Three years ago, we added a blessing at the beginning of our Board meetings. It ends …la’asok bstorchei hastibor b’emunah…Praised are you Adonai our God, Sovereign of the universe, who has sanctified us with mitzvoth and has commanded us to engage in the needs of the community in good faith.
This captures the commitment of every board member, always, to her or his service at Holy Blossom. I want to use this blessing as a lens to consider three dimensions of leadership.
One. What have we achieved as Temple leadership, in the last three years
Last year I said to the Congregation in my dvar torah
Let us shape the future at Holy Blossom together, to do what we know together we must do, what we have been chosen by this moment in our history to do.
Now at the end of my term, I am assessing our achievements against the audacious challenge that line contains.
We have all heard of the Renewal of Space and Spirit – I believe the needs of our community have led us to this moment of achievement. It has been enabled by an outpouring of energy by lay leadership, clergy and professional staff.
You have at your tables reports of each department – our renewal of sprit – The story they tell is one of which we should be very proud indeed. And shortly you will hear about the Renewal Project in some detail.
How did we get here? One element: at the board level three years ago we created a statement of our values. Using those values enabled us to know who we were and who we aspired to be – from deep within the history of our Congregation. We promised
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.
We also, with skillful support from extraordinarily talented volunteers including David Rosenberg and Luke Sklar, developed a tagline:
It has served to galvanize us all with the sweetness of the picture those words describe.
And that sweet picture: we drew in a startling number of new members with youngest children age 8 or below – dozens of Trumah families since 2015, reversing a trend of loss. This is the achievement of many in this room – Rabbi Helfman, Cheryl, now Tema as well – and the bold vision of our Board.
As we draw young families closer, we continue to work to improve their experience, first through a Task Force on Education led by our incoming President Judy Winberg, and then with improvements in our outreach to children and their families – again the work of so many including Debbie Spiegel and Lisa Eisen Baumel.. And this must continue – we demand it of ourselves as does the Jewish future. We will be creative and courageous and we will do it.
I learned that while our synagogue is proudly a large institution, ultimately its leadership needs to connect with members one by one by one. Whether it is fundraising, or membership, or as celebrants, each member and not- yet-member must feel a personal connection with Holy Blossom. This year every single person who did not renew membership by a particular date was individually called. Learning how to extend this personal connection will remain a challenge for our institution and we will surmount it.
The successes I mentioned and many others were made possible in part because we strengthened our department structure over the past three years, and engaged many volunteers. Now we are reshaping our department of Jewish Living as you will hear.
We have also begun to inhabit the new by law. This process will be ongoing as we adjust our governance to our needs. I am particularly proud to note the creation of our pulpit committee and related committees. They will enable us to create for our rabbis and cantors the structure for their formal relationships with Holy Blossom Temple which they deserve. You will learn about this over the coming months.
I began this section of my remarks speaking not of the Board but of “Leadership”. That was intentional. Over the last three years we have strengthened the partnership between lay and professional leaders. Each achievement I mentioned above and the many many I could not acknowledge this morning was the result of a leadership team in a department, and of an intentional process amongst all departments. I celebrate that cooperation.
We face many challenges as individuals as we serve our community. I want to acknowledge Rabbi Splansky and Russ who faced and are facing significant challenges in their own lives. They do not face these challenges alone.
Despite the substantial accomplishments I have named, we didn’t – yet – achieve it all.
The financial needs of our aspirational community have not yet been met and will require vision and creativity over the next period. The need to address cohorts of our Congregational family not yet engaged, to expand our welcome… I won’t go on. A wise woman who will become your next President explained to me this week that we will never finish the job, and she is right.
I assume that every President leaves knowing what must be done next with crystal clarity – because it is what was NOT achieved in her Presidency. Eventually, one realizes that the needs of the Congregation are many and various and each set of eyes that leads our community will define those needs and approach them differently. And that is good for the Congregation.
Two. The partnership with our community which is necessary to engage in its needs
I have often reflected over the past three years on what gives each of us as lay leaders the courage to lead an institution such as this one in bold new directions. Of course it is love of our community,commitment to the Jewish future, the support of family and friends. Rabbinic wisdom and guidance. Our values But it is more – Holy Blossom itself helps us to do this. Our community demands and offers so much. It gave me courage, it inspired me, and it convinced me to take risks.
