Words from CBE President, Jonathan Fried

On Yom Kippur 2017/5778, CBE President Jonathan Fried offered a remarkable reflection on his years as a member and leader at CBE. His beautiful words are below.

I am surely not the only Temple President who counts his tenure in terms of Yom Kippur Appeals. Tonight, believe or not, is the fourth time I have had the honor to stand before you and ask for your support for this great congregation. It has been a challenge each and every time I have closed the summer and spent the early fall thinking about what to say on this night. But this year’s preparation was even more daunting, because I knew tonight would be my final appeal to you.

When I finish my term in June, I will have been president for four years, which is a long time for this role. Most of the names on our plaque of past presidents served two or three years. Lucky devils.

These particular years in the life of our congregation — well, I wouldn’t say they quite felt like forty — but it certainly did feel like we were wandering in the desert at times.

Some tangible challenges during my tenure that you might remember.

In 2014, we had a fire in the Temple House; in 2015, a flood downstairs in the rotunda; and this summer — well, you need only look up…

Indeed, I would have to say that the most nervous moment as president was confronting the very real possibility that we would not be in the sanctuary for these High Holy Days.

I know it is hard to imagine, but only a week before Erev Rosh Hashanah, all of the pews had been consolidated in the back and were covered in plastic. In the middle of the sanctuary was a plywood floor to support a lift that allowed the crew to access the ceiling without building extensive scaffolding.

Our engineer had recommended a relatively new option for this work called plaster consolidation. What you are seeing is the ceiling after that process has been completed — but before the cosmetic work of removing the temporary supports and patching and painting. All of which will be done shortly after the High Holy Days. We were very fortunate that the preeminent plaster consolidation firm was able to take on this job on extremely short notice.

We were even more fortunate that over the past few years we had built up our reserves under the leadership of our last two Treasurers, Rob Raich, and now, John Horowitz, to the point where we could pay for this extraordinary and unanticipated work without having to go beyond our own fiscal capacity.

That said, having spent down our reserves significantly for this project, our buildings are too old and with too many problems for us not to start rebuilding those reserves immediately. Which we will do, with your help.

Indeed, the awesome responsibility of our aging facilities is a constant challenge for this congregation.

On the one hand, we have a tremendous physical presence in space-challenged Park Slope. Two buildings that are both a testament to our predecessors’ audacity and vision, and a continuing down payment on the future of Judaism, where hundreds of our children worship, learn, and come together in a diverse range of programs.

Yes, these buildings may be showing their 100 plus years — and yes, we have still have so much work to do to keep them safe, secure, beautiful and functional.

But they are here. Resolute and reassuring; shelter and sanctuary.

Our good friend, Reverend Daniel Meeter of Old First Reformed Church knows the value and challenges of a venerable building. Welcome, Pastor Meeter it is always good to have you with us.

For all that our physical plant was a challenge over recent years, the significant transitions we had in clergy and staff might have even had greater impact.

In my first year, we said goodbye to Rabbi Andy Bachman, whose rabbinate generated such remarkable innovations in our programming, education, and worship.

We then embarked on a profoundly inclusive and intentional Rabbinic search process that led to the indisputable highlight of my tenure: the hiring of Rachel Timoner to be our Senior Rabbi.

Truly, if you would ask me what is the single achievement of which I am most proud, it is that I got out of the way of an amazing search committee and let them do their work. We are a congregation that takes great pride in the longevity of our rabbis’ tenures. I fully expect we will enjoy the wisdom and love of Rabbi Timoner for many years to come.

She’s not going anywhere. But why wait to get know her better? Let me suggest a few ways:

  • Come to the URJ Biennial in December. Be a part of our delegation in Boston, which she is leading.
  • Or, join her first congregational trip to Israel next summer. There’s an information session about it after shabbat services on October 14.
  • Or, Boston and Israel don’t work for you? How about a Chanukah meditation retreat in Kripalu that she is leading in December?

Rabbi Timoner is not the only stellar clergy I have been privileged to work with. Cantor Breitzer is a prodigious talent, a creative wizard, and can literally teleport himself from the sanctuary floor to the balcony.

Rabbi Katz was my teacher when he was only an intern, led my daughter Josie’s 8th grade trip — the BEST 8th grade trip, I am told — to Israel, and has demonstrated time and time again the very best qualities of rabbinic leadership. I want to thank all the clergy for leading our beautiful services tonight.

But if you want to catch Rabbi Katz tomorrow, he will not be here when our services continue at 10:00 a.m. but will be leading the Youth & Family Services in the Ballroom. However, he will be back here in the sanctuary for Member’s Hour at 2:00 p.m. teaching on “The Great Debate About Fasting: Self-Denial or Self-Gratification.”

