I have not spoken or seen most of you since the High Holy Days. As you may know, Marie and I traveled to Australia and New Zealand for a month and have only recently returned. It was an intensively rewarding trip, but at times I felt guilty that I was enjoying myself so much. Why should I be happy when my brothers and sisters were being murdered in Israel? But a wise person told me when I confessed my very mixed feelings that such an attitude was wrong. To not embrace my life fully and take pleasure in experiences that enrich me, was to surrender to the enemy. Enjoying my trip is the best kind of resistance to evil. She counseled: “We cannot let them stop us from living.”
So in that spirit, I offer you a few rays of hope from my trip. I hope my two stories give you strength and comfort, and confidence in our collective future.
I had the opportunity to visit the Jewish Museum in Sydney. It is a jewel, containing, among other things, some beautiful medieval shiviti from such distant places as Turkey, India, and Persia and some moving Holocaust displays. But what thrilled me was their interactive exhibition titled “Reverberations,” using Artificial Intelligence (AI) to speak with actual Holocaust survivors (who emigrated to Australia) and narrated their personal history. You enter a room where a life-size figure in a glass-enclosed booth tells their specific life story and how they were impacted by the Holocaust. After they speak, you can then ask them specific questions (e.g., what happened to their sister, did they ever marry, how do they feel about revenge and forgiveness, etc.). The AI algorithm is so sophisticated that you truly feel you are conversing, in real time, with a real person. What a marvelous way to learn history! And perhaps for those who do not know this history, some grounding in a frightful and terrible part of our heritage.
My other story reflects a conversation I had while taking a cruise in Milford Sound, New Zealand, taking in the magnificent scenery of waterfalls, cliffs, heavenly clouds, and sea life. Sitting a few feet from me was an Israeli family of five, the two parents and three very active, and apparently happy little children. After rehearsing my thoughts for a few minutes, I walked over to them, greeting them in my very rusty and I suspect, quite ungrammatical Hebrew. I basically told them that we are one and I hope this trip provides a respite and peace for them. I remarked what a lovely family they were. And then they thanked me, introduced themselves, and spoke of the matzav (situation). They were shocked by recent events, had lost friends but apparently no immediate family, and were determined to “stay the course.” They were planning to go back soon, but felt they owed their children some fun, “something new.” Above all, they told me, they will become whole again. Even if it takes far too much time. They were courageous and calm, and while I went over to speak with them to offer support and show solidarity, their response made me feel better. Am Yisrael Chai!
(9/15/23) Rosh Hashanah
Shabbat Shalom and Shanah Tovah my friends. On behalf of the Board of Congregation Kol HaNeshama, I am delighted to greet you this morning. It is gratifying to recognize so many familiar faces, but also to see so many guests whom I am meeting for the first time. I welcome you all to this wonderful service. May this New Year be a healthy and happy one for you and your loved ones.
Today is especially exciting for me as I observe how far we have come since this time last year. Just a few months ago, we were worrying about where we would worship. We had no home. And who would lead us in services? Our beloved rabbi had retired. Now we are back at our beautiful home in the South Gate Community Center. Look around: our beautiful tapestries, created by KH members, are back. Behold and be moved by our beautiful Mizrach, donated by Joan and Marden Paru, of blessed memory. And Rabbi Sigal has inspired us with her vision, her spirit, her love. We can take a breath and exclaim: Ma Tovu, How good it is!
There are so many exciting developments at KH, I’m not sure where to begin. Our services– whether Friday night Kabbalat Shabbat or Saturday morning Shabbat services or special holiday services like this one– just feel different. Whether it’s the gorgeous music, the inspiring discussions or the lovingkindness of our worshippers, I declare we have something very special here. Our many programs, including Books and Bagels, Jewish Cinema Club, Rosh Chodesh, and Who Was That Person Sitting Next to Me in Synagogue? are back. We can take courses in conversational Hebrew, Torah and History, or Exploring Judaism. We will experience Havdalah at Sunset, Sh’ma Meditation, Torah Trails, and explore new ways and flavors to prayer life: from blessing animals to healing and chanting opportunities.
Simply put, we have become an even more inviting and spiritual shul in the past few months. I fell in love with Kol HaNeshama seven years ago and my feelings have only deepened. To my fellow KH congregants, I say look around and explore something you have not done before. To our many guests here, I say Beruchim abaim: Welcome! You will find a loving and gracious home here. I hope to see you back here at KH, again and again.
And now a tiny piece of business. KH members may remember that when I became president in March, I announced I was only going to serve for six months, rather than a full-year term. Well, I am having so much fun –getting so much love and support from everyone—that I have decided to serve the full term through March. I am taking a little vacation next month, but you will be in good hands during my absence. I direct you to the leadership of Rabbi Sigal, Mike Stephens our administrator, and a nice combination of current Board members and past presidents. It certainly takes a village!
Shanah tovah, my friends. May you be inscribed in the Book of Life.
Two Fridays ago, we had a special Kabbalat Shabbat. In addition to the regular service, we officially affixed our mezuzah. We also enjoyed a wine and cheese reception. It was an opportunity for congregants to just mingle and chat before services. I love these social occasions and I want to do more of them. Adrienne and Rich Friedman kindly sponsored this reception; Linda Charnes and Stanley Yudin will be sponsoring another one in a few weeks. I ask you to please consider sponsoring a future wine and cheese reception.
You could also sponsor a special holiday meal, partially defraying the overall costs for attendees, as Robert Toale and Sons Funeral Home, courtesy of our member Gerry Ronkin, will be doing for our Erev Rosh Hashanah dinner. I am also hoping someone will be able to provide a small sponsorship for our “Who Was That Person Sitting Next to Me in Synagogue?” series this coming fall and winter. Each time you sponsor an event like this, you enable more people to attend and share the love and fellowship of each other. Please call me or email me if you would like to sponsor an event later this year. It will be a wonderful mitzvah that will have a powerful impact.
In a few days, you will receive your membership renewal form for this fiscal year. I am so excited about the future of Kol HaNeshama. Rabbi Sigal is now leading our congregation, we have secured our relationship at South Gate, we are reviving many programs that we lost during Covid, and we are building an even stronger future. This transformation could not have taken place without your continued and vibrant support. I am deeply appreciative of your commitment to Kol HaNeshama.
Our KH Board has decided not to raise dues for this coming year and I am confident that this is the right decision. We do not want to burden anyone.
When you receive the dues invoice, please review my letter that explains our renewal process in greater detail. Do not hesitate to contact us at email@example.com if you have further questions.
We have two exciting events coming up soon. This Friday, July 21, we will hang the mezuzah at South Gate and celebrate with a little wine and cheese before Kabbalat Shabbat services. The evening begins at 5:00 pm, with services at 6:00 pm. Then on Wednesday, July 26, from 7:30-9:00 pm, we will observe Erev Tisha b’Av with an observance at the home of Ruth Brandwein in Pelican Cove. It will be a time for reflection, introspection, and solidarity. This event will not be on Zoom and attendance will be limited to 20 individuals. To RSVP, please register here.
Kol HaNeshama President