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Message from President

It's very unusual, outside of the Kol Nidre appeal, for the President to give the drasha on Shabbat morning. This is not going to be a halachic sermon, and it's certainly not going to be as educational as what we're all used to. Instead, I asked the Rabbi if he'd mind if I said a few words about our community and the ways in which we are all trying to make it stronger.
     This week's Parsha is Tetzaveh. It comes in the middle of a broad set of instructions about how to build, decorate, populate and operate the mishkan, the tabernacle. A large portion of the book of Shemot, Exodus, is taken up with these instructions.
     The instructions for building them were very clear, with very little if any flexibility. But today we have no Mishkan, and we have no temple. And there are no set blueprints for a synagogue. In general, our shuls tend to be built mirroring some of the elements of the Mishkan; an ark at the front, a ner tamid (eternal flame) and a bimah at the center, analogous to the altar upon which incense and sacrifices would have been offered. However, historically, synagogues have simply been built in the prevailing architecture and style of their time and place. Built to reflect the characters, the personalities and the preferences of those who used them. Built to be enjoyed, to be used, to be welcoming.
    Jewish communities around the world use a variety of names to describe these buildings, and those names tell us a little about how they are intended to be used. "Shul", is simply the Yiddish word for School, a place of learning. Beit Knesset translates to "A house of assembly", a place to come together. Sephardim may call it a "Kal" or "Kahal", i.e. community. The word Synagogue comes from the ancient Greek from a verb meaning "to bring or gather together".
     Our shul, therefore, is a place of community. It's only function is to bring us together and allow us to be more than simply the sum of our parts.
     Judaism is a team sport. There is very little place in Jewish tradition for playing alone. We are obliged to pray with a Minyan, where available. Our laws of Kashruth and Shabbat practically demand living in a community in order to keep them. Our traditions of hospitality and kindness can only be practiced in the presence of others. And there is one more very big difference between our shuls and the Mishkan that stood out to me. It is made very clear in the Torah that care of the Mishkan was solely to be in the hands of Leviim and Cohanim.
     Care of our communities nowadays is no longer restricted to the few and the holy. Our rabbis don't need to come from priestly tribes, and the duty of care of the community no longer falls to those born into its service, but to those who willingly throw themselves into it. It falls purely on volunteers.   It falls to all of us.
     Our community here at Beth David is the continuation of an unbroken chain of thousands of years of communities who strove to figure out how to engage, how to enjoy, how to welcome and how to build an atmosphere that would keep that chain strong enough to last for thousands of years after us.
     It is our continuing mission, our historical duty, to do everything in our power to maximize the strength of that chain, the strength of the community. To build and rebuild our Kehila so that it reflects our Torah beliefs in a way that will best resonate with the characters, the personalities and the passion of our congregation. And it must resonate with the congregation that we have right now. Not with the community of 50 years ago, not with the people who may come along one day, but with us, with those of us here in this moment, today.
     As the temporary, ephemeral, volunteer lay leaders of this community, it falls on those of us on the board to answer those important questions: How are we doing? What can we improve? Where are our weaknesses and what are our strengths? What is the course of action that will lead to the best outcome for all of us? What do we need to be the best that we can be?
     And often, the answer is that we don't know. We're just human, and none of us have the chutzpah to think that we have all the answers. Or the chutzpah to say that we think we do.
     But "I don't know" isn't a course of action. An inaction, doing nothing, is as much of a choice as doing something. One can actively choose to do nothing, one can choose to do something, but making no decision at all has no place in leadership. So, one builds a hypothesis. Based on observations, experience, instinct and the guidance of those who know better, one can hypothesize what can be improved and what can be done to improve it. And then you test those hypotheses. Sometimes the initial hypothesis was correct and you change accordingly. Sometimes it wasn't, and you try something else. But in either case, the test is a success because you know more after performing it than you did before.

     And these are the current beliefs, the hypotheses, of the board.

  1. We believe that there may be an opportunity for us to improve the Ruach of our services. The spirit of engagement and the vibrancy of our Shabbat prayers.
  2. We believe that there may be an opportunity for Women to feel more included in our services.
  3. We believe that there may be an opportunity to improve access for those with limited mobility
  4. And we believe that our community will engage in the pursuit of these opportunities by testing the above beliefs and hypotheses and upholding the duty of care that we are all bound to fulfill.

     So, we're going to perform a test. An experiment. We don't know what the outcome will be, but we do know that our knowledge of each other and our understanding of how we can be better will be greater at the end of it that it was before.
     Starting next Shabbat, the seating arrangement in the Sanctuary will be temporarily changed. Change is hard and can feel very uncomfortable. It's a natural reaction when making adjustments to say to yourself "that's not how we do things here". I have absolutely no interest in change purely for change's sake.
     The only reason to run this experiment is to prove or disprove the hypothesis that we can make this community better and stronger. And the only way to get an accurate result from the test is if everyone participates.
     Many of you will be excited about the experiment and looking forward to trying it out. That's wonderful. Many of you are on the fence and may be thinking, "I'm not sure about this, but let's see how it goes". That's perfect. I'm not sure either, hence the need to try it out.
     And some of you may be thinking, "I don't like this at all, perhaps I'll just sit it out until it's over". I have two words for you. "Please don't".   Your passion for this community is precisely what we need in the discussions and debates to come. If you try it, REALLY try it, and don't like it, we need to know that. It's an important data point and will enable us to hear you and adjust as necessary. But if you don't try it at all, then how will I hear your voice? How will we as a community benefit from your thoughts and considered opinions?
     And for those of you who cannot for the life of you understand what in the world the board is thinking, then I have two more words for you: "Join us"!! We are about to stand up our nominating committee to find the next set of board members to be voted it at our annual meeting at the end of June.   Join us, discuss with us, disagree with us, convince us.  
     This week is also Parshat Zachor, where we remind us ourselves in the Maftir reading about the mortal threat to the Children of Israel and how it was overcome. This coming week is Purim, wherein we celebrate the victory over another mortal enemy enabled by the strength and cohesion of the Jewish people. In today's world, the biggest threat to our communities is simply apathy. I'm truly excited to see what this test will test us about ourselves, our community spirit, our engagement and our willingness to try something in the hope that it might, just might, remind us all how much we care.

Wed, March 20 2019 13 Adar II 5779