It is so good to see everyone here. AGM attenders are a very special group who feel not only love but also personal and often day to day responsibility, for our Temple. Our congregation thanks you.
Important people are missing from this room, today. Every time we are in a gathering like this I miss Nancy Ruth, who encouraged me to become involved in Temple life and modelled wise leadership. And so many more…Their memories are a blessing as we continue with our work for this sacred community.
I reviewed my speech for last year’s AGM, as I was preparing these remarks. I wanted to understand how far have we come in the last twelve months. Last year I used a framework of the four questions of the Pessach seder, to assess everything that had happened in a rather extraordinary year. It feels, reading my words from last year, that we had completed a hard task, and laid a foundation. That was, of course cause for real celebration. It was significant that my framework was questions: we had asked important ones, but not yet seen the results.
This year, after working again very hard indeed, we see progress on many fronts, building on that foundation (of course a construction metaphor is appropriate!). It is progress tied to the values which we articulated together two years ago, and based on the priorities which we had approved at that time: membership engagement, lifelong learning, financial stability, physical renewal, and worship. This year I am thinking past questions to the optimism and excitement of the phrase we see so often around us: Holy Blossom: life can blossom here.
Last year we heard the possibility in that phrase: now we hear the confidence, the knowledge that we are achieving, together. We should acknowledge that confidence: it enables Holy Blossom to take risks, to try new things, to joyfully embrace the challenges we face with courage and excitement, while ensuring fiscal responsibility. Every synagogue is facing challenges – I believe we are succeeding in addressing them and that our congregation agrees: see for example the gift of increased HBCA support from our congregation.
Our board created a bold and powerful brand promise two years ago: A warm welcome An inclusive spirit And a sacred community that is always striving to create the finest expression of a Reform Jewish way of life. This year we lived that welcome, greeting, showing the way in the midst of our transformational Renewal project, reaching out to welcome members one at a time, taking a larger role in the Toronto Jewish community. We did not wait for our construction to be completed but were inspired by it, and impatient to do more in many aspects of our lives together. Our optimism inspires others. We have given our brand promise shape and form and found that it resonates within and beyond our membership.
I want to reflect on our values – as framed by the board two years ago, with the help of talented volunteers. The achievements which I will describe, only of our board but of our congregation, were thoughtfully identified and based on those values. We should note that these values reflect the accumulated wisdom of our 160 years as a congregation. Our past provides a proud and secure foundation on which to build our future. Identifying and then being guided by our shared values seems particularly appropriate at this moment in the world.
- Compassionate and courageous leadership. I applaud the hard work of the Board Executive throughout the last year. Many of the Temple’s departments have created new committees, worked hard to reach out and welcome members and not yet members, to improve our lives in Temple. You have read about the work of the departments in the reports on your tables. Putting those reports together creates a picture of bold leadership, and of strong partnerships among Rabbis, Cantors, Senior Staff and lay leaders. And I must say a special and personal thank you to Rabbi Splansky and Russ for your leadership and your partnership. I can’t list all of the ways in which that thanks is due. Todah raba raba.
- Social responsibility We were led by congregants in a remarkable outreach to Syrian refugees. You will hear more about that from a member of the leadership of our community’s Syrian refugee work. Let’s also put that in a context. As a community we have historically felt the call to repair the world. And we – and people inspired by us – have responded generously to that call. Tzeddakah is also one of our values. We responded once again as we did with Vietnamese boat people, as we do with Out of the Cold.
- A relationship and purpose driven community. Honouring the past while boldly preparing for the future. We reached out with our new membership model this year. You have read and you will hear of its marvelous success to date. To build a Jewish future in Toronto we have to draw in young families. We knew that to succeed, every touch needed to reflect our values and to build relationships. And we have begun to do that. One by one by one.
- Egalitarianism and inclusiveness. A week or so ago, Holy Blossom’s Tot Shabbat took place at the Downtown JCC. It was the first (we think) LGBT tot Shabbat. As our brochure for the Terumah membership model demonstrates we welcome a diverse membership, a reflection of who we are. That Kabbalat Shabbat we welcomed in partnership together with the JCC some 75 people, including kids. The right message, creative programming, a warm welcome. Everyone who was at the Second Day of Rosh Hashanah service remembers Rabbi Splansky’s inspiring sermon about our welcome and inclusion. I received again just last Friday another email from a congregant about how that sermon spoke to his circle of friends. There will be more happening in our community this year as we explore together the many dimensions of inclusion.
- Commitment to Life Long Learning. There is a new vision emerging from our department of education, following the work of its task force and building on earlier work done in our congregation: that learning for our families happens not only in the traditional classroom setting, but in a range of ways that touch our families. We see that in the role of Lisa Isen Baumel, our director of youth engagement. And we see it in the numbers of youngest people attending our expanded Little Blossoms program, our nursery school.Much thought is being given to our adult education as well. We will see more as affinity groups develop – thought of as part of the department of membership but to me, a commitment to a range of ways to continue to learn within the context of the synagogue. I attended a wonderful program last week, sponsored by Sisterhood and by our Adult Education program, many many people gathered to hear Anita Diamant. Watch the life long learning space.
- Renewal of Space. Although you will hear a separate report, our renewal must be acknowledged here – it is a profound example of our shared commitment to “boldly preparing for the future’. As our membership in the young families space continues to expand, as the crowd of young families who attend our events but are not yet our members continues to grow, we know that we are building for someone. We should be so proud that although we had no choice but to repair, we chose to transform – to inspire our congregants and the Jewish world in Toronto – and more.
I know that our next challenge is to build on the successes of this year. This will require that we work wisely to ensure our membership continues to grow, that we act with continued fiscal responsibility, that we allocate our resources with our priorities and values in mind. We must do so, to ensure life will blossom here for the generations to be housed in our beautiful new building. We must do the hard work not only in developing dramatic new models but also in building behind the scenes, developing our future leadership, making the departments robust, meeting the challenge of our success to ensure our new members stay with us and our long time members feel valued and welcomed and supported.
I speak with many congregants, both one by one by one, and in groups. I am often together with Rabbi Splansky or with the entire tireless team reaching out to share the news of our renewal of space and spirit as part of the fundraising for our Renewal Project. In those meetings, I experience the shared joy of a congregation which is on its way. People deeply value our Rabbinic leadership, and are empowered and engaged by our current shared moment of forward motion.
So much to do – and so much shared commitment to doing it.
Holy Blossom – life CAN blossom here.