Words from CBE President, Jonathan Fried

On Yom Kippur 2016/5777, CBE President Jonathan Fried offered an inspiring reflection on the CBE community…

I may have set a high bar for myself earlier this year by setting my Purim announcements to the musical Hamilton …

But Yom Kippur is a much more solemn holiday. So, there will be no raps urging you not to “throw away your shot” to contribute this year…

Instead, inspired by the clash of electoral politics, I propose my own “battle” for your attention:

Ladies and gentlemen, you coulda been anywhere in Park Slope tonight, but you’re here with us at CBE. Are you ready for the YK appeal?

The issue from the bimah: Supporting our programs, events and maintaining a vibrant community. As your temple president, indulge me, a sec.

Fixin’ up our buildings, the continued success of Yachad
Just a couple reasons why we need funds
so bad; This tradition: it’s what Presidents always
say Don’t act surprised, my friends, it’s Kol Nidre.

During Rosh Hashanah, Rabbi Timoner spoke about initiating a congregation-wide commitment to improving the hospitality we extend to one another and to all who pass through our doors.

She noted that for too many of our members there is often a feeling of being on the outside looking in. And this observation is not limited to recent members, but is something that is often experienced by our longstanding congregants as well.

This is not a new phenomenon. In different ways, members have expressed a desire to feel more connected with each other, and with the different parts of our congregation.

One reason for this maybe that our overall membership has grown over the past 10 to 15 years. One indication of this growth is that we now have over 400 students in our Yachad education program. Also, while CBE has always offered programs that attracted members across a broad spectrum, we have expanded and grown in a variety of areas that have contributed to an even more diverse membership.

For example, on the first and second days of Rosh Hashanah, we had a total headcount of over 3,300 attending thirteen different services. This does not even include the s’lichot and tashlich rituals which we shared with the broader Park Slope community.

Much of this growth is relatively recent. It may surprise you to know that over half of our members joined in the last four years. With these numbers, it should be no surprise that so many of us do not know our fellow members as well as we might wish — or expect to.

This dynamic is not just something that is quantitatively evident. It is something that Rabbi Timoner and the clergy, myself and other trustees, hear anecdotes about far too often.

A few weeks ago, Rabbi Timoner and the Board of Trustees met for a full day retreat, which included a long conversation about making CBE “ audaciously hospitable ”. This phrase comes from the Union of Reform Judaism’s 2020 Vision for our movement.

A significant part of the “audacious hospitality” initiative is to respond to broad demographic changes and trends with regard to synagogue life.

At CBE we are also taking this as a call to address our level of hospitality at all levels. Including, crucially, focussing on the interpersonal relationships between and among our congregants that is what differentiates us as a neighborhood institution.

You may already notice some small changes that reflect this approach. For example, in our services, the clergy pauses in the liturgy to encourage people to introduce themselves to fellow participants.

Our trustees are now wearing name tags at shabbat services. Please say hello to us!

With Rabbi Timoner’s leadership, however, our commitment is to take this much further.

An important first step is a task force that is being co-chaired by Jennifer Ford and Dana Luria that will review all the ways that we currently welcome our membership and community. As they identify and recommend changes, we will implement what we can in the short-term, and plan for more significant improvements going forward.

If you have any thoughts or suggestions for this process, please let us know. We want to hear your stories of what the ways we have been successful in these areas, and of course the ways we can improve.

As I was reflecting on improving the connections between and among our members, it occurred to me that — despite my decades at CBE — there may be many of you who don’t know much about me beyond “the guy who reads the announcements on shabbat…”

In the spirit of audacious hospitality — I thought I would share a little bit about what brought me to CBE and what keeps me here.

My parents moved to Park Slope in 1972. Originally, they joined Union Temple, but after a few years, switched to Garfield Temple — as CBE was colloquially known back then.

Over the next four decades, I sat where you sat — as a series of remarkable Rabbis led the High Holy Day services: Rabbi Eugene Sack; Rabbi Jerry Weider; Rabbi Andy Bachman — and now, Rabbi Rachel Timoner.

