Allow me to begin with words of thanks. Thanks to Ben Weil, an amazing president and exemplary Temple leader. Thanks to my fellow board members, both past and current, for their ongoing commitment and dedication. Thanks to Robin Gottlieb, Rabbi Kohn, Rabbi Haas, Cantor Roskin, and all of the individuals who commit every day to improving the lives of our Temple family members. And thanks to my sweet wife and loving kids for their boundless support and understanding regarding the time and energy required to effectively serve as a lay leader at our Temple.
Slightly over a month ago, I had the privilege of attending the URJ’s Scheidt Seminar, a conference held by the reform movement for all the individuals scattered across the US who were slated as the president-elect of their respective Temples for this coming year. The conference was inspiring, purposeful and wholly worthwhile. It served as an opportunity to network, dialogue, and brainstorm, and topics discussed ranged from governance to social action. One of the interesting small group sessions focused on the concept of “audacious hospitality,” which in-a-nutshell is the idea that we, as a Temple, should be going out of our way to proactively engage and interface with minority groups who might have a tendency to feel marginalized or less a part of our Temple family than we would want them to feel: how do we as Temple measure up in the eyes of the individual who identifies as LGBTQ, or a Jew-of-color, or a Jew-by-choice? And it was this small group session where the phrase “Jew-By-Choice” was repeated most frequently. While I have certainly heard the expression,“Jew by Choice”, many times before, the phrase stuck with me the whole weekend. It, of course, is meant to reference those individuals who were not merely born Jewish, but have chosen to become Jewish by conscious decision, through the process of conversion, or by “choice”. But the phrase as it is used in that context seems overly narrow in terms of who it applies to. It is so clear and apparent to me that every single one of us is, in fact, a Jew By Choice. Even those us born Jewish. No one here needs a lecture on how easy it is to not be involved in Temple life. No one here needs a reminder about all of the secular things in life that are vying for our time and attention. Being Jewish requires effort and intention. Being Jewish is now, perhaps more than ever before, a conscious choice and decision.
I am here today as your incoming president to ask each of you to renew your conscious choice to being Jewish and to being a member of our amazing Temple family. It is certainly true that our Temple is at a point of transition. But our approach to this current transition is thoughtful and open-minded. There will be missteps and ineffiencies as we attempt to implement the long-term vision articulated by our congregants, but we will approach every new idea with the mindset of a scientific experiment that aims to create a more relevant, meaningful, and connected Temple experience. We will get some things right the first time, while other aspects of our plan may require course-correction and adjustment. But regardless of how perfect our decisions are, there is no question regarding the scope and extent of opportunity that currently exists at Temple Emanuel.
In our little village of Anetevka, it is very easy for conjecture to become fact. There is valid reason for question and concern, and our current situation is fluid, with multiple moving parts. Allow me to set the record straight on our current status: while we have challenges before us, our Temple is unified in its vision and is collaborating in a way that is unprecedented in the eight years I have previously been on executive board. So often, our Temple has been hindered because our committees tend to work in silos, where one group of individuals is focused on a task without the same sense of trajectory or timeline as another group. While there is no ill-intent, this “silo approach” to governance has been the prevailing culture of our Temple organizational framework for far too long, and I believe to our detriment.. The Temple Board, the Grafman Endowment Board, fiscal conservatives, and enthusiastic visionaries are aligning their focus in a unified manner that will most certainly result in a Temple that remains relevant and foresighted for its members for generations to come. With the undisputed recognition that the Grafman Board does a great job raising money and that your Temple Board does a great job spending money, your Temple Board is set to align and partner with the Grafman Board in an unprecedented manner to take advantage of their proven ability to help us design both short-term and long-term development strategies that will increase our annual revenue and allow us to have money in place for innovative programs and Clergy support Our Senior Rabbi Selection Committee, under the chairmanship of Joel Piassick and Jack Aland, has synthesized lessons learned from our search efforts this past year, and continue to serve an invaluable role as we articulate the type of Senior Rabbi we want to have while considering the fiscal impact and best methods to achieve our aspirations.
In addition to unprecedented collaboration amongst Temple leaders, I anticipate that this coming year will see an unparalleled level of Engagment amongst our congregants. There will be unique opportunities to work alongside Cantor Roskin and participate in our service in a capacity infrequently afforded to congregants. For the first time in the history of our Temple, we have a full-time employee, Monika Singletary, focused solely on increasing the level of engagement of all our Temple family members. We desire to bring renewed energy and commitment to our post B’nai-Mitzvah and confirmation age young adults. We recognize that empty nesters are searching for deeper meaning and connection, as are our Seniors and young families. Our interim Educational Director, Lynda Gutcheon, brings fresh perspective and the skill set to maintain and nurture our long-standing promise to provide a quality Jewish and Hebrew education to all of our youth. While the absence of a Senior Rabbi presents our Temple with challenges, the opportunities afforded to our Temple family as we partner with one another this coming year will lead to a stronger, more unified congregation better equiiped to face the challenges that lie ahead.
I ask each of you to renew your status as an intentional Jew-By-Choice and partner with me in the sacred work of making our Temple a place of relevancy and purpose. Our annual gala scheduled on August 25th will be a wonderful evening to celebrate the successes and leadership of our past while we simultaneously share excitement for our collective vision of the future. Your 2018-19 Temple Board is focused on accountability, transparency, fiscal responsibility, and intentionality. We are steadfast in our commitment to Temple Emanu-El’s core mission: Seek. Engage, Transform. We look forward to an exciting year of new beginnings and partnering with a loving congregation united in its desire to ensure the long-term sustainability of our beloved Temple Emanuel.
Dr. Al Cohn
President, Board of Directors