Annual Meeting Remarks
Time goes fast when you are having fun—so goes the expression. Well having just completed my 27th year with the privilege of saying that I am a rabbi at Temple Micah, I can only say that the years fly by.
I think that all of us will agree that the year now ending will be noted in several marked ways. I should like to take a few moments to note them and speak a few words about each of them.
1. The arrival of Rabbi Lederman
2. A large step in the unfolding of Machon Micah
3. Susie’s absence
4. Tal—our shaliach-
My colleague, partner, and friend, Rabbi Esther Lederman, brings wisdom, passion, intelligence, focus, and humor to everything that she does. That list could be longer but I restrain myself deliberately—after all the 2011 annual meeting is just one year away. She has become not only involved but has made impressions on every aspect of Micah life. Under the umbrella of and in partnership with Synagogue 3000 Next, Dor Rabbi Lederman initiated a most impressive Temple Micah outreach to 20-30 somethings in Washington. This outreach has resulted in monthly Shabbat dinners, Shabbat lunch gatherings and other activities. Rabbi Lederman’s Next Dor list contains well over 150 names at this point and it is growing weekly.
In the coming year, under her leadership, Temple Micah will be providing Erev Rosh Hashannah and Erev Yom Kippur worship services for the 20’s -30’s age group in our sanctuary while we are gathered as a community at Metropolitan Church. Many of us will miss the vitality of her prayer leadership for those two evening services, but she will be with us in the morning and all Yom Kippur day.
I find our commitment to this kind of 20’s-30’s outreach to be so true to the character of who we are. After all, our congregational founders were this very age in 1963 when Micah began as the Southwest Hebrew Congregation. I feel so keenly the need to offer young adult Jews a progressive, religious, Jewish offering. We can all take some satisfaction that Micah is now doing that and doing it brilliantly with Rabbi Lederman’s leadership.
In any other year, Machon Micah would have been the hit story of the year. This year it is simply the second lead—but what a resounding second lead story. Deborah Srabstein has taken an idea, extended it, continued to vision it and then given it form, structure, content and life.
She has taken three principles—principles which I hope every Micah member will come to memorize:
A. Learning through meaningful Jewish experience
B. Jewish learning in Jewish time
C. Meaningful full community involvement
And she created a program. Deborah is thoughtful, driven and on constant energy overdrive. Rather than walking the familiar and well trodden path of Jewish education, Deborah is leading us in blazing new trails. The thing about new trails is that they are bumpy; there are scrapes and even wrong turns. None of this scares Deborah. None of this fazes her. The Machon is a sometimes bumpy joy ride, but a joy ride it is. I remember our standing room only Selichot Service to begin our year. It was a harbinger of things to come.
I know there are things to work out. The feedback that we have gotten on the machon has been, on the whole, extremely positive. I also know the feedback in some quarters has been that the schedule is too complicated. We are simultaneously listening to that feedback and thinking about it while not giving up the principles that are important to us. My personal commitment is this. The system of 30, 40, 50 years ago is broken—it did not work then and it certainly will not work now. We are trying something new and I like to think that our communal commitment is very much in that direction. I have said and fiercely believe—75% participation in this program is better than 100% in the old model.
Susie’s absence. Susie has been pretty much out of her job since December 2008 and officially on a leave of absence since March 2009. She is missed in innumerable ways. Susie was so much a part of the soul of who we are. Susie’s own Judaism is so important to her that she imparted that to everyone who called her in everything she did here. I miss her as a confidant, a partner in shaping Micah and as a daily friend in the office. As she has now officially left the position in order for her to continue to monitor her own health and take care of herself, we have begun the process to hire a new administrator. We have also set aside Friday evening services, November 19 as the evening that we will officially honor and thank Susie for her many years of dedicated service to us. Please don’t ask why this late date—the holidays are in September, Susie’s daughter Laura is expecting a baby in October. We worked out this date very carefully with Susie once she informed us that she would not be returning to work. No one cares more for her than I do. No one wants a more special moment to honor and thank her than me.