I have to confess, I wasn’t always fully engaged in the ritual however. Both Rabbi Sack and Rabbi Weider had this unerring ability to look into the balcony and silence a child or teenager with a steely stare…

I also wasn’t particularly enthused by religious school — and I would like to apologize publicly to any former teachers who had a certain 5th or 6th grade class back in those days.

Instead, what kept me connected after my bar mitzvah was our youth program. In particular, I became very active in our Temple youth group which was part of the local chapter of the National Federation of Temple Youth — or NFTY. I also went to Jewish summer camp and met some of my closest friends through these activities.

I rounded out my high school Jewish experience with a 6 week trip to Israel through the American Zionist Youth Foundation — with the help of a gift from CBE.

I think that was a good investment, wasn’t it? Rabbi Weider?
I strongly re-connected with CBE when my children were born. Both of them were named here; both grew up in Yachad; and both were bat mitzvahed here. Over those years, I became more involved though the Religious School — and then Yachad Committees; the Ritual Committee; the Nominations Committee and a couple of search committees, before finally joining the Board in 2008.

Now, CBE has had a long history of outstanding lay leaders; people who devote considerable energy, talent and resources to this institution.

But it is a time-honored tradition at synagogues across our country to bemoan one’s fate as a Trustee. Indeed, the most well-worn chuckle comes when you tell someone that you’re the Temple President and they respond, “my condolences.”

Beyond the well-meaning one-liners, however, I have found the experience of being president to be an extended and incredibly humbling “circle of life” moment.

The roles I saw past presidents play as I grew up here — offering shabbat greetings; congratulating b’nai mitzvah families; leading meetings; welcoming members; to name but a few of these tasks — I find it amazing that I am doing the same things that these esteemed leaders did.

What is consistent about these moments is that I am privileged to be present for the stories of our members in so many different ways — just as past presidents, clergy, staff and fellow members were present as my own story developed.

That sort of retelling of stories — of looping year after year through the Torah — is at the heart of our tradition. When I see young men and women called to Torah week after week, I remember anew what it meant to do the same. It is an endlessly renewing tale of standing on the shoulders of who came before and lifting up the next generation.

Above all, however, the single most public role for the CBE Temple President is tonight.

When I became president in 2014 and started preparing to make my first Yom Kippur Appeal, I thought about the many other speeches I had heard from my predecessors. And the number one question I asked myself was, “what did I want to hear all those years sitting in the pews.”

The answer was easy: something short.

But apart from that — I knew what I didn’t want. I didn’t want a long list of programs and projects … there is always going to be more that we can do … more that we aspire to.

Yes, we need to figure out a way to get there … and that requires every one of us doing our part … and doing more.

But instead, what I wanted to feel when I sat where you sit was a connection to the other people of this congregation … to feel and share a sense of pride with my fellow members, in the mission and vision of CBE.

At bottom, that feeling is rooted in identifying what’s important to you about this institution. Finding your own story, your own history with this place. Whether it’s developed over decades of connections here, or whether you are just setting down tentative roots. Whether you find your way in through music, prayer, education or social action — or whether you are content to simply be in present in our sacred spaces.

Whatever your path — it’s that feeling that prompts one to sacrifice their weeknights and weekends to volunteer for this or that committee; it’s that feeling that compels someone to cross a room to greet a new face, or to respond to an email about an ailing member with a meal; and it’s with that feeling that I hope you will give generously, either tonight if you are comfortable completing a pledge card; or in response to the letters and phone calls that will follow.

That is my New Year’s wish for all of you — that some part of tonight spoke to what I wanted all those past years. A desire to connect; a wish to be part of something meaningful.

And Hamilton . I definitely wanted Hamilton. Even if I didn’t know it back in 1982.

Because the question I was asking myself even then — even though I didn’t know it — and the question I want you to ask yourself now — or when you sit with your checkbook — or when you hover your mouse over the “contribute” button — the question I want you to consider is what is the story of your connection to CBE — what is your place in this institution.

For some that might mean more looking back, for others it may involve looking ahead.

And when you decide on what you will donate — how you will contribute in the coming year — and I hope you will contribute generously — I hope you will also share your how you answered that question for yourself.

Whether you share that with our hospitality task force to help them improve things for all our members; or share your story with a new friend you made at services or in our programs; we want all our members to be able to hear and tell their stories.

Thank you.

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