Hillel is one of the ancient rabbis who participated in the writing of the Talmud. He is probably best known for his aphorisms “If I am not for myself, who will be for me?” and “If I am only for myself, what am I?” From this we learn that building a vibrant community requires us to care for both ourselves and for others.
Our congregation depends on the voluntary donation of members’ time. As one of the longer standing member s of Congregation Kol HaNeshama, I have served for over 10 years as board member, secretary, treasurer, class instructor. Working for the Congregation is one of the best ways to get to know one another. Taking classes gives us opportunities to grow in our understanding of our heritage. Singing out loud when we pray, even if off key, gives us an opportunity to feel included.
As I look around the room today I see many faces that were here before I joined Kol HaNeshama. I see many with whom I have worked on one committee or another. And I see a large number of newer members who are taking on leadership roles.
The last piece of Hillel’s aphorism is “If not now, When?”
You can make a difference.
I’ve always been a quiet person who stayed behind the scenes. So, even though we’ve been members of this congregation for three years, I’ve remained “under the radar.”
Then, I saw an opportunity to do something for the KH community. The job would make use of my expertise in organization and management. In addition, it would call upon my experience at holding Passover Seders in my own home – a role I’d always enjoyed. I found myself asking (rather than waiting to be asked) to assume the challenge of chairing the KH Community Seder.
One of my most important goals was to make the community event warm and personal. I wanted it to be a “Seder at Home.” With the able assistance of a few KH members willing to bring fresh ideas to the undertaking, I forged a new path. Although we worked independently and responsibly, we kept our shared goal in mind. In addition, many others answered the call for handling smaller jobs.
I’ve heard from numerous guests that this year’s Seder was especially beautiful and personal. This gives me so much pleasure! Most of all, I greatly enjoyed sharing the Seder with everyone who was there.
Ten years ago, I joined a small group of individuals who were determined to create a spiritual community that was different from most. Volunteers were needed to carry on the roles that were otherwise professionalized in larger synagogues. I grew up as a “shul mouse” and have experienced every facet of congregational life. Drawing on my synagogue skills, I have been active from Day I in most facets of KH and was fortunate to contribute my time to the KH family. I have been a board member, chairman of the Religious Practices Committee, handle door registrations for holidays, occasionally lead services, read Torah, teach, and serve as a religious advisor and co-editor of the Newsletter. As a KH volunteer, I receive the greatest satisfaction from making new friends, many of whom I consider surrogate family. What a great perquisite!
I ended my long career as a public relations counselor/writer/editor with early retirement at age 62. I still recall my sense of elation upon vowing that I would “never write another news release.” I looked forward to a life free from the anxiety of deadlines.
Six months later I made the acquaintance of a group of musicians dedicated to developing the Omaha Chamber Music Society. They asked me to join their board, and before I knew it I was writing news releases and at the center of exciting promotion and publicity efforts. I’d never derived so much satisfaction from using my professional skills, and I’d rarely felt so appreciated. Even so, the responsibilities eventually became more than I was comfortable handling, and I was relieved to leave the board when my husband and I moved to Sarasota.
In addition to introducing me to the joys of volunteering, the experience taught me the importance of keeping volunteer responsibilities in check. When I joined the KH Communications Committee, it was with the understanding that I would take responsible for only one aspect of publicity – preparing items for the “Jewish Happenings” column of the monthly issues of The Jewish News of Sarasota-Manatee. Since then, I also agreed to offer editorial assistance to the KH Website Committee.
I’m delighted to “give back” to the congregation and to partner with other KH members, so long as I can do so on a limited basis. I encourage other members of the congregation to find their own viable niche and to experience the pleasure of “giving and getting” as a KH volunteer.