Friday, May 31, 2013

Shabbat-O-Gram for May 31

Shabbat Shalom

I am SO looking forward to services at Treetops this evening at 6 (download directions here).  A very special thank you to the Brownstein family for inviting us into their little taste of paradise on what promises to be a beautiful midsummer type evening.  Right now the place looks like a scene right out of "Mary Poppins." Lisa and Don really have outdone themselves with their hospitality and we are most grateful.  Plus, Lisa will be accompanying the cantor on the harp.

Young children flourish when allowed to enter the world of real work that surrounds them: from picking up toys or feeding the cat to grating carrots for salad.   Read Ronnie Brockman's blog entry for this week, Let's Put Our Children to Work  - and spread the word about Shorashim!

On Shabbat morning we honor our volunteers - and we could not exist without their love and dedication.  And on Sunday evening we honor our Volunteer-in-Chief ...

A Little Known Fact About Eileen Rosner

By now most of you know that we will be honoring Eileen Rosner at this Sunday's Cantor's Concert at 7 PM.  And most of you know about at least some of the things Eileen does and has done for our congregation and community.  You've heard about her legendary ushering at services, her work with the cemetery, Shorashim, Hebrew School, Jewish Historical Society, Ferguson Library...and oh yes, she was president of the synagogue - and so much more.
What many don't know is that she has been a treasured family member for clergy families here and in particular for their children.  For my kids, she has been there for 





and bar mitzvahs

not to mention every birthday party.

She never missed a single one, until last week's college graduation (I told her I had to pay $200,000 to get into to that one).  I know that has been also the case for Cantor Mordecai's children (minus the brisses and bar mitzvahs), and for other clergy and staff who have been here.  Eileen has been family to us and she is family for everyone.  She, like Frank before her, is the glue that connects us all, one to another.

Later today, look for an email with a link to the online journal that has been produced in Eileen's honor.  Fortunately, this journal is still a work in progress, so there is time for you to submit a last-minute ad and message.  The final document will remain online and a hard copy will be presented to Eileen in the near future.  I hope to see everyone here Sunday night.  And BTW, it's going to be a terrific concert, featuring the talents of a number of local cantors, many of whom are near and dear to us, most especially our own Cantor Mordecai.  My thanks to him and to all the talent that will be assembled.

The 16 Percent Solution: "State of the Synagogue" Report

This week's portion of Shelach Lecha is perfect for a time of transitions.  Moses sends forth a dozen spies, much the way we send forth dozens of bar mitzvah students in a given year. But we hope for better results than he had.  For Moses, ten out of twelve failed to come back with a positive report.  Imagine what would have become of Moses in the corporate world, with a success rate of 16 per cent. 

But 16 percent is all Moses needed - just two spies out of twelve had the potential to grow into new leadership.  One of them, Joshua, became the next leader.  And by the time Joshua was ready to step aside, the whole nation was firmly ensconced in the Promised Land and ready to take its place in history.  Sometimes 16 percent isn't so bad.  If we manage to achieve 16 percent of our programming or visioning initiatives, that's far from perfect.  But it would be 16 percent more than we would have achieved had we tried nothing new at all. 

We are on the verge of finalizing a new strategic plan - one that codifies the vision that has been coalescing here for a number of years.  Yes, we know that as soon as the ink dries, it will already be time to adjust it.  But that's the beauty of the culture of TBE - we never stop growing, we never stop trying new things - we never stop moving forward, even when it seems like things are working 16 percent of the time.  We're actually doing much better than Moses did.  But that's not the point.

The point is that when you have a culture of adaptation and innovation, you are immunized against institutional paralysis and fear.  When something doesn't work, we just go on to the next.  When services in the chapel aren't quite right, we come down to the lobby.  When this isn't right, we go back up there.  We are adaptable - that isn't merely the story of TBE - it's the story of the Jewish people.  It's the secret to our survival.

