems in our aging building, to make security improvements, to pay salaries, to get out information so you know when and where you can engage.

That is what your financial investment makes possible. It is our food, it is our means to shelter and warmth. When you generously give funds as your way of returning value to TBI, our obligation is to nurture them and to return them back to you and to all of the TBI community with increased value. When we talk about our sustaining model, we describe it as a recommended membership contribution of $600 for an individual or $1200 for a family and a recommended high holy day pledge of $200 for an individual or $400 for a family. And we ask, with that as a guideline, that you contribute what you can, which may be less or may be more. But what we’re really talking about—whether it’s the sustaining membership, the High Holy Day pledge, or other ways to donate—is how you can leave dollars in TBI’s care so we can grow them into a safe and inspiring space where you and others can pray and socialize. Into a Warming Center for unhoused people in Waltham so you can find extraordinary uplift in the impact of your gift. Into subsidies so those who are struggling financially can participate in our TBI programs and events and add to the experience for all of us.

The word “investment” originated in the 1590s, when it meant the putting on of vestments, now referred to as investiture. And investiture is the conferring of honor or rank. When we invest in TBI we honor our community. We raise it up. And that gives Temple Beth Israel ever more strength to serve.

Start with the question of how you would like the impact of your investment to grow, then choose a contribution that makes sense—or let’s have a conversation to figure that out together.

I said last night and at the start of my remarks today that there are three ways we enrich TBI: by participating, by volunteering, and by providing financial support. But there’s also a fourth—being an advocate.

One of the greatest shared joys I find among TBI congregants and friends is in welcoming new people into our special community. Each one of those people—simply by virtue of walking in or logging on—immediately becomes a participant. And, over time, they could find that they wish to give and gain by further participation, volunteering, or donating. But how do they find us? The best way is through each and every one of us. So please—if you love TBI, or enjoyed a service or an event that you stopped in for, tell others whom you believe also would cherish the experience. You will be leaving the opportunity of engaging with TBI in their care—and in time, of their own free will, they will be able to nurture that and give it back many, many-fold.

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