Today is November 17, 2019 -
by Jay Gordman, President of the Board of Trustees
Over the past year, I have had the privilege of participating in really great conversations with many of you. These conversations always come back to the question of how we are going to stay relevant and become even more relevant to all of you and to future generations. At the end of the day, it comes down to a simple premise. I believe we are in the soul food business. Some call it spirituality, while others use terms like meaningfulness and community.
While those are all true statements, I like to merge these all together and simply call it soul food. There are so many ways our interactions with Beth El nourish our soul. The fun and challenging part is that everyone has a different take on what nourishes their soul, and even then, it changes over time.
Some love our traditional services while others want Six String Shabbat. Congregants enjoy the communal programs like Shabbat Tables, Jews and Brews or Mahjong. Take a look at the schedule for the Miriam Initiative or our Men’s programming – it is a buffet of options that will fill your soul, if you give them a try.
Our educational opportunities enrich so many people’s lives. I challenge you to participate in one of Rabbi’s classes and not come away with a great feeling. Or ask Hazzan about his class at the Blumkin Home – the residents who attend his class come away with a huge helping of song-filled soul food.
For the next year, we have two important focus areas we are working on to provide more opportunities for you to take in some soul food.
First, our engagement coordinator, Robby Erlich, has been drinking endless amounts of coffee getting to know as many of you as possible. While he continues to meet with people, he is taking these new relationships and putting them into action. He has been personally inviting people to things that he believes they will find meaningful.
Along with our lay leaders, Susan Witkowski and Adam Kutler, Robby is also working on building our champions corps. As I mentioned in several articles, our congregation has many constituency groups and programs. These groups and programs need leaders who can help move things forward.
Look at how the Miriam Initiative launched. A few people with an idea for a fresh look at programming for women put together a series of programs each with their own champions. Along the way, more ideas came up and next thing you know, we have a healthy and vibrant calendar full of really great programs, classes, events and social action activities with a large set of champions touching all generations and even including us guys in a few programs.
The second and even more important area is our focus on Shabbat. Over the past several years, Rabbi and Hazzan have done a fantastic job of providing us many incredible opportunities connected to Shabbat.
There have been scholars and musicians in residence, Coffee with God, musical Shabbat Shira, the amazing kids speaking from Boys and Girls Club, community leaders, plus having more congregants young and less young, involved in leading our services, reading Torah and serving as Gabbaim.
Here’s the problem: this has all been on their shoulders to make happen. More concerning is that while we have great attendance at some Shabbatot where we have unique offerings, many of us in the congregation have pushed Shabbat aside for busy lives or other activities.
It is time for us, the congregation, to get back to Shabbat. It is time to partner with our clergy to build upon our fantastic tradition and the work they have been doing for us. Just to be clear, our goal is to build upon our traditions, not dump them in favor of something new.
A fantastic example is Shabbat B’Yahcad. A small group of congregants along with our clergy developed a new Friday night service that was a huge hit and serious soul food for many. Because of the large attendance, in the future we have the opportunity to offer both our traditional Friday service and an option for those who want something a bit different. Another great example is the session Rabbi Abraham led on the first day of Rosh Hashanah where he offered a conversation and teaching on Una Tana Tokef. Having an option to participate in the Torah Service or this session gave people the variety they have been asking for.
In addition to the ideas I just mentioned, we have a group looking at how our school-age families engage in Shabbat. Linda Saltzman and Eadie Tsabari are looking at ways to enhance our Shabbat family offering. Let’s get families to participate in Shabbat together. We have another group including Susan, Adam and Robby looking at how we can build community opportunities around Shabbat.
Remember the Cholent Challenge or have you heard about the pickup basketball games out back while kids play on our fantastic playground?
I can’t forget one of my favorite soul foods, Our Shabbat Tables. Here’s how you can start getting back to Shabbat. Get a group of friends together and sign up. Even if it is just one evening. At the end of the night I am sure you and your friends will agree that it was nourishment for your soul after a busy week.
Your feedback and involvement are critical. Help us understand what would encourage you to get back to Shabbat. You can reach out to me or one of the people mentioned in this article. We are eager for your ideas and excited to get you involved.
As we move forward into 5780, take a fresh look at how you can fit some more soul food into your lives. Take a chance on the amazing things going on at Beth El, especially on Shabbat where we can take a break from the crazy world of endless emails, constant messages, and mile-long to-do lists. This year, don’t forget to take time out and nourish your soul.