Tonight it is my duty and my privilege to speak to all of you about the state of our synagogue.

This year one of our main goals has been, and continues to be, the creation of an atmosphere of welcome and warmth in the synagogue, for all people, and I hope you have enjoyed the results this holiday season.

Let me share with you something that my husband, Howard, and I experienced with two of our non-Jewish neighbors. As guests in their Catholic church, we observed the congregants exchange a message of peace and friendship by turning to greet the person next to or behind them. When we are in our holy sanctuary in the days and weeks ahead, each of us might pause to acknowledge and greet a new friend or an old acquaintance; a practice that is consistent with our goal of welcome and warmth in the synagogue, and with our larger purpose as part of the world's community of Jews.

I ask, too, that some time during the day tomorrow, each of us take time to look around our beautiful synagogue building that was lovingly restored just three years ago. The building is as beautiful and useful as the impressive efforts and sacrifice of the people who worked to restore it. Tonight, as president of our congregation, I hope to move you to recognize your continuing role in maintaining our synagogue community and its home. I will urge you to continue the work of the rebuilders, to continue with the considerable financial effort and sacrifice required for the work of our synagogue to continue.

This is, in a sense, a matter of self-interest. We need our synagogue, because it plays a vital role in our Jewish lives. Affiliation and participation in synagogue life enriches our lives, as well as the well-being of the entire Jewish community.

We know that most Jews today do not keep kosher, do not light Shabbat candles. Still, most Jews receive some Jewish education, observe Passover and celebrate Hanukkah, and occasionally, if not regularly, attend services. Today, perhaps more than ever, we turn to the synagogue to help us ensure the continuity of the Jewish people, and the passage - from one generation to the next - of Jewish customs, traditions, and ethical guidelines.

Our synagogue is the center we use to preserve and develop Jewish life, to develop Jewish connections among Jews...to provide opportunities for community. We ask the synagogue to help us nurture and develop the next generation of Jews. Lastly, and profoundly, we implore the synagogue to help us preserve and develop our connections with the Almighty.

How do we maintain this important center?
We have a very real dilemma. How do we both balance the synagogue budget and, at the same time satisfy the needs and wants of our members and their families. Do we have, as some say, "plenty of programs"? Or, do we need new, effective, exciting and different activities?

My belief is that a synagogue must serve the needs of all of its people. At West Suburban, our membership extends from my Shabbat pal, in her 80's, to a wonderful young couple I know, in their 30's, who are trying to determine if this is the right place for them and their children. We NEED all of us, and we need to SERVE all of us.

But how do we solve our dollar dilemma?

One way is to increase dues and school fees, arbitrarily placing a great obligation on each of our families. We have chosen NOT to go this way.

Another way is to increase our membership, a solution in which each of you can participate. Talk to your unaffiliated Jewish friends and neighbors. Invite them to services, to the Purim carnival, to a Shabbat dinner. Bring a prospective member to our Sukkah-trimming party. We can only increase our strength by adding members, and as we grow in membership our funds will grow, too.

Funds for what?

For the support of religious and cultural programming, the filled-to-capacity littlest learner program, our pre-school, our Koven religious school, Passover workshops.

For our newly re-instituted family education committee that has already given us a most successful summer bus tour of Chicago's old Jewish neighborhoods.

For our ongoing support of Jewish and general charities, here and in Israel, and of the Jewish community of Penza in Russia.

For the free high holiday tickets provided to Jews stationed nearby in the armed forces, and to local Jewish college students who can't make it back to their home communities for the holidays.

This year, we have improved the exterior lights in the parking lot, extended the children's outdoor play lot and added a sandbox. Future funds are earmarked to resurface the parking lot and to provide energy-efficient windows on our second floor.

Here is the bottom line. This year, as we have in years past, we must ask for your help to make these and other needed projects possible. Projected new-member dues notwithstanding, we anticipate a $15,000 budget deficit for the coming year. We need your pledge of support to build on our past achievements and to realize our future aspirations.

Each of us has our own set of priorities, but there are ways to stretch our ability to give, to sustain and strengthen our synagogue and our Jewish identity. Sometimes it comes down to buying one less piece of clothing in the year ahead, to eating out one less time each month, to seeing one less movie.

I ask you to be creative, as well as generous.

Moshe Greenberg, professor of Bible at Hebrew University, describes how the sense of holiness that we feel on a holiday or festival reminds us of having been created by God. When we celebrate a festival of harvest and when we gather together in the synagogue, we say the same prayers and take part in the same observances as our ancestors, sharing with all earlier generations in the act of gratitude.

We can experience that same holiness on Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur as well. We have a feeling of joy, and gratitude for the opportunity to feel our spirits rise. We want to respond. How do we do it? Greenberg explains that we do so in the same way we respond to a person to whom we are grateful. We give of ourselves, and what we give is, itself, a gift of God.

You and I need to have everyone sitting here tonight reach into their envelope and fold down a tab. Charity begins at home, I've heard, and this is our home. This is our spiritual home. This is a place where we come to pray, to study, to meet our friends, to grieve and to celebrate. Most important, this is a place where we bring our children, to continue and ensure our Jewish heritage. We need this place for them, and for their children, as well as for ourselves. Our congregation has a tradition of generosity. Please continue that tradition with your generous pledge.

----Norma Berlin

Return to West Suburban Temple page
10/08/2000 10:36:40 PM