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The Synagogue

What follows are my remarks from our congregation's annual fundraiser and some tentative thoughts about the meaning of the synagogue for our new age.

...Many of us attend countless charity events throughout the year, especially during these Spring months.  We are often beseeched to support these worthy charities with dire warnings.  Our gifts are equated with saving lives.  Our monies go to important research that could in fact save someone from cancer or protect an Israeli city from Hamas rockets.  Please don’t misunderstand.  I am not at all suggesting that these charities are unimportant.  They do extraordinarily important work.  For those of us privileged enough to have attended the recent AIPAC conference we came to understand this significant work.

Yet more often than not these charities appeal to our fears and worries.  They ask for our donations in terms of life and death.  The synagogue cannot appeal to such sentiments.  It was once, in the not too distant past that we could ask for donations to a synagogue by saying “The Jewish people will die without the synagogue.   Give for our survival.  Give so that we can guarantee your grandchildren will be Jewish.”

Despite the fact that I continue to believe in this mantra, that the synagogue is the only institution that can best guarantee Jewish survival, I recognize that such appeals no longer work.  We must appeal to something else and perhaps even more significant, for survival must be wedded to meaning.  In our world most, if not all, believe that you can live without the synagogue.  You can even have a bar/bat mitzvah without a synagogue, not a good one of course, but the valued ceremony nonetheless.  I remain perplexed by the belief of far too many that one can become a bar/bat mitzvah in the absence of community.  Yet we recognize that such is the sentiment of our age.

And that is why I remain even more grateful for your support this evening.  It is more that just I am really happy to see you.  It is because your attendance lends meaning to our synagogue.  It is where we can best find community.  It is where anyone can be welcomed regardless of station or circumstance, means or knowledge, commitment or understanding. 

Thus the only argument that might work for our institution is that here one can find meaning and community.  In an age when a group of people can be standing together but each texting someone else on their cell phones, we need community more than ever.

Here we can find a circle of community. Here we might become better, our children might become the menschen we dare to dream they can be.  Here we can learn to love our Jewish traditions and become attached to the Jewish people.  Here our children might come to love Jewish life.  Here, at the JCB, we can rediscover the joy of Jewish living.  Those arguments can perhaps become the compelling arguments for our age and in them we can discover our new trope.

So tonight I thank you for helping to affirm that the synagogue is vital and that our JCB community unique.  May we go from strength to strength, m’chayil l’chayil.