Indeed, our clergy is all over the place — literally. Matt Green and Sarah Grabiner, our clergy interns, led Brooklyn Jews Services in Prospect Park for Rosh Hashanah — and will be at the All Saints Episcopal Church for Yom Kippur tomorrow. Altshul, an egalitarian traditional minyan, will pack the Chapel…. We have Tots services, Children’s services.. The options go on and on.

If you asked me what has been the greatest surprise about being president, it’s the sheer breadth and depth of the work we do — and the ways in which the president gets involved in so many aspects of it. It not all just the glamour of making shabbat announcements.

Not to mention that we are growing phenomenally.

Last year, we had over 3,300 attendees across our various services during Rosh Hashanah — this year, that number exceeds 4,300. A large part of this increase is due to 125 new member families since last year — including 33 in the last two weeks alone! An astounding testament to the need we fill in our community.

Managing all of this is our Executive Director, Betti Greenstein who only joined us about 18 months ago. I have come to rely on her so completely for her frankness and extraordinary competence. I can’t imagine doing this job without her as a partner and I cannot stress enough how fortunate we are to have such stability, professionalism, and talent in both Betti and Rabbi Timoner.

So many people come through our doors, not just during the High Holy Days, but all year ‘round. Students, learning Hebrew and Torah; congregants, seeking meaningful worship or with pastoral needs; and countless neighbors who see this institution as more than “just a temple.”

Many come for our social action programs. A proud tradition of tikkun olam that Rabbi Timoner has continues with extraordinary results.

Notably, I might add, our Rabbi Emeritus Jerry Weider, also continues that practice with his work with our Refugee Task Force. Not to mention his stirring reading of the CCAR statement on Rosh Hashana. Kol ha kavod, Rabbi.

Tomorrow, you can participate in this tradition in a meaningful way by registering as a bone marrow donor in the Temple House — or by contributing online in our Yom Kippur Food Drive, which supports CAMBA our longtime partner in the Men’s Respite Shelter that we host for several weeks each Spring.

While our members find many ways to get involved — whether through formal committees, or specific task forces — the common denominator is a devotion to the well being of this congregation. My hope in all those interactions is that the commitment and interest in a specific task or area might deepen a connection, both to the institution — and to each other.

People like all our members and neighbors, who also helped make this night special: Lauren Roth, with her singing; Tara Hanish, on cello; and Nashira and the Brooklyn Community Chorus, accompanied by the incomparable Rose Moskowitz.

Also, tonight’s ushers and greeters: Randi Jaffe, Kathy Henkel-Raphael, Jonathan Rosen, Harlene Katzman, Elissa Krebs, Gale Kaufman, Richard Roth, and Mary Roth. They lead by example, helping us to make our congregation welcoming to all.

You can help them by leaving your mahzors at your seats at the conclusion of tonight’s services.

How fortunate are we to have members like Perry Solomon organizing all these people across our various services.

When Rabbi Timoner spoke about “Love” on Rosh Hashanah — about building connections between and among our members — I thought these are the kinds of connections that often begin with the simple individualized interactions that people like Perry help facilitate.

It is those sort of small personal encounters that collectively build the kind of community we all aspire to.

It is in this area, when I reflect back on my time in this position, that I feel I have most missed the mark. When I started, I had envisioned holding a regular President’s Coffee, a drop in opportunity for members to get to know me, and me them. I also had hoped to meet regularly with each of my fellow trustees, to better understand what they were seeking by agreeing to serve — and to best position their skills and energies to help CBE. I had intentions of being a regular at more of the committees, where so much of the “heavy lifting” is done. Also, many members reach out to me individually, and while I have met with many of you, there are many I wished I had found more time to speak with.

In these ways, I ask your forgiveness for not living up to these expectations I set for myself.

For where I have met those expectations, I have been very fortunate to have had the counsel and support our past presidents. I want to thank them again, as well as their relatives, for joining me and Rabbi Timoner on the bimah tonight for the chanting of kol nidrei: Amy Kossoy, for her father George; Jay Kriegel, for his father Stanley; Barbara Rosenthal, for her sister Donna; Phyllis Spielman, for her husband Gerry; Jules Hirsh; [George Harris]; Susan Levy for her husband, Paul; Lyn Hill; David Kasakove; and Chuck Nathan.

I also want to note that Phyllis has again generously sponsored the flowers on the bimah.

For all of them, I am very appreciative for all their guidance and advice — whether I sought it or not. But I want to single out two for a special mention.

First, Jules Hirsh — b’nai mitzvah tutor to countless children here, including yours truly. Thank you, Jules, for your unwavering encouragement during some very challenging times.

