From Our President…
As my presidency draws to a close, I offer to you something of a farewell address. The farewell address has a long history, with the two most famous examples of George Washington and Moses being close to my heart as a Jewish political scientist. And indeed, like Washington, I can aver “that I have, with good intentions, contributed towards the organization and administration of the government [shul] the best exertions of which a very fallible judgment was capable.”
Both Moses and Washington took the occasion to celebrate what their nations had accomplished under their leadership during difficult times. They also couldn’t resist providing some advice for the future. Washington famously advised national unity across geographic sectional lines and warned of the dangers of foreign entanglements and military expansion. Moses reminded the people of Israel of the covenant to which they had agreed and counseled them that they had the capacity to choose, as individuals and as a community, between a path of “life and prosperity [or] death and destruction.” While I don’t think we need to worry that B’nai Sholom will find itself enmeshed in international intrigue with Great Britain and France, I don’t anticipate political struggle between those of us who reside to the north and south of Albany respectively, and the creation of a standing army isn’t in our budget, I would encourage us to embrace Jewish values as we look to the future.
The last two years have been tumultuous. Within our community, of course, we were prepared for change, as we knew that we would be saying goodbye to Rabbi Cashman, experiencing a year of interim rabbinic leadership and welcoming a new settled Rabbi. But we have also experienced a global pandemic, a revitalized civil rights movement focusing on police violence, a bitterly contested national election, an attempted insurrection, rising concerns about anti-Semitism, and the Russian invasion of Ukraine, the home of many of our ancestors. We have not been through a 40-year sojourn in the desert after escaping slavery, nor have we survived the first years of a new form of government, but we’ve been through a lot.
The fixed stars that anchored us through all of this have remained and can guide us in the future. I will name just a few.
Pikuach nefesh. We have always honestly acknowledged and addressed the danger of COVID-19 and recently we have undertaken a comprehensive review of our physical and cybersecurity at B’nai Sholom and secured funding to improve it. In the future, I hope we will continue to prioritize the safety of our members. The COVID Response Committee and our Safety and Security Committee are well poised to lead the way.
Kehillah. Our community has been so important, and I hope it will remain so. Our embrace of multi-access services and events have both broadened our community and made it more accessible. We stand at the threshold of the Audacious Hospitality initiative, which will expand and extend our commitment to community in many positive ways that I can foresee and hopefully some that I can’t.
Tikkun olam. Our members have led and participated in many responses to injustice in our community and in our world. From Black Lives Matter to protecting voting rights and encouraging voting to demanding health care reform to raising the alarm on climate change, engagement with the problems of the world has been a hallmark of B’nai Sholom and I hope will continue to be one of our signature identities.
Tzedakah. Our members have been generous with both their money and their time. We have needed a larger budget to address pandemic costs, new technology, the costs of two rabbinic searches and other issues, while our traditional in-person fundraising activities have been on hold. Yet, we have been managing and the Legacy Society has grown. Our new model for multi-access services demands a lot more volunteer labor, and many people have stepped forward. More than 400 volunteer opportunities were promised through Moments, many of which have already been successfully claimed. We will need all of this energy going forward and then some to achieve our brightest dreams and enable B’nai Sholom to be the best center for Jewish life and catalyst for Jewish values that it can be.
While the “farewell address” conceit situates me as a leader, I want to emphasize that I have done nothing alone. I’ve been blessed to work with two talented and insightful rabbis, Rabbi Katz and Rabbi Weisbrot. Christine Blackman has somehow managed to keep countless administrative and technical balls in the air through all the chaos. Our new bookkeeper, Maryann Murray-Wygel, has worked very hard with the Finance Committee (Gail Golderman and Shari Whiting in particular) to improve our accounting system. Our committees have also done so much; I’ve been particularly grateful to the committees I’ve engaged with the most: Ritual, Safety and Security, Building and Landscape, Communications, Adult Education, Social Action/Social Justice and of course our representatives on the B’Yachad and Mifgash boards.
Finally, to our own Board of Trustees I owe an enormous debt of gratitude. I have called upon their engagement and thoughtfulness regarding many a thorny situation, and they have always provided unparalleled wisdom. And thank you to every congregant for your own continued commitment to and engagement with B’nai Sholom.