September 29-30, 2017—10 Tishri 5778
My wife Shira has a favorite business parable. Once a shoe manufacturer sent two representatives to a new market where they had never done business before. Would this be a good market for the company to get into?
The first representative comes back and says absolutely not. Everyone there is barefoot. No one buys shoes.
The second representative comes back and says absolutely. The kingdom of the barefoot is perfect for us. No one buys shoes yet.
The facts are the facts. The facts are what they are. It is the attitude that makes all the difference.
This parable applies with particular force to our shul right now.
This is the 14th time I have made the Annual Appeal on Yom Kippur. But this year’s Annual Appeal is like none other that I have ever given.
As you know, the basic message of our Annual Appeal is always the same. We do good work 365 days a year. We help a lot of people find meaning and purpose and strength. We offer lots of choices, seven gates full activity. We are a shul for all, regardless of ability to pay. It takes a lot of money to run a big, diverse, open shul. Please give as generously as you can.
All that is true again this year. We have our fabulous new rabbi, Rav Hazzan Aliza Berger, who is doing path-breaking work with both our teens post Bar and Bat Mitzvah and our millennials, our children and grandchildren in their 20s and 30s who live in Greater Boston. All that costs money. Please give.
But this year, while I am also asking for your money, I am asking for much more. I am asking for you. I am asking for your heart. And here is why.
You all know that we live in the age of toxic division. It is not only that we disagree on so many things. But we disagree so disagreeably. The culture in our country, and it permeates into our shul, is taut and tense with disagreement.
Here is the core question, a la Shira’s business parable. When the going gets tough, do we come together? Or when the going gets tough, do we come apart?
I cannot tell you how many hours I have sat with our members, beloved members, long time members, who say:
Rabbi, we had always loved Temple Emanuel, but I cannot stand all the politics. This synagogue is so left of center. I don’t like all the lefty politics. The synagogue is progressive. I don’t want a progressive synagogue. Members who find the Temple too far left politically have left the Temple. They are no longer members. Or they refuse to give anything to our Annual Appeal, or they give half of what they used to give, to send a message.
And, remarkably, this same synagogue that is such an alleged hot bed of lefty political action, has also led to members, beloved long time members, who say:
Rabbi, we had always loved Temple Emanuel, but we cannot abide the synagogue’s deafening silence in this age we are in. This is not about right or left. This is about right or wrong. This is not about Republican or Democrat. This is about upholding basic moral values. One former member of our congregation told me earlier this month, and I quote: You should be bellowing constantly about the President and you are not. They resigned. Others refuse to give anything to our Annual Appeal, or they give half of what they used to give, to send a message.
You could look at this picture and say that we are coming apart.
Or, you could look at this picture and decide to redouble our efforts to come together, to stay together, to build together, especially now. And why would we do that?
Because if we don’t, then this toxic age of division will have claimed yet one more casualty. There will not even be a shared community of faith where people who have different convictions can pray, sing, learn, dream and work together. Not even a shul can hold us together. More tearing of the fabric. More killing of common ground. More echo chamber. More talking to people who already agree with you. Less listening to people who don’t.
Let me tell you the truth about where Temple Emanuel is politically. We are not a right leaning congregation. We are not a left leaning congregation. We are an upwards aspiring congregation. We try to listen to what God says in the Torah when God says: kedoshim tihyu ki kadosh ani Adonai eloheichem, be holy (go up, not right or left) because I the Lord your God am holy. Of course people are going to disagree, passionately, about what that means, about what that requires of us, and that’s okay. I love that conversation. What I don’t love is people quitting on us.
If when the going gets tough, we come apart, let me tell you what gets lost. And if when the going gets tough, we come together, let me tell you what gets saved.
Several years ago, a young man came to see me. He was from the former Soviet Union, Belarus. When I first met him he was in his mid-20s. He shared that when he was growing up, he knew that he was Jewish, but he did not know what that meant. He did know that people were always fighting him because they called him a dirty Jew. He had always heard of Boston, as a cradle of liberty. He dreamed of coming here one day, for the freedom to explore what being Jewish meant, and also for education and a job. He moved to Boston, got an education, got a job, and joined Temple Emanuel.
Meanwhile, in one of those great cosmic karma moves only God can understand, a young Jewish woman, also from Belarus, who also suffered anti-Semitism, also dreamed one day of coming to Boston, cradle of liberty, where she could learn more about her Judaism and get an education and a job. She came here in her mid-20s, got her education and got her job. By the way, they both work in the same place. Crazy how that happens.
This man and woman did not know each other in Belarus. But they met here in Boston. They worked with me and my colleagues to get the Jewish education they never could get. And then, this past summer, on Thursday, August 2, the most remarkable thing happened.
They got married in the Gann Chapel. Michelle, Elias, Aliza and I were all there officiating. It was the first Jewish wedding on either side of the family in at least 100 years. The Bolshevik Revolution was in 1917. After that, there were no more Jewish weddings in their family. But now they live in Boston, not Belarus. Now they are a part of Temple Emanuel. For the first time in a hundred years, an auf ruf. For the first time in a hundred years, mikveh. For the first time in a hundred years, kabbalat panim. For the first time in a hundred years, a Ketubah. For the first time in a hundred years, a chuppah. The Jewish people just got reborn, and they just got reborn here. Afterwards they wrote us a note:
We feel very happy and blessed to be a part of the Temple Emanuel community. We feel so blessed to have our wedding at Temple Emanuel and to start our life and family surrounded by such a great community.
That’s what’s at stake now. A place that lifts us up.
Here is what I ask of each of you on Yom Kippur.
Please give as generously as you can to our Annual Appeal because we still need the support to help our members go higher in holiness, kedoshim tihyu.
And, please bring you, your heart, your soul, your love. What we need most right now is you. Don’t give up on us. Not now. Not ever.
When the going gets tough, we come together. But only if all of us make it so. G. T.