President’s Remarks – Rosh Hashanah 5778/2017

President’s Remarks

Rosh Hashanah 5778/2017

Shanah Tovah! Thank you, Rabbi Brett and thank you dear friends for the honor of serving as President of Indianapolis Hebrew Congregation.

5777 has been an amazing year at IHC! We bid farewell and warmly welcomed, we celebrated and commemorated, we honored our tradition and embraced our future. IHC is strong and growing. And, as 5778 begins, we are poised for a robust and dynamic future.

I could use this time to review the services, events, meals, music, programs, meals, classes, celebrations, meals, and times of joy and sorrow we have shared but I’ve only been given a few minutes for my remarks.

Instead, let take a closer look at the still new IHC mission:

Indianapolis Hebrew Congregation is an inclusive Jewish community where all congregants matter, are inspired to action through Jewish values, and experience Judaism in a meaningful way.

This statement guides everything we do … from our services and programs to our communications and budget priorities … it is the living and breathing embodiment of Jewish life at IHC. Let’s unpack two parts of the Mission and talk about how we live this every day.

An inclusive Jewish community

Audacious Hospitality is one of the four core priorities of the Union for Reform Judaism’s 2020 Vision.

What is Audacious Hospitality?  The elements include:

engaging uninspired and unaffiliated Jews
eliminating the barriers that prevent people from finding their place in Jewish life.
recognizing Jewish diversity by welcoming interfaith families, Jews of Color, LGBTQ Jews, and Jews with disabilities
strengthening our relationships with one another AND
building a meaningful Jewish community and a Jewish community filled with meaning

All of these elements inspired our new mission. We believe in removing barriers to being part of the community and have done so by offering a gift of the heart annual commitment model. We believe in honoring Jewish diversity by being open and welcoming to all.

Tonight, let’s focus on the last two of these elements: strengthening our relationships with one another and building a meaningful Jewish community.

As I’ve mentioned in the past, in 2007, I began facilitating the Mothers Circle, a program of support and education for women who are not Jewish or did not grow up in a Jewish home, and who are raising Jewish children.

In the first couple of years, I heard these remarkable women talk about how alone they felt with their struggle to bring Judaism into their homes. Then I witnessed something remarkable. While learning about Jewish holidays and values, they shared stories, feelings, challenges and triumphs. In that room, a community of friendship and support, of common experience and interest, grew and thrived.

In 2010, a new rabbi arrived at IHC who talked about the power of building relationships and encouraged us to listen to each other’s stories. Rabbi Brett put definition and understanding to the profound transformation I witnessed as the moms became aware that they were not alone and formed relationships in their common stories that grew into friendships.

Now maybe you’re thinking, “Patti, please, this sounds like a broken record. You’re always talking about relationships and community. What does this have to do with IHC?”

I would submit this has everything to do with IHC and with Judaism. In a recent ELI Talk – the Jewish version of TED Talks – Rabbi Ari Moffic explained that Jewish community is about being interconnected because of Judaism so that both Jews and non-Jews are part of Jewish community.

Rabbi Moffic, the founder of Cohere, a new model of Jewish affiliation in Chicago, asserts that the reason we are so obsessed about community and building relationship is because without community, there is no Judaism. Let me say that again: without community, there is no Judaism.

Maybe this seems exaggerated, but following Rabbi Moffic’s discussion, I learned there is no word for religion in the Bible. Rather, we are known as a people or a family. In the Book of Ruth read on Shavuot, Ruth says to her mother-in-law Naomi, “Your people will be my people, your god my god.” People, the community, even before God.

Think about the prayer Eilu Devarim– “These are the things” we do as people connected to Judaism … visit the sick, rejoice with wedding parties, pray in a group, study with others, console the bereaved … all of these involve PEOPLE … a community.

Each month, together with the extraordinary men and women who serve on the board of directors, we begin our meeting with a blessing thanking God for commanding us to engage in the needs of the community.

And even now, during the Days of Awe, we pray in the plural, al chet shechatanu – for the sin which we have committed.

Rabbi Mordecai Kaplan, one of the most influential Jewish thinkers of the 20th century, understood that the need to belong is spiritual, and is perhaps more important than the need to believe. And no greater rabbi than Hillel admonished, “Do not separate yourself from the community.”

So what are we doing at IHC to build relationships and community? We believe that one of the best ways to build relationships is by joining together in a small group with others who share the same interest or age and stage of life.

Even before we became more intentional about growing small groups, a number have grown organically including

The Mitzvah Stitchers who come together to stitch, kvetch and make beautiful things to help others
the Lilith Salon bringing people together to discuss compelling articles from Lilith, the “independent, Jewish and frankly feminist magazine”   and
IndyChai, a fun, accepting community of Jewish young professionals who belong or who have reached out to IHC and come together for Shabbat and holiday meals, to discuss God and belief, and to sample beer and sing Havdallah blessings together

In the past year, people who care deeply about our environment have come together in the Adamah/Earth Initiative; “more mature” members of the congregation are connecting through a new social program called LAF – Life After Fifty; and, beginning on October 21stand each 3rd Sunday during Religious School thereafter, parents can join together for Shalosh, 3 offerings including teaching from our rabbis, yoga, art, baking and other ways to refresh mind, body and spirit.