So what do we need to do now in this increasingly challenging environment?  One thing we have determined collectively is the need to re-emphasize the centrality of Shabbat in the life of this congregation.  We may differ as to how best to do that, but the goal has been set and is now enshrined as key pillar of our strategic plan.
In fact, we've been doing this work for a number of years, in different ways.  Over the past three years, since the arrival of Cantor Mordecai and his amazing music, we have succeeded in completely transforming our Friday night experience.  This transformation cannot be measured in numbers alone, but we now can expect a solid 50-plus each week, without any bar mitzvah or special event - a core that is growing - and for a reason.  I was talking to someone just yesterday, a newer member who has suffered harsh personal blows and he just couldn't stop talking about how soothing and healing our service is for him.  It is for so many of us.  I have no doubt that we will continue to grow on Friday nights - and I believe that service is primed to take off in a big way.  And for Shabbat morning, we will continue to push the envelope, with the goal of engaging far more of our congregants, far more often.
Our new strategic plan emphasizes the importance of repairing the world to our mission. And what  aren't we doing to make this world a better place? 
  • This isn't the largest 7th grade we've ever had, but look at their photo and you will see the kind of diversity, ethnically, culturally, and religiously, that makes this a better world. 
  • Look up to our roof and in a few short weeks there will be over 800 solar panels generating 70 percent of our electricity and we will become, arguably, the greenest synagogue in the country.
  • We have taken the lead in a number of key areas of tikkun olam, world repair this year, including interfaith dialogue and service to those who are in need of visitation or support, with our new in-reach organization called Reyut.
  • We responded to Hurricane Sandy and the Newtown tragedy in meaningful ways, opening our doors to those in need of a warm hug and a hot meal, as featured on NPR, and generating support for meaningful gun violence legislation.  We've become very good at reaching outward and inward simultaneously, especially on Shabbat.  While on Friday nights we reached inward to touch our souls, on Shabbat mornings we focused on projecting God's love outward to the world. We recalled the plight of Soviet Jewry 50 years ago and the plight of the bumble bee today.  We dialogued with a Muslim educator and a learned about a Palestinian prisoner turned peace activist, blessed our animals and heard from our teens who marched in Poland, lobbied in Washington, built schools in Central America and danced at the Kotel.   We took an active role in advocating for our community's public schools - an existential issue for the future of our synagogue. 
Of course there is so much more.


Brown Graduation Weekend, '13

Below are some photos capturing some of the pomp (and parental pride) of the Brown graduation last Sunday.  I could not be more proud of Ethan - and of my alma mater.  
You can watch the video of the college ceremony herefeaturing a beautifully poetic invocation.

And the larger university ceremony can be seen here, featuring a moving student oration by Tanayott Thaweethai, who stated that in life"we will find ourselves faced with a seemingly infinite number of doors. Some of these will be ornately decorated and lined with great salaries and generous 401(k)s. Others will be run-down and wearing at the hinges. Some will lead you halfway around the world and others will lead you back home. Some of us, inevitably, will build our own doors. But as you reach for the handle, remember this: Do not walk through a door just because it is open. Find the door you refuse to let close. That, I promise you, is the right one." 

And then there is the Baccalaureate Service, a kaleidoscope of cultural and spiritual diversity that is so perfectly and uniquely "Brown."  You can see that here

People have been asking me how it feels to be the parent of a college graduate. Ben Affleck mentioned that when he told his young daughter that he was getting an honorary degree from Brown, she asked him how he could be getting a diploma when he did none of the homework.  And it's true, as a parent, I did none of the homework (though a full share of the sweating).  The only thing I could do at commencement was reflect back on all the years since I took that exact same walk through the Van Wickle Gates   So much has happened, so much that I could never have predicted back then, so many doors have opened and closed behind me.  And one of those doors led my son to exactly the same place, at a very different time.

I am reminded of "Laurie's Song" from the Aaron Copland opera, "The Tender Land." It's sung by a girl graduating high school, but the sentiments are similar.  Many of our graduates are feeling this way right now.

Once I thought I'd never grow tall as this fence.
Time dragged heavy and slow.
But April came and August went before I knew just what they meant,
And little by little I grew,
And as I grew, I came to know how fast the time could go.
Once I thought I'd never go outside this fence.
This space was plenty for me,
But I walked down the road one day, and just what happened I can't say.
But little by little it came to be:
That line between the earth and sky came beckoning to me.
Now the time has grown so short; the world has grown so wide.
I'll be graduated soon. Why am I strange inside?
What makes me think I'd like to try
To go down all those roads beyond that line above the earth and 'neath the sky?
Tomorrow when I sit upon the graduation platform stand,
I know my hand will shake when I reach out to take that paper with the ribboned band.
Now that all the learning's done, Oh who knows what will now begin?
Oh it's so strange, I'm strange inside.
The time has grown so short; the world so wide.

The horizon beckons, the possibilities are endless and the choices daunting.  It is a time that we parents recall both with a shudder of fear and a twinge of envy.  Many of our most fateful choices have already been made, and in a world far less complex. The horizon before us is far less wide, now, but we too feel strange inside, reminded at each commencement that choices still abound, even as we watch the product of so many thousands of our choices step forward to receive his diploma.  

At this time of year, with so many transitioning, we can be guided by the compass of Deuteronomy, which reminds us to set a single parameter that can guide us in every choice we make. Whenever confronted with a key decision, we should choose life.

That choice is explained by Rabbi Yitz Greenberg in this commencement address at Sacred Heart University a few years ago (BTW a great new site dedicated to Yitz's work has just been launched):  

"In sum, there is no neutral act in life and there is no moment without choice. Not to choose is to choose. Therefore the name of humanity which waits upon your choice, and for the sake of God who years for your choice in love, go forth and choose life." 

Click here for photos from last Sunday's Brown graduation.

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