Shanah Tovah! It truly is my pleasure to speak to you this morning as President of our congregation. Bnai Tikvah has been a home to us for over 30 years, where we have spent holidays with you and prayed together to be inscribed in the book of life and good health. For the next few minutes, please indulge me to share with you a little more of myself.
As a child, I was sometimes in awe of my Zaidie, of blessed memory. He provided me with many important life lessons on his visits to Winnipeg. Some of these, not surprising, were related to forming my Jewish identity. These lessons guide me everyday.
Lesson 1: A synagogue is not just a place to pray. My grandparents were founding members of the synagogue I grew up in. This synagogue was built on the grounds of the Jewish Orphanage, where my grandmother had spent her early years. Zaidie used to say that this was the perfect location for the synagogue. It would remind all of us that a synagogue was not just a place to pray, but a place to think of as home. B’nai Tikvah has become a home for all of us. Just like any home, it needs love and tending to on an ongoing basis.
Lesson 2: Family is important, but have a broad definition of family. My grandfather lost his mother when he was only 3 years of age. The extended family played a critical role in his upbringing until his father remarried. With the blending of families, I was often confused as to who was family and who was “sort of family”. I once asked him whether my cousin Michal was a real cousin or “sort of” cousin. His answer: we are blessed to be able to define family. He would say all the Jewish people are his family. As I reflect, I realize how true it is for me at Bnai Tikvah. While Andy and I do not live near our immediate family, Bnai Tikvah has become our extended family. Last week, as we celebrated the holiday meal, it was members of our “CBT family” that joined us in our home to bless the New Year. It is also why, we, like many others, share our simchas with our Bnai Tikvah family by celebrating here at our shul. We were so happy to be able to celebrate Elyse’s “shabbat kallah”, Sabbath for the bride, this past May with this congregation. Elyse shared some words of Torah with us and chanted the Haftarah, just as she had for her Bat Mitzvah. It was also special that, since we are an egalitarian synagogue, two of her bridesmaids were able to receive their first Torah aliya and say “Shecheyanu”. As someone said, it was “girl power” at its best! Bnai Tikvah is family.
Lesson 3: People need people in good times and bad. Zaidie used to say that it’s easy to celebrate with someone but being able to help those in need is the greater gift. Our Bikkur Cholim committee is a pure example of a gifted group of people who reach out to those who are ill or recovering from illness, and, importantly, provide a friendly voice to some of our more vulnerable members who no longer can get out as often as they wish. This committee makes sure that people have a “family member” there for them. It was interesting that their biggest “complaint” as a committee was that they were sure there are those who could have used their assistance, but they didn’t know about it in time. As the Rabbi noted last week, our community is a treasure to be cherished. Bnai TIkvah is a community that is there for our family…. in good times and bad.
Lesson 4: A cornerstone isn’t just a stone. There was a cornerstone to the synagogue with Zaidie’s name on it (along with many other founding members). He told me that it was a way for me to know he was always “there” at shul, even though he lived so far away. While the cornerstone was there to mark the beginning of the building, it more importantly was to remind us of the foundation that we must cherish. He had said that it was important that the cornerstone have names on it, and not just the year that the Congregation was established, so everyone would recognize that it was individuals who worked together to build the community. Just stating the building name, risks us forgetting that we stand on shoulders of the past. We, here at B’nai Tikvah have an obligation to continue to protect the investment of those who came before us.
Lesson 5: Commitment to the community is the gift you give. As some of you know, last Rosh Hashanah, was my first day of “retirement” following a long career at Bristol Myers Squibb. The most frequent question I was asked was, “what are you going to do”? I will admit that nowhere in my answer was, “become President of CBT”. When I shared with Elyse and Andy the discussion I had had with Allison about taking on the Presidency, it was Elyse’s voice that was the loudest. As she said, “Mom, what will you do now that the wedding is planned and over? You’ve always said commitment to the community was important. What better way to show that commitment than to say “yes”. Zaidie would be proud of the commitment his children and grandchildren, and now great grandchildren, continue to make to the Jewish community.
Lesson 6: Zaidie would say, “Foundations are where we start…. but not where we stop.” All of us know that, in the absence of care, foundations can crack. Thankfully, ever since our congregations have come together 40 years ago, we have not forgotten the need to fortify the foundation to enable us to ensure B’nai Tikvah is a House of Prayer, a House of Community. It is the strengthening and further building of our foundation that I ask all of you to give your support to today. I ask you to provide the funds to enable us to continue to strengthen the treasure we have.
Lesson 7: Take care of the present, have a mind to the future. You will notice a second pledge card in your envelope. This card is about our future. We, at Bnai Tikvah, have gained the wisdom to care for the present with an eye to the future..and the time is now. It is for this reason that we have partnered with Federation to be part of the Life and Legacy program that Mitch mentioned last night. But, just as the Prudential commercial tells us, it’s never too late to plan for the future. It is with this in mind, that I am asking everyone to help us begin to build our endowment fund. I’m asking everyone to be part of securing our future…no matter how big or small your contribution. I am asking you today to give a little more. You will see a tab to give 10% more of your annual pledge, or $10 towards the establishment of an endowment fund. If your High Holiday Pledge is $36, will you consider an additional $3.60 or $10 towards the endowment fund? If your donation is $180, will you consider an extra $18 or $10 this year? There are a couple of “angels” among us who want to help us achieve a critical mass for our endowment fund and have said they would match any monies raised from today’s appeal. They can only do their part when all of you do yours.
Then, once you’ve made your extra contribution, think about folding down the tab to learn more about leaving a legacy here at Bnai TIkvah. Join the original group of “chai” leaders who have already committed to the the Legacy program. Our legacy leaders, Tammy and Keith Zimmerman, will contact you after the holidays.
I recognize that building a future is not only about money. It’s also about relationships. It is for this reason that there are two more tabs for you to consider. Have someone call you about the many ways you can help build our community through volunteerism. Help be a co-sponsor of our weekly Shabbat Lunch and join in the conversation.
A strong foundation and a promising future are both a reality for Congregation Bnai Tikvah with your support. Please help us help you.
I ask all of you at this time, to take out your envelopes. Think about how you can strengthen our foundation and ensure the cracks are filled with your annual High Holiday pledge. Think about how you can help secure our future with a pledge to the endowment fund on the second pledge card. Help us truly go from strength to strength.
On behalf of Andy and myself, we wish all of you a Shanah Tovah and may we all be inscribed in the book of life.