Ten years ago, after years of being members in other temples, my husband Eli and I were looking for a better Jewish Education experience for our daughter Zohar. Little did we know that she would be the one to find the temple for us. When she met her lifelong friend Liam Klass in first grade, his family introduced us to TRT, and the rest, as they say, is history. I thank them till this day. You should too.
Despite our Israeli accents and our sometimes-awkward articulation, we were embraced by this wonderful temple family and here I am now, thanking you all for affording me the opportunity to lead our Jewish community from the heart.
When I was offered the position as temple President, my thoughts went to Moses, who was a stutterer. I figured if he were able to lead the diverse 12 tribes through trials and tribulations with his communication handicap, I could lead this congregation too.
I come from a humble background. My parents were both holocaust survivors. Last year I shared their story of renewal after the war, and I invite you to read that story on my president’s blog on the TRT website, as my Mom and Dad are still the source of my inspiration in doing this sacred work.
I am one of three kids. We grew up embracing the simple life in Israel. There was enough to provide for our needs, but luxury was a dream. I still remember how when I was in 8th grade, I yearned for a new pair of Adidas leather sneakers. I knew our family budget was tight, so I crafted the following approach to convince my parents. This is what I said:” You know, my feet have stopped growing. And now they came up with these new durable sneakers that I would be able to wear for a very long time. I know that Adidas are expensive, but in the long run, you can save buying them, and they have great foot support. You will not need to buy me new shoes for 3 years if you buy me these.” Guess what? – My parents bought me those shoes. I was delighted and enjoyed them until their soles were paper thin. There was no going back to ask for another pair of sport shoes on year #2 or #3.
Some of you may remember my last year’s high holidays story about my army boots that fell apart from overuse while I was leading troops around Jerusalem. I guess I established that shoes are important to be grounded in reality; whether it is walking on the mountains around Jerusalem, or just walking into your own future. If the eyes are the window to the soul, then the soles of my shoes are a window to how I approach my work.
I am goal oriented and I do not spare any effort to achieve what I had set out to do, while staying true to my word and being a collaborative leader who respects the contribution of others. And that has been my approach to my position as TRT President. You can count on me to be understanding and straight forward. I simply think it’s most effective to state what is, even or perhaps especially things that are not easy to say and are not perceived as the best news in town. I guess I’m a SABRE. Those of you who have worked with me in the last few years would attest to that.
There is much to do during any regular synagogue presidency. To say that I had quite a lot on my plate during this last year would be an understatement. Yet, I could not have gotten through any of it on my own. Just look at the HH Volunteer booklet on our website and read how many of our members engage in activities that better our own community and the world. Some take leadership roles: others take on specific tasks. They bring intelligence, kindness, and generosity to everything we accomplish together. If I had to mention names, I would be standing here for a very long time. Ask any of them what it means to be a TRT volunteer, and they will tell you that it enriches their life. I’m proud to be part of this dynamic community. And I thank each and every one of our volunteers, who took on a tremendous load during this last year.
Our world has changed dramatically since March 2020, something none of us could have predicted. We struggle to keep our spirits high despite the health scare and worry for our loved ones. The way we shop has changed, the way we dress has changed. We see friends at a distance, forgoing the big hugs we usually embrace them with. We use Facetime, Zoom and other video conferencing tools to keep ourselves connected.
When the stay-at-home order was given in late-March, we had to make a decision to close our temple building. The wellbeing of our congregants, our children and their teachers, our support staff and our clergy were of course a primary concern. Yet, we could not accept that as an end to our activities. Our staff adjusted to work remotely. Our teachers quickly redesigned all the RS materials so they could be taught via zoom. And a bright spot in all this: many of our members became more engaged via our online platform. Participation in Friday night services went up 3-fold or more, and continued that way during the summer months with our new rabbi and cantor. Many tell us that participating in virtual Shabbat services has helped then feel more grounded during this uncertain time. None should feel alone during these tough times. Whether you feel religious or not, while the world is in a spiral of uncertainty on so many levels, spending that one hour together once a week, just feels damn good for a change. And worship while wearing jeans is absolutely allowed.
At one point over the summer, I heard a concern that we might lose our creativity as we go through a year of transition. Well, the way I see it, we already unleashed marvels of creativity and our hand is yet outstretched (in Hebrew עוד ידנו נטויה).
Our annual food drive, a point of pride to many of us, is necessary this year more than ever, as the shelves at the Food Bank emptied out during COVID. Rest assured, we have used that creativity to make sure it continues to happen. The Food Bank truck will be parked at TRT throughout YK from 8 – 5, and each one of you could stop by and drop off the very needed items. Check out the online shopping list on our website, and fill up your carts, as you have every other year. The only difference is you’ll take a ride to the temple instead of to the High School. Rabbi Disick’s brother and his family volunteered to help us loading your bags into the truck, and they even don’t need to be fed.
When it comes to musical worship, we are also working hard to creatively ensure that the beloved musical services, that TRT is known for, are still available. Unfortunately, as long as we are in the midst of a pandemic, artists are only performing on-line. So, we adjusted. In late-April we sponsored a Yom Haazmaut live streaming concert with Sheldon Low and Hadar Orshalimy. All our members received access to that fabulous event, and many watched from the safety of their homes. At our upcoming Rock Simchat Torah Nefesh Mountain will be joining us in an on-line concert. Stay tuned for the link and bring them to your home on Sat, October 10 at 10AM.
Our own Cantor, Lisa Levine, has worked and played music together with many of these artists over the years. Now, we have her as our own artist in residence. Watch for our upcoming events in our weekly email, and you’ll know exactly when she is joining us with her beautiful voice and a guitar in hand. Some will ask: how do we enjoy music the rest of the time? Members of our band and our choir have been volunteering their musical talent during other Friday services. Something we have not done so frequently in the past, and oh boy we should have done it long ago.
From the Cantor search committee to the Rabbi search committee, retirement gala committee, to Covid response team; From a complete technology switchover of our daily operation and online services to reimagining our High Holidays; from a taskforce to decide how to open our facility safely to a taskforce resolving our mold issues – so very many of us, all volunteers, stepped up and continue to spend hours on end. We are a vibrant and caring community. We work well together, with respect and open minds. You do not find that makeup in many Jewish communities. And if my words are a reflection of my mere experience in a few communities, I suggest you hear Rabbi Disick talk about our special asset. As he shared with our Board, he hasn’t seen our level of love and commitment in the many congregations in which he had served as an interim Rabbi. He is here to help us reshape our future, and I encourage you to take part in it. Reach out to him. Or connect to my virtual office hour. Ask any question you have. It takes you to be in that equation of stepping into our future.
Like the rest of the world, we, too, are facing challenges. I encourage you to look for the opportunity in each challenge ahead. Our people, the Jewish people, have experienced adversity of a whole other magnitude in comparison to what we experience today at TRT. When my parents left Europe after surviving the Holocaust, there was no match to the destruction in their lives, to the destruction of nearly everything precious to them, nearly everything they had once known as dependable. But from that devastation, they emerged stronger and traveled a path of renewal and rebuilding. From that humble beginning I have never imagined that my worn shoes would take me so very far.
I offer you the chance to be part of something that is greater than our own individuality, greater than any one of us alone. It is to be part of the chain of Jewish continuity. And that is our opportunity – to support, in any way you can, and reshape our community under these new circumstances – in the world of today and in the world of tomorrow.