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High Holidays 2011 – President’s Remarks
Submitted by President on Wed, 09/28/2011 - 8:13pm
Tonight is only the beginning of Yom Kippur and I am already feeling renewed. Thank you, Rabbi Annie and Abbie. By your words and music and by your immersing yourself deeply into the prayers, you have helped transport us to that hard to reach state where we feel closer to G-d; the place where we need to be to sincerely seek G-d’s forgiveness. I am sure that just about everyone in this sanctuary tonight had their thoughts on how we have dishonored G-d, by the mistakes we’ve each made this past year, and how each one of us will strive to do a better job in being the kind of person G-d expects us to be in this year of 5772.
Tonight I would like to talk to you about the Temple Sinai Community, what kind of community it really is, why the community needs you and why you need the community.
Certainly you have heard it said that this is a warm and welcoming community. As simple as that may sound, it is a cornerstone of our mission. Every member should know this by now, having felt and contributed to the warmth and caring. If you are a new member, having joined in just the past few months, you will soon start to feel it.
To be a strong community is a two way street between the community and its members. Individual members give to the community and in return receive from it and the community does the same by giving to and receiving from the members. We do this very well and it keeps us strong. We take Tikun Olam, repairing the world, very seriously. We care for those outside our congregational family, and we care for our own. This community cares.
Permit me to tell you of my own experience of how this congregation cares. It was Sept. 2004, and we were beginning our third year as members. We had friends, but other than that we didn’t know a lot of people. My mother was in town, having come to Houston to escape that devastating hurricane season in South Florida. Instead of going home she decided to stay a few extra days to spend Rosh Hashanah with us.
The night before Erev Rosh Hashanah she suffered a debilitating stroke and the doctors told us it was only a matter of time. I came to services on Rosh Hashanah Eve, not because I wanted to pray; praying can be very difficult when you know your prayers can’t be answered. I came because I wanted some time to be alone with my own thoughts before services began. I came early that night and took a seat in this nearly empty sanctuary.
But I couldn’t get very deep into my thoughts because as people arrived and entered the sanctuary they came up to me, many of whom I didn’t even know, and offered a kind word or a hug. At first that was bothersome to me, but I quickly came to understand and feel their kindness and caring. I realized that their words and hugs were more important to me than my own thoughts. This congregation knows when people need them. This congregation cares.
I have seen over the years this congregation step up more than once to help a family when financial constraints precluded them from joyously celebrating a life cycle event, and you may have experienced yourself the kindness of our caring community in the form of phone calls, visits, or meals in times of sickness or loss.
Our caring committee is a pride and joy of this congregation so now is a fitting time to put in a plug. The committee is primarily made up of congregants who have been at this for a number of years. We need new people with fresh ideas to step up and volunteer to help out the caring committee to whatever extent they are able. Please call Cindy in the Temple office to let her know what areas you are willing to help out in and she will give your name to the committee as someone they can call on.
My family has been very active in our nine years as members of Temple Sinai. Iris, Andrew, and I have worked hard and given a lot of our time, but I can tell you that we have received so much more from the community than we have given. We have gotten friendships, satisfaction, education and enjoyment but most of all we have gotten the comfort of knowing that Temple Sinai is always here for us, as it is for you. As the commercial says, that is priceless.
What does have a cost, however, is ensuring that our congregation endures. We, like all Temples, require dollars to exist. These dollars come from all of us. The money is necessary to pay for this beautiful building, for our endearing Rabbi, for our excellent religious school, for our diverse programming, for our library, our social action contributions, and for the support of Reform Judaism. When we pay our dues we aren’t just paying for the times we are here. We are paying for the peace and comfort of knowing that Temple Sinai and what it stands for is available for us, our children, and their children, whenever we may need it.
It is a community responsibility, one that every member in the community must accept, to give back and help nurture the community. This community gives to its members, whether in caring and comfort when needed, friendship, education for children and adults, social activities, a place to feel closer to G-d, and a place to have an opportunity to help others. But it takes dollars and it takes people to provide for our members and you can give back in both ways.
We heard last week how Abraham was prepared to make the ultimate sacrifice to demonstrate his commitment to G-D. We must be prepared to sacrifice to show our commitment to our community. A healthy community is one that has a symbiotic relationship with its members. One cannot survive without the other. We receive from the community and we give back.
As you have certainly realized by now, I am going to ask each one of you for a pledge amount separate from your dues. We need each one of you to step up and take responsibility for your commitment to this community.
I know what you are thinking. "No matter how much I give it’s never enough. How about watching our spending since times are tough for all of us?" I can tell you this. Over the last four years, under the leadership of two Presidents I have watched and participated as the Board of Trustees has worked very hard to cut expenses and no area has escaped their scrutiny.
One of the first cuts made was emailing the Shofar which saved a huge amount of postage, and most recently we have transitioned to emailing monthly statements to all congregants. We will need the cooperation of all congregants in responding to these email statements so we don’t have to revert to paying for U.S. mail. Now you are probably saying "I haven’t seen any other cuts", but they are there. To mention a few, if you look in the parking lot you will see a smaller trash dumpster, we have changed lawn maintenance companies, and every one of our staff, the Rabbi, Rina & Cindy have enthusiastically worked with us to reduce our health care costs.
No, you wouldn’t normally see these cuts and that is the point. The Board has done an excellent job of cutting expenses over the last four years without it affecting our programming and it is now to the point that any other cuts will have that impactful affect. That will change who we are and what we offer, and none of us want to see that. I think we all love who and what we are.
The Fair Share Dues Committee has been working with congregants to increase their commitment and in almost every case this has been successful. Our fundraising committee is already hard at work on various fund raisers (don’t forget to order your gift cards) and is looking forward to topping last year’s very successful gala.
But that is not enough and so I am asking each and every one of you to please bend down a tab on the pledge card you received when you came in tonight. I would like to see everyone pledge 10% of their annual dues. This would be 10% of your dues, not dues and school fees. If we got 100% of the congregation to pledge 10%, we would realize over $30,000. Among other things, this would enable us to restore some of what has been cut, like the onegs. It would enable us to compensate our musicians equitably for the value they add to our Shabbat services. Most of all it will enable us to start preparing for our future so that the Temple Sinai community can continue to offer our children and grandchildren what it offers us.
Why should you give? I would like to quote some wisdom from a very wise rabbi that was written a very long time ago, about 30 days ago. That wise Rabbi, Rabbi Annie of Houston, wrote that in Exodus 25: 2, (her favorite), we are taught that when the Israelites were building the Tabernacle, Moses was told by G-d "Tell the Israelite people to bring me gifts; you shall accept gifts for me from every person whose heart so moves him." These words, written by the wise Rabbi, appear in one of the most popular Jewish publications, The Temple Sinai Weekly Email, circa August 2011. Rabbi Annie of Houston closes by saying "this was a voluntary offering."
So please strongly consider bending the tab on the pledge card that is closest to 10% of your annual dues. If you are contemplating between two tabs, asking yourself which one should you do, you are asking the wrong question. Ask yourself which one can you do and please choose the tab on the right. But do not give until it hurts; give until it feels good because this is about our relationship with our community, not membership in a congregation.
It is these voluntary offerings, made from the heart, that will help ensure that our community remains strong and vibrant. Let us come together as a family relying on each other and sharing our strengths, our resources and our blessings.
At the end of this evening’s service, Ritual Committee members will be in the back. As you exit the sanctuary, please deposit your pledge cards in the baskets they will be holding.
G’mar Chatimah Tovah - May you be inscribed in the Book of Life for a good year!