Jules will be closing our services tomorrow night by leading a tekiah g’dolah with all shofar sounders in the congregation. If you have a rams horn, please join us on the bimah us tomorrow at 5:45 for Neila.

Second, is Donna Kolar Rosenthal, of blessed memory. For those who may not know, Donna was CBE’s first woman president and one of our kindest and most strong willed members. I was very fortunate that she had rejoined the Board by the time I became president. She was an incredible source of love and no-nonsense advice for me and I have often thought, “What Would Donna Do” before important decisions. I know I’m not alone in missing her greatly.

Donna believed strongly in the values of inclusion and welcome. She would embrace our “audacious hospitality” work. But Donna was also very practical and I am sure she would be just as supportive of a critical development initiative that I am happy to announce tonight.

Actually, these are two initiatives, but they are closely linked.

CBE does not have an endowment, which would increase our flexibility and fundraising opportunities. A few years ago, Barbara Grossman, who was the Development Chair at the time, led an effort which the Board approved, to authorize an endowment. However, the initiative was never funded because of other urgent demands on our resources in the intervening years. I am pleased now to announce that we have dedicated Donna’s generous bequest to CBE as the founding gift toward building this endowment into a resource for the next generation of CBE members.

Related to this, our Planned Giving Subcommittee led by Randi Jaffe will be rolling out a campaign to educate and encourage our members to include CBE in their estate planning, particularly with an eye to building our endowment through these gifts.

I believe these two additional pillars of development — an endowment and an active planned giving program — will go a long way to improving our financial stability for the future. Donna’s bequest spurred these two initiatives into reality, and I want to acknowledge her sister Barbara, and again express our thanks for Donna’s service and generosity.

There’s a lot of bleak humor in being president. I once sat with a member for coffee who opened by saying he only had one complaint for me. I interrupted him and said, “No, I’m sure you don’t.” And I was right.

TThe joy of being president of this congregation is not often talked about. But it’s there.

It’s there for me when I sit through a b’nai mitzvah and see the pride and relief on a young person’s face — and the joy — and relief — on their parents. But beyond the mastery of chanting Torah, I am privileged to watch and hear these young people articulate what they learned working with our clergy and I do think — I think this every week I sit there — the future is in good hands.

I also find joy in working with my fellow trustees. I am humbled by their devotion to this congregation, by their willingness to take precious time and energy away from their families and professional lives, and engage in what I believe is a truly sacred task.

This isn’t the time or place for me to go at length about specific board members. Well, I have gone on at length, I know. But if you’ve been paying attention, you might have realized you are getting a two-for-one deal because I included my announcements in this appeal.

However, I do have to single out Rob Raich.

Rob served five years as our Treasurer before moving over to take on the VP of Development last year. When I became president, he also assumed the title of Executive Vice President in recognition of the vital role he played — and would play throughout the transitions we knew were on the horizon.

I cannot overstate what a complete partner Rob has been to me the past four years, and how grateful I am that he was always there for every important decision. He is an invaluable sounding board and is counsel is always well-considered — even if we might disagree vigorously. Rob’s forthcoming nomination in June as president is the realization of the committee’s efforts to provide more clarity and planning in leadership transitions. When the Board and Membership are presented with the next slate of trustees and officers, I know CBE will be in very good hands with Rob leading it. History has its eyes you, Rob.

And so, one last time, I stand before you on Kol Nidrei in this role. I want to thank you for all your support the last four years. All the good things that I spoke about happening at CBE are the result of your direct support and generosity. On Kol Nidrei, I ask for your contributions — but the work we do takes place all year long. So let me thank you now, for that support.

Just so there’s no misunderstanding — I’m talking about financial support. Whether you do that by writing a check in the next week or two — or contributing through our new website. Or maybe you will take that time to decide on what your level of support will be — so that when my mother calls you, you will be ready with your answer.

My mother is actually not here tonight, she’s visiting my daughter, Maddy, who is studying abroad. But she and Susan Levy will again be leading the follow up phone calls — and I would like to be able to tell her that everyone here agreed to answer the phone when they call.

Right? Of course, right.

So, whether you give soon after, or wait for the phone call — I hope will all give — and give generously. We have many needs — to support both our buildings and our work in them.

Before I close, I want to thank my family — particularly my dear wife, Sharon — for their unflagging support through late night board meetings, long phone calls on vacations, and anxiety provoking stretches like writing Yom Kippur Appeals. If I wasn’t coming home to their unfailing good humor and encouragement, I would not have been able to be the president I was. Indeed, the person I am.

This congregation has been my home for over forty years and I look forward to continuing to serve it.

I thank you from the bottom of my heart for the privilege of being its president.

Shabbat shalom, Shana tova, g’mar chatimah tovah.

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