And there are more small group connecting ideas on the drawing board such as a reboot of Shabbat Share incorporating the philosophy of SODOTO – See One, Do One, Teach One. If you regularly have Shabbat dinner, why not invite someone new to observe Shabbat in your home, teach them so they might host their own and teach someone else. Pray it forward.

But we are just getting started! What small group at IHC would interest you? Wine lovers, hikers, families in Westfield, working moms, ethnic food, DeadHeads … the possibilities are truly endless.

Through small groups we will build relationships and grow friendships by being interconnected because of Judaism. These are the building blocks of a vibrant and welcoming community – a community with a deepened sense of meaning.

A community where all congregants matter

Allison Fine, past president of Temple Beth Abraham in Tarrytown, N.Y. and author of Matterness: Fearless Leadership for a Social World., explains, “Synagogues tend to be very busy places, with people rushing around to get out the newsletter, organize the next event, and send donation thank-you letters. But in all this busyness, we must not let congregants become just dues-paying, High Holiday-going, b’nai mitzvah-getting consumers.” We must not ever lose sight of the passions, fears, struggles, and gifts of each individual congregant.

Because our business is a business of human beings, we know it is our duty to hold and support members of the community when life presents challenges. As we grow, we must assure that every member knows they matter. And yet, sadly, it is impossible to know everything that every member of our community is experiencing.

In 5778, let’s enter into a covenant of care and communication. The staff and leadership commit to always making the care and support of members of the community Job 1 and assuring that every congregant knows he or she matters. I ask you … no, I implore you, all of you … to be our partners by committing to keep us informed. To paraphrase a government campaign, “When you hear something, say something.” When you learn of someone new to our community, suffering an illness, experiencing a loss, or welcoming a new family member, please let us know right away by getting in touch with Dan Silien, our Executive Director, or Erni Slater, our Clergy Assistant, who will make sure the members of our clergy team know.

Tomorrow morning, you will learn about the revitalization of our Caring Community led by Norm Sider and a dedicated group of tireless, committed volunteers. Already, the Caring Community is leading our weekly Remembrance Service on Friday nights and welcoming individuals new to our community. They want to invite all of you to become part of the sacred work of assuring that all congregants matter. Read the information you will receive and please sign up to volunteer.

Before I close, I need to share some gratitude. And please know that I only have the time allotted so if I don’t mention you by name, I remain deeply grateful.

First, thank you … to you, who are sitting here or listening at home or even doing neither … all of you, thank you for being members of this sacred community, for investing heart, time and treasure in this holy congregation, and to legacy donors, for providing for generations to come.

Thank you, Dan Silien and every member of our team. Your first high holy days go around is a tremendous success. Your attention to detail make the high holy days look effortless, though we know that is far from the truth. I’m not sure how you do it, but you stay calm and unflappable, even in the midst of chaos.

Thank you, Sonja Kantor who is my de facto co-president. Sonja steps up time after time to every task and every challenge. Sonja has been instrumental in every project, large and small, undertaken at IHC over the past 5+ years. Sonja, please accept my deepest gratitude.

Thank you, Cantor Epstein. What a joy to come to know you and to hear your soulful renderings of melodies, familiar and new. With Rabbi Brett’s unexpected absence, the gig was a little different from what we all expected but you have rolled with whatever was in front of you with good humor and true professionalism. No doubt our friendship will endure when you return home after Yom Kippur.

Thank you to the Michaels. Michael Messina … thank you for your exquisite musicianship, leadership, wisdom and deep knowledge of the high holy days at IHC. Thank you Michael Berg Raunick for instantly becoming an integral part of our High Holy Days music team. We are so lucky to have a community member with your incredible musical gifts.

And speaking of gifts, thank you members of the IHC congregational choir. Your beautiful voices lift our souls, inspire our prayer, and stir our hearts at this sacred time of year.

Thank you, Rabbi Scott for leaning in and going above and beyond over the last month as Rabbi Brett recovered from his surgery. Your passion, energy and love for our tradition are palpable.

And thank you, Rabbi Brett. We are all grateful for your return to good health. Thank you for your vision, your professionalism, and your humor. You share your deep knowledge of Torah in a way that welcomes and does not intimidate; you share your leadership to shape the future of this extraordinary congregation. On a personal level, I am deeply grateful for our partnership and our friendship. Welcome back!

I also want to thank my dad, Irving Freeman, who set the bar very high for Jewish community service. Thank you for signing this Contract regarding whose opinion prevails in matters involving the synagogue, even though you claim it was signed under duress to ensure you would still get invitations for family meals. #FakeNews.

And finally, I want to thank my taller half, my best friend and my love Roland Dorson, with whom I have achieved our greatest accomplishment: two amazing Jewish sons, Ben and Daniel Dorson. Thank you for another year of wise counsel, prudent advice, cold dinner, and eternal therapy.

To all of you, my IHC family, Shana Tovah U’metukah! May we all be inscribed for blessing and may we all have a happy, healthy and very sweet new year.

Patti Freeman Dorson