The relationship between leaders and Congregation is also a partnership in real, practical ways. The volunteering which the people in this room undertake is a blessing to us all. When Holy Blossom has a need, we can look at a list and find the right name, and ask and receive a yes. We are a very skilled Congregation and we are willing to contribute – even impatient to do so.
Sometimes we take the contribution of our volunteers for granted. On all of our behalfs I honour Tom Friedland and Cary Solomon. They, together with the other volunteers working for Renewal of Space, but especially and extraordinarily them, are enabling our future. Thank you.
I have learned that although a leader may propose, at Holy Blossom, our decisions are made by our community. Rabbi Marmur captured this. He said: “the Board gets it right. It may take a while, but in the end, it gets it right”. And that is because the board reflects our Congregation, and the wisdom which it contains.
One way in which the Congregation decides is through its financial partnership with leadership. You will hear more today about the extraordinary generosity of our Congregation. Without that generosity, our dreams as leaders could not be fulfilled. I thank Jonny Ain our director of development and Cindy Zimmer who worked with him for many years. And most of all: Thank you everyone who supports our Congregation – through membership, through the annual Congregational Appeal, through the foundation, through bequests, through Renewal.
The Congregation has changed over the past three years – many new faces but also losses. Those lost faces differ for each of us – for me particularly the Gellers and Nancy Ruth, Etta Ginsberg and Pnina Margoles. Each of us beyond a certain age enters this building attended by warm memories as well as by our friends. And those memories also challenge us, to rise to their standard and carry on their legacy.
Three. My personal response to the commandment our blessing outlines.
Being President of this Congregation is difficult. The way people relate to this synagogue is, as it should be, emotional and demanding. I learned one must work as President, to maintain, honour and sometimes repair each relationship. I didn’t always get it right. Or right the first time. I have shared with some people here that the only time I cried with the challenge of this job was when I was afraid that my actions might disrupt that relationship.
I am an impatient person. I want to get it right and achieve the goal – RIGHT NOW! I am sure this imposed a burden on those around me and for that I apologize. My impatience was matched by the impatience of key partners, who encouraged me and even exceeded my own demands. I learned a great deal about how much change an institution can experience, about the times to build and the times to hold.
I am so honoured to have served over this period of enormous energy and growth at HBT. The power of our united and confident Congregation is inspiring. And yet, to my surprise many of the most personally meaningful moments over the past three years took place during worship – when I realized for example the gift our community gives to its mourners by providing a place for them, and to receive that gift myself. I also am thankful for the need posed by this position to reflect about the history and future of our people, the nature of prayer, the roles of rabbis – the thinking one must do as President of this Congregation.
My biggest excitement occurred with the fundraising which I will continue to do, for our Renewal Project. When a donor made a gift which was generous for him or her. When the steel went up. When I learned about leadership and generosity from others. When I learned of the importance of our community to its members. When my husband and I were moved to give and give again.
Much has happened over this three years. For me and my husband David – two weddings and the death of my mother. Thank you David for your unlimited support, generosity, wise and loving counsel and endless patience. My kids and their spouses constantly and without complaint supported the demands of Holy Blossom. I thank them as well – in absentia.
I want to thank the Vice Presidents who worked so closely with me, who shared the burden and the blessing of leadership. And Russ and recently Gary, whose wise guidance and endless commitment to our Temple are simply invaluable. The Administrative and Professional Staff – one gift of being President is to begin to understand the love of these good people for our Temple, and to realize the vital nature of their contributions.
I want to honour our Rabbis and Cantors. We achieved a great deal together and as your congregant I thank you.
Rabbi Splansky. You are my rabbi and my partner. You demand more, of course, than I was able to give but you do that in part because you know that is what I want, to strive and reach and not to be able to say “done”. You ask the same of yourself. We are blessed to have you and it has been my privilege to work closely with you. I look forward to supporting you as you shape our Congregation and your Rabbinate.
And finally, for all of these gifts, for this privilege, I thank you. You honoured me with this position over the last three years. However hard I worked, I know that I received much more than I gave.
Judy, I wish you the joy and satisfaction which this job has given to me. You are so skilled. You will give so much. B’hatzlacha !
For a final time as President of Holy Blossom, todah raba raba. I look forward with excitement and optimism to our shared future.