Tal—our shaliach. Thanks to a grant from the Legacy Heritage Foundation, we were able to have Tal as a shaliach with us for a year. I was overjoyed that Tal was with us—the impressions he made as a teacher in our school, working with kids, bringing a sense of Israel into our midst. I fervently want this to be more than a one time deal. I would love to have a Temple Micah shaliach two years out of four. The cost is not inconsiderable. We would have to find a way to dedicate about $18,000 a year to this purpose in order to have a shaliach with us two years on and two years off as the total cost per year is about $36,000. I simply think this is so important. I believe the serious thinking through of our relationship to Israel is priority and a necessity of American Jewish life. Having a shaliach with us forces us to engage in these searing questions. It also provides our kids with a gateway into this part of the Jewish future. Dare we imagine an American Jewry with no connection to Israel? That bond will not happen unless we work to make it happen.
There are other areas that I would like to comment on in regards to Micah even as I desperately do not wish my remarks to be too long.
For me personally- this has been an exhilarating year for all of the reasons that I have mentioned and more. It has also been a burdensome year, as I had to in a large part also take on the role of synagogue administrator. All of us have stepped up. I know I speak for the entire staff when I say that we are greatly looking forward to a quiet summer and a new administrator.
The year has been special in unexpected ways as well. We have to face the fact that we have become a synagogue with a kind of national reputation and I don’t mean through Newsweek. Funders have sought us out to help us do things because they see us in the way I like to think of us as a kind of laboratory for what is possible in American Jewish synagogue life.
One such funder from outside--who wishes to remain anonymous, approached me and essentially said to me that they liked what Micah represented and what we did and they wished to give us a grant of $54,000 spread over three years—all I needed to do was come up with a project. After consulting with the staff, I decided that we needed to upgrade our teen program—we are taking this money and spreading it over five years. We are adding to it another grant that I was able to secure and essentially creating a new full time position of youth director that will be filled in its first year by Danny Moss who was our Machon Micah Fellow this past year—another new position that we have been able to create with some outside help.
When David Adler speaks he will tell about other grants that we have gotten. We are able to do the creative, the innovative and the pioneering in large part because of our remarkable staff. I say all of the time that Micah is Micah because we are able to attract the most incredible people to be our members. Micah is also Micah because of the dedicated, talented, devoted staff that we have. I am in awe of the people that I get to work with every single day. I know that so much of whom we are—so much of our success is due to them. I thank them every day—so should all of you. Rabbi Lederman, Deborah, Meryl, Teddy – but also especially Rachel Heaps, Danny Moss and Leonard. (Rachel Heaps kept us afloat this year.)
We achieve all that we achieve despite budget problems and real challenges. We need to find a way to grow our budget from within our own resources and membership. Many of our members are exceedingly generous. Quite frankly—there are also many who are not. We attract the generosity of outside funders. I wish that we could galvanize the generosity of a greater percentage of our own members simply so that we can pay for the basics. I very much liked Larry Cooley’s article in this week’s Vine. Micah is a place where we talk about death more comfortably than we talk about money. We simply must find a way to change that.
A final word—and this reflects back on the path we are trying to blaze with the Machon—but speaks to the heart of Micah. I like to think of Micah as place where people can take their Jewish Journeys. I want us to be a place where we can engage with people and people can engage with each other as they forge thick meaningful relationships—relationships with other people, relationships with their inner Jewish self and the rich Jewish past. I want to reflect on that. I have come to love the word thick— which used to mean when a person was thick headed-it was a kind of insult.
How the word has changed--
Now I think of Clifford Geertz and his use of the term thick which he actually borrowed from the British philosopher Gilbert Ryle. Thick is simply a fancy way of saying context—or meaningful interpretation. I want our exploration of Judaism to be thick in that sense—where we create and discover for ourselves Jewish rituals, knowledge, Jewish expressions that are personally meaningful and connect us to the larger Jewish story or narrative— what Avishai Margalit means by thick relations and my other friend Neil Postman meant by thick web.
This is what I seek in Micah for all of us. I want us to be a place that continually ups the ante in for what is possible for a synagogue to be. This is a journey for all of us together.